Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Irony of Easter Week

Alleluia. The Lord is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Many churches, clergy,  and parishioners make a great effort at Lent and put even more into Holy Week. Many provide lovely Easter Vigils, moving early Easter Eucharists, enjoyable parish breakfasts or luncheons, and impressive music and flowers for the main Easter Sunday Eucharists. Unfortunately, by midday on Easter Sunday, we often seem physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted. So the rest of Easter week, we seem to crash. Even if we have a few weekday services and take the Sacrament to some shut-ins, we seem to have run out of steam.
I understand the feeling, and even after decades in ministry, I have no easy or obvious solution. Yet, the fact is that Easter Week should be filled with spiritual rejoicing for individual believers and the localized body of believers. We should be inspired by our Lord's Resurrection. So even if the institutional church needs a little pause to catch its breath, let us remain focused on our risen Lord in our thoughts and prayers. Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Lent and the Seven Deadly Sins: Sloth

Today, we come to the final of the Seven Capital Sins- Sloth. Sloth is a sluggishness or laziness which leads a person to avoid effort in the fulfillment of moral duty or in the practice of virtue. The Book of Proverbs contains a number of references to this vice and its results. Proverbs 21:25 says, "The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour." This truth applies in a moral and spiritual sense as well as in a physical or material sense.

Hebrews 6:12 says, "... Be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises." In other words, spiritual laziness weakens the virtues of faith and patience. Thus, the slothful are in no position to receive the blessings that God has promised. Sloth can attack any aspect of human life. Bodily or physical sloth can be obvious, and this often has its own natural penalties such as poor living conditions or weakened physical health. Another type of sloth is intellectual. Some people are too lazy to think for themselves, and they become easy prey to stronger-minded people such as charlatans and tyrants.

There is also moral sloth which avoids making ethical choices or decisions. A person who is morally slothful usually seeks the path of least resistence. Such a person generally goes along with whatever standards of conduct are popular in their social group or the larger society. Examples of moral sloth are the attitudes of people who once opposed abortion, adultery, homosexual activity, or euthanasia, but changed their minds as popular opinion shifted.

An even more dangerous form of sloth is spiritual or religious sloth. A person with this vice may have lifeless prayers, poor devotional habits, or avoidance of spiritual topics in personal thought or social conversation. A common expression of spiritual sloth is the avoidance of public worship without serious cause. The slothful only attend church when it is convenient, and they tend to find many reasons that regular worship is inconvenient.
Such spiritual sloth predisposes a person to other sins. Sloth draws the soul away from God and tends to numb a person's higher sensitivities. It subordinates Christian conscience to personal or social whims. A person infected by sloth tries to excuse his weakness by saying that he does not want to be a hypocrite; he doesn't want to do religious duties when the mood is not right.

There are two great helps in dealing with the temptation of sloth. The first is striving to lead a disciplined life with regular work and appropriate rest. Many people realize that discipline is a useful tool in resisting bodily or mental laziness. However, the same people may not see that similar efforts are useful in the moral and spiritual aspects of life.. Cultivating good moral and spiritual habits is not really hypocritical. Thinking about good deeds, having set times and patterns of prayer and devotion, and planning for regular times in church help reduce the influence of slothful moods.

A second aid against sloth is a constant awareness of our human need for divine assistance. Our natural strength or fortitude can be overcome or undermined. But the grace of God can make us stronger in moral and spiritual matters. God can help us overcome our laziness and give us the energy to pursue the good things that He has created us to do. As we approach the end of Lent, let us not fall into sloth; let us persevere in our spiritual disciplines as we observe the great events of our redemption thriugh Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Lent and the Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony

This week the topic is a sixth deadly sin- gluttony. Gluttony is an improper desire for food or drink because of the pleasure they provide. Since food and drink are necessary and constant parts of human life on earth, their abuse is a very common temptation. In fact, some form of gluttony is probably the most widespread sin. It is so common and hard to avoid that people tend to underplay its danger.
There are many degrees of gluttony. Some instances seem to do little harm, such as an occasional craving for a small indulgence. Other instances obviously do more harm to social, physical, or material well-being, such as habitual overeating, excess spending on food and drink, or drunkenness.

However, even less notable forms of gluttony can produce spiritual damage. Gluttony harms the soul because it places sensual pleasure above moral or spiritual health.  Even minor excesses that most people hardly notice may reduce self-discipline and moral strength. In Philippians 3:19, St. Paul warns against enemies of the cross "whose god is their belly." In other words, like other capital sins, gluttony can lead to a form of idolatry.

There are several ways to limit some of the dangers of gluttony. 1) Cultivate self-control and moderation by reasonable fasting and abstinence. For particular periods such as all weekdays in Lent or Wednesdays and Fridays, limit the intake of food and drink and abstain from certain pleasures of the table altogether. And when the time of fasting is over, be careful not to rush into over-indulgence.
2) Remember that gluttony is basically a disordered desire. That means that while the amount of food and drink consumed can be a problem, the central issue is one's attitude toward them. Any person who takes too much pleasure in food or drink is a glutton, even if he seldom or never over-eats or gets drunk.
3) Make an effort to pay less attention to the pleasures of the table. Learn to be satisfied with simpler types and smaller quantities of refreshment. Learn to accept the food or drink that is available instead of searching far and wide for some item or recipe that appeals to the taste buds or the imagination. Except in cases of illness or extreme age, most people don't really need to stimulate their appetites.

Finally, as with all the other chief sins, we need to focus more attention on God. His presence should always be the most important longing for the human soul. So we should bear in mind that too strong an attachment to any created thing-including food and drink- is an insult to His divine majesty.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Lent and the Seven Deadly Sins: Lust

Today's topic is a fifth capital sin: Lust. Literally, lust is a general term for any strong desire. Thus, when I John 2:16 speaks of "lust of the flesh," it refers to any kind of inappropriate physical longing. Of course, the popular connotation of "lust" for most people has sexual overtones. Of all the desires, sexual desire is very strong and troublesome for many human beings.

Some sexual lust is rooted in the physical nature of human beings. Such impulses are necessary for the physical survival of the species. Unfortunately, even natural and useful desire has been distorted by the general corruption of humanity. At many times, the physical desires of human beings are more frequent and less controlled than necessary for procreation. Furthermore, much human sexual desire has little to do with the physical appetite. Instead, it is rooted in the imagination and emotions. Unlike many other animals, human beings may lust when the physical motivation is not strong. Human lust may also be motivated by desires for excitement, pleasure, power, pride, and so forth. Much lust is mere self-centeredness and selfishness.

Modern societies do not deal with the mental and emotional aspects of lust very well. In fact, popular culture encourages this sin in thought, word, and deed. Popular psychology says that lust is healthy, and that resistance is unhealthy. There are unhealthy forms of repression, but much conscious discipline of lust is healthy and necessary for the individual and for society. The media, entertainment, business, education, and even some religious leaders often encourage lust because it is fashionable, popular, and economically profitable.

So what is a Christian to do? First, a Christian should avoid temptation when reasonably possible. A person should avoid situations that he or she knows are unnecessarily tempting. And a person should should try to cultivate a wholesome atmosphere.

Secondly, when temptation does arise, a person should follow St. Paul's advice to Timothy and flee lust (II Timothy 2:22). Lust, especially the kind that is more mental than physical, is not overcome by reasoned argument. Rather, it must simply be tossed aside by an act of will, and the mind must be occupied by other subjects.

Thirdly, temptation's appeal can be reduced by emphasizing a positive Christian view of sex. The original divine intention was that sex be expressed in a permanent marital relationship between one man and one woman. It was meant to be one aspect of a much broader human relationship. When sex is separated from other aspects of interpersonal relationships, it becomes distorted.

Finally, in this aspect of life as in others, every person should recognize his or her need for divine grace. Human nature is corrupt and weak. Every part of human life can easily become embroiled in our selfishness and unruliness. So all of us must depend on God's forgiveness for past errors and His gracious help and strength in the present and future.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Lent and the Seven Deadly Sins: Avarice

This week, we consider a fourth of the Seven Capital Sins: Avarice or Greed. Sometimes this sin has been called coveteousness, but avarice focuses more exclusively on material goods or wealth. Material goods can be classified in three categories: 1) those which are necessary to sustain life, 2) those which are not necessary but useful, and 3) those which are luxurious indulgences.

The impulse for luxury is obviously closely related to avarice or greed. Yet, the desire for material goods that are merely useful can also be avarice, and even the search for necessary goods can become improper and infected by greed. Putting any material desires ahead of higher spiritual and moral values is an expression of greed. Unfortunately, avarice is ubiquitous in contemporary society. Materialistic philosophies, whether capitalist or socialist, make material achievements and comforts the central goal of human life. Avarice is no longer considered a sin by many, and in fact, greed is encouraged by consumerism as good for the economy and the social structure.

Holy Scripture presents a very different outlook. Material goods are useful creations of God. They are a natural part of earthly life. But fallen human beings always tend to distort the desire for such goods. As Proverbs 15:27 says,  "he that is greedy for gain troubleth his own house..." In I Timothy 6:10, St. Paul reminds us that "the love of money is the root of all evil...." As Christ teaches in St. Matthew 6:24, we cannot serve God and mammon or wealth. Either God or materialism will rule our lives; they cannot be equal loyalties. St. Paul makes a similar point in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 by identifyng covetoussness as idolatry.

An undisciplined desire for material goods often leads to many other sins- dishonesty, theft, sexual immorality, murder, and so on. So we must discipline our natural material desires. The best remedy for greed is to follow Scriptural teachings about material goods. All goods come from God and belong to Him. We do not really own anything- even our lives. We always remain mere stewards or managers of what belongs to God. Material goods and physical life are to be used in accordance with God's teachings and values. We should seek to grow in His grace and cultivate moderation and generosity with respect to the material aspects of life.