Daily Reflection for June 23, 2020

DAILY REFLECTION  •  JUNE 23  •  Martyr Agrippina of Rome

Christian patience is a meek patience, but patience with a weak malice does not differ much from vengeance. Our saints are great in every good evangelical work but how great and magnificent are they in meek patience! Perhaps they appear the greatest to us in this goodness because we are the smallest in it. When the desert fathers at one time had gathered around John Kolovos [The Short] to hear an instruction a certain envious one heckled: “Your vessel, O John, is full of poison!” To that the meek John immediately responded: “You said that only seeing the exterior but what would you have said if you could see the interior?” When they brought out Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage for beheading, he commanded that twenty-five gold pieces be given to his executioner following his death. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.
            Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
            There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
(Romans 7:14-8:2)

Today’s lectionary passage from Romans is one of those “Aha!” moments for me in Scripture. St. Paul continues his discussion on the place of law in the life of a Christian. He states that the law is “spiritual” but we are “carnal.” We are subject to the permeation of sin throughout creation; we cannot avoid it. He notes that the law defines what is sinful for human beings, but it doesn’t give us the power in itself to avoid sin. He makes the observation that he himself does not practice what he wills to do, but rather he does what he “hates.” Vice versa, what he tries to avoid he ends up doing. There is a war going on between our minds and the members of our bodies. It is not enough to will to do good. Sin is so ingrained in creation that it is impossible to always avoid it.

I find that so comforting. When I struggle with sinful actions and behaviors, I sense the war going on in my mind and heart. Good intentions are very often present, but they are not enough. This does not excuse my sin, but explains it. If St. Paul can struggle with his actions versus his will, how can we be surprised that we struggle the same way? So what then? It seems to me that we are firmly in control, despite this war, of two things: first, we are absolutely in control of our repentance. When we fall in our members and are ashamed of how weak we are, we can still come back to the Lord in the sorrow over our sins and know that He forgives. Second, we are also absolutely in control of our desires. When the Lord said, “Be perfect as my Father in heaven in perfect,” we must not be frustrated in equating our actions with this command. Rather, we must always be able to say that our desire is perfect, always wanting to be in complete communion with the will of God. Not giving up. Those two things that we absolutely control keep us on the way to salvation. God grant that each of us remain in control of the two things necessary!