NOVEMBER 27, 2007: LAST TUESDAY OF THE YEAR: DAN 2:31B 45; LUKE 21: 5B 11
THESE THINGS YOU ARE CONTEMPLATINGB THE DAY WILL COME WHEN NOT ONE STONE WILL BE LEFT ON ANOTHER. As the early monks in Egypt sought to live out the message of the Gospel, they were responding to the insight that Jesus himself conveys in today=s text by implication. Behind his words that describe the fate of the temple in its magnificent structure, is our Lord=s keen awareness that the outer form of all things in this world, while real and good for a time, is, in fact, deceptive in so far as it leads us to consider it as enduring indefinitely. That the world is replete with beauty under manifold forms renders our relation to it ambiguous since the fall, in that we tend to be so impressed with the appearances of things, even fascinated by certain of them, that our attention is fixed on their present state. The charm of beauty is such that it tends to bind, first our attention, then our imagination, and finally our thoughts so that the horizon of our spirit becomes limited to the form it presents. This effect on the senses and judgment is summed up in the Book of Proverbs: ACharm is deceitful, and beauty is empty (31:30.@ We fail to see through the form to the substance of that in which it presents itself to the senses. As the Book of Wisdom puts it: the crowd, fascinated by the beauty of the work accorded divine honors to him whom only recently they had honored as a man. (14:20). Those who were so impressed with the impressive form and beauty of the temple failed to see how insubstantial it was, in fact. Jesus looked upon it in its relation to the broad setting in which it stood; he did not deny its graceful proportions and the effect of beauty they imparted, but rather looked upon it as a part of a much larger reality to whose fate it was to succumb before long.
The search for God, as experience taught the early generation of monks, confronts first of all the great obstacle of excessive feelings that are associated with the attachments and aversions that are practically the whole of the early experience of all of us. In order rightly to modify and re-order our passions we must recognize them in detail that is sufficiently concrete to permit us to grapple with them effectively. This work is a highly demanding one that cannot be carried through without some vision as to the limited and fallacious nature of our desires and fears. Such insight is the fruit of a dawning understanding of their place in the larger scheme of things that is in fact, believed to be an expression of God=s plan. Such penetration behind and beyond the surface of life and of the sensible reactions to persons and objects that we encounter in the world is essential to success in this work of ordering aright our relations to others and to the world we inhabit.Thus not only disciplining the passions but also understanding the true meaning of the world and its history are both essential elements in the search for union with God. Evagrius called these two aspects of the spiritual life practice, that is, the effort of modifying our feelings and passions, on the one hand, and the contemplation of nature, on the other. Insight renders effort more effective as well as providing stronger motivation. Jesus demonstrates both these features in today=s Gospel. He is not carried away by feelings of admiration for the magnificent structure of the temple and thus blinded to its imminent destruction; rather, he views it in the context of God=s plan that it is no longer to be the place of acceptable worship. In the process of being supplanted it will, in fact, soon be totally destroyed. It is his own body, soon to be glorified in the resurrection, after undergoing death on the cross, that is to become the temple of God=s glory and the acceptable sacrifice that reconciles with the Father all who put their faith in him.
Learning, by the grace of God, to perceive the right place of all things in God=s Plan for history, and relating to them accordingly, along with developing appropriate relations with all persons, then, is what constitutes the work of the spiritual life. This way of viewing the meaning of life was given expression as a coherent system by a fourth century monk in Egypt, Evagrius Ponticus. Its validity has been established generation after generation, not only by monks but also in the lives of bishops and laymen and women, who truly sought to make the meaning of their lives the ardent search for union with the living God. For they grasped, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, that this is the way to arrive at that purity of heart which alone is rewarded with the knowledge of God in love. It is this loving knowledge and the strength to carrying it through in our life, that Jesus offers us in today=s Gospel and in the Eucharist we celebrate here this morning. May our participation in this sacrifice obtain for us the grace of attaining to this same purity of heart that will be gifted with the vision of God in all eternity. Amen.Z.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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