We’ve all heard the expression, “carpe diem (seize the day).” We feel good about ourselves when we get that project accomplished, get those tasks and errands done that we’ve been putting off—they’re sometimes drudgery to do them,, we feel good for having gotten them done.
If you think about it, though, these ‘accomplishments’ often don’t reach beyond the mundane, temporal things of our lives. When it comes to the urgency of our spiritual lives, our communion with God, eternal life, we often think we’ve got all the time in the world, or, even worse, that we’ve ‘already arrived’ and will be saved anyway.
The reality is that our days are numbered. Our earthly lives will all come to an end—some sooner, some later, and, as St. Paul urges us, we have to continue throughout our lives to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). Christ God is coming back to judge the living and the dead. Each of us will prostrate ourselves before His judgment seat and give an account for how we’ve listened to and heeded the Gospel of Christ, how well we’ve applied it to our daily lives. In a single moment all our choices, all our sins, will be brought to the fore. And so, we ask ourselves: “How ready am I now to appear before that Christ’s Judgment Seat?”
The sobering truth is that, as we know God in this life, so we’ll experience Him in the next life. We’ll be judged based on this personal knowledge and experience of Him—or, sadly, lack thereof. We’re changeable, God is not; we’re fickle, God is steadfast; He’s the same yesterday, today, forever. Our culture and its values change constantly; the Truth of God remains the same.
Today’s Epistle says, “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands; they will perish, but You remain; and they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will fold them up, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not fail.”
Lent challenges us to evaluate where things are at between us and God, to ‘seize the day,’ to make use of this holy season for our growth, healing, and salvation, so when we die, or when Christ comes again, we’re not found unprepared. So, we have this opportunity to ask ourselves: Where are things between me and God? Am I ready to be changed this Lent to make spiritual progress towards healing and salvation? Am I striving for life with God more than all else? Is my life with Him who is Life Eternal my priority? If not, God helps us change our priorities.
Eternal life means communion with the Creator of all life—the One who was, and is, and is to come. Hell is a reality: rejection on our part of the life that God is. If we don’t have life, we are in death. Our Epistle goes on to warn us, “Therefore, we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.” When the soul of an Orthodox Christian has departed, we sing “Memory Eternal.” It’s this desire to be “remembered” by God in His Kingdom, that we not “drift away” from God’s presence, that we live now with eternity before our eyes.
God created us in His great love for us that each of us should be with Him for eternity. But love and relationship (communion) can never be forced on anyone; otherwise, it’s no longer love or communion, which has to be freely given and received. God the Holy Trinity is Himself a relationship and union of love—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the God we worship and commune with, this is the God we call on for help, for love, for healing, for salvation. This is the God who feeds us with the medicine of immortality in the Eucharist.
But are we open to the change necessary for healing from our passions and rebellion against God’s love? The ways that you and I “miss the mark,” reject God’s love and initiative to make us into the men and women of God He’s created us to be? This is the question posed to us today.
The paralytic and his friends in today’s Gospel desire change, healing; they desire more than anything to get into the near presence of Christ God, the Great Physician, the One who speaks the truth because He is the Truth. They desire this so much that they go so far as taking a section of the roof apart to get their friend, the paralytic, to Jesus, when all other ways are blocked.
Seeing their faith, Jesus gives the paralytic the greatest of gifts: his healing from his paralysis? No: forgiveness of sins, healing from his sin-sickness. That is the priority—that which is eternal. Having been forgiven and cleansed of his sins, there’s nothing standing between him and God, between him and Eternal Life. Just as Christ says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)
It’s only after this miracle that Christ, to demonstrate to those who doubt and scoff that He is God, that He is Life, that He alone has the power of giving life, that He heals the paralytic.
Jesus prioritizes the soul over the body; we so often do the inverse. So, we fast so that we can bring balance back between our souls and bodies. When we fast, all is laid bare; we realize how utterly week we are, how incapable we are of saving ourselves and how much we need God. So, through fasting we learn to desire God more, we learn to pray more—and mean it.
Where does your paralysis lie? What aspect of your life have you not yet relinquished fully to God? As C.S. Lewis says, “If we accept Heaven, we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”
Lent gives us the opportunity to relinquish our hold on these “souvenirs,” these passions, habits, coldness of heart, indifference to the things of God, that keep us from experiencing and submitting ourselves to the love of God and the life that is only in Him.
In the case of the paralytic in today’s Gospel, his affliction, his paralysis, brought Him to Jesus, the One who created him, the only One who could save him. He presented himself fully to the Master of all and he was changed in a single moment, he was made whole, a new life began for him. Both his spiritual paralysis and his physical paralysis found healing from the Lord.
Is there anything holding you back from the fullness of the life in Christ offered through His Church, which He desires to give each of us? Is there any spiritual sickness or disease of the soul that you need to bring before Your Creator and ask to have healed through Confession? If the spirit is willing, God will take care of the rest.
St. Gregory Palamas, whose Sunday we celebrate on this Second Sunday of Lent, reminds us of this truth, saying, “Since the Kingdom of God is at hand and within us and will soon arrive, let us make ourselves worthy of it by works of repentance.”
I encourage you as I encourage myself to ‘seize the day,’ to open yourself up more to God and His healing this Lent through repentance, that we may expose those wounded and sin-sick places of our hearts, whatever hardness of heart, to the love and light that is Christ God, He who alone can heal us of all our infirmities. In so doing, we’ll find healing for our souls and be prepared, not only to meet Christ at Pascha, but also at His Second and glorious Coming.