For the fascination of wickedness obscures what is good (Wisdom 4:12)
Man has such powers that he can transmit good or evil to his environment. These matters are very delicate. Great care is needed. We need to see everything in a positive frame of mind. We mustn’t think anything evil about others. Even a simple glance or a sigh influences those around us. And even the slightest anger or indignation does harm. We need to have goodness and love in our soul and to transmit these things.
We need to be careful not to harbor any resentment against those who harm us, but rather to pray for them with love. Whatever any of our fellow men does, we should never think evil of him. We need always to have thoughts of love and always to think good of others. Look at St. Stephen the first martyr. He prayed, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’ (Acts 7:60). We need to do the same.
The Elder Porphyrios
During the feast of St. Anne this past weekend, the Scriptural passage from Wisdom was among the readings. It became something of a meditation for me throughout the services (and the subject of two sermons). Its implicit admonition is echoed in the small passage from the Elder Porphyrios (Wounded by Love). There is a great deal of power in our thoughts, prayers and actions. We live in a culture that has an inheritance of critical thought. It is a great boon when applied in certain areas (science and the like), but it can also become a habit of the heart. It has become a commonplace for people to lament the disappearance of civil discourse.
The spiritual difficulty comes, I would suggest, in “speaking the truth in love.” The analysis of evil or even mere incompetence is almost a parlor game – everyone is invited to play. However, to speak the truth about wickedness while at the same time harboring no resentment or willing no retribution or evil in return is the mark of a truly mature spiritual life (and exceedingly rare). I often suspect that this is one of the things behind the Scriptural admonition, “let not many of you become teachers, since we will bear the greater condemnation” (James 3:1). It is difficult to instruct and not to condemn.
It occurs to me that in the course of our daily lives we often concentrate on judging ourselves. We struggle not to sin (and with little success) with far greater energy than we struggle to do good (which we would find easier). Simple acts of kindness, generosity, forgiveness, patience, mercy and the like have a transforming power for both those who do such things and for those who receive such acts. In my own life, two of the kindest acts I have ever received were from Christians whom I considered to be “adversaries” (the attitude of my heart brought ‘coals of fire’ on my head). We cannot know whom God may appoint to show us mercy – but we should be ever at the ready to be used in such a way.
The state of our heart before God is perhaps the most important element in our spiritual life. For ‘God resists the proud,’ but ‘gives more grace to the humble.’ We cannot live well in this world without speaking the truth. Neither can we live except in love. I think the best path to take towards this maturity is to direct our efforts ever more towards the simple acts of mercy which God has prepared for us.
The Jewish philosopher, Philo, offered this admonition: Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.