Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Part II: Piety the Savory Gift

Here is a continuation of the article on piety by guest blogger Mary Lanser:

Piety the Savory Gift
by Mary Lanser

By the power of the Holy Spirit, in our sacramental initiation in Christ, we become savory citizens of the Kingdom of heaven, called to live and teach the Kingdom of God, here and now as we live in this life. In describing this reality for us, Jesus calls us “salt of the earth” and leaves us with a sacramental Church by which we are able to open our minds and will to the counsel and advocacy of the Holy Spirit.

According to Matthew 5:13-16:
"Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
So then how do we “let our light shine” so as to glorify the Father in heaven? Let us go back to Isaiah and point out that in the scriptural list of spirated gifts there are two mentions of fear: 1) Fear of the Lord, and 2) a quick understanding, or delight in the Fear of the Lord. In the RSV Catholic Version the pericope reads as follows: Isaiah 11:3 “And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”

So the question is in what sense do these two spirations, mentioned in Isaiah11:2-3, translate as piety and fear of the Lord in St. Thomas, with both piety and fear of the Lord having connotations of reverence, godliness, fear, joy or delight, quick understanding, and righteousness?

As we have noted the Beatitudes, from the Sermon on the Mount, hold clues for our understanding of piety and fear of the Lord from Matthew 5:
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven....
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
St. Peter of Damaskos [Philokalia, vol III, p.216-217] tell us that there are two kinds of fear. He begins by telling us that “fear of God which is the first commandment” defeats all eight of the champions of evil,..."while without this fear one cannot possess any blessing...even he who has attained the state of love began with fear, even though he may not know how this initial fear passed from him.”

St. Peter expands on this progression from a servile fear to a filial fear and then notes that the two kinds of fear are introductory fear and perfect fear. Introductory fear is servile fear that moves in obedience toward the good in order to avoid punishment.

An intermediate step, purified fear, is still fear but rather than fearing punishment, we fear our own imperfections will cause us to offend God or lead others into sin. We stumble over bad habits, and cling to small attachments, hoping for the grace to put all aside so as to experience the joy of true union with the Bridegroom.

Perfect fear then, says St. Peter, is the fear of the poor man who keeps all the commandments in love, who has nothing to loose, and fears nothing, not even death. He desires nothing; he fears nothing; he offends no one.

And so we read in Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” St. Peter reminds us that if we are still stumbling along then we may have the consolation of knowing our fear is pure but not yet perfect.

But, if we see too much good in ourselves in this middling state of purity, then we are, according to St. John Klimakos, in a state of “servile prudence,” still lacking in true humility. We can discern what needs to be done but have not yet yielded fully to those habits of mind and body that will allow us to get to where we know we must be.

It is in these middling stages that we are in the greatest need of the gifts of piety and fear of the Lord, for without them we could discern little or nothing of the divine will for us as individuals or in communion, and there would be no real incentive for doing the very difficult work of bringing the mind and body and will into accord with the divine will.

Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D. [Divine Intimacy, p.898] says: “When we cooperate with the action of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they produce in us fruits of virtue so exquisite that they give us a foretaste of the eternal beatitude...For each gift there is a corresponding beatitude [as in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5]; the beatitude that corresponds with fear is poverty of spirit....”

When referring to true piety, Blessed Diadochus wrote the following, using the didactic formulas of his day:
A brother asked: Who, father, can fulfill all the commandments, when there are so many of them? The elder answered: He who imitates the Lord and follows Him step by step. The brother said: And who can imitate the Lord? The Lord was God, although He also became man, while I am a sinful man, enslaved to innumerable passions. How, then, can I imitate the Lord? The Elder replied: Of those who are enslaved to the world and its vanities, no one can imitate the Lord; but those who can say, "Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee" (Matthew 19:27), receive the power to imitate the Lord and are directed by all His commandments.

The brother said: But, father, the Lord's commandments are many, and who can keep all of them in mind, in order to struggle for them all, especially I, a man of little mind? - Which is why I would like to hear a brief word, in order to further my own salvation by keeping it. The Elder replied: Although many are the commandments, nevertheless they all are combined in one saying: "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself" (Luke 10:27). Those struggling to keep this saying perform all the commandments at once. But, whoever does not renounce every predilection for the material cannot love either God or his neighbor in a real way. “ Blessed Diadochus [see link for more information on Blessed Diadochus]
So you see here it is no small task to “offend no one” for in order to truly offend no one we must first cease in offending God by keeping his commandments, and we manage to do that in striving for absolute detachment from the material world, and also in the offering of our intellect and soul to the movements of the divine will.

Father Gabriel [Divine Intimacy, p. 899] is also instructive in reminding us of the fullest extent of our need from detachment to things of our own will, as well as from things of the world:
Poverty of spirit includes detachment not only from material goods, but also from moral and even spiritual goods. Whoever tries to assert his own personality,seeking the esteem and regard of creatures, who remains attached to his own will and ideas, or is too fond of his own independence, is not poor in spirit, but is rich in himself....
Again St. Peter of Damaskos [Philokalia, vol III, p.218-219] addresses piety directly and says: “In its Greek form, the term true piety comes from a word meaning to serve well.” This idea of piety as reverence and service to God implies that a sense of duty is inherent in the gift of piety.

We are bound by grace and reason, in the service of faith, to the fulfillment of our own apostolic evangelical charge to bring forth the Kingdom of God on earth. The inspired power of the gift of piety prepares us to do just that by thought, by word, by deed, and by the very fact of our being the adopted sons and daughters of God, as we are baptized into Christ.

In the east the newly initiated Christians are also referred to the "Newly Illuminated in Christ" and that is precisely because of the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Very early in the life of the Church, in Book 3, Chapter 17 of Against Heresies, St. Irenaeus of Lyon affirms the movement of the Holy Spirit in Christ, and through Christ into the world, and particularly into the Church. His work here was to affirm the Incarnate Christ, true God, true Man, and to affirm the presence of the Holy Spirit, particularly in the Church. Here he too mentions the passage in Isaiah and the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit:
....but that the dew, which is the Spirit of God, who descended upon the Lord, should be diffused throughout all the earth, “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and piety, the spirit of the fear of God.” [ Isa. xi. 2]
This Spirit, again, He did confer upon the Church, sending throughout all the world the Comforter from heaven, from whence also the Lord tells us that the devil, like lightning, was cast down [Luke x. 18]. Wherefore we have need of the dew of God, that we be not consumed by fire, nor be rendered unfruitful, and that where we have an accuser there we may have also an Advocate, [ 1 John ii. 1] the Lord commending to the Holy Spirit His own man, Suum hominem, i.e., the human race, who had fallen among thieves, [Luke x. 35] whom He Himself compassionated, and bound up his wounds....

1 comment:

Julygirl said...

Excellent! Reaped lots from it.

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