Posted by: Fr Chris | July 23, 2014

Appeal from Iraq’s Christian Leadership

 

Destruction of  many ancient tombs, including the Tomb of the Prophet Jonah, who is said to have slept undisturbed outside Nineveh until now —- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDP5PgKZiME
Iraqi Bishops appeal to the Prime Minister and the government: “stop the catastrophe”

Erbil (Agenzia Fides) – The Iraqi national government must ensure “necessary protection” for Christians and other minorities in the Country, provide “financial support to displaced people who have lost everything”, pay the wages of state employees “immediately”, compensate those who have suffered material losses and ensure continuity in the provision of housing and social services and education for families who may have to spend a long time away from their homes. This is the urgent appeal that Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako and all the Chaldean, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic and Armenian Bishops in northern Iraq launched at the end of their meeting on Tuesday 22 July held in Ankawa (suburb of Erbil) and dedicated to the serious events recorded in the region in recent weeks, starting with the expulsion of Christians and Shiites from the city of Mosul decreed by the militiamen of the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate.
The appeal, sent to Fides Agency, is addressed primarily to the Prime Minister and the national government, with an implicit admission of their inaction. At the same time, the Iraqi Bishops invite “people of conscience in Iraq and around the world” to put pressure on militants to put a stop to “the destruction of churches and monasteries, manuscripts, relics and all the Christian heritage, priceless Iraqi and international heritage. What was said with regards to an agreement between the militants and the clergy is false”, continues the appeal, reiterating that “a crime is a crime, and it cannot be denied or justified. We expect concrete actions to assure our people, not just press releases of denunciation and condemnation”.
In this respect, the Bishops express an eloquent appreciation for the role played by the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, appreciating its readiness to “accommodate the displaced families, to embrace them and to help them. We – add the Leaders of Churches in northern Iraq – propose the creation of a joint committee between the regional government and the representatives of our people in order to fulfill the suffering of refugee families and improve their conditions. ”  The appeal ends with a supplication to the Almighty God so that catastrophe is stopped and “security, peace and stability is re-established throughout Iraq. (GV) Agenzia Fides 23/07/2014)

Also, ISIS is shutting off the water to the mostly Christian city of Qaraqosh (50,000 people) and closing pipes from the Tigris river to Christian villages of the Nineveh Plain. People must now pay $10 every other day to obtain water, in a region where most people have lost their jobs. AINA reports:

Outside one of the town’s 12 churches, people queue from 6 a.m. until midnight to get their daily rations from a well. Flatbed trucks are joined by children with pushcarts and riders on bicycles bearing empty jugs. “Our lives revolve around water,” says Laith, 28, a school teacher who returned with his family a day earlier from a suburb of Erbil, the Kurdish regional capital, 45 miles away, to which thousands of threatened Christians have migrated. Though aid agencies have erected several water depots around town, supplies are limited, barely enough to sustain large families in the 100-degree-plus heat. Plans to dig new wells will take at least several months to fulfill. The jihadist army is a mile away, kept back by the Kurds’ Pershmaga forces.

While Maliki dithers in Baghdad and national unity fractures further, the caliphate destroys everything from Assyrian statues 3000 years old to the tomb of the prophet Jonah to crosses and statues of the Virgin Mary, and has ended 2,000 years of Christian worship in Mosul. Mosul’s first Christians were converted by the apostles. Now there is neither a Eucharist or a single Christian soul in a city that with a recorded history going back to 401 BC and which is the successor to ancient Nineveh, whose downfall Jonah had foretold. What does Jonah think now, looking down from Heaven?

And echoing my comments from yesterday on Facebook, as to where are the voices of “moderate Muslims”, Maronite Patriarch and Cardinal asks this same question: “We hear no one cry out”

“This is why we are making this urgent and fraternal appeal, full of gravity. We plead with our Iraqi brothers who support them, to revise their strategy, to respect the innocent and isolated civilians, whatever their nationality, religion and community particularities.”

The Qur’an recommends that the innocent be respected, and does not call for the confiscation of the property of others. It spares widows, orphans and the needy and says to be friendly to neighbours.”

“Meanwhile, we urge Christians in the region to exercise judgment, to measure properly their actions and understand what is planned for the region, to show solidarity with one another in love, review and retain what is likely to build trust among themselves and with their neighbours, to become one with their churches, to exercise patience and endurance and pray that the trial does not continue.”  I sure hope that these trials do NOT continue much longer!

*****

Seal of Hamas, laying claim to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem

Meanwhile, criticism of Israel increases as the Arab death toll rises. But Israel has to stop these rockets somehow – a country cannot live under daily barrages. But not only does Hamas continue to put rocket launchers into neighborhoods and store military supplies in mosques and schools, it even pressures residents to show their patriotism by NOT leaving their homes when Israel warns them to get out! TIME reports video of a Hamas leader actually saying: ““We, Hamas, call on our people to adopt this practice” of “sacrificing themselves to defend their homes.”  How does one even begin to deal with such people??

Lord of heaven and earth, may the hearts of all leaders listen to the whisper of Your voice and the power of Your commands, and work for peace and not more death and ruin. May the tears of Arab children move Hamas and Fatah alike to act.

Posted by: Fr Chris | July 22, 2014

After the powerful prayer service in Rome …. this

The prayer service in Rome held by Pope Francis in June showed promise of opening new doors to diplomacy: Jews, Muslims, Christians all meeting in the neutrality of the Vatican gardens, listening to prayers from their traditions, and then — all facing each other, eye to eye, shaking hands. The hope was that by praying together, talking together, they could all go home and try anew. 

But instead foolish people listened to Satan, the only one who prospers and rejoices when mankind suffers. And in the span of a month:

- 3 Jewish boys were kidnapped and cruelly murdered;

- hundreds of Palestinian men were searched, questioned, jailed, and some even died from the stress;

- a Palestinian boy was burned alive (how could anyone do that!) and his American cousin badly beaten;

- and Hamas crazily opened fire with rockets onto Israel. Again. Not having learned from previous air attacks that Israel’s Dome would stop 98%;

- and Israel responds, blasting narrow Gaza apart, telling people to evacuate before each strike, but they had nowhere to go because while Hamas was busy building tunnels to raid Israel, they never bothered to build air raid shelters for the civilians who voted them into power, and once again left their own families and friends to suffer in the streets and jam UN buildings with families and donkey carts trying to escape the horror;

- and crazy men, led on by Vladimir Putin’s desire to restore the Soviet-Tsarist Empire of Russia past, and armed by him, and given military veterans to lead them by him, shot down an airliner filled with vacationers, families heading home or to reunion, AIDS physicians, and an ordinary flight crew doing their job. The earlier phone calls intercepted by Ukrainian intelligence and confirmed by American sources show that they first rejoice at blasting yet another Ukrainian plane and killing yet more fellow Ukrainian citizens, only to quietly say “Zivil” – “Civilian.”

If he is a local Ukrainian “freedom fighter”, why does he wear a black wool balaclava over his face in 90 degree F heat? Only someone who is afraid to be recognized does.

I cannot say enough of  Vladimir Putin who so callously destabilized Ukraine rather than have a Russian-speaking democracy grow on his borders after the successful Maidan revolution overthrew Yanukovych and his years of graft and abuse of power, and so has merrily lied to his own people and the world while invading and seizing Crimea, and doing the same thing in eastern Ukraine – only to come up against this horrible episode. Now what?

That the “pro-Russian separatists” not only left bodies rotting in the sun while not holding church services for their souls, these supposedly Orthodox supporters, and looted the bodies and luggage right down to wedding rings, and shove around the damaged fuselage, shows how far down they and their Russian handlers have sunk. Their children left toys near the bodies of the children killed on the plane, and left rotting in the fields by their elders, and their mothers stood and wept. but the fighters muscled their way around inspectors with their machine guns in hand.  These separatists only got these missiles and everything else direct from Russia – where could they buy them and with what kind of money? 

I invite people to buy today’s Wall Street Journal, or go to your public library for it, and read Bret Stephens’ op-ed on page A9, “Seeing Putin Plain.” He says it all, better than I. 

Mass at Holy Family Latin rite parish, Gaza City 

And Gaza’s 2,000 Christians are waiting to suffer more: 1,500 Greek Orthodox; maybe 500 Catholics; 80 or so Baptists – when Muslim jihadists suffer at the hand of a stronger power, be it Israeli or Western then they inevitably blame the local Christians for their troubles. Why not? Christians cannot be armed, or serve in the armed forces or police and so learn self-defense, and they continue to follow Jesus Christ, the prophet of peace: something Mohammed definitely did NOT preach. So the Christians wait in dread, while missiles pour down upon them too, and their children, and the charities they run for disabled and poor Muslims. But when jihadists look for revenge, they never think about Christian schools, clinics, hospitals, kindergartens, and hospices that serve Muslim people – they just scream “crusader” and strike out with rape, arson and murder.

More than 650 Palestinians are dead, and over 4,000 wounded – but if Hamas did not put its own civilians at risk by locating artillery and bases in mosques, schools, neighborhoods, houses, they would not be dead. Yes, it is horrible and Israel has greater military power – but who really is at fault? Those who tunneled, but did not build one air raid shelter underground. 

Greek Orthodox altar servers, St. Porphyrius church, Gaza City. The parish dates to the 100s of the Christian era. 

Witness Iraq: Mosul has had a Christian bishop since before 410 AD, and Christian worshippers since the time of the apostles  - and today not one believer remains, all expelled. And the lone Muslim who defended them – executed by the “caliphate.” Remember Mahmoud Al ‘Asali, a law professor who lectured

on pedagogy at the University of Mosul and decried the IS caliphate’s outrageous demands on Christians as un-Islamic. And now he is dead, a witness to the brutality of jihad. Don’t tell me jihad means “struggle” for one’s soul – I know that. But right now, jihad means a war of no mercy, and anyone with a Christian or Jewish background – even if they don’t believe in God anymore – is doomed who is in their path. God, the God of Abraham, have mercy on us.

Meanwhile, Satan and his evil minions dance for joy in Hell while Palestinian children are traumatized and perhaps resolve to punish Israel when they grow up; while Jews go into shelters wondering if a rocket will pierce the Dome and kill them and maybe it would be better to flatten Gaza after all; and long-suffering Arabic-speaking Christians wonder should they abandon their homes where their families have lived for 3,000 years, or pack up and move to the secular West and perhaps lose their souls while saving their lives.

And the Pope weeps.

And Satan dances. 

Jesus won the war on the Cross, but Satan fights on to lead souls into ruin. 

Posted by: Fr Chris | July 7, 2014

His Holiness met with victims of clergy abuse from Germany and the British Isles today.  He met with each person individually, and there was no time limit on each meeting. Each one had about 30 minutes with the pontiff. The entire session lasted about three hours.

The pope has appointed a commission to work with him on new standards and rules, and one member is a woman who was abused as a child in once-Catholic Ireland. The revelations of abuse and cover-ups by bishops have rocked the island evangelized by St. Patrick and have weakened the Church’s mission in North America and Europe, and we are now hearing more of the same from Africa and Latin America.

A Vatican citizen, Josef Wesolowski, an archbishop from Poland, was reduced to the lay state recently and now faces criminal charges by a Vatican court – this is hopefully a sign of the future as for the first time the  pope said that bishops will be held accountable, something victims’ groups demand.

Now back, to today’s meeting: As successor of Peter, he referenced the scene where Jesus hears Peter deny him three times while Jesus is being interrogated and beaten by the guards and Jesus looks directly at Peter. Peter then breaks into tears and runs away weeping.

Peter weeps, by Agostini Melissi, 1675

Much later, after the Resurrection, Peter and Jesus meet on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.There, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” Peter affirms his love for Christ, and Jesus then entrusts him with the mission of caring for His sheep on earth.  Pope Francis uses strong language regarding those who did the abuse, and those in the Church who did not help the victims and their families. He references those driven to suicide – I myself know of one young fellow who killed himself as a result of both the abuse and the failure of the local bishop to come to his aid. God bless our pope, and God grant that this scourge – which is always a danger but which peaked horribly in the 1960s-1980s – will be dealt with firmly from here on.  Here is the Pope: “The scene where Peter sees Jesus emerge after a terrible interrogation… Peter whose eyes meet the gaze of Jesus and weeps… This scene comes to my mind as I look at you, and think of so many men and women, boys and girls. I feel the gaze of Jesus and I ask for the grace to weep, the grace for the Church to weep and make reparation for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons. Today, I am very grateful to you for having travelled so far to come here. “For some time now I have felt in my heart deep pain and suffering. So much time hidden, camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained until someone realized that Jesus was looking and others the same … and they set about to sustain that gaze. “And those few who began to weep have touched our conscience for this crime and grave sin. This is what causes me distress and pain at the fact that some priests and bishops, by sexually abusing minors, violated their innocence and their own priestly vocation. It is something more than despicable actions. It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God. And those people sacrificed them to the idol of their own concupiscence. They profane the very image of God in whose likeness we were created. Childhood, as we all know, young hearts, so open and trusting, have their own way of understanding the mysteries of God’s love and are eager to grow in the faith. Today the heart of the Church looks into the eyes of Jesus in these boys and girls and wants to weep; she asks the grace to weep before the execrable acts of abuse which have left life long scars. “I know that these wounds are a source of deep and often unrelenting emotional and spiritual pain, and even despair. Many of those who have suffered in this way have also sought relief in the path of addiction. Others have experienced difficulties in significant relationships, with parents, spouses and children. Suffering in families has been especially grave, since the damage provoked by abuse affects these vital family relationships. “Some have even had to deal with the terrible tragedy of the death of a loved one by suicide. The deaths of these so beloved children of God weigh upon the heart and my conscience and that of the whole Church. To these families I express my heartfelt love and sorrow. Jesus, tortured and interrogated with passionate hatred, is taken to another place and he looks out. He looks out upon one of his own torturers, the one who denied him, and he makes him weep. Let us implore this grace together with that of making amends. “Sins of clerical sexual abuse against minors have a toxic effect on faith and hope in God. Some of you have held fast to faith, while for others the experience of betrayal and abandonment has led to a weakening of faith in God. Your presence here speaks of the miracle of hope, which prevails against the deepest darkness. Surely it is a sign of God’s mercy that today we have this opportunity to encounter one another, to adore God, to look in one another’s eyes and seek the grace of reconciliation. “Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness. “I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk. “On the other hand, the courage that you and others have shown by speaking up, by telling the truth, was a service of love, since for us it shed light on a terrible darkness in the life of the Church. There is no place in the Church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not. All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable. “What Jesus says about those who cause scandal applies to all of us: the millstone and the sea. “By the same token we will continue to exercise vigilance in priestly formation. I am counting on the members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, all minors, whatever religion they belong to, for they are little flowers which God looks lovingly upon. “I ask this support so as to help me ensure that we develop better policies and procedures in the universal Church for the protection of minors and for the training of church personnel in implementing those policies and procedures. We need to do everything in our power to ensure that these sins have no place in the Church. “Dear brothers and sisters, because we are all members of God’s family, we are called to live lives shaped by mercy. The Lord Jesus, our Saviour, is the supreme example of this; though innocent, he took our sins upon himself on the cross. To be reconciled is the very essence of our shared identity as followers of Jesus Christ. By turning back to him, accompanied by our most holy Mother, who stood sorrowing at the foot of the cross, let us seek the grace of reconciliation with the entire people of God. The loving intercession of Our Lady of Tender Mercy is an unfailing source of help in the process of our healing. “You and all those who were abused by clergy are loved by God. I pray that the remnants of the darkness which touched you may be healed by the embrace of the Child Jesus and that the harm which was done to you will give way to renewed faith and joy. “I am grateful for this meeting. And please pray for me, so that the eyes of my heart will always clearly see the path of merciful love, and that God will grant me the courage to persevere on this path for the good of all children and young people. Jesus comes forth from an unjust trial, from a cruel interrogation and he looks in the eyes of Peter, and Peter weeps. We ask that he look at us and that we allow ourselves to be looked upon and to weep and that he give us the grace to be ashamed, so that, like Peter, forty days later, we can reply: ‘You know that I love you'; and hear him say: ‘go back and feed my sheep’ –and I would add – ‘let no wolf enter the fold’”.

Posted by: Fr Chris | July 3, 2014

US Saints for the Fourth of July

Happy 238th  Anniversary of our Independence! The great experiment begun with the American Revolution continues onward, always hitting bumps in the road but eventually getting itself straightened out again. I’m not going to dwell on the bumps, but on those persons who responded to God’s grace in the United States in a particular way, so much so that they became truly holy people. Here are some saints, and some soon-to-be ones whom you might not know about.

St Kateri Tekakwitha praying in front of a cross she made in the forest. 

The Lily of the Mohawks should count as the first American saint since she was born in upstate New York, in 1656, to a Mohawk chief and an Algonquin mother who was a Catholic. At the age of four, she was orphaned in a smallpox epidemic which killed her parents and brother, and left her with a scarred face and weak vision. Adopted by an anti-Christian uncle, Kateri moved with him to a newly built Mohawk town, Caughnawaga, which is where she first encountered Blackrobes – the French Jesuit priests who came to North America as missionaries. Her uncle was hostile because one of his daughters had gone north to an Indian Catholic town, and perhaps because the missionaries had been imposed on the Mohawaks after their defeat by the French in 1666. Despite her uncle’s hostility, she was drawn over the years ever close to Christianity, and she was baptized in 1676. That she was baptized after only six months of instruction shows the depth of her faith: many converts were not baptized until they were on their deathbeds! She became a true mystic, speaking to God intimately, enduring persecution, and committed to celibacy so as to be wholly given over to God. She finally escaped to Canada, settling in the Catholic Indian town of  Kahnawake. Here she grew even more in Faith, and was revered by both Natives and French. She was mentored in faith by an old friend of her deceased mother, Anastasia Tegonhatsiongo. They were part of a group of women who longed to be nuns, and they practiced many penances to obtain the salvation of their people and atone for sins.  When Kateri died, the witnesses said that the smallpox scars left her body, and her face was beautiful and white. She appeared to several people at her death, including the mission priest, Father Claude  Chauchetière who saw her for two hours “in baroque ecstasy.” Known for healings across New France, she was canonized in 2012.

CatherinaeTekakwithaVirginis1690.jpg

Early painting shows how Kateri covered herself with a blanket, to hide her scars and shield her eyes. She is meditating on a cross that she made. 

The first pastor of my home parish was Saint John Neumann. This little unassuming priest was my first Catholic hero. German-Czech priest left old Bohemia to come to the New World to be ordained a priest and to serve as a missionary.  He was sent to the Niagara Frontier, a stretch of country along the eastern end of Lake Erie. In those days, Buffalo was a little town, and Father Neumann was sent to minister to German farmers from Alsace-Lorraine in the district of North Bush in 1836.  From his base at the log St John the Baptist Church, he went out on horseback to serve parishes from Williamsville to Lancaster, an arduous trek by horseback. In those days one could hear the roar of Niagara Falls, 27 kilometers/ 16 miles away! He left the frontier in 1840 to enter the Redemptorist Order. He founded the system of parochial schools in  America (so threatened today with extinction!) and, against his will, served as bishop of Philadelphia. He died there of overwork and exhaustion, and his incorrupt body rests under glass in the lower level of St. Peter’s Church in that city.

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was the widow of an upper-class New York City merchant, who died in Italy of tuberculosis. From the Protestant Episcopal Church and “old” English families of New York, she created a double scandal in America when she became a Roman Catholic (1805) and later founded the Sisters of Charity to staff Catholic schools, adopting the Rule of St Vincent de Paul in 1810. These Sisters were the first Order to work among the public in the young United States. Mother Seton founded schools and directed her Community in the spirit of St Vincent de Paul and St Louise de Marillac, with deep devotion to the Holy Eucharist, the Bible, and the Mother of God. She died in 1849 and is buried inside the Basilica in Emmitsburg, MD, and was canonized in 1975. Her former home along the southern shore of Manhattan is now a national shrine. This was where she used to walk the docks, begging from the captains of the ships for help for the children she was serving.  It was one of my favorite places to visit when I would go to New York City. 

The Watson House on the right and is now the rectory; the church is where her house stood and was added in 1964 but in the same Federal style. There has been a Catholic parish here since 1884. Mother Seton stands above the church door, with her arms out and facing New York harbor.  

Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne was born in France in a devout family. She became a Visitation Nun, an order of enclosed Sisters who taught children. She survived persecution in the Revolution’s Reign of Terror after being expelled from her convent along with all other Sisters in France thrown out of their homes. While she was able to join the new Society of the Sacred Heart, a community of Sisters who lived in an open convent and taught in schools,  her heart felt called to mission work in the New World. She came to America in 1818. She settled in Saint Charles, Missouri, after a journey of seven weeks from New Orleans. She and her Sisters established schools for both French children and for the new immigrants coming to America. Within ten years, there were six convents with Sisters teaching in schools on the frontier in Missouri and then in Louisiana.

At the age of 71 she gave all this up to move to Kansas, to work among the Indians who had been deported there. She served ng the Pottawatomi Indians, especially their sick.  To her grief, she could not learn their language, but the children revered her as “The Woman Who Always Prays” and she withdrew to live a life of seclusion in a tiny shack near her first convent at St Charles, Missouri, where she died in 1852.

When her body was exhumed in 1855, it was found to be incorrupt. This was buried in a small shrine, but in 1951 Pope Pius XII ordered that she be buried in a more proper church. This was built and her body placed there in 1952. She was canonized in 1988. What a way to be remembered, as a person who always prays!

Image of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne

The first Convent of the Sacred Heart – a far cry from France’s comforts! 

Father Nelson Baker is a famous priest on the Niagara Frontier and now beyond. He was the son of an Irish Catholic mother and German Lutheran father, but after his baptism at age 9, he was raised in the Catholic faith.  He served as a Union soldier in the Civil War at Gettysburg and in putting down the New York City draft riots, and at home was a successful businessman. But he gave it all up to become a priest in 1870. On a pilgrimage to Europe, he was profoundly moved at the shrine of Our Lady of Victories in Paris, and commended himself to Mary’s care under that title. Ordained in 1876, he eventually found his life’s work at the St. Joseph Orphanage, St. John Protectory and St. Patrick church in the factory town of Lackawanna, which is on the south side of Buffalo.

In order to pay off the debts of the three institutions, he paid all of his savings to creditors and founded the Association of Our Lady of Victory, writing to Catholic women all over the United States asking for help to support the orphans in his care.  This association is still ongoing today. The debts were paid in 1889. In 1891, facing the need to heat the growing colony of buildings at the site, he prayed to Our Lady of Victory, and a natural gas well was discovered on the site. Everything has been heated ever since for free.

Father Baker, as he is still known in Western New York, established a new orphanage for boys, home for unwed mothers and babies, hospital, parish school, an apostolate to African-Americans, home for disabled children, convent, rectory, and a basilica styled on those of the baroque era in Europe. Everything was paid for with donations. “Father Baker’s Boys” are famous as products of the orphanage and vocational school who became fine Catholic men and pillars of community and Church.  And it is worth noting, that not one child was ever molested, beaten or otherwise abused, right down to our day. Maybe that should count as a miracle1  Father Baker’s Cause for sainthood was opened in 1987. His body was moved from Holy Cross Cemetery into the magnificent church he built.  Scroll down for pictures of the church and then of Fr. Baker himself. 

Our Lady of Victory Basilica 

The High Altar

Father Baker and two of his “boys” waiting for candy

He

Posted by: Fr Chris | June 24, 2014

Saint John’s Day and Truth

Glory to Jesus Christ! I am back after another hiatus. One week was spent in Phoenix with our Bishop, Most Rev. Gerald Dino, and my brother priests, most of the deacons, and the Sisters of St. Basil who are assigned to work in our eparchy that is both little (2,500 souls) but big (19 parishes from Anchorage to Albuquerque).  The other weeks were once again, times in which I was having a lot of physical trouble and fatigue. Fatigue is not my favorite thing – you never seem to be able to get the rest to get the energy to get back on track! Well, back I am, and let’s get going:

Today is the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.  I’ve got a special affection for him, as he is the patron of my home parish in the Buffalo suburbs of Kenmore and the Town of Tonawanda.  You can read about the parish at http://www.stjohnskenmore.org/  – and it’s a remarkable place. Our first pastor was a saint, St. John Neumann, who was based at a wooden church, later replaced by the stone church (still standing), while covering a wide stretch of parishes on horseback.  This is a good photo of the fourth church, opened a few years before Vatican II and still serving today. The third church was incorporated into the school, of which see below.

Ini front is Saint John, baptizing Jesus Who is stooped down in front of him. A larger-than-life statue is inside of him  up front, in camel hair and lifting up a pole topped by a cross, looking like he is going to step right off the wall to lead you forward. This statue stands in the original church, which is still used today and was a sanctuary of prayer for me for most of my life, and was carved by the saint’s brother who left Bohemia to work alongside his brother.

The stone church built by German farmers who settled “North Bush”, now Kenmore-Tonawanda area.

The High Altar inside. You can see just how restful and peaceful a place it is! In my youth, it was always open, and I made good use of  that.

 

John the Baptist is the only “ordinary” saint whose conception, birth and death are commemorated on the Church Calendar (Sept. 23, June 24, Aug. 29). He is the Forerunner of Jesus, the last of the Jewish prophets, the one who prepared “the way of the Lord” for Jesus’ ministry.

The prophet’s birth took place almost six months before that of Jesus, and according to the account was expected by prophecy (Matthew. 3:3; Isa. 40:3; Malachi 3:1) and foretold by Gabriel. St. Elizabeth gives birth to him just one day before the end of a nine month pregnancy – this shows that unlike Jesus, Who is born after a perfect pregnancy, John is only a man, despite his prophetic abilities. The angel appeared to his father, the priest Zacharias, in the Temple sanctuary, but Zacharias doubted the angel’s prediction of conception and birth of a prophet to himself and his wife as they were old.  Zacharias lost his power of speech because of his unbelief over the birth of his son, and had it restored on the occasion of John’s circumcision (Luke 1:64). Zacharias, of course, should have known better than to doubt the angel’s word: there were several such occasions in the Bible, beginning with the patriarch Abraham himself, of conceptions by elderly or supposedly infertile women!

John was consecrated to God from birth. He went out into the desert, like so many prophets before him, and spent his early years in the mountainous area lying between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea (Matt. 3:1-12). He led a simple life, wearing rope and clothing made from camel hair, not fine linens, and eating “locusts and wild honey” (Matt. 3:4), not meat. This shows that he is a chosen one of God, who depends on God. And he is the last prophet – his duty is to prepare Israel for the Son of the Most High God. After John, no prophet has arisen in Israel since.

As an adult John started to preach in public, and people from “every quarter” were attracted to his message. The essence of his preaching was the necessity of repentance and turning away from selfish pursuits in order to serve and love God more. In addition he warned that a greater prophet was coming, and soon, who would transform the world by baptizing with fire. He denounced the Sadducees and Pharisees as a “generation of vipers,” and warned them not to assume their heritage gave them special privilege (Luke 3:8). He warned tax collectors and soldiers against extortion and plunder. His doctrine and manner of life stirred great interest, bringing people from Judea, Galilee, the Decapolis and beyond to see him on the banks of the Jordan River. There he baptized thousands who came in a spirit of repentance.

When Jesus comes to the Jordan river, John baptizes Him (reluctantly), at which the Trinity is revealed for the first time. From then on, John “humbly steps aside” as the song says for the feast of Theophany. He is killed by Herod Antipas, because he confronted him and his second wife with the sin of their adultery. According to Scripture, St. Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, abandons this corrupt and wicked court to become one of the holy women who followed Jesus. It is thought that she is a source of information to Luke about Herod’s court. She is also credited with rescuing John’s severed head and burying it on the Mount of Olives, whence it is much later retrieved by Christians.

So what is all this say to us now? John is the voice who not only prepared the way for Christ, but convicted people in their hearts of their sins and their failures to love God. In a time when the Name of God was barely ever spoken, he turns their hearts back to God, setting the scene for Jesus’ radical calls. He dies because he speaks the truth – he will not be silenced. An awful lot of people in our society lie today, blatantly, and get away with it. Some are even praised for their actions and quite a few VA workers in the US have been collecting huge bonuses which they did not deserve, having abandoned our country’s veterans for the sake of those bonuses and to “look good” to superiors. 

Truth will always win – not only does the truth set us free (John 8:32), it is an attribute of God Himself! To be truthful, then, is to imitate God. I’ve never been able to lie – my face will get red, I get flustered. It is my body’s way of saving me from more sins than the ones I already commit. We have to be truthful, to be honest, and we have to listen when the Lord calls us to Him. To turn from Him will result in nothing but grief and sorrow.

Saint John the Baptist, Forerunner of the Lord, pray for us!

PS If you live in the Buffalo area and are looking for a good Catholic school, check out my alma mater, St John the Baptist school, opened in 1931:  http://www.stjohnskenmore.com/  In my day, that school had over 1,400 students served by Sisters of St Mary of Namur and lay teachers. It is an all lay staff today, for 430 students, but has retained its reputation as a solid, Catholic, educational place: see the profile of a graduate of SJS:  http://www.stjohnskenmore.com/profile_of_sjs_grad.html

Check them out!

Posted by: Fr Chris | June 14, 2014

All Saints Sunday

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory to Him forever! This is the greeting among Byzantine Christians during most of the church year, rendered in Slavonic as Slava Isusu Christu! Slava na viki!  It is a wonderful way to acknowledge that all is to be done for Him, including the most ordinary of conversations.  Everything should be done for the glory of the Lord, which includes our ordinary daily living, the good and the bad. I’ve been absent from the blog due to a particularly hard stretch of physical impairment, such that it was pretty hard to get the basics done, let alone this! But in my absence from the blog, I still strove to give glory to Him, with the sincere knowledge that my intention united with suffering was remembered by God: the salvation of souls both living and deceased, relief for the souls who have no one praying for them, the building up of the Body of Christ on earth and redemption for the Suffering Church around the world. This weekend, all Churches adhering to the Byzantine rite, both Orthodox and Catholic, commemorate ALL SAINTS – those whose journeys now continue in the presence of the Holy Trinity.

 

All Saints is set on this Sunday to remember all those who have responded to the call of the Holy Spirit, given at Pentecost, and who achieved the fullness of the Christian life. This is the day to remember all those anonymous Christians, people who were humble or royal, monks and nuns or parents of children, workers, soldiers, doctors, farmers, tradesmen: every soul who now dwells in glory in Heaven. These people, from all nations and all ranks of life, see the full Beatific Vision, the revelation of the Holy Trinity.

And it is important to remember that they do not forget us – they pray for us so that we will have the same blessing. This is the Communion of Saints.

 

From the Catholic Encyclopedia (1911) we read: Repeatedly St. Paul speaks of the one body whose head is Christ (Colossians 1:18), whose energizing principle is charity (Ephesians 4:16), whose members are the saints, not only of this world, but also of the world to come (Ephesians 1:20Hebrews 12:22). In that communion there is no loss of individuality, yet such an interdependence that the saints are “members one of another” (Romans 12:5), not only sharing the same blessings (1 Corinthians 12:13) and exchanging good offices (1 Corinthians 12:25) and prayers(Ephesians 6:18), but also partaking of the same corporate life, because “Christ holds it together and makes all of its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of charity” (Ephesians 4:16).

 The Catholic Catechism of today writes: The intercession of the saints. “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.”

As Saint Therese of Lisieux said on her deathbed: “I want to spend my heaven doing good upon earth.”

There is really nothing more to say of the ongoing lives of the saints and their concern for us, is there? So enjoy this weekend in the presence of the saints, known and unknown, and ask that we respond to God’s grace as they did, and so enter into His glory.

May 25th is the last Paschal Sunday: the Man Born Blind.

We continue the baptismal theme and the use of water, but here spiritual blindness is removed as well as physical. It is important to note that the man “was born blind” as this emphasizes the power of the miracle. And we continue the pre-Pentecostal theme as well, because the later history of Jewish Christians being expelled from synagogues is put into this story from Jesus’ lifetime. The Holy Spirit strengthens us in persecution: this newly cured man loses everything because he defends Jesus and the miraculous cure. But when he hears the voice of Jesus, he knows exactly Who this: the only Man who could have done this had to be of God, and so this devout Jew kneels down and worships Him as God.

When Jesus was alive, those who believed in Him were not thrown out of synagogues. That happened only in the 80s of the first century. The writer in John’s Gospel takes an incident of his church’s experience and puts it into the time of Jesus’ preaching, in order to make a point to his local church: this is how you should respond, with faith. The young man confesses that Jesus is the Son of God! He is one of the very first in the gospel to do so. He loses everything, but finds strength and peace alike in that profession of faith.

Persecution on the basis of religion abounds today, but what most people do not know is this: 75% of all instances of religious persecution are against Christians.  What will we be willing to risk if the laws turn against us?  The martyrs of the 20th century, and the spiritual heroism of this man who was born blind, will have to guide us and encourage us in the 21st century as we truly see the faith.

Caesarius of Arles wrote: That blind man was prepared as a salve for the human race. He was bodily restored to light, in order that by considering his miracle we might be enlightened in heart. In evening prayer tonight, may we offer this prayer to God, that we will always be enlightened in our hearts and do what is right, no matter the cost. Christ is risen!

Ascension Thursday

The emphasis in Scripture and the Feast is the commissioning of the apostles to prepare to be enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and to go out into Jerusalem and preach Christ risen while waiting. In the icon, Jesus does not dominate. He is in a mandorla of glory, and shares the scene with Our Lady and the apostles. The icon, then, is concerned with the meaning of the event and its significance for us. Mary is central as is related in the Acts of the Apostles: she was there praying with them.

As Mary brought Jesus in his physical body, so she is still His mother ih His mystical body – the Church. It is worth noting that before Pentecost, the Acts of the Apostles tells us that Mary was the spirit bearer for the church. Mary also plays a central role at the completion of Jesus’ earthly mission: she and the angels attend both the start (Christmas) and the end (Ascension). Mary will be with the disciples when the Holy Spirit descends on Pentecost, nine days later.

What is the thing around Jesus in the icon?

That is the mandorla, which is used to reveal the glory which is beyond vision. This is why the mandorla is also found surrounding Jesus in icons of the Ascension, and also at the Baptism and Transfiguration. In both these cases, the mandorla is not showing something which was seen directly, but represents the glory and majesty beyond what was physically witnessed by the gathered crowds.

This “cloud”, clearly paralleling the cloud Moses entered in order to converse with God, is also represented by the mandorla. It is at the heart of God’s revelation to the Jews first, and then Christians: it is impossible to comprehend God. But to know God, to encounter and converse with Him, and to fully experience Him is possible. It happens through entering this “cloud of unknowing”. What Scripture cannot express in words, Icons capture in the mandorla; yet what we can experience of God’s glory goes beyond even images. This is why the mandorla surrounding Christ usually shows concentric bands of shading which get darker toward the centre, rather than lighter. We must pass through stages of what seem like increasing mystery and unknowing, in order to encounter Jesus Christ. – adapted from A Reader’s Guide to Orthodox Icons, found at       http://iconreader.wordpress.com

Here is a modern “icon” – billboards in Kiev/ Kyiv of the two real leading candidates in Sunday’s elections: Petro Poroshenko and Yulia Tymoshenko. Both are Ukrainian- and Russian-speakers from southeast Ukraine, Poroshenko is in the lead, and not a fascist in sight – the far right parties poll at 1% — whereas in the EU, they are scoring a lot higher.  Go here: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/may/22/ukraine-edge-democracy/ for Timothy Snyder’s excellent article on what’s happening for real and why it matters to Europe, Russia, and the democratic world.   Go here  http://www.rferl.org/archive/Ukraine/latest/670/670.html  for Radio Free Europe’s English news page on Ukraine. God bless.

Christ is risen! 

Pope Francis has a long-standing connection with Eastern Churches. As a student at a Salesian boarding school, he served the daily Divine Liturgy of a priest who is on the road to sainthood, Fr. Stefan Czmil. This Polish-born priest was ordained in 1945 among Ukrainian Catholic refugees by Bishop Buchko, because while doing his Salesian studies, he ended up outside of Poland when World War II ended. Poland was occupied by the Red Army and the Ukrainian Catholic bishops in occupied Poland were arrested and sent to the USSR. Father Czmil then ended up far away from his home, in Argentina, to teach and work among Ukrainian Catholic immigrants and refugees, and here he met Jorge Bergoglio.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was in charge of the Eastern Catholics in Argentina – of whom there were many – who did not have their own bishop: Armenians,Maronites,  Melkites, Russians, Ukrainians. He took under his wing the young Ukrainian Catholic bishop, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, with whom he often concelebrated the Divine Liturgy. That bishop is now the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church worldwide, and lives in Kiev. When the Holy Father was elected, the Patriarchate of Moscow sent a letter urging him not to support the “aspirations” of the “Uniates” (a term that has long been rejected by Eastern Catholics), presumably referring to the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church’s aspirations to establishing a Catholic Patriarchate based at Kiev.

This week, His Holiness agreed to the elevation of the Curitiba eparchy in Brazil to the status of an archeparchy, with a suffragan eparchy in Prudentopolis with about 2 million faithful. This creates a Ukrainian Greco-Catholic metropolia in Brazil, a sign of significant growth of the Church there, one fully Brazilian while being fully Eastern.

St John the Baptist Cathedral in Curitiba

Prudentopolis Cathedral Interior

Ukrainian Greco-Catholics began settling in Brazil in 1896.

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Further, he appointed as his second secretary a Coptic Catholic priest from Egypt - the first time an Eastern Catholic has held this post! Msgr. Yoannis Lahzi Gaid will aid the Holy Father in his daily life, with such tasks as translating and answering personal correspondence in the Pope’s name.

Msgr. Lahzi Gaid currently serves in the Secretariat of State and is known for reading the Gospels and summarizing the Pope’s comments in Arabic at his general audiences. He has also served as translator for the Pope’s meetings with Arabic-speaking delegates, including at his meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the state of Palestine. He has lived for some time at the St. Martha guesthouse in the Vatican, according to Andrea Tornielli of Vatican Insider.

He was born in 1975 in Cairo and is one of eight siblings. In addition to his native Arabic, he speaks Italian, French and English.
He attended the Coptic Catholic seminary in Cairo and the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, earning a doctorate in the canon law of the Eastern Churches. (EWTN News)

I wonder if somewhere an Orthodox conspiracy theorist is going to come up with some propaganda about “Uniate” influence.

Coptic Catholic Church interior in Cairo

The Mother of God remains very important to both Orthodox and Catholic Copts.

Ukrainian Catholics in Donetsk Oblast aka the People’s Republic of Donetsk 

Pokrov Bogorodyci Doneck

Cathedral of the Holy Protection of the Mother of God

The faithful of the Donetsk-Kharkhiv Exarchate are surely praying to Our Lady now after the farcical “referendum” last Sunday. People in the oblast had to put their marked ballots in clear plexiglass boxes, often had to mark ballots in front of the monitors, and had to wait in long lines because there were often very few polling places available. Predictably, Communist levels of support were reported: 84%. I am surprised they did not claim 90% or more.  Supporters of union with the rest of the country generally stayed home. I am very impressed that 16% were able to vote No.  The past practice by Moscow is to quickly accede to people’s voting, of their own free will, for Russian protection. So far it has not happened – perhaps Mr. Putin recognizes that this is a step too far. We can only hope.

1025980-d.jpg

Father Pavlo Zuchenko, Orthodox priest and father of three children, shot to death

This young priest of the Moscow Patriarchate went to calm down anti-government militiamen in the town of Druzhinka and convince them to lay down their arms. For this, he was shot eight times, with one shot right in the heart.  It is a monstrous killing by anyone’s standards. He apparently was known to the militias; Interfax http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=11246 reported he gave spiritual counsel to the militias. What could possess anyone to murder a priest?  

Six Ukrainian Army soldiers were killed in a shootout near Slovyansk. The Luhansk People’s Republic governor was gravely wounded in an attack. Scores are dead in Odessa and elsewhere in these troubled oblasts. How much longer will this insanity drag on? Will Putin and his friends be responsible for more and more deaths, or will common sense prevail?

Russia faces a demographic disaster: men die at 64; Muslim birth rates are rising; abortions continue on a grand scale and births outnumber deaths for the first time in years. Annexation of Russian speakers along the western frontier will bring in temporary life, but Ukraine’s east is also in demographic crisis. The whole area, indeed all of Europe, needs to return to common sense with marriage, births of children in families, and abandonment of alcoholism and drug abuse. Ah, but the West needs the same! Western Europe, Canada, USA all are in crisis. States legalize marijuana without even considering the damage that is done to young brains, by drivers who are high, by youngsters who get hold of their elders’ newly-legal “grass.”

Today in the Roman Rite is the feast of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, the commemoration of the appearance of the Angel to the three children in Fatima on this date in 1917. The Angel prepared them with prayer and penance for the great events of October 13, then yet to come. There is no other solution for the West, the East, the whole world – prayer, penance, love for Mary and a return to  God and to common sense. 

Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen! 

Please read all the way to the bottom, below the photos from Syria -thank you. 

Easter Procession in Ukraine, Vladimir Y. Yakovsky 

One of my favorite times to travel to the territory of our Church in Europe (East Slovakia, Transcarpathia Ukraine, Northern Hungary) was in this time of year. I know this greeting in all the languages of the region, and so was able to respond to the people greeting me as a priest. Times like this, when the Orthodox and Western celebrations of Easter occur at the same time, were especially good as entire districts were celebrating together. That gave me the chance to see what the re-united Church would be like, overcoming these past divisions at long. The Byzantine Catholic Church is part of the period of Unions in the 16th-18th centuries, when the Union of Ungvar/ Uzhhorod in 1646 took place, when people hoped that Orthodoxy and Catholicism would be brought together again. My Church still endures, despite many persecutions and population losses, in Europe and North America. The hunger for union still continues, on both sides, among parties of good will. When we celebrate together like this, it is a stark reminder that disunion is hardly the will of God.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk spoke recently in Canada. In part of his speech, in which he asks the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic diaspora to no longer to live for Ukraine but to live, and so diminish ethnocentrism in his Church, he relates this story:

“There is an anecdote circulating in Ukraine: A Russian citizen meets a Ukrainian citizen and asks him: “So, are you one of those ultra-nationalist, fascist anti-semites, who supports the government in Kyiv?” And the Ukrainian citizen replies: “I guess I am, because everybody at our synagogue is!” All joking aside, political humour often makes important statements. This is a blessed time for Ukrainian-Jewish relations. We stand together for the truth. We stand together for a country that has earned to join the family of free and democratic states, through its painfully acquired human dignity.” *  That kind of propaganda about “the other side” was the hallmark of Soviet Communism, whereby the outside world was painted with frightening words so that people in Communist Europe would think that the Nazis had raised their head. Now it is used to speak of the Ukrainian revolution that has so frightened Mr. Putin. For if the Russian-speaking oblasts remain in democratic Ukraine, then there will be a Russian-speaking democracy on his doorstep. For after all this suffering, I cannot imagine that Ukrainians will allow a kleptocracy to return to power! And an autocratic regime cannot tolerate that. And so the “popular militias” are still led by men in black masks who are so well armed that they can shoot down a Ukrainian army helicopter with a surface-to-air missile, and who wear uniforms without any insignias, and who speak Russian so well. Putin admitted after the annexation of Crimea that yes, Russian forces had been inside Crimea fomenting unrest, but this is different he says.  

Mr. Putin is correct. It is, because now there is not only anger splitting families apart as in Crimea, now there are deaths, and very frightened people on both sides who may not think before they act next. Orthodox and Greek Catholics are celebrating the Resurrection of Christ, and moving forward to Pentecost and the birthday of the Christian Church. This should be the occasion for processions and family celebrations. And the election on May 25th should be an occasion for a new democratic Ukrainian government to be elected nationwide, perhaps a new movement of the Holy Spirit for a long-suffering people – but with the threat of a Crimea-like “referendum” in the east and south, I don’t know if that will happen. 

And Russia and the Russian minorities of the Russian borderland from Estonia to the Black Sea are being told by most Russian-language media that fascists (Nazis) are in charge in Kiev (one small faction of the revolution which has disavowed violence), that their homes and lives are in danger from nationalists (evoking memories of the anti-communist Ukrainian nationalists of WW II and the early 1950s). Creating fear among people is bad enough, but costing the lives of civilians and running the risk of a full-scale invasion that will have devastating results is much worse. World War II brought long-lasting suffering to these countries, remembered vividly. A lopsided civil war with Russia’s heavy armor and well-trained troops will leave more damage, and more terrible memories for people who have had too much pain as it is.  Dear Lord, grant that the peace of Your Risen Son, and the inspiration of Your Holy Spirit, will rule in people’s hearts, and may leaders listen to You, and Your desire for peace and harmony, and for differences to be settled peaceably and in charity, not with violence. Holy Mother of God, whose image in Kiev has survived for a millenium against heavy odds, may your prayers move the hearts of leaders to choose the path of your Son’s peace, and not more heartache and pain. 

The Virgin Orans, or praying, Kiev

*http://www.royaldoors.net/2014/05/the-proper-role-of-our-diaspora-not-to-live-for-ukraine-but-to-live/

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In Syria, the birthplace of the three-year old revolution, Homs, fell to government troops today. It was Syria’s third-largest city, and one with many Christians living alongside the majority Sunni Muslims. Today it is a complete ruin, looking more like German cities in May of 1945 instead of a major industrial center. There has been a town at this site since 2300 BC – over 4,000 years of continued inhabitance. And today it is nearly empty as the 50 rebels who accepted amnesty, and the last 2,500 people trapped in the fabled Old City – 1,200 rebels and civilians  – left in buses for rebel-held areas. The rebels also turned over 71 Iranians and 20 Lebanese Hezbollah to the Syrian government. Foreign fighters have been in the lead of such extreme jihadist groups like ISIS, which has caused havoc in their occupation zones with Muslims and Christians alike being subjected to the most radical – and often cruel – interpretations of Shariah, the code of Muslim law.  Having to fight two wars – against ISIS and their ilk plus the Assad regime – has left the secular opposition which began the revolution exhausted.

Father Frans van der Lugt, a 75 year old Jesuit missionary who has spent his entire priesthood living in Syria for 50 years who cared for children and adults with intellectual disabilities and who was loved by all, was taken out of his Jesuit residence on April 7 and shot dead in the street by an unidentified gunman. He was three days away from his 76th birthday.

He had brokered a truce that allowed 1,400 civilians to escape the Old City before shooting resumed, trapping the remainder. He communicated to his superiors:

“If the Syrian people suffer now, I too can share their pain and problems,” he said, choosing to minister to the remaining Muslim families and the 25 remaining Christians (out of a population of 60,000) unable to leave the Old City.
The American Superior of Jesuits, Fr. Thomas Smolich says: 

“As the Pope himself said, less for Father Frans and more for the thousands and thousands of other people who had been killed there,” he said, “the [media] play this is getting is another reminder that peace is really what is needed.”    

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/jesuit-priest-saw-christ-crucified-again-in-syria/#ixzz315Mo1xHU

And in the end, peace is the only answer to all conflicts. May the peace of the Risen Lord be in our hearts, and may we be His witnesses where we live, and may His peace rule across the earth. 

Homs before and after 
Below: the Church of St. Mary of the Holy Belt, founded in 50 AD and containing a piece of the belt worn by Our Lady

On May 10, I will celebrate the 33rd anniversary of my ordination to the holy priesthood. It was a glorious day, for many reasons, when Bishop Michael Dudick of blessed memory placed his hands on my head at the altar of St. Michael Cathedral in Passaic, NJ. The parishioners of St. Thomas Church in Rahway provided a very happy celebration in their hall following the formal dinner at the cathedral hall. I was warned in seminary that celebration of the Liturgy would become routine, as I would get used to being a priest. Thankfully, that never happened. There are so many people who walked with me on the road to ordination, and who have walked with me since. Despite my many faults, and despite my ongoing health problems, it has been a happy journey. I don’t know if I will be able to post on Saturday given what’s going on now physically, so I thought I’d post something now. I am so unworthy to be a priest (nobody is really), and so very thankful to God for His call, and for carrying me safe thus far. May God bless  you who read this, and please continue your prayers for me.

Posted by: Fr Chris | April 25, 2014

Update on Me; Ukraine; Eparchy of Phoenix

Christ is risen!  Indeed He is risen!     Christos voskrese!  Voistinnu Voskrese!

I’ve been hit by another string of physical problems, which are leaving me really tired. I hope that by next Wednesday my doctor will have test results in and a course of action: either we are tweaking some medications, or starting out on a new one, or finding out I have a new condition. My preference is #1. But I learned a long time ago to simply pray for the grace to accept what comes, and unite it to the Cross of Christ and His Sacred Passion for the salvation of souls and then go with it as best as I can. That lesson came from the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur who taught at St. John the Baptist School in Kenmore NY, in particular Sr. Mary Bridget.

So, for Pascha I was home, and have been home since Holy Saturday. Missing Pascha is a very big deal for any priest. It was not easy to accept. I watched EWTN a lot, and while the services in Rome and Washington DC were all fine, none were Byzantine. And if you have ever been to an Orthodox or Byzantine Catholic Easter celebration, you know what I mean!*

As noted in earlier posts, Easter is the Feast of Feasts. The Easter Troparion: Christ is risen from the dead, by death trampling death, and to those in the tombs granting life, is sung from now until Ascension Thursday. If you don’t know it, check out these videos that present a broad range of this central prayer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8xcWLA7qeU our Byzantine Catholic parish   Trenton NJ, Slavonic – glorious melody

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vofvMRYCg_c  A wide range of  the Pascha Troparion in multiple languages from different Eastern Orthodox and Greek/Byzantine Catholic Churches of Europe, Near East, USA, Japan (there’s a large native Orthodox Church there, praying in Japanese), Egypt and Ethiopia.  Shows that the message of the Good News is truly “catholic” (universal).

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Map of Ukraine

People here ask me why is Putin pushing Ukraine so hard? For one thing, east Ukraine has heavy industry and resources. For another thing, Russia’s demographic crisis is such that now 20% of Russian citizens are child-bearing Muslims, while Russian women continue to have multiple abortions. Then there is the goal of restoring much of ancient Rus’ to modern Russia’s rule: references have been made to the fact that parts of Ukraine were called New Russia when the Ottomans were driven out 300 years ago. I think this is a major part of it: Mr. Putin does not want a Russian-speaking democracy on his doorstep, one which would show him up as he continues to crush independent voices in Russia in favor of his autocratic control.  If Ukraine’s elections go well in May, and are conducted in the eastern oblasts, they would lead to exactly this. 

Sadly, the pattern of Crimea is being brazenly played out in eastern Ukraine as scores of towns suddenly have very well-armed, masked men in military fatigues without insignia on them showing up and next thing you know, local “militants” take over police stations and town halls. The local militants get asked by foreign reporters as to what are their goals and they go inside, then come back with answers. In a poor country, tons of tires suddenly show up for “checkpoints” and fires, expensive barbed wire and neatly made sandbags are laid out in military precision, new weapons equally suddenly appear, and men who do not speak Russian with Ukrainian accents or local sayings give guidance from behind black balaclava masks.

Mr. Putin had denied that Russian troops or agents were in Crimea, and then when the occupation was complete admitted that he had lied. The same holds here: denials today, truth later.

Here is the interesting thing for my readers: The Kiev International Institute of Sociology is highly respected, and it has been conducting polls in the eastern oblasts, with fascinating results that show us what Ukraine’s eastern citizens are really about, as reported in today’s Wall Street Journal, page A8.

A lot of the trouble is taking place in Donetsk oblast, where only 18% approved of the takeover of the oblast assembly and only 28% wanted annexation by Russia. As for the entire Ukrainian East:

Ukraine has violated the rights of its Russian speakers: 23% say yes.

Ukraine and Russia should remain independent, with visa-free passage: 59.4% say yes.

Want to become part of Russia: 15%  say yes. The margin of error is under 0.8%. Hardly evidence of a mass uprising of Russian speakers longing to be saved by Moscow!

All polls show that the great majority of people want the status quo, even if they think that the new government in Kiev is illegal: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-04-23/news/sns-rt-us-ukraine-crisis-donetsk-ukrainians-20140423_1_pro-kiev-ukraine-donetsk-region.

And Russia’s media continues to churn out completely fake claims of attacks on the peaceful civilians by vicious Ukrainian fascist troops, that peaceful dissent is crushed, and that Russia is being “forced” to act. Just go to any site of RT – I won’t dignify it with putting in a link to such crazy propaganda.

Well, may God grant that the Ukrainian leadership can hang on long enough until Putin is forced to back down for economic reasons. And may God grant that all of this ends peacefully, with no more people being tortured to death as in Horlivka, and no more kidnappings, takeovers, threats, etc. But that requires that Putin and his forces respond to God’s grace and not their hunger for empire, that Ukraine moves to democracy from being a kleptocracy as under Yanukovych, and everybody sits down and really talks with each other, without balaclvas on and with open hearts. Most Holy Mother of God, pray for us.

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Our new deacon 

Holy Angels Church, San Diego 

My Eparchy of  the Holy Protection of Mary of Phoenix sent one of its best priests, Fr. Robert Pipta, off to become the rector of SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Pittsburgh . His parish has been handed over to Fr. Matthew Alejo, a Melkite priest of Filipino-Arabic descent, and our newest deacon, Artur Bubnevich from the Mukachevo Eparchy, now part of our eparchy and soon to be a priest. God grant them both many blessed years serving the Phoenix Eparchy, Christ is risen!

*PS If you don’t know anything about the Eastern Catholic Churches, check out this good Canadian video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3m1AmPUGH34  on Unity and Diversity.

Holy Angels, exterior 

 

 

 

 

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