11th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)
I Kings 21:17-29, Matthew 5:43-48
Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The journey to become “children of the heavenly Father” is infinitely short and infinitely long—a journey to the center of the heart where the Trinity dwells.
That place of tranquility in the still, silent center is what the desert tradition calls hesychia (from the Greek, meaning stillness, quiet, rest, silence). In this state, a person has conquered the passions through prayer, watchfulness and self-denial. A watchman is alert, awake and aware, like the wise servants waiting for their master to return from the marriage feast (Luke 12:35-38), or the five wise virgins who had their lamps alight when the bridegroom came (Matthew 25:1-13).
The desert tradition also calls this state of tranquility apatheia (passionlessness)—a condition of inner equanimity when one is no longer moved against the will by thoughts and emotions. The person is fully aware of every action proceeding from thought and emotion, and takes responsibility for it.
The state of being tossed in the storm of thoughts and emotions may be compared to the troposphere—the lowest layer of the atmosphere where weather occurs. Rain, sunshine, snow, hail, mist, clouds, etc… thoughts and emotions change continuously.
Above and beyond this tropospheric state, the person in hesychia/apatheia can observe with clarity the thoughts and emotions as they come and go, and act freely rather than by impulse or habit. Prayer, watchfulness and self-denial lead a person to interior freedom.
Self-conquest by the grace of the Holy Spirit allows one to sit in the lap of the heavenly Father and appreciate how “he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” The One who provides the weather for the earth is infinitely above it, and therefore perfectly loving and detached. Love and detachment go hand in hand. Above the spiritual troposphere, Jesus had compassion on those who hated him because he saw clearly that they were injuring themselves far more than they injured him. Such is the divine state to which we are called.
A watchful Eve and Adam would have stopped the serpent in his tracks as soon as the words, “Did God say…?” slipped out. A watchful Cain would have left his gift at the altar and reconciled himself with his brother before making his offering.
There is hope for the Ahabs and Jezebels of the world. Murderers, robbers, prostitutes and ruffians became some of the holiest saints in the desert. Holiness is open to all, just like the sun and the rain.