I don’t watch TV. Well, I will watch a ballgame sometimes but, other than that, I try to stay away from TV. That means I don’t watch the news. I think it has become obvious to anyone paying attention, especially over the last few years, that our news outlets are either outright lying to us or, at very least, not telling us the whole story.
I do, however, pay attention to several independent journalists. You know, the ones that are on the ground in the places from which they are reporting, not sitting in some studio wearing makeup. I was listening to one the other day talking about corruption and such within our government and I heard something that resonated with truth.
“Convenience is the carrot.”
Now, she was not talking about spiritual things; she was talking about other things. But man, there is so much truth in this when it comes to our spiritual life as well. What is it that keeps us from living the life Christ has called us to? What is it that keeps us from taking up our cross and following the Lord Jesus, no matter the cost?
“Convenience is the carrot.”
We do not do what Holy Scripture demands of us because it’s inconvenient. We do not do what Holy Tradition demands of us because it’s inconvenient.
We are slaves to our convenience.
Not too long ago, I visited a monastery in West Virginia and spent the weekend there. I have longed to spend time at a monastery for some time, but the past two years have made that rather difficult. I have always been attracted to the monastic way of life and ethos. I was not disappointed. The weekend was wonderful.
The entire weekend was spent away from all the conveniences of my life in the world. My cell phone would not work (what a lovely thing!), there were no TVs anywhere to be seen, no music blaring, no sound of traffic, no social media. There were hours of prayer and silence. The monks chanting, the candles burning, reverencing the holy icons, being soaked in incense…it was soul-filling, peaceful and challenging.
Saturday night at the monastery was spent standing in the Vigil service for over three hours. Yes, you read that correctly. We stood and prayed and gave confession and received absolution and prayed some more for three hours. And it was glorious.
There was no convenience to be had. It was hard work but also highly rewarding. The carrot for me that weekend was a deeper life of prayer and union with Christ.
I have spoken a lot about this but the sooner we divorce ourselves from the convenience of this world, the better off our souls will be. I’ll give you an example. What do we do on Saturday evenings? Most of us will spend Saturday evenings immersing ourselves in whatever entertainment venue we choose. Could be family movie night, could be a card game, going out to eat, drinking, whatever.
The point is that rarely do we spend Saturday night in silence. Rarely, if ever, do we spend Saturday night in prayer or reading Holy Scripture or some piece of spiritual writing, in preparation for worship on Sunday. No, we spend our time indulging in our pleasures.
St. John Chrysostom (Homily 13 on 1 Timothy) has this to say about those who live in pleasure,
“A man who lives in pleasure, is dead while he lives. For he lives only to his belly. In his other senses he lives not. He sees not what he ought to see, he hears not what he ought to hear, he speaks not what he ought to speak. Nor does he perform the actions of the living. But as he who is stretched upon a bed, with his eyes closed, and his eyelids fast, perceives nothing that is passing; so it is with this man, or rather not so, but worse. For the one is equally insensible to things good and evil, but the latter is sensible to things evil only, but as insensible as the former to things good. Thus he is dead. For nothing relating to the life to come moves or affects him.”
Read that again. A man (or woman) who lives in pleasure is dead. He lives only to satisfy his appetites. He cannot see or hear what’s really going on and he cannot speak as he ought. St. John says, if this is how we live our lives, we’re as good as stretched out on a bed, passed out and blind to the world around us. Nothing related to the life to come moves or affects us.
This is us, dear reader. We are the dead ones. We spend our time in useless and trivial pursuits, satisfying our appetites for entertainment and our belly, our lusts and our conveniences. And we are largely dead to the things of the life to come.
One of our biggest problems is that we don’t really believe that there is such a thing as eternity. Our minds can’t grasp it and so we don’t truly believe it. Or, what we’ve been told about eternity is this nebulous notion of “heaven” in which we’ll all sit around and live this disembodied and ethereal life and float around. No, friends. We are flesh and we will be in the life to come. Albeit, redeemed and made new, born again into true humanity as it was in the beginning. And that life will last forever.
C.S. Lewis talked about this truth when he said,
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Our desires are too weak. We are half-hearted, seeking the carrot of convenience and our ease when infinite joy and communion with our God is offered to us. We are far too easily pleased and placated. Our souls will pay the price.
When we are tempted, brothers and sisters, to pursue the things of the world, to compromise, to be distracted, to be lulled to sleep by our appetites, we must never forget: Convenience is the carrot the devil offers us. It is far too inconvenient for us to pick up our cross and follow Christ. But if we do not, our souls and the souls of our children will pay the price.
Modernity and the Church
It has become very apparent that our modern world, in many ways, is the enemy of a pious Christian life. I know that sounds outrageous to many people. When I talk about this with most people, even those who claim to be Christian, they mostly look at me like I have three heads. Consider with me if you will our lives in today’s world.
We are quite possibly the most distracted people in the history of humanity. That probably sounds hyperbolic, but I really don’t think it is. From the moment we rise in the morning until we close our eyes at night, we are bombarded. Our minds and hearts are in a constant state and world of noise and entertainment. Our so-called smart phones think for us. Rather, they constantly keep our minds and hearts dulled with an endless barrage of nonsense. Social media dictates our ideas to us and implants in us a worldview and lifestyle that is not only not true but is indeed harmful to our souls.
Our televisions stay on close to around the clock. From that screen, images are burned into our psyche and messages are planted in our brains that literally change the way we think. Propaganda is the norm. We are “taught” by our TVs that homosexuality and transgenderism and all the other “wokeness” is not only attractive and cool but normal and not something that should be questioned. We are given an image of what our lives should be like, how we should speak to others and how we should spend our money and time. Rarely, if ever, are these images those of the life of Christ or His Church. And if they are, the images we mostly see of Christians is either comedic and ridiculous or painted as either ignorant or “behind the times.” Christianity is not portrayed as something attractive or beautiful or fulfilling.
If we are really honest with ourselves, even the behavior of most who claim to be Christian in the modern world is a little fuzzy at best. Most modern people who call themselves Christian will openly say they have no problem with homosexuality or promiscuity or whatever else is corrupting our society. They tacitly approve of sin with expressions like, “It’s none of my business,” or, “You do you,” or, “Follow your heart.” And the worst is, “You have to follow your truth,” as if Truth were something that is entirely subjective and up to you. Or, even more sadly, those who claim to be Christian participate in these sins.
If you want to know how Christians are supposed to live, I suggest a few things. Number one, read Holy Scripture. The Scriptures are resplendent with instructions and commands we are to live by as followers of Christ; both Old and New Testament are important. After all, God has not changed His mind about what holiness is. As we review just the New Testament, it becomes readily apparent that most of us (including me) are not living as the Scriptures tell us to. Even a cursory consideration of our lives will show us that.
Another thing that we can do is to read the lives of the Saints. These brothers and sisters in the faith lived luminous lives of faith, chastity, asceticism, and holiness. That’s why they are Saints. Frankly, when I read the lives of the Saints, I am embarrassed by how weak my own faith is and how poorly I live my life. Another group that we can emulate as much as possible and learn from are the Church Fathers. If you want to know how Christians should live and what they should believe, these men are humble and brilliant examples and teachers. There is much more I could say about the Fathers but I will refrain right now. You can also study the lives and writings of the monastics. Although they are, in many ways, outside our experience, we can learn much from them.
Last but certainly not least, we see how Christians are supposed to live by emulating the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. You may say, yes but that’s Jesus, and I can’t be Jesus. No, you and I cannot be Jesus. But we can be conformed to His image (Romans 8:29) and we should be. We have put on Christ and therefore should look like Him (Romans 13:11-14, Galatians 3:27, Colossians 3:9-12, Ephesians 4:22-24).
We are to be different than the world (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). We should look different, walk differently, talk differently, have different priorities etc. Our love for the world, wordly things and ways are anti-Christian (1 John 2:15-17). In fact, they make us anti-christs. My brothers and sisters, we need to repent. For the sake of our souls, we need to turn again to the Lord Jesus and forsake the world. If we do not, we will perish. Go into your prayer “closet,” stand before the icons, prostrate yourself and beg God’s forgiveness. Ask Him for His strength to stand against the world and things thereof. Come out from among them and be ye separate.
Pray for me and each other.