“….I saw water flowing out from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the façade of the temple was toward the east; the water flowed down from the right side of the temple, south of the altar….Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh. Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow; their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail. Every month they shall bear fresh fruit, for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary. Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.” Every now and again, we get this wonderful reading from Ezekiel. It is a vision of the church–this beautiful temple atop the mountain, out of which gush waters that heal, give life, make everything fresh. It is an image of the baptismal waters, flowing from the side of Christ’s body the Church. They take care of us on earth, these waters, and they’ll carry us to heaven if we let them.
Beautiful words from Fr. Tertullian in today’s Matins, from an ancient treatise he wrote on prayer:
Of old, prayer was able to rescue from fire and beasts and hunger, even before it received its perfection from Christ. How much greater then is the power of Christian prayer. No longer does prayer bring an angel of comfort to the heart of a fiery furnace, or close up the mouths of lions, or transport to the hungry food from the fields. No longer does it remove all sense of pain by the grace it wins for others. But it gives the armor of patience to those who suffer, who feel pain, who are distressed. It strengthens the power of grace, so that faith may know what it is gaining from the Lord, and understand what it is suffering for the name of God.
In the past prayer was able to bring down punishment, rout armies, withhold the blessing of rain. Now, however, the prayer of the just turns aside the whole anger of God, keeps vigil for its enemies, pleads for persecutors. Is it any wonder that it can call down water from heaven when it could obtain fire from heaven as well? Prayer is the one thing that can conquer God. But Christ has willed that it should work no evil, and has given it all power over good.
Its only art is to call back the souls of the dead from the very journey into death, to give strength to the weak, to heal the sick, to exorcise the possessed, to open prison cells, to free the innocent from their chains. Prayer cleanses from sin, drives away temptations, stamps out persecutions, comforts the fainthearted, gives new strength to the courageous, brings travelers safely home, calms the waves, confounds robbers, feeds the poor, overrules the rich, lifts up the fallen, supports those who are falling, sustains those who stand firm.
All the angels pray. Every creature prays. Cattle and wild beasts pray and bend the knee. As they come from their barns and caves they look out to heaven and call out, lifting up their spirit in their own fashion. The birds too rise and lift themselves up to heaven: they open out their wings, instead of hands, in the form of a cross, and give voice to what seems to be a prayer.
What more need be said on the duty of prayer? Even the Lord himself prayed. To him be honor and power for ever and ever. Amen.
Today the Lord speaks to us of one of his favorite topics: forgiveness. We must forgive. Not just seven times, but 77 times. Not just from our minds, but from our hearts. There is an old saying that we must forgive, not to excuse another’s behavior but in order that another’s behavior might not destroy our hearts. It is time to let it go. Why can we not be better to people? God’s mercy is unending. So must ours be.
Today Ezekiel talks about the virtuous person. He talks a lot about virtue. I don’t think we do enough of that these days. The word “virtue” has its origin in the Latin word “vir,” meaning “man.” To be an authentic person–to live up to what we humans are meant to be, designed to be by God–means being virtuous, or “humanous.” We are fully and most perfectly human when we are people of the virtues. When we are not people of the virtues, we are not fully being people; we fall short of what God calls us and designed the human person to be.
The virtues are beautiful because of how concrete they are; if one practices a virtue long enough, that virtue takes root in him. The virtue of kindness, for example: if I chose to do kind things and say kind words and foster kind thoughts–if I do all that in concrete moments–then, by golly, within a while kindness is a habit, a natural (supernatural?) instinct, and I find myself a kind person. Same with all the virtues.
The other helpful thing about virtues is that there is always an excess sin and a deficiency sin. Virtue, as the saying goes, stands in the middle.
Here is a chart I made some time ago of the virtues. It includes the theological virtues, cardinal virtues, etc., with their excesses and deficiencies. It is drawn from a variety of sources.
Today we hear part of the story of Jonah. He was sent by God to Nineveh, but he went the other way and caught a boat to outrun–or outfloat–God. He set out for Tarshish. Perhaps he was afraid of being made fun of, laughed at, or beat up. So he neglected God’s will and caught a boat in the other direction. Lesson #1: When God calls us to go one way, we better not go the other.
Then God sent a storm and he was swallowed by a big fish. We know the story: after three days and nights, he is coughed up onto the shore and given another chance. This time he goes to Nineveh and does what is asked of him. Lesson #2: It is never too late to do God’s will.
Then Jonah preaches one sentence and all of Nineveh is converted (Jonah 3:4). All his fears, they ended up being empty. Lesson #3: When we let go of our fears, amazing things happen! Then the Ninevites took up penitential practices like our own Lenten practices: fasting, ashes, prayer.
Lesson #4 is in the behavior of the Ninevites that caused God to send Jonah in the first place. They were guilty of the seven deadly sins. Here is how to remember them. A plage is a seashore, like the shore Jonah was spit out upon. If you misspell it–with two Gs–and make it plural, then you get: PLAGGES.
Pope Francis asked on Sunday: “What if we turned to our Bible as we do our smart phone?” The first reading today offers us an answer. Things would change. Big time. God’s word, it is here to accomplish something. It comes down to us like rain, and like rain it causes new life to come about, new fruit to be borne. “Thus says the LORD: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
Today, on this First Friday as we venerate the Sacred Heart of our Lord, I can do no better than the words of Saint John Chrysostom. These words from an ancient sermon of his are part of Matins today. As he talks about the spirit, we might think about the human heart. Prayer is all about our heart’s reaching out to God, about our hearts being enlarged–during meditation and during the duties of the heart, named below. As the third paragraph below insists, prayer is a longing in the heart–not just words. Here’s St John Chrysostom on prayer:
Our spirit should be quick to reach out toward God, not only when it is engaged in meditation; at other times also, when it is carrying out its duties, caring for the needy, performing works of charity, giving generously in the service of others, our spirit should long for God and call him to mind, so that these works may be seasoned with the salt of God’s love, and so make a palatable offering to the Lord of the universe. Throughout the whole of our lives we may enjoy the benefit that comes from prayer if we devote a great deal of time to it.
Prayer is the light of the spirit, true knowledge of God, mediating between God and man. The spirit, raised up to heaven by prayer, clings to God with the utmost tenderness; like a child crying tearfully for its mother, it craves the milk that God provides. It seeks the satisfaction of its own desires, and receives gifts outweighing the whole world of nature.
Prayer stands before God as an honored ambassador. It gives joy to the spirit, peace to the heart. I speak of prayer, not words. It is the longing for God, love too deep for words, a gift not given by man but by God’s grace. The apostle Paul says: We do not know how we are to pray but the Spirit himself pleads for us with inexpressible longings.