FREE-WILL

We hear in the Gospel Reading this morning the story of the son enticed by the world and its emptiness who realized he needed to find his way back to his father. (Luke 15:11-32) As I take a moment to reflect on the choices I have made thus far in my life, if I am honest I would have to say I wrestled with God for control of most of my life and still do.

In truth, if we let our free-will lead us away from God we are surrendering ourselves to the devil, becoming his slave and turning our backs on God. What seems like freedom only entraps us with addictions as we have less time for God and a false need for stuff or temporary pleasure where true happiness is not present. There is nothing normal about missing church services only abnormal temptations keeping us away. We become our own god with our self-love and its hate-potion that brings us more into solitude and separated from the flock of believers and to a place where the evil one will quickly corner and devour us.

Is the pig-slop the world is offering us really that good? Why do we keep eating it then? Our Father has prepared a great banquet for us, won’t you come? Every week we offer confession and communion and He is here, welcome home! Let us spit the rancid worldly slop out of our mouths and come home. He loves YOU! He wants to be your Father! Our Creator wants a son and a daughter, not a slave, and He will give your soul a place of rest when your time on Earth is finished. What does the world have to offer?

True freedom only comes from obeying God. A friend of mine some years ago asked me this simple question: If you’re not serving God, then who are you serving? St. Justin Popovich writes: “In truth there is only one freedom – the holy freedom of Christ, whereby He freed us from sin, from evil, from the devil. It binds us to God. All other freedoms are illusory, false; that is to say, they are all, in fact, slavery.” + St. Justin Popovich, Ascetical and Theological Chapters, II.36

Walking away from God enslaves us to death so we have the freedom to choose life in Christ or death in the world. Christ conquered death with His death so that you and I can choose a life of freedom, a life without end, a life lived in His will. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)

In the kontakion we heard today: “I have recklessly forgotten Your glory, O Father; and among sinners I have scattered the riches which You had given me. Therefore, I cry to You like the Prodigal: “I have sinned before You, O compassionate Father; receive me a penitent and make me as one of Your hired servants.” (Kontakion of the Prodigal Son)

Come Home!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 2-24-2019

FICTION NOVEL

On occasion I believe we all sometimes are oblivious to our surroundings. Wither we are sleep-deprived or mentally stuck on something, someone or somewhere; we focus only on ourselves and our pain or pride, ignoring our precious limited time on this Earth and blinded of everyone around us. The Pharisee in the Gospel reading today was way past this point of self indulgence. His love-of–self had written a fiction novel that portrayed himself as truly the unstained knight in shining armor! He had in his abundance of pride, covered himself with fig leaves hiding from God.

St. Paisios of Mount Athos writes: “The person who has too high an opinion of himself remains in the fog of pride and has neither spiritual health nor spiritual vision, and is therefore unable to see the gifts and talents of others.” (Passions and Virtues) Our Lord reminds us in the Gospel reading this morning: “for everyone who exalteth himself shall be humbled, and the one who humbleth himself shall be exalted.” [Lk. 18:14]

So many times I find myself thankful I am not like the bunch of crazies I see protesting on the video feed from the cable network. It is so much easier to be intolerant of their viewpoint then it is to hear their story and somewhat understood how they came to that place of action. Recently I was on my pro-life bandwagon after the outbreak of infanticide support when someone with an opposite view started dialoguing about why she has come to believe that a woman should have the right to choose. She has certainly lived a different life and neither one of us was going to change each other’s mind. At the end of the day, I felt a bit like the Pharisee as I was thankful that my life-story had led me on higher ground, safely inside my fig leaf.

How do we help folks find a true understanding and not fiction? We have to honestly study our pages of life and realize we too are in need of a Savior. People are hurting; the evil one has successfully separated us all from God in one way or another. So how can we help each other? If we can learn to practice philotimo {fil-o-te-me-a},”the most grateful love of a humble person who does not put his own self whatsoever into whatever he does, and whose heart is full of spiritual refinement, sensitivity and gratefulness to God and to the images of God, his fellow human beings. Philotimo is a most polished love of a humble person and a grateful love which is all goodness and humility.” (Passions and Virtues)

I won’t give up my firm stance on the sanctity of life but I will try to love others as He loves me. He hasn’t given up on me and I shouldn’t give up on others, no matter how crazy they seem! And I shall pray that God transform the fictitious chapters that still exist in my life into hopefully one day being a true story about a man in love with Christ!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 2-17-2019

RIP-TIDE

Some summers ago, I was offshore in about fifty inches of warm ocean water about twenty five yards from the shoreline when I found myself moving further and further down the coastline. I could still see my beach chair and umbrella but as I would try to go ashore, the current would drag me down the coast. I was beginning to panic as I struggled to get closer to the shore.

 

When these incidents happen in life we tend to reflect upon our life choices and our relationship with our Maker. We also come to a realization of how little control we have at these times. It was quite a battle to fight the strong currents and arrive at a safe place. I was exhausted or as my Grandma Hazel would say, I was spent! I had no more to give, no more energy to draw from. Another twenty minute or so of struggle and it may have led to a different outcome.

 

At these moments in our lives we tend to realign our priorities because we have felt the fragileness of human life as we catch a glimpse of our mortal death. Wither we are struggling with our health or a close call in our daily activities, our time here on this Earth is temporary. St Anthony the Great said, “If you want to be prepared for death, live every day of your life as if it’s the last one!”

 

In the Wisdom of Solomon, we see: “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.”(Wisdom of Solomon 1.13) And from the prophet Ezekiel: “For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord GOD, “Therefore turn and live!” (Ezek 18:32) “Sin spread to all men because all men sinned” (Rom 5.12); and in sinning, man brought death to their children. In our world, everyone is caught up in the sins of the world. Death is the final victory of the evil one. We are made in God’s image and inspired with the Holy Spirit but we continue to choose sin and its death over a righteous life. (cf. Gen 3, Rom 5.12–21).

 

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15.52–57) Brothers and sisters there is still hope! By the power of Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit, Christians can and must transform their deaths into acts of life. They must face the tragedy of death with faith in the Lord, and defeat the “last enemy—death” (1 Cor 15.26) by the power of their faith in a loving Creator. Christ has defeated death and offers you one way to live! Pull yourselves up out of the dark, earthly Rip-Tide that is moving you further away from Divine love!

 

If you do not love God with all your heart and all your soul, you will not find life before you die and you will not find it after death, and when death overtakes you and you enter into the presence of pure love you will resist it, it will cause you unrest. St. Ambrose puts it like this: “You must not be greatly troubled about many things, but you should care for the main thing — preparing yourself for death.”(St. Ambrose of Optina, quoted from Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina)

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) St. John of Damascus writes:” What earthly sweetness remains unmixed with grief? What glory stands immutable on the earth? All things are but feeble shadows, all things are most deluding dreams, yet one moment only, and death shall supplant them all. But in the light of Thy countenance, O Christ, and in the sweetness of Thy beauty, give rest to him whom Thou hast chosen, for as much as Thou lovest mankind.”

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 2/10/2019

STRIKE

At the local bowling alley down the street, you are supposed to roll a heavy ball down the lane and knock down all the pins. If you knock all the pins down with one try, they call it a strike and you get a high perfect score which is recorded as an “X” on your scorecard.

 

My wife and I don’t bowl very often at all maybe because my wife is a better bowler than me or maybe it is the funny looking shoes that they rent to everybody that comes in, unless of course you own your own special funny looking shoes. But in the past when we have bowled, occasionally I will roll a strike but usually I am excited to just see the ball connect with a couple of pins and to hear that sound of success and see pins go flying away.

 

In order to help control the ball, they drilled finger holes in the ball. And some of the bowlers put a special spin on the ball and even as the ball approaches the pins it may be way of course and then all of a sudden correct its course and hit the sweet spot on the frame of pins. But as for me, I usually send a couple of these heavy bowling balls into the gutter and once or twice I accidentally hurl the heavy rock onto the lane next to ours which helps me with my humility as I beg their forgiveness for my poor performance and lack of practice.

 

For beginners the bowling alley can install bumper pads on each side of the lane preventing the ball from diving into the gutter and almost assuring that your ball is going to knock down some pins! It is the bowling alleys way of helping young and poor bowlers to have a better chance at a perfect score or at least improving their game. After all, a great bowler practices a lot! What does all that have to do with our walk with Christ?

 

On our lane to salvation, we all struggle staying on course and knocking down all the pins! We sometimes do a half-way job leaving pins standing by allowing self-love to blur our vision on the lane to salvation, controlling the heavy ball ourselves without His help. His mercy is similar to the bumper pads laying in the gutter at the bowling alley. His mercy is both the gift of grace and the forgiveness of sins which help us stay on course. Our repentance lifts us out of the gutter and His grace helps us stay on the correct lane sending us down the alley that leads us to the bosom of Abraham or the sweet spot on this frame we know as life. Just as at the bowling alley a perfect score for us is also illustrated with an “X”, coming from the Greek letter Chi abbreviating the all holy name, Christós (Χριστός) or Christ.

 

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. But for this cause I was shown mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to those who are about to believe on Him to life everlasting.” [1 Tim. 1:15-16] Practice makes perfect so don’t be ashamed of failing or letting people see your funny looking shoes that are carrying you on the correct path to salvation and to hear that sound of triumphant success, Welcome Home!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 2-3-2019