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The First Sunday of Great Lent 2012

Having finished the first week of the Great Lent, it is very fitting that the Church has given us this passage to read today. Lent is the spring time of spiritual life. A time to open the windows, bring in light and fresh breeze to the heart, to allow the Word of God to come and perform spring cleaning. It is a time to store up spiritual treasure that we can live off for the rest of the year.

The gospel today gives us clear points regarding the way in which we can open the windows of our heart to let in the light of Christ and the rushing mighty wind of the Spirit. The gospel tells us there are certain things that close a person in on themselves, block out the light out. And as long as I hold onto these things then I will never progress anywhere. I will live a life the same as people who do not know the Lord, have not been given the Baptism. I will go through the routine of each day focusing on myself and my problems. When each day is actually a new experience in my relationship with God. I have been given the gift of the dwelling of the Holy Spirit within me since my Baptism. How can I then go about each day in the same way people of the world do?

The things that do this to a person as said in the gospel are

1. Focusing on earthly wealth and treasures. If I focus on possessions and material goods then I am trying to satisfy myself by them. Where the treasure is there your heart will be also. So if I place in my heart the dream house, job or car or computer then I am narrowing my heart closing it up on that temporary corruptible object. I soon realise it is not what I have really been looking for and so I switch my narrow heart to the next and better one. But if I place my heart within the whole of heaven, then immediately it has opened up. For my heart has become the throne of God, and who can contain all this within a narrow heart. Yet the Lord finds no better resting place than in the heart. So this first thing that closes up my heart is laying up for myself treasures on earth.

2. The eye. This is the second the thing the gospel tells us of. The eyes are the window to the soul. Through them I let the light of Christ in or the blinding darkness of sin. We are told, if the eyes are good then the whole body is full of light. The good eye is not the eye that stares at others’ faults, it is not the eye that is always looking for things that please itself, it is not the eye that gets fascinated or curious about things that are not it own business. The good eye is the eye that has the cross of Christ in front of it all the time. The late father Bishoy Kamel said about this: The cross is the power that helps us to discern between what we see and what we think. So even if our eyes see things that can cause us to stumble, the thought can be liberated from the sight, which means it will be free and thinking only of God…then the eye can become free and illuminated by seeing the light of God in all creation.

He also tells us that by looking at the Cross, the outstretched arms of Christ, the thirsty mouth, His blood flowing, the whipped back, the piercing thorns, these are the blessed things that give light to the heart, these truly satisfy the eye. These brought darkness on the whole earth because they could not accept the work of the Lord, but to us who are being saved it is the light of life.

3. Worry and anxiety. This is the third thing that the Lord mentioned today that shuts the windows and collects dust and dirt within the heart. It needs the refreshing breath of the Spirit to come and drive away every remnant of worry, for He is the Spirit of peace, anxiety and worry and depression cannot exist if He is allowed to work in us. Worry makes us focus on ourselves and our concerns. It does not give us a chance to look away from ourselves at others and at God. It accumulates thought after thought, worry upon worry, it becomes selfish and makes life burdensome. Whenever one tries to sit with himself in his heart all he can breathe in is dust. But actually, when you enter your heart you should be before the throne of the Lord.

And why do I worry? I could not be alive tomorrow. Sorry to say it like this but it is very edifying to think of our death. St Anthony tells us to have our death continually before our eyes. When I rise up in the morning do not think that I will make it to evening and at night before lying down do not think I will make it to the morning. But we do not like to think of our deaths. But if I were to die tomorrow, what would happen to all my worries. How important will they still be, all the things burdening me would mean nothing at my death. I am not encouraging laziness and slackness, for I must deal faithfully with whatever God-given responsibility He has entrusted me with, and whatever I put my hand to do, I must do it with all my might. But things should be in perspective. I should realise that the things I am worried about now are not as important as the things eternal. Very often my worry is based on imaginations, scenarios that my mind has constructed that will probably never happen. We try and work around our problems by thinking of all the different possible outcomes and ‘what if’s’, when in reality most of our worries never have basis. And even if they did, the Lord tells us not to worry about the necessities of life, food and clothing. We spend time worrying about things that may not occur, and spend little time thinking of our deaths, which is the only guaranteed thing that will happen in my life.

And so may be we do not like thinking about death because I look back at my life and see all the potential the Lord has given me to be saintly and I have not worked with Him, but slacked off on my spiritual life. I look back and see I have filled my life with cares of this world, and now realise that at death they mean nothing. I have nothing to show for the 20, 30 or 60 years of my life. So I am discouraged. The past is gone, what is stopping me now from becoming a saint? As St Paul said todayAnd do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.”. My spiritual growth will not happen by itself. Why am I happy to keep the doors closed, the windows shut and the dust collecting?

The Lord summarised in a single line the way to deal with these things we have talked about. Seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.

How wise and blessed the Lord is! He knows that it is difficult to let go of things, to give up things. He knows that I cannot just give up on my possessions of this world. He knows that I cannot stop my eyes from roaming. He knows that I cannot just let go of my worry, without replacing them with something better more fulfilling. We always seem to focus of the negative part of a commandment, Do not lay up treasure, Do not let your eye be dark, Do not worry about tomorrow. And we think that this is what is meant by the righteousness of the Kingdom. Do not do this and that, Do not sin. We think that fasting is giving up certain foods, do not eat meat and chocolate.

But this is not the righteousness of the Kingdom. These are formalities. In each of the cases above there is something positive to receive in replacement of the things I have given up. This gaining, replacing one thing with another is what is meant by the righteousness of the Kingdom. And we find key to the whole gospel in the Pauline epistle today.

St Paul says, Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, You shall not covet, and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

This one thing that I should seek first above all is love of God. This is what lets me find the Kingdom of God, and it takes through its gates right to the throne of God. And through this love I will have Love of fellow people.

Love of God is the thing that I can replace my love of treasure of the world. Love of the poor is storing up treasure in heaven, for the poor are like the bank tellers of the heavenly bank. Love of God is what lightens my eyes. We already said that the cross kept in front my eyes will do this. There is no greater symbol of love than the Cross. The love of God will remove all the dust of my worries. We love Him because He loved us first, and so if He took such great care for my salvation then He can arrange the simpler issues that are bothering me now. And when I sit by myself and think of my death, then love of God dispels any despair, and love of fellow man is like the store of heavenly treasure that will endure to the next life. When I fast, my fasting is not giving up food, but it is replacing my love of food with the love of God. I fast because I love God, not because God needs my fasting, and then because I love God I fast, so that I am concerned less and less with matters of the body and can focus on matters of the spirit.

When trying to stop any sin. I cannot unless I replace my love of sin with the love of God. This is why our beloved Pope says “Do not struggle against sin without God’s love”. How do I keep this love of God with me? Let us remember what the psalmist says “Bless the Lord O my soul and forget not all His benefits” (Ps103). It is good to contemplate always on all the good the Lord has done for you. All the things that have kept you alive and healthy to this point, all the small and great things He has supplied and will supply.

And when trouble and worry and temptation and cares for the world arise then let us say as St James said in yesterday’s Catholicon Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

Glory to God in His Church. Amen.

Church Sign

أعلّمك وأرشدك الطريق التي تسلكها. انصحك.عيني عليك
مز 32: 8

I will instruct you and teach you in the way
you should go; I will guide you with My eye.
Ps. 32: 8

يا إله الفضائل أملنا اليك وأرنا وجهك فنخلص!ـ
القديس أغسطينوس

“Turn us again, O Lord God of Hosts, cause
thy face to shine; and we shall be saved"
(St. Augustine)

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Copyright 2011 by Saint Mary & Anba Bishoy Coptic Orthodox Church