Monday, January 6, 2014
There Is Nothing Colder Than ...
I was up early this morning, as I always am. The local churches and chapels were closed, their parking lots drifted over with snow. My driveway was also, but with my new tires I blasted through the drifts and onto the road.
The main roads had been plowed. They looked like airport runways with tall hills of snow piled up on either side of the road, and in the early morning hours there was no other traffic. In town, the coffee shop was open, as always, and finding a parking space outside it was easy --- I was the only customer there.
I glanced at the nearby rack of papers as I purchased my mug of coffee: no Wall Street Journal here either. Earlier I had glanced down my driveway, wondering if my paper was buried somewhere out there, but probably not --- yet. The wind is to pick up later this morning, as the temperature (and wind chill) drops. I’ll try and plow through some of the drifts in my drive later this morning, hopefully before the plow and colder weather arrive. But for now, I read my morning prayers in the quiet of the coffee shop, with the soft background music setting my mind at peace.
After a while, I had finished the last of the Office prayers and was reading one final small prayer card I kept in the book. I closed my eyes and said its closing words from memory, not as rote words mindlessly repeated, but as thoughts from my heart, prayers for those priests who dedicate their lives proclaiming the Gospel.
As my head came up, I stared outside the large coffee shop windows, looking at the brightly lit center of town and the park across the street, with its many Christmas trees still standing in a row. Men will have to brave the cold to take them down soon, for the Ice Carving Festival arrives next weekend. They’ll be working in the bitter, bitter cold, with -40 chill factors predicted. And I thought: “I bet they’ve never felt a cold like that before.”
“Never felt a cold like that …”
And then, I think God laughed, for my eyes dropped down to the page where the little prayer card had been placed, and there I read these words that I had highlighted, probably on some other cold morning long ago:
There is nothing colder than a Christian who does not seek to save others.
You cannot plead poverty here; the widow putting in her two small coins will be your accuser. Peter said: “Silver and gold I have not.” Paul was so poor that he was often hungry and went without food.
You cannot plead humble birth, for they were humbly born, of humble stock. You cannot offer the excuse of lack of education, for they were uneducated. You cannot plead ill-health, for Timothy also had poor health, with frequent illnesses.
Each one can help his neighbor if only he is willing to do what is in his power. Look at the trees that do not bear fruit: have you not noticed how strong and fine they are, upstanding, smooth and tall? If we had a garden, we would much prefer trees with fruit – pomegranates and olives – to trees that are for pleasure, not for utility, and any utility these have is small.
Such are those men who think only of their own concerns. In fact, they are even worse: the trees are at least useful for building or for protection, whereas the selfish are fit only for punishment. Such were those foolish virgins who were chaste, comely and self-controlled, but did nothing for anyone. So they are consumed in the fire. Such are those men who refuse to give Christ food.
Notice that none of them is accused of personal sins. They are not accused of committing fornication or perjury or any such sin at all: only of not helping anybody else. The man who buried the talent was like this. His life was blameless, but he was of no service to others.
How can such a person be a Christian? Tell me, if yeast did not make the whole mass like itself, is it really yeast? Again, if perfume failed to pervade all around it with its fragrance, would we call it perfume?
Do not say: it is impossible for me to influence others. If you are a Christian, it is impossible for this not to happen. Things found in nature cannot be denied; so here, for it is a question of the nature of a Christian.
- - - from a homily by St. John Chrysostom, bishop.
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There weren’t many people who showed up at the coffee shop, but I stayed and spoke to the ones who did. It was cold outside, but as St John reminded me, I didn’t want to be cold inside, too.