Seraphim of Sarov: The True Aim of Our Christian Life Consists of the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit Thursday, Jan 2 2014 

Seraphim_SarovskyJanuary 2nd is the feast of St Seraphim of Sarov in the Orthodox Church.

The true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.

As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, these are the only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God.

Mark my words, only good deeds done for Christ’s sake brings us the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

All that is not done for Christ’s sake, even though it be good, brings neither reward in the future life nor the grace of God in this life.

That is why our Lord Jesus Christ said: “He who does not gather with Me scatters” (Luke 11:23).

Not that a good deed can be called anything but gathering, even though a deed is not done for Christ’s sake, it is still considered good.

The Scriptures say: “In every nation he who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:35).

As we see from another sacred narrative, the man who does what is right is pleasing to God.

We see the Angel of the Lord appeared at the hour of prayer to Cornelius, the God-fearing and righteous centurion, and said: “Send to Joppa to Simon the Tanner; there you will find Peter and he will tell you the words of eternal life, whereby you will be saved and all your house.”

Thus the Lord uses all His divine means to give such a man, in return for his good works, the opportunity not to lose his reward in the future life.

But to this end, we must begin with a right faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who came into the world to save sinners and Who, through our acquiring for ourselves the grace of the Holy Spirit, brings into our hearts the Kingdom of God and opens the way for us to win the blessings of the future life.

But the acceptability to God of good deeds not done for Christ’s sake is limited to this: the Creator gives the means to make them living (cf. Hebrews. 6:1). It rests with man to make them living or not.

[…] If a man like Cornelius enjoys the favor of God for his deeds, though not done for Christ’s sake, and then believes in His Son, such deeds will be imputed to him as done for Christ’s sake.

[…] Good done for Him not only merits a crown of righteousness in the world to come, but also in this present life fills us with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, it is said: “God does not give the Spirit by measure” (John 3:34-35).

Seraphim of Sarov (Orthodox Church; 1759-1833): On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

Robert Hugh Benson: He Tears from Himself the Conventions with which Our Imaginations have Clothed Him Friday, Aug 5 2011 

It is true that we have obeyed, that we have striven to avoid sin, that we have received grace, forfeited it and recovered it, that we have acquired merit or lost it, that we have tried to do our duty, endeavoured to aspire and to love. All this is real, before God.

But it has not been real to ourselves. We have said prayers? Yes. But we have scarcely prayed.

[…] But after this new and marvellous existence, all is changed. Jesus Christ begins to exhibit to us not merely the perfections of His past, but the glories of His presence. He begins to live before our eyes; He tears from Himself the conventions with which our imaginations have clothed Him.

[…] We have known facts about Him all our life; we have repeated the Catholic creed; we have assimilated all that theology can tell us. Now, however, we pass from knowledge about Him, to knowledge of Him.

We begin to understand that Eternal Life begins in this present, for it is to “know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” (John 6:3). Our God is becoming our Friend.

On the other side He demands from us what He Himself offers. If He strips Himself before our eyes, He claims that we should do the same….  He knows every instant in the past in which we have swerved from His obedience: but, as our Friend, He waits for us to tell Him.

It is tolerably true to say that the difference between our behaviour respectively to an acquaintance and to a friend, is that in the first case we seek to conceal ourselves, to present an agreeable or a convenient image of our own character, to use language as a disguise, to use conversation as we might use counters; and in the second case that we put aside conventions and makeshifts, and seek to express ourselves as we are, and not as we would have our friend to think us to be.

This then is required of us in the Divine Friendship.

Up to now our Lord has been content with very little: He has accepted a tithe of our money, an hour of our time, a few thoughts and a few emotions, paid over to Him in religious intercourse and worship. He has accepted those things instead of ourselves. Henceforth

He demands that all such conventions should cease; that we should be entirely open and honest with Him, that we should display ourselves as we really are – that we should lay aside, in a word, all those comparatively harmless make-believes and courtesies, and be utterly real.

Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914): The Friendship of Christ, chapter 2.

John Vianney: Fix Your Eyes on Heaven – There Your Hearts will Find that which will Satisfy them Completely Thursday, Aug 4 2011 

Why, my dear brethren, are our lives full of so many miseries?

If we consider the life of man carefully, it is nothing other than a succession of evils.

The illnesses, the disappointments, the persecutions, and indeed the losses of goods fall unceasingly upon us so that whatever side the worldly man turns to or examines, he finds only crosses and afflictions….

Indeed, my dear brethren, man on earth, unless he turns to the side of God, cannot be other than unhappy.

Do you know why, my friends?…Well, here is the real reason.

It is that God, having put us into this world as into a place of exile and of banishment, wishes to force us, by so many evils, not to attach our hearts to it but to aspire to greater, purer, and more lasting joys than those we can find in this life.

To make us appreciate more keenly the necessity to turn our eyes to eternal blessings, God has filled our hearts with desires so vast and so magnificent that nothing in creation is capable of satisfying them.

Thus it is that in the hope of finding some pleasure, we attach ourselves to created objects and that we have no sooner possessed and sampled that which we have so ardently desired than we turn to something else, hoping to find what we wanted.

We are, then, through our own experience, constrained to admit that it is but useless for us to want to derive our happiness here below from transient things.

If we hope to have any consolation in this world, it will only be by despising the things which are passing and which have no lasting value and in striving towards the noble and happy end for which God has created us.

Do you want to be happy, my friends?

Fix your eyes on Heaven; it is there that your hearts will find that which will satisfy them completely.

All the evils which you experience are the real means of leading you there.

[…] Jesus Christ, by His sufferings and His death, has made all our actions meritorious, so that for the good Christian there is no motion of our hearts or of our bodies which will not be rewarded if we perform them for Him.

[…] All you have to do is to have in view the object of pleasing God in everything you do….

In the morning, when you awake, think at once of God and quickly make the Sign of the Cross, saying to Him:

“My God, I give you my heart, and since You are so good as to give me another day, give me the grace that everything I do will be for Your honour and for the salvation of my soul.”

Jean-Marie Vianney  [the Curé d’Ars] (1786–1859): A Sermon on Happiness.

Alphonsus Liguori: “You shall Draw Waters with Joy out of the Saviour’s Fountains” Monday, Aug 1 2011 

Behold the source of every good, Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament, who says If any man thirst, let him come to Me (John 2:27).

Oh, what torrents of grace have the saints drawn from the fountain of the Most Blessed Sacrament!

For there Jesus dispenses all the merits of his Passion, as it was foretold by the Prophet: You shall draw waters with joy out of the Saviour’s fountains (Isaiah 12:3).

The Countess of Feria…on being asked how she employed the many hours thus passed in the presence of the Holy of Holies, answered:

“I could remain there for all eternity. And is not there present the very essence of God, who will be the food of the blessed?

“Am I asked what I do in his presence? Why am I not rather asked, what is not done there? “We love, we ask, we praise, we give thanks. We ask, what does a poor man do in the presence of one who is rich? What does a sick man do in the presence of his physician?

“What does a man do who is parched with thirst in the presence of a clear fountain? What is the occupation of one who is starving, and is placed before a splendid table?”

O my most amiable, most sweet, most beloved Jesus, my life, my hope, my treasure, the only love of my soul; oh, what has it cost Thee to remain thus with us in this Sacrament!

Thou hadst to die, that Thou mightest thus dwell amongst us on our altars; and then, how many insults hast Thou not had to endure in this Sacrament, in order to aid us by Thy presence!

Thy love, and the desire which Thou hast to be loved by us, have conquered all.

Come then, O Lord! Come and take possession of my heart; close its doors forever, that henceforward no creature may enter there, to divide the love which is due to Thee, and which it is my ardent desire to bestow all on Thee.

Do Thou alone, my dear Redeemer, rule me; do Thou alone possess my whole being.

[…] Grant that I may no longer seek for any other pleasure than that of giving Thee pleasure; that all my pleasure may be to visit Thee often on Thy altar.

[…] Let all who will, seek other treasures; the only treasure that I love, the only one that I desire, is that of Thy love; for this only will I ask at the foot of the altar.

Do Thou make me forget myself, that thus I may only remember Thy goodness.

Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787): The Holy Eucharist, pp. 127-128.

Columba Marmion: Trusting in the Prayer of Jesus Our High Priest Monday, Mar 21 2011 

On the day of his ascension Christ, the supreme high priest of the human race, having conferred on us a legal title, bears us up with him in hope to heaven.

We must never forget that it is only through him that we can gain entrance there.

No human being can penetrate the Holy of Holies except with him; no creature can enjoy eternal happiness except in the wake of Jesus; it is his precious merits that win us infinite bliss.

For all eternity we shall say to him, “Because of you, Jesus Christ, because of the blood you shed for us, we stand before God’s face.

“It is your sacrifice, your immolation, that wins our every moment of glory and happiness.

To you, the Lamb that was slain, be all honour and praise and thanksgiving!”

In this interval of time until Christ comes to fetch us as he promised, he is preparing a place for us, and above all he is supporting us by his prayer.

Indeed, what is our High Priest doing in heaven? The Letter to the Hebrews gives the answer: he has entered heaven in order to stand now in God’s presence our behalf.

His priesthood is eternal, and therefore eternal too is his work as mediator. How infinitely powerful is his influence!

There he stands before his Father, unceasingly offering him that sacrifice recalled by the marks of the wounds he has voluntarily retained; there he stands, alive for ever, ever interceding for us.

As high priest he is unfailingly heard, and for our sake he speaks again the priestly prayer of the last supper:

Father it is for them that I pray. They are in the world. Guard those whom you have given me. I pray for them, that they may have in themselves the ­fullness of joy. Father, I will that they may be with me where I am.

How could these sublime truths of our faith fail to inspire us with unwavering confidence?

People of scanty faith though we are, what have we to fear? And what may we not hope?

Jesus is praying for us, and praying always. Let us then trust absolutely in the sacrifice, the merits, and the prayer of our High Priest.

He is the beloved Son in whom the Father delights; how could he be refused a hearing, after showing his Father such love?

Father, look upon your Son. Through him and in him grant us to be one day where he is, so that through him and with him we may also render to you all honour and glory.

Columba Marmion (1858-1923): Christ in His Mysteries, 2.16.5; from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent, Year 1.

Teresa of Avila: Acquiring the Habit of Prayer and Recollection Monday, Mar 7 2011 

Continued from here, where Teresa is discussing interior battles with thoughts and passions.

By the blood which our Lord shed for us, I implore those who have not yet begun to enter into themselves, to stop this warfare.

I beg those already started in the right path, not to let the combat turn them back from it.

They should confide in God’s mercy, trusting nothing in themselves; then they will see how His Majesty will lead them from one mansion to another, and will set them in a place where these wild beasts can no more touch or annoy them….

Then, even in this life, they will enjoy a far greater happiness than they are able even to desire….

I have explained elsewhere how you should behave when the devil thus disturbs you.

I also told you that the habit of recollection is not to be gained by force of arms, but with calmness, which will enable you to practise it for a longer space of time.

[…] The only remedy for having given up a habit of recollection is to recommence it, otherwise the soul will continue to lose it more and more every day, and God grant it may realize its danger.

[…] “He that loves danger shall perish by it” (Sirach 3:27) and the door by which we must enter this castle is prayer.

Remember, we must get to heaven, and it would be madness to think we could do so without sometimes retiring into our souls so as to know ourselves, or thinking of our failings and of what we owe to God, or frequently imploring His mercy.

Our Lord also says “No man cometh to the Father but by Me” (John 14:6)…and “He that sees Me sees the Father also” (John 14:9).

If we never look up at Him and reflect on what we owe Him for having died for us, I do not understand how we can know Him, or perform good deeds in His service.

What value is there in faith without works?

And what are they worth if they are not united to the merits of Jesus Christ, our only good?

What would incite us to love our Lord unless we thought of Him?

May He give us grace to understand how much we cost Him;

that “the servant is not above his lord” (Matt. 10:24);

that we must toil for Him if we would enjoy His glory;

and prayer is a necessity to prevent us from constantly falling into temptation (Matt. 26:41).

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582): Interior Castle 2,1,17-20.

Ambrose of Milan: Christ Heals Human Nature and Cleanses Us from Our Sins Monday, Jan 24 2011 

When our Lord Jesus assumed our human nature in order to purify it in his own person, his first task was surely to destroy the primary infection of original sin.

It was through disobedience and challenging of God’s command that wrongdoing had crept in, and obedience had to be restored before anything else if transgression was to be denied room in which to develop.

It was through disobedience that the canker of sin had spread, and therefore our Lord’s first duty as a good physician must be to cut out the tumour at the roots, so that the surface of the wound may feel the healing effect of his medicine.

And so Jesus accepted obedience for himself in order to impart it to us.

It was only right that as through one man’s disobedience all men were reckoned as sinners, so through one man’s obedience all should be reckoned just.

This means that those who maintain that Christ assumed our carnal nature but not our passions are very far from the truth.

Indeed they contravene our Lord’s own intention by depriving him of his manhood, for without human passions he could not be a man at all.

Human nature without human passions would incur neither merit nor guilt.

What Christ had to take upon himself and heal was the actual fountainhead of guilt, in order to stop up the source of transgression and any further outlets for wrongdoing.

It was as man, then, that he was made weak, as man that he suffered, as man that we thought of him in his sufferings; but he overcame his weaknesses instead of being overcome by them.

It was for us he suffered, not for himself. He was made weak not account of any sins of his own but on account of our sins, so that by his stripes we might be healed.

He took our sins upon himself both to assume the burden of them and to purge them away, and because of this he shall obtain many for his inheritance and share out the spoils of the strong.

His acceptance of the burden of our sins is bound up with their remission, his purging of them with their correction.

And so in taking it upon himself to suffer with us he took it upon himself to accept our own subjection.

And whereas his subjection of all things to himself is his divine prerogative, his own acceptance of subjection belongs to the human nature he shares with us.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 337-397): Commentary on Psalm 61 (PL 14:1224-5);  from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Tuesday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time, Year I.

 

F.W. Faber: Jesus Belongs To Us Thursday, Jan 20 2011 

Jesus belongs to us. He vouchsafes to put Himself at our disposal.

He communicates to us everything of His which we are capable of receiving.

He loves us with a love which no words can tell, nay, above all our thought and imagination;

and He condescends to desire, with a longing which is equally indescribable, that we should love Him, with a fervent and entire love.

His merits may be called ours as well as His. His satisfactions are not so much His treasures as they are ours.

His sacraments are but so many ways which His love has designed to communicate Him to our souls.

Wherever we turn in the church of God, there is Jesus.

He is the beginning, middle, and end of everything to us.

He is our help in penance, our consolation in grief, our support in trial.

There is nothing good, nothing holy, nothing beautiful, nothing joyous, which He is not to His servants.

No one need be poor, because, if he chooses, he can have Jesus for his own property and possession.

No one need be downcast, for Jesus is the joy of heaven, and it is His joy to enter into sorrowful hearts.

We can exaggerate about many things; but we can never exaggerate our obligations to Jesus, or the compassionate abundance of the love of Jesus to us.

All our lives long we might talk of Jesus, and yet we should never come to an end of the sweet things that are to be said about Him.

Eternity will not be long enough to learn all He is, or to praise Him for all He has done; but then that matters not; for we shall be always with Him, and we desire nothing more.

He has kept nothing back from us. There is not a faculty of His Human Soul which has not had to do with our salvation.

There is not one limb of His Sacred Body which has not suffered for us.

There is not one pain, one shame, one indignity, which He has not drained to its last dreg of bitterness on our behalf.

There is not one drop of His most Precious Blood which He has not shed for us; nor is there one beating of His Sacred Heart which is not an act of love to us.

[…] We know our own unworthiness. We hate ourselves for our own past sins.

We are impatient with our own secret meanness, irritability, and wretchedness. We are tired with our own badness and littleness.

Yet, for all that, He loves us with this unutterable love, and is ready, if need be, as He revealed to one of His servants, to come down from heaven to be crucified over again for each one of us.

Frederick William Faber (1814—1863): All for Jesus, pp. 13-15.

Mark the Hermit: Faith, works, intention Monday, Nov 15 2010 

Those who, because of the rigor of their own ascetic practice, despise the less zealous, think that they are made righteous by physical works.

But we are even more foolish if we rely on theoretical knowledge and disparage the ignorant. Even though knowledge is true, it is still not firmly established if unaccompanied by works. For everything is established by being put into practice.

Often our knowledge becomes darkened because we fail to put things into practice. For when we have totally neglected to practice something, our memory of it will gradually disappear.

For this reason Scripture urges us to acquire the knowledge of God, so that through our works we may serve Him rightly.

When we fulfil the commandments in our outward actions, we receive from the Lord what is appropriate; but any real benefit we gain depends on our inward intention.

If we want to do something but cannot, then before God, who knows our hearts, it

is as if we have done it. This is true whether the intended action is good or bad.

The intellect does many good and bad things without the body, whereas the body

can do neither good nor evil without the intellect. This is because the law of freedom applies to what happens before we act.

Some without fulfilling the commandments think that they possess true faith.

Others fulfil the commandments and then expect the kingdom as a reward due to them. Both are mistaken.

[…] When Scripture says ‘He will reward every man according to his works’ (Matt 16:27), do not imagine that works in themselves merit either hell or the kingdom.

On the contrary, Christ rewards each man according to whether his works are done with faith or without faith in Himself….

We who have received baptism offer good works, not by way of repayment, but to preserve the purity given to us.

Mark the Hermit (5th-6th c.): On Those who Think They Are Made Righteous by Works, 11-18; 22-23, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. I (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), online version here.

Seraphim of Sarov: The Holy Spirit Dwells Mystically in the Hearts of Those Who Believe in Our Saviour Jesus Christ Friday, Jul 16 2010 

Seraphim_SarovskyAnd I must further explain…the difference between the operations of the Holy Spirit Who dwells mystically in the hearts of those who believe in our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ and the operations of the darkness of sin which, at the suggestion and instigation of the devil, acts predatorily in us.

The Spirit of God reminds us of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ and always acts triumphantly with Him, gladdening our hearts and guiding our steps into the way of peace, while the false, diabolical spirit reasons in the opposite way to Christ, and its actions in us are rebellious, stubborn, and full of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.

“And whoever lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:26). He who has the grace of the Holy Spirit in reward for right faith in Christ, even if on account of human frailty his soul were to die for some sin or other, yet he will not die for ever, but he will be raised by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ “Who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), and freely gives grace upon grace.

Of this grace, which was manifested to the whole world and to our human race by the God-man, it is said in the Gospel: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4); and further: “And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness has never swallowed it” (John 1:5).

This means that the grace of the Holy Spirit which is granted at baptism in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, in spite of man’s fall into sin, in spite of the darkness surrounding our soul, nevertheless shines in our hearts with the divine light (which has existed from time immemorial) of the inestimable merits of Christ.

In the event of a sinner’s impenitence this light of Christ cries to the Father: “Abba, Father! Be not angry with this impenitence to the end (of his life).”

Then, at the sinner’s conversion to the way of repentance, it effaces completely all trace of past sin and clothes the former sinner once more in a robe of incorruption spun from the grace of the Holy Spirit.

The acquisition of this is the aim of the Christian life, which I have been explaining to you.

Seraphim of Sarov (Orthodox Church; 1759-1833): On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

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