Category Archives: Spiritual Life

Theology of the Body, briefly visited with St Gregory Palamas

St Gregory PalamasThe Eastern Christian Saint Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) whose feast day is observed twice a year by Orthodox Christians –once on November 14 and then on the Third Sunday of Lent. For Catholics Saint Gregory Palamas is a great guide for our spiritual training in Lent.

John Paul II was very keen on the theology of the body for some very good reasons. One of which is that he thought that the recovery of certain biblical principles as they are related to the human body were essential for the truthfulness, goodness and beauty Christian life life to thrive. His massive tome on the subject takes times to digest. But he’s not the only one to use the theme of “theology of the body.”

Some tend to reject the idea that the human body has anything to do with spiritual life. Nothing can be further from the truth. Christians, especially liturgically oriented Christians like Catholics and the Orthodox, believe that the body  Saint Gregory, the archbishop of Thessalonki taught a great deal about the importance of the body in the prayer life. Gregory was a proponent of hesychasm, a Greek work meaning stillness, quite. As it is related to a form of prayer it attends to the inner prayer life. It is mental prayer. The Jesus Prayer is prayed.

The point is to prayer unceasing no matter what we are doing. We know this from Saint Paul the Apostle. Saint Gregory helps us to focus on the essentiality of inner prayer amidst the noise of life. No activity is outside of God’s grace because the material world is not contrary to the things of God. However, if the material world becomes an idol, then sin creeps in, which is not good.

Incessant prayer and the worthy reception of the sacraments lead to communion with God. Nothing, particularly, the body-ethic, is outside communion with God, through the energy, not the substance, of the Holy Spirit. This is called thesois. The uncreated energy is defined as grace. It is the uncreated energy of God which transfigures and illuminates us drawing us in communion with the Divine Majesty.

Don’t get grumpy as the mid-Lent blues set in… but keep focus on your mental prayer as it will lead to a deeper relationship with Jesus. Pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance.

On the purpose of fasting of Christians

Fasting is one of those aspects of the Christian life that is not well-received these days. Chrysostom teaches that “we fast to offer our entire selves to the dedication of spiritual thing.” On the medical level, fasting is a purifying practice for the body. Analogously, fasting is purifying for the soul. Eating too much does not open the soul as wide as possible to be in communio with the Lord because it makes the body sluggish, tired and distracted. The point of fasting is awaken our whole being. You can see how the author of the homily below takes a more wholesome approach to this practice taking to heart what the Prophets Joel teaches, rend your hearts. The point of fasting is not merely doing without food for no particular good reason but it does open the heart, at the level of the conscience, to a new way of being: a full life in Christ Jesus. I hope it opens a dialogue for you. Here is an abridged homily St. John Chrysostom.

Fasting is a medicine. But medicine, as beneficial as it is, becomes useless because of the inexperience of the user. He has to know the appropriate time that the medicine should be taken and the right amount of medicine and the condition of the body which is to take it, the weather conditions and the season of the year and the appropriate diet of the sick and many other things. If any of these things are overlooked, the medicine will do more harm than good. So, if one who is going to heal the body needs so much accuracy, when we care for the soul and are concerned about healing it from bad thoughts, it is necessary to examine and observe everything with every possible detail.

Fasting is the change of every part of our life, because the sacrifice of the fast is not the abstinence but the distancing from sins. Therefore, whoever limits the fast to the deprivation of food, he is the one who, in reality, abhors and ridicules the fast. Are you fasting? Show me your fast with your works. Which works? If you see someone who is poor, show him mercy. If you see an enemy, reconcile with him. If you see a friend who is becoming successful, do not be jealous of him! If you see a beautiful woman on the street, pass her by.

In other words, not only should the mouth fast, but the eyes and the legs and the arms and all the other parts of the body should fast as well. Let the hands fast, remaining clean from stealing and greediness. Let the legs fast, avoiding roads which lead to sinful sights. Let the eyes fast by not fixing themselves on beautiful faces and by not observing the beauty of others. You are not eating meat, are you? You should not eat debauchery with your eyes as well. Let your hearing also fast. The fast of hearing is not to accept bad talk against others and sly defamations.

Let the mouth fast from disgraceful and abusive words, because, what gain is there when, on the one hand we avoid eating chicken and fish and, on the other, we chew-up and consume our brothers? He who condemns and blasphemes is as if he has eaten brotherly meat, as if he has bitten into the flesh of his fellow man. It is because of this that Paul frightened us, saying: “If you chew up and consume one another be careful that you do not annihilate yourselves.”

You did not thrust your teeth into the flesh (of your neighbor) but you thrusted bad talk in his soul; you wounded it by spreading disfame, causing unestimatable damage both to yourself, to him, and to many others.

If you cannot go without eating all day because of an ailment of the body, beloved one, no logical man will be able to criticize you for that. Besides, we have a Lord who is meek and loving (philanthropic) and who does not ask for anything beyond our power. Because he neither requires the abstinence from foods, neither that the fast take place for the simple sake of fasting, neither is its aim that we remain with empty stomachs, but that we fast to offer our entire selves to the dedication of spiritual things, having distanced ourselves from secular things. If we regulated our life with a sober mind and directed all of our interest toward spiritual things, and if we ate as much as we needed to satisfy our necessary needs and offered our entire lives to good works, we would not have any need of the help rendered by the fast. But because human nature is indifferent and gives itself over mostly to comforts and gratifications, for this reason the philanthropic Lord, like a loving and caring father, devised the therapy of the fast for us, so that our gratifications would be completely stopped and that our worldly cares be transferred to spiritual works. So, if there are some who have gathered here and who are hindered by somatic ailments and cannot remain without food, I advise them to nullify the somatic ailment and not to deprive themselves from this spiritual teaching, but to care for it even more.

For there exist, there really exist, ways which are even more important than abstinence from food which can open the gates which lead to God with boldness. He, therefore, who eats and cannot fast, let him display richer almsgiving, let him pray more, let him have a more intense desire to hear divine words. In this, our somatic illness is not a hindrance. Let him become reconciled with his enemies, let him distance from his soul every resentment. If he wants to accomplish these things, then he has done the true fast, which is what the Lord asks of us more than anything else. It is for this reason that he asks us to abstain from food, in order to place the flesh in subjection to the fulfillment of his commandments, whereby curbing its impetuousness. But if we are not about to offer to ourselves the help rendered by the fast because of bodily illness and at the same time display greater indifference, we will see ourselves in an unusual exaggerated way. For if the fast does not help us when all the aforementioned accomplishments are missing so much is the case when we display greater indifference because we cannot even use the medicine of fasting. Since you have learned these things from us, I pardon you, those who can, fast and you yourselves increase your acuteness and praiseworthy desire as much as possible.

To the brothers, though, who cannot fast because of bodily illness, encourage them not to abandon this spiritual word, teaching them and passing on to them all the things we say here, showing them that he who eats and drinks with moderation is not unworthy to hear these things but he who is indifferent and slack. You should tell them the bold and daring saying that “he who eats for the glory of the Lord eats and he who does not eat for the glory of the Lord does not eat and pleases God.” For he who fasts pleases God because he has the strength to endure the fatigue of the fast and he that eats also pleases God because nothing of this sort can harm the salvation of his soul, as long as he does not want it to. Because our philanthropic God showed us so many ways by which we can, if we desire, take part in God’s power that it is impossible to mention them all.

We have said enough about those who are missing, being that we want to eliminate them from the excuse of shame. For they should not be ashamed because food does not bring on shame but the act of some wrongdoing. Sin is a great shame. If we commit it not only should we feel ashamed but we should cover ourselves exactly the same way those who are wounded do. Even then we should not forsake ourselves but rush to confession and thanksgiving. We have such a Lord who asks nothing of us but to confess our sins, after the commitment of a sin which was due to our indifference, and to stop at that point and not to fall into the same one again. If we eat with moderation we should never be ashamed, because the Creator gave us such a body which cannot be supported in any other way except by receiving food. Let us only stop excessive food because that attributes a great deal to the health and well-being of the body.

Let us therefore in every way cast off every destructive madness so that we may gain the goods which have been promised to us in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Humanity’s true glory is perseverance

To serve God does not mean giving him any gift, nor has God any need of our service. On the contrary, it is he who gives to those who serve him life, immortality and eternal glory.

He rewards those who serve him without deriving any benefit himself from their service: he is rich, he is perfect, he has no needs.

God requests human obedience so that his love and his pity may have an opportunity of doing good to those who serve him diligently. The less God has need of anything, the more human beings need to be united with him.

Consequently, a human being’s true glory is to persevere in the service of God

Saint Irenaeus
Against Heresies

Repentance and discipleship

Peter walking on water BorrassaToday’s gospel reading in the Missal of Paul VI proclaims Matthew (4:12-23). Two themes emerge from this selection: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” and “I will make you fishers of men.” Repentance and discipleship go-hand-in-hand.

The question for us is: to whom do we belong?

Do we actually, concretely, with vigor, belong to Christ? This is the key question for Christians. Belonging means we give our heart in a total way. So often we make a mental reservation, perhaps holding back just in case we are invited to something else. What is proposed by Jesus is that everything is given to him: our work, our lack of faith, the desire of our hearts, our anxiety, our sinfulness in need to metanoia, etc. Like Saint Therese the Little Flower taught, we start first with doing the little things with love. There is our dignity as a child of the Lord.

I am thinking of what Pope Benedict said about discipleship: “faith does not simply provide information about Who Christ is; rather, it entails a personal relationship with Christ, a surrender of our whole person with all our understanding, will and feelings, to God’s self-revelation.” And, in his final audience, Benedict called us to a radical point in faith by reminding us that “The barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His.” Our life belongs to Christ whether we know it or not.

Saint Eusebius has this to say about following Jesus: “Reflect on the nature and grandeur of the one Almighty God who could associate himself with the poor of the lowly fisherman’s class. To use them to carry out God’s mission baffles all rationality. For having conceived the intention, which no one ever before had done, of spreading his own commands and teachings to all nations, and of revealing himself as the teacher of the religion of the one Almighty God to all humanity: he thought good to use the most unsophisticated and common people as ministers of his own design. Maybe God just wanted to work in the most unlikely way. For how could inarticulate folk be made able to teach, even if they were appointed teachers to only one person, much less to a multitude? How should those who were themselves without education instruct the nations?…When he had thus called them as his followers, he breathed into them his divine power, and filled them with strength and courage. As God himself he spoke God’s true word to them in his own way, enabling them to do great wonders, and made them pursuers of rational and thinking souls, by empowering them to come after him, saying: ‘Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’.”

How alive are you in God?

“After our long time of waiting, after our long separation, when the vision of God overflows and excites our hearts and causes them to throb, we will live by that divine joy that beatifies, and that reaches into the depths of our being. We are as yet only half alive, and we will only be fully alive once we are submerged in the life of God overflowing within us.”

Jean Cardinal Danielou, SJ

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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