Monday, July 26, 2010

What Are You Afraid Of?

Jesus takes Peter who failed to walk on water....Image via Wikipedia

What are you afraid of?

In the reading today from the holy Gospel according to St. Matthew, we hear the story of our Lord walking on the water in the midst of a storm, coming to His disciples in a boat being tossed by the wind and the waves.  They don’t recognize Him until He speaks to them; and then Peter, still not quite sure, says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to walk on the water.”  Then he does something amazing.  He gets out of the boat, and walks on the water – as long as his eyes are on the Lord.  Once he is distracted by the storm around him, he begins to sink, and must be saved by the Lord.

We know what the disciples were afraid of in that story.  They were afraid of the storm; and remember, there were experienced fishermen in the boat, who had been in storms before.  They were afraid they had seen a ghost – is that really the Lord?  Finally, except for Peter, they were afraid to get out of the boat because they were afraid of dying.  So: what are you afraid of?

Most of us are afraid of death.  We hear about the martyrs, and wonder if we could do what they did, doubting that we can do so.  We hear about those who are given a sentence of death, and who are able to meet it peacefully, and wonder if we could do what they did, doubting that we can do so.  Really, we fear death because, like the disciples, our faith is weak and imperfect.  We sing, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death”; but like the disciples in the boat, we ask, “Is it really the Lord?”  We don’t believe; and so we sink.  As long as his eyes remained on the Lord, Peter walked on the water.  When we allow ourselves to be distracted by the winds and the waves of the cares of this life, and when we focus on them, and not the Lord, we sink, and are perishing.  If we truly believed, we would not fear death.  If we truly believed, we would walk confidently by faith.  If we truly believed, we could walk on water, if need be.

So:  What do we do?  We should live in the way we should even if we do not yet have faith sufficient for us to get out of the boat.  We may never walk on water; but trust in the love of God, and in His mercy, remembering that with a word He calmed the wind and the waves, and brought His disciples out of the storm.  Live as a disciple: praying and fasting, giving, and forgiving; seeking humility, and honoring Christ in everyone you meet – do these things, and we will know that the One walking with us in the midst of the storms of life is truly the Lord; and He will bring us safely to harbor in His kingdom, where death has been conquered, and live does not end.

What are you afraid of?  Live as a disciple; trust in God’s love; and there is no reason for us to fear death.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Preparation for Martyrdom

Summary The relics of St. John of Shanghai and...Image via Wikipedia

The holy martyr Julian of Tarsus was a young man when he suffered and died for the Christian faith.  Born into a family of wealth and influence, from his youth, he was taught the Faith; and so, when the time of his suffering came, he was ready, and despite being taken from town to town and being out to torture in each one, he would not deny that Jesus Christ is Lord.  After a year of enduring torments, he was sewn into a sack filled with sand, snakes, and scorpions, and thrown into the sea.  He was eighteen years old when he departed this life.

Our holy father John of Shanghai and San Francisco, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, was also born into a noble family; and he also, from his youth, learned the Christian faith, embracing the Orthodox way of life, inspired by the asceticism of the monks he saw living near to his village.  His family fled from his homeland during the Russian Civil War for Serbia. He left Serbia for Shanghai when he became a Bishop. Forced to flee from Shanghai once again ahead of the Communists, he led his flock to the Philippines, from where they were resettled, some in Australia, some in South America, and some in the United States.  He knew of his impending repose some four days before it happened, and foretold as well the place where he would die.  He was seventy years old when he departed this life.

Both of the holy fathers whom we celebrate this weekend experienced what our Lord spoke of in the reading today from the holy Gospel according to St. Luke. Both experienced persecution; both knew that a martyr’s death was a very real possibility, and one achieved a martyr’s crown.

What about us?  Although none of us has been born to a family of power and influence, we live in a time and place with riches and conveniences that we take for granted, which not even emperors had of old – and they could have almost anything they wanted.  In addition to the prosperity we enjoy, we also live in a time of relative peace, and in a place where we are not suffering for our faith – at least, not yet.  But the words our Lord spoke to warn and to encourage His disciples remain as true today as when He first uttered them.  The apostles saw the armies of Rome arrayed against Jerusalem, and their defeat of that city.  The faithful were persecuted again and again across time and space – and there are places around the world today where Christians suffer for the Faith, and martyrs are killed all the time.  We don’t see it happening on the evening news; we don’t see it happening in our neighborhoods – but it is taking place all the same, and we are na├»ve if we think that it will never happen here. 

What, then should we do?  We must be instructed by what our Lord tells His disciples – and we are His disciples if we follow His teachings, and His example.  By enduring, we will win our lives.  Not in this world, to be sure – but this world, this age, this life will not endure.  Only that which is established in heaven will endure. If we will embrace and live the life of our Lord Jesus Christ given to us in baptism, fed in us by His Body and Blood, taught to us by the holy Fathers and Mothers, shown to us in the lives of the saints, then our lives, too, will be established in heaven.  Above all, it is by so pursuing the life of Christ being expressed in our own that we can endure even betrayal by friends or family, to say with our Lord, “Father, forgive them,” even as we are being put to death.

Brothers and sisters, let us ask God for the grace and mercy He gives to us from His love for us, that we may not love our lives in this world, but rather desire the life to come, so that we will not fail in the time of trial, but may also come, with our holy father Julian and our holy father John, to a blessed repose, and a place in His kingdom that shall never end.

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