"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012
The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch
One of the outstanding films of this last year was a French film called “Of Gods and Men.” It tells the story of the monks of a tiny Cistercian monastery of Tibhirine in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria caught up in a vicious civil war between Islamist Extremists and the Algerian government. On March 27, 1996, seven of the monks were kidnapped and on May 21 of that year they were executed. I have said to you: ‘You are gods and all of you, sons of the Most High.' And yet, you shall die like men, you shall fall like any of the princes.’ Psalm 81
What the film explores is not the tragic ending of these monks – their quiet martyrdom. We don’t actually see their execution, just their heading off into the winter’s snow to meet their destiny. For the film is not about how these monks died. It is about how they lived and why they were willing to die.
There is so much I would like to say about the film: about faith, community, martyrdom, Eucharist. I can’t think of a film that communicates so powerfully the beauty and attractiveness of a lived Christian faith, or a drama that is so richly theological and liturgical. But I would like to focus just on one aspect, appropriate to this first Sunday of Advent.
Our Advent begins with a cry to stay awake, to be on our guard, to stand ready. We are asked to be on the look-out for the Christ who comes: evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn.
This film is about how these men lived in anticipation (for they knew not what). It is about how they lived their advent, their waiting by immersing themselves in the mystery of Christ, particularly in their experience of his Incarnation. It is a question for us, this frist Sunday of Advent. How do we live this time of waiting? How does our longing bear fruit in the here and now.
On Christmas Eve 1993 an armed Islamist groups invaded the monastery and demanded medical care and supplies. The prior Brother Christian refuses. He will not give them preference over the poor. That moment of tension is resolved, but it leaves that small community with anxiety over its future. “Tonight is different from other nights” says Br Christian. “Why?” asks the guerrilla leader. “It’s Christmas. We celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.” The monks stood firm against the fighters.
In real life we know that the Christmas of 1993 marked a turning point in the lives of the monks. The real Br Christophe, the 45 year old subprior and novice master wrote in his journal: “This Christmas was not like others. It was charged with significance. Like Mary we keep all these things that have happened. We continue to ask ourselves what has been initiated in our hearts. Like a sword the significance has pierced us.”
The film prompts us to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. What does it mean that Christ came in the flesh all those years ago? And how do we live this mystery in faith? How do we wrestle with our own fears? In their Refectory reading they hear Carlo Caretto reflect on “The God who is Coming.” “Often throughout my life I have wondered about how God can act so strangely, why does he stay silent so long. Why is faith so bitter?”
And yet into that doubt a monk sings their Christmas hymn, as he decorates the Church. “nothing exists except love. This is the night of beginnings; God has prepared the earth like a cradle, for his coming from above. By taking flesh of our flesh God our desert did refresh and made a land of boundless spring.” As they laid the baby in the crib, in their fears, they sung of the love that stands at the root of all reality – revealed to us in the Incarnation of Christ.
Later Br Christian reflected: We welcomed that Child who was born for us, absolutely helpless, and already so threatened. Afterwards we found salvation in undertaking our daily tasks: the kitchen, garden, the prayers, the bells. Day after day. We had to resist the violence. And day after day, I think each of us discovered that to which Jesus Christ beckons us. It’s to be born… And from birth to birth, we’ll each end up bringing to the world the child of God that we are. The mystery of Incarnation remains what we are going to live.
The monks were faced with a dilemma. Should they flee in the face of threats? Were they being foolish in risking death? How far should they take this dedication, their vow of stability, not just to the place but to the people they served? Shouldn’t they just be brave and continue to live the daily round and their mission to be brothers to all. None of them wanted to die.
They decided to stay and hold on to their ideal of love and fidelity. If the Incarnation is about anything it is about God’s solidarity us, God’s compelling love for humanity. In this they wanted to share. They wanted the Christ who was born in Bethlehem to be born in them. They wanted Christ to love the world through them. “God so loved the world” in Christ. Christ would not walk away from those he loved, and they would not desert the people that depended on them for food, for clothing, for medical care, for friendship, for love. Foolish they might be, but God too was an utter fool when it comes to love.
So they lived a certain Advent, waiting for the unknown. In Advent 1993, Br Christian wrote a Testament to be opened in the event of his death by Islamic extremists. In effect he forgave his potential murderer, his “friend” “And also you, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing.— yes, I also say this THANK YOU and this A-DIEU to you, in whom I see the face of God. And may we find each other, happy “good thieves” in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen. In sha ‘Allah.”
We wait in Advent for that moment that will come like “a thief in the night.” We are challenged to live these moments well. Br Christian, had been given the grace to see God’s face in his potential assassin. At Mass on 31st December old Br Luke made this bidding prayer: “Lord grant us the grace to die without hatred in our hearts.”
In Advent we too ponder the mystery of Christ’s coming in the flesh. Perhaps we too can find new ways of living the Incarnation, of living in fidelity to those we belong, and love to all we meet. Perhaps it is about being open to the unexpected – allowing Christ to use us as he will. Perhaps it is about being a little foolish in love.
Advent too, is not merely about our ultimate end, but how that prospect shapes our present existence. How we choose to live? And what do I choose to cherish? The monks of Tibhirine chose to stay. They cherished their Moslem brothers and sisters. They prayed, they sang, they made jam. They chose love and fidelity.
If they had to die, they wanted to do it right. Br Luc, the lovely old doctor had one request for his funeral, Edith Piaf’s Je ne regretted rien.
The Essence of Advent
A Scriptural Reflection on the Readings for Sunday, November 27, 2011, the First Sunday of Advent | Carl E. Olson
• Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
• Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
• 1 Cor 1:3-9
• Mk 13:33-37
When the Son of God came the first time, St. Augustine stated in a sermon, “he came in obscurity, it was to be judged. When he comes openly it will be to judge.” This observation is a helpful (and challenging!) bridge between last week’s Gospel reading—the parable of the sheep and the goats—and today’s Gospel reading, proclaimed on this, the first day of the liturgical year.
“Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which in turn is a translation of the Greek word, parousia. Both words indicate a coming or arrival and a presence. Advent focuses simultaneously on the first and second comings of Christ, and his presence with us now, especially in the blessed sacrament of the Eucharist. The parousia—sometimes called the second coming of Christ—will be realized fully at the end of time, but has already been initiated by the Incarnation, which revealed the glory of God among men (cf., Jn 1:14).
While some Christians fixate upon the return of Christ to the point that little else matters, Catholics should—especially during Advent—gaze upon and receive the Eucharist, knowing that it is why anything matters at all. In doing so, we proclaim his coming, anticipating the culmination of time and history.
“By gazing on the risen Christ,” wrote Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in Eschatology, his book on death and eternal life, “Christianity knew that a most significant coming had already taken place. It no longer proclaimed a pure theology of hope, living from mere expectation of the future, but pointed to a ‘now’ in which the promise had already become present. Such a present was, of course, itself hope, for it bears the future within itself.” (Eschatology, 44-45).
The Son of God transcends past, present, and future. Yet he became man, entering into time and history in the most stunning and unexpected way: in the darkness of a cave. Nearing the end of his earthly ministry, facing death, he exhorted his disciples, “Be watchful! Be alert!” Thus he emphasized that the second coming would also be unexpected and sudden.
These exhortations to vigilance, although mysterious, helped the early Christian to comprehend the deeper meaning of the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. They could see that the Church is the new temple, for the Church is the mystical body of Christ. “When he announces its destruction,” the Catechism explains, “it is as a manifestation of his own execution and of the entry into a new age in the history of salvation, when his Body would be the definitive Temple” (par. 593).
Our Lord first came as a humble babe, hidden in a manger, surrounded by family and the shepherds who responded to the glorious news given by angels. He now comes to us in humility, hidden under the form of bread and wine, within the household of God, giving himself to his sheep—those who have responded to the saving message of the Gospel.
This gift of the Son is why we can call God our Father. It is also why we acknowledge, as did the prophet Isaiah, our desperate need to be molded and shaped by the loving hands of the Creator: “Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.”
Jesus Christ will one day come in again in power and glory, to judge the living and the dead. Every man will face judgment; every deed will be revealed. “Even now,” St. Augustine told his flock, the Savior “does not keep silent, if there is anyone to listen. But it says he will not keep silent then”—at the final judgment—“because his voice will be acknowledged even by those who despise it.”
Those who despise and ignore the words of Christ are asleep, cocooned in spiritual slumber and sloth. Those who are alert and watch are aware of the Lord’s presence. They long for his coming. They place their hope in the Lord. Such is the essence of Advent.
(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the November 30, 2008, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)
Third Perseverance of Br. Huw Edwards 25th November 2011
Dear Br. Huw, tonight we have come to your third and final Perseverance, the third milestone on the road to First Profession. Of course, in the Rule of St. Benedict there is only one profession: that made at the end of the novitiate, and, to some extent, that remains true in that your suitability and acceptance for Temporary Vows are an indication of your suitability and possible acceptance for Solemn Vows. I am not sure if you are looking that far ahead, but the monastic community is. If you ask to make your vows for three years in a few months’ time and the Community vote in favour of your petition, then that is a sign that we would be willing to consider you for Solemn Vows later on.
What I am saying is that Temporary Vows are important for you and for us. They are the surest sign there is that one day you will become a full member of the Belmont Community. Now I know that you have been trying seriously to live the monastic life as a novice. We have observed that you are solicitous “for the Work of God, for obedience and for trials”; in other words that you “are truly seeking God”. It is also clear that you have been “thoroughly tested in patience” and that you know and understand what you are undertaking as a future member of our Conventus. So the question I am asking you tonight is this, “How do you propose living the last quarter of your Novitiate?” “What can you do to make this time truly special?
Obviously, it is up to you to decide in dialogue with your Novice Master, but let me make a few suggestions. These are not exhaustive, nor are they a cunning way of telling you that these are the areas of your life that are weak and in need of correction. There is no hidden agenda, simply a gentle reminder to us all that at times we need to take stock and perhaps pull our socks up. The fact that we are about to begin the Advent Season is a great help here.
Although the chants and hymns as well as the liturgical colour and decoration of the church change dramatically this weekend, the scripture readings, particularly those read at Mass during the last two weeks of the year and the first two weeks of Advent, are pretty much the same. They are all about the Second Coming and Judgement. In fact, one of the great themes of Advent begins two or three weeks before the season itself. I think this can be the first point of focus for you as you prepare now for profession. One of the fundamental elements of monastic life and spirituality is vigilance, getting ready, keeping vigil, staying awake. You alone can chose whether you are going to be a wise virgin or a foolish one. You alone can decide whether the Lord will find you watching when he comes or distracted by worldly cares and interests. You alone can make up your mind whether you will be awake or asleep when he knocks at the door of your heart. So this is the first point, and it is a safeguard against laziness, indifference, laxity and selfishness. Now it is not so much to do with the time you get up, but what you do with your time once you are up. How much time, quality time and real concentration, do you spend at personal prayer, mental prayer, and at lectio divina. Do you seek solitude and silence? – not by running away from things or from people, but by making time for God and to be alone with him where ”heart speaks unto heart”. What about devotions such as the Rosary and, even more important, the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Then there is our preparation for Mass and our thanksgiving afterwards. These are of vital importance in nurturing an authentic life of prayer. We don’t have to get up at midnight to celebrate vigils, rather we should turn each day into a vigil of prayer and meditation. Make the most of our time and doing this in tune with God and the Church and our monastic tradition leads to happiness, joy and fulfilment.
Now these three feelings or emotions go together, but unless based on charity, that is, on God, they can easily become subjective. Advent is, of course, the season of joy, a joy founded on hope: the joyful hope that comes from waiting patiently for the Lord. It is not only the Second Coming that we are waiting and longing and hoping for. There is the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas, offspring of the Virgin’s womb, and there is that daily coming of the Lord to us in prayer and scripture, in the Sacraments, in our brethren and in our guests, in the sick and in those with special needs, in creation and in all that is. What is a monk but a man of God whose eyes are open to see the wonders of the Lord, whose ears are attentive to hear his voice and whose heart, pierced by God’s love (compunction), “overflows with the inexpressible delight of love”. And this is only possible because he is a man of hope and a man of joy. As St. Augustine reminds us, only God can fill that emptiness, that vacuum which is within each one of us and only God can give meaning and fulfilment to our lives. This is why St. Benedict tells us in the Tools of Good Works to “put nothing whatever before the love of Christ” and “never to despair of God’s mercy”. This Advent, as you live out the last days of your novitiate, revive your drooping spirit with the elixir of joy which is hope and trust in God’s loving mercy and his desire to heal and make you whole, wholesome and holy.
Advent is also the season of prophecy and the great figures we meet and spend time with are the prophets Isaiah, Micah, Hosea, Zachariah and Ruth in the Old Testament and, in the New, St. John the Baptist, Our Lady, St. Joseph and the Angel Gabriel. All these figures are linked to the monastic tradition and to our life as monks today. Like the prophets of old our vocation is often misunderstood and misinterpreted, even by those of the household of the faith. This can lead us to misunderstand and misinterpret our vocation too, rushing headlong into pastoral and other forms of activism in order to prove our value and importance. But ours is a hidden life, a life of humility, a life of poverty in spirit. The strength of our prophecy lies in the fact that we live for God alone and, in the words of St. Paul “consider all things to be so much rubbish as long as I can know the Lord Jesus Christ.” It was Timothy Radcliffe who said that monks didn’t have to do anything special or extraordinary in order to fulfil their prophetic role in the Church and in the world. “They are like people waiting at a bus stop, patiently waiting for the bus to come. Others rush by, but these men just stand and wait, knowing that the bus will come.” The bus, of course, is God!
In these great biblical figures we see purity of heart, fidelity to the will of God, an openness to both what is old and what is new, a solidity and consistency that come from knowing their place in life and in God’s plan, trust, peace and obedience. They have the ability to listen to God’s heartbeat and so empty themselves of all selfishness and self-centredness that grace is able to build upon nature, transforming and transfiguring them into icons of the living God. In the case of Mary, God finds a home in which to live and a throne from which to reign. We, too, as monks are called upon so to open up our lives to God that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ may be born and live in us, so that with St. Paul we can declare. “It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me.” We are called to be so united with Christ in the monastic life that gradually we will come to see our neighbour and ourselves through the eyes of Christ and come to love God above all things and our neighbour as ourselves. The goal of the Benedictine life is that perfect love which casts out all fear, and God is love.
My dear Br. Huw, as we grant you your Third Perseverance this evening, our hope and our prayer for you is that you may grow every day into the perfect man whom God created and wills you to be. We pray that “clothed with faith and the performance of good works and setting out on this way with the Gospel as guide, you may deserve to see him who has called you to his kingdom.” Amen.
If we consent in prayer to be flooded by the river of life, our entire being will be transformed; we will become trees of life and be increasingly able to produce the fruit of the Spirit: we will love with the very Love that is our God. It is necessary at every moment to insist on this radical consent, this decision of the heart by which our will submits unconditionally to the energy of the Holy Spirit; otherwise we shall remain subject to the illusion created by mere knowledge of God and talk about him and shall in fact remain apart from him in brokenness and death. On the other hand, if we do constantly renew this offering of our sinful hearts, let us not imagine that our New Covenant with Jesus will be a personal encounter pure and simple. The communion into which the Spirit leads us is not limited to a face-to-face encounter between the person of Christ and our own person or to an external conformity of our wills with his. The lived liturgy does indeed begin with this "moral" union, but it goes much further. The Holy Spirit is an anointing, and he seeks to transform all that we are into Christ: body, soul, spirit, heart, flesh, relations with others and the world. If love is to become our life, it is not enough for it to touch the core of our person; it must also impregnate our entire nature.
To this transformative power of the river of life that permeates the entire being (person and nature), the undivided tradition of the Churches gives an astonishing name that sums up the mystery of the lived liturgy: theosis or divinization. Through baptism and the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit we have become "sharers of the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4). In the liturgy of the heart, the wellspring of this divinization streams out as the Holy Spirit, and our individual persons converge in a single origin. But how is this mysterious synergy to infuse our entire nature from its smallest recesses to its most obvious behaviors? This process is the drama of divinization in which the mystery of the lived liturgy is brought to completion in each Christian.
The Mystery of Jesus
To enter into the name of the holy Lord Jesus does not mean simply contemplating it from time to time or occasionally identifying with his passionate love for the Father and his compassion for men. It also means sharing faithfully and increasingly in his humanity, in assuming which he assumed ours as well. In our baptism we "put on Christ" in order that this putting on might become the very substance of our life. The beloved Son has united us to himself in his body, and the more he makes our humanity like his own, the more he causes us to share in his divinity. The humanity of Jesus is new because it is holy. Even in its mortal state it shared in the divine energies of the Word, without confusion and in an unfathomable synergy in which his will and human behavior played their part. Jesus is not a divinized man; he is the truly incarnated Word of God.
This last statement means that we need not imitate, from afar and in an external way, the behavior of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel, in order thereby to effect our own divinization and become "like God"; self-divinization is the primal temptation ever lurking in wait. On the contrary, it is the Word who divinizes this human nature, which he has united to himself once and for all. Since his Resurrection his divinehuman energies are those of his Holy Spirit, who elicits and calls for our response; in the measure of this synergy of the Spirit and our heart our humanity shares in the life of the holy humanity of Christ. To enter into the name of Jesus, Son of God and Lord, means therefore to be drawn into him in the very depths of our being, by the same drawing movement in which he assumed our humanity by taking flesh and living out our human condition even to the point of dying. There is no "panchristic" pseudo-mysticism here, because the human person remains itself, a creature who is free over against its Lord and God. Neither, however, is there any moralism (a further error that waits to ensnare us), because our human nature really shares in the divinity of its Savior.
"Man becomes God as much as God becomes a man", says Saint Maximus the Confessor.  Christian holiness is divinization because in our concrete humanity we share in the divinity of the Word who married our flesh. The "divine nature" of which Saint Peter speaks (2 Pet 1:4) is not an, abstraction or a model, but the very life of the Father, which he eternally communicates to his Son and his Holy Spirit. The Father is its source, and the Son extends it to us by becoming a man. We become God by being more and more united to the humanity of Jesus. The only question left, then since this humanity is the way by which our humanity will put on his divinity–is this: How did the Son of God live as a man in our mortal condition? The Gospel has been written precisely in order to show us "the mind of Christ Jesus" (Phil 2:5);  it is this mind with which the Holy Spirit seeks to fill our hearts.
According to the spirituality of the Church and according to the gifts of the Spirit given to every one, each of the baptized lives out more intensely one or other aspect of the mind of Christ; at the same time, however, the mystery of divinization is fundamentally the same in all Christians. Their humanity no longer belongs to them, in the possessive and deadly sense of "belong", but to him who died and rose for them. In an utterly true sense, all that makes up my nature–its powers of life and death, its gifts and experiences, its limits and sins–is no longer "mine" but belongs to "him who loved me and gave himself up for me". This transfer of ownership is not idealistic or moral but realistic and mystical. As we shall see, the identification of Jesus with the humanity of every human person plays a very large part in the new relationship that persons establish with other men; but when the identification is willingly accepted and when our rebellious wills submit to his Spirit, divinization is at work. I was wounded by sin and radically incapable of loving; now Love has become part of my nature again: "I am alive; yet it is no longer 1, but Christ living in me" (Gal 2:20).
The Realism of the Liturgy of the Heart
The mystical realism of our divinization is the fruit of the sacramental realism of the liturgy. Conversely, evangelical moralism, with which we so often confuse life according to the Spirit, is the inevitable result of a deterioration of the liturgy into sacred routines. But when the fontal liturgy, which is the realism of the mystery of Christ, gives life to our sacramental celebrations, in the same measure the Spirit transfigures us in Christ.
The Fathers of the early centuries tell us that "the Son of God became a man, in order that men might become sons of God". The stages by which the beloved Son came among us and united himself to us to the point of dying our death are the same stages by which he unites us to him and leads us to the Father, to the point of making us live his life. These stages of the one Way that is Christ are shown to us in figures in the Old Testament; Jesus fulfilled the prefigurations. The stages are creation and promise, Passover and exodus, Covenant and kingdom, exile and return, restoration and expectation of the consummation. The two Testaments inscribed this great Passover of the divinizing Incarnation in the book of history. But in the last times the Bible becomes life; it exists in a liturgical condition, and the action of God is inscribed in our hearts. Knowledge of the mystery is no longer a mental process but an event that the Holy Spirit accomplishes in the celebrated liturgy and then brings to fulfillment by divinizing us.
But it is not enough simply to understand the ways in which Christ divinizes us; the primary thing is to be able to live them. At certain "moments" the celebrated liturgy gives us an intense experience of the economy of salvation, which is divinization, in order that we may live it at all "times", these new times into which it has brought us. According to the Fathers of the desert, either we pray always or we never pray. But in order to pray always we must pray often and sometimes at length. In like manner (for we are dealing with the same mystery), in order to divinize us the Spirit must divinize us often and sometimes very intensely. The economy of salvation that emerges from the Father through his Christ in the Holy Spirit expands to become the divinized life that Christians live in the Holy Spirit, through the name of Jesus, the Christ and Lord, in movement toward the Father. But the celebration of the liturgy is the place and moment in which the river of life, hidden in the economy, penetrates the life of the baptized in order to divinize it. It is there that everything that the Word experiences for the sake of man becomes Spirit and life.
The Holy Spirit, Iconographer of Divinization
In the economy of salvation everything reaches completion in Jesus through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; in the liturgy as celebrated and as lived everything begins through the Holy Spirit. That is why at the existential origin of our divinization is the liturgy of the heart, the synergy in which the Holy Spirit unites himself to our spirit (Rom 8:16) in order to make us be, and show that we are, sons of God. The same Spirit who "anointed" the Word with our humanity and imprinted our nature upon him is written in our hearts as the living seal of the promise, in order that he may "anoint" us with the divine nature: he makes us christs in Christ. Our divinization is not passively imposed on us, but is our own vital activity, proceeding inseparably from him and from ourselves.
When the Spirit begins his work in us and with us, he is not faced with the raw, passive earth out of that he fashioned the first Adam or, much less, the virginal earth, permeated by faith, that he used in effecting the conception of the second Adam. What the Spirit finds is a remnant of glory, an icon of the Son: ceaselessly loved, but broken and disfigured. Each of us can whisper to him what the funeral liturgy cries out in the name of the dead person: I remain the image of your inexpressible glory, even though I am wounded by sin!"  This trust that cannot be confounded and this Covenant that cannot be broken form the space wherein the patient mystery of our divinization is worked out.
The sciences provide grills for interpreting the human riddle, but when these have been applied three great questions still remain in all that we seek and in all that we do: the search for our origin, the quest for dialogue, the aspiration for communion. On the one hand, why is it that I am what I am, in obedience to a law that is stronger than I am (see Rom 7)? On the other, in the smallest of my actions I await a word, a counterpart who will dialogue with me. Finally, it is clear that our mysterious selves cannot achieve fulfillment on any level, from the most organic to the most aesthetic, except in communion. These three pathways in my being are, as it were, the primary imprints in me of the image of glory, of the call of my very being to the divine likeness in which my divinization will be completed. The Holy Spirit uses arrows of fire in restoring our disfigured image. The fire of love consumes its opposite (sin) and transforms us into itself, which is Light.
We wander astray like orphans as long as we have not accepted him, the Spirit of sonship, as our virginal source. All burdens are laid upon us, and we are slaves as long as we are not surrendered to him who is freedom and grace. And because he is the Breath of Life, it is he who will teach us to listen (we are dumb only because we are deaf); then, the more we learn to hear the Word, the better we shall be able to speak. Our consciences will no longer be closed or asleep, but will be transformed into creative silence. Finally, Utopian love and the communion that cannot be found because it is "not of this world" are present in him, the "treasure of every blessing", not as acquired and possessed but as pure gift; our relationship with others becomes transparent once again. This communion of the Holy Spirit is the master stroke in the work of divinization, because in this communion we are in communion also with the Father and his Son, Jesus (2 Cor 13:13; Jn 1:3), and with all our brothers.
Following these three pathways of the transfigured icon, we are divinized to the extent that the least impulses of our nature find fulfillment in the communion of the Blessed Trinity We then "live" by the Spirit, in oneness with Christ, for the Father. The only obstacle is possessiveness, the focusing of our persons on the demands of our nature, and this is sin for the quest of self breaks the relation with God. The asceticism that is essential to our divinization and that represents once again a synergy of grace consists in simply but resolutely turning every movement toward possessiveness into an offering. The epiclesis on the altar of the heart must be intense at these moments, so that the Holy Spirit may touch and consume our death and the sin that is death's sting. Entering into the name of Jesus, the Son of God and the Lord who shows mercy to us sinners, means handing over to him our wounded nature, which he does not change by assuming but which he divinizes by putting on. From offertory to epiclesis and from epiclesis to communion the Spirit can then ceaselessly divinize us; our life becomes a eucharist until the icon is completely transformed into him who is the splendor of the Father.
The day of the Last Judgement! That day no one knows -- only God the Father knows -- but its signs are given in the Gospel and in the Apocalypse of the holy Apostle John the Theologian. Revelation speaks of the events at the end of the world and of the Last Judgement primarily in images and in a veiled manner. However, the Holy Fathers have explained these images, and there is an authentic Church tradition that speaks clearly concerning the signs of the approach of the end, and concerning the Last Judgement. Before the end of life on earth there will be agitation, wars, civil war, hunger, earthquakes... Men will suffer from fear, will die from expectation of calamity. There will be no life, no joy of life but a tormented state of falling away from life. Nevertheless there will be a falling away not only from life, but from faith also, and "when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?" (St. Luke 18:8). Men will become proud, ungrateful, rejecting Divine law. Together with the falling away from life will be a weakening of moral life. There will be an exhaustion of good and an increase of evil.
Of these times, the holy Apostle John the Theologian speaks in his God-inspired work, the Apocalypse. He says that he "was in the Spirit" when he wrote it; this means that the Holy Spirit Himself was in him, when under the form of various images, the fate of the Church and the world was opened to him, and so this is a Divine Revelation.
The Apocalypse represents the fate of the Church in the image of a woman who hides herself in the wilderness: she does not show herself in public life, as today in Russia. In public life, forces that prepare the possibility for the appearance of Antichrist will play the leading role.
Antichrist will be a man, and not the devil incarnate. "Anti" means "old," and it also signifies "in place of" or "against." Antichrist is a man who desires to be in place of Christ, to occupy His place and possess what Christ should possess. He desires to possess the attraction of Christ and authority over the whole world. Moreover, Antichrist will receive that authority before his destruction and the destruction of the world.
What is known of this man -- Antichrist? His precise ancestry is unknown: his father is completely unknown, and his mother a foul pretended virgin. He will be a Jew of the tribe of Dan. He will be very intelligent and endowed with skill in handling people. He will be fascinating and kind. The philosopher Vladimir Soloviev worked a long time at presenting the advent and person of Antichrist. He carefully made use of all material on this question, not only Patristic, but also Moslem, and he worked out a brilliant picture.
Before the advent of Antichrist, there was a preparation in the world, the possibility of his appearance. The mystery of iniquity doth already work (II Thes. 2:7). The forces preparing for his appearance fight above all against the lawful Imperial authority. The holy Apostle Paul says that Antichrist cannot be manifested until what withholdest is taken away (II Thes. 2:6-7). St. John Chrysostom explains that the "withholding one" is the lawful pious authority: such an authority fights with evil. For this reason the "mystery," already at work in the world, fights with this authority; it desires a lawless authority. When the "mystery" decisively achieves that authority, nothing will hinder the appearance of Antichrist any longer.
Fascinating, intelligent, kind, he will be merciful — he will act with mercy and goodness; but not for the sake of mercy and goodness, but for the strengthening of his own authority. When he will have strengthened it to the point where the whole world acknowledges him, then he will reveal his face.
For his capital, he will choose Jerusalem, because it was here that the Savior revealed His Divine teaching and His person. It was here that the entire world was called to the blessedness of goodness and salvation. The world did not acknowledge Christ and crucified Him in Jerusalem; whereas, the whole world will acknowledge the Antichrist’s authority and Jerusalem will become the capital of the world.
Having attained the pinnacle of authority, Antichrist will demand the acknowledgement that he has attained what no earthly power had ever attained or could attain and then demand the worship of himself as a higher being, as a god.
V. Soloviev describes the character of his activity well, as "Supreme Ruler." He will do what is pleasing to all -- on the condition of being recognized as Supreme Authority. He will allow the Church to exist, permit her Divine services, promise to build magnificent churches…. on the condition, that all recognize him as "Supreme Being" and worship him. Antichrist will have a personal hatred for Christ; he will see Him as a rival and look upon Him as a personal enemy. He will live by this hatred and rejoice in men's apostasy from Christ.
Under Antichrist, there will be an immense falling away from the faith. Many bishops will change in faith and in justification will point to the brilliant situation of the Church. The search for compromise will be the characteristic disposition of men. Straight-forwardness of confession will disappear. Men will cleverly justify their fall, and gracious evil will support such a general disposition. There will be the habit of apostasy from truth and the sweetness of compromise and sin in men.
Antichrist will allow men everything, as long as they "fall down and worship him"; and the whole world will submit to him. Then there will appear the two righteous men, who will fearlessly preach the faith and accuse Antichrist. According to Church tradition, they are the two Prophets of the Old Testament, Elijah and Enoch, who did not taste of death, but will taste it now for three days, and in three days they must rise. Their death will call forth the great rejoicing of Antichrist and his servants. Their resurrection will plunge them into great confusion and terror. Then, the end of the world will come.
The Apostle Peter said that the first world was made out of water — an image of the primordial chaos, and perished by water — in the Flood. Now the world is reserved unto fire. The earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up (II Peter 3:5-7, 10). All the elements will ignite. This present world will perish in a single instant. In an instant all will be changed.
Moreover, the Sign of the Son of God, the Sign of the Cross, will appear. The whole world, having willingly submitted to Antichrist, will weep. Everything is finished forever: Antichrist killed, the end of his kingdom of warfare with Christ, the end, and one is held accountable; one must answer to the true God.
"The end of the world" signifies not the annihilation of the world, but its transformation. Everything will be transformed suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye. The dead will rise in new bodies: their own, but renewed, just as the Savior rose in His own body and traces of wounds from the nails and spear were on it, yet it possessed new faculties, and in this sense it was a new body. It is not clear whether this new body will be the same as Adam was made, or whether it will be an entirely new body.
Afterward, the Lord will appear in glory on the clouds. Trumpets will sound, loud, with power! They will sound in the soul and conscience! All will become clear to the human conscience. The Prophet Daniel, speaking of the Last Judgement, relates how the Ancient of Days, the Judge sits on His throne, and before Him is a fiery stream (Daniel 7:9-10). Fire is a purifying element; it burns sin. Woe to a man if sin has become a part of his nature: then the fire will burn the man, himself.
This fire will be kindled within man: seeing the Cross, some will rejoice, but others will fall into confusion, terror and despair. Thus, men will be divided instantly. The very state of a man's soul casts him to one side or the other, to right or to left.
The more consciously and persistently man strives toward God in his life, the greater will be his joy when he hears: "Come unto Me, ye blessed." Conversely: the same words will call the fire of horror and torture to those who did not desire Him, who fled and fought or blasphemed Him during their lifetime!
The Last Judgement knows of no witnesses or written protocols! Everything is inscribed in the souls of men and these records, these "books," are opened at the Judgement. Everything becomes clear to all and to oneself.
Moreover, some will go to joy, while others — to horror.
When "the books are opened," it will become clear that the roots of all vices lie in the human soul. Here is a drunkard or a lecher: when the body has died, some may think that sin is dead too. No! There was an inclination to sin in the soul, and that sin was sweet to the soul, and if the soul has not repented and has not freed itself of the sin, it will come to the Last Judgement with the same desire for sin. It will never satisfy that desire and in that soul there will be the suffering of hatred. It will accuse everyone and everything in its tortured condition; it will hate everyone and everything. "There will be gnashing of teeth" of powerless malice and the unquenchable fire of hatred.
A "fiery gehenna" — such is the inner fire. "There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth." Such is the state of hell.
Our church is dedicated to Our Venerable Mother Mary of Egypt. We are a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
Temptation is necessary to us to make us realize that we are nothing in ourselves. St. Augustine tells us that we should thank God as much for the sins from which He has preserved us as for those which He has had the charity to forgive us. If we have the misfortune to fall so often into the snares of the Devil, we set ourselves up again too much on the strength of our own resolutions and promises and too little upon the strength of God. This is very true.
When we do nothing to be ashamed of, when everything is going along according to our wishes, we dare to believe that nothing could make us fall. We forget our own nothingness and our utter weakness. We make the most delightful protestations that we are ready to die rather than to allow ourselves to be conquered. We see a splendid example of this in St. Peter, who told our Lord that although all others might be scandalized in Him, yet he would never deny Him.
Alas! To show him how man, left to himself, is nothing at all, God made use, not of kings or princes or weapons, but simply of the voice of a maidservant, who even appeared to speak to him in a very indifferent sort of way. A moment ago, he was ready to die for Him, and now Peter protests that he does not even know Him, that he does not know about whom they are speaking. To assure them even more vehemently that he does not know Him, he swears an oath about it. Dear Lord, what we are capable of when we are left to ourselves!
There are some who, in their own words, are envious of the saints who did great penances. They believe that they could do as well. When we read the lives of some of the martyrs, we would, we think, be ready to suffer all that they suffered for God; the moment is shortlived, we say, for an eternity of reward. But what does God do to teach us to know ourselves or, rather, to know that we are nothing? This is all He does: He allows the Devil to come a little closer to us. Look at this Christian who a moment ago was quite envious of the hermit who lived solely on roots and herbs and who made the stern resolution to treat his body as harshly. Alas! A slight headache, a prick of a pin, makes him, as big and strong as he is, sorry for himself. He is very upset. He cries with pain. A moment ago he would have been willing to do all the penances of the anchorites--and the merest trifle makes him despair!
Look at this other one, who seems to want to give his whole life for God, whose ardor all the torments there are cannot damp. A tiny bit of scandalmongering ... a word of calumny ... even a slightly cold reception or a small injustice done to him ... a kindness returned by ingratitude ... immediately gives birth in him to feelings of hatred, of revenge, of dislike, to the point, often, of his never wishing to see his neighbor again or at least of treating him coldly with an air which shows very plainly what is going on in his heart. And how many times is this his waking thought, just as it was the thought that almost prevented him from sleeping? Alas, my dear brethren, we are poor stuff, and we should count very little upon our good resolutions!
BEWARE IF YOU HAVE NO TEMPTATIONS
Whom does the devil pursue most? Perhaps you are thinking that it must be those who are tempted most; these would undoubtedly be the habitual drunkards, the scandalmongers, the immodest and shameless people who wallow in moral filth, and the miser, who hoards in all sorts of ways. No, my dear brethren, no, it is not these people. On the contrary, the Devil despises them, or else he holds onto them, lest they not have a long enough time in which to do evil, because the longer they live, the more their bad example will drag souls into Hell. Indeed, if the Devil had pursued this lewd and shameless old fellow too closely, he might have shortened the latter's life by fifteen or twenty years, and he would not then have destroyed the virginity of that young girl by plunging her into the unspeakable mire of his indecencies; he would not, again, have seduced that wife, nor would he have taught his evil lessons to that young man, who will perhaps continue to practice them until his death. If the Devil had prompted this thief to rob on every occasion, he would long since have ended on the scaffold and so he would not have induced his neighbor to follow his example. If the Devil had urged this drunkard to fill himself unceasingly with wine, he would long ago have perished in his debaucheries, instead of which, by living longer, he has made many others like himself. If the Devil had taken away the life of this musician, of that dancehall owner, of this cabaret keeper, in some raid or scuffle, or on any other occasion, how many souls would there be who, without these people, would not be damned and who now will be) St. Augustine teaches us that the Devil does not bother these people very much; on the contrary, he despises them and spits upon them.
So, you will ask me, who then are the people most tempted? They are these, my friends; note them carefully. The people most tempted are those who are ready, with the grace of God, to sacrifice everything for the salvation of their poor souls, who renounce all those things which most people eagerly seek. It is not one devil only who tempts them, but millions seek to entrap them. We arc told that St. Francis of Assisi and all his religious were gathered on an open plain, where they had built little huts of rushes. Seeing the extraordinary penances which were being practiced, St. Francis ordered that all instruments of penance should be brought out, whereupon his religious produced them in bundles. At this moment there was one young man to whom God gave the grace to see his Guardian Angel. On the one side he saw all of these good religious, who could not satisfy their hunger for penance, and, on the other, his Guardian Angel allowed him to see a gathering of eighteen thousand devils, who were holding counsel to see in what way they could subvert these religious by temptation. One of the devils said: "You do not understand this at all. These religious are so humble; ah, what wonderful virtue, so detached from themselves, so attached to God! They have a superior who leads them so well that it is impossible to succeed in winning them over. Let us wait until their superior is dead, and then we shall try to introduce among them young people without vocations who will bring about a certain slackening of spirit, and in this way we shall gain them."
A little further on, as he entered the town, he saw a devil, sitting by himself beside the gate into the town, whose task was to tempt all of those who were inside. This saint asked his Guardian Angel why it was that in order to tempt this group of religious there had been so many thousands of devils while for a whole town there was but one-and that one sitting down. His good angel told him that the people of the town had not the same need of temptations, that they had enough bad in themselves, while the religious were doing good despite all the traps which the Devil could lay for them.
The first temptation, my dear brethren, which the Devil tries on anyone who has begun to serve God better is in the matter of human respect. He will no longer dare to be seen around; he will hide himself from those with whom heretofore he had been mixing and pleasure seeking. If he should be told that he has changed a lot, he will be ashamed of it! What people are going to say about him is continually in his mind, to the extent that he no longer has enough courage to do good before other people. If the Devil cannot get him back through human respect, he will induce an extraordinary fear to possess him that his confessions are not good, that his confessor does not understand him, that whatever he does will be all in vain, that he will be damned just the same, that he will achieve the same result in the end by letting everything slide as by continuing to fight, because the occasions of sin will prove too many for him.
Why is it, my dear brethren, that when someone gives no thought at all to saving his soul, when he is living in sin, he is not tempted in the slightest, but that as soon as he wants to change his life, in other words, as soon as the desire to give his life to God comes to him, all Hell falls upon him? Listen to what St. Augustine has to say: "Look at the way," he tells us, "in which the Devil behaves towards the sinner. He acts like a jailer who has a great many prisoners locked up in his prison but who, because he has the key in his pocket, is quite happy to leave them, secure in the knowledge that they cannot get out. This is his way of dealing with the sinner who does not consider the possibility of leaving his sin behind. He does not go to the trouble of tempting him. He looks upon this as time wasted because not only is the sinner not thinking of leaving him, but the Devil does not desire to multiply his chains. It would be pointless, therefore, to tempt him. He allows him to live in peace, if, indeed, it is possible to live in peace when one is in sin. He hides his state from the sinner as much as is possible until death, when he then tries to paint a picture of his life so terrifying as to plunge him into despair. But with anyone who has made up his mind to change his life, to give himself up to God, that is another thing altogether."
While St. Augustine lived in sin and evil, he was not aware of anything by which he was tempted. He believed himself to be at peace, as he tells us himself. But from the moment that he desired to turn his back upon the Devil, he had to struggle with him, even to the point of losing his breath in the fight. And that lasted for five years. He wept the most bitter of tears and employed the most austere of penances: "I argued with him," he says, "in my chains. One day I thought myself victorious, the next I was prostrate on the earth again. This cruel and stubborn war went on for five years. However, God gave me the grace to be victorious over my enemy."
You may see, too, the struggle which St. Jerome endured when he desired to give himself to God and when he had the thought of visiting the Holy Land. When he was in Rome, he conceived a new desire to work for his salvation. Leaving Rome, he buried himself in a fearsome desert to give himself over to everything with which his love of God could inspire him. Then the Devil, who foresaw how greatly his conversion would affect others, seemed to burst with fury and despair. There was not a single temptation that he spared him. I do not believe that there is any saint who was as strongly tempted as he. This is how he wrote to one of his friends:
"My dear friend, I wish to confide in you about my affliction and the state to which the Devil seeks to reduce me. How many times in this vast solitude, which the heat of the sun makes insupportable, how many times the pleasures of Rome have come to assail me! The sorrow and the bitterness with which my soul is filled cause me, night and day, to shed floods of tears. I proceed to hide myself in the most isolated places to struggle with my temptations and there to weep for my sins. My body is all disfigured and covered with a rough hair shirt. I have no other bed than the naked ground and my only food is coarse roots and water, even in my illnesses. In spite of all these rigors, my body still experiences thoughts of the squalid pleasures with which Rome is poisoned; my spirit finds itself in the midst of those pleasant companionships in which I so greatly offended God. In this desert to which I have condemned myself to avoid Hell, among these somber rocks, where I have no other companions than the scorpions and the wild beasts, my spirit still burns my body, already dead before myself, with an impure fire; the Devil still dares to offer it pleasures to taste. I behold myself so humiliated by these temptations, the very thought of which makes me die with horror, and not knowing what further austerities I should exert upon my body to attach it to God, that I throw myself on the ground at the foot of my crucifix, bathing it with my tears, and when I can weep no more I pick up stones and beat my breast with them until the blood comes out of my mouth, begging for mercy until the Lord takes pity upon me. Is there anyone who can understand the misery of my state, desiring so ardently to please God and to love Him alone? Yet I see myself constantly prone to offend Him. What sorrow this is for me! Help me, my dear friend, by the aid of your prayers, so that I may be stronger in repelling the Devil, who has sworn my eternal damnation."
These, my dear brethren, are the struggles to which God permits his great saints to be exposed. Alas, how we are to be pitied if we are not fiercely harried by the Devil! According to all appearances, we are the friends of the Devil: he lets us live in a false peace, he lulls us to sleep under the pretense that we have said some good prayers, given some alms, that we have done less harm than others. According to our standard, my dear brethren, if you were to ask, for instance, this pillar of the cabaret if the Devil tempted him, he would answer quite simply that nothing was bothering him at all. Ask this young girl, this daughter of vanity, what her struggles are like, and she will tell you laughingly that she has none at all, that she does not even know what it is to be tempted. There you see, my dear brethren, the most terrifying temptation of all, which is not to be tempted. There you see the state of those whom the Devil is preserving for Hell. If I dared, I would tell you that he takes good care not to tempt or torment such people about their past lives, lest their eyes be opened to their sins.
The greatest of all evils is not to be tempted because there are then grounds for believing that the Devil looks upon us as his property and that he is only awaiting our deaths to drag us into Hell. Nothing could be easier to understand. just consider the Christian who is trying, even in a small way, to save his soul. Everything around him inclines him to evil; he can hardly lift his eyes without being tempted, in spite of all his prayers and penances. And yet a hardened sinner, who for the past twenty years has been wallowing in sin, will tell you that he is not tempted! So much the worse, my friend, so much the worse! That is precisely what should make you tremble-that you do not know what temptations arc. For to say that you are not tempted is like saying the Devil no longer exists or that he has lost all his rage against Christian souls. "If you have no temptations," St. Gregory tells us, "it is because the devils are your friends, your leaders, and your shepherds. And by allowing you to pass your poor life tranquilly, to the end of your days, they will drag you down into the depths."
Benedict XVI reflects on Psalm 110, "a Psalm beloved by the ancient Church and by believers of all times"
From Vatican Information Service:
VATICAN CITY, 16 NOV 2011 (VIS) - During today's general audience in St Peter's Square, attended by over 11,000 pilgrims, the Holy Father imparted the final catechesis of his cycle dedicated to the Psalms. He focused on Psalm 110, which "Jesus Himself cited, and which the authors of the New Testament referred to widely and interpreted in reference to the Messiah. ... It is a Psalm beloved by the ancient Church and by believers of all times", which celebrates "the victorious and glorified Messiah seated at the right hand of God".
The Psalm begins with a solemn declaration: "The Lord says to my lord: 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool". Benedict XVI explained that "Christ is the Lord enthroned, the Son of man seated at the right hand of God. ... He is the true king who by resurrection entered into glory, ... higher than the angels, seated in the heavens over all other powers, ... and with all His adversaries at His feet until the last enemy, death, is definitively defeated by Him".
God and the king celebrated in the Psalm are inseparably linked. "The two govern together, to the point that the Psalmist confirms that God Himself grants the regal sceptre, giving the king the task of defeating his adversaries. ... The exercise of power is a task the king receives directly from the Lord, a responsibility which involves dependence and obedience, thus becoming a sign to the people of God's powerful and provident presence. Dominion over enemies, glory and victory are gifts the king has received, that make him a mediator of divine triumph over evil".
The priestly dimension, linked to that of regality, appears in verse four. "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind 'You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek'". This priest, the king of Salem, had blessed Abraham and offered bread and wine following the victorious military campaign conducted by the patriarch to save Lot from the hands of his enemies. The king of the Psalm "will be a priest forever, mediator of the divine presence among His people, a catalyst for the blessing of God". Jesus Christ "is the true and definitive priest, Who will complete and perfect the features of Melchizedek's priesthood". In the bread and wine of the Eucharist, Christ "offers Himself and, defeating death, brings life to all believers".
The final verses portray "the triumphant sovereign who, with the support of the Lord, having received power and glory from Him, opposes his enemies, defeating adversaries and judging nations".
The Church traditionally considers this Psalm as one of the most significant messianic texts. "The king as sung by the Psalmist is Christ, the Messiah Who establishes the Kingdom of God and overcomes the powers of the world. He is the Word generated by God before any creature, the Son incarnate, Who died and rose to heaven, the eternal Priest Who, in the mystery of the bread and wine, grants forgiveness for sins and reconciliation with God; the King Who raised his head in triumph over death by His resurrection".
The Psalm invites us to "look to Christ to understand the meaning of true regality which is to be lived as service and the giving of self, following a path of obedience and love 'to the end'. Praying this Psalm, we therefore ask the Lord to enable us to proceed along this same journey, following Christ, the Messiah, willing to ascend with Him on the hill of the cross to accompany Him in glory, and to look to Him seated at the right hand of the Father, the victorious king and merciful priest Who gives forgiveness and salvation to all mankind".
Finally, the Pope explained that, in the course of his catechesis dedicated to the Psalms, he had sought to focus on those "that reflect the different situations in life and the various attitudes we may have towards God. I would like to renew my call to everyone to pray the Psalms, to become accustomed to using the Liturgy of the Hours, Lauds, Vespers, and Compline. Our relationship with God can only be enriched by our journeying towards Him day after day