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The Word of the Cross - Part 3

Fr. Thomas Hopko Lectures

Occasional lectures by Fr. Thomas Hopko

February 2011

The Word of the Cross - Part 3

From the CD available at St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, here is part three of Fr. Tom Hopko speaking on The Word of the Cross.

February 19, 2011 Length: 40:15

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What I’d like to do now would be to make some very specific points about taking up the cross, what seems to be really involved in it, if it’s going to work, so that we would come to know for ourselves the love of God and be able ourselves to have insight into the mystery of Christ and the cross, through which we believe our life is fulfilled.

Now, in our own personal lives, every one of us, the crosses… If we spoke about what are the crosses that we are to take up… I mentioned this morning that one of the ways that this is explained, or at least described, is in the little book, The Way to the Kingdom of Heaven by St. Innocent of Alaska that he wrote for the Alaskan people, very simple. He said in that book that when we speak about crosses, that we can distinguish between what he called exterior crosses and interior crosses. As we’ll see, these are deeply interconnected. They’re essentially interconnected. You cannot separate the two. But just for the sake of analysis and description, they can be separated, especially if we have to talk about them.

By exterior crosses, we would say that those are all those things that come to our life, so to speak, from outside, that they are not within our own will. They are not part of our own choice. Being believers in God, we would say that they are sent by God: what God gives us, what God allows to happen in our life. Here I think it’s very important to make a theological point. This is an absolute teaching of the Bible as we understand it in Orthodoxy: that God does not will evil, sin, suffering, pain, agony, alienation, any type of hardship, and he certainly does not will death. God does not want these things, and the great proof of it is the cross, because he comes to obliterate those things. He comes to transform those things into victories. Ultimately, in the kingdom of God, which is to come, there will be no agony, no pain, no suffering, no sorrow, no injustice, no evil. It will be literally the peace and the joy and the righteousness and the justice and the bliss of God himself. That’s our faith; that’s what we believe in.

But, saying that, we also believe that, given our life on this earth, given the fact that we are born into a world already fallen—to put it in biblical terms, given the fact that we are not Adam and Eve, born in paradise… None of us in this room was born in paradise. I was born on the north side of Endicott, New York. It was anything but paradise. [Laughter] And that’s one of the meanings of the biblical story. One of the meanings of the biblical story is: if God is so good, how did this world get so messed up? That’s the meaning of the Genesis story, and the answer of the story is: human beings messed it up and handed that mess on to their children and added to that mess by their own imitation and inheritance of the sins of their forebears.

But from the beginning it was not so. Wherever there was human life, there was the possibility, really, for paradise. According to our understanding of the Bible, it never existed. Wherever there is human life, there was rebellion, there was breaking of communion with God, there was listening to the devil, there was eating of the tree, but people messed up their life by breaking communion with God, by pretending they didn’t need God—or as St. Paul said in the first chapter of the letter to the Romans, knowing God, they refused to honor God and worship God and thank God, to give God timi and evcharistia, honor and thanksgiving, and blagodarnost, eucharistic life. In Fr. Schmemann’s terms, man refused to be a doxological, eucharistic being. In other words, he refused to find life in praising God and thanking God. And therefore, with refusing to praise and refusing to thank, the world was plunged into darkness. But when we praise and thank God, we are restored to paradise. That’s what Christ does, even at the Last Supper: he takes the bread and the wine, and he gives thanks, and he honors God, and then he gives himself to God as the offering to God. Therefore he redeems the world.

But we are born outside paradise, and what we want to say is this: that’s still God’s will. Everything that happens is God’s will, not only the good things, but the bad things. And we would be violently opposed to any thesis that would say: God’s hands are in the good things, but not in the bad. There was a book, very popular recently: When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by a rabbi from New England.

We do not identify with that book at all, because we believe God’s hands are in everything, including the evil. And the evils in our life, the destiny in our life, the temptations of our life, the trials of our life, the sicknesses of our life are sent to us by God. They are part of divine providence. So we say God doesn’t will them and in the end will obliterate them, but in the meantime, he permits and allows and works with them, because he can’t do anything else, because otherwise he couldn’t have the world, because wherever you have human life—and from this point of view, we cannot accuse Adam and Eve; had we been Adam and Eve, we would have done the same thing; and the proof of it is that we do the same thing, even not being Adam and Eve.

In fact, St. Symeon the New Theologian says we’re worse than Adam and Eve, because we have been baptized, we have been sealed, we have the Eucharist, we know Christ, we believe in him, we have the Church, we have grace—and we still sin. He says that’s worse than Adam, who was some kind of aboriginal being brought up from the dust to kind of have a human destiny for the whole world and blew it. Almost can’t blame him for blowing it, you know. In fact, many Church Fathers are very sympathetic to Adam. St. Irenaeus thinks, for example: the poor guy, what could he have done?

But in any case, we want to make it very clear that our time, our place, our circumstances, the inheritance that we receive, we do not choose. I did not decide to be born in this place at this time with these parents, with this kind of a body, with this kind of a brain, with this kind of a calling. I had nothing to do with it. And that situation being fallen then contains sin, evil elements, sufferings, tragedies, that, in a sense, I did not bring upon myself; I brought into the world.

Now, I don’t have any choice about that. The only choice that I have—and this is where free will comes in—is what I decide to do about it. That’s where the free will comes in. What am I going to do about the life that I have received? And that would mean for our talk today: What am I going to do about the crosses that are given to me in the life that I have?

Now, these crosses, first of all, they come from our forebears—our grandparents, our parents. We are not isolated individuals; we are not islands. We inherited a whole genetic psychosomatic structure from our parents, which is already broken. And if our parents were particularly screwy, it’s more broken than if they weren’t. The original sin is very dynamic. It’s different in every single different person, and that’s what the Bible means when it says, “The sins of the fathers are visited to the fourth generation.” It doesn’t mean God punishes great-grandchildren for what Great-Grandpa did. It means that if evil has been set into our lives and into our families, we’re going to inherit that.

Phil Donahue would call it nature and nurture: what we get by nature and what we get by nurture, and especially in childhood. This is just given to us. If that situation has been particularly sad, because exteriorly also we receive our life, and that means our bodies, our minds, our looks, our circumstances, our co-neighbors, our families, the opportunities, the capabilities, a very big issue: our health—mental, emotional, and physical health—the kind of bodies… If we’re born of a drug addict, we’re going to have problems; if we’re born to someone with the AIDS virus or whatever.

So all of this is in us, emotionally and so on. And that’s why one of the callings that we’re supposed to have as Christians is to pass on a better humanity than the one we received, to clean up the humanity that God gave us, through prayer and grace and faith, and to become a healing rather than a harming presence.

But that harm is already there, and to a certain measure it is there whether we like it or not. Of course, in any given person, it’s very different. Here, things like illness, sickness, suffering, death… and then, of course, dealing with other people: other people are mean to us, they abuse us, they’re unjust with us. You have parents abusing children or co-workers, where we work, where we can’t stand the people we work with, because they’re mean or they’re not kind and so on. Then, of course, we get into it and contribute to it, too, and the whole thing becomes more of a mess. Well, that’s all there, and that’s where the cross is to be taken up. That’s where the suffering, that’s where the doing God’s will in the midst of all of this is to be taken up.

Now, what happens, of course, is that it’s not only exterior; it’s interior, because having lived in the world, having gone through childhood, having survived it, coming into the adult life, and even in our childish life, we have all kinds of things that happen to us exteriorly that have reactions on us interiorly. So we have memories of how we were treated, by our parents, for example, or by our grandparents. And that wasn’t in a vacuum. They also were treated or mistreated in a certain way, and they learned how to behave in their particular setting. As on priest-psychologist said recently on a tape I heard, in every single person, there’s a whole village. [Laughter] In every single one of us, there’s all these people who make up our life. We’re interconnected with people; we belong to one another.

Therefore, we have feelings, too. We have thoughts that just come upon us. We have feelings. We have ways of dealing with reality. And these feelings can be, when they are distorted, they turn into angers, resentment, bitterness, cravings, lusts, all kinds of crazy things, desires, that we don’t have any power over; that we sometimes have [had] with us for as long as we can remember, awful things, yucky things. We wish they didn’t happen. They cause shame. They cause guilt. And then we act out about them and even feel worse. All this kind of stuff is the life—that’s the way our life is made up in this fallen world.

What we believe is that Jesus Christ, the New Adam, enters into this world, not to readjust it, to fix it up, to teach us how to behave with it… Someone once used the expression: we are like the prodigal son, far away from the house of the father. Well, Jesus doesn’t come to the pigpen to teach us how to live there! How to survive and to cope in the pigpen. We have enough so-called “healing ministries” to take care of that nowadays. [Laughter] He comes to take us out of the pigpen, back to the house of the Father. He comes exactly to destroy all of that and to re-create it in his own Person. He comes that all die and all rise again, cleaned, purified, illumined, forgiven, pardoned, washed, and that’s why he’s called in the Bible the New Adam. So we can live according to the old Adam or according to the New Adam.

But the way the old Adam becomes the New Adam—this is the bad news of the Good News—is only by dying, by dying to our old self, to use St. Paul’s expression, to die to the mortal self that we are, just by being born into this world. And that means dying not only to the evils; it means dying to everything, including even the virtues. It means literally knowing that I have to die and I have to be reborn. There’s nothing that can happen in this life to make it into the kingdom. The only way into the kingdom is by death and resurrection, and that’s why baptism is the central image of our Church: we die with Christ and rise with Christ. That’s why the Eucharist is the broken body and spilled blood. We participate in his death in order to participate in his resurrection.

Now, that’s all sacramentally given in the Church, but it’s got to be actualized in our life. God gives it as a grace; God gives it as a gift in Christ. We have to accept it, but once we accept it, receive it, it has to happen. We have to really die, really rise, really be re-created, really be healed. And this is what we believe can happen. But inside ourselves and around ourselves, and then these two are mixed together, come all of this rock, and then of course we could add the depth—the devil is there, you see, trying to get us to imitate Adam and to continue all of the evil of the world, and we just cannot do this. So these sufferings, these trials, they come from the injustices, the sufferings of the world; they come from other people; they come from our forebears; they come from circumstances; they come from within us: once they get in us and begin to grow and we cultivate them, so then we can suffer from our own selves, suffer from our own misdeeds and so on, and the whole thing gets mixed together that way.

Now, taking up the cross, you see, with faith and with hope and with love—and of course we are talking about people who believe in God; you have to at least have some faith in God to let this happen, and exactly the God who was crucified—it seems to me that a God who would not be incarnate and crucified is an absolute monster, totally unacceptable. I think we Christians ought to stand for that a lot more than we do. It’s better almost to be an atheist than to believe in a God who creates the world, knowing it would be so evil, and then just sits on a cloud and doesn’t do anything about it, because look how this world is.

Now, if God were not willing to come into it and to take it upon himself, you might dare and be bold and say he should have never made it in the first place. And that’s why any Deistic God, Unitarian God, theistic God, is more an abomination than no God at all. It’s an absolutely unacceptable God. I think it’s very important, and that’s why, for us, we don’t just believe in God in general; we believe in the Holy Trinity, one of whom became man, being true God, and was crucified in the flesh, and that’s where we get the key to the understanding of God, and that’s where we understand what the love of God really is. But if a God would create the world and not redeem it, it could never be a God of love, no way, because in a sense he’s got to come to us in our low estate, as we sing in the canticle, and you can’t be lower than dead. And he does do that, and that’s why God is acceptable. That’s why you can believe in God, because he does this.

If a person wants to take up the cross, says, “Okay, I’m going to take up the cross. I’m going to do something about this,” what is it actually that needs to be done? How is it done? I have a few points here that I think are essential. They may not be total, but I think that they are essential. The first thing that I think has to be said, although it’s maybe too simple to be said, but nevertheless has to be said, is: do we want it or not? Do we want to face the evils, the trials, the afflictions, the sufferings, the absurdities of our life? Do we want to face them, and do we want to face them as Christ has shown us that we must if we are going to be creatures made in God’s image? Do we want that?

You could say of course we want it, but I think it’s worthwhile still asking the question: Do we really want it? Because if we really want it, then we have to be ready to pay the price, and my hunch is that part of our problem is we don’t really want it, or we want it only up to a point, or we want it only on our terms—all of which really means we don’t really want it; we don’t really want it. And that’s why Jesus said so many times, “What do you want?”

I’ll just give you an example. Last year I was preaching in a church in Chicago, outside Chicago, and something slipped into my sermon that I had no intention to say. Sometimes that happens. You hope it’s the Holy Spirit and not the devil or your own ego, but I’m almost willing to say I think this is of the Spirit, because it was the Sunday after Easter, after holy Pascha, where you have the paralytic man lying by the pool, and it says in the gospel he’s lying there 38 years and waiting for someone to come who could heal him, as it says in the Scripture, “put him into the water.” Jesus comes to him and says to him, “Do you want to be healed?” And in my sermon I had no intention of saying this; it just slipped out. I said, on a spur of the moment, so to speak, in this big pulpit in this huge Greek church, “You know, when you think of that, you’re almost tempted to say: What a stupid question!” [Laughter] You know, you’re almost tempted to say, “No, I’m lying here for suntan.” [Laughter] Or, “You know, if you’re the Logos incarnate, you figure it out!” [Laughter] But you know you could get real led into temptation by such a kind of a question. It seems at first glance to be very stupid, but it’s very important that Christ says to him, “Do you want to be healed?” for a very simple reason: Many of us don’t want to be healed. We don’t.

To be healed means a whole lot of things, not the least of which is to be, then, in debt to God, which means then also to be responsible for our life, which means also to get up and struggle, as Chrysostom says, when everyone is healed, they’re always healed for more crosses. So he asks this fellow, “Do you want to be healed?” meaning, “Do you want to stand up, take your life, be responsible, go on?” And it can even very well be, if you want to create a scenario, that that guy really didn’t want to be healed. He wanted to lie there, everybody pitied him, didn’t have to do anything, could feel sorry for himself, could blame the whole world, curse at God, and so on, and “be happy” to be sick.

Now, there’s a lot of us who are real happy with our sicknesses, and those sicknesses could be greed; those sicknesses could be a lot of things that don’t look like sicknesses on the surface, but they are. And we just prefer to be nuts and sick rather than sane and in our right mind and with God, because when you are sane and in your right mind and with God, then you must be co-crucified in love for your neighbor. So it isn’t always the case that a person wants to be healed. It makes a very important question today for us: Do we want to be healed? Do we want to be liberated from all that sin and unrighteousness and unjustice and madness that’s in our life? Do we really want it? Do we really want it?

I’m tempted to say, as some of you who know me know, that if we really want it, God will see that it gets done and we can stop the talk right here. If we really want it, we don’t have to go through the other eight points or whatever, because God will see that they happen, because if we really want it, these points will happen. Some way or the other, they will happen, and God will see to it. But if we don’t really want it, nothing else is going to help.

One of the main signs that we really want it… And of course that means that we can change, and I’m underlining that: we believe that we can change, I can change, not other people, not the world, but me: I can change. I can die to the Adam life and I can be born again to the Christ life, and I can live not according to sin and death but according to righteousness and life. I can: I have to believe that, so faith is necessary, trust. And, of course, that would even be connected with the will.

Another very important point, if we really want it, is that we have to allow other people to help us. We have to allow others into our life. First of all, we have to allow Jesus to help us; we have to let Christ into our life, into all of our life, not part of our life. At this point we would agree with Desmond Tutu, the bishop of South Africa, who said, “To be a Christian is to be in a totalitarian organization.” God wants all of us, not just part of us. Therefore, if we allow Christ into our existence, God into our existence, and that means then the people that Christ sends to us, Christ’s servants, Christ’s ministers—these can be friends and priests and whatever—but I think it’s really important that we realize that if we want to take up our cross, we cannot do it alone. We cannot do it alone. We need the help of others. We certainly need the help of God, but we need the help of others.

That’s a very, very important point, because letting others into our life, into all of our life, and letting certain others into absolutely every part of our life—the deepest recesses of our interior soul—to help us to see, that’s what is necessary if we’re going to take up our cross. I would say that if we’re not willing to do that, that means we’re not really willing to take up our cross.

Why do we have to do that? The reason why we have to do that is because we cannot see ourselves ourselves. We can’t. That’s part of being in this world. There’s a saying in the Desert Fathers: He who chooses himself as a spiritual director has chosen a fool and a blind man. We must share our thoughts, our feelings, our insights, our wounds, our hurts, our griefs with someone else. We have to want to do that. We have to be willing to do that. Unless we’re willing to do it, it doesn’t work. Especially for Americans and certain types of Americans, this is a very difficult part of the whole story, because we were always taught: “I can do it myself. I don’t need the help of anybody else. I’m supposed to be strong. I’m supposed to handle things myself, and I don’t need, somehow, other people.” Well, that’s just from the devil. It’s just from the devil, because we are members, one of another, whether we like it or not, in sin or in righteousness. We belong to one another. If we try to live like an island, we destroy reality itself. It just cannot happen.

Letting others in, getting help—it’s also important if we kind of switch it around. We must be willing to help others to want to do it and to be able to do it. Why? Because a lot of people—many people, I’ve learned in my life by now—it’s not that they don’t want this—probably with some part of them, they do—but they’re scared to death of it. Scared to death, because they’ve gotten used to the way they are. They have an inkling that this whole thing, we’re talking about a totalitarian life-and-death thing. What that means is that if I’m going to do this seriously, I’m going to have to give up my life totally—and we don’t want to do that. We want to hang on a little bit. We want to hold onto something.

Also people are afraid because they don’t know what’s going to happen. How do I know that if I’m willing to die to myself and give myself into the hands of others and go through these steps that— how do I know if it’s going to work? Now, sometimes people need help because the pain and the agony and the wounds in them are so deep that they are incapable of admitting them by themselves. They’re not only afraid to admit them, they don’t even know that they’re there, at least in their conscious mind. The subconscious knows why they’re being driven crazy and that’s why they’re doing the nutsy things that they’re doing. And they know they’re being driven around by some other power in them, but they don’t know what that is and what the cause of it is, and they’re afraid even to take a look at it.

Why are they afraid to take a look at it? Millions of reasons. One, because then they have to face it, they have to do something about it, they have to take responsibility, but also because it might just be too painful. For example, suppose one of my crosses is that I have been abused by my parents, let’s say sexually. You think that’s an easy thing to admit, especially if you’ve come to church all your life and were told you’re to honor your father and your mother? And you don’t want to admit even that your father did this to you—but he did, and it’s real, and you’re not going to be healed until you admit it. And what he did could be anything: it could be rejection; it could be he himself might have been a troubled person; he might have himself been emotionally deprived or only half there, emotionally or physically or whatever; he himself might have been caught up in greed or covetousness or working for his family and he never was available to you. You don’t want to remember that, you don’t want to think of that, but that’s what’s bothering you, that’s what’s killing you.

Now, unless we have other people that could help us and say, “It’s okay. Don’t be afraid. I’ll hold your hand. I’ll be with you…” You know, I found myself as a priest saying to people about a hundred times: You’re not going to die. You’re going to have to die, but you’re not going to die. That’s the whole point. And this kind of dying is going to make you come alive, exactly, because you’ve got to die to the delusional, false self that isn’t really you that you may not even know is even there because it’s covered up with so much repression, oppression, delusion, fake images, lies that people put upon you. The Prophet Jeremiah says the heart of a person is deep and desperately corrupt, and to get into that corruption, that garbage that’s in us, St. Isaac of Syria, one great saint that I read every day, he said if you’re going to go the way of the cross, you must be ready to stand the stench, the garbage that’s going to come up inside you and around you when you start seeing things the way they really are and feeling them, not only knowing them with your brain, but feeling them.

That’s why a lot of people flee this kind of activity. It’s just too painful. It’s just too sad. It may be that there’s generations of grief in there that’s going to have to come out and be wept over. It’s going to be like lancing a boil that’s got to—[tearing sound]—come out, and you’d rather live with the pain of the boil than lance it, especially if you don’t know what’s going to come out and you’re scared to death in your subconscious what you’re going to discover. But unless you go in there, you’re not going to discover it. And unless you let Christ in there, you’re not going to discover it. So many people need help to let love in, to let healing power in.

And they need help even to be able to admit that they’re sick. How many people say, “There’s nothing wrong with me!” Alcoholics, for example. I’ve known alcoholics. I’ve shown them their wives’ bruises. “No, it’s not me. What are you saying that for? What the heck is this? I’m in church every Sunday, Father, you know that.” I say, “That’s true. What good did it do you?” You may even have used that to cover over your sickness. By the way, many people use religion to cover over their sickness, exactly not to come to terms with what’s really going on. They think they go to church, they’ll say a few prayers, and then they don’t have to face it. Well, you’ve got to face it.

By the way, that’s why one of the saints, Theophan the Recluse, said that’s why many people who become very religious become worse instead of better. They’re more nuts, more crazy, more evil than they were before they came and got involved in church. Why? Because they’re going through all the motions, they’re going through all the words, they’re going to holy Communion, but they’re not allowing love and light into the deepest part of their being to be healed. So what’s happening is that light and that love is actually, like St. Gregory the Theologian said, that light can come in and cause greater harm if the person is not using the light to be healed. It’ll exacerbate the wound. It’ll make you more crazy. By the way, we are either sane in the kingdom of God or crazy in hell, and in the meantime we can play back and forth with it. But if you’re going to come to the Church, unless you surrender to the fire of the consuming love of God that’s shown in the cross, and if you really take the body broken and the blood spilled and don’t let your own body broken and spilled for the love to exist, you’re just going to make yourself crazy.

God forgive me, but I think that’s going on in our Church a lot nowadays. When you hear the evils that go on in our churches, how people hate each other, how the Church isn’t anything near what it’s supposed to be, what’s the answer? The only answer is because we don’t want the cross. We don’t want God. We don’t want the love of God. But we keep all the other things and become more and more crazy as days go by, more and more evil, more and more wild or more and more—how can you say?—to use classic expression, deluded. Deluded: it’s not nice at all. And the minute someone says, “Hey, it ain’t nice,” they say, “Ha! Negative person! Wants to be Jeremiah the Prophet or something.” But it’s madness! It’s madness! Just look at reality.

Now, because this is the first point: we have to want, with the help of others, with faith in God, to admit the realities of our life. There is no taking up the cross which is not in the first step an admission of the realities of our life. We have to want to say, “This is how things are,” and overcome the denials and the delusions and the repressions and the suppressions of facts of our life that we are not willing to admit to see and to do something about.

This means, then, that we have to allow ourselves to feel these things, to be in touch with them. You know there’s a jargon today. It’s being in touch with your feelings. There’s many of us who have allowed ourselves to admit certain things with our brain, but have not allowed them to feel them on the level of our gut, and that’s why we’re torn apart and cannot behave properly, and that’s why we mess up the lives of our children and everybody around us, because we haven’t come to terms on the emotional level with our life. We don’t only have brains; we have feelings. We don’t only have thoughts; we have emotions.

We are made up of a total existence, so we have to not only become intellectually in terms with our life—my father was an alcoholic and beat up my mother every Easter, but I have to come to terms with that on the emotional level as well and mourn it out and forgive it. I can’t forgive it until I first admit it, but if I’m not willing to admit it, I can’t forgive it. If I really admit it, I’ve got to admit it with my emotional level as well as my intellectual level. I can’t keep pacifying it or cosmetizing it by coming to church and lighting candles. To quote Karl Marx, like opium from the people, keep me in my delusion and don’t allow me to get into reality.

So the cross is reality itself. So we must get into the reality of our life, and we need other people’s help with that. We certainly need some kind of pastoral care, some friends to help us; family would be the best, but the family is the best place for delusion going. Some people would say, “Even your family won’t tell you,” but if your family doesn’t tell you, who will? Thank God for families, because that’s why when families are dysfunctional and delusional, there’s almost no hope, because you’ve got a system of delusion. But there should be friends or family or somebody who would help us to see reality.

We may need counseling. We may need somebody with professional skills that can help us to get through our repressions and our blocks and our denials to get into reality. Some of us may need certain groups like AA or OA or ACOA or 12-Step programs or something that will help us to see what’s going on in our life. If I might make here just a personal comment: I don’t know if it’s working, but I use all four. [Laughter] I mean, I’ve come to see that you need all the help you can get to see things clearly in order—and this would be the next point—to do something about it. To do something about it, not just to endure it, not just to suffer it through, but to crush it, you see, to overcome it.

In order for that to happen… To take responsibility for the reality of our life, that is an essential element in taking up our cross. To take up our cross means to admit the realities of our life and take responsibility for them. That means—and this is very Christian, very Jesus-y—taking responsibility also for those horrible things in our life that are not solely or merely our own fault. In other words, take responsibility for the other and take responsibility for what has been done to us by the other and to take responsibility for how we have reacted, very often not very Christianly, to the evils that the other has done to us. So this responsibility is very important.

We have to come to the point where we don’t live and function in other people’s opinions, either flattery or cursing or praise or blame. Yu stop blaming others, even if they have sinned against you magnificently. You stop blaming them and say, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they did.” Like my mother used to say, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know no better.” [Laughter] I tried to convince her, “Ma, that ain’t the way he said it,” but it’s okay.

But we must forgive. We cannot live and function in other people’s evil. By the way, some of us take great delight in that. We build our life in what they call the victim syndrome. So there is a sense in which we accept our own life for what it was and take responsibility for it all. That’s where the free will comes in. We cannot choose what we have, we cannot choose our crosses, but we can choose to take them up or we can choose to deny them. We can choose to take them up and expiate the evil, or we can choose to let it go on. That’s the only place where the choice is.

Most of us are born incredibly passionate in one way or the other: food, sex, all this kind of stuff, homosexual orientation, and so on. All that comes from fallenness. It’s not in our choice whether to have it or not, but it is within our choice what we’re going to do about it. That is especially important, it seems to me, in the inheritance in our families. My daughter Catherine used to wear a badge that said, “It’s my father’s fault.” [Laughter] And I told her; I said to her, “Katie, yes, I admit that, but it’s your fault what you do about it. And if you’re smart enough to put that badge on, then it’s no longer an excuse. It’s no longer an excuse. You can expiate even my sins if you want to. You can heal me by healing yourself, if you want to, or at least contribute to my healing.”

In other words, there is a moment of responsibility where you don’t blame; you overcome the victim syndrome. Then also, taking responsibility for oneself means that we do not make our life depend on anything that anyone else does or says. In other words, we don’t say, “When my mother finally changes, I’ll be okay. When my kid finally does this, then everything will be all right.” That’s from the devil; that is from the devil. “Until we finally get a good priest…” It’s from the devil. [Laughter] You get the priest you deserve, and so on. [Laughter] That’s an old Russian saying, by the way.

But God’s hands are in it all. But to take up one’s own cross means to take responsibility for one’s own life, one’s own behavior. And here, of course, this tendency to pass the buck, even like Adam—“The woman you gave me” and so on—it doesn’t work. It doesn’t hold water. God doesn’t care about that. He says, “Yes, in fact, I did give you that woman; why did you listen to her?” [Laughter] St. Augustine said that Adam was much more guilty than Eve. Eve listened to the devil which was a superior angel; Adam listened to a woman. [Laughter] But taking responsibility for our life and not in function of other people at all.


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