Posted by: Fr Chris | August 15, 2018

The Assumption of Our Lady, Aug. 15

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In the icons, Jesus holds the soul of His most Blessed Mother, and comes to lift her body into heaven. There she stands as a sign of our own resurrection from the dead and life in glory! 

In the Eastern Churches, today is known as the Dormition, or the “falling asleep” of the Virgin. “Falling asleep” is the ancient phrase for dying, used by Saint Paul so often. It is the occasion of pilgrimages across Europe, as tens of thousands gather at shrines large and small, across most of Europe, as well as in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Mary has been honored as the Theotokos – the Mother of God. The oldest copy of the prayer We hasten to your protection, Sub Tuum Praesidium, gives her this title and asks her intercession, dates to about the year 250 and is found in Armenian, Coptic, Greek, Latin, and Syriac books and services.  Under your mercy we take refuge, Mother of God! Our prayers, do not despise in necessities, but from the danger deliver us, only pure, only blessed one.

The voice of the ancient Church acclaims her as the only pure one, using the word which refers to her virginity, the only blessed one, meaning a special and unique person, and the great title Mother of God. It further asks her intercession – the Coptic fragment we have probably dates to the great persecutions under either Valerian or Decius. So this is 200 years before the council of Ephesus, which uses the title Theotokos, not as an invention to defeat the Nestorian heresy but rather using ancient tradition. In antiquity, texts were written down after they had been used for a long time verbally.

What does it mean for her to be the Theotokos? God-bearer doesn’t convey the whole power of the word. As the Venerable Henry Cardinal Newman wrote:

She is not merely the Mother of our Lord’s manhood, or of our Lord’s body, but she is to be considered the Mother of the Word Himself, the Word incarnate. God, in the person of the Word, the Second Person of the All-glorious Trinity, humbled Himself to become her Son. Non horruisti Virginis uterum, as the Church sings, “Thou didst not disdain the Virgin’s womb”. He took the substance of His human flesh from her, and clothed in it He lay within her; and He bore it about with Him after birth, as a sort of badge and witness that He, though God, was hers. He was nursed and tended by her; He was suckled by her; He lay in her arms. As time went on, He ministered to her, and obeyed her. He lived with her for thirty years, in one house, with an uninterrupted intercourse, and with only the saintly Joseph to share it with Him. She was the witness of His growth, of His joys, of His sorrows, of His prayers; she was blest with His smile, with the touch of His hand, with the whisper of His affection, with the expression of His thoughts and His feelings, for that length of time.

The tradition that Mary died at the end of her life on earth but was bodily assumed into heaven and reunited with her soul goes back to very first century of Christianity. In a Church which values relics of the saints, the only ones we have of her are cloths claimed to be her veil and her belt. That her body was not left to undergo corruption in the grave makes sense – this was a unique body of the New Eve, who did not give in to the temptations of Satan, who acclaimed God’s saving power in the Magnificat at her visitation to Elizabeth, who nudged Jesus into His public ministry at the wedding in Cana, who wept at the cross and the tomb, who prayed with the apostles on the day of Pentecost. Basically, why should she who loved God so greatly, who followed Him as we were made to do so, be left to decay like all other people, when she is the only human not subject to the penalty of original sin? The tradition of her bodily assumption was confirmed by Pius XII in 1950, that the immaculate Mother of God stands as a sign to us of our eternal destiny: glorified body united with the soul, in the company of God, His angels, and all His saints, all the holy ones who have sought to follow God’s will and been purified to enter into the presence of the life-giving Holy Trinity forever.

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Pilgrims in August, Byzantine Catholic Shrine of Mariapocs 

The icon to which our parish is dedicated is that of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. This is the title which Mary herself gives to this image, in which the Child Jesus rests in her arms, frightened by the vision of His passion, which the angels Gabriel and Michael have shown to Him with the  cross, spear, and the sponge on a reed. In that icon, the Virgin looks out at us – she points to her Son with one hand, showing us He is the way, the life of the world, and with her other hand cradling her little boy against her. This is our goal: to be saved by the life-giving Passion of Christ, His death and resurrection, and to imitate Mary in her closeness to Jesus Christ.

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Crowning of the Perpetual Help statue at the Assumption Pilgrimage, Enugu, Nigeria 

May our blessed Lady intercede for our parish, our city, our nation, for all Christians, and through her perpetual prayers may all souls come to know Christ through the revelation entrusted to His Church on earth. It is a Church that is being rocked by scandals in a fallen world – a tragic reminder that Jesus left His Church guided by fallen people, not by angels. But the Church has gone through worst times, and emerged purified and triumphant. (If there were more women running diocesan offices, I doubt that the sexual scandals of the last 50 years could have taken place!)

Through the perpetual prayers of our Lady, glorified in heaven body and soul as a sign to us, may we enter into the heavenly court, and may we ourselves be living signs of that destiny and faith to those around us.

PS – Today the Church blesses flowers. Why? According to an ancient legend, when the apostles went to open Mary’s tomb, they found it empty, her body was gone. In its place, were flowers and herbs. Ever since, Christians send flowers to funerals as a sign of our faith in the resurrection of the dead to eternal life. 

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Statue of the deceased Virgin covered in flowers, Poland 

Card from the Assumption pilgrimage, Birkenstein in Bavaria 

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Carrying the statue of Our Lady for her assumption, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, Poland

Posted by: Fr Chris | August 13, 2018

Two saints who give us an example we need today!

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SS Pontian and Hippolytus together 

An anti-pope is a man elected in opposition to the reigning pope, and the first one, oddly enough, is a canonized saint. The short biography below of Pope Saint Pontian and his one-time opponent, Saint Hippolytus, gives the background and how they were reunited, in the fearsome Roman mines of Sardinia, where thousands died. Hippolytus, by the way, was the leading theologian in Italy in the third century.

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From Michael Heinlein:

Sts. Pontian and Hippolytus
— Aug. 13 —

The joint celebration of these saints since 1969 is a lesson in forgiveness and an example of how enemies can become friends. Not only did the Church face threats from the hostile Roman Empire in the third century, but also the internal unity of the Church was threatened by heresy. The theologian St. Hippolytus took things to an extreme when he believed that the bishops of Rome were not strong enough in their defense of the Faith against various heresies. Elected as an alternative bishop of Rome, he became the first antipope, attacking his rivals, popes Urban I and Pontian. When Pope St. Pontian was arrested and sent to a slave camp, St. Hippolytus soon followed the same fate. Before their martyrdom they reconciled, and Pope Fabian brought their relics together in Rome on Aug. 13, 236.

To resume my post: here we have an example of a divided Church. The diocese of Rome was split over which bishop to follow, and each man had their advocates. Hippolytus was convinced he was right, Pontian was convinced he was right, and each was convinced the other was wrong. Hippolytus felt that Pontian was too soft in how he restored sinners and lapsed Christians to the Church, and that a previous pope was not vigorous enough in defeating heresy. He was so convinced that he was right, that he was willing to rupture the Body of Christ rather than accept the popes’ acts, because after all, “I’m right.”

But in their common circumstance of suffering for Christ our Lord, they were able to set aside their differences, and truly reconcile. Survivors testified to their authentic forgiveness of each other, and that Hippolytus was restored to the communion of the Church. Thus, Pope Fabian enshrined their relics together in the Catacombs of Saint Callixtus circa 237 AD. Since 1969 their feast day has been celebrated jointly.

In these days of harsh words and condemnations of the “other” as being wrong, these two give a great example of how we should set aside our differences and be able to talk to each other! They not only talked to each other, they embraced and shared Holy Communion together. Would that Democrats, Republicans, and everybody else who is given over to divisive language would follow their example and be able to sit down and break bread with one another respectfully!

Holy martyrs Pontian and Hippolytus, pray for us!

Posted by: Fr Chris | August 11, 2018

Jesus and the Rich Young Man – and me

12th Sunday after Pentecost, 2018

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Jesus gave him a list of the commandments which have to do with a man’s obligation to his fellowman. He was going about the task of bringing this man to conviction and showing him his need of a Savior. The young man quickly answered, I have kept all these commandments all of my life.” But Jesus had not mentioned the first commandment which says that we are not to have any other gods before the God of heaven. Nor had He mentioned the second commandment which says that we are not to bow down and worship any earthly thing. Nor the great commandment: love God with whole heart And soul and love neighbor as yourself. And right here the man’s supposed perfection broke down. He did have a god other than the God of heaven. He did worship an earthly idol. Money was his bigger god-he worshiped his wealth. And Jesus, who could see his heart, knew this, so He applied the acid test. “Go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, then come and follow Me.”

In 1st cent Judaism there was a heresy that the wealthy are blessed by God – this is NOT found anywhere in Scripture. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Protestant Reformers, and some Scripture “scholars”, dealt with this episode like this: ancient gates were called needles because they were pointed on top, so the camel had to get down on the ground to get through it, so Jesus really meant that the rich had to be humble. While rich folks and everyone else has to be humble, this is NOT what Jesus meant. Ancient gates had arches that were round or square – no narrow tiny spaces. This is the kind of twisting of the gospel we get in the US with so many mega churches that preach the gospel of prosperity – it was a heresy in the 1st century, it was a heresy in the reformation, it is a heresy today. God does not shower wealth on the saved! Nowhere does that appear in the bible, or for that matter, in church history. Because those who were convinced they were saved due to their status and power almost always ended up abusing the rest of humanity, and did so firm in the belief that since they were the only ones saved, they had the right to do so.

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Jesus uses all kinds of hyperbole, of odd images in His preaching, which was a common thing to do in first century Palestine. He is telling the disciples it is impossible – why? the rich wanted to get richer, more powerful, at the expense of everyone else, and control more of the economy – and if my life is devoted to acquiring stuff and power,  God usually gets the leftovers of my energy.

God did not choose ancient Egypt, or the mighty Persian empire, or even the Roman empire as His chosen people –  God consistently chose the anawim in Scripture, and early Israel is definitely among the anawim! God chose twelve wandering clans descended from one elderly man and his wife who supposedly could not have children, who spent their days walking with their sheep and goats in one of the most heavily traveled parcels of land in the ancient world, to be His Chosen People. When ancient Israel rose into kingdoms, false gods were worshipped and the temple abandoned except for the priestly families and God’s little ones – the ones who continued to trust in Him. When ancient Israel hit hard times, the false gods were overthrown and the crowds returned to the temple. The wealthy young ruler knew he needed more, but once convicted in his heart that he had to give up his money and power, he refused to do it, even though it meant happiness and salvation.

The good deeds we perform mean nothing unless they are supported with love of God and neighbor. Even communists have a code of behavior – they rarely follow it, preferring to keep the Party and its members in power at all costs, but they do have one. The key is WHY are we doing what we do.

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St Elizabeth Queen of Hungary: her royal relatives were angry that she gave bread to the poor, and her own husband pulled open her robes thinking he’d find rich food and instead he found roses – after that, he let her do whatever she wanted.

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Saint Zita, incorrupt since her death in 1272 

St Zita was a maid in a wealthy house for 48 years – went to daily Mass, said many prayers, yet fulfilled all her duties perfectly. Servants were jealous of her and her employers were angry that she gave food to poor people and beggars – in the end everyone was won over to love her – why? Her work was prayer, she sanctified dusting, washing, cooking with her constant prayers and love for God. Her body remains incorrupt over 700 years after her death, a sign of just how much she pleased God.

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Blessed Karl of Austria and his wife, the Servant of God Zita of Bourbon-Parma

Crown Prince Karl of Austria and his wife stopped to eat in a village inn in the early 1900s. He was in his military uniform, heading back to his troops. A woman recognized the regiment whose uniform he was wearing and asked if he could deliver clean socks and food to her son in that regiment. Imagine her shock when her son wrote to her that the future Emperor of Austria-Hungary himself had happily delivered her care package to him! How many of our 1% who control 40% of America’s wealth would do such a thing? How many of us would happily do so?

The poor are not perfect – they can be focused on getting rich or at least better than what they have so as to escape grinding poverty and forget God – but, why is it that we have so few saints who were wealthy and powerful, who had luxury of time and energy to supposedly devote to God since they weren’t working long hours? The few who were, were like St Elizabeth, Blessed Karl of Austria or St Henry the Emperor – they were people who took time out for union with God, to participate in worship, who treated the men and women around them as equals made by God, who raised their wealthy children to be grateful to God for everything and everyone around them.

The key for either rich or poor or middle or working class is this: what is our god here on earth in addition to God? too often we all have one. power, popularity at work or school, being a better athlete, controlling other people in my life, showing off with my skills to those who I think are not as good as me – we all have these gods, and they are all negatives.

“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” – do I want to spend eternity in heaven with God and His angels and saints? The answer for all here is presumably yes – we must ask ourselves in light of this gospel, do I have one God, one Almighty God? How do I act towards others: do I behave to other students, co -workers, as if they are all equally important in God’s eyes, or do I respect only a boss or the local bully? Do I keep God’s commandments? How much time does God get from me? How much time and attention could He get from me? What have I taught my children? What am I teaching my children, my grandchildren now? How do I act towards others – politely, out of social harmony, or with respect and affection, because they are the children of God?

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What must I do to be saved? What must I be doing so that I can enjoy eternity with God, His angels, His saints?  I could be 90 and still ask that question, because we continue to change and grow. In our prayers tonight, let us ask God  that question: given who I am now, and where I am in life now, what must I do to be saved?

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Christ is among us.

Posted by: Fr Chris | August 6, 2018

Faith and the Transfiguration of Christ

A Large Antique Russian Icon Depicting the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ For Sale

When priests meet, we usually talk about our parishes. Never do we ask each other, “How intense if the faith of  your parishioners?” Rather we talk about Sunday and holy day attendance, mortgages, is the hall adequate, youth programs, young adult programs, family programs, budget and Sunday collections. But we never ask, “How intense is the faith of your worshippers? How intense is your  own faith?”

Six days earlier, in Matthew chapter 16, Peter had answered Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” with his proclamation of faith: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Jesus makes him the rock on which He will build the Church, but Peter messes up pretty quickly by arguing against Jesus’ prophecy of the passion, death, and resurrection. Out of love, he is horrified that this should come to Jesus, but Jesus firmly tell him “get behind me, Satan, for you are  not on the side of God, but of men. Then Jesus goes on to tell them about the importance of the cross, accepting crosses, and carrying them,  “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?”

It is after all of this that Jesus withdraws to the top of Mount Tabor with Peter, who is both the rock on which the Church will be built and the one who will betray Jesus three times in His passion;  and the two brothers James and John, who had to both struggle with pride and anger. These three are the ones who see Jesus revealed in full glory, in full majesty, blinding them.

In icons, only Peter can look at the vision, and he is the only one who can speak – James and John are overwhelmed. Moses and Elijah are there to represent the Law and the Prophets and the message is clear: the Law, the Prophets and all the Writings all point to, culminate in and magnify Christ. In fact, every book of the Hebrew Bible either prefigures, foreshadows or points to Jesus in some manner. The history of Israel often foreshadows Christ’s difficult relationship with his sometimes idolatrous and wayward Church – a Church where right now we have seen bishops repeatedly circle the wagons for decades to save institutions and reputations rather than rescue laity, seminarians, and priests from predatory bishops and priests whose sexual abuse has destroyed lives and wrecked families. A bitter harvest has been the result: even more souls walking away from the holy sacraments which are the instruments of salvation, an entire society questioning whether or not Catholic bishops even have the right anymore to speak to the world about morals.

How intense is the faith of your people; how intense is your own faith? Jesus knew Peter’s weaknesses, his emotionalism, his fear but Jesus also knew that Peter would step up in the end and become the rock, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus knew James and John aspired to greatness, and he knew their tempers were so bad that he nicknamed them the sons of thunder! But James is the first apostle to be martyred for his faith in Christ as the Son of God as is recorded in chapter 12 of the Acts of the Apostles. John of course outlives everyone, being the youngest, and also was the one who loved Jesus so much that he is still called the Beloved Disciple, and who produces the magnificent passages in his Gospel, which begins with the affirmation that Jesus is the Eternal Word of God.

How is intense is the faith of your people? how intense is your own faith? My father asked me once, “Do you believe that the Catholic Church is the true Church of Jesus Christ?” I answered, “Of course I do, don’t you?” And he said in reply, “It has to be … anything else run like this would have folded in the first fifty years.” He’s right! It is proof of the divine foundation of the Catholic Church.

The three apostles behold the two natures of Jesus: His full humanity, which they knew well, and His full divinity, the promise of their future, which they were still learning about. The Church has been through many trials, and will be again. People leave in droves at different times, and people enter in huge crowds at other times. The job of we who stay is to indeed have an intense faith, confidence in God’s saving power through the holy sacraments, above all the Holy Eucharist. We are here to grow in faith, no matter who the pastor is, or what the bishop does, or if the pope is a good man or a bad man. Our faith is in Christ and the Church he founded: the great Catholic writer Frank Sheed wrote that “we are not baptized into the hierarchy; we do not receive the cardinals sacramentally; we will not spend eternity looking on the pope’s face. Christ is the point.” And he was right – we are baptized into the Holy Trinity; we receive God’s living grace in the sacraments, and we will spend eternity unpacking the wonderful mystery of God in His awesome glory accompanied by the saints and angels. This feast day celebrates the fullness of Who Jesus is, and Peter, James and John ended up slowly being transformed by their experience until Pentecost and their proclamation of Jesus as the Son of the living God.

It is up to us to live out the mystery of this feast: to be willing to go forward in confidence and trust in our personal relationships with Almighty God, to look at ourselves in the bright light of the Transfiguration and confront our failings like those three apostles had to and root out sin from our lives and replace sin with God’s healing grace. How intense is the faith of our parish? Faith must grow steadily, constantly, and be watered by the power of the Holy Spirit, strengthened in the sacraments which we receive. Tonight, we must answer that question for each of us who has taken the time to come here: How intense is my faith?  Christ is among us.

Russian painted icon, Transfiguration 1

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Posted by: Fr Chris | July 4, 2018

Check out Verse 3 of our National Anthem

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On the Fourth of July this year, we celebrate our 242nd birthday as a nation. We have been the shining city on the hill for the nations of the world for over two centuries. Even with all the division in our political and civic discourse today, people still try to come here to seek asylum; start a new life by working hard; and to enjoy the freedom to think, worship, speak in peace without the state trying to dictate their thoughts, words, and prayers. For all our troubles we are still the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth. May our political leaders act in our name, and the name of the Constitution, and not the bickering and name-calling we have seen of late. As long as we put our trust in God and seek to emulate His mercy and love, this country will walk the right path. Read the words, and give thanks we live where we do, despite our challenges.

Lyrics

  1. 1. Oh say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
    What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
    Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
    O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
    And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
    Gave proof thru the night that our flag was still there.
    Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
  2. 2. On the shore, dimly seen thru the mists of the deep,
    Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
    What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
    As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
    Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
    In full glory reflected now shines on the stream;
    ‘Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh, long may it wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
  3. 3. Oh, thus be it ever, when free men shall stand
    Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation!
    Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
    Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserved us a nation!
    Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
    And this be our motto: “In God is our trust!”
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Posted by: Fr Chris | June 29, 2018

Testifying to Faith

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Peter and Paul, the two pillars of Christ’s Church 

Today is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. In many nations this is a holy day of obligation, and it is the patronal feast of the diocese of Rome and of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.  They were executed during the great persecution launched by Nero: St Paul was a Roman citizen (not everyone was!) and was beheaded; Peter asked to be crucified upside down, so as not to die in the same position as Jesus, showing his humility. Saint Augustine wrote of today:

“Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith.”

The tradition in Rome has been that they died on the same, and definitely the ancient Church honored them both on June 29th. We know this from written evidence in 258 AD, which is very early indeed! And in the ancient world, written material came after oral histories had been around for a while.

Recent excavations have confirmed that the remains in the tomb at Saint Paul’s basilica are from the right time period and right body structure, the same for Saint Peter’s famous tomb deep beneath the High Altar of the basilica of Saint Peter’s. You can read the fascinating story of how Peter’s bones were authenticated in these two books: The Fisherman’s Tomb by John O’Neill, and this one by the archaeologist who made the discovery, The Tomb of Saint Peter by Margherita Guarducci. That Peter’s bones were right where they belonged is a visible proof of Sacred Tradition!

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The famous Graffiti Wall of Saint Peter’s tomb, deep underneath the basilica 

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Saint Paul’s tomb, under the high altar in Saint Paul Outside the Walls basilica 

The Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate sends a delegation to Rome today for this event. The visit is reciprocated on November 30, for the feast of Saint Andrew, patron of the archdiocese of Constantinople.

 

Posted by: Fr Chris | June 13, 2018

Happy Feast of St Anthony!

Today is the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua, Doctor of the Church. Born in Portugal, he became a Franciscan friar in 1221, two years after ordination as a priest. He was renowned for his preaching, through which he brought the city of Padua back to the Faith. Thus he became patron of lost articles – through his ministry, fallen-away Catholics “found” their way home. He is always shown with the Child  Jesus – Christ came to him, willing to be embraced by him, because of his purity, his holiness, his dedication. Can I live my life in such a way that the Child Jesus would want to rest in my arms? 

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In one famous incident  he was rejected at Rimini, a city whose leaders were firm heretics. He walked down to the river, and there Saint Anthony spoke aloud: “You, fish of the river and sea, listen to the Word of God because the heretics do not wish to hear it.” The people then saw thousands of fish appear, rising out of the water, their eyes focused on the friar, as Anthony continued to preach the True Faith. When he finished his sermon, he blessed the fish, and they returned into the river. The city was converted back to Catholicism and repented of their hardness of heart.

Anthony is known for many miracles, all meant to bring about conversion or trust in God. One of my favorites is how he brought people back to faith in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist:

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A certain heretic at Rimini  refused to believe in the Real Presence. He made this proposition to St. Anthony. The unbelieving heretic would starve his mule for three days. 
If the hungry animal would prostrate before the monstrance, then the heretic would confess the reality of the Blessed Sacrament.
On the appointed day the heretic appeared in the town square with his beast. St. Anthony approached from the opposite side with the Sacred Host. A curious group of believers and unbelievers alike watched to see just what would happen.
A large pan of oats and a bundle of fragrant hay were placed before the hungry animal.
But all this was ignored. Instead, the mule approached our Saint and fell on her knees before the Blessed Sacrament. 
True to his promise, the heretic made a profession of faith in the Real Presence. –from The Miracles of Saint Anthony

 

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High Altar of Saint Anthony church, Buffalo, New York 

We need more preachers, and more convinced Catholics, to stir up souls once again, to bring back those who have simply walked away from the Church, those who have fled due to pain or scandal, those who are uncertain that God even exists! I pray daily to Saint Anthony for the graces to be a good confessor, to preach well, and to write well. My Grandmother Zugger went every day to Saint Anthony’s church in downtown Buffalo when she worked there, and my former secretary, the late Agnes Adamsko, had a deep devotion and trust in Saint Anthony’s intercession before the throne of God. May their example lead more souls to look to him, to his writings, to his great love for Christ, and move closer to God and His Church!

He died in his hermitage, a tree house of sorts, in 1231 and was canonized within a year – that’s how great his reputation was.

Wisdom from St. Anthony: “Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak. We are full of words but empty of actions, and therefore are cursed by the Lord, since he himself cursed the fig tree when he found no fruit but only leaves. It is useless for a man to flaunt his knowledge of the law if he undermines its teaching by his actions.” 

 

Posted by: Fr Chris | June 11, 2018

China Changing One Child Limit??

A woman pregnant with her second child and her daughter in Hefei, Anhui province, China. (China Daily/Reuters)
From Washington Post, June 11, 2018 , by the famous blind lawyer who escaped Communist custody.  Our birth rate is now down to 1.84 children per woman, the lowest since the Great Depression, despite a time of a roaring economy and businesses crying out for more workers to fill empty job slots. We do not face the horrors recounted below, but we use abortion as a contraceptive, and continue to push for more and more contraception and sterilization in our country, the richest nation every known. Chinese parents have faced incredible horrors out of love for children – and it may very well be too late to turn back the tide of too many men for too few women. And what does a government do when loaded with too many men? Get them in the military and use them well against other states, to reclaim a presumed golden age when China was the center of Asia. The horrors of Communism continue while we merrily ignore them, and contracept ourselves to oblivion.
June 11 at 9:11 AM

Recent news reports suggest that the Chinese Communist Party is considering abandoning one of its longest-running and most abusive practices: its reproduction planning policy, commonly known as the one-child policy. The decision comes as the nation faces a number of domestic crises resulting from the policy, from a rapidly aging labor force to severe gender imbalances. Returning reproductive rights to the people, however, does not exempt the Communist Party from responsibility for decades of trauma and murder committed under the euphemistic rubric of population planning.

According to the Chinese authorities, at least 360 million fetuses and infants have been killed since 1979, when the regime instituted the one-child policy in order to control the expanding population. Structurally, this has been a complex, nationwide affair, organized at the top echelons of power and implemented at the local levels, with perks and promotions in store for officials who meet quotas. Controlling fertility is highly bureaucratized: Couples are required to apply for a permit to conceive, while women up to age 50 must report to a clinic every three months for a pregnancy test. Yet, as in any authoritarian system that seeks to police individual freedoms, bribes, theft, extortion and abuse of power are commonplace.

In 2005, on a tip-off, some colleagues and I began an investigation into a population planning campaign then going on in Linyi, Shandong province, where I am from. Witnesses described groups of thugs descending by the vanload into villages to round up pregnant women or couples who had “over-birthed.” The authorities were forcing women out of hiding by holding family, friends and neighbors in prison-like conditions for days or weeks, extorting them for cash or beating them until the fugitives revealed themselves.

Once in the hands of the authorities, the unallowed mothers-to-be (even if pregnant with a first child) were being dragged to a hospital or population planning facility, where they would be forced to sign a document agreeing to have their babies aborted. Pregnancies are terminated at any stage, meaning even a full-term, viable newborn can be killed. Witnesses have described nurses or doctors twisting the necks of crying babies, sealing newborns in plastic bags to suffocate, or putting them facedown in a pan of alcohol to choke them to death. Women described how hospital staff injected drugs into the heads of their babies while still in utero and then induced the stillborn children from their bodies.

The Communist Party has long mandated a complete media blackout on the subject of population planning and hence did not take kindly to our work. In 2006, I was sentenced to more than four years in prison for the investigation, which revealed that in my area of Shandong province alone, in just six months’ time, more than 130,000 people underwent forced abortions or sterilizations (including men), and more than 600,000 people suffered detention, extortion or torture in relation to an “over-birthing” friend or relative.

It’s hard to describe the devastation I witnessed. The voices and stories of those suffering will remain with me always. Women were physically and mentally traumatized, families torn apart. Generations of desperately wanted children were literally left to die on the hospital floor. How do people recover from this?

Two years ago, the Communist Party appeared to backpedal, allowing couples to have two children. The widening cracks in society are impossible to ignore, however, and will be difficult to undo: A deeply entrenched preference for boys, in concert with restrictions on births, has led to a ratio of 108 boys born for every 100 girls, translating into a host of social ills, including an increase in human trafficking; the labor force is aging to a critical point, while the singletons of the younger generation struggle to care for parents and grandparents; the birthrate hovers around an anemic 1.3births per woman; and those positive traditional Chinese values that have upheld human life as something to protect, nurture and celebrate have been destroyed.

In the United States, China’s one-child policy has remained out of bounds for bipartisan action because it seems to touch on one of the hot-button issues of America’s left-right divide: abortion. Yet I would ask Americans on all sides to put aside their own debates and look at the realities of China. This is about mass-scale abduction, imprisonment, physical violation, torture, forced medical procedures, extortion and the murder of healthy infants born full-term, none of which are relevant to the American debate about reproductive rights.

The Chinese regime continues to keep a tight lid on news and information and the countless abuses of power since it took power in 1949 and before, including this nearly 40-year episode of violent population control. Chinese people inside China are still not able to talk in public forums about their experiences, and the media cannot report on it. Therefore, I urge the American government to use the tools at its disposal — such as the Global Magnitsky Act — to hold Communist Party leaders accountable and to take a stand for human rights for all.

Posted by: Fr Chris | May 20, 2018

Pentecost Monday

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St John the Baptist Catholic Church, Kenmore, NY, under the sign of God’s covenant with Noah

Readings: Ephesians 5:8b-19, Matthew 18: 10-20

There are lots of stories about how awful Catholic schools were supposed to be, usually told by someone who says they are a recovering Catholic. I had 8 years at St. John the Baptist school in Kenmore, NY, with the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur. They started in Belgium, and our American Sisters were well educated, well rounded, dedicated women who taught us to understand the Latin Mass and Gregorian chant, to write spiritual journals, to recognize God’s love, and guided us through the rapid changes after Vatican II.

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Saint John’s School, Kenmore, NY

They taught us very well, and especially taught us to love God and to realize that we are deeply loved by God. People tend to put their children in Catholic school so as to get a good education to prepare for high school and college, but the schools exist so as to preserve and pass on the Faith – what we do here in Eastern Christian Formation on Sundays.

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Gospel Book cover: Christ the Teacher and Four Evangelists 

The Sisters taught us to bow our heads when we hear or say the name of Jesus, and to have respect for the name of our Savior. They also taught us to bless ourselves, slowly, whenever there was a reference to the Holy Trinity in a prayer or at Mass. This is especially so in the Byzantine Rite, when the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are spoken, we make the sign of the cross. Blessing oneself is so powerful that in the ancient Church it was treated as an eighth sacrament and was never to be done in the presence of pagans.

Saint Ioannicus the Great wrote:  The +Father is my hope, the+ Son is my refuge, the+ Holy Spirit is my protection: + Most Holy Trinity, glory be to You! and we bow and bless ourselves at the mention of each Person and of the United Trinity.

It is an interesting reading for Pentecost Monday: Jesus speaks of the value of the little ones: no harm can come to them, and if even one is lost, He will seek that one out and find that lost one to bring that person back to His flock. He is speaking both of children, and of the anawim, the little ones of Israel – people like St Joseph, St Simeon and St Anna at the temple, SS Zachariah and Elizabeth – the people who lived lives of prayer, penance, simplicity and above all, dependence upon God like the passage in Ephesians, as people of the light, not darkness. This is how we all are supposed to be living, from the most powerful person on earth to a homeless soul in poverty.

The message in the Gospel today is one of mutual love, caring for the other, seeking out the lost, protecting the vulnerable. A shepherd in Jesus’ day would not go after the lost sheep – it was expected you would lose a few animals to predators. But Jesus is the perfect Good Shepherd – He wants no one to be lost and searches them out, like the famous poem Hound of Heaven* – He is there constantly at our side, reaching for us. The Gospel ends with the recognition that some people will resist grace, but every effort is to be made to keep them in the Body of Christ as a member of the People of God.

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The wholeness of the Holy Trinity abides in us: God loves us profoundly, deeply, with feeling that we can only begin to image.  God is our hope, our refuge, our protection – with Him, we have nothing to fear: not illness, not war, not disaster, not death itself. The Holy Spirit wants to live within us and God’s grace remains in us from baptism on. Four Gospels are sung at the four corners of the church, to proclaim the Good News of the Holy Spirit to the four corners of the universe. May we proclaim His message by how we live, how we pray, how we love, so that we may have the great privilege of seeing Him face to face at the end of our lives. Christ is among us.

*Read The Hound of Heaven here: https://www.ewtn.com/library/HUMANITY/HNDHVN.HTM

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Dove nesting before icon of the Holy Spirit 

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