St. George’s Round Church
Sunday by Sunday, year by year, our reading of scripture brings us through what Father Crouse called a programme of practical spirituality that contains within it the design of our salvation. That is to say, each year—each cycle of the prayer-book lectionary—we hear the story, even the guide, to our salvation.
And each season within our church year has its own place and part to play in this practical spiritual system.
If the first half of our year from Advent to Trinity is the telling of the glorious life and works and love of Jesus Christ through which our redemption and reconciliation to God is accomplished—then Trinitytide, the second half of the year, is what gives us the practical and moral example of how to live into the first half. Trinitytide is about our sanctification.
We need only look back over the last four weeks, beginning with the collect of the First Sunday after Trinity, to see that we begin this season with a recognition of our frailty and our reliance on God’s mercy for all things, “because through the weakness of our mortal nature, we can do no good thing without thee” says the Collect. And in the following weeks we pray to be protected by God’s mercy and providence—another recognition of our wills being insufficient without God. We ask for such things as protection from dangers and last week we prayed for God’s help to see us through this temporal world such that we do not lose those eternal things to which we are called.
The rationale of the Trinity season readings, Father Crouse tells us, is that we begin with purgation, and are moved to illumination and finally to union with the divine. We hear this desire for purgation in our collect today in which we pray for this disordered world to be set straight, that war may be turned to peace, that noise may become quietness, and that the Church in all its parts may serve God truly. Put in another more fitting way given the octave we are in: we are praying that every valley may be exalted, every mountain and hill made low, that the crooked will be made straight and that rough places will be made plain. The collects we have been hearing and will continue to hear for a few weeks remind us that above all we are yearning for that highway in the desert to be made straight, as the prophet Isaiah foretold regarding the forerunner John the Baptist.
These recent Sundays call us to no easy task: to purge ourselves of those things which cause disorder within our soul. It is exactly these things that Paul is wants us to consider in today’s Epistle, “be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous; not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing.” Paul so calls us to love as brethren and be courteous and pitiful, because even the smallest acts of discourtesy or moments of uncharitableness are as much a violence against neighbour as any physical violence we could commit.
So often these acts go unnoticed by us and are more a result of the disorder of our fallen natures and our susceptibility to the powers and principalities that occupy this disordered world than they are intentional ill will. St. John Cassian, a 5th century monastic, speaks to the seemingly irrational ways we can behave to one another out of the disorder of our interior selves. He writes:
But sometimes without any apparent reason for our being driven to fall into this misfortune, we are by the instigation of our crafty enemy suddenly depressed with so great a gloom that we cannot receive with ordinary civility the visits of those who are near and dear to us; and whatever subject of conversation is started by them, we regard it as ill-timed and out of place; and we can give them no civil answer, as the gall of bitterness is in possession of every corner of our heart.
Cassian and Paul, speaking of the same despair and disorder, offer us the same path to and ordered soul. Paul tells us that we must do good, rather than bad, refrain from speaking guile or lies and, perhaps most importantly, we must suffer this disorder, “But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye…” indeed our answer to the oppressors’ terror is not to be afraid nor to meet it with our own violence, but simply to praise and sanctify God in our hearts and suffer with patience whatever is done to us, “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers.” And Cassian likewise says:
And so God …commands that we should not give up intercourse with our brethren, nor avoid those who we think have been hurt by us, or by whom we have been offended, but bids us pacify them, knowing that perfection of heart is not secured by separating from men so much as by the virtue of patience. Which when it is securely held, as it can keep us at peace even with those who hate peace.
The fruit of such patience, the fruit of desiring and seeking after order within ourselves even in the midst of a disordered world is what our Gospel shows us today. Jesus, at the lake of Gennesaret, gets into Simon’s boat and gets him to cast off into the lake first teaching the people on the shore for a while and then going farther out into the water where he instructed Simon to cast his net. The dejection and violence that arises from our disordered souls, the same that Cassian spoke of, is heard in the cry of Simon when he at first complains to Jesus about having fished all night but caught nothing and reluctantly tries again. The ensuing miracle of the draught of fishes turns Simon Peter not to rejoicing at the size of the catch, but to repentance at Jesus’ knees. Jesus then tells Simon Peter and the other fishermen that they are called to be something greater than simply fishermen; the fruit of this ordered interior life that we so much need and desire, and for which this part of Trinitytide calls us to prepare, is the capacity for deeper love and deeper union with both Christ and others, such that we, like Simon Peter and the Disciples, may rather become “fishers of men.”
And so we pray may God grant that our hearts may be peaceably ordered so that our Church may serve Him with one mind, that every valley will be exalted and rough place made plain. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.