Why Did Cain Kill His Brother?

“It’s not fair!  I should have won that award not her!”  “I don’t understand why people seem to like him more than me!”  “How did that clown get promoted over me?”

There is a great line in one of my favorite all time movies, The Island.  A very scholarly, intelligent monk is upset because all the people flock to have tea and talk with the lowly guy who shovels coal every day to keep the furnaces going.  The monk goes down to straighten him out one day. The coal shoveler asks the monk a question: “Why did Cain kill his brother?”  It turns out that this lowly guy is a “Fool for Christ” with incredible insights into people’s lives.  The monk goes away quite angry.

So why did Cain kill his brother?  God looked with favor on the offering of Abel, but not so with Cain.  Cain was filled with envy toward his brother.  St. John Chrysostom (Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homily 37) calls envy the “mother of murder and the devil of all mankind.”  Envy leads people to begin to think bad thoughts toward someone else; even wishing evil on that person.  It can lead to spreading slander and even worse.  It can seem to be such an unimportant sin, but it is perhaps more grievous than any other sin.  In fact, a person can pray, fast, and do acts of mercy and yet be further away from God because of having envy toward someone else.  Let’s pick up the story of Cain and Abel right after envy has entered Cain’s heart:

So, Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)

God saw the envy in Cain’s heart and gave him plenty of warning.  The picture of “sin crouching at the door” brings to mind a picture of a lion ready to make a kill (see 1 Peter 5:8-9).  That is exactly what sin does in our lives; it kills us.

Cain failed to overcome this sin and he murdered his brother.  Are we being Cain in our minds and hearts when we have this sin of envy controlling us?  We truly are like Cain when we fail to overcome this sin and we begin to “murder” our brother or sister with our thoughts, words, and actions.  This “murder” is explained by Jesus when he says we are guilty of murder even when we have anger, contempt or slander in our hearts towards someone else (Matthew 5:21-26).

We offend God when we burn with envy over someone else’s success. Unlike Cain, we must learn to “master it” when it comes to envy. If we feel envy rising up inside us, we should begin “to do what is right” …to speak well of that person to other people, and do good to that person and pray for them.  We can overcome envy or perhaps it is better to say:  We must “master” envy!    

With you on the Journey…Fr. Stephen 

P.S. Here’s the Link to watch The Island if you haven’t seen it or (like me) want to watch it every Great Lent:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wz-vegualMg

A Good Pair of Hiking Poles

“Keep sound wisdom and discretion; let them not escape from your sight, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely and your foot will not stumble. If you sit down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” (Proverbs 3:21-24) 

I have been a backpacker/hiker most of my life. When someone suggested that I use some hiking poles, I thought, “What nonsense!”. I do not need anything to help me up the trail. Wow! Was I ever wrong! Watching a friend “glide” up the trail while I stumbled along behind, I finally gave in and agreed to try a pair of hiking poles. At the end of the hike, I purchased a set for myself and have used hiking poles ever since.

Yesterday we came to a junction in our Lenten trail. Having chosen the more difficult looking trail, filled with rocks and brush, a pair of hiking poles is exactly what we need. One of the poles is named “wisdom” and the other is called “discretion”. We will find that they are indispensable for our journey. As we continue up our trail, the Book of Proverbs (our headlamp) will show us all the ways wisdom and discretion will keep us safe and on the right path. Wisdom is knowing the right path (what to do or say). Discretion is having good judgement in knowing when and if to do something (when to act or speak and when not to act or speak). It is easy to see how they go together so well.

Today we learn that wisdom and discretion are so valuable that we need to make sure we don’t lay them down someplace and forget where we laid them. With them we will hike safely and we will not stumble. We need not fear injuries in the journey ahead if we use them faithfully. At the end of each day, though we may be tired from the journey, our sleep will be sweet. Think on those words from today’s reading in Proverbs one more time:

With our hiking poles in hand, let us continue on our journey.

Fr. Stephen

A Junction in Our Trail

“Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)

Our journey has brought us to a junction in the trail. The first sign points in one direction: “The Way of Death”. The other sign states: “The Way of Life”. At first glance our choice would seem to be a no-brainer. But that first path is so very smooth and easy looking; not a rock to be seen. The other path is so rugged looking with rocks to trip over and brush waiting to scratch the traveler. There is also something written under each sign. The first says: “Do whatever seems right in your own mind.” Under the other sign is says: “Follow Me in obedience.”

One of the earliest Christian documents we have is called “The Didache” (Διδαχ-Greek for “Teaching”). It is sometimes called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.” It was likely written before 100 A.D.), containing instructions for the Christian communities. The text is possibly the first written catechism with three main sections dealing with Christian lessons, rituals such as Baptism and Eucharist, and Church organization. It was considered by some of the early Christians as part of the NT. The first chapter begins with these words: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways.” The way of life is described in the first four chapters and ends with these words: Do not in any way forsake the commandments of the Lord; but keep what you have received, neither adding thereto nor taking away therefrom…This is the way of life.” Chapter 5 takes up the way of death by simply going over what things constitute disobedience to the ways of the Lord.

In our reading from Genesis, the Lord gives the first man one seemingly simple command: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

We know the rest of the story…that Adam failed to keep that one command and death entered the world. God in His wonderful love for mankind has “trampled down death by His own death!” (We will celebrate that wonderful event several weeks from now!) Once again, mankind can choose the way of life or the way of death.

May the Lord help us in our struggle to be obedient as we choose His path for our journey.

Having the Right Light for Our Journey

“Come and let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (Isaiah 2:5)

Yesterday, the Holy Prophet Isaiah invited us to “come” climb a mountain in order to draw closer to the Lord (Isaiah 2:3). Today, he explains how we will be able to see the path clearly to make this journey: “Come” walk in the light of the Lord (Isaiah 2:5).

Have you ever been deep in a forest on a pitch-black night? Hopefully, you were camped and not trying to hike out. Unless of course you had a good headlamp or flashlight to show you the path. Without a source of light, we would get lost or injured in no time.

The path of our Lenten journey can be darkened by the things around us and we need a light if we are to climb the mountain before us. Without the right source of light, we are not going to make it up this mountain. The Holy Prophet points us to a valuable source of light in the preceding verse:

“For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:4)

Indeed, the Word of the Lord is the very light we need on our journey. It couldn’t be stated any clearer for us than in the precious words of Psalm 119 (118):105 –

“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Every day of our Lenten journey, let us immerse ourselves in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures. Let us read more than we normally do as we draw closer to the Lord. May the Light of the Word of the Lord illumine our path when any darkness begins to obscure our way. A good journey today my brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Mountain Before Us

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us his ways and that we may walk in His paths.” (Isaiah 2:3)

The Holy Prophet Isaiah has just invited us to climb a mountain to draw closer to the Lord. Climbing this mountain will take effort on our part. There is no road to drive on or ski lift to take us to the top. It is a trail that must be hiked over the course of the next several weeks. No spiritual mountain top experience can be enjoyed without making the climb up. If we can persevere, we will learn better His ways and have opportunity to walk on His paths.

This journey we find ourselves on is not an easy one. Great Lent calls us on a path that takes us out of our comfort zone of “normal” life. We are called to change our eating habits, our prayer life, what we read and what we do…basically we are trying to change everything our bodies, minds, and spirits are used to on a daily basis. It is indeed a mountain to climb, not a stroll through the garden. The Holy Prophet reminds us that this journey is so worth the effort:

“If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land” (Isaiah 1:19)

Today we are at the foot of the mountain. Weeks of struggle lay before us, but the only struggle we need to focus on is what we face on today’s part of the journey. May we be willing and obedient this day as we climb “further up and further in” with our Lord.

Great Lent Begins

I had a dream last night. It may have come about because I was thinking about writing devotionals for Great Lent as I fell asleep or it may have been the bowl of ice cream smothered in chocolate syrup I consumed in the afternoon. Either way, I awakened from that dream knowing that it was to be the beginning of this devotional on Clean Monday. Here’s some of that dream:

I was speaking in a church fellowship hall. When I finished, all the people were eating and talking as I gathered up my equipment. I overheard someone say: “I liked his talk okay, except that he kept telling us that we needed to give our whole life to the Lord.” I stood up and raised my voice so that everyone quit talking. Then very loudly, I said: “We all will give our life to something, why not give it to the Lord?”

I awakened pondering this dream. What does it mean for us to “commit our whole life unto Christ our God?” I do not think that it means we all need to go live in a cave and spend our whole life in deep prayer. Rather, it has to do with us learning to put the Lord first in our lives in everything we do. The church helps us by giving us this time of Great Lent. We have the next several weeks to grow in this area. That can seem overwhelming, so let’s bring it down to a smaller, attainable goal. Can we commit our life this day to the Lord?

The very first verse we read as we begin our Lenten Journey comes from Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning God…” God is the beginning of everything for us. He gave us the gift of life and we have an opportunity to live in a way that pleases Him.

I tend to work best if I have a “To Do” list. If you have such a list, then I would encourage you to simply write “God” in the #1 slot for today. Your list may include some exciting things, mundane things, or simply things that are necessary today. Let God be in all of them today. Tonight, when you make your “To Do” list for tomorrow, put “God” as number one.

Our Lenten Journey is meant to draw us closer to the Lord. It takes our effort today and only today. May we give today to the Lord! It is the beginning of a great journey.

Jesus be the Lord of My Tongue

Taming the Tongue

To make an apt answer is a joy to anyone, and a word in season, how good it is! The mind of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil.” Proverbs 15:23 & 28

These two proverbs truly need to be together. In a group discussion, saying those words that bring about an agreement with everyone is a joy. Having everyone nod in agreement that your words were indeed wise words is an excellent complement. However (sometimes I hate that word “however”), most of the time my mouth engages far before my mind has done much pondering.

St. Arsenius put it this way: “I have always something to repent for after having talked, but have never been sorry for having been silent. Many times, I spoke and regretted what I said, but about silence I will never have any regret.”

A truth that most of us have likely experienced on one end of it or the other: Once a word leaves your mouth, it can never be taken back. There have been times when no sooner than I said something, I regretted it. But it was too late…the word had been spoken. We can say “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean it”, but the damage was done. Controlling this part of our lives is so very difficult. In fact, St. James calls it impossible for a human being (read all of James chapter 3):

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:7-8

Fortunately, we can make progress in this area. It may be an up and down type of progress as we grow in this area. Just when I think I have made great progress, I will be a little sleep deprived or a little stressed, and once again my mouth will engage before my mind. That does not mean that all is lost, it simply means that we should get back up and work on it some more. Here is one practice that I have found extremely helpful in my life and in the lives of others.

In your morning prayers (or any time for that matter), make the sign of the cross over your mouth and ask Jesus to be the Lord of your tongue and every word that comes out of your mouth.

When I was a prison chaplain, I had some of the men ask me what they could do to stop using foul language on the Rec Yard. I showed them how to make the sign of the cross over their mouths and what to pray. I asked them to simply try it and see what happened. Every time, without exception, they would say to me something along the lines of: “How does that work? I didn’t cuss once!” I am a firm believer that this will work for everyone who takes the time to do it. If there are certain people that you are around that bring out the gossip, coarse talk, or boasting…try this before you talk with them the next time and see what happens. Put it to the test!!

Sadly, there are many people on social media (like Facebook) that should consider putting this into practice before they begin responding to others. Those replies or comments are actually words coming right out of the mouth. Otherwise good people seem to think they can freely slander, gossip, cuss, demean others, etc without any repercussions. Harm is being done to others and to self.

In this time of home confinement, there can occur times of stress, short temper, and frustration which can result in words that cannot be taken back flowing right out of our mouths. What a great time to try this out for yourself and see what happens:

Make the sign of the cross over your mouth and ask Jesus to be the Lord of your tongue and every word that comes out of your mouth.

May God bless and protect you each and every day…

Fr. Stephen

God Will Not Forget

Hebrews 6-10

“God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.” (Hebrews 6:10)

Over 40 years ago I memorized this verse of Holy Scripture. It remains one of my favorite verses and one that I return to often as a reminder to myself and the people I have the privilege to serve. When we help others, we are doing something that God will remember about us.

There is an amazing story about a man named Peter who lived in the 6th century. He was the chief tax-collector for all of Africa under the Emperor Justinian. This was a position of power and Peter was a very wealthy man. He was also known as a very cruel, harsh, and selfish man. He was a heartless man who cared nothing for the poor and needy. He was used to walking by beggars without giving them notice, but one day a particular beggar kept groveling at his feet which annoyed Peter greatly. He was carrying some bread and in his anger, he threw a small loaf of bread at the beggar. When the beggar grabbed the bread, Peter went his way.

A few days later, Peter had a dream that he had died. He watched as the demons placed all his evil deeds on one side of a scale weighing it down completely. A question was asked: “Is there anything to put on the other side of the scale for Peter?” The angels looked at each other and finally one of them spoke up: “He did throw this small loaf of bread at a beggar, but it was in anger.” The bread was put on the other side of the scale and immediately the scale was balanced.

Peter awoke from the dream, pondering what he had just witnessed. He thought that if one small loaf could have that much impact, what would happen if he did more. At that moment, he repented of his sinful way of life and began to give freely to those in need. His life became one of alms-giving. He is recognized as a Saint of our Faith and a part of the “Great Cloud of Witnesses” that pray for us.

“God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.”

Someone might ask the question: “Well, who are His people that I might help them?” If you recall, Jesus was once asked a similar question by someone wanting to justify himself: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer is what we call the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

In the midst of this pandemic that we find ourselves in, there are countless opportunities to “help His people.” The people of your parish may need help or at least of caring phone call; your neighbors may need toilet paper (smile) or something more; the local food banks still need food to give those in need; the shelters and missions of your area still need clothing and financial help…and the list can go on and on. When we realize that “His people” are the human beings made in the image and likeness of God…that is everyone (no matter how tarnished that image and likeness might appear to us).

May the example and the prayers of St. Peter the Tax-Collector open our eyes to the needs around us each day.

 

Walking with the Wise

Article - Wise Counsel

“He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)

This morning the Governor’s order for those of us in Colorado to stay at home went into effect. Since we can’t be physically walking with wise people or fools, what does Proverbs 13:20 have to do with us right now? Even in our homes we are continually making decisions on who we will be hanging out with…on television, in our readings, phone calls, etc. So with that in mind, let’s consider this proverb and how it might speak to us.

This proverb is illustrated really well by a story in the Old Testament (1 Kings 12-14) about the son of King Solomon.  His name was Rehoboam.  When he inherited the kingdom from his father, he had it made.  He was King over a rich and prosperous nation.  He only had one decision to make as he began his reign.  The people came to him asking how he would rule them.  They asked him to not treat them harshly but to be kind to them and, if he would be, they would serve him well. He told them to come back in three days and he would give them an answer.  First he sought the advice of the elders (the wise ones).  They told him that if he would be kind to the people, they would always be his servants.  (Jesus said something similar: “If you want to be great in God’s Kingdom, learn to be the servant of all!”)  Rehoboam then went to his “friends” (the fools), seeking their advice.  They told him to place heavy burdens on them and to be cruel to the people…“scourge them with scorpions”…rule them with an iron fist.  Rehoboam decided to walk with his “friends” and followed their advice.  The result was a total disaster.  The people rose up in rebellion and the kingdom was divided in two, Judah and Israel…with continual war between the two sides.  Rehoboam ended up losing everything of true value and had no peace in his life.

In our lives, we too have many decisions to make that will greatly impact our lives and the lives of others.  Who do we call our “friends” and who do we go to for advice?  Ultimately, there are only two kinds of advice…”godly” or “ungodly”.  The advice will either lead you on the right path or down the wrong road (sometimes it seems like the right path is a backpacking trail going up a mountain and the wrong direction seems like a freeway that is so easy to travel on!).

When you are in need of advice, bear in mind that everyone will have some for you! Everyone else can tell you how you should live and what you should do.  The real key is who is that someone else.

Many people really want to change their lives for the better, but for some reason they can’t seem to make much progress.  There are many issues involved with this, but one big factor is the people that are influencing their lives the most.  It is important to realize that usually people become like the “friends” they are around the most.  If someone is around many positive people, they will likely be more positive (of course the opposite is also true).  If someone wants to become a better person, they would do well to look for “friends” who will challenge them to improve spiritually, morally, and in every area of life (or at the least, not be influencing them the other direction!).  Keep in mind these “friends” include such things as television, books, phone calls, etc.

Perhaps we could restate Proverbs 13:20 in even simpler terms: “You can’t soar with the eagles if you’re walking with the turkeys!”  Being confined to our homes does not mean that we should not be seeking to be with the wise. Take time each day to study the daily readings from Holy Scripture and/or pick a Book of the Bible to study. Also, take time to read books that will inspire your spiritual life. Listen to positive programs such as podcasts on AncientFaith.com.

There on plenty of good movies to watch that won’t have us walking with “turkeys (fools). One that we watch every Great Lent is “The Island” – I get more out of that each year. It does have English subtitles, but in a couple of minutes you forget they are even there. You can find it many places for free.

So let’s make the most of this time of being restricted to our homes. May the God of all wisdom guide us to make wise decisions in our lives.

 

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.”

Daily Devotion for March 19, 2020

Facebook storm coming

Isaiah 11:16-12:2

 “…As it was for Israel in the day that they came up from the land of Egypt…Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation.”

Our daily reading today in Isaiah reminds us of the deliverance of the children of God when they were in bondage in Egypt. You can read the entire account beginning in Exodus 1. The people were suffering greatly and crying out to God for help. In Exodus 3, Moses encounters God in the Burning Bush and the Lord speaks these words to him:

“I have indeed seen the misery of my people…I have heard them crying out…and I am concerned about their suffering…So I have come down to rescue them…And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me…” (Exodus 3:7-9)

The Lord delivers His people from their enemy and after they had crossed the Red Sea and were safe, they sang what is called the Song of Moses (Exodus 15). The Holy Prophet Isaiah quotes this verse from that song of praise to the Lord for His deliverance:

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation.” (This verse is found in both Exodus 15:2 and in Isaiah 12:2)

My dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). As He delivered His children from their enemy back in Egypt, He will deliver us from this invisible enemy we face today. He knows what is happening and He hears our prayers. Truly our prayers have reached Him. How and when He will deliver us remains to be seen, but we can be assured of His faithfulness to us.

The gates of hell cannot prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:18) and we can be confident that this coronavirus will not prevail against it either.  May we not be gripped with fear and anxiety as we hear the daily news from around the world, but rather, may our hearts be flooded with the love and faithfulness of our Lord for us. Please take time right now to meditate on that key verse from today’s reading and let His peace flow into your heart:

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation.”

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus our Lord…Fr. Stephen