Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Frederica Mathewes-Green on "A Merciful Heart"

St. Isaac the Syrian

I've been insanely busy at work lately, so much so that I'm having to bring work home. This means I haven't had time to do much on my notes on St. James' epistle. So, I thought I'd share another article sent to me by my friend Fr. John Paprock. It is written by the talented and prolific author and speaker Frederica Mathewes-Green, whom I have had the privilege to meet in person and also to converse with via email. Enjoy!


Sometimes evil must be challenged, and sometimes love requires intervention. Any intervention, however, must not be motivated by vengeance or self-righteousness. Instead, we must see ourselves as equally sinful and in need of mercy. Our goal must be restoring the person to the
love of God.

"Love sinners but despise their deeds," said St. Isaac of
Syria. "Remember that you share the stench of Adam, and you also are clothed in his infirmity. To the one who has need of ardent prayer and soothing words do not give reproof instead, lest you destroy him and his soul be required from your hands. Imitate doctors who use cold things against fevers."

How can we evaluate another's deeds and respond to them, perhaps even bring about correction and justice, and yet not judge them? To answer the question, picture a courtroom. See where the judge sits? Don't sit there. That's God's seat, and he will judge on the last day.

Until that day we linger in the courtroom as the dear friend of the accused. This person may be doing evil and willful things, and be cocky and defiant and not want our friendship. Yet because we see what lies ahead, and we know that we are just as prone to sin, we do whatever we can to help him repent, turn, and escape the coming penalty.

At every Eucharist, Anna's congregation prays, "You came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief." This solidarity with all of fallen humankind removes our grounds for self-approval, while making us even more concerned that everyone find repentance and salvation. As we stand at the head of the army of sinners, we pray that God will have mercy on us all.

St. Isaac of Syria wrote, "And what is a merciful heart? It is burning for all creation, for men, for birds, for animals, and even for demons. At the remembrance and at the sight of them, the merciful man's eyes fill with tears that arise from the great compassion that urges his heart. It grows tender and cannot endure hearing or seeing any injury or slight sorrow to anything in creation. Because of this, such a man continually offers tearful prayer even for irrational animals and for the enemies of truth and for all who harm it, that they may be guarded and forgiven."

Frederica Mathewes-Green
The Illumined Heart, pp 92-93
2001, Paraclete Press
Brewster, Massachusetts


charlene said...

Father James,
Today's column gave advice on handling difficult people that I really needed to hear this week. Thank you for choosing this for us.
I am utterly amazed by St. Issac's words that tell us a merciful heart has compassion even for the demons. He really brings home to me how far short I fall of the right heart. I wonder, if our prayers can make a difference for thous who have died before us, could they also make a difference for those fallen angels who are working against God?

Isabel said...

God grant us a merciful heart.