Saturday, November 26, 2016

Advent I - Year A - November 27, 2016

Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent
Year A ~  November 27, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

Let us then lay aside the works of darkness
 and put on the armor of light.

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

Vigilance, repentance, and birth — or, better, gestation — are the themes of Advent.
Christians are forward-looking people: people who expect redemption in the future. We expect redemption not only for ourselves, as persons, but for the world as a whole. Therefore, what happens in the history of this world is spiritually significant for us. Something that I predict will come to be seen as a major historical event is now taking place at Standing Rock.

Plenty of disasters happen in history. The Gospel does not promise otherwise: to struggle against the Prince of this World is to struggle against human sin and wickedness — spiritual wickedness in high places. We who believe the Gospel and hope in its promises are not surprised by the apparent triumph of those forces. Our hope, which the Epistle to the Hebrews calls the “evidence of things unseen,” is the assurance that such setbacks are but temporary. After all, our world is a world of darkness — or rather a world in which light struggles with darkness and all its works. Today, we hear the Apostle call us to cast aside those works and to put on “the armor of light.” As in any struggle, there will be setbacks, but the outcome is not in question: God has judged the world, made it right, re-created it.

Darkness and light — these images come straight out of Persia. It was the Zoroastrian Cyrus of Persia who restored the captive Jews to Zion. The Scripture calls him liberator and actually Messiah. “You are my Anointed though you do not know my Name." Zoroastrianism is a form of monotheism, with a strong emphasis on the struggle of light and darkness in this world. In the process of liberating the Jews, Cyrus had a very big influence on later Judaism, and hence upon early Christianity. 

This influence extended throughout the Roman Empire, to such an extent that Christianity’s biggest competitor in the first and second centuries was a universal religion called Mithraism. Mithra was a soldier in the army of Light, fighting the forces of darkness, Zoroastrian tradition. No doubt Christianity picked up some of its themes. 

Advent is the season of gathering darkness. Each of the seasons of the Church year invites us to look at our own historical circumstance in a particular way. Right now, the darkness is gathering, but so are the forces of light. We must bear in mind that darkness is the absence of light, not its opposite. This is how we avoid the mistake of dualism, to which Zoroastrianism is sometimes compared. Christians say that Evil has no substance. The Light of God shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. There is no Power in the universe that can oppose God. God has no equal, and therefore no opposite. 

That is why, in our ancient mythology, it is the holy Archangel Michael who fights against the apostate angels. Lucifer  is opposite not to God, but to Michael. God has no opposite. To “cast away the works of darkness" is to oppose Lucifer with the “armor of light.”

The name, Lucifer, bearer of light, is therefore ironic: Lucifer is the angel who imagines himself to be an alternative source of light — just as much a source of light as God. Lucifer thinks that he bears light in himself, not merely as a reflection of the Divine Light. Lucifer insists that he is in his own right, like God. Michael opposes that pretension, asking derisively: “Who is like God?”. Michael is Lucifer’s opposite, not God. 

Like Michael, we are God’s instruments in opposing the Prince of this World. The old rite use to pray that the newly-baptized might “fight manfully under Christ’s banner against the world the flesh and the devil.” This prayer for a tiny, newborn infant usually elicited at least some giggles. But it is not a joke.

The ultimate instrument of God’s Liberation is the Cross: the tool of ultimate, imperial evil, the worst thing that the Prince of this World could do. Jesus Christ has turned that pinnacle of evil into ultimate good. The strongman has been bound, and his house despoiled — his slaves set free. He writhes around kicking in fury, his death throes unleash destructive power; and they can inflict a great deal of damage. But in the end there is no question of his winning. The Prince of this World has been defeated.

We believe in this Gospel and hope in its promise; we do not hope in the natural processes of this world to bring forth the Kingdom. The Son of Man will come like a thief in the night, that is, when we least expect it, and not as a result of the natural fruition of the world’s own internal processes. Our calling is to expect his Coming always — to stay awake during the night and watch, clothed in the armor of light. While the Prince flails around, not knowing what he’s doing or that he is doomed, we are called to stay awake to the fact that we are no longer his subjects, but heirs of the promise.

As the forces of darkness, in the form of meaningless, lying promises, xenophobia, and bigotry of all kinds, seem to be getting the upper hand, it is not mere coincidence that forces of light make their appearance at Standing Rock. There gather people from all walks of life from all over the world, from all nations and peoples, led by the most oppressed of all, in the largest gathering of indigenous peoples ever to take place in North America, or anywhere. The symbolism is profound: the Missouri River, the centerpiece of the Louisiana purchase, which Pres. Jefferson got from Napoleon, doubling theof size the United States and ushering in our own Imperial period, which is now coming to an end. Thomas Jefferson, who referred to the ancestors of the Protectors as “savages” in the Declaration of Independence. The river where they gather calls to mind many of those “works of darkness” that we must “cast away.” So the Standing Rock Protectors gather at the Missouri River to oppose the darkness of imperialism, white supremacy, greedy despoliation of creation, and the mindless lemming-rush of global-warming denial.

To stay awake means to “put on the armor of light” and to watch in hope, but that does not mean passive waiting. Gospel hope means repentance, and work to prepare the way of the Lord, which we will consider next week.


All Saints' Sunday - November 6, 2016

Sermon for the Sunday after All Saints’
Year C ~  November 6, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

One thing have I asked of the Lord and that alone I seek: 
To behold the fair beauty of the Lord.  

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

Well, I think it’s time for a philosophical riddle: if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, is there any sound?. It all depends on how you define sound: in one sense there isn’t any, because sound is a perception that occurs in the brain. Still, no one would deny that there are sound waves, would they?
By analogy, beauty is real and its reality is independent of any perception of it, just as the sound waves are real in the uninhabited forest. One hears that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” That is only partially true, and in its partiality it is misleading and even false. It is all that the experience of beauty can be to a philosophical materialist, that is to those who acknowledge no reality beyond what the senses can perceive.
Materialism rules out a priori  the notion that there is such a thing as Unseen Reality According to this presupposition, this commitment of faith, beauty can only be in the eye of the beholder. There is no such thing as Beauty in Reality,  independent of the human experience.
I find it interesting that many philosophers of science are nevertheless happy to admit that new theories of reality are sometimes preferred over others, some solutions of mathematical problems over others, because they are “more elegant” sometimes scientists even  openly describe them as more “beautiful.” What, then, is this scientific criterion of beauty, if not a recognition that it is objective, and not merely a subjective, non-rational experience?
Following the Greeks, especially Plato, Christianity inclines toward the view that Beauty is real, as God is real, because Beauty is of God’s essence, independent of human experience. Furthermore, the Saints are perfectly beautiful because they reflect the beauty of God. As an early Church Father put it The Glory of God is a Living human being. Beauty is real, as God is Real.
The beauty of nature reflects the beauty of God, too. That is why we rejoice in it yet at the same time we experience a sense of longing: a longing to unite with it which can feel like an erotic longing to possess it. Whenever I experience something really beautiful — like a passage of my favorite music, or a perfect autumn day with its display of created glory, or any of the other echoes of Divine    Reality that surround us — I feel longing. We are told by our spiritual masters that this phenomenon is longing for God. When I am moved to tears of longing over a piece of music or an autumn day, it is because I have experienced, momentarily, the Glory of God, and felt my own separation from it. I think the same is true when I nearly weep at the sight of Pope Francis.
Which brings me to the celebration of All Saints Sunday. For, above all other characteristics, the Saints are beautiful. What is more beautiful than the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the hungry for justice, and even those who mourn? Since what they mourn is suffering and death, which God has come to destroy in the person of His Son? Is not their mourning a longing for God? Are not their tears of repentance, that is expressions of the intense longing that comes upon us when our consciousness is ravaged by Divine Beauty, when our mind is changed in that terrible way?
These, then, are the Saints. Today we celebrate all of them, unknown as well as known. The great saints, the famous ones remembered officially by the Church together with the much greater number of incognito saints, are all reflections of Divine Beauty, of the ineffable Reality that surrounds us. As Dostoyevsky’s character remarks, the great tragedy of our life is that a paradise of beauty blooms around us and we fail to see it. Or, as Leon Bloy’s title character in The Woman Who Was Poor remarks in the last line of the book, “the only tragedy is that we are not all saints.”
True enough, but it is true because we are all called to be saints, and we have every reason to hope that we all shall be. Today’s observance reminds us of that, and that as we are surrounded by the Paradise of Beauty, so we are surrounded by that “great cloud of witnesses, whom no one could number” — the unknown, hidden holy ones, who have become like God, who through Beholding the Divine Beauty have “been conformed to the Beauty gazed upon”, and made partakers of Divine Life.
Those who have tried to tell of this experience have offered the analogy of a piece of iron heated by fire. The iron’s nature is thoroughly transformed into the nature of fire, as it glows red and then white-hot, without ceasing to be iron. So, we hope, is the life of human consciousness, utterly transfigured in the Divine Beauty of the Beloved.
The LORD is glorious in the saints.

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Pentecost 24 - Proper 26C - October 30, 2016

Sermon for The Twenty-fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Year C, Proper 26  ~  October 30, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

He was trying to see who Jesus was,
but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity
Operating on the ancient theory that almost no detail in holy Scripture is insignificant let’s look at some details in today’s Gospel:
1.    the significance of Jericho,
2.    the significance of Zacchaeus’s name,
3.    the fact that he was short,
4.    Jesus’s call to him.

A quick look at Wikipedia reveals that Jericho was a pretty rich city, owing to the lucrative balsam trade, and tax-collectors would’ve been quite rich indeed. Jericho was also in the nearest town to the winter residence of Herod the Great. Below sea level, near the place where the Jordan enters the Dead Sea, it is always warm, and in the summer dreadfully hot. The proximity of the Royal Palace would also be good for business. Finally, modern archaeology awards Jericho the title of the oldest continuously-inhabited town on earth. There are signs of unbroken settlement going back to the seventh century B.C. So, Jericho could be taken to represent all of human civilization. There are also archaeological signs of the destruction of the city walls at about the time of Joshua! So Jericho could also be taken as a symbol for human obduracy, futile resistance to the will of God.
Zacchaeus means pure. In some Christian traditions, he is taken as a figure for those who, though defiled, are made pure by the grace of God. They do take some initiative themselves, as Zacchaeus did by climbing the Sycamore tree, apparently out of curiosity and because he was short and he knew that he would not see anything unless he climbed. In a way, like Zacchaeus, we are all of diminutive stature, spiritually speaking, and we must take some initiative to climb up higher if we would see God. So, Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. He didn’t know Who Jesus was, and the Gospel said he wanted to. He had no idea of what his seeing would entail. Neither do we. But it proved to be costly to Zacchaeus. He wanted to “see who Jesus was.” He did, and it changed his life. If we spiritual midgets “see who Jesus is,” it changes ours too.
For Jesus called him by name and invited Himself to dinner and, presumably, overnight accommodation. Jesus already knew who he was: that he was rich, and that he was much-despised because of the source of his wealth: collaboration with the Romans in collecting taxes. People grumbled because Jesus favored him, and not them, with an overnight visit.
Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Not impossible, but very difficult. What IS impossible is for less-rich persons to enter the Kingdom, as long as they delight in the spiritual difficulties of the rich. There is a certain spiritual luxury in that delight — a kind of wallowing in imaginary spiritual riches — a delight that is one of the seven deadly sins, right up there with avarice: envy. It is related to our feelings of relief that we are not like the Pharisee of last week’s Gospel. That sense of relief is actually envy. Contrary to popular usage, envy is not the desire to have what another has, but the desire to deprive the other of it and to take pleasure in the other’s downfall. Delight in the misfortune of another is envy, including delight in the spiritual delusion of the Pharisee. Dejection or anger at the of the good fortune of another is also envy, exemplified by the grumbling residence of Jericho at the good fortune of Zacchaeus. We who delight in the words of Isaiah about God’s disgust at the ritual offerings of the rich need to be real careful here! Because envy is just as bad as avarice – the inordinate love of riches.
So we have to consider the camel and the needle’s eye alongside Zacchaeus in the Sycamore. He was rich. Not only was he rich, he had become so, apparently, by dishonesty and collaboration with the foreign occupation. As long as he stayed as he was, he was sunk. But something caused him to want to see Jesus, and since he was short, he climbed the tree. Whatever motivated him to do that also motivated him to volunteer to pay any ill-gotten gains back fourfold and to give half of the rest to the poor. In other words, he was willing to do what he could to purify himself, and to make himself fit to be Jesus’s host. Even after he gave up half of his wealth, he would probably still be pretty rich, but that promise was enough for Jesus to observe that salvation has come to this house.
This incident comes right after the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, which we heard last week. It continues the gospel’s insistence that those who judge by appearances are in for unpleasant surprises. As God says in Isaiah, My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways. The crowd who condemned Zacchaeus judged him to be a sinner. And it sounds like he was. But contact with Jesus changed his mind — caused him to repent. Notice that Jesus didn’t tell him he had to give back his riches, he volunteered that as soon as Jesus asked him for hospitality. The rich who learn how to use their riches well are not condemned, but those who condemn them are on thin ice. Envy is as bad as avarice.
What brought Zacchaeus to repentance, to the desire to serve God by offering hospitality? According to today’s Collect, it was grace. The grace that “goes before” any righteous action of our own. “It is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service.” Jesus called  Zacchaeus by name, just as He calls each of us by name at our baptism. And by this Divine grace, Zacchaeus was changed, purified so that he could live out the significance of his name and offer God true and laudable service.

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Pentecost 23 ~ Proper 25C ~ October 23, 2016

Sermon for The Twenty-third Sunday After Pentecost
Year C, Proper 25  ~  October 23, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

Well, aren’t you glad you’re not like the Pharisee? I know I am! And here we have yet another parable that turns out to be a paradox, when we think about it a little. Naturally I will identify with one of the characters, and who would not wish to identify with the one who goes down to his house justified? That means I have to imagine that I am not like the Pharisee! But in so thinking, I become just like him: he said I thank you God that I am not as other men — for example this publican! And I say I thank you God that I am not as other men — for example this Pharisee! It's a joke!
As bad a mistake as it is to identify with the Publican in this self-congratulatory way, and to think that I am better than the Pharisee, there is one almost as bad that goes along with it: to imagine the Pharisees a bunch of corrupt hypocrites. Indeed, the very word came to mean that in Christian usage. Phariseeism came to mean that reliance upon their own righteousness, with which the Evangelist begins the parable. By the time he wrote, relations between the Early Church and the rest of the Jews who did not regard Jesus as the Messiah were pretty bad, and so it was easy to regard the Pharisees as the enemy, and to make them into a caricature. The Pharisees thought that observance of the law was the main thing, with or without the Temple. They were at odds in this, and many other matters of doctrine, with the Saducees, who considered that the Temple was all-important. We should not forget, that Jesus was on their side in all of this — angels, general resurrection at the end of time, the notion that the Temple was not essential — Jesus shared all these views with the Pharisees, while the Sadducees denied them. When the Temple was destroyed — just before St. Luke wrote his Gospel — the Saducees disappeared, and the Church and the Pharisees — who were pretty much the same as the synagogue Jews all over the Empire —both considered themselves the continuing People of the Covenant. So, there may have been a polemical reason for casting the bad guy in the story as a Pharisee.
But I think to content ourselves with this misses the point. The point is that the Pharisees were good guys. Like Joseph of Arimathæa and Nicodemus and even Simon, the Pharisee who had Jesus over for dinner. (Even though he wasn’t as attentive as a host as he might’ve been, Jesus did accept his invitation.)  So it may be that St. Luke’s chose the Pharisee as a foil for the Publican precisely because he WAS a good man.  The dreadful paradox is that as long as he thinks he is a good man, then he is deluded, and he is not even as good as the Publican, who dares not raise his eyes to heaven. So, if I identify with the latter, I may fall into the trap of condemning the Pharisee, and thus become like what I condemn!
That may be one of the meanings of this parable: we become like what- ever we condemn.
Real repentance is necessary – repentance like the Publican’s, which relies solely on God’s mercy. If we think we deserve anything good, we had better think again (re-pent). Fortunately, the Good News is that God loves us and desires to shower blessings on us. The only thing that can prevent Him is our own will, which can refuse Him in many ways. Among the most subtle refusals is the belief that I deserve grace. As long as I cling to that delusion, I am like the Pharisee, even though I may imagine that I am like the Publican.
So the Collect for today prays for Grace: the increase of faith, hope, and love. As St. Augustine observed, like the Trinity, these supernatural virtues are one in essence. If you have one of them, you have all three. Obviously the Publican had faith and hope. He would not have been there had he not trusted in God’s mercy and hoped to receive it. And perhaps we can discern charity in his refusal to judge anyone but himself.
Nothing is more important, because there is nothing more toxic to our soul’ s health than judging another, as the Pharisee did. It is an obvious violation of the second great commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, but it is also a blasphemous violation of the first commandment, to love God, since I can judge another person only by putting myself in God’s place, shoving Him off the mercy-seat, and taking over myself.
May God deliver us from that hideous delusion, and with the Publican grant us the increase of faith, hope, and charity, the grace always to remember the stunning, ravishing, astonishing words from the lips of God Himself: I tell you, this man and not the other went down to his house justified.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Pentecost 22 ~ Proper 24C ~ October 16, 2016

Sermon for The Twenty-second Sunday After Pentecost
Year C, Proper 24  ~  October 16, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

Be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

The pairing of this parable of the Unjust Judge and the Importunate Widow with Jacob’s wrestling-match with God invites us to think of the Unjust Judge as an allegorical representation of God. But that cannot be so. That would be absurd, a contradiction in terms. In fact it’s kind of a joke to think of it that way; maybe it is purposely funny in order to force us outside of our ordinary habits of thinking. The parable is also a good example of why straightforward allegory is not always useful. The point certainly is not that if we pester God enough, eventually He will be sufficiently annoyed to do what we ask! Still, the meaning must have something to do with the Importunate Widow’s persistence. “Perseverance furthers,” as the I Ching famously advises. And persistence, perseverance, not giving up IS what ties the gospel with the prophecy.

I think this parable is about perseverance in prayer — in spiritual practice. It is definitely not about a contest of wills between the soul and God, but it is about breakthroughs. All of life is a series of breakthroughs, isn’t it? We are conceived and new life breaks through. After gestation, we break through into the world. Then our physical and emotional and mental development are all a series of breakthroughs: more or less painful breakthroughs, as we make the natural transitions in life. Finally, we break through into Larger Life when we die, an event Sufis as well as Christians call New Birth. The Wise tell us that the same is true of our spiritual life, which is the purpose of all the other levels of our life. The problem is that there is a conflict between our calling into more and more being, more and more reality, more and more love, and our natural inclination to stay where we are.

I think that is what the Unjust Judge represents: the wall — the shell — we all build around our individuality. We need such a shell, just as an egg needs its shell in order to live, but it turns out to be a prison for our personhood. Eventually, the new check has to break it and leave it behind. The Widow represents the self that is striving to leave that individuality behind and to become a person. The Widow represents the self called to sound through that wall, to break it down, to wear it out, to break through the shell. Whatever our religious practice, if it comes out of a genuine spiritual tradition and we stick with it, the Unjust Judge will give up and give us what we want. He represents the part of ourselves that doesn’t want to change, the shell. The Widow represents the part of us that does. All she can do is to keep asking. All we can do is to persevere in prayer, understood in the broadest possible way. The Unjust Judge has all kinds of ways of refusing the demands of the Widow:
1)   “No one is listening. There is no God. You are just wasting your time."
2)   “Don’t you have something else to do? Couldn’t you spend your limited time doing something more useful?"
3)   “This isn’t getting you anywhere. You know very well that you’re not making any so-called ‘progress'. There is no such thing."
4)   “There is no ‘Unseen Reality.’ What you see is what you get.”
And so on. There is truth to all of these refusals:
    1) Indeed, there is no God of the kind we are capable of imagining. It does not follow, however, that there is no God. And if there is, then what better way to spend our time?
    2) Sure I have something else to do, but what could be more important than fulfilling the purpose for which I came into existence?
    3) While it’s true that I don’t notice any progress, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is no progress. In fact, the Wise tells us that we are never in a position to observe our own progress. There is no way I can tell if I am getting anywhere, because the very wall I am trying to break down is my habitually self-regarding consciousness.
    4) Unseen Reality, by definition, transcends our consciousness. While I may accept the reality of what I see, it does not follow that there is nothing that I cannot see. Faith, as Paul says, is the “evidence of things unseen.” That’s a paradox, because evidence means visible proof, and Faith is not that kind of proof, but rather the will to entertain the possibility of Unseen Reality. Opening to it is our purpose, and what better way to spend our time

The Unjust Judge is the self-regarding consciousness, unwilling to entertain any other possibility. Unjust indeed! The judgments of that consciousness are not right. Fearing neither God nor man, the self-regarding consciousness defends against any attempt to break through it, whether the adoration of God or the love of our fellow beings. The practice of the remembrance of God — repeated RETURN TO the consciousness that adores the Unseen the Reality and recognizes the same consciousness in everyone we encounter — that remembrance will overcome the Unjust Judge if the Importunate Widow will only persevere.

Maybe that is one of the meanings of Paul’s advice to “pray without ceasing.” To do so literarily, with mantras or dhikr, such as the Jesus Prayer, is commendable. But that takes a lot of practice. Perseverance consists in repeated return when our consciousness wanders or our practice falls off. The woman asks, is refused, and goes away. Then she comes back to ask again, over and over again, day after day, and she never gives up returning. Maybe to pray without ceasing does not only mean to pray continually but never to give up, to return to the practice of remembrance without giving up.

As I said this is not a matter of a contest of wills, in which I am determined that my will shall prevail. In fact, it is very nearly the opposite. My will is the Unjust Judge. The Importunate Widow is the practice of remembrance, the Spirit insisting on conforming my will to God’s. God does not have to be convinced to love us. God is not the Unjust Judge. God, rather, is at work within us to wear down the resistance of the self-regarding consciousness, which in the end wears out. The breakthrough that follows is mysterious. Love breaks in as the Soul breaks out, like a chicken breaking out of the egg shell, which it no longer needs.

Our part in this is faith — the willingness to entertain the possibility of Unseen Reality, but also the fidelity of our perseverance in repetitive practice, like the Importunate Widow. That is how we give an affirmative answer to the Lord’s question: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

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Saturday, October 08, 2016

Pentecost 21, Proper 23 C ~ October 9, 2016

Sermon for The Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost
Year C, Proper 23  ~  October 9, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

 “Your faith has saved you.”

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

We pray in the Collect that God’s grace may always precede and follow us. We would be surrounded by grace, enveloped in it, so encompassed in it that we maybe don’t even notice it. As is often the case, The Collect has us ask for that which is already granted, only we don’t recognize it. So, as is often the case, we are praying for a change in our own consciousness. What we are asking for is consciousness of grace, that is to say a consciousness characterized by gratitude.
As the Jesuits say, all is grace. Grace is the basic fact of the universe. The free gift of God, to which our only response can be the joyful recognition of the gift. We call the recognition gratitude. The Samaritan leper represents the minority of us who become conscious of grace. The other nine are not wicked; they are just spiritual infants. They are consumed with joy about their own healing, as well they might be, but they take it for granted. I don’t think God holds that against them. But they will be even happier when they become  conscious of the grace they enjoy.
For gratitude is heaven. That is to say, it is complete self-forgetfulness: human attention focused entirely on the love of God. Most of us have felt it for a moment or two. It is consciousness of grace, which usually lasts briefly. Eternal life is permanent consciousness of the grace that ever precedes and follows us. Perfect, timeless gratitude, the self lost in the adoration of Divine Love — that is heaven. We can believe that it is real, because we have experienced it momentarily. When we are thankful in that self-forgetful sense, however briefly, we are conscious of Eternal Reality, and we have seen the Kingdom of God, come in glory here and now, before we die, as our Lord promised.
I like to tell the story, from time to time, of the Hasidic rabbi who could never read much of the Torah in public, because as soon as he, came to the words “God said…” He fell in ecstasy and could not go on. The holy man had experienced some slight inkling of what it means to say that God reveals Himself to us. It is an impossibility, which we nevertheless experience, though rarely. Mostly, we are like the nine lepers — overjoyed, but not aware of God’s grace. It is as though you or I had decided to communicate with insects, or even with a microbe. How would we go about it? How would we get through them? All of the world’s genuine holy Scriptures are accounts of building that kind of bridge. It is all God’s doing, bridging our separation from Him and from one another, and bringing us gradually together in gratitude, which is to say in grace. Grace that always precedes and follows us.
The Samaritan leper is a foreigner, as the Gospel calls him, an alien. That’s significant: His kind of gratitude is foreign to us. We have to learn it, and most of us don’t. We have to practice it, if we are to fulfill our purpose as human beings. Life is a school of gratitude, and a good life is one marked by more and more gratitude. More and more grace.
Jesus says that the grateful leper was healed by his faith. Then what saved the other nine, who were healed of their leprosy as surely as the Samaritan? All of them, after all, had asked Jesus to heal them. All of them, must’ve had some faith. Maybe Jesus is talking about some healing – some salvation – besides the leprosy, when he said to that single Samaritan ex-leper, “your faith has made you whole.”
Maybe the story is about God’s gracious work, piercing our own limitation: the insect-like distance between Reality and our consciousness. Here, perhaps, the veil of appearance is lifted, and we see for a moment God’s gracious work, symbolized by the gratitude of the Samaritan leper. His joy at his own good fortune, was enlarged into an even greater dawning of the consciousness of limitless grace, as he fell at Jesus feet. Maybe, like the Hasidic rabbi, he had fallen in ecstasy. That would be appropriate, a fitting human response to the, momentary and overwhelming consciousness of grace, the grace that always precedes and follows us, though most of us fail to see it. In that case, the Samaritan's faith, which Jesus says has saved him, saved him not from leprosy, but from our microbial consciousness, and its inability to adore God.
We come to this place, like the Samaritan leper, to give thanks. Eucharist. Good gift. Good grace. Eucharisto. Thank you, in Greek. We come to practice gratitude, so that — with practice — it may become more and more natural to us, as our microbial consciousness is gradually replaced by the consciousness of Grace that always precedes and follows us, the consciousness that is the grateful adoration of Infinite Love.

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