Sunday, February 26, 2012

It's Lent, Just Don't Get All Bent Out Of Shape About It

In his sermon today, our preacher referred to an Abbot Antonio and offered up the following quote (which I could only track down to an unreferenced blog citation),

When Abbot Antonio was asked if the road of sacrifice led to Heaven, he replied:

‘There are two such roads. The first is that of the man who mortifies his flesh and does penance because he believes that we are all damned.
‘This man feels guilty and unworthy to live a happy life.
‘He will never get anywhere because God does not inhabit guilt.

‘The second road is that of the man who knows that the world is not as perfect as we would all like it to be, but who nevertheless puts time and effort into improving the world around him.
‘In this case, the Divine Presence helps him all the time, and he will find Heaven.’

Fr. Antonio makes an unattractive strawman and places him on the first road in order to blow him away by the second one. Our preacher stuffed a little more straw into the miserable guilt ridden straw man before moving on to focus on the second road.

Our preacher changed the wording of the first road to be the road of guilt and the second road to mean the road of "grace."

The first man is stuck in his guilt, not a very good place to be, and not the typical individual you are going to meet these days. But at least he knows that something is wrong and I hope he will find the road to repentance which probably leads to the second road.

I got the impression that repentance was needed to get on the road of grace too, but once on it you really shouldn't bother about beating yourself up over all that sin stuff.

That would be the typical watering down of our sinful nature that we so often hear in the Episcopal church.
Of course, most of us need to be brought down before we can be lifted up, and some of us more than others. It would be nice to start out on that second road, but most of us have some repenting to do before we get on. I would rather the story of the two roads be less mutually exclusive and told as a highway with an on-ramp. Of course there is always the chance of a breakdown or detour along the way. It would be nice to be so free from sin that we didn't breakdown so often or need to be reminded about it. Hey, if we are already at the end of the second road, why bother with such things as going to church or confessioning our sins?

What we forget is that without sin, grace is not necessary.
Thankfully, our hymns provided the balance we needed on this the first Sunday in Lent.

Hymn 142

Lord, who through-out these forty days
for us didst fast and pray,
teach us with thee to mourn our sins,
and close by thee to stay.

As thou with Satan didst contend
and didst the victory win,
O give us strength in thee to fight,
in thee to conquer sin.

As thou didst hunger bear and thirst,
so teach us, gracious Lord,
to die to self, and chiefly live
by thy most holy word.

And through these days of penitence,
and through thy Passion-tide,
yea, evermore, in life and death,
Jesus! with us abide.

Abide with us, that so, this life
of suffering over-past,
an Easter of unending joy
we may attain at last!

Words: Claudia Frances Hernaman (1838-1898) Music: St. Flavian, melody from Day's Psalter, 1562; adapt. and harm. Richard Redhead (1820-1901)

Remember that one of Jesus' calls to us is to repent.

And to think we just went over this as we were reading about our Lord's early ministry in Mark 1.

I guess this counts as another detour off the superhighway of grace.

Excuse me as I mortify myself.

Now where is that on-ramp again?



  1. If the link to the quote is accurate it appears that your preacher cited Paulo Cohelo a Brazilian Novelist of uncertain orthodoxy (to be polite). It would concern me that the form is in the general style of the Desert Fathers and without attribution leads one to think it might be from a real authority.

  2. Anonymous12:13 AM

    I am so sorry you continue to be abused from the pulpit.

  3. Fr. Halt,

    If anyone can find Paulo Cohelo's source, let me know.

  4. Rob+,

    The sermon was going along pretty well until that point. It was delivered in a sweet, calm manner which makes the passing on of a diluted theology of repentance and Sin much more subtle and much more dangerous.

  5. UP,

    That's the thing, it appears to be an invention of PC's mind. I have never read it in any copy of the Desert Fathers.

  6. Fr. Halt,

    I was afraid of that.

    As an addendum to the blog post, I noted in today's Psalm the following reference to Sin and Grace which seems more appropriate to Lent than the Abbot Antonio "quotation."

    As for me, I said, ‘O Lord, be gracious to me;
    heal me, for I have sinned against you.’ Psalm 41:4

  7. My sermon series and mid-week program for Lent are about confession of sin, starting out with "Why confess sin?"

    And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins,
    to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept
    this our bounden duty and service, not weighing our merits,
    but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord

  8. Tim+,

    I would be interested to hear if you have anyone challenge you on that one. In our liberal parish, that wouldn't fly as a Lenten program.

    Of course, we don't have Lenten programs anymore.

    That's what a steady diet of pablum will get ya.

  9. As Christians, we are free from sin, but we just don't want Christ to live through us. Rather we still wish and choose to let our "other" side, the old side control our lives. Making that daily choice of Christ or Self, is the daily Grace we all need, I think.