To Heal and Not to Hurt


Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, January 19, 2020

Today I am reminded of the movie I saw this past Thursday called “A Hidden Life.” It was written and directed by Terrence Malik whom the LA Times called a Christian philosopher/poet.

It is the story of one Austrian man, a farmer in the foothills of the Austrian Alps, and his family’s courage in the face of the evil of Hitler and the Nazi demand for absolute fealty and obedience to their fascist dictator. As townspeople turned their backs on him and the Nazis vile torment attempted to break him, Franz Jaggerstatter, pursues with quiet grace and dignity his heart’s call to maintain his integrity. Even his priest begged him to sign the oath of obedience to Hitler saying, “God does not care the words that you say only what is in your heart.” Of course, God cares about both, and this good man could not betray his heart, as so many did then and so many do now. His life was ended without fame or fanfare, quietly, and buried in an unknown grave. His detractors often argued that his martyrdom would do no good for anyone and would be utterly forgotten and fruitless. Nothing could be further from the truth. No act of courage and integrity ever dies. God sees all and rewards all.

The postscript to the movie, a quote by the author George Eliot (who was actually a woman named Mary Ann Evans) dispels this satanic lie:

“..for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

It calls to mind the Lord’s admonition, “Do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.”

Here let me add something. As James and I walked out of the movie we can into Fr. Maximos from Holy Cross. It seems that he had consulted on the film which partially explains its deep spiritual meaning.

The Gospel and the life of Christ are mirrored in the movie to devastating effect for the Lord, like this Austrian farmer, lived as he spoke and lived to help and to heal those around him with selfless integrity, for integrity can never be anything but selfless. Good women and men are known by this. The fruit of their lives is the welfare of others and the sacrifice of themselves. They live not from ego, but from their souls. I love David Bentley Hart’s comment about ego and soul. “Practically all of us,” he writes, “go through life as prisoners of our own egos, which are no more than shadows cast by our souls.”

We who want to follow Christ must not live in the shadows of our darkened egos but rather in the light of God’s image.

St. Paul shows us the difference between the shadow and the soul in today’s epistle reading asking us to put away the works of darkness. It is a specific list, but it is not exhaustive.

“But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

For all these works of darkness produce rotten fruit. There is nothing good in them at all. Good fruit can never come from a bad tree.

Let me leave you today with another quote by George Eliot that encapsulates the way we are called by Christ to live, as the image of God which leads to goodness and life and not in the shadow of the egoic image of inhuman self-interest which always leads to corruption and violence.

“What do we live for” she writes, “if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”