Forsake, Pursue, Rejoice
He saw, he fled, he built. Three actions sum up St. Benedict’s legacy. From the very start, our parish dedicated itself to a vision exemplified by St. Benedict, and we must always return to that vision. We are here to be a counterculture. We are here to recognize the problems in our culture, to detach from them, and to pour sweat and blood in building Kingdom culture.
“Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (Matthew 19:29).
The objective to forsake underlies the entire Christian road.
“πᾶς…ζωὴν αἰώνιον κληρονομήσει” - “All who shall inherit everlasting life” must…what? “ὅστις ἀφῆκεν” — “must forsake…” The act of forsaking runs through every page of the Old and New Testaments. Abraham forsook the polytheistic worship in the pagan world. Circumcision was the mark of the first covenant, a deliberate and irreversible decision to cut off the impure. Jesus Christ asks for more. In order to inherit everlasting life, we must forsake, “houses, brethren, sisters, father, mother, wife, children, and lands” for “Jesus’ name’s sake.”
Christ teaches the same message in the Gospel of Matthew:
“Therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).
To be Christian means to divorce oneself from the world. This is not about moving out into a desert and crawling into a cave. This divorce, this forsaking, is a matter of the heart. It means detachment. Nothing should come before God. Neither one’s career, one’s wealth, family, or even spouse, should take precedence over following God’s way. To be Christian demands that we live like a foreigner in this world.
So how are we living?
He saw, he fled, he built. The first action behind St. Benedict’s legacy was recognition. He saw the world for what it is. He grew up as a privileged citizen of Roman society. He had wealth, popularity, and education, but was disenchanted. He looked around. Rome was broken. Its family values and ethics were degenerate. Hedonism was pandemic. The spirit of the times could be summed up with one word: meaninglessness.
We too ought to take an honest look at our culture. Where are we?
The reactions of people in our country on June 24 were eye-opening. The US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a colossal victory for God’s people. Hands down, the Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973 was one of the most diabolical events in modern history. It did not only lead to the murder of over 63 million children — making our country guilty of several times more murder than in Nazi Germany. The Roe v. Wade decision further reinforced a culture of open rebellion against God, women, family, and humanity as a whole.
This was overruled last month, and we should celebrate. However, we cannot get too excited. Did you notice how people reacted? The profanities and anger were shocking. Grotesque is not a strong enough word. Something has happened in our culture. It runs farther deeper than political parties or ideological camps. It penetrates down to the very heart of who we are.
St. Paul tells us how sin will lead to blindness: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21).
We live in a time marked by blindness and delusion. The line has been drawn in the sand. Where do we stand in all this? The scriptures give us explicit warning to the Church:
“I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants…I gave her time to repent, but she refuses…I will throw her onto a sickbed…I will strike her children” (Revelation 2:20-23).
He saw, he fled, he built.
We need a solution. It is too easy to mourn the loss of values in culture. It is too tempting to feel righteous by pointing our fingers at the crowds around us. What is the work that God has given us? We are here to build a kingdom in our little parish community.
I have been moved over these last few weeks by reading the life of Fr. Arseny Papacioc. He is a saint who struggled to serve God all of his life in one of the most militant atheist societies of the 21st century. He was imprisoned and tortured again and again, slandered and maligned year after year, because he continually taught and witnessed the life of Christ. But can you imagine what was his greatest legacy? It was not his fasting. It was not his teaching. His real ministry was this: he smiled. He was joyful. Everyone that knew Fr. Arseny marveled because of the radiant joy and peace in his heart.
“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
What was St. Benedict like? What were all the holy missionaries through history like? Each saint lived in a different time with varying struggles. Yet, each shared the same mark: internal joy. Let the world get angry and dour. Joy saves souls. This is our work.
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2).
“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Christianity revolutionized the world. In every culture, in every generation at great odds, Christians have formed tightly knit communities on the foundation of truth, goodness, and beauty. So must we. Yet, at the heart of all the good done by Christians was this one unique virtue: joy.
Things are rather bleak in the world, but the life in Christ is beautiful. All the ugliness in the world is a drop in the bucket compared to the glory of sharing this objective: to bring heaven to earth.
May God give us resolution and joy.