One of the marks of being a Christian is reading and studying Holy Scripture. We must recognize, as an aside, how fortunate we are in the modern world to have printed copies of the Bible available easily and affordably. The earliest Christians did not have that luxury, as it was virtually unheard of and ghastly expensive to have written copies of Holy Scripture back then.
Anyways, back to it. I have begun to follow a reading plan that I heard Fr. John Whiteford put out awhile back. You read six chapters a day, one chapter from each of the major sections of Holy Scripture. So, a chapter from the Torah, a chapter from the Wisdom writings, a chapter from the Prophets etc…
This morning my chapter from the Gospels was Matthew 7. If you’ve never read it or at least haven’t read it recently, you should go and do that before proceeding. Jesus says something here that is absolutely terrifying. Picking up in verse 18,
“A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”
Right in the middle of this text..see that? Jesus says that not everyone who calls Him Lord and even prophesies, cast out demons and does wonderful works will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He says that not only will He say to them, “I never knew you” but also calls them workers of iniquity. What?! Think about this. These people, He says, will prophecy, cast out demons and do wonderful works in His Name. That indicates, to me, a certain amount of faith and we would even call them Christians. But He says that He will cast them out.
Because they will be known by their fruit. Because they will just hear but not do, He says. I’m noticing a trend among most people who call themselves Christian these days (including me). In fact, I had this conversation with a young man yesterday. I said to him that, if early Christians saw us today (in both our private and church lives), they would not recognize us as Christians. We are far too worldly.
We are far too worldly.
For example, I dare say that our forefathers in the faith would never have asked or thought, “if I go to a wedding, does that count as my Sunday obligation?” They would not have viewed attendance at Church as merely an obligation. I dare say that our forefathers in the faith would not have worried if the clothes they were wearing made them hip or trendy and they certainly would have made sure that their bodies were covered. Many of them lived in rags and abject poverty in the desert and monasteries and didn’t really care about the style of the day. Our forefathers would never have questioned “sacrificing” sleep for prayer or the giving of tithes because inflation has risen. Our forefathers in the faith never said they needed a vacation or that Church services lasted too long or that fasting isn’t necessary.
We are weak and worldly people, brothers and sisters. We have traded a way of Life, a manner of being for comfort. We have traded Christ for TV, fasting for fish on Fridays during Lent, and our preferences over prostration in humility before the majesty and grace of our Lord Jesus.
Will you join me as we purify our lives and hearts? We must flee from sin and run to Christ (1 Timothy 6:3-14). We must get rid of the things that hold us back from Christ (Hebrews 12:1-2). Jesus even went so far as to tell us that, if our eye causes us to sin, we should gouge it out (Matthew 5:29)! We should be ruthless with sin and the things that can lead to sin and the world. We should be ruthless with ourselves and the passions which so easily enslave us (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Do we really think we are immune from God’s wrath because we espouse a certain set of moral imperatives? Because we go to what we call church once a week and don’t sleep around? What about what we say, the words that come out of our mouths (Eph. 4:29, James 3:10, Matt. 12:34-37, Prov. 4:24, Luke 6:45)?
We are weak and worldly, brothers and sisters. Let us fall on our faces and repent. Let us cleanse from our lives, our hearts the things of the world that we have allowed to distract us from Christ. Let us throw off the things that so easily ensnare us and turn again to Christ.
Pray for me and each other.
When I was a rookie police officer, my training officer and I went on a domestic disturbance call. There were many such calls over the years, but I’ll never forget this one. We got there and could hear a man and woman shouting at each other in the house. My training officer pounded on the door. The door was jerked open from within, and things got suddenly real quiet. We walked in the house.
Now, I have to tell you why things got so quiet. I’m not a big dude. I’m barely 5’9” and weigh maybe a buck seventy. Back then, I was lighter, probably around 160 lbs. My training officer, however, was another story. About 6’4” and weighed about 250 and it was all muscle. He was a big guy and looked very intimidating.
We walk in the house and my TO picked up the TV remote. He turned the channel and said, “Ya’ll be quiet; Andy’s on.” And so, we watched a few minutes of the Andy Griffith show. I had no idea what was going on but knew that this was NOT how they taught us to handle domestics at the academy. At a commercial break, my TO looked at both them and said, “Ya’ll don’t be ugly.” He got their names and we walked out.
Ya’ll don’t be ugly.
It’s a southern thing.
I tell that story to start this conversation about ugliness. If you pay attention at all to what is happening in the world, you can see quite clearly the ugliness of the world around us. There is so much hate, so much vitriol, so much tension. Rage seems to just ooze out of everyone. Our public figures (especially our President) just seem to be angry all the time about everything. The fact that we even have conversations about abortion and war and mass shootings and suicide and drug overdoses (and the list could go on) should illustrate to us how ugly and bitter and destructive the world is.
This is a real struggle for me right now. I see the ugliness of the world. I see the destructive and satanic agenda being pushed, especially on our children, and I am anxious and angry and feel the proverbial walls closing in. The fact that people either seem oblivious to this or don’t seem to care and just keep kicking the can down the road is unfathomable to me. Going along to get along and keeping quiet while the world descends into hell is unacceptable.
But here’s where it really strikes home for me. I was recently reading a book review of a compilation of sayings from St. Silouan, a Russian ascetic. One of the sayings jumped off the page at me.
“Of a truth I say, speaking before God whom my soul knoweth: in the spirit I know the Most Pure Virgin. I never beheld her, but the Holy Spirit allowed me to know her and her love for us. Had it not been for her compassion I should have perished long ago; but she was minded to come to me and show me, that I might not sin. This is what she said: ‘I find your ways ugly to look upon.’ And her words, soft, quiet and gentle, wrought upon my soul. More than forty years have passed since then but my soul can never forget those sweet words, and I know not what return to make for such love towards my sinful self, nor how to give thanks to the good and forbearing Mother of the Lord.”
“I find your ways ugly to look upon.”
I cannot stop hearing it in my soul. “I find your ways ugly to look upon.” Can you feel how that quiet whisper crashes into your heart? Oh, how this convicts me! How far I have fallen from the ways of our Saviour. How far I have fallen from the ways of His Blessed Mother. How far I have fallen from the ways of the saints.
I read Holy Scripture and the things that our Lord Jesus said and did, the things that His Apostles said and did, the words of the Fathers and the saints and I am ashamed. I am ashamed of myself. Far too often, my ways are ugly to look upon. My selfishness, pettiness, anger, greediness, and worldliness are so very ugly. So very sinful. Wretched man that I am. I live such a silly and frivolous life. My heart is too easily distracted by silly things that have no eternal value. I think we’re all like this at times. We read the lives of our Lord, His Apostles, the Fathers and the Saints and we should be struck by the differences in ourselves and them. There was an intensity and focus and sobriety about them that we are sorely lacking. Or maybe it’s just me.
Pray for me, brothers and sisters. Pray for yourselves. Let us fall on our faces and repent of our ugly ways. Turn off the TV, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook. Turn away from the world. Turn again to the staggering beauty of our crucified Lord. Turn again to the purity and piety of the ascetical life of the Church. Turn again to prayer and the life of the Christian. Partake of the Liturgy and the Body and Blood of our Lord as often as possible.
May God forgive us for the ugliness of our lives and hearts. May He grant us His beauty and peace as we turn again, over and over, to Him.