“Beloved, although I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel a need to write to encourage you to contend for the faith that was once for all handed down to the holy ones. For there have been some intruders, who long ago were designated for the condemnation, godless persons, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and who deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Jude 3-4.
This was the reading for today. It actually calls for Jude 1-10, but these two verses really struck me today. Whenever I think of Jude, who was the brother of James and not the same person as Judas or Jude the Apostle, but who was a man in the background, an obscure person of the early Church (as the bible tells us in the introduction to the book of Jude) I think of the Beatles’ song, “Hey Jude.” One of the verses to that song is:
“And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain
Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders
For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder
Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah”
And I often wonder if one of the Beatles actually knew of Jude, what his life was like, and was familiar to his very short book in the Bible, nestled between 2John and Revelations. What a place to be nestled!! And I thought about Jude’s warning to the early Church, his statements about intruders and godless persons and how he was trying to warn the early Church of people coming among them who long ago were destined for this condemnation, trying to thwart the teachings of Christ. Jude was not a well known person in that he was not an Apostle, but the brother of the Apostle James, and many attribute the book of James to Jude. He is here, warning against people who come among us, trying to pull us away from the faith we have. In verses 24-25, Jude says, “To the one who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you unblemished and exultant, in the presence of his glory to the only God, our savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority from ages past, now, and for ages to come. Amen.” What a contrasting statement he makes. The others who would tear us away from our faith he destines to condemnation, whereas those who keep us from stumbling are given glory, majesty, power, and authority! Wow. He was definitely not “playing the fool,” by “keeping it cool.”
The last few days on the internet have been pretty wild. We’ve had what they call “trolls” on many of the sites. People are designated a troll when they deliberately join a group that they disagree with, to plant inflammatory statements or, in other words, to inflame the group until it degenerates into stone throwing at one another, which makes everyone look bad. And that is what the troll wants. He/she wants to disrupt anything good a particular group is accomplishing. As you become familiar with various groups online, a troll is fairly easy to spot. And from their first post people are usually calling on the administrator of the site to block them or pull their statements, often asking the troll be blocked from the group. There have been lively discussions, to be sure!
One person lamented about people setting the bar high for lenten practices, especially when the discussion turned to fasting. I think some people felt that ideas and examples being shared were somehow meant to be instructions in the vein of “I am so holy, and I do it this way, so follow me” and Pharisaical, at best. But I do take umbrage with that view. Partly because I am one of the people who innocently gave fasting ideas, even things that have worked for me. Lent in the East can be rough, I can assure you! It is hard to go from our basically hedonistic diets and practices (we are a gluttonous group in the USA) to the lean diet and strict practices of the Eastern Churches during Lent. I thought the Melkites were the tough guys, abstaining from what they do, and having all the many services they have during each week of Lent, but after reading up on it, the Ukrainian Catholics also have a strict Lenten fast and practices, as do many of the other Eastern Churches. There are some that have taken more of a western approach and fast only on Wednesdays and Fridays, and not adding more services during the week. And that is laudable, and often difficult, living where we do (the USA). We are certainly not outwardly encouraged in this culture to go without…to do without anything…let alone attend more services during the week at Church.
We began to see, as our children aged, a practice that was so frustrating as a parent. The kids would sign up for soccer, or baseball, or ice hockey, even rugby, and for our fee we got a t-shirt, a team photo, and a trophy. For our fee. Not because our children had earned it by winning a tournament or working hard in play-offs, a trophy was a part of the fee we paid to have our sons participate. Just by paying and showing up, you were guaranteed a trophy. What lesson in competition, in showing up, in trying your best, was learned? Well, it wasn’t! And it seems like if we just show up nowadays, we get the trophy. What is wrong with setting the bar a little higher?
I think that in regards to fasting, we should all consult our priest (or our spiritual director, or both) and discuss Lent and the practices common to our particular Church. And after that, we will see what we can accomplish during this special time of year. If others are trying the suggested fasting practices, and can share how they were able to do so, I do not think that sharing that is a bad thing. It is something to strive for. Our pastor used to tell us, “Hey, I’ve been at this for years. I keep the strict fast. I have worked hard to get to where I can do that. To begin, try to keep the fast for all of the 40 days; try fasting from just meat for 40 days. Then next year, add something else to take out of your diet, like cheese or dairy. Each year, make your own progress to a place where you can feel the accomplishment of your efforts. No one does it the same. But just take the first step: try.” And I think that is encouraging. I try to lead my family (as the main cook and meal-provider) to keep the fast, but it is difficult. Today, as we discussed our dinner menu, my teenaged son said, “Mom, are you sure? It seems like Jesus was just born! Are you sure it’s time for us to talk about His death already? Are you sure we have to fast now?” And I reminded him about Meat Fare Sunday and the readings, and that this Sunday was Cheese Fare, which is why we are gorging on Macaroni and Cheese from scratch tonight (and why I did not want him making himself the boxed stuff for lunch). Groaning, he just shook his head at the thought of the next 40 days…but we try; we really try.
I have a friend who is a public school teacher. She once remarked that the bar has been lowered so many times, that most of the kids who graduate high school cannot pass English or Math tests when they get to college. The tests the districts require each year to fund the schools makes it difficult to do anything else but teach to pass the tests. And the tests have been dumbed-down over and over again. It is sad. Why should we not strive to the highest, rather than settle for lessor accomplishments? Nowadays colleges require remedial English and Math for most freshmen.
Again, I think this is sad; changing our traditional practices, dumbing-down Lent, so to speak. We now take the lofty ideal of abstaining…from all meat, dairy, olive oil, and wine…for the entire fasting period of 40 days, and instead ask people to just eat fish sticks on Wednesday and Friday. Why can we not strive to do better? Why can we not deny ourselves our cushy sustenance and lavish lifestyles, and give things a rest for just 40 days? Why is talking about that such a bad thing? A gentleman chastised me in a comment about our legislators who vote for and promote abortion. I said they should be called out by their Bishops and they should anathematize themselves out of pure guilt. Pro life is the stance of the Church. I suggested that we just, as voters, say “no.” He felt that our faith cannot influence our government, or our legislation, or legislators. I completely disagree. We are slip-sliding down that slope, the one we’ve been warned about. Jude tells us there are those among us who are there to “pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness.“ Does this not apply to everything to do with our belief in Christ Jesus? Even our government? Even fasting?
Fasting is not supposed to be easy. The Cross was not easy: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me, still, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). Today’s readings also took us to the betrayal of Christ in the book of Luke. The apostles could not even stay awake to pray with Him, but were overcome with and were “sleeping from grief.“ Peter denies Him three times “before the cock crows.” He was alone to face his detractors, those who come among us, “long ago designated for this condemnation, godless persons who pervert the grace of our God…“ And I cannot help but think these readings were selected for us, on Cheese-fare Tuesday, the feast day of Tarasius, Archbishop of Constantinople, who was known as the opener of the 2nd Nicene Council and was called the “father of the poor,” to encourage us to stay the course. To show by example that there will always be those who try to whisper in our ear, and lead us astray. It’s like having a commercial from Satan himself, playing in our ear, telling us that if we just “show up” we’ll get our trophy. Christ paid for our admission, right? We get the spoils – the t-shirt and the group photo opportunity. But isn’t it much better to cross the line, to make it to the play-offs, and to win through our own efforts? To know that we have given it our best and if we fall down, well, Lent is 40 days. We have the chance to get back in it tomorrow. If my family grumbles enough, we may sneak in a burger here and there, but for the most part, we will abstain from meat. As for cheese, well, we are definitely dairy people (lived on them for 20 years) and giving up all dairy is a huge struggle. My kids really hate tofu, regardless of what I try to disguise it as, but we try to go without dairy. If we fail, we may attend an extra Vespers or go without TV for a longer period. The point is to always try. To be in the game, and not on the side lines. To put forth our best because Christ was nailed to that cross for each one of us. He’s paid our admission price.
“But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear…” Jude 17-23