Posted by: Fr Chris | November 10, 2019

VETERANS’ DAY

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US Marine kneels at battered crucifix after Battle of Saipan, 1944 

It has become a day to sell furniture, cars, clothing, and I don’t know what else. People who work for the government and are off on the holiday can go shop at those same sales. It seems that it is no longer a day to honor veterans. This is something that bothers me every year. Our country would not be a free republic were it not for the men and women who fought in her defense. We would not have the rights guaranteed to us by the  Constitution had Fascism or Communism triumphed in the 20th  Century.

The Freed Slaves of Montgomery County - Clarksville, TN Online

Freed Slaves in Union Army, 1865

And who knows when African-Americans would have been freed from slavery if there were not brave Union men and boys willing to serve?

How is always more important than when.. | pearlsofprofundity

And our republic would not exist were it not for the soldiers who rose up to fight the British Empire. Yes, we have our flaws and problems, but it is still the freest nation on the face of the earth. And it is the nation it is thanks to the men and women who have joined the Armed Forces over the centuries.

So if you know a veteran, take time out this week to thank him/ her. And take a moment to pray for the healing of the men and women of our military who have been wounded in body and mind by the effects of the wars we have been in since 9/11.

Thank a Veteran with a Free Haircut - Your Town Monthly

 

Αρχάγγ.__ Μιχαήλ _ nov 8 (St. Michael the Archangel Russian Orthodox Icon. | is Αγγελοι ...

November 8 is the feast of Saint Michael and All Angels on the Byzantine Rite Calendar. I came across this letter written by Saint Padre Pio in 1936 to one of his spiritual directees, and I think it is an excellent summary of the authentic devotion to the Angels.

Seven Archangels - Wikipedia

Dear daughter of Jesus,

May your heart always be a temple of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus increase the fire of his love in your soul and may he always smile upon you, as he does on all the souls that he loves. May Mary Most Holy smile upon you during all the events of your life, and abundantly make up for the absence of your earthly mother.

May your good guardian angel always watch over you, and be your guide on the rough path of life. May he always keep you in the grace of Jesus and hold you up with his hands so that you may not hurt your foot on a stone. May he protect you under his wings from all the deceits of the world, the devil and the flesh.

Have great devotion, Annita, to this beneficent angel. How consoling it is to know that we have a spirit who, from the womb to the tomb, never leaves us even for an instant, not even when we dare to sin. And this heavenly spirit guides and protects us like a friend, a brother.

But it is very consoling to know that this angel prays unceasingly for us, and offers God all of our good actions, our thoughts, and our desires, if they are pure.

Oh! For goodness’ sake, don’t forget this invisible companion, ever present, ever disposed to listen to us and even more ready to console us. Oh, wonderful intimacy! Oh, blessed companionship!  If only we could understand it! Keep him always before your mind’s eye. Remember this angel’s presence often, thank him, pray to him, always keep up a good relationship. Open yourself up to him and confide your suffering to him. Be always afraid of offending the purity of his gaze. Know this, and keep it well present in your mind. He is easily offended, very sensitive. Turn to him in moments of supreme anguish and you will experience his beneficent help.

Never say that you are alone in the battle against your enemies; never say that you have no one to whom you can open your heart and confide. It would be a grave injustice to this heavenly messenger.

Humble yourself before the Lord and trust in him; spend your energy, with the help of divine grace, in the practice of the virtues, and then let grace work in you as God desires. The virtues are what sanctify the soul and not supernatural phenomena.

Pray out loud as well; the time has not yet come to abandon these prayers. Support the difficulties you experience when doing this with patience and humilityAlso be ready to suffer distractions and dryness, and you must not, under any circumstances, abandon prayer and meditation. It is the Lord who wants to treat you this way for your spiritual advantage.

Forgive me if I end here. Only God knows how difficult it has been for me to write this letter. I am very sick. Pray much that the Lord may desire to free me from this body soon.

I bless you, together with the excellent Francesca. May you live and die in the arms of Jesus.

P. Pio

Patrick Comerford: Crete’s icon writers: a living ...

 

Posted by: Fr Chris | October 26, 2019

Exorcism of the Demoniac, from Luke 8, and Us

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This gospel always comes near Halloween, and it is perfect for the season. It has  demons galore. It has a man possessed by devils who is living in a cemetery. He is so strong due to the devils that no chain can hold him in place. Jesus and the apostles land on the shore right after an enormous storm, and they walk into this disturbing scene. This Gospel is a story not only of conquering wickedness, but a story of redemption and mission. William Blatty, who wrote the famous book The Exorcist on which that film was based, always said that he intended his book to be a novel  of faith because where there are demons, there must be God. Demons exist to oppose God and to try and lead souls into darkness, whereas God leads us homeward into the light. When people experience death but come back from it, they always say they were going towards a light, except for the few who came back transformed into better people because they were terrified by the darkness that  reached out to clutch them.

St Paul writes to us today in Galatians, chapter 1: The gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. This gospel shows us the power of Christ, the Son of God, the Eternal Word, the bright Light of the World as He said in John chapter 8: I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but have the light of life.

The entire episode in Luke’s Gospel today comes immediately after Jesus stills the storm on the lake. That event showed His power over forces of chaos which the fierce storm represents. Now He will show His authority over the forces of Hell itself.    The whole episode is filled with rich symbolism that we don’t grasp unless we have access to good footnotes and commentaries in our bible.

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Naked man – the lack of clothing shows a lack of freedom. Slaves, prostitutes, and prisoners had to wear whatever was given them by their owners. To lose one’s right to clothe oneself meant they lost their identity and their civil rights as a member of a community. He is held by the forces of Satan, who keep him from being clothed.

He did not live in a house – to the ancients, that meant that he has lost his family, his heritage, his identity. He lives among the tombs of the dead.

Cemetery: he is living outside the safety of the city, alone and in danger of wild animals or thieves, among the corrupting bodies of the dead, in a place that no one would go to at night.

Names of the devils – We are legion: there were 6,000 soldiers in one Roman legion. This man is possessed by an incredible, truly unbelievable amount of wickedness.

Do not send us back to the abyss – Hell is so awful that even the devils did not want to return there. Why would anyone to whom the saving Gospel has been proclaimed want to test God’s mercy and live in a way that would lead us to Hell when even devils avoid it?

Pigs – these were the most frequently sacrificed animal among the Greek and Roman pagans then. Also female pigs with their offspring and wild boars were used as symbols of Roman power, and the standards of the Tenth Legion, which was the army occupying Syria-Palestine and would be involved in the destruction of Jerusalem, showed wild pigs.

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Through that expulsion of the demons and the destruction of the herd of pigs, Luke shows us that Christ:

restores the man’s identity not only by freeing him from the demons but by having him clothed, able to converse with other people, and so restoring him to his nation and family and his own free personhood;

– has victory over pagan worship – we are surrounded today by people who worship trends, or secular ideas with no religious input, and new values that are firmly against centuries of Judeo-Christian traditions. Just as the ancient Church triumphed over the pagan world despite the sins and failures of its members, we can do the same again in this society that has lost its way;

this victory is a liberation, to establish God’s authority and revelation;

 – the devils are subject to Christ’s power and decisions – they cannot conquer Him, they cannot even fight against Him.

Again, look at Saint Paul: the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. — this tradition that we hold to is that of  God Himself, commanded by God, revealed by God. We are here, presumably, because we believe this. But are we living it?

The people of Gerasa reject the man’s cure, his healing, his restoration, and the very presence of Christ. The man now becomes a missionary. Ultimately Gerasa was converted: the city which was famous for celebrations of the gods Bacchus and Artemis had eleven churches in it before it was abandoned following a series of earthquakes in the 700s.

The same conversion of a society can happen again. Our society which is drifting along, steadily losing its way, can be redeemed.  Just as the pagans were converted and the empire finally became Christian, this western society that jumps onto every idea that comes along yet seems to have totally lost any sense of forgiveness, will only find its healing and peace in this gospel. This gospel was revealed by God to humanity through Jesus Christ and the Church He founded.

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Muslim converts in Vienna, Austria 

Muslim refugees who are settling in post-Christian western Europe report dreams and visions of Jesus and of the Virgin Mary, and they are seeking out instruction and baptism in the very Churches abandoned by so many Europeans: ten thousand Muslims convert to the Catholic Faith every year in France.  The Faith that is so lightly abandoned by west Europeans and North Americans is firmly held to by those under communist power in China, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. The very fact of new and vicious persecution in China proves their success and the threat it poses to atheistic communism. The Faith is booming in Africa, with both conversions and vocations; since 1980, the Catholic Church has grown by 238% in Africa.

We are all here today because we continue to hold to the apostolic faith and we believe that God’s message of hope and freedom is true. We believe that Jesus Christ has reopened the doors of heaven, as we see in the open Royal Doors behind me which reveal to us Jesus Christ on earth, living in the tabernacle in the form of consecrated Bread, and in His Word inside the Gospel Book from which Father just proclaimed this story. We are here because we are fed by both that Word and that consecrated Body and Blood in the Eucharist. We are here because we believe that Christ established His Church on earth, and that the forces of hell cannot overcome it. We are here because we have no desire to go to hell, and we wish to be in heaven after our deaths, to live in glory with the Holy Trinity and all the saints.

Here’s the thing: Am I living as if this is all true? Am I repelled by the sins of my past and do I want to go forward? The one way forward is with this Word of Jesus  Christ, in this Church established by Jesus Christ, living on the Holy Eucharist which is the living Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of the God-Man Who came to redeem us. Do I live with confidence in God and His power? Do I project God’s love to those who come around me? Do I read, watch, and study things that will lead me into an appreciation for God’s power and grace? Remember, even the six thousand devils did not want to go back to hell, and none of us here today want to do so.  As much as they feared hell, we should desire heaven.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Albuquerque

One of the most consistent comments about our parish that I have heard for over 30 years is this: it is a welcoming community, while being solidly Catholic in faith. Unwed mothers are welcomed as warmly as a family with children, elderly people are embraced as much as babies, and parents faced with a struggling toddler are not hushed and stared at but asked if they need a helping hand. The man in the gospel today was not wanted by anyone except Jesus. There are far, far too many people in this city today who do not know that God wants them, that Jesus willingly died for them, and that we offer a path to heaven.

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I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: do you know someone who has fallen away from the Church? do you know someone who has been hurt by the Church? do you know someone looking for God? Invite them to come, sit with them, open the book with them, guide them, and take them into the hall afterward. Do you see someone who is new? Same thing: sit with them, guide them, invite them.

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Jesus did not sit at home waiting for the world to find Him in little Nazareth. Nor should we. People need to know that here they can find their true selves, as this man does, and that God’s eternal love waits for them here. If we really DESIRE heaven, then we should want to bring others with us. Saint John of the Cross wrote that God will ask us, How well did you love?

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And I think He will also ask us, Who did you bring with you?

 

What will I answer?

 

Christ is among us.

Posted by: Fr Chris | October 11, 2019

Which Seed Am I in Relation to God?

Information about icons and some of the theology of icons is in today’s bulletin. This Sunday is celebrated as the commemoration of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, held in October in 787 at Nicaea, outside Constantinople, to deal with the first wave of the destruction of icons. It is also the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. 

The 7th council was deliberately held at Nicaea, where the Arian heresy had been defeated in 325 AD, because the whole issue of using sacred images in prayer and worship is intimately tied to the question of Who is Jesus Christ as the God-Man, along with the Christian attitude toward the created world, and the meaning of Christian redemption and the salvation of the material universe.

This Council’s decisions emphasized that Christ can be depicted simply because He “became human and took flesh.” Since the Second Person of the Trinity, the Logos, the Eternal Word of God, took a material body from the womb of Our Lady, material images of Him can be made. In so taking a material body, God proved that matter can be redeemed. God sanctified matter, bringing salvation back to the world that had been so damaged by original sin.

Because of the Incarnation, matter and human flesh are mediums for the action of the Holy Spirit. Therefore we can use wood, paint, ceramic, metal – anything physical – in making images of Our Lord, His Mother and the Saints.

Christianity is routinely hit by heretics and leaders of cults who deny the holiness of the created world and treat the human body as a prison for the soul. So smashing icons and refusing to put up sacred images in churches is a sign of a serious falsehood, one that the Calvinists used to destroy so much of Christian heritage in Europe.

God saw His creation and it was good, and even after original sin He provides for Adam and Eve because they are still made in His image; with groups like the Gnostics, Cathars and Paulicians, and even among Protestant Reformers the opposite position is taken: Luther famously said that people are corrupted by sin and that every action is unavoidably bad.

All created matter, from the physical universe to the human person, is worthy of God’s love and redemption, and therefore is, as God says in Genesis of His creation, “good.”

Quick Facts About the 7 Ecumenical Councils - The Catalog of Good Deeds

The Catholic Church teaches, and does so clearly in this council, that created matter, including people, are good and holy and capable of redemption. St Paul says in Romans chapter 8 that the universe groaned for its redemption through Christ, and in Second Corinthians chapter 3 that we are to be transformed  by theosis, deification, to God-likeness. The Fathers of this Council unanimously proclaimed that icons should be “bowed to, saluted with kisses, attended with lights and the offering of incense”. The members of the Council made the distinction between veneration and worship. We venerate or show honor not to the icon itself but to the prototype depicted on the icon if it is a saint of the Church. We give worship only to God. In neither case do we venerate or worship the paint, wood or canvas the icon is depicted on.
It is important for us to remember that icons portray people who have been transformed by God’s grace and their cooperation with grace. The icon shows that holiness is possible, that we can be filled by the Holy Spirit. You and I are here to become saints.  Icons point the way to heaven, and that way is composed of allowing ourselves to love Christ, be loved by Christ, and be transformed by the Holy Spirit through our actions so that we will be able to see the glory of God the Father after our deaths.

In the letter to the Hebrews today we heard these verses: For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. 15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.

What is on my lips? What words come across my lips? Do I have a tongue that rejoices in God my savior, as the Blessed Virgin says in her Magnificat?

A sower went out to sow… | friarmusings

In the parable of the sower of seed in the open fields, Jesus points out some seed lands in a road, on thorns, in shallow ground, most on good ground. It was a wasteful way to plant, but that’s how it was done and what people knew.

The hardened pathway represents the closed mind which shuts out God’s instruction. The shallow, rocky ground represents those who accept the word but who never reflect on it, who, therefore,  wither away when challenged.The thorny ground stands for those whose lives are so busy that the things of God are crowded out by responsibilities, selfish pleasures and so lose God’s call to them.

The seed on the good ground grows up and is harvested to feed the farmer. Icons invite us to listen to God’s Word, to sit and ponder the teachings of the Church, to be drawn into the life of the saint or sacred event through silent prayer, and then to take an action. We are not here to be empty vessels, or consumed with daily life, or to just show up in church and then walk out unchanged by the worship or sermon. We are here to grow up – not just grow older but grow up, and grow in depth in our connection to Almighty God and His Church.

We must be sowers of the seed also, who take the message of Christ and our Church into the world where too many people are consumed by pleasure, projects, or whose hearts really have never heard the accurate fullness of Christ’s teaching, the fullness of revelation in the teachings of the Catholic Faith. We have to water and nurture ourselves with good internet sites, good books, good  classes, and above all we have to stop, be silent in front of a sacred image, and hear what God wants to say to each and every one of us, of all ages.

Icon of Our Lady Of Fatima - The Byzantine Forum

On this day in 1917, the Blessed Virgin, the Holy Mother of God, spoke for the last time at Fatima. She promised to take the children to heaven, and Jacinta and Francisco died the next  year in the great flu pandemic. When Lucia asked, “Will I be here alone?” she promised that she would remain with Lucia until her death.  At noon, after hours of rain, The Miracle of the Sun then took place so that people up to twenty-five miles away saw the sun dance, change colors, or spin and hurtle to the earth. This went on for twelve long minutes. Seventy thousand people whose clothes had been soaked by pouring rain found that the mud they were standing on was now dry, their clothes and bodies completely dry as well, and sick people were healed.The state-run atheist newspaper ran a front page headline the next day: Miracle at Fatima. Before her death, Sister Lucia said that the entire purpose of the apparitions and miracle was that people would grow in faith, hope, and love.

73 Best Byzantine Oil Lamps images in 2018 | Oil Lamps, Byzantine, Burning candle

When He wants to, God can do something spectacular. More frequently, He works quietly, like the time when Elijah the prophet covered his face in respect when a gentle breeze brought about a thin, small sound of silence which he realized was the presence of God. Or like today and as at every Catholic altar in the world, when through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ descends into the tiniest particle of bread and the smallest drop of wine, filling it with His Divine Presence and Personhood. Or in the silence of prayer in front of an icon – when we look upon the figure of a person fully transformed by grace, by God’s own divine energy, and we pray fervently that our hearts be equally open to that grace.

Who am I? The heart filled with projects or pleasure, the heart that hears the word of God but does not act upon it, the closed heart which locks itself against God’s Word, or the heart willing to be consumed by God’s love and so bring His mercy to a world that has lost its way in a most spectacular fashion. In whom does my spirit rejoice: God my savior, or other things? We are invited to stand, sit, kneel, or prostrate before a sacred icon and ponder this and act upon it, just as we should sit, stand, kneel or prostrate before the Living God in the tabernacles of the world. God wishes to speak to each heart here, and on this entire planet. It is up to us to hear Him.

Russian Silver Gilt Icon of Christ Pantocrator - Antique Jewelry | Vintage Rings | Faberge Eggs

Posted by: Fr Chris | September 13, 2019

The Holy Cross and Us

Saturday, September 14 is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. This verse from Thursday night’s Vespers struck me while preparing for this feast:

Today the Cross is exalted; * today the faithless ones perished; * today the faith is revealed through faithful kings. * Because of the tree, Adam has fallen, * and now by the Tree of the Cross the demons are filled with terror. * O all- powerful Lord, glory to You!

Demons are filled with terror and so flee from the cross. The enemies of Christ on earth fear the cross and all that it stands for. In Muslim countries, Christians are routinely  mocked as worshippers of the cross. When Islamic fundamentalism starts up, one of the first things they do is tear crosses off of churches and from people’s houses.

Members of Isil dismantle crosses from a church

Cross torn off Iraqi Catholic church by ISIS “warriors”

In communist China, the current campaign against all religious beliefs began with the removal of crosses from Catholic and Protestant churches, and continues with demands that Christians replace their crosses inside their houses with photos of the Chinese president.  Crosses were torn off of closed churches by state authorities in communist Eastern Europe and the USSR.

The American Humanist Association sought to either remove or disfigure the Peace Cross with its 49 names of  men who died in the First World War in Maryland. Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the Supreme Court decision that saved the Peace Cross “A government that roams the land, tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away any reference to the divine will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion,” he added. All of this is over the cross which we lift up literally tonight, the cross we routinely kiss in church or at home, the cross we hang on our walls or wear around  our necks. Two pieces of wood create all this anger among Muslims and communists and secularists alike. Why?

Cross burns as Chinese officials remove it from church - ucanews.com

Removal of cross in Tang He county, Henan province, China 

It is, I think, as Justice Alito wrote, very much a case of eliminating all traces of the Christian religion from the public eye, because the cross is a reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on it, and because it states that there are still men and women and children who honor that cross as part of their Christian lives. It is the sign of hope, of the victory over death by the sacrifice and resurrection of the God-Man crucified on it, a victory that communists mock and secularists preach against as a vain hope.

Why do we continue to honor the Cross with a holy day, with a special Vespers, with a ceremony of lifting up? The Old Testament readings today evoke the symbolism of the cross among the Israelites: the tree of Eden; Jacob crossing his hands to bless his son Joseph; Moses with his arms held out like a cross to help the Israelites defeat the warriors of Amalek; the bronze serpent on a cross which Moses held up for the afflicted people to see and be healed by God’s mercy.

No evangelism without prayer | volgdeboereninzuidafrika

Saint John Chrysostom writes eloquently – of course – on this: A virgin, a tree and a death were the symbols of our defeat. The virgin was Eve: she had not yet known man; the tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; the death was Adam’s penalty. But behold again a Virgin and a tree and a death, those symbols of defeat, become the symbols of his victory. For in place of Eve there is Mary; in place of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree of the Cross; in place of the death of Adam, the death of Christ. Do you see him defeated by the very things through which he had conquered? At the foot of the tree the devil overcame Adam; at the foot of the tree Christ vanquished the devil. And that first tree sent men to Hades; this second one calls back even those who had already gone down there. Again, the former tree concealed man already despoiled and stripped; the second tree shows a naked victor on high for all to see. And that earlier death condemned those who were born after it; this second death gives life again to those who were born before it.

We wear the cross casually or have it on our walls and walk by it. This feast is a reminder of the power of Christ’s Cross, a reminder of why both communists and secularists hate it, of why Islamic fundamentalists seek to destroy both it and those who honor it. It must be for us who believe in Christ and His Church an image that we cherish, that we honor, that we are proud of. Yes it was a blood-soaked tree outside of Jerusalem on Good Friday, but that blood washes away our sins and is the blood we receive at Holy Communion.  May we continue to people of the cross, people who ponder the cross and its many attributes, and above all people who love both the Cross and our Savior who was crucified on it.

Abbey Roads: The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

 

 

Posted by: Fr Chris | September 7, 2019

The Wounded Heart and Our Blessed Lady, given to us

Sept 8

Today is the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, Nativity of Our Lady, and Sunday Before Exaltation of the Cross – So I guess I should give 3 sermons!

Nativity of Theotokos - Russian Orthodox Church of Three Saints Храм Трех Святителей

Saint Ann and Saint Joachim thank God for the birth of their daughter, Mary 

Seriously – these two feasts rarely coincide. But each of course is intimately related to Our Lord. The birth of Our Lady is hailed in Ode 3 of the Matins as: your conception is ineffable (or unable to be fully expressed), your birth was all-holy, your childbearing was beyond our understanding, for the God of all became flesh in you. Mary’s greatness is not only in being the Theotokos, the Mother of God, the one who carried God in her womb,  and being ever-virgin before, during and after that pregnancy, but also in her individual holiness. That’s reflected in the choice of verses taken for the feast from Luke. Jesus praises Mary of Bethany for her choice of being still and listening to the Word of God as Christ speaks. That ties in with Luke, chapter 2, verse 19: Mary treasured all these words, and pondered them in her heart. The second set of verses, Blessed is the womb that bore you,  from Luke chapter 11, is the woman acclaiming Jesus’ mother for her role, which is a common thing in Judaism. The mothers of great rabbis are honored. But Christ turns that compliment aside, emphasizing instead the importance of hearing His words and acting on them.

About St. Macarius - Macarian Apologetics

On Friday we will be honoring the life-giving Cross and its exaltation. That is one of the paradoxes of Christianity for non-Christians, and even for some Christians. Why honor the Cross, an instrument of torture on which Jesus suffered a most painful death? The Vespers on Friday night will tell us why: O most venerable Cross of the Lord, the angels surround you with joy at your elevation today. You raise up those had fallen and had been delivered to death for having eaten of the forbidden tree. Therefore we praise you. By God’s plan, death that had come from a tree would be healed by a Tree, and suffering would be healed by the suffering of the Lord.

Without Mary and her willingness to assent to  conceiving the Son of the Most High in her womb, we do not have Jesus. Without that Cross of suffering, we do not have salvation.  Without Christ’s constant self-giving, we would not have the Divine Liturgy and the gift of Holy Communion. What do we receive in Communion? As Saint John Chrysostom’s prayer makes clear: this is Your most precious Body and Your life-giving Blood. This is the body and blood which He received from Mary in her virginal womb.

Y CATHOLIC: THE EUCHARIST

In the Eucharistic miracles that have taken place in the last 1200 years, the consecrated host turns to flesh, and the consecrated wine to blood. Those transformed sacred gifts have been subjected to scientific analysis in the last 50 years, and the test results are always the same: the flesh is from the heart, from the left side where the ventricle pumps blood out, and it is always not only flesh from the heart, but a heart undergoing tremendous stress and in the death agony. The blood is always AB blood, the most common blood type among Jewish men in first-century Palestine, but the blood type of only 4% of humans today. People with AB blood can receive any blood, and AB blood is used for treatment of wounds. When we come then to Communion, we receive not only the Body and Blood which Christ received from Our  Blessed Lady, but His Most Sacred Heart, wounded for us on the Cross, His Heart that suffered on the Cross we will exalt on Friday, a tiny piece of which our parish is privileged to have. That Precious Blood is the Blood that heals our wounds, any wound, the Blood poured out on the cross.

Liturgies end pretty quickly after Holy Communion. That is so we will go outside changed and transformed by this Eucharist, and go into the world as living tabernacles. As Byzantine Catholics, we go especially under the protection of the Holy Mother of God. She is the Mother of the Clergy, Mother of the faithful, guardian and helper, protector, the one who perpetually prays for us at the throne of God in heaven, as the title of our church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, makes clear. And she is given to us today especially as a model, as one who prayed on earth, who pondered in her heart the mysteries she experienced, and who heard the word of God throughout her life, who carried the word of God for nine months, who raised the word of God, and who acted upon what the Eternal Word told her.

NOVENA TO OUR MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELP | Carmel, Garden of God

She was the first tabernacle of the living God on earth. When we leave here today, may we turn to her and ask her to help us to be spiritual tabernacles, who will carry Christ to all whom we meet, and that we will ponder in our hearts the great treasure of the Catholic Faith which has been freely given to us, and grow in love for Christ and His wounded heart, and live in actions that reflect His teachings, and His heart .

Christ is among us.

Posted by: Fr Chris | August 20, 2019

St Stephen the King and Mary’s Triumph in Budapest

August 20 is the feast of Saint Stephen of Hungary on the Byzantine calendar, August 19 on the Latin one. Szent István, as the Hungarians call him, was the first Christian king of the Magyar people. He was baptized as a Christian when he was a child, and took the throne after a fierce struggle against pagan opposition led by his own uncle. He married his wife, St. Gisela of Bavaria, in 997.

Crowned at the start of the second Christian millennium Stephen was confirmed in his royal role by the pope, and since then Hungary has been known as the Apostolic Kingdom. He established a diocesan structure for the Latin Church while endowing the Byzantine rite monasteries of the Greek Church. During his reign, Hungarian rule was established over the Byzantine-Ruthenian Church’s home territories in central Europe. Hungary’s orientation was to the West, not the East, and Latin became the official language of all government business until 1844.

St. Stephen entrusted the Hungarian state to the Mother of God, naming her as the perpetual Queen of Hungary by raising his crown in his right hand to her icon while on his deathbed. His forthright defense of the Church and work on her behalf would probably have earned him sainthood in the medieval mind, but in addition there were miracles of healing at his tomb. The right hand with which he invoked Our Lady’s protection has remained incorrupt to our time. This hand remains in the Basilica of Saint Stephen in the heart of Budapest.

Gyula Benczúr: St. Stephen recommends Hungary under the protection of the Virgin Mary (St. Stephen's Basilica)

Saint Stephen offers his Crown to the Virgin Mary as Queen of Hungary 

A church was dedicated in Budapest to Our Lady as the Kingdom of Mary, the Regnum MarianumThis massive church stood as a sign of the protection of the Mother of God over the Hungarian people. During the Siege of Budapest in 1944-45, the church suffered a direct hit during a bombardment and was  damaged, but Masses continued.

The Regnum Marianum Church (circa 1930)

Hungary was put into the Soviet orbit by the United States and Britain at the infamous Yalta Conference. By 1948 it was under Communist rule, and in 1951 this great church was marked for complete demolition so as to build an enormous statue of Josef Stalin in its place. On August 1, the last Mass was offered at the high altar, and the Blessed Sacrament removed. Crowds stood for hours, singing hymns, with even communists  coming by to show their displeasure at the destruction. Though some people of Budapest surrounded it with a cordon of protesters – a very brave act in the spirit of Saint Stephen! – the secret police swept in and made arrests. Finally the church was blown up, and every surviving piece was carefully destroyed by the communists. It was even forbidden to show photographs of the former church.

The site of the church now became a square for Communist processions, dominated by Stalin’s image. Stalin towered over the city until the heroic Revolution of 1956, when this statue was pulled down by angry Hungarians eager to be freed of communism. Sadly, they lost their fight, and 200,000 fled to the West.

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Stalin’s head lying on the pavement, 1956 

In the end, Our Lady has triumphed, as she promised at Fatima in 1917. A crucifix was put up  in 1991 atop the pedestal where Stalin once stood.

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The new Kingdom of Mary church has been built at Zoborhegy Square, and a few long-buried pieces of the old church were inserted into it. This was blessed in 1995.

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Regnum Marianum Templom

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Icon of Our Lady, Queen of Hungary, in front of the altar 

Posted by: Fr Chris | August 14, 2019

Dormition/ Assumption of Our Lady, 2019

Afterfeast of the Dormition of the Mother of God - Orthodox Church in America

Holding the soul of Our Lady, Jesus comes to lift her body into heaven as the apostles mourn her death

 

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Pius XII proclaims the Assumption of Our Lady as a dogma that must be believed by all Catholics in communion with the Holy See.

On November 1, 1950, Peter’s successor, Pope Pius XII, infallibly defined the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption into heaven. This made it necessary for all Catholics to believe that Our Lady was taken up into heaven, body and soul. It is the only time that papal infallibility has been invoked, as Pius was speaking ex cathedra on a matter of faith.

This is not a new teaching, but rather the confirmation of an ancient belief in the Church. Writings about the death of the Virgin and her transition into heaven go back to the second century, which means it probably was spoken of in the first century. Thus, it is a teaching from the foundations of Christianity. In the 9th century. St John Damascene wrote that:

It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to himself, should live in the divine mansions. It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby received into her heart the sword of sorrow which she had escaped when giving birth to him, should look upon him as He sits with the Father, It was fitting that God’s Mother should possess what belongs to her Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and as the handmaid of God.

 Microchimerism  comes into play with the dogma, as science confirms the necessity of the bodily assumption of Our Lady. In the simplest of terms, microchimerism is the process by which a smattering of cells live within a host body but are completely distinct from it. In human fetomaternal microchimerism (or “fetal cell microchimerism”), every child leaves within its mother a microscopic bit of himself — every pregnancy, brought to delivery or not, leaves a small amount of its own cells within the body of the mother — and those cells remain within her forever. Therefore, a small amount of Jesus’ cells remained within Mary, for the whole of her life. Where we Catholics have a limited experience of Christ’s flesh commingling within our own upon reception of the holy Eucharist, Mary was a true tabernacle within which the Divinity did continually reside.

In Psalm 16:10 we read about how the Holy One will not undergo corruption.  Christ’s divine body did not undergo corruption, but rose in glory and ascended into heaven. It follows that His mother’s body, containing cellular traces of the Divinity (and a particle of God is God, entire) could not be permitted to decay, either. The science makes the theology accessible, because, suddenly, there is no need for guessing: at her Dormition, Our Lady’s body, holding Christ’s living cells within it, could not remain on earth and decay. Of course, it would have to join itself to Christ in the heavenly dimension.

An interesting point can also be raised regarding Marian apparitions. Our Lady probably died in her late forties or early fifties. At that age, a Palestinian woman was elderly and worn down by the physical hardships of life in the first-century. Yet at every recognized apparition, the visionaries always remark on how beautiful she is, how young she looks, and that she has a beauty that no one can fully capture in art. Saint Bernadette patiently detailed how the Lady from the grotto looked to a sculptor hired to recreate the image in a statue to be put in the grotto at Lourdes. But when he presented his finished work, she remarked sadly that no one could really show her loveliness.

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The shrine of the empty tomb of Mary, Jerusalem 

Why does this matter? Our Lord’s body was glorified after the resurrection. It is an extremely ancient tradition that when the tomb of Mary was opened on Mount Zion, it was filled with flowers. This is why to this day people send flowers to funerals: it is a testimony that we believe in the resurrection of the dead.

Our Lady’s body is also glorified after her bodily assumption. And this glorification is in order to show us, as Vatican II teaches in Lumen Gentium. when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords, (cf. Apoc. 19:16) and conqueror of sin and death. In a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.   Mary in heaven is also the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise she shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come (cf. 2 Pet. 3:10), a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God.

Our parish is dedicated to Mary under the title “Perpetual Help” a title which she herself gave to the icon in the apparition in Rome in 1499. She most definitely is a sign of certain hope and comfort to us: her radiant beauty is not only from her sinless state, but a sign to every human being of what awaits the glorified souls in heaven at the resurrection of the body at the end of time. She calls us to do as she did – conform ourselves to her Son ,Jesus Christ, through a living faith and charity to others.

Neither the tomb, nor death, could hold the Theotokos, who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions. For being the Mother of Life, she was translated to life, by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb.

Our living Mother of Perpetual Help calls us to imitate her Son, so that we can live with Him and with her and all the saints of heaven. No one here will get younger – we all get older, we all go to one destiny that no one can avoid. But death is  not the end, but merely a step into the real life that we have been preparing for as Christian pilgrims on earth. May we follow Mary’s example of steadfast faith and love, and be one with her Son here in this life, so as to fully enjoy Him in the life to come, as Saint Gregory Palamas urges us to do:

Though we may be incapable of containing your riches, increase our capacity and so grant them to us that we, saved and strengthened by your grace, may glorify the Pre-eternal Word Who was Incarnate of you for our sakes, together with His Unoriginate Father and Life-Creating Spirit, both now and ever and forever. Amen.

 

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Posted by: Fr Chris | August 10, 2019

LORD, SAVE ME!

Gospel of Matthew, 14:22-34

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In the previous storm on the lake, the disciples had Jesus with them. He was asleep in the stern while even the experienced sailors of the apostles were in a panic over the ferocity of the storm. This time He sent them out by themselves, so He could pray alone. Matthew tells us that Jesus does not appear until the fourth watch of the night – that means the disciples have been facing this fierce storm for about twelve hours, in darkness. The sea, even an inland sea, was something to fear: for all the ancients the visible sea was the portion of the abyss on which the earth rested. And in the world of the Hebrews, the sea represented chaos, a monster that God alone can conquer. In the Book of Job, God is described as trampling the dragon of the sea, in Psalm 24 that we use so often it says the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness of it, the world and those who dwell in it, for He has founded it upon the seas. Jesus is having them visit alone, in the dark, both the primal chaos of creation and  their own fear and failure to truly rely on God.

The words Matthew uses for the storm are powerful: it is not just waves, but waves that torture, that cause terrible distress. The apostles are paralyzed with fear and lack of faith. Then out of the darkness comes a figure across these huge waves, walking toward them. No wonder they yell that it is a ghost after twelve hours of this tossing around with no one to comfort them and no hope of getting to land. What Jesus says to them is extremely important, and poorly translated in the New American Bible reading we just heard. He says, Take heart, or have confidence. And then He says  I AM – the Name of God – and then have no fear. The storm that was their greatest fear now reveals their beloved Teacher. He does not swoop down in glory from the mountain and wipe out the storm – He comes to them from inside the storm. Peter knows Who it is by His Voice – they still can’t see Jesus. And Peter again is the voice of faith: He calls Jesus Kyrios, Lord. And then in true Peter style, If it is You – a mix of belief and unbelief – call me. The storm is still raging, but Peter and Christ are talking to one another inside the storm. Jesus invites Peter to come to Him, and after twelve hours of absolute misery Peter has such faith that he steps out of the boat; he leaves his only security and gives himself over to the fury of wind, crashing waves, fearful noise, and heads toward Jesus, Who is still a distance away.

Peter does just fine until — he notices the strong wind and is afraid.  The moment he takes his eyes off Jesus, he sinks into the chaos. There was a bridge between Peter and Jesus: Peter said, bid me come to Thee; Jesus answered Come! and now Peter breaks the bridge. Only as he sinks does he cry again, Lord, Kyrios, Save me!

All of this obviously is a parallel for us. Every Christian, every believer, every person has a time of darkness, when we feel bereft, tortured, frightened. In the end it is God alone Who can answer our fears, it is God Who can break through. And how does He choose to do this? So often it is not with an earth-shattering miracle, but that thin small sound of silence that Elijah heard in the cave. God speaks to us while we are in the scary swamp of fears. He is not a God Who shows up when things are finally bright and cheery – He is there in the muck with us.

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When do we get in trouble? When we take our eyes off God, when we push God’s grace aside, when we ask God to step aside for a little while so we can do what we want – my parents say go take out the garbage and I don’t because I am playing a video game; my brother says play with me and I say no because I want to do something else; my boss tells me I am needed somewhere and I don’t want to go there so I don’t; that bottle of beer or whisky seems to be calling me even though I am supposed to avoid alcohol. Sin is when we take part in the dark chaos, and sin can slowly, quietly become habitual until suddenly I realize where I am, what I have lost, where I might be going and we cry out Lord, save me! from the depth of our hearts.

What does Jesus do when Peter cries out for Him? He bends over and extends His hand – He does not have lean down into the turbulent waters and haul Peter up. Jesus simply extends His hand. And this also means that Peter had almost made it to Christ – he had walked over the chaos, through the darkness, out of the fears and was close enough to Jesus that Jesus simply had to bend down. He was that close, and he lost his faith and gave in to the fear and sank. He had set out in full confidence, and at the last moment, became afraid.

Here is the key to take home today: Jesus waits for us always. Jesus is close enough, even when we are swallowed up by sin, to extend His hand to us. Jesus never abandons us, the way we too often abandon Him and His teachings. Jesus does not walk away, does not yell at Peter, does not let him drown, He simply makes the comment, You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 

Peter was close enough to Jesus to touch Him, but suddenly he had doubt. Jesus stretches out His hand – the same divine hand that opened and closed the waters of the Red Sea, the hand that made the seas themselves – and Peter is safe. And what does this hand do? Jesus grasps Peter, it is a Greek verb that emphasizes great strength. With that firm grip, that firm powerful hand, Peter is truly safe.

One of the great mysteries of life is that the God Who created light out of the void, Who made the entire universe, intimately cares about each and every soul on this planet. In particular, He is close to those baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity, as we literally belong to Him. Jesus is the savior – He saved us. And Jesus saves me, over and over again. When we step out of the darkness and chaos of sin, then we are stepping into His embrace. When we approach and receive His Most Precious Body and Life-giving Blood, we are grasped by Him, He takes hold of us, He encourages us, He feeds us, He strengthens us and He embraces us. Each reception of Holy Communion is the opportunity to repeat Peter’s adventure of falling into Christ’s embrace.

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The prestigious Pew Research Center published a study of American Catholics last week: nearly seven-in-ten Catholics (69%) say they personally believe that during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine used in Communion “are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” Not even one-third of U.S. Catholics, a mere 31%, say they believe that “during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.” Only 22% know Church teaching on the Eucharist.

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I’m going to presume this – but if you come to our Divine Liturgy and recite that prayer before receiving Holy Communion, you cannot but know, be absolutely convinced, that this is indeed the fullness of Jesus Christ. Here is the firm grasping hand of the Lord, here is the loving embrace of the divine Savior, here is the fullness of revelation made real. If it is not Christ’s full Personhood, then forget it! No wonder many American Catholics don’t go to Mass – I wouldn’t bother either if this is just a symbol. I’d get another job. Men and women have died over the centuries for the Mass; people have lost their jobs, their families, over their faith in the Holy Eucharist. If you know a Catholic who thinks this is a symbol, I urge you to invite them to come with you here. Because you cannot leave here thinking that!  And you cannot leave here without knowing that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, has spoken to us, and wanted to meet us. He awaits us in every tabernacle, He comes at every Liturgy or Mass, and the chaos of sin has no power in His presence. Let us come to Him, and be firm in faith, and have no doubts in God’s great mercy.

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Posted by: Fr Chris | August 4, 2019

Transfiguration with Jesus

 

This is one of the twelve major feast days on our Byzantine Catholic calendar. Only in 1966, by imitating the American Roman Catholic Church which was dropping feast days rapidly, did our  Church suddenly break the various holy days down into new and artificial categories: obligatory, solemn, and simple. Transfiguration was made into a “solemn” despite it being one of the twelve major feast days show on the second row of the iconostas, despite the special ceremonies of blessing fruits and especially grapes, despite the obvious importance of it being an event in which the divine nature of Jesus is revealed in a magnificent way to the three apostles, despite the presence of the two great prophets of Israel, Moses and Elijah, who confirm for those three Jewish apostles just Who Jesus Christ is.

He is more than the Messiah, and the promised one of the ages. He is God Incarnate, the unique God-Man.  Jesus was physically perfect because He is the New Adam. He shows us exactly what we are to become. Call to mind the image of the Man on the Shroud of Turin. Jewish men at the time averaged five foot, five inches. or one meter, 65 centimeters. This Man is five foot, eleven inches, or one meter and 80 centimeters. He towered above the crowds, which certainly helped with events like the Sermon on the Mount, so that everyone could hear Him. The body of that Man is physically perfect, weight in proportion to the body, firmly muscled from years of labor as a carpenter and walking throughout Palestine for three years of preaching.

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This is a celebration of Theology of the Body in a very real way, as is the next holy day, the Dormition of Our Lady. In this feast, Jesus allows the three to glimpse part of His glory, the glory that God told Moses no one could see and live. In the icons, only Peter looks up, since he is the leader of the apostolic college, and even he holds his hands in front of his face. The apostles see at least part of the fullness of the Godhead that lives inside Jesus’ body – what we hear on Easter Sunday in the Byzantine Rite from the Prologue of John: The Word became flesh. God’s magnificent glory lives still today in the body of the Risen Christ – this is a glimpse of what the apostles and we ourselves have to look forward to after our deaths – we are made to share this glory ourselves in our humble bodies! Christ will change our humble body to conform to His glorified body, says Saint Paul in the letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verse 21.

For us, it begins here – theosis, divinization, is a key doctrine of both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. It is open to every Christian, to be transformed by grace during our life here on earth. Some saints, especially Seraphim of Sarov, were transfigured not only in their souls but in their bodies here on earth, because they opened themselves up to God’s living, piercing grace. To receive God’s grace is to partake of His divine energies, from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When we open our souls to grace, when we step aside and let God inside of us, that is what comes to us.

To go back to the Shroud – the Man on that Shroud has 370 scourge wounds that are visible, and scientists estimate that He was whipped 600 separate times. So indeed, the visions of mystics of a bloody and violent Passion are quite accurate, as is that horrific scene in the film Passion of the Christ. But here is the key for this feast day: the Man’s face is serene, peaceful, at rest, despite those wounds, the nerve damage, a dislocated shoulder, thirst, and having suffered torture and psychological abuse. He is completely at peace. That is what divine grace brings us: the transforming energies of God that conquer the physical, emotional, and spiritual pains that we each suffer from. To receive His grace, to experience theosis, be it a moment or for years, is to filled with that abiding peace. The first thing Jesus says in the Upper Room after His resurrection is —- Peace.

THREE DATES TO REMEMBER: 1517, 1717, 1917! WHAT’S WITH THE 17TH YEAR ???? WILL 2017 BE ANOTHER ...

This is also a harvest feast – people bring the first fruits of the year to church to be blessed. This continues the ancient Jewish practice in which first-fruits were given to God. We know that this feast was observed in the early 400s, and that blessing of fruits goes back as far as 200 AD, in terms of written prayers, and therefore even earlier than that. Pears, apples, almonds, peaches, figs, berries – all kinds of fruit were brought to church, as we still do today. The prayer specifies that these fruits are blessed so as to bring healing to the sick, protection against the actions of Satan, and to strengthen us.

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In particular grapes are brought, as they produce the wine that becomes the Blood of Christ in the chalice at Holy Communion. This event on Mount Tabor took place shortly before Christ’s Passion, and therefore before the Last Supper in which  Christ would give His Blood. The sharing of the Transfiguration was meant to strengthen Peter, James and John. Unfortunately they would forget this, just as we can forget all about God’s redeeming grace being close at hand when we are tempted to sin. Having blessed fruit in the house is a physical reminder of God’s mercy to us – He sanctifies these by His Holy Spirit, so as to lead us to heaven.

We are made so as to live with God – not just in heaven, but here. Ask Our Lord at Holy Communion for strength to want to live with Him, and not sin, and for the wisdom to do so, both for our own salvation, and to live so as to bring other souls to Christ’s loving embrace.

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CHRIST AWAITS US! 

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