Wednesday, March 24, 2010


When the Apostles could not cast out the demon from the possessed boy, the father approaches our Lord and beseeches His help. When Jesus says, "All things are possible to him that believes," the father replies, "Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief!"

Isn't this how it is for all of us? On a superficial level, we sincerely do believe, but when push comes to shove, our so-called faith proves to be weak indeed. The Holy Apostle Peter believed he could walk on water because Jesus told him to, but suddenly aware of the tumult of the waves, he began to sink.

In times of peace, it is easy to believe, because there is no cost attached. But when a time of persecution arises and our faith is put to the test by the threat of martyrdom, we shall find how deep and enduring our faith really is. The fact is, true faith is always a gift of God's grace, never an accomplishment for which we can take credit ourselves. So we must possess the humility of the father in the Gospel and pray, "Help Thou my unbelief!" or cry like Peter, "Lord, save me!"

Truly whoever dares trust in his own faith and spiritual accomplishments in times of trial will be lost. Nevertheless, God normally requires an effort on our part before He bestows a gift of grace. When the Apostles asked Him why they could not cast out the demon, Jesus replied, "This kind comes out by naught but prayer and fasting." It is true that we are saved by faith alone, yet (as the Holy Apostle affirms) "faith without works is dead." And these works include, among other things, the disciplines of an ascetic life.

The Kingdom of God is taken by violence, which is to say, we must force ourselves to do that which is contrary to our fallen human nature, ever striving for every virtue and the purification of our hearts. Only then can God give to us a deep and abiding faith that will withstand every storm and tribulation of this life. In these final days of the Great Fast, then, may we redouble our efforts to pray and fast, to deny ourselves the sinful impulses of the passions, and in every way to prepare ourselves to be made worthy to behold our Lord's glorious Resurrection.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


In today's Gospel, Jesus gives us the three steps to discipleship, which is to say, the three steps to salvation. The first step is to deny yourself, which means crossing out the "I." This is the most difficult step, because in our fallen state we are naturally self-centered: we tend to see and to experience the whole world through the prism of our own needs and desires. This is, of course, the exact opposite what Christ did when he voluntarily ascended the Cross.

But the mere act of self-denial is not enough. After all, not only Christians practice this virtue. What self-denial means for the Christian is taking on voluntarily (without grumbling or complaining) whatever burdens God sees fit to lay upon us. As a matter of fact, everyone
has a cross--but only those who cheerfully accept their cross are considered to have taken it up. Otherwise we are simply enduring against our will something that has been imposed upon us.

Finally, having taken up our cross, we must resolve to faithfully follow Christ: otherwise we are nothing more than commendable stoics endowed with a great measure of patience and courage. Only those who endure till the end for the sake of Christ without any pride or self-interest shall be saved.

This is indeed the purpose of our whole earthly pilgrimage: it is a school, a training ground wherein we strive and struggle to become true disciples of Christ. And the season of the Great Fast is especially the time set aside to devote ourselves to this struggle. But all of our fasting, prayer and other spiritual disciplines are pointless unless they are directed toward this end. The Church provides us with all that is necessary for our salvation, but these ways and means are never intended to be ends in themselves. Our ultimate goal is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul an mind, and our neighbor as our self.

After all, even the great martyr Ignatius, having endured so much on the way to Rome where he was to be fed to the lions, wrote to his flock that he had barely begun to be a disciple. May God grant to us all such humility, meekness, courage and a spirit of repentance, that we may steadfastly carry our cross and be made worthy of salvation in God's eternal Kingdom.