The Ladder of Your Daily Life

Perhaps the most prominent ladder in our culture is the one associated with careers. It is an image of the American road to success. We begin at or near the bottom and, step by step, make our way towards the top. It is a metaphor that works well with our modern notions of hard work, persistence and reward. It also serves as a justification for many of the structures in our society and colors our common view of those who linger around the bottom. It is through this cultural image that the Ladder of St. John of Sinai (Climacus) comes into distorted view. I have often thought that certain images are not safe in the hands of modernity – and this is one of them.

There is something buried deep in the human soul surrounding the image of climbing and God. The story of the Tower of Babel is an account of a vast human effort to build a tower that would reach into heaven itself. One of the ancient Ziggurats built by Nebuchaneaer was called, “The place where earth and heaven meet.” Mountains have always played a major role in the meeting place of God and humanity. Our instinct is that we “go up” to meet God.

The Tradition clearly indicates that this instinct has value. But like all human instincts, it has its dark side as well. Our culture’s notion of the “pinnacle of success” is a prime example of this darkness. By its very name, this peak experience is held out as a desirable goal. But we have the strange reality that those at the top are rarely personalities that we would want to nurture in our children. There is nothing that the pinnacle offers other than money and power, neither of which is beneficial to the soul.

This distorted “ladder” often gets translated into the moral life in what is little more than an exercise in Pelagianism. Our struggles for moral improvement frequently have more to do with our inability to bear the shame of moral failure than of any desire for goodness. As such, they are a neurosis rather than a morality. St. John gives us a “ladder” for our consideration. It is worth noting, however, that the fourth chapter in his work concentrates on shame – with the observation, “You can only heal shame by shame.” This is not a “ladder” in any modern sense of the word.

Consider the Beatitudes. Christ offers something of a “list” as He reveals the nature of His Kingdom. Who are the blessed?

The poor in spirit;
Those who mourn;
Those who are meek;
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness;
Those who are merciful;
Those who are pure in heart;
Those who make peace;
Those who are persecuted.

The list is not a ladder, a movement from one virtue to another. It is, however, a characterization of the “virtues” that find their place within the Kingdom. Who are these people?

It would seem that there is a consistent picture of those who are best positioned regarding the Kingdom. They are poor, disadvantaged, oppressed, and sorrowful. They are also longing for things to be set right, while at the same time they are merciful and kind towards others.

This same summary can be seen throughout the gospels and in St. Paul:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, (1 Cor. 1:26-28)

The ladder of the spiritual life leads downwards rather than up (or it leads us back to where we already are). The lives of the saints are replete with those who abandoned wealth in order to become poor and find God. I can think of no stories in which a saint acquired wealth in order to enter the Kingdom.

I do not think it is necessary for everyone to abandon what they have and head to the deserts. It is sufficient, in my experience, to simply practice mercy, kindness and generosity where you are, and to bear your own failings and incompetence with patience. And, though this sounds easy, it is more than most are willing to do.

I am always leery when asked about various spiritual undertakings. Whether it’s a rule of prayer or a rule of fasting, the true struggle is never found in doing what is extraordinary. It’s the very difficult matter of enduring what is given to us. God, in His providence, allows us all that is necessary for our salvation. Grace is primarily found within the ordinary faithfulness of our life.

Of course, the monastic example might make many question this “ordinary” route. What is not seen by most is the exceedingly ordinary task that confronts the monastic. The greatest struggles within a monastery are not always in the prayers, vigils and fasting. Most often, they are found in the daily grind of remaining in place. It is said in the desert, “Stay in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.”

We can also know that the good God who loves mankind will never abandon us. No matter how far we may run from the mundane struggles of our existence, the struggles will follow. It is among the promises of Christ: “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matt. 6:34)

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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44 responses to “The Ladder of Your Daily Life”

  1. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father that verse from Matthew has always eluded me. Would be so kind and expand on it and it’s meaning in this context?

  2. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In the Sermon on the Mount, it is a bit of a summary statement – after telling us not to worry about tomorrow. It could be translated, “There are enough troubles for one day.” I understand it, first, to be clear that we are not promised days without trouble. However, we should, as much as possible, live a day at a time, dealing with what is at hand. I think grace is always present tense (there’s no grace for tomorrow). “Now” is the time of our salvation.

  3. Aric Avatar

    Whoa. I never thought of the “sufficiency” that Christ speaks of as a kind of salvific sufficiency, but that’s exactly the idea here, namely, that each day’s task(s), whether doing the dishes, performing heart surgery, praying, dealing with the shame of being a “loser”—whatever—is actually sufficient to lead us to salvation. I wonder though if we aren’t also called to be creative in the kind of labor we may pursue. In other words, where is the line between apathy/sloth and vanity/pride?

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think we work. The American myth, however, is that we must always be working to get ahead – to move up the ladder. It is not a commandment. My father was a good auto mechanic all his life. It was sufficient – and it was not wasted. No matter what we do, we should have a goal to live as a good person each day.

  5. Janine Avatar

    Thanks Father, wonderful points in this essay. (I’ve been reading about acedia, the most dreadful noonday demon, and what you say about the desert certainly bears out in that reading!)

    “Sufficient for the day is the trouble thereof” comes right after Jesus teaches us about excessive worry/anxiety (“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things”). We don’t need to dream up more troubles than we already have, is the way I read it. And how many of us wander into even more trouble through worry? Certainly fits the world I live in!

  6. Dino Avatar

    How true that “Whether it’s a rule of prayer or a rule of fasting, the true struggle is never found in doing what is extraordinary. It’s the very difficult matter of enduring what is given to us.”
    Voluntary ascesis – although essential and valuable to all – will never mean a thing without “trusting acceptance of what comes to us involuntarily”. Even monastics, first ought to focus on making the involuntary voluntary (the pinnacle of which is man’s final ‘ticket’ to God: death) and then combine this with what serves as their preparatory training: voluntary ascesis.
    Monastics, especially considering that the initial reason for that choice was simply because one could not be martyred for Christ anymore, (and monasticism was the next closest thing), would be silenced – no matter how much fasting and vigil they kept-, if they could not endure sickness, pain, slander, cold, difficulties, and above all death (a lack of desire for which is considered a grave indicator of lack of love for God). These are the things that come to us directly from God’s hand.

  7. Geri Priscilla Avatar
    Geri Priscilla

    Forgive me for an interjecting some levity. Someone in our parish said they were reading The Ladder and I asked what rung they are on…advising in advance that this was an Orthodox trick question: if we say we’re on rung 28…it becomes like Chutes and Ladders and we slide back to the start, right? So, this Ladder is always leading, in a sense, down to Humility. Perhaps it is like prostration…we reach up to God and fall down in awe and wonder. A counter-cultural ladder.

  8. Chris from Tennessee Avatar
    Chris from Tennessee

    The distorted ladder of Pelagianism is partly an inheritance I received from childhood, partly a result of bad choices in adulthood, partly the whispers of the enemy in my ear, partly an appeal to pride. It vexes me and tasks me, as a relatively new Orthodox convert, to disentangle spiritual progress from economic progress. I believe Lord. Help my unbelief.

  9. Dean Avatar

    Are we to desire death itself? I don’t see St. Paul desiring death but he certainly does desire to depart…but that to be with Christ, his great longing, to finally be in His presence.
    Christ in Gethsemane was in agony knowing what awaited Him, sweating drops of blood. Of course it was not just the pain of crucifixion but knowing he would shoulder all the world’s sin, grief, suffering and shame.
    Death is seen by St. Paul as our last enemy (ICor.15) and at Christ’s second coming death will be swallowed up in victory (also ICor.15).
    Thank you Dino for your contributions to Fr.Stephen’s blog, always edifying.

  10. Dean Avatar

    Might I quickly add that I think it salutary to remember daily one’s death. I pray each day for “a Christian ending to my life, in peace, without pain or shame and for a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ.”

  11. Paula Avatar

    Dean and Dino,
    Thanks for your comments.
    Dino, voluntary ascesis? Is that entering into ascedia voluntarily? That gives me great pause. But if it means to accept the trials, including dire trials, that come our way, as you say “trusting acceptance of what comes to us involuntarily”, well that I can understand.
    Father makes a very good point in saying ” to simply practice mercy, kindness and generosity where you are, and to bear your own failings and incompetence with patience. ” It takes all that is within us to do these seemingly simple things. It takes a desire for God and great endurance too…by God’s grace. I think we enter this “involuntary ascesis” by simply doing what we are called to do in submission and love for our God. I don’t mean to mollify our calling, because it is in no way an easy, simple thing to do. But it wasn’t meant to be easy.
    Dean, thank you for your words about death. As I see it, Christ conquered death, in the fullness of the meaning of death. So yes, we give thanks for the life that God has given us, offer all things He has given us, the good, the bad, the pain, the joy, back to Him in humble thanksgiving. Again, if we could do this without stumbling in just a 24 hour period, we would have accomplished something! Indeed, we pray for a “Christian ending to our life”. Nothing extraordinary, just a heart for God.

  12. Dino Avatar

    To the question of whether we are to desire death itself, you, yourself correctly stated: that it is a desire to be with Christ, to finally be in His presence.
    The desire for death itself (that can be sometimes unequivocally stated as such in the words of certain saints – take Ignatius’ letter to Romans for instance) can be understood as synonymous to finally being permanently in Christ’s presence.
    A baby int womb desires to be born into this world, no matter how difficult birth might be for it – how much more ought a genuine follower of Christ desire to be born into life (which happens at their death)?
    If Christ hadn’t given us eternal life through death, but say, for argument’s sake, that somehow He got a train ticket that took you there; well, you would surely desire that train ticket more than anything, even though you could argue that it is the destination rather than the ticket and the ride you desire.
    However, a subtle nuance worth noting here is that if Christ Himself used that ticket and ride, you would actually want to use the same –even though the destination, ultimately, is the thing…
    This makes some sense of the aforementioned St. Ignatius’ words (although there’s many more such examples):

    “May I have the joy of the beasts that have been prepared for me […] I will entice them that they may devour me promptly […] I myself will force them to it […] I know what is expedient for me […] Come fire and cross and grapplings with wild beasts, cuttings and manglings, wrenching of bones, hacking of limbs, crushings of my whole body, come cruel tortures of the devil to assail me. Only be it mine to attain unto Jesus Christ […] It is good for me to die for Jesus Christ rather than to reign over the farthest bounds of the earth. Him I seek, who died on our behalf; Him I desire, who rose again for our sake. The pangs of a new birth are upon me […] Do not hinder me from living { the saint calls ‘dying’, “living” here}; do not desire my death. { the saint calls ‘continuing in this temporal life’ “his death” here}; […] When I am come thither, then shall I be a man { the saint implies that we are not yet fully human until after our birth into eternal life}; […] Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. If any man hath Him within himself, let him understand what I desire […] I write to you in the midst of life, yet lusting after death. My lust hath been crucified, and there is no fire of material longing in me, but only water living, speaking in me, saying within me, “Come to the Father” […] I desire no longer to live after the manner of men

  13. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think you’ve confused two Greek words. “Ascesis” is the root word of “asceticism,” and refers to things like prayer, fasting, vigils, etc. Akedia (or acedia) is the word that refers to “listlessness,” etc. Easy mistake.

  14. Dino Avatar

    There is ‘voluntary ascesis’ which we freely go for ourselves, sometimes with great zeal – from little things such as reading something spiritual you enjoy, to fasting, almsgiving, praying, vigils, standing, prostrations, voluntary hunger & thirsting, voluntary deprivations etc – and ‘involuntary’ things that befall us, which ultimately come to us through God’s providence for our salvation – from little things such as slightly tasteless food served for you, to illnesses, temptations, ailments, our passions and the passions of others bothering us, tribulations, death, sufferings, slander, bereavements, involuntary hunger & thirsting, involuntary deprivations etc
    Nothing about “entering into ascedia voluntarily” as you mentioned though…
    “Making the involuntary voluntary” is where true Christianity shines and is, ultimately, a fruit of faith, of hope and of love.

  15. Dean Avatar

    Thank you Dino,
    Looking at my desire for Christ and that of St. Ignatius would be like comparing a molehill to Everest…Lord have mercy!

  16. Dino Avatar

    in that translation above of St Ignatius, “My lust hath been crucified”, originally means “my Eros/Love/Desire [meaning Christ] hath been crucified”, not my carnal lusts.

  17. Dino Avatar

    Don’t compare, just be inspired and joyous, even if a tiny bit

  18. Dino Avatar

    We can glean from St Ignatius’ words that, although those that see death as a means of being freed from the trials of life, (selfishly motivated) and although “God does not pleasure over the destruction of the living” (Wisdom of Solomon), there is clearly another ‘desire for death’ that is quite different (love motivated) and which is a signifier of authentic Christianity and a demonstration to all, of the great power of Christ made manifest, through grace, in a weak human. This topic –since it is ultimately ‘crucifical’– always seems to be scandalous despite its majesty, and bring up objections even from believers or even priests and (very rarely) monastics sometimes.

  19. Paula Avatar

    Father and Dino,
    Thank you Father Stephen. Yes I was confusing the two words…I had a feeling I was doing so.

    Thank you for clarifying voluntary and involuntary asceticism. And thank you for your explanation in brackets along with the quote from St. Ignatius.
    Your advice to Dean, “don’t compare” is a helpful reminder. The mind of the Fathers, their words and ways are so lofty, so holy, that it is a temptation to compare our “measure of faith” with theirs. I am reminded what St. Paul says though, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”. We look upon the Fathers like a father who loves his child, wanting the best for them, and as a child who wants to “be like” his father. That, I believe, is what St. Paul was trying to get across to the Corinthian Church when he told them to imitate him, as he uses as an example (end of the previous chapter) to receive or not receive food served to us to make the point of acting expediently for the sake of the other, and unto the Lord. So we are to take note of the Saints, what they are doing, what they are saying, and why, and imitate them. It is a comfort to know in the meantime that they are very well praying for us here and now.

  20. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    I saw this wonderful video earlier this week. It seems to fit with Father’s comment that, “What is not seen by most is the exceedingly ordinary task that confronts the monastic. The greatest struggles within a monastery are not always in the prayers, vigils and fasting. Most often, they are found in the daily grind of remaining in place.”

  21. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Thank you Father, I can certainly see why you say the Ladder of Divine Ascent is not safe in the hands of modernity. I like the way you stated it is a matter of enduring to the end.

  22. NSP Avatar

    Fr. Freeman,

    My father was a good auto mechanic all his life.

    Fr. Stephen Freeman, March 19, 2018 at 8:38 pm

    But Father, even that is an “success,” isn’t it? I mean, no-one is born good at anything, we learn it from expert tutors or by teaching ourselves from books or other sources. And if your father turned out to be a good auto-mechanic, that means he pushed past the initial learning stages of incompetence and arrived at the final stages of competence. Many people try hard just to be “good at what they do” and fail or burn out because they are crippled by internal and external factors.

    Your father might not have worked to “get ahead” in the sense that he didn’t aim to start an international chain of automobile garages, but from your description of him, he seems to have achieved an objective level of competence which was recognised and respected by other individuals around him. So how is this different from “getting ahead” except in degree of magnitude? Does the distinction lie in the fact that he doesn’t seem to have wanted money and power more than was reasonably necessary for him to provide for his family?

    Or does the distinction lie in being motivated purely (or primarily, perhaps) by the desire to go about our daily duties in co-operation with the Hidden Hand of Divine Providence, having next to no practical concern about whether our efforts result in “success” or “failure” as measured in visible metrics in the short-term?


  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    You’re pressing the word “success” too far. What has been addressed is the American drive for success as the measure of life. The delight of simply doing something well is a good thing. Success is in no way inherently bad. If you do something all the time, surely it’s better to enjoy doing it and to delight in it being done well. My father, for example, did his job well, but delighted in any other mechanic doing his job well. My grandfather and my uncle were also mechanics, and my father admired their work and told stories about their skill with pleasure. I think that is a good thing – and a world removed from the success that our culture pushes.

  24. Dean Avatar

    I am retired, but I once read this about what a good job consists of. Of course, it needs to be work that is not morally objectionable and even better, as with Father’s dad, it helps people.
    I may not recall the numbers exactly, but these are close. You have a good job if you enjoy it over half the time, if about 25 % it’s just okay, around 15% of the time hardly bearable, and the other 10% you just can’t stand it. I taught high school. There were days when I left the job elated, almost floating. Other times I left feeling downright miserable and questioning why I had ever chosen this profession. Yet, I would have to rate it overall as good! 🙂

  25. Byron Avatar

    NSP, I tend to think that a job well done is not really viewed as success by the person doing the work. I recall a blog post a friend wrote about her grandfather:

    In June, [she] asked grandpa if he would give her 3 boys woodworking lessons. He agreed, but being a humble man, he added that he didn’t have that much he could teach. When the boys showed up for the first lesson, Grandpa had building kits for each of them and a lesson plan written out. He told [her] he probably only had enough information to teach 2 or 3 lessons. Those 2 or 3 lessons turned into several months and only ended when Grandpa could no longer be in his workshop. His final days covered in sawdust were spent with his great grandsons passing down lessons that go far beyond wood and hammers…. A picture of humility, he couldn’t imagine that he had much of teaching value to share with us, our cousins or his many great grandkids. When we would tell him things we learned from him, he would respond in shock, “You learned that from me?!” He lived a quiet life, worked with his hands and consistently sought to know and trust God. And goodness was he smitten with grandma. He might have been our biggest fan, but his whole heart belonged to his Joyce. You rarely saw one without the other….like the coffee and donuts they shared, Grandpa and Grandma just go together…. Grandpa finished writing his life story with these words, “This may be the end of reviewing facts about my life to date but not the end of life – there is eternity. P.S. She is still beautiful.”

    This is simply a life well lived. The imprints it leaves are both humble and impossible to measure. Just my thoughts.

  26. Paula Avatar

    Byron….beautiful story your friend posted. Simple and poignant. Thank you.

    On an entirely different note (and forgive me Father for diverting from the topic of this post. I would not be offended if you delete this for that very reason.), this evening the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete will be read in its entirety. It will be my first time at this particular service. Our dear Priest, Fr. Philip (Holy Resurrection, Tucson) beckoned us to attend but warned that it was a “heavy” (not easy) service. In preparation, I came across this article that I found very helpful in explaining St. Andrew’s words of repentance, so I just want to share….

  27. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    I have always held that the work one chooses to do should be morally acceptable, be a positive function in your community and keep your interest. If you wake up Monday morning and hate the idea of going to work, then you need a career change. It has to provide sufficient income to meet real needs such as housing, food, transportation and clothing for you and a family. Of course, all the needs you seek to fulfill must be modest.

  28. Panayiota Avatar

    This lent

  29. Panayiota Avatar

    This lent has revealed to me my utter failings. Truly, any “patches” that the fast may have provided for me, just reveals that my garment is too worn to even hold them. I think trying to ascend the ladder is supposed to help heal my garment.

  30. David Waite f/k/a learningtobestill2016 Avatar
    David Waite f/k/a learningtobestill2016

    I did not decide to do anything constructive with my life until I was twenty-six years old. Following what I now realize was a spiritual experience, I decided I had a responsibility to be useful to creation as a whole and the human family in particular. I chose a profession that seemed to best match my talents and skills. I love my profession and, while it has had its ups and downs, I love my work. Looking back, it is obvious to me that I was guided by the Holy Spirit, although I did not believe in the Holy Spirit when I made my choices. those many years ago.

    God is King. Thanks be to God.

  31. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    I hope to explain this theme to my 3rd -5th grade Sunday School students like this, please let me know if there are errors

    We have all sinned and we will all die. We still die even though Christ has destroyed death. But He has taken what was the a prison about death and broken down its walls, making it a doorway instead to everlasting joy.

    He has also filled creation with Himself. His Kingdom is ‘fully present but not fully revealed.’

    We can expose ourselves to the present moment and trust that Christ is still present as we do the tasks of daily life. This allows the entropy of daily life to be transfigured, a point of union with Christ rather than isolated drudgery.

    We can trust that Christ is in our midst and know that the Holy Spirit works to comfort and teach us.

    A key part of our challenge is not to spend time in the past or imagining our future, but to recognize the present moment is where we can encounter God.

    —There is so much pressure on kids to do great things. I hope to share with them the themes from these posts so that they don’t think the basic elements of daily life are meaningless.

  32. Panayiota Avatar

    I’m not qualified to say if you missed anything, but I personally loved everything you said.
    Now to guide the parents!
    I’ve often seen that young parents bring their children to church out of obligation, or trying to maintain some ethnic traditions, but the parents seem to lack the essence. I only say this because they sporadically bring the children. Activities that will “advance their children ” often get in the way.
    God is great, and I believe that the children with right teaching are the ones that will guide their parents;-)

  33. Byron Avatar

    This allows the entropy of daily life to be transfigured, a point of union with Christ rather than isolated drudgery.

    I think this sentence may be a bit much for children that young. Just my thoughts.

  34. Karen Avatar

    Byron, I noticed that, too, but perhaps these are just summary thoughts from the post that Nicole intends to adapt and put in simpler terms her class will understand.

  35. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Panayiota – You said, “This lent has revealed to me my utter failings.” Me too. Today may have bee the worst, May God have mercy on us both.

  36. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Look at the positive in “failing.” This way you know a weakness to strive against, confess and repent from. The Devil wants us not to know and it galls him when we find out.

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    There is a car ad out now which begins with the description of a life in which one is happy and doing we’ll –actually sounds like a pretty good life. Then it says “But that is not enough! You have to be number 1, On Top. The Victor. You need our car to get there”. The car need not explicitly stated.

  38. Bob Avatar

    So Father,
    You woundn’t recommend the reception of the Sacraments, fasting, giving alms, and going to Divine services or any other self improvement projects? Jesus told the Rich young ruler to sell all, that seems very extraordinary. I thought the spiritual disciplines were to train our loves and desires.
    thanks for any clarifications.

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    “Self-improvement projects” is no way to describe the actions of the Christian life. “Self-improvement projects” would be a way to understand Oprah. Confusing the two is a good example of how even traditional Christians have lost their way in the modern world.

    In my experience, many, many people who start down the road that the Church sets forth (sacraments, fasting, giving alms, etc.) very quickly get frustrated when they discover that they are not experiencing “self-improvement” but seem to even be getting worse. That is very often the work of grace. “The way up is the way down,” the Elder Sophrony taught. Most folks think they are actually pretty good, above-average, etc. They suffer from modern delusions and have no self-knowledge. They are in not in the least sober about themselves.

    Grace may very well begin to do “wake-up” work. “Grant me to see my own transgressions,” is our prayer in Lent, not “help me to improve myself.” What was the result of Jesus’ “project” for the Rich Young Man? He went away sorrowful. We do not know the end of his story – but the beginning of his story with Jesus was to realize how attached he was to material wealth. He probably didn’t feel improved.

    The point of our obedience – sacraments, fasting, almsgiving, etc. – is union with Christ – plain and simple. Say it over and over. “I do unite myself to Christ.” Forget yourself. Quit thinking about being improved – it only leads to more delusion. Remember Christ. We are not saved by our strength or our excellence or our “self-improvement.” We are saved by our weakness. That is the clear teaching in St. Paul’s letters. It is the weak, the foolish, the poor, the meek, the hungry, the sorrowful who find the Kingdom of God.

    I hope that clarifies.

  40. Paula Avatar

    When you are frustrated because you are not “improving”, it is the work of Grace.
    If you are content because you think you’re doing pretty good, you are in delusion.
    People call this “paradox”, or inconsistent, or upside down only because it goes against the very grain of modern thought. But actually upside down is right-side up according to Christ’s commandments.
    It really isn’t about us, isn’t it….

    “Jesus didn’t come to make bad men good, but to make dead men live”
    Thank you for telling it like it is, Father.

  41. Marcus Avatar

    Thank you for this post, Father. I loved the quote about shame as being the only cure to shame. I’ve been reading Dante’s Inferno this Lent, and last night I came across Dante saying essentially the same thing. He equates shame (in the hands of a wise mentor) with the fabled spear of Achilles, which would cure any wounds it had caused with a second touch. Anyway, I can testify that as one who is continually tempted by the ladder of the American Dream, I very much appreciate your words here.

  42. Byron Avatar

    When you are frustrated because you are not “improving”, it is the work of Grace.

    I am not frustrated, I am disgusted with myself. It is one thing to fail, quite another fail in the same manner so many times over such a long time. I receive grace that reminds me of God’s presence but then fall flat on my face yet another time. This lent has been one of extremes: I have fasted and walked in Grace in such as way that I am always aware of God’s presence and no temptation even bothers me (although I know when they come to try). And I have broken the fast and been so completely unaware of
    God’s grace that my prayers are nothing more than tin and my heart is like a rock, only to receive Grace again and then fail yet another time in the same, numbing manner.

    It is enough to despair, knowing what I continually turn away from.

    “This lent has revealed to me my utter failings.” Me too. Today may have bee the worst, May God have mercy on us both.

    Indeed, pray for me as well.

  43. Paula Avatar

    One could put it your way and the point be still the same…i.e.
    “When you are disgusted with yourself because you are not “improving”, it is the work of Grace.”
    Consider the alternatives:
    You keep the fast perfectly. What would be your thoughts then?
    You turn away from the fast completely. Then what?
    Notice the extremes even in the alternatives?
    I believe the fast is supposed to bring us toward the center, where Christ resides.
    Agata posted a link to a great podcast that spoke about these extremes, using the phrases “polarity without duality” and “unity without duality” and how it pertains to food, fasting and the Eucharist. If you haven’t listened to it yet, I encourage you to do so.
    Byron, I can assure you that most of us are disgusted with our continual failings, confessing the same sins repeatedly. Or how about when we make a concerted effort to pray, to begin the day and continue it with our heart toward God (perhaps saying the Jesus prayer) when someone or something offends us. Oops…out of the same mouth proceeds blessing and cursing. Immediately, no less. So what do we do? I would say if I weren’t disgusted with myself that would be the bigger problem. But it doesn’t end there. Repentance is not on again and off again, but a continual mode of life for us. Continual. That means we will always fall short. But it doesn’t mean we despair in hopelessness (and I am not saying your doing this). I believe our trajectory, our intention, and our efforts are substantial and much considered.
    Lent is supposed to reveal our utter failings to us. But it is not only in the Lenten season that are we supposed to know our sinfulness. But because of our utter failing, our inability to “progress” and remain there, God grants us, in His great mercy, every single year, the Lenten season. He forgives us every single time we contritely confess our sins. He even forgives our ignorance. We are supposed to have that so called “bright sadness”, “joyful sorrow”…and it’ll be that way until the consummation of this age. He has given us Himself as a gift in a demonstration of His love, so that we may be one with Him…with the goal of completion yet to come. In the meantime…we strive, knowing His grace is utterly sufficient, no matter how that grace comes about.
    We all need to pray for each other…we all need God’s great mercy. All of us.

  44. Peter Funk Avatar
    Peter Funk

    A blessed Pascha to you, Father. Please pray for us Westerners as we make our way with Christ through the Holy Triduum. What you write here resonates with me as a Benedictine monk. Our ladder is the Ladder of Humility, which we climb by going down, and it is very much in the ordinary that we are sanctified and through it that God’s plans are illuminated for us. Saint Benedict’s Rule is very down-to-earth in this very way. Thank you for your very helpful reflections on the Christian life.

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