In this life there are many things to prepare for, but the most important is for our entrance into the kingdom of heaven. I will take you with me, should you want to come along, on my personal journey to the door which will lead to eternity, through which every soul must pass. Where the angel of death waits to ask the all important question, "Are you prepared for the Kingdom?"

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Location: Anacortes, Washington, United States

Two years ago I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was one of the fortunate ones who survived surgery along with chemo/radiation treatments. Recently, it was discovered that the cancer had returned and although I am again on chemotherapy, in all probability I have perhaps one more year to live. During these last months I would like to share what I have learned about the most important thing we'll ever do in this life and that is, prepare for the kingdom of God.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Proper Heavenly Concern

Recently, I have been reflecting on the salvation of souls, or “my neighbor’s salvation.” I came across a homily, which explains clearly what it means to be concerned with my neighbor’s salvation. It cuts right to the heart of what we need to be doing if we truly are concerned with our own salvation and that of others. Perhaps this will help us to see the futility of our own opinions, what we think, and turn to the real power that changes hearts and causes those who are walking in darkness to come into the light.

I will begin with a passage from the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 12:28-34.

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that He answered them well, asked Him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to Him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that He is one, and there is no other but He; and to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Now, the Homily on concern for the salvation of our neighbors:

Let no man seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. (1 Corinthians 10:24)

This is the principle of the saints of God, both now and in the past, always and forever. This is the principle on which society is built. Upon this principle can be established the most perfect, most God-pleasing and most prosperous human society. This is the saving principle for every type of difficulty, against which contemporary men struggle without victory and without hope.

The holy soul is concerned with where the homeless will spend the night, how the hungry will be fed, how the naked will be clothed. The holy soul is concerned, and prays to God that his neighbors be saved; that their hearts be filled with love toward God; that their minds be directed toward God; that the wicked turn from the path of wickedness; that those wavering in the Faith be strengthened; that those who are strengthened be sustained; that those who have died see the face of God; and that the living be written in the Book of Life in the Kingdom of Light.

The Prologue of Ochrid

This is not the entire homily, but the portion regarding our neighbor, which refers to what we are to be concerned with and what we are to do about it. Sometimes it would seem that praying to God is not enough. However, when we pray to God out of sincere concern for the soul of another it apparently is enough. It is pointless and a complete waste of precious time to discuss, debate or argue over issues that concern the salvation of another. Believe me, when one is forced to look at the reality of death and judgment before God, it becomes obvious what a distraction this really is.

Christ is very clear in his teachings on who will and who will not enter the kingdom of heaven. As we see in the above passage from the Gospel of Mark, he addresses the scribe as being one who is “not far from the kingdom of God.” And why, because this particular scribe understands the meaning of the two greatest commandments and knows in his heart that he must put them into practice. No burnt offering or sacrifice will compare with these before God.

There is a final prayer at the end of the above homily that says:

“O Lord, Holy Spirit, Who, through the tongue of the apostle of God, has released these holy words in the world, as bright rays of the sun to illuminate and not to burn us, help us now to fulfill them in the proper heavenly sense – to the glory of the Triune God and for the salvation of our souls.”

The words that strike me here are “in the proper heavenly sense.” When we are concerned for our neighbors, we are concerned for their souls. We are not speaking here about their psychological, emotional or physical state. We are talking about eternal salvation of the soul, which does not include the bodily senses. Sins of the flesh are deadly because they block the salvation of the soul. There can be no wavering when speaking about sins of the flesh. We must have the courage to call a soul out of their sin, to be able to say, “You don’t have time for this! What’s important is to start directing your attention to your eternal salvation.” There’s nothing to discuss here.

It should be obvious that these things are deadly to our eternal salvation because they do not fulfill the two commandments that Christ says are above all others, loving God and loving our neighbor. When we put ourselves and our personal wants and needs above God, then we are not concerned with our own souls and we certainly cannot expect God to be pleased with that. It also means that we are not concerned for our neighbor’s soul. Again, this is not pleasing to God.

So now that both of the greatest commandments are broken and ignored, how can we believe for one moment that we will enter the kingdom of God. We will be far, far from the kingdom of God! Death will come like a thief in the night, and we will have nowhere to run. We will find ourselves in eternity with no time left to correct our wrongs. Is this where we want to end up? Is this where we want our neighbor to end up?

Our primary concern for our neighbor cannot be with how they have come to be the way they are. Our concern must be with what will happen to them should they not turn their attention and mind toward God. And what is this “Attention of the mind?” The Fathers have this to say:

Attention is a sign of repentance.
Attention is the appeal of the soul to itself, hatred of the world and ascent towards God.
Attention is renunciation of sin and acquisition of virtue.
Attention is an undoubting certainty of the remission of sins.
Attention is the beginning of contemplation, or rather its necessary condition: for, through attention, God comes close and reveals Himself to the mind.
Attention is serenity of the mind, or rather its standing firmly planted and not wandering, through the gift of God’s mercy.
Attention means cutting off thoughts, it is the abode of remembrance of God and the treasure-house of the power to endure all that may come.

Therefore attention is the origin of faith, hope and love; since he who has no faith cannot bear all the afflictions coming from without, and he who does not suffer them willingly cannot say: “He is my refuge and my fortress” (Ps. 91.2); and he who has not the Almighty as his refuge cannot be truly sincere in his love for Him.

Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart

So I appeal to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, be concerned for the souls of those who still walk in darkness and through prayer with humility, intercede for them often. Understand that deadly sin cannot be pushed aside with human remedies. It must be faced and confronted for what it is. Only then can true repentance occur. Only then can one begin to turn their mind, heart and soul toward God and toward their neighbor. Only then can the two greatest commandments be fulfilled. Only then will the Lord say, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Sunday, January 07, 2007

God is Good

I wanted to give you an update on my current health condition. I went to the doctor on Jan. 2nd for a regular follow up visit. I no longer see my oncologist, but I do have a primary care physician here in Anacortes that I see about once every two months.

Last November, a blood draw was taken and he said that the results were better than those of the previous draw back in June. This visit I was told that I was remarkable! The nurse said, "You are a walking miracle!" To which I replied, "God is good."

It is important to share all the good things that God does for us. In the medical world, I have far exceeded their expectations and they have no explanation as to why. But for those who have faith, this is just a prime example of God's work. We have prayed and He has answered according to his plan.

It is also important for me not to lose sight of what I have learned so far, and that is to always remember that He is in control of my health and that I must continue to walk in his ways so that others will see that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life for us all.

So let us give glory to God for all his wonderful gifts and answer to prayer and let us keep moving in the direction of the heavenly kingdom, not waivering in our faith. For He is always with us to guide us in every situation that he gives to us.

Praised be Jesus Christ both now and forever and unto ages of ages!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Changing Direction

Today as I was reflecting on my current health condition, I asked the Lord if He could tell me something about it. I read the following just shortly after I asked.

"We must understand, then, that even though God doesn't always give us what we want, He gives us what we need for salvation." St. Augustine of Hippo

Now that's a direct answer! It really makes me see any kind of suffering or illness from a perspective of hope rather than fear.

A few days ago I received a newsletter from the Prayer Ministry I belong to here in the parish. When I opened it this was the first thing I read:

"Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in me and trust in my Heavenly Father. For I go to prepare a place for you. Where I am, you will be."
John 14:1-3

This struck me as a little alarming and what was the first thing I did, I let my heart be troubled! No sooner did I read what not to do and I did it. I guess it kind of showed me where I'm at. But that's a good thing. I would rather know that I still need to work on accepting whatever comes than to think that I can do all things without any difficulty.

The Lord is very good at keeping me aware of my shortcomings and I have to say, I do appreciate that.

I've also been receiving a word on repentance recently. This is repentance as in "changing direction" as Fr. Abbot would say. The words of John the Baptist keep coming to mind:

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."

I feel I might need to be more disciplined about how I spend my time, since time is of great value. We all need to see time as something we just can't take for granted anymore. It's important to make every minute count, to be aware of what we're doing and why we're doing it. Is it going to matter in the end? Is it contributing to the salvation of my soul? I ask myself these questions now about most everything and if the answer is no, then I can't let myself be distracted by them.

I also read something very beautiful on repentance from "A Spiritual Psalter" from the works of St. Ephraim the Syrian. He says:

"Blessed is he who loves repentance, which saves all sinners, and does not delight in sin, that he might not appear ungrateful before God our Savior."

In looking at it this way, the call to repentance is the key to our salvation. If there's one thing we don't want, it's to appear ungrateful before God.

So I will leave you with this final thought, if we were to appear before God tomorrow, how would we feel about ourselves? How would we feel about the way we've spent our time in this life? Have we repented and changed direction? I know that even though I've changed the direction of my life, I need to continue to change. This is an ongoing process while we are still here on this earth.

So let's make the commitment to repent and in doing so, show the Lord that we are grateful for all the things He has done for us.

Praised be Jesus Christ now and forever!