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We continued with our reading of homily 68 tonight. In a most extraordinary section, Isaac emphasizes the need to take heed of ourselves, to acknowledge the importance of being able to discern the most subtle movements of the mind and heart; to see which passion is dominant and the symptoms of its presence. Isaac like no other holds this out as an important competence, if not the most important competence for us to have as Christian men and women. We must be able to discern the passions that act upon us, their kind, how they manifest themselves, and how we are to remedy them. To be able to do this, Isaac tells us, is greater than the ability to raise somebody from the dead. To be able to see one’s sins and so repent and know the healing grace of God is of inestimable value. 
 
Isaac not only speaks to us the struggle that is necessary but the joy that is ours in gaining purity of heart. Our joy becomes that of the kingdom - that makes all things in this world seem as if they are of no account. We are destined for greater things and, when our eyes are open to this reality, we begin to feel as if we are in heaven itself.

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What is the sensitivity of the human heart and mind? How deeply have we been formed by the grace of God? Can we see the subtle movements of the passions within the stirring of temptations, the rising of pride or vainglory? Do we gauge the strength of these movements within us or the army of demons that rush upon in battle and are we able and competent to discern what needs to be healed within us?  Are we willing to stand vulnerable and transparent before God in order that He might heal us, that He might apply the healing balm that perfectly meets the need?
 
These are some of the questions that Saint Isaac puts before us in the conclusion of homily 67 and the beginning of homily 68. He wants us to look within, to take heed of ourselves in such a way that we can recognize such subtleties. This “truthful living” is at the heart of the ascetical life and breeds intimacy with God. The more we embrace the humble truth about ourselves, the more we find ourselves in the embrace of God. Tears may come; yet not those rooted in coldness of fear but rather those that flow from the heart that has been warmed by the love of God. 

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Tonight we concluded homily 66. Isaac focuses on the virtue of chastity and its beauty. It is to be prized and fostered through the gift of fasting. We must not give ourselves over to eating to the point of satiety. Rather our discipline must be regular and constant. We must humble the mind and the body so that our desire is ordered and directed toward God. At times it’s hard for us to understand such a longing for virtue and the willingness to go to such great lengths to attain it. 
 
This is the revolution that Isaac calls for – to be completely directed toward God in everything that we do. Asceticism is essential and the relational aspect of it is equally if not more important. Our whole being must be directed toward God - in order that habit and grace may work together to lift us towards God and away from sin swiftly and, as Isaac would say, violently. Our hatred of sin and our love for virtue begin to work together in such a fashion that when we see a movement of the body and its appetites, there is a complete and absolute response that draws us to the Beloved. 
 
Asceticism is essential for the life of the Christian and for the Church as a whole. Its breakdown over time has distorted the vision of what it is to be a Christian and what it is to be transformed into Christ by grace.

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Tonight we continued our reading of homily 65. Isaac begins to speak with us about the fruit of stillness. One of the primary gifts of stillness is the healing of memory and of predispositions over the course of time. The more that we are faithful to the grace that God extends to us, the greater the fruit that we experience as well as the desire for stillness. Isaac warns us that we must not concern ourselves with what is foreign to God. Our minds and our hearts must be set on freeing ourselves from the senses by being engaged in unceasing prayer. We must have a love in keeping night-vigil for the renewal of them mind that it creates. This is true of every aspect of the ascetical life. We must engage in it with an exactness. Our love for what the Lord has given us and our desire to protect what is precious should lead us with a manly courage to engage in the spiritual battle. Cowardice is often present in the spiritual life and we find many ways to rationalize our negligence and laziness for fear of giving ourselves over to God completely. This we must overcome and strive to enter the kingdom and be willing to sacrifice all to attain it.

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Tonight we began reading Homily 64. It is 25 pages long and through it Isaac presents us with a vision of the ascetical life and the essential elements of it. He begins this evening where Jesus began in his own preaching - with repentance. Repentance, Isaac tells, us is the mother of life. In itself this is a striking statement and one that would be worthy of long consideration. Repentance is not just sorrow over a particular act but rather a way of life. With every aspect of our being we are to turn toward God, ordering all of our senses and desires and appetites towards him. We are to simplify the thoughts in order that we might gaze upon Him in a undistracted way. Through this gaze we come to experience a divine wisdom, love, and peace. Grace enlivens compunction within the heart and the living water of tears cleanses and purifies in order  that we might gaze upon God with clarity and love. Isaac teaches us that mortification brings life; that dying to self and sin allows us to experience He who is our love and our destiny.

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Tonight we concluded homily 62. Saint Isaac as always with great beauty and sometimes with a poetic touch speaks to us of the importance of vigilance and diligence in the spiritual life. We must come to desire the Lord above all things; having death as the only limit of that desire. We must work until the harvest time; that is, until we come to the grave. We must never become lax in our spiritual disciplines, knowing the vulnerabilities that we have if we turn from the grace of God. Prayer is our greatest work - the pearl of great price and we must do all in our power to foster the solitude and silence that is needed for intimacy with God. We must hate our old life and the bondage of our sin in order that we might come to truly love the freedom of life in God. While we are still in this world there is time for repentance - time to turn from our sins and fill our lives with virtue and love.
 
Homily 63 speaks to us of how we rise from the grossness of the flesh, becoming ever more limpid in our response to God and refined by the action of His grace. With purity of mind and heart we must let go of all thoughts and distractions to become worthy of the revelation of his love. We must hold on to nothing - willing to forsake all for Him.

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We continued our reading of homily 62. Isaac begins by discussing with us the nature of humility, and rightly so. Humility is truthful living; acknowledging the truth about ourselves and our poverty and our struggle with the passions. The spiritual life must begin here. We must acknowledge our need for God’s grace and our need to enter into a lifelong struggle, a vigilant struggle to foster a greater desire for the love of God and the love of virtue. We must overcome our negligence and seek Him with unceasing prayer and discipline of mind and body. 
 
The starving man, it has been said, has no sense of taste and so one who has become impoverished by there sin no longer has a taste for the things of heaven and the joys to come to us from the hand of God. We must strive to deepen our desire for the love alone the nourishes us to everlasting life. We must come to have a greater taste for virtue and long for it.

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Tonight we read the conclusion of homily 60 and all of homily 61. These few pages were some of the most beautiful that we have encountered. Isaac captures for us not only the meaning and purpose of afflictions, trials, and temptations but reveals to us the presence of the love of God within them. We never suffer in isolation and anything that we endure is permeated by the grace of God. To understand and see this clearly only increases a person’s desire for God as well as their willingness to embrace the cross as it comes to them without fear or anxiety.

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Our discussion began this evening with homily 58. Here Isaac speaks to us of the importance of willing the good. We must learn to seek virtue with all of our heart. In order to do this we must understand, however, that we will need God’s help and grace and we must  support it all with unceasing prayer. Likewise, we must ask ourselves the important question: “is it pleasing to God?”; and in the end we must be willing to say “Thy will be done”.  The good is discerned by much prayer, watchfulness of heart, tears and compunction and again ultimately God’s grace. This alone protects us from pride and seeking to embrace whatever desire falls into our hearts.
 
Homily 59 begins by telling us that we cannot have one foot in the world and one foot in the kingdom. Our every concern must be with loving God and doing his will. So often we succumb to the illusion that we need material things in order to support our identity as well as our life. But Isaac reminds us that if we seek the kingdom before all things, God will provide. He will give us what is necessary. We must not simply work for worldly rewards. If we become overly attached to material things in this world God at time to allow us to experience trials in order that we might see where our faith really lies.

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We continued tonight with homily 57 and read it to its completion. Saint Isaac gives us perhaps the most profound explication of humility among the fathers. Without humility all virtue is in vain. The Lord’s concern is with the soul’s amendment not with a self-willed “traffic in sin under the guise of divine pursuits.” Failings are not a problem for Isaac. If anything they produce humility in the soul; we come to see with a greater clarity our poverty and our need for God’s mercy and grace.  
 
Isaac tells us to seek humility even in the gifts that we receive from God. If they don’t help to produce humility within us, Isaac tells us, we should ask God to remove them from us. 
 
We must get used to the fact that afflictions are a part of our life as Christians and they give birth to humility. We must not think of our life and growth in virtue outside of them, otherwise we open the door for pride.
 
We can come to the point that we love pride. When this happens we esteem our own knowledge and intellect and we fall into a kind of derangement of mind. It is then that repentance becomes an impossibility and the worst of evils manifest themselves. Such a radical turning away from God leads men into insanity. Thus we must beg for humility as the mother of all virtues. And in this humility we must never try to outsmart the demons but rather let the light of Christ overcome the darkness within us.

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