Thursday, November 9, 2006

Some Penitential Thoughts from a Wise Disciple

A last word on the Ted Haggard scandal, which is no longer news, Deo Gratias! This word, which comes from Eastern Orthodox spiritual writer Frederica Mathewes-Green, writing on the First Things blog, applies to us all. She writes about the "damaged nous." When our nous, which is translated in Scripture by the word mind, is damaged it "is like a pair of glasses fitted with distorting lenses. It needs healing."

Part of the healing of one's damaged nous, Frederica insists, is the practice of the ancient spiritual disciplines. She makes a very strong case for the practicality of theology, or the initimate link between orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Conversely, she does a wonderful job of pointing out several practical problems that arise from a deficient theology.

"In the Eastern Christian understanding, sins are not 'bad deeds' that must be made up in order to satisfy justice. They are instead like bad fruit, which indicates a sickness inside the tree (the analogy Jesus uses in Matthew 7:7–8). Sin is infection, not infraction. And God not only forgives freely but also sent his Son to rescue us when we were helpless.

"With God’s help, we begin to heal. Like an athlete striving for the prize (I Cor. 9:24, Phil. 3:14, 2 Tim. 2:5), we resist succumbing to lying thoughts. The ancient spiritual disciplines—continual prayer, fasting, and love of others—are like the exercises in a time-tested workout routine. They make us stronger. When we fall, we get up. This is a life of continual repentance—and you can see in that word re-pent, 're-think.' Salvation is health, and health comes from knowing the truth and resisting lies. This gradually heals the nous so that it is restored to its original purpose: to perceive God’s light permeating all Creation."

I urge you to read her entire post, in which she also observes, "it is a mistake to present Christianity the way some churches do, as if it is the haven of seamlessly well-adjusted, proper people. That results in a desperate artificial sheen. It results in treating worship as a consumer product, which must deliver better intellectual or emotional gratification than the competition. And that sends suffering people home again, still lonely, in their separate metal capsules." I might add, still vulnerable to the wiles of Satan and to their damaged nous. Being bolder and perhaps less charitable (though I hope not), what Frederica describes above seems to be a particular temptation for Evangelical churches, though not unknown among Catholics. However, like the Orthodox, we have the sacraments, which, my friends, are such effacacious means of obtaining what God most wants to give us, His Divine life, the life shared by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; this life is love= caritas - agapé. The Holy Eucharist is not merely food, it is medicine for our ailing souls. Before this medicine can take effect, we must first, at least in cases of mortal sin, avail ourselves of the restorative therapy of the sacrament of reconciliation.

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