I should have noted in prior posts that I wouldn’t be posting these sayings on Sundays–the day is just too full for me and it’s good to focus on family and parochial commitments.
Which brings me to today’s saying…
Two nights ago some friends and I watched Calvary the 2014 film starring Brendan Gleeson. It is about many things and a synopsis will do to explain, but Gleeson plays a righteous Priest in Ireland facing down a town rife with people’s pain, sinfulness, and hurt. Please watch it.
In it, Gleeson’s character does what so few find it easy to do today–especially, but not exclusively, the Clergy–to admonish others. Time and again Gleeson comes face to face with the way his flock are hurting others and hurting themselves and lovingly admonishes them, just like Abba Serapion does in today’s saying.
We don’t seem to have much of a heart these days for seeing love as anything other than pure affirmation of another. Loving another means not hurting their feelings, not telling them they are wronging someone else when they do, allowing them to hurt themselves because to confront them isn’t loving. The dangers of this love, which is love in name only, is that our being in community with one another demands we look out for others.
Serapion sees in the brother a false humility, “saying that he was not worthy of the monastic habit, did not comply.” Serapion, knowing that this is the beginning of what would be a deep and damaging rot of the soul admonishes the brother, and the brother reacts exactly as we would expect anybody to react–angrily.
Serapion’s admonishment, like Gleeson’s challenging of his parishioners, is a reminder that we are not called to live in our delusions, when we refuse admonishment we are just fleeing farther into that untruth. True friendship and true community (the Church, in its perfect state) is not meant to be cushy or comfortable but something that will lovingly draw us back from the pit of our own delusion.
Abba Cassian said that a brother visited Abba Serapion and the old man invited him, as was his practice, to offer a prayer. The brother, however, calling himself a sinner and saying that he was not worthy of the monastic habit, did not comply. Abba Serapion also wanted to wash his feet and the brother, making use of the same words, refused. The old man made the brother eat and while they were eating he began to admonish him in love, saying, ‘Child, if you want to be profited, stay in your cell and pay attention to yourself and your handiwork. It’s not good for you to go out because going out does not have as much benefit as staying home.’
When the brother heard these things he was so exasperated and his face changed so much that the old man could not help but notice, so Abba Serapion said to him, ‘Up to now you have said, “I am a sinner”, and accused yourself of not being worthy to live; and now, after I lovingly admonished you, you act like some sort of wild animal! If you want to be truly humble, therefore, learn to bear nobly what someone else has said to you and do not keep empty words to yourself.’
When he heard these things, the brother asked the old man’s forgiveness and went away, having profited greatly.