I have said in one of my last sermons that one should come to confession as though it was the last confession one would make at the hour of death, that one should stand before God knowing that this is the last hour we have on earth and the first hour of eternity, and so shed everything which is unworthy of man and unworthy of God, leave everything which was collected unlawfully through the years of earthly life in order to enter into life eternal. A retreat is something different. A retreat is a moment when we must go inward, recollect, gather together all our strength, rethink our life, assess our situation again and again referring ourselves to no human judgement but only to the judgement of God, and all this in order to emerge out of this hours of collectedness gathered, strengthened in order to enter into life with all its complexity, into the twilight of human life personal and collective.
It is a twilight. The light of God shines in it. And yet the darkness is not yet dispelled. The light of God shone in his creation from the first moment when the creation was willed, called, loved into existence by the Living God. From the first moment the Spirit of God breathed and brooded over that chaos, that abyss out of which all things were to emerge, brooding over them so that they should come into being, into the light. When you read the beginnings of Genesis you see that every day begins with the twilight of the evening hours and then shines with new brightness unfolding in ever renewed manners its possibilities, its potentialities. And then throughout history light was present in the midst of men — the light of the mind, the light of the intellect, the light of the heart, the light of conscience. And then the Light came which had been there from the very beginning in the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Presence. And we live in this world in which light and darkness are interwoven. The darkness is not completely dispelled, the darkness does not recede the light willingly, yet the darkness never was and never shall be complete obscurity. It is enough of one spark of light for the darkness no longer to be absolute. The presence of God makes the darkness of history, the darkness of human lives transparent at times, shining like a night when the stars are many on the sky.
A day of recollection is a moment when we must gather all our understanding, all our strength in order to play our role, to occupy our legitimate place in this process, this painful, tragic and yet so glorious and deep struggle of the ephemeral life of the created on to the eternal life of God, given by Him, offered by Him in which we are called gradually to receive more and more until we become partakers of the divine nature, until the day comes when God is all in all. And what I would like to speak about is responsible living. I will repeat things which you have heard but it is not novelty which I wish to present you with, it is the old things, old and yet necessary.
First of all I have been struck time and again by the fact that in the Gospel the Lord Jesus Christ performs His miracles on a Sabbath day provoking indignation, scandal, arousing hatred or being met with a total lack of understanding and yet being recognised as one who does things which no-one else had ever done before. Is it possible to think that the only reason why Christ performed these miracles on the day when according to the law one should not work, that the only reason was to challenge people, to create this scandal, to offend people and force them into new thinking? To a certain extent it must have been like this because every time He was challenged on having broken the law He explained in one way and in another the legitimacy of His action, He proclaimed that the Son of man is the Lord of the Sabbath claiming a right to transcend the law established by God himself, claiming therefore to be what He was — God incarnate, God who had entered into the human realm in order to bring it into the divine realm. He explained also that charity, love, concern, compassion, transcend the law. The people who were offended at His healing a person on a Sabbath He asked whether everyone would not take his ass or his ox to drink on a Sabbath or whether an animal, if an animal had fallen into a pit, the Sabbath would not be broken in order to redeem the suffering animal, implying in the context of the Gospel so clearly that if that was done with dumb beasts how much more should be done with those who are the image of the Living God.
But this can not be the only reason, it couldn’t be simply pedagogical. I wonder, whether I am right in thinking differently. Cardinal Koenig of Vienna has written a small book full of interest, full of faith also, called The Hour of Man and he suggests something that I find very convincing: that when God had accomplished, fulfilled the creation of the world He handed over the care of this world, indeed, the destiny of this world to man. The Sabbath of God, the day of divine rest is the beginning of human creative action. Already some XIV centuries ago St. Maxim the Confessor had spoken along that line. He indicated that man belonged simultaneously to the realm of matter and to the realm of the spirit, that he was indeed in his body and soul connected with all things visible and invisible which belong to the material world, what we call inert matter and living beings. But also he was endowed with the image of God and possessed of a breath which God had breathed into him, possessed of a spirit capable of knowing God, of living with God, of growing into such intimacy that would outgrow adoption into sharing of one nature.
St. Maxim saw man standing at the threshold of the two worlds — the created and the uncreated, belonging completely to the created world and yet capable of entering into the uncreated realm by participation through the gift of the divine energies, of the grace of God and capable also of being a guide that will lead all creation beyond the boundaries of createdness into an infinitely varied communion with the Living God. Man in that sense was made king of creation but not in the sense in which we think of kingship so often — one who has power, one who is superior to others. There is a very striking and beautiful sentence in the works of St. John Chrysostom in which he says, “Anyone can rule, only a king can give his life for his subjects.” And man was created in order to serve the divine purpose in the creation of God, man was created in order to give his life in service worshipfully, respectfully to all the creatures of God that they may grow into that fullness which God has established for each of them in their manifold several ways. But this meant also that man could go wrong, he could betray his vocation and he could by doing so betray simultaneously God and all the creatures whom he was called to lead to fulfillment, to perfection, to life and this is what happened. Man betrayed the creation of God into the hands of the prince of this world by subjecting himself to the first beguilement and the whole creation, as St. Paul puts it, is still groaning for the revelation of the children of God, still groaning and waiting for man to become man again and lead it to its completion.
The history of the world is therefore a history in which man is absolutely central, irreplaceable and the destiny of the world depends on how man shall discharge his duty, fulfil his vocation. We know how mankind has strayed, but this historical period in which we live is in a strange way at the same time the Sabbath of the Lord and the day of the decisive creativeness on the part of man. The Sabbath of God is the time when we are called to work and to act.
There is a peculiar feature in several of the stories relating to us the miracles performed by Christ on a Sabbath. People marvelled at the power given to man, they gave glory to God, but they were impressed to see him whom St. Paul calls the Man Jesus Christ performing these acts of total authority, of sovereign and supreme authority. And what they said, this way in which they marvelled at this greatness of man revealed in Christ was partly the result of the fact that they did not know that He truly was God himself become Man, but at the same time their recognition of the significance of man is essential. Yes, it is as man that Christ fulfilled His miracles, but as man truly human. St. Ireneaus of Lyon says in one of his writings that the glory of God, the resplendence of God, the vindication of God (he uses the word “glory,” “resplendence,” “splendour”) is man truly fulfilled and the only true fulfilment of man is his union with God so that God and man are at one, this is the mystery of the atonement — at-one-ment.
So that man and God are at one as Christ, as in Christ the Divine nature and the human nature were at one without confusion but in perfect harmony. They saw, the people who surrounded Christ on these Sabbath days, they saw what man can be, what true man should be and they marvelled, they glorified God and they marvelled at man.
Now, we are Christ’s people. This is the name which we bear — we are Christian. What is Christ’s is our ideal and our vocation, what He was is what we should be. By adoption, by grafting we should so be united to Christ, our brother in humanity as well as the creative Word and the Saviour as to become truly, not metaphorically but in real reality the sons and daughters of the Living God, sharers of Divinity. And also our place in life is that which Christ chose, occupied and fulfilled.
This seventh day of the Sabbath which is the day of man is however more than simply a day in which God has left the world in the power of man. God has not contracted out of the destinies of the world when man betrayed the world. He spoke, as St. Paul puts it, through the prophets, through the patriarchs, through His messengers of all kinds at all times. He acted by the power of His Spirit. Throughout history we see God, to use an image of The Book of Revelation, knocking at every door, the doors of our mind, the doors of our heart, the doors of our conscience, the doors of our relationships, knocking at every single door and knocking at the door of whole communities of people. He has been calling and speaking in men who had responded and women who had responded, and children who had responded. At no moment was the world abandoned by Him but with the Incarnation something has happened to the world and in the world which was not there before — God has become interior, intrinsic to human history. God has entered human history and He has entered it as a man with the full rights of a man to make history, to create history, not as a divine command from outside but as one of us, sharing with us our human vocation. And in his life, His death, His Resurrection, His ascension God has become present in history and Man has become present at the very heart of the mystery of God because one of the Persons of the Holy Trinity is now Jesus, sitting at the right hand of the Father. In that something has happened invisible but recognisable by faith, by this perception which God grants us that what is to come, the coming of the Lord, has already happened. He will come in glory, He came already, humble in the form of a servant but He came, the fullness of God has been and is still in our midst in the flesh of a Man.
The eighth day, which is the day of the Lord, the day of his final victory has already begun. The future somehow is in our past, the future has begun already 2,000 years ago when Christ was born, when God entered into the human realm as a man, as a Son of man. And we are both, each of us singly, and all of us as a Christian community, an eschatological body, a body of people who already belong to the world to come and are present in this world, within this seventh day, which is the day of history, the eighth day is already present with power. The Kingdom of God has come with power and we are the people who should know it and the people who should act accordingly, according to this knowledge which is not an intellectual knowledge but a knowledge born of experience.
What is our place then in the historical situation? And when I say, historical, I do not mean the wide scale of universal history, I mean, all levels of it — our private life, personal or familial, our life in communities small and big, all that is our destiny as men. I would like to give you a few images to reflect upon. The first one is this passage from the Book of Daniel in the 3rd chapter in which we are told that king Nebuchadnezzar cast three young men fettered into a furnace to die because they had refused to renounce the Living God. And he came near this furnace to see what happened to them and turning to his councilors he said, “Did we not cast three men fettered into this furnace? How is it then that I see four of them walking free in the flames and one of them is like the Son of God?”
It may be interesting to know that this particular phrasing is not to be found in the Septuagint version, the Greek text of that passage, but exists only in the Hebrew text. So it is not something that was added or changed, or twisted by Christian thinking in later centuries. Somehow it is the Christian thinkers that have missed something of this text while the old Hebrew text proclaims that it is the Son of God who was in the furnace. So we see that when the furnace of trial, the furnace of temptation, the furnace of danger burns the Lord comes close. St. Paul puts it in another way when he says, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.” Wherever there is a trial by good and evil the Lord is there. He may not be visibly, perceptively there but He is there.
We have this story of the life of St. Anthony of Egypt who after his temptations having struggled and struggled against evil, lay prostrate and then the Lord appeared to him. And he looked up at his Lord and said, “O Lord, where were You while I was in trouble?” And the Lord said, “I was standing invisibly at thy side ready to give you My help, had you lost heart and strength.”
So at the hour of trial, at the darkest moments, at the heart of the most fiery challenge to our spirit, to our faith the Lord is there, and that is where we should be when our neighbour individual or collective is in the furnace. Our place is there. St. Paul says, “Who is burning with whom I do not burn?” St. Paul says that he would (?prepared) being rejected of God if that could save Israel, he is prepared to give not only his life, not only his death but the only thing that could matter to him. Didn’t he say, “For me to live is Christ”? He was prepared to give up even this in order to bring salvation to others. Anyone can rule, only a king can give his life for his subjects. Anyone can rule, only a true man can renounce everything for his brother. Love, perfect love that lays down its life. But not only physical life but is ready to follow the Master in the very folly of the cross as St. Paul calls it, that folly divine which brought the Son of God to become the Son of man, made Him in an act of unfathomable love, made Him identify with man even in his dereliction, in his loss of God, brought Him to the cross, to the final cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” and to the descent into hell, to the place of ultimate dereliction, to the place where God is not. (Vera Parker, “Hell.”)
Well, are we at all prepared to look at our place in life in those terms? These terms are too great for our scale but even if we reduce the scale, even if we think in the humble terms of our life, we can find scope to fulfil these [this?] complex of commandments given both in word and in example. Didn’t Christ say, “I have set you an example for you to follow”?
When we turn to the Gospel we see also two stories of the storms on the sea of Galilee… the general scheme is the same here and there — the disciples leave one shore to reach the other, a storm comes down, they fight for their lives. Their only protection and security is the frail skiff in which they row. Their strength abandons them, their hearts go faint, they feel that death is conquering and there is no hope, and they turn and they see Christ. In the first story they see Christ walking on the sea, on the waters. And they cry in fear because they can not believe it is Christ. They think, it is a spectre, a ghost. Why? Because they probably, like us, like so many people connect the thought of Christ with nothing but harmony, peace, love, and we can not imagine unless we stop to think deeply that He who is the Lord of history is also the Lord Sabaoth, the Lord of the armies, the Lord of the tragedy, the Lord of the storm in all the senses of this word. They can not recognise Him, they think it is a ghost because can God be in the middle, at the very heart of the storm and the storm persists? Can He be so close as to be visible, within reach of a cry, of a voice while death holds His disciples, still holds His disciples in its grip? And Christ said, “Fear not, it is I.” He is at the very heart of the storm, they are at the periphery, they are coming near the shore. He stands where the storm is at its highest.
And then Peter realises that in death and in life their place is where Christ is, and he asks Him to come, for permission to come. Christ calls him and what does he do? He forsakes the only security he possessed — the boat, which was his only defense against the waves, the wind, death. He discards all security in order to go and be where Christ is. And as long as he is possessed with no other thought, he walks. But then he remembers himself. He remembers that he is walking on the waters, he remembers that the storm is raging around and he is now in the realm of death without any security, he is no longer fenced round, he is no longer supported from underneath by the frail little boat in danger of capsizing and yet still there. And he cries out for fear. He did not reach the place where Christ was.
And in the other story of the storm we find Christ this time together with His disciples but while they are struggling for life He is asleep. The Gospel says, with His head in a cushion. They struggle for life, they are in danger of death and Christ sleeps in comfort.
Isn’t that what we say so often about God? It’s alright for Him, He has no flesh to suffer in it and to die in it. He is safe, He is comfortable. O, He can give us commandments, He can easily watch our struggles. But what about Him? — Well, what about Him?
Christ is awoken by the disciples and He rebukes them. He rebukes them for lack of faith. Why? They turn to Him. Wasn’t that an act of faith? No? Their words were not words of faith, “Lord, we are perishing, won’t You do anything? We are perishing!” That is the words. They have allowed the storm to become internal, they have allowed the storm to be within them. Christ stands up, the storm is raging around but He does not allow the storm to break through into His soul, and He projects on to this storm His faith, His peace, His serenity. He commands the storm to be as still as He is.
This is also something from which we can learn — responsible living. On the one hand, not to charge God with indifference, with absence. He is not an absentee landlord, He is there. Secondly when we turn to Him in our own need or in the need of others, we must learn not to say, “We are perishing,” but to say as the centurion said, “Say a word, it will be enough.” And again we must learn not to allow the storm to break into us. Very often we are confronted with our own tragedies and other people’s tragedies. When it is our own we allow our faith to be obscured, our serenity to be destroyed, when it is other people’s we think very often that it is a sign of true compassion, of true concern to share in their plight. And very often instead of giving them the support and the help which they need, our faith, our certainty, our capacity, our capability to live, we try to share with them their despair, their loss of faith, their anguish. It is as though we felt that all we can do to show our solidarity with them is to drown together with them. They don’t need that kind of sympathy. No-one needs you that you should drown together with them. What they need is your faith and your presence at the very heart of the furnace.
Well, these are the thoughts which I would like to leave with you for half an hour now, and in half an hour’s time whether we stay here for warmth or whether the more courageous go into the outer cold to be quiet and farther from their neighbour, in half an hour or so we will meet here and share our food.
In the context of what I have said, but in simple direct continuation I should like to take the question of Christ’s temptation in the desert and put it deliberately against the background of what I said this morning. Because if we are out for responsible living, if we take upon ourselves to take our stand in life, we will inevitably meet with trial. Our determination will be tried, our ways will be tried, our attitude also to the results of our doings will be put on trial.
First our intention. It is extremely important if you wish to do right, to have a right intention, not in general terms, this is simple, but in very concrete, elaborate throughout terms. Whether we do one thing or the other, it is essential that we should do it with purity of heart, purity of mind; with a straight, humble, reverent will and with hands that are clean. This does not apply only to evil doings. The question of evil doing is simple: when we are lead into temptation, when we succumb, we know where we stand. But so often we do good, or at least we do things which appears to be good, in our own eyes and the eyes of others, and yet, if we search our heart we would discover that our intentions were not really the good we were doing, that there was a further motivation which spoils and destroys it completely.
Then, there is the way in which we do things, there is the co-mixture of vanity which accompanies so much the good one does. And then there is also something which is important I believe, the excessive attention we pay to the result of our actions. I think we should realise that if we walk by faith, we must walk blind. All that is required of us is to know that at this particular moment, I am called upon, challenged, commanded, begged by God, through my conscience, to do one thing or another. There is a great deal of heart searching that should accompany this kind of perception. But when we have come to the conclusion that there is so, it is enough for us to do the right thing, without asking ourselves what the fruits will be. I do not think that I should insist on the fact that when we search our heart, when we analyse our intention, when we ask ourselves whether it is in God’s own name or in the service of others or for selfish reasons that we wish to undertake something, a great deal of thoughts should be given to the way our decision will affect our neighbour. Very often, when in our spiritual life, we are tempted to achieve a quick and spectacular saintliness, it is our parents, our relatives, our friends who have got to pay the cost of our attempt and discover, earlier that we do, that the cost was very heavy and the result, null. I think it is very important for us to realise that when our conscience directs us in a certain direction, in a certain way, it is not without importance to weigh all these elements, but having weighted them up, we must be prepared to leave it to God to look after further consequences. There is also a way in which we must do things right; determination, faithfulness are essential, but compassion and thoughtfulness, the care of others and the respect of God are not less essential.
Now, in the process of doing things we will meet with the three temptations which assailed the Lord Jesus Christ in the desert. The Incarnation was an act of God, but the baptism of Christ the moment when He came to merge into the waters of Jordan heavy with the sin of men, was a moment when He, Himself, in His humanity, endorsed the one-sided act of God, and freely took upon Himself all the consequences of His own divine act. And it is as a man who had chosen complete perfect obedience to the will of the Father, who had received the Spirit, that He is drawn into the wilderness to stand alone, unsupported, into the vast and scoring emptiness face to face with all that can go on in a human soul.
The first temptation, you remember, came after 40 days of fasting, He felt hungry, and then the Tempter said to Him: if You are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread. This is a double temptation: the temptation of power and the temptation to use power for one’s own benefit. At other moments Christ did multiply bread for vast crowds of people, but that was done for compassion and charity, the aim of it was not in Him but in these people whose needs He met. But in this given case He was offered to use the power which God had given to satisfy Himself, and He rejected it. And a temptation came in an insidious way: if Thou art the Son of God… Was it not natural for Him to give evidence to the tempter, to the adversary, to Satan, that He was, and that the end of Satan’s kingdom had come. But throughout His life, the devils confess Him to be Christ, and He forbade them to proclaim truth; because men had to be won in their hearts and not convinced by the devils own confession of defeat. In a way one may say that Christ, that God in Christ, appeared in history as powerless. In the Incarnation God becomes vulnerable, helpless, totally unprotected, eventually seemingly defeated, contemptible in the eyes of those who believe in nothing but strength. And there He stood, endowed with all the divine powers that was His and refusing to use it because in Christ power is rejected in favour of authority.
The difference between the two is this: power is the ability to compel others; authority is the ability to carry conviction. Power coheres, authority convinces; it is not an artificial distinction in words. When the Apostles in their way to Emmaus heard Christ, when they spoke of their meeting, they say to one another, Was not our heart burning within us when He was talking to us on the way? The words of Christ, which were truth, which were spirit, which are life reach a human heart and awaken in it a response, an Amen. And if this Amen is complete, a new life begins; The Amen signifies in a way our conformity with God, that the image of God in us is such that all things divine find an echo in us. So Christ stood there, rejecting power, ready to be defeated unless the authority of His words could carry conviction, refusing to use power for Himself even when necessity was great.
This is a first situation in which we are; we are not asked by the tempter whether we are the Son of God, but we are asked in a more vague and in a very subtle way: but are you not what you are? — leaving to our vanity to imagine anything that will please us. And are you not what you are then? — Shall you allow yourself to be treated as one treats you, shall you not take a stand, shall you not manifest your power, your strength, will you allow to be reviled, are you not strong in God? — All this ultimately is addressed to us to alleviate our condition, to turn stones into bread. This is a first temptation, to accept the devil’s challenge, to prove ourselves, to use power to do it, and to do it for our own sake and benefit.
And then, the next temptation. Christ was taken to the highest point of the Temple, and He was told: cast Yourself down, if You are the Son of God, because the Angels of God will support You and Your foot will not be hurt by the stones. If You are the Son of God, vindicate Yourself; whatever You are, prove Yourself in the eyes of those who deny You. Show Yourself in acts of daring. Are You not sure of God, then, if You do not do it? — And we must learn to answer like Christ that we are not there to put God to the test, we are not there to prove ourselves, we are not there to compel God to do for us what is not in the order of things.
And then, the third temptation. I will give You power over all the kingdoms of the earth which have been given to me (the word used is “betrayed into my hands”: yes — man has betrayed into Satan’s power all the kingdoms of the world). And there is Satan, offering Him, offering his Lord liege, power over them, provided He recognised his lordship, worshipped him, adored him. And Christ answers: it is said Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve. This again is a temptation to prove ourselves, to vindicate ourselves; and so often we ask ourselves whether by doing wrong we will not achieve a better result that by following the foolish, hopeless ways of the Gospel. Foolish in the eyes of, firstly, human wisdom, foolish because, if we look at immediate result we may see none or we may see a complete defeat. It is true. When I was young I read the story of a girl who wanted to do good, to heal, to help, and to whom the devil appeared and said: I give you power to alleviate every pain, to heal every sickness, to help every need, to relieve any anguish, on one condition: you shall be mine.
Well; this is a question which in one way or another, in small ways, comes our way all the time. Something good is to be achieved, can one not achieve it by short cut? — Not going round the long way Christ is suggesting. Something could be done if instead of patience, one used violence, if instead of humility, one used authoritativeness, if instead of giving freedom to the other, one used coercion. The result would be there, the immediate result might be there, but ultimately something more essential has been destroyed. Take for instance a phrase like the Lord’s command to turn the other cheek when we are hit on one. From the point of view of immediate result we cannot say that anything is achieved. For one thing we do not do it, but if we do, what we expect is that the other person seeing our greatness of heart, our obedience to Gospel, what not, will be converted, will fall to our feet; and we are sincerely hurt and offended when we are hit on the second cheek. And when nothing good seem to happen to the other person and nothing happens in the situation in which we were, what happens then? — I think we might well remember St. Paul’s word of his Epistle to the Ephesians (Eph, 6.12) that power warfare is not against flesh and blood, it is against the powers of darkness.
If we respond by hatred to hatred, by rejection to rejection, by negation of the other person to his negation of us, we enter into the destructive ways of the devil. If we refuse hatred, if we refuse to assert ourselves in pride, if we choose for love and humility, the person who is in front of us may not perceive it, but the powers of darkness are defeated and defeated not only by and for us, but defeated also for the other person whom they held in their grip.
This is where what I said in the beginning perhaps comes truest that we should not ask ourselves what the results were or shall be. The real results are invisible; the real results are visible to God and are visible to the people to whom God reveals it. That means that we can come to no terms with the powers of darkness, it means that we can come to no terms with evil, least of all in the name of for the sake of good. We must refuse all and every allegiance to the adversary and we must be certain that if we do so, he will not leave us in peace. He will never forgive us and let us go free.
These three temptations of power: prove yourself, vindicate yourself, take advantage of your strength, of what you are for your own benefit. Take advantage of what you are to subdue others. Take advantage of what you are for the good, — because the last temptation is that which is so dramatically unfolded in the Book of Revelation in the person of the antichrist. He accepts this very temptation.
But those temptations of power are not all there is to Christ’s temptations. I think it is in St. Luke that we are told that then Satan departed from Him “until a later time”. When is this later time? We can, I think, find this late moment by a clue, a verbal clue: the same words spoken to Satan in the temptation in the desert are spoken later and addressed to Peter on the way to Caesarea when Christ asks His disciples who He is and receives varying answers, Peter said: Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And a moment later, when Christ begins to speak of His coming Passion and death, Peter takes Him apart and says: Do not allow this to happen to You. Do not allow this, if You are what You are, use the power You have to avoid what You are speaking about, avoid the Cross, avoid the death, let all that is going ends, culminates in the glory of a victory. And Christ turns to Him and says: Go behind me, Satan, thou thinketh of the things of the world, not of the things of God.
And here we find the second kind of temptations, trial of our weakness. Christ is going to the seemingly defeat of the Cross. He is going to the even greater horror of His dereliction towards the descend into the pit; He is going to face an impossible, monstrous death, and the tempter says, using uncomprehending love as a weapon, the uncomprehending love of Peter: avoid it, You can. Not understanding that if He can and uses His power to do it, He is no longer the Christ, He is no longer the Saviour, He has faulted His very being, His very essential being. And this is also a temptation that comes to us more often than that of power, to be defeated by hopelessness, by the certainty of defeat, not to attempt the last because the last is the end.
When I was young, I read a motto, the motto of William the Orange (not the conqueror of Britain, but the liberator of the Netherlands) it runs as follow and I thought it was the greatest words I had heard in history: “There is no need to hope in order to undertake; there is no need to succeed in order to persevere.” This is a motto which we could put in contra-distinction to this temptation by weakness, the fear of defeat, the delusion that the apparent defeat corresponds always to a real defeat. Humanly speaking Christ was defeated on the Cross, the man of evil had won the day. They had caught Him in their trap One who one thought could not be caught. He was now at bay. He was now dying; He was now dead. The victory was theirs; even the Apostles did see no victory on Christ’s side when it happened, but retired in the house of John Mark in terror. And yet we sing the Resurrection in terms of death, we sing: Christ is risen from the dead, by death having trampled down death and to those in the tomb He has given life. It is the defeat, what was a defeat in the eyes of His enemies, of anyone of His friends indeed, that was the divine victory.
Now, in responsible living, we are bound to face this very problem: temptation by power “I can do it” — temptation by defeat “nothing will come out of it”. Iin both the answer is: obedience and faith. Faith as trust in God; obedience as a blind and generous gift of self to the divine will. But to do this effectively, to achieve this gift of self, our actions must be founded on more than the knowledge of the commandments and the counsels of the Gospel. They must be founded on a continuous inner silence open to God, so that we can hear, we can see. Remember what Christ said: I judge as I hear and this is why My judgement is true. He proclaimed in being and in words what the divine silence contains mysteriously. He says, My Father is still at work. He shows Me what He does and I do His works. The difference between Christian actions and the best actions of the best should be that through prayerful, obedient openness and contemplation, through this listening and looking into the mystery of God’s way, the action of the Christians on every occasion should be those of God. That is what Silouan meant when he said that the saints speak the words of the Spirit. This is what so many saints have said and done. What is our hope? Our hope is in our faith. St. Paul says, repeating the words spoken to him by Christ “My grace suffices”, “My power is being made manifest in weakness”, and Paul adds “and therefore I shall rejoice in my weakness alone”. And in another place, recognising his weakness, he adds “Yet all things are possible unto me in the power of Christ Who sustains me”. Words of hope, words of certainty, but also obligation for us all, because we are Christ’s, to face and to achieve a responsible living; not in words only, not in prayer only, not only in small ways in our midst, but on the scale of the divine plan in which nothing is too small for God and nothing is too great for man.