The Kingdom of God is at Hand

“After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” (Mark 1:14-20)

In the Gospel reading for Mass on Monday this week, Jesus initiates his preaching ministry by focusing on the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. The Jewish people of Jesus’ day long awaited the coming of a Davidic King who would rule an everlasting kingdom. Naturally, Jesus did not quite meet the royal expectations of his Galilean listeners, but there was another major Jewish expectation that many readers of Jesus’ message miss. Jesus was indeed the Davidic fulfillment of the Scriptures, but he was also the long awaited new Moses, coming to lead his followers on a new Exodus. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites:

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren–him you shall heed…And the LORD said to me, ‘They have rightly said all that they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak all that I command him” (Deut. 18:15-18).

Later Jewish tradition would connect this prophecy with that of the future Messiah, who would lead Israel in a great time of need:

“Rabbi Berekiah said in the name of Rabbi Isaac: “As the first redeemer [Moses] was, so shall the latter Redeemer [the Messiah] be. What is stated of the former redeemer? ‘And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass’ (Exod. 4:20). Similiarly will it be with the latter Redeemer, as it is stated, ‘Lowly and riding upon an ass’ (Zach. 9:9). As the former Redeemer  caused manna to descend, as it is stated, ‘Behold, I will cause to rain bread from heaven for you’ (Exod. 16:4), so will the latter Redeemer cause manna to descend, as it is stated, ‘May he be as a rich grainfield in the land’ (Ps. 72:16). (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1:28, 3rd or 4th century A.D.)

Notice the parallels between Moses and Jesus as described in the New Testament. The Messiah will ride upon an ass, cause manna to descend from heaven, and be the Redeemer of the people of Israel. Just as Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt for the purpose of creating a Covenant nation set apart for the worship of God, so Jesus begins a new Exodus made in the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-33) of His body and blood. By inaugurating the arrival of the Kingdom of God, a new Exodus, Jesus says to His listeners that He is not only the Davidic King, but he is also announcing the long awaited consumation of the eternal feasting and worship of God. 

“In the World to Come there is no eating or drinking…but the righteous sit with crowns on their heads feasting on the brightness of the divine presence, as it says, “And they beheld God, and did eat and drink” (Exod. 24:11). (Babylonian Talmud 17A).

Jesus is the bringer of salvation to the whole world, but he is also the heavenly manna or “bread of heaven” (John 6:51) who will sustain His people with eternal life through the Eucharist.

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world…Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him” (John 6:52, 54-57).

By participating in the new Passover of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross represented every Mass through the Eucharist, the coming of the Kingdom of God is not just a 1st century historical event or a future realization at the end of time, it is a daily ever-present reality offered to each and every one of us. The challenge is to have the faith to experience the reality of Christ in the Eucharist.

Happy are Those who Love – Part 2

Maximus Confessor

In our last segment of “Happy are Those who Love” part 1 (click here to read), we learned about the call of divine love begins a process of detachment from the our old way of life. This is not a form of escapism from the world but a call to “put off the old self” and “put on the new self” (Eph. 4:22, 24) as St. Paul exhorts the Ephesians. What are the qualities of the old & new self? St. Paul gets right to the core of this dynamic in his letter to the Ephesians:

“17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you”
(Eph. 4:17-25 ESV).

St. Paul claims that those who do not have Christ are dark in their understanding and hardened in their hearts to sin. However, when a Christian puts off the old self and puts on the new self in Christ, which is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness,” a new spiritual space opens up as we mentioned in the previous segment of this series. However, it is more than just a space, but a new way of being. Paul is not speaking metaphorically here. This “new self” now participates in the God through the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us as His new temple (1 Cor. 6:19). St. Peter will even go so far as to affirm that through Christ we become partakers in the very divine nature itself, which entails a new way of living in the world:

“3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:3-8, ESV).

St. Maximus the Confessor repeats the blessed Apostle’s exhortation by connecting knowledge + practicing the virtues as “assisting…in pursuit of divine love” (Chapters on Love, 1.11). The journey to divine love begins in detachment and putting on the new self, but Maximus then adds that “pure prayer” allows a Christian to fully let go of worldly attachments.

“When through love the mind is ravished by divine knowledge and in going outside of creatures has a perception of divine transcendence, then, according to the divine Isaiah, it comes in consternation to a realization of its own lowliness and says with conviction the words of the prophet: Woe is me for I am stricken at heart; because being a man having unclean lips, I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips and I have seen with my eyes the King, the Lord of hosts” (Chapters on Love, 1.12).

The closer to holiness one gets through divine love, the clearer the need of grace and the clearer one sees the “darkened minds” and “hardened hearts” of the world. However, this does mean that Christians are to respond to this darkened and hardened world with hate. Maximus states that “the one who loves God cannot help but love also every man as himself even though he is displeased by the passions of those who are not yet purified…The one who sees a trace of hatred in his own heart through any fault at all toward any man whoever he may be makes himself completely foreign to the love for God, because love for God in no way admits of hatred for man” (Chapters on Love, 1.13, 15). Because God is love, and because Christians are partakers in the divine nature, we must only have love for other people. Maximus asserts that the command of our Lord to love our enemies was meant to “free [us] from hate, sadness, anger, and grudges, and might grant [us] the greatest possession of all, perfect love, which is impossible to possess except by the one who loves all men equally in imitation of God, who loves all men equally and ‘wills that they be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth'” (Chapters on Love 1.61).

So why does the Bible speak of hate in many places, for example in Proverbs 8:13, “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.”? Our culture today makes it very difficult to make a distinction between hatred of people and a hatred of sin, between godly and sinful hatred as presented in the Bible. The world frequently wishes to love others by affirming everything they do or identify with in their personhood, but this is not a Christian perspective. Divine love is what Christians embody and share with the world, even with their enemies (Matt. 5:44); so there is no room for hated against anyone in the sharing of divine love, but this does not mean that sinful actions should be affirmed. How can these two poles be reconciled?

In his other writings, Maximus makes a distinction between human nature, what he calls its logos (word, reason, divine plan or will for, intention, principle of existence, etc.), and its tropos, which refers to human nature when it is put into action in the world. A good analogy is that God created humans to be walking creatures (that is a logos), but that principle that God instilled in human nature to be walking creatures is only a potential until a person actually gets up and walks (their tropos). There is a difference between what God created humans to be and how we use that gift in our lives through our actions. God created humans for virtue, but through their free-will, they chose vice instead. Their mode of acting in the world gets corrupted, not their essential nature (who God created them to be). The reverse is true as well. For example, when humans chose truth telling instead of lying, they are living like the “new self” that St. Paul describes because they are living in a new mode of being, a Holy Spirit-infused new life in Christ.

The problem of divine love in our times is two-fold: (1) hearts and minds are given over to sinful actions with attachment and a habit of living is developed to the extent that one’s very identity as a person is often wrapped up with those sinful attachments and habits, and to not affirm those elements of a person is perceived to deny them love and show them hatred; (2) Christians often treat people themselves with hatred or judgment instead of fully loving them as persons created and loved by God while not affirming what God does not affirm in all of us. It is a clash of worldviews without much charity, and it is difficult to navigate this clash without a lot of wounds and scars.

However, Maximus reminds us to pursue “perfect love” and allow God to transform the disunity in our lives. He says that “perfect love does not split up the one nature of men on the various dispositions but every looking steadfastly at it, it loves all men equally, those who are zealous as friends, those who are negligent as enemies…It does not think evil at all but rather suffers for them, if occasion requires, in order that it may even make friends if possible. If not, it does not fall away from its own intentions as if ever manifests the fruits of love equally for all men. In this way also our Lord and God Jesus Christ, manifesting his love for us, suffered for all mankind and granted to all equally the hope of resurrection, though each one renders himself worthy either of glory or of punishment” (Chapters on Love, 1.71).

Just as pursuing divine love involves the process of detachment from the treasures of the world, which paradoxically sets us free and makes us joyful and happy, so does imitating our Lord in loving others through sacrificial love. Love is the willing of the good for the other person as other, and this even means being willing to deny yourself for the sake of the other. Sacrificial love for our neighbor also, paradoxical, gives us joy and makes us therefore happy.

How do we engage in love in a modern world flipped upside down and confused about love. First we must model it in our own lives through self-denial and seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33). Then we must seek perfect love through loving our neighbors as ourselves, even sacrificing for the good of our neighbors. The Companions of The Way seek after the divine love of Jesus through discipleship. In that pursuit of divine love, we are called beyond ourselves to be Companions with all people on The Way.

Happy are Those who Love – Part 1

Maximus Confessor

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments …  are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:8-13)

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:14)

Christianity proposes a paradoxical and quite radical understanding of God apart from other ancient religions. Through the God-man Jesus Christ, God reveals his character as both just judge and divine lover. Christ both deals with sin through the ultimate sacrifice of God’s very self on the cross and offers the embracing arms of divine forgiveness, such as portrayed in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). Today, our culture often has a deficient understanding of love as just feelings, sentiments, or engaging in intercourse, but Christianity proclaims love as a divinely powered active willing of the good of the other person as other.

This is why the true test of Christian love is Jesus’ command to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). If you love someone for whom you expect some kind of reciprocation, then your motives might just be selfish ones. But if you love someone who is not at all interested in your well-being or giving you anything in return, then the love which you offer your enemy is divine love.

In this multi-part series, we want to explore a theological reflection on love as found in the Chapters on Love by St. Maximus the Confessor ( c. 580 – 13 August 662), Christian monk and martyr for the faith. His stand against the imperial theology of the day, which said that Christ only had a single divine will (monothelitism), and his affirmation instead that Christ had a human and divine will (dyothelitism) in order to be fully Incarnated into human life, led to the emperor chopping off his right hand and cutting out his tongue. Maximus died in exile not too long afterwards. His reflections on Christian love in the lifelong process of discipleship are deep and worthy of examination in the Church today.

Maximus begins the first century of his treatise on love with a short definition: “love is a good disposition of the soul by which one prefers no being to the knowledge of God” (Chapters on Love 1.1). He says that love of God is greater than anything else because God is greater than anything He has made. So, if we love anything else in the created cosmos more than God, we are deficient in love. Why do we love created things more than the Creator?

Maximus suggests that our disordered loves are rooted in attachment, in the cleaving to earthly things. The use of earthly goods is not the problem; it is our attachment to them, which orientates our desire to them instead of to God. Christian spiritual formation, such as found in the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel, is really about a process of detachment that slowly lets go of those things in our lives that grab our attention and devotion away from God. Maximus begins with the fear of God as the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10) and then moves up through the process to the love of God. The whole spiritual process is a movement of God’s grace and our free response to it:

The one who believes the Lord fears punishment; the one who fears punishment becomes master of his passions; the one who becomes master of his passions patiently endures tribulations; the one who patiently endures tribulations will have hope in God; hope in God separates from every earthly attachment; and when the mind is separated from this it will have love for God (Chapters on Love 1.3).

When Maximus uses the word “mind” here (in Greek, the nous), he is not just referring to the brain or the mental aspect of life. He means the spiritual core or faculty of the soul where God communicates his grace. He is saying that the core of who you are will be full of the love of God.

Fear of punishment jolts our attention and begins the process of detaching from the world and attaching to God. This is done through discipline and the building up of our resistance to sinful desires (too much food, sex, entertainment, etc.). When we begin mastering the passions, then the ability of the world to control our thoughts and actions begins to wane. Then the theological virtue of hope keeps us on the path and not knocked down by the trials and tribulations of life.

A new spiritual space is opened up where love is not based on the conditions of your life, whether pleasant or painful, but on a relationship with the only person in the universe who will never leave you or forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6). This is how Christians through the ages can be joyful even through oppression and persecution. The great C. S. Lewis was surprised by the joy of God even after the death of his wife because he found an eternal love deep enough to sustain the loss of a loved one. This is how Jesus could proclaim such an unusual truth as “blessed [or happy] are those who mourn.” What our Lord is saying is that a person who is unattached to good feelings, will not fall away from the kingdom of God when the storms of life inevitably hit. Jesus is not demonizing good feelings. Instead He is showing the spiritual power of letting go of our attachments to the world. Divine love radically inverts our expectations about life and in turn gives us true freedom, which then makes us happy.

The love of God is available to all of us, but our openness to its transformation in our lives must be cultivated through discipleship. This is why daily discipleship is so critical to recapturing the love of God in our modern disordered world. In the next part of our series, we will further explore the dimensions of love in the spiritual life.

The “O” Word

monk praying

“By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (NAB John 15:8-14).

Christian charity, or love, is how one “abides” or “remains” in our Lord Jesus Christ and through Him the Father (1 John 3:24). From the mouth of our Lord Jesus comes a new commandment of love. It is the commandment of the new covenant par excellence, but it is really an ancient law, which God created for His sons and daughters to walk in (1 John 2:7).

St. Paul even places love above faith in his first letter to the Corinthians! “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (NAB 1 Cor. 13: 13).

Why is love so important?

First of all, God is love itself (1 john 4:7). And through love, Christians share in the very divine life of the blessed Trinity! Love is the currency of the Divine economy encapsulated in the person of Jesus Christ, particularly in His death, burial and resurrection.

Not only is love the essence of the drama of salvation, but it is the telos, the fulfillment of the Christian life. In the first letter of St. John, we see that the love of God is “perfected” in the Christian through obedience:

“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and  the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to live [just] as he lived” (NAB 1 John 2:3-6).

We read in this letter of St. John and in his Gospel passage cited at the beginning, that there is a reciprocal relationship between the perfection of love within the Christian and being obedient to the commands of Christ. Oh my, St. John used the “O” word…obedience.

In fact, St. John says that we Christians know God (i.e., know that we are in “union” with Him) if we keep His commandments. If we obey Christ, then the love of God is “perfected” in us, and we know that we are in right relationship with Him.

The opposite would also be true. If we do not obey Christ’s commandments, then God’s love is not perfected in us, and we are not in a right relationship with Him. St. John says that such a person is a liar, and the truth is not in them (1 John 2:4). Mere intellectual belief in Jesus without obedience means an individual does not have the Truth in them.

Jesus has even harsher words about what happens when a Christian does not abide in Him:

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned” (NAB John 15:5-6).

“Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.” –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer presents two statements that must be held together in tension: (1) only he who believes obeys; and (2) only he who obeys believes (1995, p. 63ff). This is the difficult truth to live out in a life of discipleship. The Christian journey requires the interdependence of faith and love.

In our modern world, particularly in the West, there is an easy-believism of faith but not a lot of obedience. This is because the Church has swallowed the rationalist kool-aid of faith as a mere intellectual belief instead of faith as trust, as faith infused with soul-transforming love.

Love requires action…

We frequently find it difficult to obey anyone or anything. It is seen as a weakness, a loss of power or rights to live as we want to live. When our lives are comfortable and we fall under the trap of believing that we can control our environment, it is difficult to follow the high bar of following Jesus. Oftentimes, this mindset sets in very slowly and innocently over the course of our lives. A jolt is sometimes needed to wake us from our cushy slumber of comfortable Christianity.

In Matthew 19:16-22, a rich young man approaches Jesus with a question about salvation. It captures the struggle of meeting the cost of discipleship:

“Now someone approached him and said, ‘Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?’ He answered him, ‘Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He asked him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus replied, ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, ‘All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions” (NAB Matt. 19:16-22)

The rich young man was indeed sad because he could not meet the demands Jesus placed upon him. However, one thing Bonhoeffer points out about this particular story is that Jesus created the opportunity where obedience was possible (1995, p. 79). Jesus cuts through the barriers in all of our lives so that obedience to His call is achievable, but inevitably we find a way to get around the call of Christ to what Bonhoeffer calls “single-minded obedience.” Here is how Bonhoeffer says a scenario of spiritual dodge ball might happen:

“‘It is true that the demand of Jesus is definite enough, but I have to remember that he never expects us to take his commands legalistically. What he really wants me to have is faith. But my faith is not necessarily tied up with riches or poverty or anything of the kind. We may be both poor and rich in spirit. It is not important that I should have no possessions, but if I do I must keep them as though I had them not, in other words I must cultivate a spirit of inward detachment, so that my heart is not in my possessions. Jesus may have said ‘sell thy goods,’ but he meant: ‘Do not let it be a matter of consequence to you that you have outward prosperity; rather keep your goods quietly, having them as if you had them not” (1995, p. 80).

Bonhoeffer distinguishes between this mature form of spiritual “detachment” (perhaps what the desert fathers and mothers would call apetheia) and the initial act of single-minded obedience. Being spiritually detached from the barriers to faith in our lives is what Bonhoeffer calls the “ultimate possibility” in the Christian life and is paradoxical in nature (1995, 82). However, many Christians are not spiritually mature enough to hold this paradox in their lives. What frequently happens is that the Christian just continues in their entrapment.

The more fundamental step in discipleship is single-minded obedience. It is the step where Jesus makes faith and obedience possible. In the Christian life, single-minded obedience to the call of Jesus is where one should focus their attention on and resign their will to. Do not skip over single-minded obedience for the paradoxical level of inner detachment from external goods. Open your heart and soul to divine love, participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), and obey the call and commandments of Jesus. Only then will your faith be fully brought to fruition.

 

The Companions Welcome a New Member From Mexico

Father Alex

The Companions of the Way are blessed and thrilled to welcome Father Jesús Alejandro González Ovalle to the community!

Father Alex was born and currently lives in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. He pastors an Episcopal mission church the San Luis Potosí city center, which ministers primarily to those on the edge of society: the poor; the homeless; those suffering from addiction; and the home-bound elderly. Father Tim and Daniel had the distinct priviledge of worshipping with this mission community while on pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Christian hospitality is vibrant and alive in this community and in the González household!

Retablo of Mary

Raised Roman Catholic in the parish church of Templo del Carmen, Father Alex felt a call to the priesthood from a young age. Father Tim and Daniel prayed the rosary in the Marian chapel in the Templo del Carmen, and it was truly a taste of heaven on earth. It is no wonder that such a place of worship spoke to the heart and soul of a fledgling priest. To learn more about this stunning Baroque church, please read this article: https://cookjmex.blogspot.com/2014/12/san-luis-potosi-part-8-ornate-templo.html

At the age of 26, Father Alex was ordained to the Deaconate in the Roman Catholic Church, then two years later in 1995 he was ordained into the priesthood in Ecuador. For 22 years, Father Alex served the people of Ecuador, and he adopted many orphans and children being sold by their parents. The love of God pervades the life of his servant Alex!

In 2017, Father Alex was received into the Anglican Communion as a priest. This decision was heart wrenching for him, but his conscience would not be swayed. He has maintained his Roman Catholic priestly vow to be wedded to the Church in chastity, but he still takes care of his adopted sons in San Luis Potosí. Father Alex has degrees in Philosophy, Public Administration, and Law. He teaches at a local college in San Luis Potosí to support his family, as his mission does not receive financial support from the diocese.

Father Tim Father Alex & Daniel

Father Alex is excited to join the Companions of the Way and looks forward to getting to know everyone. He felt a deep draw to the spirituality of the Companions when Father Tim and Daniel stayed in his home while on pilgrimage. Father Alex’s connection to the Companions comes through one of his adopted sons, Juan, who attended Father Tim’s parish St. Mary and St. Martha of Bethany while working in Georgia under a US work permit to earn money for the family.

Please join us in welcoming Father Alex to the community and to our commitment to “disciples making disciples.” The Companions of the Way are now international. Praise be to God!

What is so Holy About Holy Week?

Holy Week

As we near the end of Holy Week culminating in Easter Vigil and then awakening to Resurrection Sunday, I thought it might be helpful to think about why the Church calls this week Holy. What about a day or week makes it holy instead of just a regular day? Christians might assume that such declarations are just contrived by the Church and not really worth spending too much mental energy on; after all, we are busy people with more important things to do, right?

Our culture’s default assumption that there is a division between the sacred and secular often seeps into the mindset of the Church to the point that we begin to hold the same default assumption. In Christian thought, there is no day or time that is not under the authority and power of God. In other words, there is no such thing as the “secular world.”

The Bible and the Church do, however, speak about making people, places, or things, sacred or profane. In Acts 19:11-12, it was reported that God worked through St. Paul, even through hankerchiefs he blessed: “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them” (NRSV). This is why priests today bless items, such as rosaries, and they make “holy water” through blessing. Only the power of God can make something or someone holy.

The Greek word for holy is άγιος (haggios), and refers to being “sacred” or a “saint.” In the Scriptures, only Mary the mother of Jesus is called holy, which would make logical sense if she was the Theotokos or God bearer. Holiness is a different state of being that is defined by the mighty working power of God.

In the ancient Greek and Roman liturgical books, Holy Week was called the “Great Week” because great deeds were done by God during this week. We know that the name “Holy Week” was used in the 4th century by St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, and St. Epiphanius of Constantia. Originally, only Good Friday and Holy Saturday were observed as holy days, as well as the requirement of absolute fasting.

So, Holy Week is holy because of the mighty work God accomplished through Jesus Christ, the reconciliation of the world to Himself. By consecrating special days during the liturgical calendar as holy, the Church is inviting all of us to participate in the life-giving power of God’s grace, not just as spectators but as adopted daughters and sons of God. I would like to leave you with one question to ponder as we observe Good Friday, if the Holy Spirit can so empower a hankerchief to share in the miraculous power of God, how much more are we empowered and healed by observing Holy Week?   

A New Monasticism?

monk praying

The restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ.  I think it is time to gather people together to do this. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Testament to Freedom (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1997), p.424)

20th century Christian martyr and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer presents a seemingly “radical” challenge to the contemporary Church to live out a new kind of monasticism. This great challenge calls for Christians to live counter-culturally to the secularization of the culture. Why is this call necessary in our time and is it really radical? Bonhoeffer would later expand on this call in his famous book The Cost of Discipleship:

The expansion of Christianity and the increasing secularization of the church caused the awareness of costly grace to be gradually lost…. But the Roman church did keep a remnant of that original awareness.  It was decisive that monasticism did not separate from the church and that the church had the good sense to tolerate monasticism. Here, on the boundary of the church, was the place where the awareness that grace is costly and that grace includes discipleship was preserved…. Monastic life thus became a living protest against the secularization of Christianity, against the cheapening of grace. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003) p.46-47)

The cheapening of grace was killing the Church according to Bonhoeffer, and I think that the same message continues to apply to us today. We have forgotten our Lord’s own admonition in Mark 10, where Jesus tells the rich man to sell all that he has and give it to the poor. Peter turns to Jesus as says:

Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first (Mark 10:28-31, NRSV). 

If we are to follow Christ and become His disciples, then surely Christians must follow the early model presented in the book of Acts. After Pentecost, the Scriptures state that Christians lived in community with a common purse. They engaged in daily discipleship by following “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42, NRSV). 

Intentional community and living according to a “rule of life” were the marks of early Christian discipleship, to following the way of Jesus. Monastic communities throughout the centuries embodied this kind of Christian discipleship that saw grace as very costly, and they lived their lives as a protest to the cheap grace that the world offers. How many of us Christians today are discipled by the values and principles of the secular world?

Monasticism offers a road map for Christian discipleship by offering a “rule of life.” To many modern ears the idea of a rule of life may sound harsh and overly authoritarian, but this is far from the truth. Simply put, a rule of life is how one organizes their life. People organize their lives around work, sports, family, extracurricular activities, etc. Whatever the configuration, that is their rule of life—it is the value and time structure they place around daily and weekly activities. A monastic rule of life organizes life around the rhythm of faith. A crucial part of becoming mature disciples of Jesus is to make faith the central axis around which our lives is organized. The Companions of The Way live out a rule of life that consists of traditional practices expected of all Christians. By forming a common rule of life around discipleship, Companions have both accountability and support on the journey (The Rule of the Companions of the Way).

There are many different configurations of the New Monasticism movement, as it is not centralized in any one tradition or group. Here are the “Twelve Marks” of new monasticism according to www.newmonasticism.org.

  1. Relocation to the “abandoned places of Empire” [at the margins of society]
  2. Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us
  3. Hospitality to the stranger
  4. Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation
  5. Humble submission to Christ’s body, the Church
  6. Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate
  7. Nurturing common life among members of an intentional community
  8. Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children
  9. Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life
  10. Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies
  11. Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18
  12. Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life

The mission and vision of the Companions of the Way fits nicely with most all of these “marks,” and we see our community as continuing the ancient and ever relevant monastic way of life. Monks and nuns are not professional Christians paid by the church to do our work for us. They are followers of Jesus Christ consecrating their lives to pursuing His kingdom. The Companions of the Way are tapping into this spiritual stream and living it out from within our own modern context. We take vows and live according to a rule of life, but we are husbands and wives, sons and daughters, employees and business owners. Our lives of discipleship are consecrated for the mission of the Kingdom of God.

We are living out a new kind of monasticism, but it is one which is not cut off from Holy Tradition. Being a part the Church means that we do not get to decide for ourselves what it means to follow Jesus. The Holy Scriptures and the practices and teachings of the Church provide the road map in following Jesus Christ amidst the kingdoms of this world. Our prayer is that you will join us in following our Lord, to become companions of the way.