Sunday, October 30, 2011

A House Divided

FROM TODAY'S Gospel reading:

Jesus...said to them: "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand..."

Years later, these timeless words echoed in the mind of the American president Abraham Lincoln, as he prepared his famous “House Divided” speech just before the outbreak of the Civil War. The house, the United States of America, has remained (essentially) undivided today. But not without a bloody, horrific war.

In the speech, Lincoln said, "I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided."(*)

Was the war worth it? Was it worth the struggle? As the United States is still one nation -- and a vibrant one in many respects -- we might confidently now say that the war was worth it.

Remember his words though, that the nation “could not endure, permanently half slave and half free.” In the same way, you and I cannot remain half free and half slave. We cannot "endure" in such a state, half dead, half alive. We cannot continue. We must make a choice: free or slave?

If I choose to wage the battle against the half-slave part of me, it will be hard. It may be a horrific civil war.

But, like the American civil war, it will be worth it.

Look at the confidence of Abe Lincoln, “I do expect it will cease to be divided.” Let us have this confidence in the grace of the Holy Spirit. I will cease to be divided. This is what faith is all about.

Do Your Work

One of the places we find ourselves divided is work. We are trying to work, but find ourselves wandering onto websites like Facebook or playing with our smart(er-than-us) phones, which have now become elaborate toys.

Consider the following passage from the life of St. Antony:
When the holy Abba Antony lived in the desert he was attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, "Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone; what shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?" A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Antony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, "Do this and you will be saved." At these words, Antony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.
Our work has been given to us as a big help in our salvation. When it is the time of work, we should take advantage of this blessing and, frankly, work.

Unexpected Reactions

Has your "natural" reaction ever surprised you? This may be a sign of tension between two ways, of a "house divided."

Saint Kosmas writes, "Every affliction tests our will, showing whether it is inclined to good or evil. This is why an unforeseen affliction is called a test, because it enables a man to test his hidden desires."

If you’ve ever acted with a short temper, with an arrogance that you didn’t think you had, you know what the saint means. It’s a sign that there is a tension within you, that your “house is divided.” The true tension jumped out and exposed itself. You weren’t prepared to hide it or stifle it.

Fake 'Til You Break

Theophan the Recluse says that the foremost characteristic of a deluded person is he "assuredly considers himself to be something he is not: for example, called to teach others, capable of an extraordinary life, and so on. Our pride is always lurking in the back ground waiting to be satisfied."

To consider myself, “capable of an extraordinary life,” means that I have some kind of superhuman nature, that the spiritual laws don’t apply to me, that I can endure as a "house divided":

I can be a spiritual person without fasting or submitting my body to any discipline.
I can look at endless obscene images and videos and my brain will remain normal.
I can associate with pessimistic people all the time and I will not become depressed.
I can associate with corrupt people and I will not be corrupt.

We all tell ourselves these lies, to some degree. And so we stand divided between wanting the victorious life with God and the weight of all this stuff. We cannot endure like this, pulled upward and downward, half-slave, half free.

(*)House Divided Speech, June 16, 1858

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