The heart is the inner essence, core, and center of our entire person.
Christ Our Pascha teaches:
“The spiritual and moral state of the whole person depends on the state of our heart.”
The heart is the seat of feelings, cognition, self-awareness, consciousness, and spiritual powers.
In Scripture, we read that the heart rejoices, sorrows, suffers anguish, rages, and envies.
God searches the depth of the heart, a power only he has.
We come to know ourselves through the contemplation of God’s commandments and our hearts.
Conscience and the Heart
Conscience is a manifestation of the heart. Conscience gives us “joint knowledge” with the Holy Trinity for “joint action” with the Holy Trinity.
The heart allows us “to distinguish between good and evil.”
Our Lord teaches that moral good and evil can come from the heart:
“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)
The importance of conscience to a person’s being is noted by the Church Fathers:
Abba Dorotheus teaches:
“When God created man, he breathed into him something divine, as it were, a hot and bright spark added to reason, which lit up the mind and showed him the difference between right and wrong. This is called conscience, which is the law of his nature ... it is something divinely implanted in us, as we have said, and it can never be destroyed. It always patiently reminds us of our duties.”
St. Clement of Alexandria teaches:
“One’s own conscience is best for choosing accurately or shunning. And its firm foundation is a right life.”
St. John Chrysostom teaches:
“God put within our mind a judge so ever-watchful and vigilant—I mean conscience. It is impossible that any judge among men and women should be so indefatigable as our conscience is.”
The heart is the source of our thoughts and decisions.
We are called to tend the heart the way a gardener tends soil and to prevent the bad seed of the devil from entering.
Tending the heart requires us to be watchful and attentive, to guard the heart. The Church Fathers teach us to guard the heart by dismissing evil thoughts:
Saint Macarius the Great teaches:
“... the heart itself is but a small vessel, yet there also are dragons and there are lions; there are poisonous beasts and all treasures of evil. And there are rough and uneven roads; there are precipices. But there is also God, also the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the treasures of grace—there are all things.”
We come to know ourselves through inner watchfulness.
Through inner watchfulness, we quiet the intellect and become freed from disordered intentions and thoughts.
We see ourselves through God’s light when we become internally watchful.
We come to know our strengths and weaknesses, our talents and abilities. This allows us to move toward our ultimate goal in life—union with the Holy Trinity in eternal life.
[Notes from our third catechetical talk based on Christ Our Pascha, pages 244-246.]
As Christians, we are called to live as Christ in the world. This is the foundation of our morality.
We are created in God’s image; we are called to reflect that image in our lives. We are called to become the likeness of God through living a Christian moral life.
Our acts reveal who we are. Moral acts make us either more like God or less like him.
Moral acts are made consciously with the consent of the will. Our acts can be either morally good or morally bad (sinful or evil).
Some acts are considered neutral, because they do not build up or destroy moral character. Normal bodily acts and the acts of children who are not fully aware of the consequences of their actions are examples.
Personal dignity and responsibility results from our ability to control our acts, to act independently, and to carry out our acts.
We have the freedom to choose how we act in life. We become truly free, however, by choosing to act morally good, by choosing God, to follow Jesus Christ.
We are inclined to evil because of the fall of Adam and Eve. Through them, we became enslaved to sin. Jesus Christ freed us through his Incarnation, Transfiguration, death on the Cross, and Resurrection.
Before the birth of Our Lord, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments as a guide.
The Ten Commandments
Our Lord summarizes the Ten Commandments as two:
“... you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' ... 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31 Revised Standard Version)
The commandments are an essential guide to living life as a Christian.
We have the ability to understand the consequences of our acts. We have will, so our acts are voluntary. Our voluntary acts, our decisions, determine the kind of person we will be, define us.
Our ultimate goal in life is union with the Holy Trinity in eternal life. We are called to this life by the Holy Trinity.
Our Fundamental Choice
Our fundamental choice is to choose freely to respond with faith to God’s call to us. All of our acts, therefore, should lead us to this goal.
Our acts are morally good if they lead us to this goal of union with the Holy Trinity.
The moral goodness or sinfulness of an act is based on the content of the act, the aim, and the intention. Circumstances can have an influence.
It’s important to understand whether our acts lead us to or away from God.
Our acts are morally good when they lead us to God.
Intention directs our will to an end. We should intend with our acts to grow closer into union with the Holy Trinity. Intention can direct more than one act.
The aim of an act tells us the end of our act.
For example, we may have a desire to help the poor. This is our intention. We help the poor by giving up time or money. This is the content of the act. We desire to help the poor to fulfill the commandment to love one’s neighbor as yourself. This is the aim.
If the content of an act, or the aim, or the intention does not lead us to God, the act is morally wrong or sinful.
Any action that breaks the commandments is sinful because of the content. The intention or aim cannot change this. Nor can the circumstances. Circumstances, however, can influence the moral weight of the act.
Our salvation involves our cooperation, our effort, with God’s grace.
When we say yes to act in a morally good way, we receive grace from God.
Grace is a free gift of God. It is not a reward, and we cannot earn it through spiritual labor, even though we must labor.
When you accept God’s grace, you grow in grace. How much grace you can receive depends on how open you are to receiving God’s free gift of grace.
The Virgin Mary’s “Yes” to God is an example of perfect cooperation with God’s grace.
[Notes from our second catechetical talk based on Christ Our Pascha, pages 239-244.]
We pray to follow Our Lord’s call to us "to pray always and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1)
The Holy Spirit calls us to "watch and pray.” (Matthew 26:41)
Prayer transforms us. Prayer transforms the heart. Prayer helps us defeat through God’s grace demons, temptations, and worldliness.
For Christians, there are two general types of prayer: Personal or private and liturgical. Personal or private prayer, however, also is ecclesial.
St. Cyprian writes:
"When we pray, we pray not only for ourselves but for the entire people, because we are all one people ... Christ himself, our teacher and master, desired that each would pray for all, as he, having gathering all within himself, brought them to the Father.”
When we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, we pray as a member of the Church and so pray in and for the Church. When we pray, therefore, we participate as Christians in Jesus Christ’s common priesthood.
Our Lord is the teacher of our prayer, but he is also the model of our prayer. In Scripture, we witness how he prayed in the desert, as a solitary, with the apostles, and throughout his life, even up to the moment of his death.
When we pray as Christians, we pray to the Father as Our Lord taught the apostles. The Church Father Tertullian calls the Our Father the “epitome of the whole Gospel.”
Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky writes:
“If we pray in a properly Christian way we cannot say more than what is contained in the Lord’s Prayer. This is because we cannot desire anything better or higher or more suitable for us than the desire we express in the petitions of the Our Father. The Our Father is the last word in prayer, it is the absolute prayer. We might even say that outside of this prayer, there is no prayer. Everything that is prayer is contained in this prayer.”
With the Our Father, we also pray the psalms, short prayers, the Jesus Prayer, and the Rosary. We pray before icons, and examine the conscience. Through our prayer, we experience silence and may receive the gift of tears.
Christ Our Pascha teaches:
“Our Lord prayed the Psalms ... was brought up on them ... prayed with the words of the psalms even on the cross.”
St. Basil the Great writes:
“A psalm implies serenity of soul; it is the author of peace, which calms bewildering and seething thoughts ... forms friendships, unites those separated, conciliates those at enmity. A psalm is a city of refuge from the demons; a means for inducing help from the angels ....”
As Eastern Catholics, we pray many short prayers:
We greet one another with a short prayer: Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
We make the sign of the cross and reverence the Holy Trinity: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
We say many times in prayer and liturgy a short prayer: Lord have mercy!
When we pray for the dead we say a short prayer: Everlasting memory!
Another short prayer we pray is the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. The Jesus Prayer is prayed with a prayer rope that is traditionally made of wool and consists of 100 knots, with every ten knots divided by a bead. Christ Our Pascha includes a method for praying this prayer. A simple method is as follows: Begin with the usual beginning prayers found in Christ Our Pascha and our prayer books. Say the Jesus Prayer on each of the knots. On the bead pray, “O Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us.” Conclude with “Through the prayers.”
The Rosary is not only a prayer for Roman Catholics. Eastern Catholics and Orthodox have prayed a version of the Rosary for centuries. Christ Our Pascha includes a method. A simple method is to begin with the usual beginning and on each of the beads (or knots if you use a prayer rope) pray the Angelic Salutation, "Rejoice, Mother of God, Virgin Mary." This prayer can be found in Christ Our Pascha and in our prayer books.
Examination of Conscience
This is the prayer we should make at the end of the day to thank God for the day and to reflect on how we obeyed and failed to obey the Lord’s commandments each day. Christ Our Pascha contains a method. A simple method is this: 1. Thank the Lord for the Day. 2. Reflect on how you obeyed the Lord’s commandments during the day. 3. Reflect on how you failed to obey the Lord’s commandments. 4. Make a commitment to do better the next day. 5. Ask the Lord for his mercy and for the grace to do better.
Every Ukrainian Catholic and Eastern Catholic home should have at least one icon and hopefully many more. Icons depict images that point to the Lord and include images of Our Lord, the Most Holy Theotokos, the apostles, the saints, scenes for Our Lord’s life, and other scenes from Scripture. In praying with icons, meditate on the image. Let it inspire you to follow Our Lord.
Regularity of Prayer
At the very least, we ideally pray morning and evening every day at a set time. How long should we pray each day? On the night before he died, Our Lord asked the apostles for an hour. They could not pray that night an hour. They slept, and they lost heart. After Pentecost, however, they were changed men.
An hour a day does not seem much for the Lord to ask and for us to give. But our goal as Christians is to pray unceasingly, making our entire day and life a prayer, in answer to Our Lord’s command, “to pray always and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1)
Vocal Prayer and Silence
Some prayers we pray aloud, as when we pray the Divine Office or Divine Liturgy with others. Praying aloud when we pray alone may help us defeat distractions. Praying aloud also joins our prayers with the angels.
Praying in silence allows us to hear God’s words. Whether praying vocally or silently, we need to maintain inner attention.
Although we pray in community with others, we need to take time to find, as Our Lord did, quiet places to pray alone. These places of solitude will help us open our heart to Our Lord.
Fasting, and Vigils
Prayer, fasting, and vigils are central to Christian life. Fasting helps us to learn obedience to the Church and self-discipline. Both help us in our efforts to work with God’s grace to defeat demons and temptations. Vigils also helps us with these efforts.
Fasting and vigils help us defeat sin and keep us ever watchful:
Our Lord told the apostles:
“Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hours.” (Matthew 15:13)
“This kind [of demon] cannot be drive out by anything but prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29)
St. Basil the Great teaches:
“To the measure that you take away from the body, to that measure you will fortify the soul with spiritual strength.”
Some receive the gift of tears from God when they pray. Those who receive tears have deep remorse for their sins, recognize their own imperfection, and marvel at God’s mercy.
Christ Our Pascha teaches:
“The gift of tears cleanses our spiritual eyes and enables us to see ... the way that God sees.”
St. Gregory of Nyssa writes:
“Tears are like the blood of the soul’s wounds.”
[Notes from our first catechetical talk based on Christ Our Pascha, pages 217-230.]