The Good Will Factor

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.   (Matthew 7:12)

“There is nothing we can offer to God more precious than good will. But what good is will? To have good will is to experience concern for someone else’s adversities as if they were our own; to give thanks for our neighbor’s prosperity as for our own; to believe that another person’s loss is our own, and also that another’s gain is ours;

to love a friend in God, and bear with an enemy out of love; to do to no one what we do not want to suffer ourselves, and to refuse to no one what we rightly want for ourselves; to choose to help a neighbor who is in need not only to the whole extent of our ability, but even beyond our means. What offering is richer, what offering is more substantial than this one? What we are offering to God on the altar of our hearts is the sacrifice of ourselves!”

(St Gregory the Great, Be Friends of God, p. 65)

Kindness

Kindness does not mean overlooking people’s sins; it means forgiving them. Kindness also does not mean “being nice” to everyone whoever they are and whatever they do. It does not mean “going along” with others in every way. A kind person will correct others, if need be, and his very kindness will be shown by his care and concern for the well-being of his fellow creature “for whom Christ died” (Rom 14.15).

(Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Orthodox Faith Vol. 4 Spirituality, p. 85)

Sharing Warmth from the Heart

I use this blog to share with others quotes or thoughts that have influenced my own thinking or that have inspired me in one way or another.  The quote below was on a calendar I was given as a Christmas present.  I’m not familiar with the author, and I am not quoting this for who said it, rather I just liked the thought he expressed.

Let my soul smile through my heart

and my heart smile through my eyes,

that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.

Paramahansa Yogananda (d. 1952)

 

Kindness to a Stranger: Caring for Aging Parents

My child, help your father in his old age,
and do not grieve him as long as he lives;
even if his mind fails, be patient with him;
because you have all your faculties do not despise him.
For kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
and will be credited to you against your sins;
in the day of your distress it will be remembered in your favor;
like frost in fair weather, your sins will melt away.
Whoever forsakes a father is like a blasphemer,
and whoever angers a mother is cursed by the Lord.    (Sirach 3:12-16)

According to  Fr. Edward Mazich (“Introducing the Book of Sirach: ‘Our Elders in the Faith'”, THE BIBLE TODAY,  Jan/Feb 2014, pp 9-10) the book of Sirach offers thoughts on respecting elders and the aged which speak to the modern Christian who finds him or herself having to care for aging parents and relatives.  I want to quote extensively from the conclusion of his article because I thought it so well written.

“Expanding upon what Sirach begins to intimate, we may say plainly that Christians do not live in a world ruled by strict or mechanical standards of reward and punishment, but in a world they are called to transform through self-giving love; this world is the reality revealed by Jesus in the Gospel as the kingdom of God.  Therefore when a believer in Christ who is dealing with the needs of an elderly loved one realizes that there will be no earthly reward for this kindness, and that the situation – maddening as it may be – is not going to get any better, he or she can find strength and even a foretaste of redemption in knowing that the unrepaid kindness is itself a reflection of the perfect self-giving love shown by Jesus through the course of his ministry and, in a surpassing way, through his death on the cross.

We do not therefore expect any recompense for caring for our elders, nor do we live in a naive fear of divine retribution if our care and concern weaken in their resolve.  One can either keep track of the costs of such care with a worldly eye, allowing anger and resentment to build up over being saddled with an unexpected burden of care, or one can embrace the task of parental care for the sake of love alone, much as those same elders cared for us several decades or generations ago out of love alone.

To respond in this way to the often-intense needs of one’s elders during their declining years fosters our own attempts to live as people attentive to God’s word.  In the pages of the gospels, each with its own focus and emphasis, the nature and the very identity of the reign of God can be frustratingly evasive.  Dealing with the care of a parent or an elderly loved one, and facing the reality of making significant changes in one’s life and schedule, or placing additional stress on one’s own spouse or family, a disciple of Jesus can take heart by reflecting on the moving wisdom of Sirach and seeing his teaching brought to fruition through Jesus’ invitation to live as members of God’s kingdom.

mercytoChristFor kingdom-people there need be no further motivation to  be present to one’s aged parents and loved ones than the words of Jesus in Matthew’s great Last Judgment scene: ‘I was sick and you cared for me . . . in prison and you visited me’ (Matt:25:36).  The illness that weigh upon those in lonely apartments and nursing homes today were not as commonly seen in Jesus’ day, and the imprisonment he spoke of was almost certainly meant literally; nonetheless, his command to extend oneself in love to others without hope of recompense is without doubt apropos when dealing with one’s elders who are afflicted by diminished capacities or suffering the imprisonment of mental confusion and anguish.

Taking our cue from the book of sirach, we can carry the wisdom of the Old Testament to its Gospel fulfillment by faithfully living as sons and daughters of the kingdom.  When it comes to our elders this means not allowing the stress, frustration, and anger of the moment, brought about by the task of caring for an aged or ill parent or relative, to embitter our relationships with them, which can never be healed once they are gone.  Sirach’s reverence for the past and its heroes gives the present generation a profound inspiration to recognize and honor the image of God within our elders, so that we may show them authentic kindness and compassion, and so that they may ‘look upon us with joy, in life and in death’ (cf Sir 30:5)”

Giving Your Attention and a Kind Word

“Likewise, a kind word is more acceptable than a gift. In many cases, you see, attention in word has helped a needy person back on his feet more effectively than a gift. Aware of this, then, let us make no difficulty about meeting visitors; instead, if on the one hand we are in a position to alleviate their poverty, let us do so with love and cheerfulness, not as giving something but as gaining very great advantage. On the other hand, if we cannot do so, let us not be uncivil with them but at least offer them attention in word and respond to them with restraint.”  (St. John Chyrsostom in Homilies on Genesis 18-45, pg. 416)

Preparing to Enter the Kingdom of God

“What can be simpler, he asks, than giving a glass of cold water or bread, or than refraining from one’s own desires and petty thoughts. Yet through such things the kingdom of heaven is offered to us, by the grace of Him who said:  ‘Behold the kingdom of heaven is within you.’   For as St. John of Damaskos says, the kingdom of heaven is not far away, not outside us, but within us.  Simply choose to overcome the passions, and you will possess it within you because you live in accordance with the will of God.”   (St. Peter of Damaskos in Longing for God: Orthodox Reflections on Bible, Ethics, and Liturgy by John Breck, pg. 46)

Midfeast of Pentecost (2010)

The Feast of Mid-Pentecost which ties together the Feasts of Pascha and Pentecost is perhaps not significant in the life of many Orthodox in America, just a minor afterthought in the Post-Paschal season.   I found its Old Testament readings to be very meaningful and so reproduce portions of two of the readings here.  The readings are both “compilations,” meaning that various verses are pulled from the text and cobbled together.  It is a very specific use of Scripture done in and by the Church – reordering the canonical texts for a specific effect.  The two readings, one from the Prophet Micah and one from the Prophet Isaiah are below, in the order they are read in Vespers.  I won’t offer any comment, but wish you a blessed Feast of Mid-Pentecost.

First Reading:  Micah 4:2-3, 5; 6:2-5, 8; 5:4,5 

[4:2] Many nations shall come and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. [3] He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more;  [5] For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever.

[6:2] Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the LORD has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel. [3] “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! [4] For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. …  [8] He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

 [5:4] And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; [5] and he shall be the one of peace.

Second Reading:   Isaiah 55:1, 12:3-4; 55:2-13 (NRSV)

 [55:1] Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

 [12:3] With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. [4] And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.

[55:2] Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. [3] Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. [4] See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. [5] See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. [6] Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; [7] let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. [8] For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. [9] For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. [10] For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, [11] so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. [12] For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. [13] Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Great Lent: Self Denial Replaces Self Love with Christ-like Love

  “Again and again in the New Testament it is clear that the Christian community is called upon to model new patterns of human relating, new standards for how to treat one another.    The key word is ‘love,’… But I want to draw attention to something else… that we should be positively kind to one another. ‘Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us’ (Ephesians 4:32-5:2).  The quest for justice all too easily degenerates into the demand for my rights or our rights.  The command of kindness asks that we spend our time looking not at ourselves and our needs, our rights, our wrongs-that-need-righting, but at every else and their needs, pressures, pains, and joys.  Kindness is a primary way of growing up as a human being, of establishing and maintaining the richest and deepest relationships.”   (NT Wright, SIMPLY CHRISTIAN, pp 228-229)   

 Lent is not the time to become more self focused, but rather by denying oneself to have more time and energy to look to the good and edification (the building up) of others.