Friday, November 11, 2016

Mercy – The Geometry of the Kingdom of God

Dorotheos preached a sermon once to the other monks in his monastery.  It seems many of the monks were grumbling.  They were unable to love and worship God properly because they had to put up with one another’s shortcomings.  There was so much hypocrisy, so much gossiping, so much petty jealousy and backbiting.  In other words, it was church as usual.  Or family as usual, business as usual, politics as usual. It was people as usual. How can you love God when you have to put up with other people’s ordinary, irritating presence, let alone those who we find extraordinarily offensive or threatening?  “No,” Dorotheos told the monks.  You don’t understand.

Here is the ending of a sermon, On Refusal to Judge our Neighbor:

Each one according to his means should take care to be at one with everyone else, for the more one is united to his neighbor the more he is united to God.

And now I give you an example from the Fathers. Suppose we were to take a compass and insert the point and draw an outline of a circle. The center point is the same distance from any point on the circumference. Now concentrate your minds on what is to be said! Let us consider that this circle is the world and that God himself is the center; the straight lines drawn from the circumference to the center are the lives of men. To the extent that the saints enter into the things of the spirit, they desire to come near to God; and in proportion to their progress in the things of the spirit, they do indeed come close to God and to their neighbor. The closer they are to God, the closer they become to one another; and the closer they are to one another the closer they become to God.

Now consider in the same context the question of separation; for when they stand away from God and turn to external things, it is clear that the more they recede and become distant from God, the more they become distant from one another. See! This is the very nature of love. The more we are turned away from and do not love God, the greater the distance that separates us from our neighbor. If we were to love God more, we should be closer to God, and through love of him we should be more united in love to our neighbor; and the more we are united to our neighbor the more we are united to God.

May God make us worthy to listen to what is fitting for us and do it. For in the measure that we pay attention and take care to carry out what we hear, God will always enlighten us and make us understand his will.

I have found Dorotheos’ image of the circle of love to be particularly fruitful and inspiring. It helps me understand Jesus’ Summary of the Law, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it: You shall love you neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40). It helps me understand the Church as the school of that twofold love.

It also reminds me of Dorothy Day’s saying, “I really only love God as much as the person I love the least.” That is the axiom of the geometry of the kingdom of God. Jesus is the proof. And that is the challenge of serious Christian discipleship.

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