My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever.
My dear friends, during the past two weeks of Great Lent, as well as during the time of preparation for Lent, the Holy Church urged us to look deeper into our souls so that we might understand what there might be there of which we need to repent, what vices we might have become enslaved to from which we long to be freed, and what we might have within our life that needs to be changed.
The Church recalled to her children time and time again the words of the Holy Prophet and Forerunner Saint John the Baptist when He said: “Do penance, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Now of course, we know the kingdom of Heaven is not only for us “at hand,” but it also must be “at heart.” It is not merely close by us, it must enter into us. Our Lord assures us of this truth when He told His disciples: “Behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” The kingdom of heaven must enter into us, filling us by the grace of the Holy Spirit, eradicating all power and all strength of the enemy within us, overcoming sinful inclinations in all those who undertake the daily struggle to live according to the law of God.
St. Gregory (Palamas) writes in his conversation on the second week of Great Lent, and he says specifically: “Since the Kingdom of God is at hand and within us and will soon arrive, let us make ourselves worthy of it by works of repentance. Let us exercise force on ourselves, driving away evil prejudices and habits. For ‘the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.’ (Matt. 11:12). We should emulate the patience, humility, and faith of our God-bearing Fathers. Let us mortify those parts of us which belong to the earth: fornication, impurity, evil passion and covetousness, especially during these holy days of the fast.”
My dear friends, when we undertake fasting and prayer, in the emptying of ourselves before God Almighty, in return we can be filled, discovering quite wondrously that by grace we are filled with love of God and love for each other. If we had heretofore had some contention against each other, we will genuinely and lovingly forgive and, with good deeds and good words, we restore peace and harmony, enlivening good will and rooting out all grudges and dissimulations.
Let us enter the daily struggle with resolve, my dear friends. Let us do so that our fasting and our prayer might not be fruitless. Let us not succumb to the suggestion of the evil one, who seeks to entice us to follow merely the letter of the law of prayer and of fast, neglecting the spirit, and thus we fall into the same errors and vanity as we saw the Pharisee in the parable several weeks ago.
The Lord urges us not to expect praise from people for our temperance, but, on the contrary, He enjoins us to wash our face, to anoint our heads with oil, and not be downcast. And our Lord speaks not only outwardly, but inwardly, as well. We are not simply to anoint our heads exteriorly, but also interiorly, understanding by “head” as our mind, annointed with oil, consecrated to holiness. We are to wash not only our exterior faces, but also our interior face, that is, our thoughts towards others, washing away shameful and impure sentiments, washing away anger, washing away contention, washing away all that is evil.
In calling us to solitude and concentration during the days of fasting, the Lord directs us to the path of knowing ourselves, knowing the measure of our own sinfulness, and measuring and cultivating our readiness to repent. And for this work it is absolutely necessary to avoid those vain pursuits which can excite the soul, which cloud the mind with sinful images and passions. Thus it is particulary salutary for one to forgo worldly entertainments during this time of fast, particularly those entertainments which tend to become a waste of time, those which distract from prayer and those which distract from spiritual recollection. You and your spiritual director are the best judges of how this is best accomplished in practice in your own situation and your own state of life, so have recourse to good spiritual advice.
Regardless of one’s particular state in life, we can speak in more general terms of the universal vocation which is shared by all Christians. And for everyone, for each and every Christian, the importance of Lenten solitude can not be overstated – regardless of the form it might take, and regardless of the amount of time which one can devote to it. It’s absolutely necessary, this Lenten solitude.
For the hermit, he might spend the entirety of Lent far from any other human person, spending each hour, each minute in recollection of God, keeping vigil each night, each day having psalmody on his lips.
On the other hand, for those in the world, for the mother or the father of a family living and making a way in this world, for them Lenten solitude might be five minutes of silent reflection while travelling in the car, or late at night five minutes of silent reflection simply before going to bed. All of this is good. God gives the graces necessary to each one of us. Regardless of the differences in outward form, the inward importance remains absolutely the same.
One holy ascetic, in speaking about the importance of solitude, gives us the following example. He said: If you pour water into a vessel and then disturb it, then, looking into the water, you will not see a reflection. But when the water is settled, then looking into the vessel, you will see your face, as in a mirror.
As with water in a vessel, so also with the human person: when a person is in the midst of other people, it is harder for him to see his soul because of the incessant communication that moves him to and fro. But when he retires to solitude, and allows all that has been stirred up within him to settle back into place, then he can truly see himself.
My dear friends, hoping on the mercy of the Lord, let us go to Him in and with repentance, asking Him for forgiveness, having in our hearts a sincere and firm desire to refrain from all sin and to correct our lives. For without this intention – this firm purpose of amendment – our repentance will not be true, for in forgiving the sinner, the Lord demands an internal change – which is nothing more or less than true repentance, this internal change, a turning-away from the works of darkness, to the great and eternal light of grace which shines from our Lord Himself.
Now, in today’s Gospel we have much upon which we can reflect, and so we shall do that during the week. But today I want to focus specifically on the lesson given to us by the friends of the paralytic man. Now often this lesson is lost in the many other – admittedly very, very important – lessons which are taken from this Gospel. But I think it’s very important for us to take this lesson with us today, and through this week.
In today’s Gospel we hear of the arrival these four men of Capharnaum, carrying with them their friend, sick of the palsy. They come to the house where Jesus was preaching, and – not being able to enter the house for the crowd, went atop the house and uncovered the roof and lowered the sick man down through the ceiling. Now just on a person level, this scene, my friends, has always made an impression on me, even since when I first heard it as a child. Always made an impression. What resolve these men had, to take the very house apart in order that their friend might be put before the Divine Master.
We have to have the same resolve in caring for our own souls, my friends. We must be willing to truly go out of our way in order to lay our souls before the Divine Physician.
Now the four men having done this, having taken apart the house, and lowered down their friend, and the Lord, seeing this, He both immediately forgives the sins of the paralytic, but also heals him. And all this was done by the Lord through the help and instrumentation of four friends of the paralytic man. For, as we read in the Gospel, “When Jesus had seen their faith, He saith to the sick of the palsy: Son, thy sins are forgiven thee.” Notice: seeing “their faith.” “Their faith.” The faith of the friends who had brought this man to Christ. They brought him before our Lord because they loved him and had pity him, and they did the necessary work to see to it that their friend was brought before our Lord. And therefore their faith and desire and their actions made the miracle of healing possible. For the love of a sick friend, these people brought him to where the Christ was. They were not stopped by the crowd, they were not stopped by any obstacle. And in this, my dear friends, we see the very image of how we should love our neighbors – and ourselves – and the faith we are to hold, faith in the help and the assistance, and the healing power of God; that nothing is to stop us in our work of coming before our Lord Jesus Christ, seeking Him out, and bringing others to Him.
Often as we encounter others during our day, we will address each other saying “pray for me.” How often have we heard this? Even on social media, people asking for prayers. It seems to us that this might be a very easy to do. But this ties in precisely with what we have just heard. For we must remember that when a person asks for our prayer, he is actually asking us to stand between God and him, to become his patron and protector, to suffer his infirmities, and this obliges us to much, much more than simple words. When we are asked by others to pray for them, this is in truth a vocation from God Himself – a call – to become like the four men of Capharnaum, the friends of the paralytic man.
Just as our Lord, who is the Master of all and knows all things, counted upon these men as His instruments to quite literally go over and above in bringing their friend before Him so that His power and His mercy might be made manifest in the sight of all, so also when we are asked to pray, our Lord is counting on us, also, to respond with the same generosity, the same resolve, and the same boldness.
Today, my dear friends, today our Lord is in fact counting on you, each of you who listen to this right now. For we are to bear one another’s burdens, and we are to pray for each other. Take some time, even a minute, even a moment, in which to calm your soul so that you might see yourself all the more clearly there. And you will know the vocation to which God calls you today.
He calls you to friendship. He calls you to boldness. He calls you to seek Him, to seek His grace, to seek His healing, to seek His forgiveness, to seek His mercy, and to do so without discouragement, without hindrance. If people will stand in your way, then go upon the rooftops. If there is no room at the door, then remove the roof! Be bold in seeking conversion! Be resolute in seeking the Merciful Lord!
Be still, and you will know that He is God; and He calls you today.