So many thoughts, colliding today. I started reading an amazing book by Elder Thaddeus, about how our thoughts determine our lives. And I am working at keeping my thoughts positive and God-centered. And I have been praying to remain in this perspective. So what happens this morning? I fail. Already, I have failed. I am only glad that Lent is 40 days and not just 1 day or I would have blown my intentions!! Thanks be to God for His unending Mercy and patience with us!
Today, Pope Benedict announced his retirement, which is unprecedented in about the past 600 years or so. And of course, the pundits, who know nothing about how the system works, opine all sorts of reasons and try to explain to the “public” what this means to the Church and to all Catholics, worldwide. One reporter stated something to the effect that “the Church has seen how bad it is when they’ve elected someone from a ‘Super Power,‘ so we are certain no Americans will be in the running for the next Pope.” Now, I am not an ostrich; I know that politics are alive and well in Rome and that our Cardinals are embroiled in it. They are men; they are not Christ. And due to our fallen nature, men will often sink to the lowest common denominator of the group they spend the most time with. I do believe, however, that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and that when the Cardinals gather, in prayer, to select the next Pope, that the Holy Spirit, along with all the Guardian Angels of the Cardinals, will influence the voting process and that our next Spiritual Father will be the one God wants to lead His Church. It is my faith in my Church that keeps me feeling positive when so much in life is chaotic and unsure – “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
That being said, social media is alive and kicking when it comes to the whole issue of the Pope. The remarks being made about the Holy Father are disgusting and often sadistic. It hurts my heart to see him spoken of so terribly. I have not been as close to this Pope as I felt to John Paul II. As a Byzantine Catholic, we tend to look to our Patriarch for guidance, along with input from the Pope. So I have felt a “step removed” from Rome for many years now. I could not, however, tolerate some of the disrespectful ways in which people joked about the Pope. Things have popped up like, “Is Monster Jobs gonna post that opening?” or “I’m qualified; my first act would be to cancel the Honey Boo-Boo TV show. I can do that, right?” or even “I thought it was for life….?” And it made me sad, and it made me mad. So I spouted off on my wall about the Pope and how it is a holy vocation, not a job. I also spoke about the Cardinals and their prayerful selection of the next Pope, etc. It was not good for my Lenten resolve of a Holy Silence and guarding my thoughts.
I find it so interesting that when I was challenged by something that was not even directed towards me, my immediate reaction was anger and defensiveness. “Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind, then that is what our life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility (Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica)“. This was quoted by Abbot Tryphon today and I find it interesting that he quoted from the book I chose to read for Lent. His entire article today was entitled, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives.” (The same title of Elder Thaddeus” book). Once again, it feels like Abbot Tryphon wrote, just for me, about something I am struggling with. And of course, I read this before the other posts I got so upset about. What does that say about me? That I can read something and believe in it, and 10 minutes later react in direct opposition to those words? It means I am such a work in progress, and that Christ is so not done with me, yet. The first day of Lent and I stumble…oh my; these 40 days may be very long for me. Another one of those instances where I am “piling on the mileage” in a relatively short period of time.
As Abbot Tryphon went on to say just this morning: “Saint Saraphim of Sarov said that if we “acquire peace, a thousand around us will be saved”, for having been created in the image of God, and we are part of the Divine thought that was made material in time and space. We not only influence those around us with our thoughts, but we even influence the cosmos. If we focus on the negative, those negative thoughts impact everyone around us, and even the whole world. The Elder Thaddeus tells us we can be either very good, or very bad, depending on the thoughts and desires we breed.
There is a lot that is wrong with the world, but it begins with us. If there is to be peace in our world, it must begin with me. If hatred, anger, envy, lust, and spite, are to end, it must end with me. When we allow destructive thoughts to destroy our peace, the peace around us is destroyed. We can not blame the world, or even those around us, for that which happens around us, radiates from us. Blame for all that is wrong with the world, can not be placed beyond our own hearts.”
The reading yesterday was the Scripture that we are all so familiar with, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) and Father spoke in his homily about where we place our value on things. What is valuable to us reflects where our hearts are. And as I listened to Father yesterday, once again seemingly speaking directly to me (we chatted after Divine Liturgy and I asked him if he was thinking of me when he wrote his homily and he laughed, placed his hand on my shoulder and gently said, “Well daughter, if the shoe fits!”) and I was reminded that I place a lot of emphasis on historical things. “I love old things, old books, and old friends” is a plaque I have in my house. It pretty much sums me up! And I believe in the historical foundation of my Church and my faith. And I strive to work to be a better representative of that faith. But today, I was brought up short by how my intentions certainly were not carried out in the best way possible….I only remembered something I read for a moment, and when confronted a mere 10 minutes later, fell back into my routine of noisiness and wandering thoughts, and being reactionary. Where does that mean my treasure lays? Well, certainly it is a matter of pride. I was angry at how others speak about my faith, and a man I admire, the current Pope, and I was vociferous in defending it. I could have left well enough alone, and been silent. I could have controlled my thoughts and kept a positive outlook, focusing on the wonderful legacy of Pope Benedict and prayed for the Cardinals and their decision-making. But instead, I lashed out at non-Catholics for being disrespectful of the Pope.
St. John Climacus and his “Ladder of Divine Ascent,” along with Brother Thaddeus’ book, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives,” should keep me busy this Lent. I know I have so very far to go. But I also know that keeping my eye on the prize, an intimate relationship with God and Sanctification in Heaven, will keep me resolving to get up each time I stumble, and each time knowing God is helping me, mercifully, to get up. Thanks be to God for the opportunity to repent each time I fail miserably…thanks be to God there is mercy in abundance for all of us.
And so, Lent begins….