sermon-on-the-mount 1

At this holy time of year as we approach Passover and Easter, I reflect on the ways in which my faith informs my life. And I consider the ways in which I can strengthen my connection to the divine.

The central emphasis of Eastern Christian monastic spirituality is the belief that we are called “to become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4) In the words of St. Athanasius, God became man so that man might become God.

The Psalms and Christian Monastic Life

One of the most profound ways that I have found to infuse my daily life with my faith is to practice the advice of the Eastern Christian Saint ‘Theophan the Recluse.’ It is good, very good, to memorize several psalms and recite them while you are working or between tasks, doing this instead of short prayers sometimes, with concentration.

Early Christian disciples regarded the Book of Psalms as powerful and insightful doctrine, offering prophecy as well as praise. The 150 psalms of the Old Testament are the principal element of the entire Opus Dei, an institution of the Catholic Church that teaches that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity.

The monastic life was structured around the call to “pray without ceasing,” and the core of the monastic group prayer is the Psalms. In praying the Psalms day in and day out, it is God in the person of Christ to whom we have recourse, upon whom we depend for life and light. We turn to Christ as God, Lord, Shepherd, Physician, King, Teacher, Rock, Bulwark, Hiding-Place.

There is a reciprocal interaction between your activity (doing self) and your prayers (being self), and vice versa. They mutually support and reflect each other. Through integrating our “being” self into our daily lives, we learn that happiness isn’t the absence or avoidance of pain and suffering, but the mastery within pain and suffering to deeply know and feel in our hearts peace, joy, beauty and love.

The Beatitudes as a Path to “Being”

In my theological studies, I have recently been examining the Beatitudes, which are most often associated with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes, Jesus offers the steps to heavenly glory, each of which begins with the word “blessed.” Just as the Beatitudes begin with the word ‘blesses’ so do many of the Psalms.

The Beatitudes show us that many of Jesus’ teachings had their foundation in the Psalms. Jesus used the Psalms more than any other Old Testament source during His ministry and more than 100 scriptures in the New Testament are quoted from the Psalms.1

The Sermon on the Mount and the Psalms

The setting for the Sermon on the Mount is related to the great multitudes Jesus attracted from all areas of his ministry. While it has been argued persuasively that Jesus’ going up to the Mount paralleled Moses’ going up to Mount Sinai and receiving the law,2 the mountain setting of the Sermon also evokes a sense of going up to the temple, and hearing various psalms sung by priests and Levites in the sacred temple precinct as part of Israel’s worship services. The mountain-temple connection in ancient Israel is well established. In fact, a common Hebrew name for the Jerusalem temple was har ha-bayit, “mountain of the house.”3

Both the Beatitudes and the Psalms describe personal qualities and characteristics by which they can influence others to receive exaltation. Many of the concepts and principles taught in the Beatitudes were rooted in the much older Psalms.

Even the ultimate command issuing from the sermon—to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect (see Matthew 5:48)—is reflected in one of the Psalmist’s exhortation: “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace” (Psalm 37:37).

The Psalms and Beatitudes as Inspiration for a Healthy Life

The more we examine the Psalms and compare them to the life and the teachings of Jesus, especially those found in the Beatitudes, the more we draw ourselves to the Old Testament, the Jewish faith, and the roots of Christianity. Simply put, it is a healthy way to live, regardless of religion, or even without adhering to any particular religion or God.

The Latin beatus, from which “beatitude” derives, means “to be fortunate, to be blessed, to be joyful.” The Beatitudes that Jesus taught are named for the opening words of each statement, “Blessed are . . .”

Some Bible translations of beatitudes use the word “happy” instead of “blessed”; however, the meaning of the two words is not the same. Happiness is pleasure based on external things that happen to us. The Biblical use of blessedness goes much deeper, signifying an inner sense of joy and peace resulting from doing God’s will.4

The Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-26) are the fundamental teaching of Jesus. They are believed to be one of the most concise summaries of the spiritual life of humanity. It is my favorite scripture.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Jesus Himself was poor, not only in body but in spirit.  Without a “place to lay His head.” (Matt. 8:20)

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Mourning, according to God, is sadness of the soul and the disposition of a sorrowing heart which ever madly seeks for that which it thirsts…

It is a golden spur in a soul, which is stripped of all attachment and all ties…

God does not ask or desire that we should mourn from sorrow of heart, but rather out of love for Him he should rejoice with spiritual laughter.

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 7)

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Meekness is an essential possession of the spiritual person.  Jesus Himself was meek. (Matt. 11:27-30)

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

It is those who are hungry and thirsty for what is good who receive the blessings of God. (Matt. 6:31-33)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

To be merciful is to be like God, for “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalm 103:8)

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36)

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”’ (Matt 7:22-23)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Christ, the “prince of peace,” (Isaiah 9:6) gives the peace of God to those who believe in Him.  “The peace of God passes all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7)

“Blessed are the persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven.”  Joy is the essential element of the spiritual life.  (John 15:20-21)

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15: 8-11)

“So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:22-24)

The Psalms and Beatitudes share a common message and are the cornerstones of a spirit-filled life. Ultimately it is only God, which we can only know through selfless exchange of pure “Agape” Love, who can fulfill the longings of the human heart. As Pope Francis says “God came from Love.” The psalm verse readily comes to mind: “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord (Psalm 33:9).

May you be inspired you to explore greater mystical heights through your own relationship with the Divine and be infused with a renewed passion to love and serve more, loving the Lord and extending your loving kindness to all.

Have a blessed Passover and Easter!

Donald Yance

References:

  1. Koehler and Baumgartner, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 2:1481–82; 1:566.
  2. Several authors point out the parallel. See, for example, Dale Allison, The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 174–75; John W. Welch, The Sermon on the Mount in the Light of the Temple (Surrey, England: Ashgate, 2009), 17–23. However, W. D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), 99, says the New Sinai typology “only acquires force from other elements in the Gospel which point to this.”
  3. Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship (New York: Abingdon, 1962), 2:89–90.
  4. Koehler and Baumgartner, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 2:1481–82; 1:566.

 

 


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be the light

In the midst of the busyness and celebration of the holidays, let us all as a collective pause to shine forth with loving kindness and goodness.

Be the Light

The Winter Solstice marks the longest night of the year, and the gradual but noticeable shift toward the light. Bonfires, candles, and twinkling holiday lights remind us of how even a small light illuminates the darkness.

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”Mother Teresa 

Be the Light 

At this time of festivity, let us draw inspiration from the Christmas Psalms, and “Be the Light” that shines forth into the world.

A Trilogy of Christmas Psalms: “Sing to the Lord a New Song” (Psalm 96); “God Reigns! Earth Rejoices” (Psalm 97); “Joy to the World” (Psalm 98).

Be the Light

The ancient hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is sung during Advent and on Christmas Day. Believed to have originated with a community of fifth-century Jewish Christians, the hymn was perhaps part of their Hanukkah festival. The text contains many elements of the Hanukkah celebration, with remembrance of wandering in the wilderness, darkness and death, but also the celebration of light.

“Dispel the shadows of the night and turn our darkness into light. Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel shall come to you, O Israel. O come, O King of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind.”

Be the Light

At this sacred time, I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and Joyous Solstice, and a New Year blessed with love, light, peace, and wellbeing. Let us pray for one another that we may all “Be the light.”

— Donnie

 

 


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Donnie Yance Blog Post

St. Francis has been a major influence in my life since I was in my early twenties and searching for Truth. I studied a bit of theology in school, and being brought up as an Italian Roman Catholic, had more questions than answers. I thought, “Either there is a God, our faith should be our guiding force in our lives, and we should serve and love God and others, or we should stop pretending.” It seemed so simple, and so clear.

I looked for Truth in other faiths, but Francis pointed me back to Catholicism. I recall one day thinking, “If St. Francis could live with such clarity, compassion, and generosity of spirit and never stray from his faith, nor even question it, who am I to think I need to?” When I discovered Eastern Christianity from an Eastern Rite Franciscan monastery, I found my home. I joined the Order of St. Francis as a Secular (3rd Order) Franciscan, took vows, and spent close to three years living in a Byzantine Eastern Catholic Rite Franciscan Order in New Canaan, Connecticut.

I find the teachings of St. Francis to be as relevant today as they were back in the 13th century. Consider this letter that he wrote to all leaders of his day, reflect on the world we live in now, and contemplate how we each can do our part to create ‘heaven on earth.’

Letter to the Rulers of the People, by St. Francis of Assisi

“Keep a clear eye toward life’s end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God’s creature. What you are in His sight is what you are and nothing more. Do not let worldly cares and anxieties or the pressures of office blot out the divine life within you or the voice of God’s spirit guiding in your great task of leading humanity to wholeness. If you open yourself to God and His plan printed deeply in your heart, God will open himself to you.

Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received – fading symbols of honor, trappings of power – but only what you have given: a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage.

Embrace the God of us all and His Word wherever it surfaces. Imitate His preference for the poor and powerless. Enter into His plan of liberating all peoples from everything that oppresses them and obstructs their development as human beings. Do not grow tired of working for peace among all people.

Help remove unjust social structures and patterns of exploitation. Uphold the rights and dignity of the human person. Foster the creation of a society where human life is cherished and where all peoples of the planet can enjoy its gifts, which God created for all in a spirit of love and justice and equality.”

The Eastern approach to theology, just as in medicine, is open to the mystery of life. Although there were many things in Buddhism that resonated with my being, there was a central piece missing for me. My faith is rooted in Christianity, and centered in the teachings of Christ and the message that God humbled Himself and loved us enough to become one of us, only to be crucified, and then to forgive and love us still. This great gift from God enlivens my faith and awakens my desire to serve my fellow human beings, animals and Nature.

Although I am devoted to my faith and the theology of Eastern Christianity, I am drawn to learn from other faiths as well. I recently joined a Mussar group to further my theological studies, to find practical ways to use all of my being for good, and to better the world in which we live. The Mussar movement is a Jewish ethical, educational and cultural movement that developed in the 19th century in Lithuania, particularly among Orthodox Lithuanian Jews. The Hebrew term “Mussar” is from the book of Proverbs 1:2 and means moral conduct, instruction or discipline. It espouses expressing your faith through living action, practicing loving kindness, and caring for all in need, but especially the poor and oppressed. Mussar is essentially the practice of loving your neighbor as yourself.

I am fortunate in many ways that all of my work is my ministry. I believe as Pope Francis states, “Before there was God there was Love, and God came from Love.” We must remember this and live accordingly, recognizing that we are all part of one family.

In celebration of the feast day of St. Francis, I’d like to share with you a bit about St. Francis:

• More books have been written about St. Francis than any other saint.
• His “Canticle of Brother Sun, Sister Moon” was the first major poem written in Italian.
• Franciscans established the first college in the New World in Mexico City in 1536.
• The City of San Francisco is named after him.
• New Mexico’s second Spanish governor founded a new city at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in 1607, which he called La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís (the Royal Town of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi).
• Arizona’s highest mountains are called the San Francisco Peaks.
• In Arkansas both a river and town bear the name St. Francis.
• One of the precepts of St. Francis states that followers cannot bear weapons or kill. Thus, St. Francis and his followers were partially responsible for the downfall of the feudal system. Serfs were freed and the number of petty wars was reduced.
• Our present Pope is the first Pope in history to take the name Francis in honor of St. Francis; and he is a Jesuit.
• St. Francis is the patron saint of peace, of ecology, of Italy, and of animals.

Donnie Yance Blog Post 2

Saint Francis had great love and respect for the sanctity of all life, seeing all creation as his brothers and sisters in the Lord. On one occasion he came upon a merchant carrying two small lambs to market. Moved by the plaintive bleating of the lambs, he caressed them and asked the peasant, “Why do you torment my brothers, the lambs?” When he learned that the man intended to sell them for slaughter, he declared, “That will not happen!” and bought them. At Portiuncula for many years he had a tame lamb that followed him everywhere, even into the church, where the lamb’s bleating mingled with the chants of the brethren.

I leave you with this prayer for the Blessing of Pets, which commonly take place on Saint Francis’ feast day, October 4th:

Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired Saint Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.


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Living a spirit filled life

Living A Spirit-Filled Life

In life, the soul does not grow in the same way as the body, although we often speak as if it does. It’s a great gift, that as the body grows older and begins to lose strength, the soul gains strength—if we nourish our spiritual being. The mystery of spiritual growth occurs only if we are open to it.

We cannot live life fully being spiritually stagnant, merely functioning, lacking imagination, with knowledge but no wisdom, with little or no creativity, without the expression of art and music, without the pursuit of selfless love. The book of Psalms tells us, “If today you hear my voice, harden not your hearts.” We must listen, with our hearts and souls, in order to follow our true path, which is the path of love. Love cannot be extracted, commanded, demanded or wheedled. It can only be freely given.

I find inspiration in the writings of those who honor a spirit-filled life, including monks and philosophers—even occasionally, those who present themselves to the world as comedians. I collect writings that nourish my soul, and read them as a practice of meditation and reflection.

The comedian/philosopher George Carlin wrote this about life:

“We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things.

We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less. These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships.

Remember, spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever.

Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.

Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn’t cost a cent.

Remember, to say, “I love you” to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you.

Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person will not be there any more.

Give time to love, give time to speak, and give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.

AND ALWAYS REMEMBER: Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” ~George Carlin

These are indeed words worthy of reading again and again, reminding ourselves of what is most important in this precious life. Another writer who inspires me is Thomas Merton, a well-known Trappist monk who was a brilliant writer, spiritual master, and a man who embodied the quest for God and human solidarity.

He wrote one of my favorite prayers that speak to this pursuit:

Thoughts in Solitude

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. ~Thomas Merton

The ultimate abandonment of one’s role is not to have self as a fixed point of reference; it is the freedom to manifest God with selfless love through one’s uniqueness. We are all unique with a special gift, but we must discover that gift.

The great jazz composer and pianist Thelonius Monk wrote: “a genius is the one most like himself.” I think there is no more worthy goal in this life than to strive to be ourselves—our best selves, and always with attention to the pursuit of spirit. We know that we are on the right path when our actions in life are expressed as compassion, tenderness, concern for others, service, goodness, gentleness, forgiveness, and understanding.

John Wooden, the great UCLA basketball coach, and one of my favorite people, once said, “You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” Remember the word “Illness” starts with the letter “I” and the word “Wellness” starts with the two letters “We.”

In all we do pursue after Truth, Beauty, and Love.” ~Pope Francis


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At this time of year, perhaps more than any other, we have the opportunity to shine forth our soul’s brightest light. The joyous celebrations and sacred traditions of Christmas and Hanukkah help to connect us with our inner spirit of gratitude, praise, generosity, and love, as well as with one another. At the same time, the Winter Solstice, a celebration of the earth, calls us to journey within in the darkness of the season and to look forward to the returning of the light.


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“[If] you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones— bad, muddled, out of date ideas.” —C. S. Lewis

From all appearances, the importance of religion in the U.S. has dramatically declined in recent years. According to the prestigious Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study, changes in religious affiliation have affected all regions of the country, and many demographic groups.


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