Troublesome thought

This will be a very short post. But, it is something that has been on my mind lately. And, it has to do with both political parties. Both political parties are driving us into very dangerous ground. Why do I say so?

Well, in the last few days, I have seen posts that are clear and obvious exaggerations of someone’s statements. In every case, the only purpose served by those exaggerations is to throw raw meat unto the already existing divided political landscape. Let me emphasize again that both sides have done this. The danger is that the extreme appeals to tendentious interpretations of what someone has said will lead to a dangerous division in our country. We last saw this during the Civil War (no, it was NOT the War Between the States). In the middle of the 19th century, we reached the point where we are now. Every statement by a politician was taken to its most illogical and tendentious extreme. Every statement just proved that the other side was wrong. We ended up with hundreds of thousands of Americans dead.

Today, we are doing the same thing. Whether it is Guiliani or Obama or Christy or Jeb or Byden, we are taking statements that would normally be interpreted in a reasonable way and taking them to mean something that the author of those statements could not have meant by any sane logical interpretation. The purpose of this is strictly political gain. But, by doing this, we are undermining the very foundation of what Truth is, the very foundation of what a democracy means. In order to achieve very short term political gains, we are again committing the same mistake as those of the mid-19th century. We are assuming that the statements will never lead to actual and real action. The politicians of mid-19th century found out to their horror that words matter.

In this sense, I do agree with those charismatic teachers who argue that the human word has power. Whether it has spiritual power or not is theologically debatable. But, that it has real this-world power is proven over and over again in human history. And, we are treading dangerously close to having our words result in another civil violent result. Our lack of logical honesty for the sake of political gain has led us, yet again, to the brink. There are now “nut-cases” who are ready to descend to violence to defend themselves against a perceived takeover that is not even a remote possibility.

It is time for us to stop being illogical. It is time for us to admit that what we are doing is done strictly for the sake of political gain. It is truly the time for us to think of this country rather than our personal politics. Sadly, all too many have couched their personal opinions in the robe of righteous defense of the Constitution. The problem is that it is merely their personal opinion, one not shared by at least half of their fellow citizens. How do I know this? Because poll after poll shows that our country is divided almost exactly in half over what the current government policies mean.

So, we have a choice. Will we be logically consistent, or will we simply go for the easy, but false, political point?

Saint Ambrose on temptation

 

The devil does not have only one weapon. He uses many different means to defeat human beings: now with bribery, now with boredom, now with greed he attacks, inflicting mental and physical wounds equally.

The kind of temptation varies with the different kinds of victim. Avarice is the test of the rich, loss of children that of parents and everyone is exposed to pain of mind or body. What a wealth of weapons is at the devil’s disposal!

It was for this reason that the Lord chose to have nothing to lose. He came to us in poverty so that the devil could find nothing to take away from him. You see the truth of this when you hear the Lord himself saying:

“The prince of this world is come and has found nothing in me” [John 14:30]. The devil could only test him with bodily pain, but this too was useless because Christ despised bodily suffering.

Job was tested by his own goods, whereas Christ was tempted, during the experience of the wilderness, by the goods of all. In fact, the devil robbed Job of his riches and offered Christ the kingdom of the whole world. Job was tested by vexations, Christ by prizes.  Job the faithful servant replied: “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away” [Job 1:21] Christ, being conscious of his own divine nature, scorned the devil’s offering of what already belonged to him.

So let us not be afraid of temptations. Rather, let us glory in them saying: “When I am weak, then am I strong.” [2 Cor. 12:10]. – Saint Ambrose of Milan.

Lent is often a time when we are tempted. It is not that we are not tempted during the other times of the year, but rather that our Lenten observance seems to bring with it a special effort by the devil to tempt us. And this should not surprise us. This is a time when we are trying to become more conscious of our sin and more conscious of God’s work for us, with us, and in us. Such a time is anathema to the Enemy. And so he tempts us, and tempts us in several different ways. As Saint Ambrose of Milan said, the devil does not have only one weapon.”

Dear friends, what the Christian should be doing at all times should be done now with greater care and devotion, so that the Lenten fast enjoined by the apostles may be fulfilled, not simply by abstinence from food but above all by the renunciation of sin. – Saint Leo the Great.

Lent is a time when we take, “greater care and devotion,” to renounce the sin that is in us to exchange it for the righteousness of Christ. So, it is not surprising that one of the best temptations of the devil during this time is food. If what we seek is purity of spirit, then taking our mind off of the Spirit and getting us to put it on food is a good strategy.

It is not that food is a problem, after all, Saint Paul says, “But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.” Rather, if the devil can switch our focus from the renunciation of sin to the abstinence from food, then he can turn us into frustrated people who end up with more sin rather than with less sin. And so, it is during Lent that we are most especially tempted by the sight and aromas of divers foods from which we have chosen to abstain. Foods that did not especially appeal to us before now become foods that we more intensely want.

And so, our mind is slowly taken from a focus on the renunciation of sin to a focus on the renunciation of food. Our focus goes from leaving our sin to leaving our food. And inevitably instead of growing in the Lord, growing more Christ-like, we merely grow more frustrated. By the end of Lent, our very abstinence has changed from being a means to enable growth in righteousness to being the very focus of our Lent. At the end, the devil has succeeded in ruining many a person’s Lent, leaving them less righteous rather than more righteous.

But, the Church has the answer to the devil and it is found in Saint John’s Chrysostom sermon that is read every Pascha.

… If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour. And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. – Saint John Chrysostom

To the devil the Church says that food is nothing, that to eat or not eat is nothing. To us the Church reminds us that the grace of God extends to all who come to him. All who are willing are told on Pascha to come and receive. Come and eat his Body and drink his Blood. Come, receive his life and his grace.

So, let us enter this Lent with a fresh commitment to renounce sin and to follow the fast. But, let us remember that at the end our Lord awaits with open arms to feed us with his very Body and Blood. Let’s let that thought give us the strength to look the devil in the eye and to laugh at him, knowing that God is with us.

Whenever this temptation comes to you beware not to dispute with the devil nor allow yourself to dwell on these lethal thoughts, for so doing is nothing less than giving place to the devil and so falling. Try as hard as you can to despise these thoughts sent by Satan. In this sort of temptation and battle contempt is the easiest road to victory; laugh your enemy to scorn and ask to whom you are talking. By all means flee solitude, for he lies in wait most for those alone. This devil is conquered by despising him and mocking him, not by resisting and arguing. – Martin Luther