Summary: Our innate destiny is union with God, and it is celebrated and effected in Eucharist, during which we bless each other many times.

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5th Sunday of Lent 2011

The Spirit of the Liturgy

The great Christian author, C.S. Lewis, wrote an appendix to his masterful little book Screwtape Letters. In his moral tale, Screwtape is the name given to a kind of middle-management demon, who is responsible for training and supervising the evil spirits who tempt humans to turn their backs on God. The appendix is an essay called “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” and it takes its theme from a verse from Peter’s first letter. There, Peter tells Christians that our adversary, the devil, goes about the world like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. C.S. Lewis expands on that theme, telling us that hell is like a diabolical banquet, in which human souls are the fare. The demons complain about the quality of their supper, the mediocrity of the sinners on whom they dine, but at least have no gripe about the quantity. As Screwtape lifts his glass to propose a toast to the author of evil, he asks in surprise, “what is this delicious bouquet I inhale?” It is a vintage Pharisee. He says “different types of Pharisee have been harvested, trodden and fermented together to produce its . . .flavour. Types that were most antagonistic to one another on Earth. . .Nowhere do we tempt so successfully as on the very steps of the altar.”

We have been warned. Our innate destiny–what we were made for–is union with God. We are designed to be divinized at the end of our life. But that destiny is warranted, not guaranteed. Our ancestors tried the Tempter’s shortcut. He lied to them–if only they would disobey the Creator’s command, they would be like God, knowing good and evil. They disobeyed, and immediately realized that they had already known the Good–the Good God–and their reward for rebellion would be to know evil. So God, in His mercy, cast them out of the idyllic world into the world of weakness and struggle and death. He put a fearsome angel on the way to the Tree of Life, lest we eat from that tree in our weakness and know eternal misery.

There is only one way to the resurrection of our spirit, soul and body, and that is to become like Jesus Christ. He is the way, the Truth, the Life. He is true God, and if we are to become like God, we must become like Him, obedient, merciful, open to all who desire God’s mercy. The very opposite of the Pharisee. We are compassionate because Christ has been compassionate with us. My weakness is not solely due to original sin and its effects. After baptism I have sinned, by my own volition I have sinned greatly. In fact, without the grace of God that’s the only thing we are really good at, isn’t it? That’s why in the new translation I will beat my breast and declare that I have sinned, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. But by His grace I have been raised from the death of sin, liberated from slavery to sin, forgiven and healed and strengthened to resist the temptations of the enemy. In that way we can all hope to attain the resurrection which is an eternal banquet of love in the presence of the Trinity and all the angels and saints.

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