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“…and seldom was heard a discouraging word…”

As kid growing up in Kansas the song “Home on the Range” was common in our region’s musical repertoire. I do remember, however, being somewhat puzzled about that seldom heard “discouraging word” in the chorus. All that stuff about the buffalo roaming and the deer and antelope playing made sense to me. But what was so bad about “a discouraging word”?

Now that I am older I think I understand. Age combined with the daily experience of human frailty has taught me just how discouraging a word can be. And discouragement, particularly in the pursuit of spiritual life, can be deadly. Which of us, after falling into the same old sin for the hundredth time, has not heard a discouraging word telling us to give up, throw away faith, and abandon hope? And if we listen to that word we will, in short order, be stuck in a swamp of despair and despondency.

And so we need another word, an encouraging word. Lucky for us the Church already has this figured out. Someone has been down this road before us and knows both the roads that end in the swamp and those that lead to springs of life. We call that Tradition, the wisdom of our spiritual ancestors, the saints. And in the wisdom of the Tradition we begin the day with Morning Prayers, among which is this simple yet profound prayer to the Holy Trinity for the start of the day:

I can think of fewer more encouraging words than that! “Thou hast not been angry with me…nor hast Thou destroyed me” because of my laziness, sinfulness, and lawlessness. On the contrary, the very fact that God has raised me to another day is proof of His “abundance of…kindness and long patience.”

This prayer puts us in mind of that fig tree in the Gospel of Luke which, year after year, produced no fruit. At last the owner of the vineyard said, “Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?” But the keeper of the vineyard said, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.”

Each new day is a sign and proof that God has not abandoned us or forsaken us but rather has given us one more “year”, another season, to bear fruit. And this is why, brothers and sisters, along with never falling into the morass of despair, we should never grow tired of hearing the call to repentance. For the very fact that we are being called to repentance, to turn again to God, is proof of life. As St Peter says it in his second epistle, we must “consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation.”

With love in Christ, Fr John

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