Friday, December 10, 2010

The aim of the Christian life

"Acquire the Holy Spirit and thousands around you will be saved"

The fool says in his heart, "There is no God."
 – Psalms 14:1

I would like to share with you some of the teachings of St. Seraphim of Sarov, a Russian Orthodox monk who was born in 1759 in the city of Kursk and died and went to Heaven on January 2, 1833, while kneeling before an icon of the Theotokos (Mary, the Mother of God).
(Excerpts from a conversation of St. Seraphim with N. A. Motovilov)

Prayer, fasting, vigil and all other Christian activities, however good they may be in themselves, do not constitute the aim of our Christian life, although they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end. The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ's sake, they are only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God.
[...]
At the present time, owing to our almost universal coldness to our holy faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and our inattention to the working of His Divine Providence in us, and to the communion of man with God, we have gone so far that, one may say, we have almost abandoned the true Christian life.
[...]
More than once in other passages of Holy Scripture the appearance of God to men is mentioned. That is why some people say: "These passages are incomprehensible. Is it really possible for people to see God so openly?"

But there is nothing incomprehensible here. This failure to understand has come about because we have departed from the simplicity of the original Christian knowledge. Under the pretext of education, we have reached such a darkness of ignorance that what the ancients understood so clearly seems to us almost inconceivable.
It is fashionable to say that God does not exist, or God is not necessary. And it is especially fashionable to say that organized religion is not necessary. And even that organized religion is a force of evil.

Those who believe these things may be disappointed to know that these ideas are not particularly new or modern. The quotes above from St. Seraphim are from 1831. And the passage from the Psalms is obviously much more ancient than that.

Those seeking novelty, or revolutionary thinking, or profound spirituality have no further to look than the Christian faith. Its message is still new and refreshing, profound and life-changing, deep and mysterious two thousand years after the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

The message of Christianity is still relevant in an age of scientific idolatry. In fact even more relevant as science challenges the very essence of man's humanity. No better basis for a moral system has ever been discovered than the teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ. But as St. Seraphim emphasizes, doing good deeds alone is not sufficient.
But mark, my son, only the good deed done for Christ's sake brings us the fruits of the Holy Spirit. All that is not done for Christ's sake, even though it be good, brings neither reward in the future life nor the grace of God in this.
Here is what is missing in the common morality of this generation. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, "good intentions" turn the gifts of God into forces for destruction. Science reverts to paganism.

The utilitarian mindset of the modern world – that seeks to quantify goodness – indoctrinates us into thinking that God does not exist. The "fruits" of this thinking are now in clear evidence. The solutions to the problems facing modern man do not lie in a deeper application of scientific principles in order to "engineer" society. This approach only leads to eugenic solutions.

The most glaring example of this is the "choice" of destroying life in the womb in order to give a woman a better life, or spare a child a life of suffering, or to lessen the burden on the earth's resources. All of which are selfish reasons. This is akin to a modern practice of human sacrifice. The thinking seems to be that if we sacrifice the unborn on the altar of scientific rationalism, then the rest of us may be saved from destruction by an unseen Malthusian population bomb. The parallels to the ancient pagan practice of sacrificing infants in order to appease their gods and avert disaster are striking.

The only solution is to truly trust in Jesus. Christianity has been battling barbarism since its inception. Nothing has changed.

4 comments:

  1. I want to clarify the utilitarian mindset. In utilitarianism the concept of "goodness" is superseded by "usefulness". If something is useful, then it is "good". So you can see how an "unwanted" child is not useful and therefore not good. It's this sort of thinking that has infiltrated the culture and has caused so much harm, both materially and spiritually.

    Sex is useful in that it provides pleasure. Children are only useful to the extent that they provide a source of satisfaction for their parents. There is a very selfish aspect to this sort of thinking.

    With regards to personal relationships the utilitarian philosophy is translated into "what can you do for me?" The sex partner becomes an object. People lose their humanity. This is perhaps a natural result of a society that practices an extreme form of capitalism, and that allows a dollar value to be placed on everything.

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  2. Hello Michael!

    I think you're right, money is the first thing that many people think they need in order to be happy. I just remembered; “Man does not live by bread alone but with whatever God can provide.”

    There are many pressures for girls that are pregnant to interrupt their children's life. Statistics and culture claim that you are not going to do succeed in life or you are a failure if you got pregnant. I'm not saying that is healthy for teens to have children in bad conditions, but death culture keeps promoting this idea of what is right in these terms.

    I enjoyed a lot your previous articles, although I did not comment on them. I read them to my mother aloud every time I can. I have to say that is a personal inspiration to find some light between many pessimistic blogs.

    Have you considered to write a book? That would be something I would like to read.

    God bless you!

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  3. Ride. I'm very flattered by your comment. Thank you for letting me know that you enjoyed reading the other articles. And also I'm very honored that your mother is also following my posts and comments.

    It's interesting because I've always dreamed of writing a book. Writing these articles is sort of an outlet for that, I guess. I'm not particularly well organized and writing a book seems to demand a more organized approach to writing. With the blog articles, I can just sit down at the keyboard with a general idea and begin writing. And then just let the flow of ideas take form on the screen.

    I've actually been writing songs lately. I always wanted to be a musician, but God did not bless me with great talents in that direction. I play guitar, but only moderately well; and the same can be said for my singing.

    For many years I attempted to write songs and nothing came out. I had given up on the idea and decided that it was impossible for me. And then after I had finished reading Hamlet by Shakespeare, I began to focus more on the rhythm of the words. So the next time a musical idea came into my head while playing the guitar, I quickly put down the guitar. I came up with an initial verse and then tried to come up with more verses that followed the same rhythmical pattern.

    And before long I had the lyrics to a full song. And then I finished composing the music and recorded it. (Before I forgot how the chords and melody should go.) I was very pleased and surprised at the outcome.

    The other thing that I have not told you is that I had decided that the songs I wanted to write should be inspired by the Holy Spirit. I have listened to what is called Christian music, and for the most part I was not satisfied with what I was listening to – for a variety of reasons. And I impetuously decided that I could do better – even though at that time I had never written a real song in my life.

    What I'm trying to say in a roundabout way is that I don't think that God wanted me to write songs that promoted the anti-Christian culture. It was only when I offered my talents to God that He rewarded me. I suppose this is a very big blessing from God. Not just that He gave me the gift of songwriting, but that He did not allow me to use that gift to profane Him and His creation. And to lead others astray.

    You know, Jesus tells us that to lead one of his children away from God is one of the greatest sins. What then of the people in the entertainment industry that devote themselves to this cause and become rich through their endeavors? I would not want to witness their ultimate destiny. They may be "rich and famous" here on Earth, but this is only temporary. After our earthly death we enter into another Creation in which time does not have the same meaning that we are used to. We will be there for all eternity. Now is our time to prepare ourselves for that journey. We are constantly tested, and God knows what is in our hearts.

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  4. Ride. I don't know if you read a previous comment I made about how I believe that Jesus, as both God and man, viewed the world. I imagine that He saw what we see when we look at someone – that is, the physical world. But also that He could see the spiritual world. So He could see a person's soul and also the angels and demons surrounding the soul. And as in this spiritual world time is almost meaningless, He could see the person's past and future. Although as I described before, according to Catholic teaching we have free will. So we are free to create our own future to a certain extent, to the degree that we accept God's will in our lives and are willing to take part in His plan for us.

    So when Jesus says "Man does not live by bread alone", I believe the bread He is referring to is both physical and spiritual. And the more important one that He wants us to understand is the spiritual. The bread of God is the spiritual nourishment that we receive from God. This is infinitely more important than the bread (food) which sustains our physical bodies. This Bread of Life is freely available and offered to all. The great revelation of Christianity is just how freely God, our Father, offers this gift to us.

    We are like rebellious teenage children who when offered a piece of good advice from their parents, reject it because they are attracted to the immediate pleasures of the world. We don't understand the long term benefits of the gift that is being offered to us. We don't want to make the necessary sacrifice so that we can receive this gift.

    And actually, it is not a sacrifice at all. God is offering us true happiness. The things we are asked to give up only appear to give us pleasure, but ultimately they only bring us pain and suffering.

    Now, when I read the Bible, I try to imagine what it would be like to see the world through the eyes of Jesus as I described. So when Jesus speaks of bread or water, I try to allow myself to be led by the Holy Spirit and understand what He is truly teaching us about.

    There is a slight danger to this approach of entering into a world of mysticism that is heretical, and ascribes to the text meanings that do not exist. This is the danger and the appeal of Gnosticism. As Catholics, we have the teachings of the Church and the Saints to guide us and to protect us from being tempted to go astray by evil spirits. We must discern whether any revelation we receive is truly coming from the Holy Spirit.

    Perhaps this is why at times the Church does not teach as St. Seraphim did, "The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God." While this is a true and powerful teaching, it can also be dangerous for those who do not have the spiritual maturity to understand it. We see this in the charismatic movements that attract so many. First we have to learn to walk, before we can run and ultimately fly.

    Go to mass, pray the rosary, confess, read the Bible. This forms a good foundation upon which God can build. Through this He will reveal himself to us as we are ready.

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