Posted by: Fr Chris | February 16, 2019

Byzantine Catholic Evangelization 6

WORSHIP AIDS

The Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great. Every adult and teenager in the household should have their own pew book!

Byzantine Catholic prayer books – as opposed to the Orthodox ones in use before – have printed for our faithful since 1773, because it is so important that every believer should be able to reference the correct prayers for the Tones, feast days, and communion meditations . By purchasing and using this book, you are part of a centuries tradition! This has the responses, proper prayers, and music for the Liturgies, feast days, ranks of saints for ordinary days, and special intentions. Besides all that, there are the traditional – and very beautiful – Prayers Before Communion and Prayers of Thanksgiving which can be read either in church or at home. Complete with ribbons for marking the pages. Available from Byzantine Seminary Press:  http://www.byzantineseminarypress.com/the-divine-liturgies-of-our-holy-fathers-john-chrysostom-and-basil-the-great-hardcover/  $10

Byzantine Daily Office – the daily prayers of Matins, the Hours, and Vespers, with the correct Proper Prayers (Troparion, Kontakion), for each day of the year, sent directly to your smart phone, computer, or pad, from Eastern Christian Publications.

ALSO NEW: Audio CD for Vespers, Morning Prayer and Sixth Hour (Noon Prayer). For more information go to

http://ecpubs.com/byzantine-daily-office-bdo/   Donations requested

Theosis is a monthly print or electronic magazine with articles on theology, liturgy, and
Sacred Scripture; information on the month’s saints’ days; and photographs of ancient churches.

http://ecpubs.com/theosis-monthly-magazine/   $6 monthly

A self-standing display of icons for the major feasts of the liturgical year.  Summary bullet points for education on each feast.  Pocket-size 4″X6″ in full color.  $15.00  http://ecpubs.com/product/table-tent-icons/

Come Bless the Lord Icon Packet, $10

Beautiful set of 39 icon prints, size 8 ½ x 11. Familiarize learners with Christ, the Mother of God, saints and the major feasts through icons. Display an icon relevant to a feast, gospel or parable. Teach children to reverence the icon and pray before an icon, set up an icon corner. Icons have descriptions on back of pages. Find this at

https://store.godwithusbooks.org/icon-prints-books-dvds/come-bless-the-lord-icon-packet/

Posted by: Fr Chris | February 16, 2019

Byzantine Catholic Evangelization 5: Bookshelf

Basic Byzantine Bookshelf for Busy Byzantines

The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level.
                                                              -Pope Benedict XVI to American Bishops, 2012

These titles of books and DVDs should be on your bookshelf, and read frequently, so as to deepen your understanding of the gift we have been given in the Byzantine Catholic Church, and to help develop laity who will fulfill the wishes of the Our Lord that we be strong in Faith and that we proclaim this Faith!

Books to Answer “Are You Really a Catholic?”

 

101 Questions on Eastern Catholic Churches. This book is exactly what it claims to be, and does a good job of providing good answers to all those questions that arise about just what an Eastern Catholic is, how we pray, and how we fit into the Universal Church.

http://www.paulistpress.com/Products/4441-9/101-questions–answers-on-eastern-catholic-churches.aspx

https://www.amazon.com/Questions-Answers-Eastern-Catholic-Churches/dp/0809144417

The Catholic Eastern Churches – The main page has a short history of how most of the Churches were formed by various Unions, and the left hand side has a complete list of links that give the history of each individual Church (ours is “Ruthenian”), and locations today.    http://www.cnewa.org/default.aspx?ID=54&pagetypeID=9&sitecode=HQ&pageno=1

Eastern Catholics in the United States of America This little (32 pp) book comes from the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops: who could ask for a better reference to answer the eternal question: “Are you really Catholic?” It’s a good booklet to give to the relatives, co-workers, neighbors.

Eastern Catholics in the United States

Provides an overview of the four dominant Eastern Catholic traditions in the US: Antiochian, Alexandrian, Armenian, and Byzantine. Uses the encyclical Orientale Lumen as its building block “to promote a greater understanding of the experience of Eastern Catholics in this country.” This book is inexpensive but attractive enough to both put into parish vestibules or provide for parishioners to keep a few on hand at home for those inevitable questions.

Available at http://store.usccb.org/eastern-catholics-in-the-united-states-p/5-287.htm.

One of the classic works explaining Byzantine Catholic spirituality, written by the famous Archbishop Joseph Raya. A book to read over and over again.

https://ecpubs.com/product/face-of-god-by-archbishop-joseph-raya/

DVD ON ICONS – THE MAIN ART FORM OF THE BYZANTINE CHURCHES 

Reflection of Glory

The spiritual and cultural dynamics of early Christianity which eventually gave rise to the art of the Byzantine Icon are presented in this DVD. Offers the viewer a more mature understanding of Byzantine Icons by providing the foundation upon which the terminology, concepts, and theology of iconography are based.

https://store.godwithusbooks.org/icon-prints-books-dvds/reflection-of-glory/

THE MOTHER OF GOD IN THE CATHOLIC EAST

Mother of God

The Icon of the Mother of God of Vladimir graces this booklet with an elegantly written meditation. By, Gaetano Passarelli •Gloss, Full Color, 24 pg  https://store.godwithusbooks.org/icon-prints-books-dvds/mother-of-god/

OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST 

Christ The Savior

he renowned and beloved Icon of Christ graces the cover of this booklet while the words within provide an inspiring meditation. An excellent addition to your personal prayer and reflection time. Consider for use in a prayer or study group; purchase as gifts. Excellent gift to parishioners for Pascha, First Sunday of the Great Fast, Parish patronal Feast Day, a Feast of Christ Incarnate, Father’s Day, parishioner anniversaries, purchase the set—Christ the Savior (GW158152) and Mother of God (GW018169) as a gift for a couple at Crowning, etc.

https://store.godwithusbooks.org/icon-prints-books-dvds/christ-the-savior/

Exactly what it says it is – a handy, easy to read, but thorough exploration of Eastern Catholic worship, liturgical life and prayer life. https://www.amazon.com/Eastern-Catholic-Churches-Introduction-Spirituality/dp/0814620477

A little outdated, but still a good overview of Eastern Catholicism in the USA, covering the main Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite.

https://ecpubs.com/product/eastern-catholic-churches-in-america/

 

A great overview of the different Eastern Catholic Churches which are flourishing in America, with history, explanations of origins, and the challenges of being Eastern and Catholic in the United States. $18.95

https://store.godwithusbooks.org/the-eastern-church/american-eastern-catholics/

MORE TITLES AND LINKS WILL BE PROVIDED SOON! 

 

Posted by: Fr Chris | February 16, 2019

Byzantine Catholic Evangelization 4

Internet Radio Inside the House / Office / Car

Check out Father Thomas Loya’s stock of programs “Light of the East. ”

Radio is not outdated. It remains a primary vehicle for evangelization in the Southern Hemisphere, and via the internet everywhere. The internet, of course, is not just for streaming live programs, but for listening at anytime, anywhere. And Father Loya’s show is one of the best there is, not just among Byzantine Catholics, but all Catholics.

You can access it here: http://byzantinecatholic.com/podcast/ as part of the Annunciation (Homer Glen, Illinois) parish’s website, which has an archive of past programs.

Father’s Apple podcasts can be found here  https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/light-of-the-east/id910354650?mt=2.

Catholic Stuff You Should Know

This podcast is put together by priests of the Archdiocese of Denver and our own  Father Michael O’Loughlin, of Holy Protection parish in Denver. He brings in the Byzantine perspective on a regular basis. Go to http://catholicstuffpodcast.com

Catholic Under the Hood is a Franciscan broadcast, but it carries a number of shows with a distinctly Eastern Catholic flavor. Find more at  https://catholicunderthehood.com/category/eastern-catholic.

How to Speak in Evangelization1

Defending the Faith is always a challenge. Conversations with co-workers, friends, and relatives can become difficult or awkward. This is where three things come into play:

Prayer – we must pray daily to the Holy Spirit to ask His guidance! Recite the “Heavenly King” slowly and ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten you. If you have roommates, workmates, friends, and relatives who ask about our Church, our Byzantine Tradition, and the Catholic Faith, this is an invitation to speak well. If this is a regular occurrence, then pray this often to ask for help!

Education – Get books for yourself: see the Byzantine Basic Bookshelf in the next posts for ideas.  Our Byzantine Tradition has so many practices and rituals which speak to the soul, but we have to know what they mean! And the basics of the Catholic Faith are so important: read, attend Catholic Bible study, check out Catholic websites, and learn so as to teach. Samples are given on the Bookshelf page.

Patience – One of the great virtues. Be patient: you do not know what seeds you have planted. One day, by grace, those seeds will grow and flourish in the souls of others. You may see it from Heaven, but it will happen!

Look for the positive intention behind the criticism.
Rather than arguments, consider the value that those arguments appeal to. Look for the Christian ethic. Which other values is the critic ignoring, or has not properly taken into account? Consider how, very early in the discussion you can appeal to the value your critic is upholding. Even when up against an individualistic or utilitarian viewpoint, it is important to understand the value involved, name it, and s how that there are underlying principles to be agreed upon.

Be charitable. People won’t remember what you said as much as how you made them feel.
We are there to serve the truth – not by trying to defeat people or overwhelm them. Charity must be the key element always. The danger is that you will win the argument but lose the souls.

Be positive.
An important principle when making the Church’s case against something is to be positive. Almost everything the Church says is because she wants to call people to the fullness of life, health, and sustainable prosperity.
Being positive is not being “nice”. It is about bringing the discussion back to the positive vision of the Church. We invite society to a better way. We are against abortion because we are campaigning like the anti-slavery people did. Be the angel that point to the brighter horizon! The Church has answers to the moral questions of today! 

Think in triangles. Hone your thoughts down to the three important points you want to make. If you get two out of the three into the discussion you’ll be doing well. It’s important to marshal your thoughts into three points. 
Make a triangle of them. When in the discussion, think how does it relate to the triangles – then bring in your point. At least one point should address the positive intention behind the criticism.

Show, don’t tell.
Know your facts, but don’t bounce statistics. It’s not 33% but one out of three; not 25% but one-fourth. Use those kinds of statistics only when needed.

Go to the sources of the person’s criticism: is it accurate or is it misquoted? Attention spans today are short: focus on what’s most important. Check out some resources here re: Catholicism in general – https://shop.catholic.com/

 

St Mary of the Holy Protection Proto-Cathedral, Sherman Oaks, CA 

First Byzantine Catholic church on the West Coast 

 

Looking Beyond the New “Old Country”: A New Expansion

The immigrants who came from Austria-Hungary left behind their homes which quickly became the “stary krai”, or Old Country. Then Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and Ohio became the new Old Country as people moved south and west, beginning in the 1950s.

Father Eugene Chromoga was sent to Los Angeles with the names of two families. When he got off in Union Station, he found out that one family had moved. With the foundation of that one family, Father Chromoga went to work. From their work, Saint Mary of the Holy Protection Church was established, and from that base missions and outreach stations grew to become parishes across the whole state of California. Saint Mary became the first  cathedral of the new eparchy in the Western States founded in 1982.

The mission experience in the Western States, which gave birth to our eparchy of the Holy Protection of Mary in Phoenix, was accomplished by the initiatives of laity who wrote to the bishop of the Parma Eparchy, which then had jurisdiction, and asking for priests to come to their towns and serve them.  This is very much the role of the baptized: to work for the Kingdom of God!

By 1985, parishes had been founded in the major cities of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. The expansion into these regions was successful. Now we need both a new expansion into new areas, as people continue to beg for priests in other locations,  and an internal expansion of vision and fervor in existing parishes so as to reach out into the larger population.

A Guide for the Domestic Church

Vatican II teaches clearly that the Catholic home is a domestic church.[1] The Christian family must be the family that prays together, so that it stays together.[2] This is possible by having an active prayer life as a single person, a married couple, or a family. Ancient customs still speak to the modern soul! Ancient prayers awaken us to the living presence of God in each of our lives! People who are in love with God will be in love with each other and with their neighbor.

But how do I introduce my spouse and children to an active life of prayer and living out the rituals and customs of our Church?

Widely used by Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christians since its original publication in 1986, A GUIDE FOR THE DOMESTIC CHURCH   has been reissued in a full-color updated version for another generation of Eastern Christian families. A kind of cookbook for Christian family life,  A GUIDE FOR THE DOMESTIC CHURCH  is an easy to read presentation of the Eastern Churches’ vision for the Christian home along with specific  directions for those wishing to incorporate Byzantine  spirituality into their home lives throughout the Church year.

This book contains step-by-step directions for family prayer, hints for keeping the fasts, setting up an icon corner, celebrating saints’ name days and participating in the Church’s special moments of encounter with God (baptisms, marriages, funeral and memorial services.)

The second edition includes newly-available resources and recipes as well as links to online distributors and manufacturers of religious supplies. A GUIDE FOR THE DOMESTIC CHURCH does a wonderful job of explaining both the whys and the hows of Eastern Christian family practice, telling you where to find icons, lamps, incense, and so forth, and what to do with them.

Paper, 116 pages. Only $15.00 Available from the Melkite Eparchy of Newton via this site:

https://melkite.org/products-page/oes-general-interest/a-guide-for-the-domestic-church-2nd-edition

 

Go here for other suggestions on transforming your home into a domestic church: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/vocations/parents/tools-for-building-a-domestic-church.cfm

[1] Lumen Gentium, no. 11.

[2] To paraphrase the famous phrase of Father Patrick Peyton, “The family that prays together, stays together.”

Posted by: Fr Chris | February 16, 2019

Byzantine Catholic Evangelization 2

Some Simple Basics

Here are suggestions to help in preparing for visitors.

Welcoming

Within the first 30 seconds of entering a church, visitors will know if they are going to return or not.  How you welcome guests in the entryway, and what you put there, is absolutely critical.  Walking in to a new church can be intimidating. Have a person there. Greeting is so important. A greeter can welcome the visitor, give the parish handout material, and point them in the right direction. Ideally, a greeter knows certain parishioners who will be happy to have a guest seated with them, parishioners who are proud of their parish and willing to “show the ropes” regarding using the book, when to sit and stand, and how to receive Holy Communion.

  1. What the Greeter Gives: Above all else, a smile and an extended hand with a warm “Welcome to our Parish!”
  1. If the pastor welcomes guests at the close of the Divine Liturgy during parish announcements, then greeters can ask guests to sign their name on the paper going up to the altar. If the visitor does not want to be greeted, a good greeter will respect that wish instantly. This is no time to be pushy!
  2. Greeters should give to each guest:
    1. An Icon Holy Card with parish name, address, website, phone number of the office stamped or printed on the back.
    2. Copy of the  Divine Liturgy for visitors to use during the Liturgy. If giving out the green pew book, then make sure that the ribbon marking the day/ Tone is pointed out to them. If using the Byzantine Seminary Press paperback, point out that the music for the texts reflects common melodies, but not all of them.
    3. Now they’re in the door, and what should they do? Ask in advance for parishioners who are happy to host guests in their pew. Special note here: those parishioners should plan to be at the church 15 minutes before the Liturgy begins, not as the priest and servers enter the sanctuary!
  3. Greeters should be responsible and if they cannot serve on a particular weekend, they arrange for a substitute, or else inform the office a week in advance. An empty vestibule/ narthex is a dead one!
  1. Available for Visitor:
    Visitors come any day of the week, and if your church is open, here are suggestions to keep on hand. Bright, attractive handouts will do wonders!
  1. Eastern Catholics in the United States of America. Available from USCCB Publications http://store.usccb.org/eastern-catholics-in-the-united-states-p/5-287.htm      $3.95

    You can have it available for free in your pamphlet rack or on a table, while selling copies in your parish store. A Roman Catholic visitor is immediately assured that the church is indeed a Catholic one!

  2. Byzantine Seminary Press Leaflets. http://www.byzantineseminarypress.com/Byzantine-Leaflet-Series/ The Press has over 50 fold-out titles available. Ones appropriate to the season or holy day can be placed in a rack or on a table, such as “Blessing of Easter Foods” #2. If the parish patron is a title from the series, such as SS. Peter and Paul or Our Lady of Perpetual Help, then the pamphlet can be left out all year. Non-seasonal ones can also be kept out, such as “Veneration of Icons” (#16), “The Anointing with Holy Oil” (#10), “The Observance of Sunday” (#38), and “Prayers to the Blessed Mother of God”(#27).
  3. Holy Cards.Attractive holy cards can be purchased from the Seminary Press and imprinting done, or they can be made locally. During Great Lent, cards with the Prayer of Saint Ephrem; during Pascha Resurrection cards; at Christmas Nativity cards, etc.

Newspapers. Every eparchy has its own publication. Buy extra copies which can be placed in the narthex. No more than three different issues should be kept, to avoid clutter.

Registration Forms. Make it easy for someone to join the parish: put these forms right where everyone can find them!

  1. WELCOME TO OUR CHURCH folders – Easy to read folders about life in an Eastern: available at  https://store.godwithusbooks.org/index.php?p=catalog&mode=search&search_str=welcome+to+parish+

 

Posted by: Fr Chris | February 16, 2019

Byzantine Catholic Evangelization 1

Image result for byzantine catholic seminary pittsburgh pa

Seminary Chapel, Pittsburgh 

The goal is to empower both the clergy and laity of the Byzantine Catholic Churches to reach out to the unchurched and the fallen away Catholics and bring them to salvation through the power of the Holy Spirit, by discovering (or re-discovering) our Lord Jesus Christ, and being enclosed in the embrace of God the Father.

The Catholic Church dates from the mission given by Jesus Christ to the Apostles at His Ascension into heaven: Go forth and baptize all nations (Matthew 28:19). The Church has kept an unbroken history ever since!

The Byzantine Church is descended from the first Greek  converts of Saint Paul in Asia Minor. Gradually the Byzantine Rite evolved, using Greek, and it became the dominant Rite for Christians across modern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Israel.

Image result for st cyril & methodius

In the ninth century, two brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodius, were invited to bring the Gospel to the Slavs of Central Europe. They translated Scriptures, Liturgies, and Sacraments into Old Slavonic, the mother tongue of most modern Slavs. Their disciples carried the Faith across most of Eastern Europe and the Balkans.  Most Byzantine Christians became Orthodox after the splits in 1054-1204. In 1646 and 1652, a large section in modern Slovakia, Transcarpathian Oblast (Ukraine), and Hungary reunited with the Holy See of Rome in what is called the Union(s) of Uzhhorod. Based at the ancient eparchy (diocese) of Mukachevo, this the foundation of what we now know as the Byzantine Catholic Church (also called Greek Catholic).

This Church was then carried to the United States and Canada through immigration, beginning in the 1880s. The Church in America experienced the movement out of ethnic neighborhoods in the 1950s-1960s, and a growing rate of intermarriage with non-Byzantine Catholics, internal migration to the American West and South

In the Vatican II document Orientalium Ecclesiarum, the Eastern Churches regained the right to be missionary Churches:

they enjoy the same rights and are under the same obligations, also in respect of preaching the Gospel to the whole world (cf. Mark 16, 15) under the guidance of the Roman Pontiff.¹

Means should be taken therefore in every part of the world for the protection and advancement of all the individual Churches and, to this end, there should be established parishes and a special hierarchy where the spiritual good of the faithful demands it.²

Both the Church in North America and the Churches in Europe face challenges of preaching the Gospel in rapidly changing societies. The spread of secularism (avoiding or even forbidding religious input), relativism (denying that there is any objective truth) and migration away from home territories (in central Europe and the United States alike) challenge both the sense of belonging to the Byzantine Catholic Church and personal religious practice. Even the transmission of the Gospel is weakened.³

The New Evangelization is needed for the Byzantine Catholics of North America.

At the heart of every culture, whether perceived or not, is a consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good, and thus about the conditions for human flourishing. In America, that consensus, as enshrined in your nation’s founding documents, was grounded in a worldview shaped not only by faith but a commitment to certain ethical principles deriving from nature and nature’s God.

Today that consensus has eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such.5

The key for all Catholic Evangelization is the liturgical life of the Church. With this, believers are nurtured in their faith. Should preaching be inadequate, or limited by a hostile state, the prayers of the liturgical year ring out the fullness of Catholic truth!

Our own Byzantine Catholic Father David Petras writes of our current situation that “the recovery of the Divine Liturgy as evangelization is crucial to the life and health of the Church.”6He goes on to write that we must be able to respond to the hostile evangelization of the new atheism, and achieve Christian union, and the Liturgy teaches us how to do so. Only the Church has “good news” to proclaim to the world.

The new atheism, in the end, has little to offer, since, quoting Bertrand Russell, a true apostle of atheism, that all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins.7

Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Church He established, has much to offer that will endure after the universe has ended: true union with God, the fulfillment of the individual soul in that union, and the glory of the unfading Beatific Vision.

In the end, Father Petras writes, “The one Body and one Cup of the Blood of our Lord in the Divine Liturgy is the source and goal of this union, to achieve it will be the perfect gift of evangelization.” May it be so! Lord Jesus, come!

____________
1  Orientalium Ecclesiarium, Number 3.

2   Ibid, Number 4.

3 His Beatitude Lucian Muresan, Archbishop Major of the Romanian Greek Catholic Church, at the 14th Meeting of the Bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches, November 3-6, 2011, “The Reflection of the Eastern Catholic Churches on the New Evangelization”, hereafter “Eastern Catholic Conference 2011
4 These “services” do everything to prevent both pregnancy and birth of a child, so how that can be “reproductive” boggles the ordinary person’s mind.
5 “Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Bishops of the United States of America on their “ad limina” visit, January 19, 2012. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2012/january/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20120119_bishops-usa_en.html
6 Edited by Father Christopher Zugger from the section “Some Conclusions” at Encounter 2012 http://www.davidpetras.com/page/chicago_encounter.
7 Ibid.

Posted by: Fr Chris | February 2, 2019

Zacchaeus and his tree

The 32nd Sunday after Pentecost in the Byzantine Rite is always Zacchaeus Sunday, the Gospel of the Poor Little Rich Man.  It also is the unofficial beginning of the preparation season for Great Lent.

What kind of a tree does Zacchaeus go  up into? Who cares? Why doesn’t Luke just say, Zacchaeus climbed up into a tree? Sycamores are big trees, with a wide canopy of branches. Sycamores were introduced by King David, so though they are great shade trees in the desert, Jews looked on them as foreign. These particular sycamores grow a fruit like a fig, but if you wait until it falls  off the tree, it cannot be eaten. So you have to go up and puncture the figs, pierce them with a rod shaped like a spear, in order to get the sweet fruit. The prophet Amos described himself as a dresser of sycamore trees : he was the one who would go and pierce the fruit. So Zacchaeus is an outsider among his own people, who climbs into a foreign tree, that has to be pierced with a spear in order to feed the people. There’s a lot happening in that simple phrase: he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him. When Jesus’ Heart is pierced on Good Friday, life came out of it in the form of blood and water. Zacchaeus is going to be pierced, not by a spear, but by Jesus’ very words.

Image result for zacchaeus

Why climb a tree? Zacchaeus is wealthy – it is surely beneath his dignity to go climbing in a tree, in his fine clothing. Behaving according to your status in life is very important in the Middle East, and even more so then. But he sought to see who Jesus was – desired, wanted to see this rabbi entering Jericho. This hunger for Christ drives him up into that oh-so-symbolic sycamore tree.

Zacchaeus is a poor little rich man. Being a tax collector for the Romans, he was also called a publican. Tax collectors were infamous for collecting more than was actually required by law and pocketing the difference. They became very rich, very powerful, but remained very lonely in their towns. No one wanted to sit near them at synagogue, no one wanted to eat with them, no child would play with their children. So, although Zacchaeus was rich and powerful, he is the last person a rabbi would visit. Jesus’ words are important:

“Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”

  1. He calls Zacchaeus by name – the Savior knows the sheep He has come to save.
  2. Jesus says make haste, hurry. There is no time to be wasted. Get down here because I am coming to be with you. Not just to visit, but to STAY, to remain in the house of this public sinner.
  3. Jesus says I MUST stay at your house – not I want. He MUST come into that house in order to save the members of that household, and there is no discussing the matter.

The crowd “murmured” — I just bet they murmured. They had a lot to say about such a command. Why go there of all places? To him of all people?

But the poor little rich man now has his own important words. Half of my goods I give to the poor – remember the rich young ruler in chapter 18? He was told by Jesus that if he was going to be saved he had to sell everything and give it to the poor, and then follow Christ. He went away sad because he had so many possessions and couldn’t do that. Zacchaeus says, I give half of my possessions to the poor – far more than required by any law of the time.

“…. and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” The Jewish Law required that a two-fold restoration of stolen property, or the full value plus one-fifth. Only in the book of Exodus was there a rule about making up a theft by paying four times the value, and that was for sheep. Zacchaeus is going to the maximum possible level required, to show that this conversion of his is a real one, and authentic. Jesus then says, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. In saying that, He reminds the crowd that Zacchaeus still belongs to the Jewish nation, that he has as much right to be saved as any other Jew.

Now for us: How do I apply this Gospel to myself? Think of a behavior, an attitude, a bad habit that is deeply rooted inside of myself: it can be anything that is not a good practice, or habit, or behavior, something which I know has to be dug out and thrown away. Do I want to be saved? If our Lord was to step out of the tabernacle and walk up to me and say, Stop doing this and you will be saved how attached am I to that practice, that behavior, that attitude, that sin? Because sin can become our normal, just as stealing and living in isolation became normal for tax collectors and their families. Christ says, Come to Me – I want to stay with you! You, no one else right now, but you! My answer would hopefully be as enthusiastic as Zacchaeus’ answer was. Yes, and I want to get rid of that sin.

Image result for zacchaeus

Here is the question: Do I want to get rid of that sin? Or has it become my abnormal normal? Sin is abnormal, but have I made it my normal?  Zacchaeus could announce his conversion in public, and it must have lasted, or else Luke would not have put the story into his Gospel. We don’t have to do that, announce it for all to hear. But we must say it in confession to be forgiven, we must say it to God, we must acknowledge it in our own hearts – I want to dig this out and throw it away so that I can become closer to Christ. We had the Presentation of Christ in the Temple where He met His people: Simeon and Anna, who confirm to St. Joseph and Our Lady that their Child is indeed the Savior of the world.

We must show Him who we are, which means opening the doors of our minds and hearts. Western society has made sin normal. I know priests who spend Saturday afternoon in the confessional reading their prayers, with only one or two people coming to confession. Here we have a line almost every Sunday, which is great. But this has to happen everywhere – we have to once again become a society in which sin is a tragedy, not a lifestyle choice, not something to be celebrated in movies and on the internet. Zacchaeus is going to change his entire lifestyle because Jesus called him by name and MUST stay with him. At Holy Communion, Father Artur says each person’s name, no matter how old or big or small – The servant of God N. receives the most holy precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and life everlasting, Amen.

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I must be willing to be encountered by Christ, to meet Him, to let Him in, to be with Him here, to let Him pierce my own heart  so that I can be healed by His Heart, so that when the time comes and He bids me to leave this life, I will do so to be with Him and the saints in glory, forever and ever. Amen. Christ is among us!

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Posted by: Fr Chris | February 1, 2019

Encountering the Lord – Feb. 2

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Why is February 2 both a great feast day and Groundhog Day? There was an old tradition in Europe that if February 2 is a day of bright sun, then the winter will continue; if it is a dark day, winter will end soon. Also, this day was chosen since  in Germany the male hedgehogs and badgers would start stirring from their hibernation in early February, looking for their mates, before settling back into sleep until mid-March. When the Germans settled in Pennsylvania they discovered groundhogs, and so if it’s a bright day and the groundhog would have a shadow, then winter is staying on. Of course the vernal equinox of spring won’t come for six weeks no matter what, since that happens on March 21.

The old English name is Candlemas, or Mass of the candles, since on this day candles are blessed. The blessed candles are meant to call to mind that Christ is the light of the world. At every Vespers we sing Simeon’s famous hymn, the Nunc Dimittis, or Now You Shall  Dismiss Your Servant. In that prayer, Simeon refers to the “light of revelation to the Gentiles, the glory of Your people, Israel. ” Jesus is that radiant light, the shining glory.

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Why do Mary and Joseph go to the temple? The woman had to be purified forty days after a birth, because blood had been shed during the birth-giving. Our Lady has no need of purification, but she goes out of humility and obedience to the Jewish Law. The Law ordered that if the first child was a male, he belonged to God, and the parents would have to offer a sacrifice in order to redeem the baby boy for themselves. Jesus however is God, the Son of the Most High, divine and human, so there is no need to redeem Him with a sacrifice! By the way, “first-born” does not mean Mary had other children. Many tombs have been found in Palestine of women buried with their first-born; the title first-born is important as this is the child who opened the doors of the womb. Our Lady’s perpetual virginity, therefore, is not threatened whatsoever by this word.

So off they go, not to the synagogue in Bethlehem or another shrine, but all the way up to Jerusalem. It is important that Mary and Joseph take this unique Child to Mount Zion, to the place where God lived in the Holy of Holies. Joseph and Mary know that they must go there, and they go with the offering of the poor: two birds. They can’t afford a lamb or a calf. In Exodus at Passover, the angel of the Lord killed all the first-born males, from Pharaoh’s son and heir to that of the poorest peasant, including among the livestock, as a final punishment for the Egyptians’ stubborness in resisting God’s will and His power shown in the various plagues. The Hebrew sons were spared because of the mark of blood on the doorways while they ate the first paschal lamb inside. Now the true paschal Lamb, the Lamb Who will be offered for us on Good Friday and triumph on the true Pascha of Easter Sunday, is brought into the Temple courtyard.

Simeon and Anna represent the faithful Jews who trusted in God’s word and waited upon Him. They, along with Mary and St. Joseph, are the true anawim, the ones who live as though they depend upon God, not money, or power, or authority. They can be poor or have money, they can be old or young, they can live on the edges of society, or in the very heart of the city like Simeon and Anna at the Temple. Mary, Saint Joseph, Simeon, Anna all fulfill what God asks of them, without debating or complaining. But what of us? How do we respond to challenges, spiritual difficulties?

In the East, today is called the Encounter, Stritenijie,  instead of the Presentation. Christ meets His people, these anawim, in a special way. Simeon both recognizes Who this Child is, and prophesies the sorrows that Our Lady will have to suffer in her lifetime. Anna announces to all who will listen to her that this Child is the holy one of God, the one for whom she has been waiting all her life. Christ is the fulfillment of all the prophets of the Old Testament, the First Covenant. Jesus comes to the capital not to see Herod and his court, but to be in the House of the Lord. In this encounter, this meeting, the Savior begins His ministry by bringing joy to the hearts of Simeon and Anna, and there is joy for St. Joseph and Our Lady as well. Simeon and Anna confirm that what they have been living for the past ten months is very real indeed – here these two prophets announce that this Child Jesus, Who will save His people from their sins, is exactly who Mary and Joseph were told He is. Thus despite the prophecy of sorrow for Mary, it is a very joyful day, and appropriately is one of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.

For ourselves, let’s try to make this a day of meeting Christ anew, of letting Him encounter us in the stillness of our hearts at Holy Communion, and of sharing His Good News with those around us as Simeon and Anna did so that we can truly say,
“Christ is among us.”

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Posted by: Fr Chris | January 5, 2019

Theophany Day!

Theophany:  Manifestation of God  Epiphany –  shining forth

For Byzantine Catholics, the 12th day of Christmas is the baptism of Jesus in Jordan, for Latins, it is when the magi, traditionally known as the Three Kings, come to worship Jesus as king of kings. They celebrate the Baptism on the Sunday after the 6th of January.

I grew up in St John the Baptist parish in Kenmore, New York. In front of the church there are two life-sized statues of St John baptizing Jesus, with John pouring the water over his head.  Every time I passed that monument, I remembered that this shows the moment in Matthew’s Gospel when the Father speaks: This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.  The Father proclaims Who Jesus is – his eternal son, the second person of the trinity.  One of sixty vv in NT that affirms Jesus is divine.

St Gregory of Nyssa: Today He is baptized by John that He might cleanse him who was defiled, that He might bring the Spirit from above, and exalt man to heaven, that he who had fallen might be raised up and he who had cast him down might be put to shame. Baptism, then, is a purification from sins, a remission of trespasses, a cause of renovation and regeneration. too the child of regeneration has nothing for which to answer, being released by royal bounty from accountability. And this gift it is not the water that bestows (for in that case it were a thing more exalted than all creation), but the command of God, and the visitation of the Spirit that comes sacramentally to set us free. But water serves to express the cleansing.

Water is sanctified on Theophany. Fr Artur celebrated this last night for the holy water to take home, and then today going down to bless the Rio Grande river as in Europe the custom is to bless living water in a river or lake.  Holy water is ordinary water that has been completely transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. The prayer says: Come now and sanctify this water, and goes on to talk about how the water now serves as a protection against evil, healing for the sick in both soul and body, sanctification of places, for the gift of enlightenment. It is sanctified when the triple branched candle goes into the water, when the priest’s hand goes in 3 times, when the priest breathes 3 times, when the life-giving  cross is put into the water three times. The whole ceremony invokes the Holy Trinity over and over again.

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The baptism of the Lord is the first big event recorded in the four gospels after the birth of Christ and His first forty days on earth. The Bible itself begins with the Spirit moving over the void,  a wind from God[b] swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. Theophany is called a feast of light: the Spirit bringing light where there was darkness, and then moving over the waters of the earth.

Holy water is so important that in the Byzantine rite it was the practice to bless water every month on the first day, because the people used so much of it. Now this is formally done still only on August 1, but it would be great to have the need to bless water over and over again because you used it so much.

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The holy water is kept near the church’s front door, available all year for those who need it. The clergy use it to bless houses, to bless cars, to bless  icons and religious objects, to bless the casket at the end of life’s journey on earth.

You can use it, to bless your children, every day if you want, putting them under God’s protection, to bless yourself daily. You can use it to bless a room after someone has bad dreams, to put in someone’s beverage when they’re sick, to bless after a fight or bad incident takes place, or a nasty person visits. When you travel and stay someplace, take a little plastic bottle of holy water with you and bless the room. Take water home, but use it! Invite Father to come and bless  your house, and enjoy the ceremony as an opportunity for renewal and healing and blessing.  All of these things are done so that by visibly partaking of the water we invisibly  partake of the Holy Spirit and invoke the Spirit’s graces and blessings.

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This is such an important feast that it is a holy day of obligation for us, and the day before it is kept as a fasting day. This is one of the days when converts are baptized, as a powerful sign of their deliverance from the world of sin and darkness and being brought into light and goodness. And it is meant to be a day of enlightenment for us. John baptized with water, and the crowds who came to hear him were so moved by his preaching that they confessed their sins, went into the Jordan river to be baptized, and emerged with the conviction to live differently.

So for us – the excitement of Christmas is over, the season of Lent is a ways off. But that does not mean that Christian life and behavior is on vacation. Icons of St John the Baptist also often depict an axe at the base of a tree. This symbolizes the cutting down of all that is rotten and bad within ourselves through repentance.

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Drinking of the sanctified holy water is a symbolic act that we all partake of on this feast, but it is meant also to be a wake-up call, a reminder of our own baptism, a reminder to convert and change our lives. We do not have to confess our sins publicly but we are expected to live in a state of awareness of the ongoing need to change, to dig down into ourselves, to grab hold of a spiritual axe and cut out of ourselves the things that we know lead us into sin, or behaviors that we know are sinful. John warned the people who came to him that there was a judgment coming. Judgment Day will come for each of us – at our  own deaths, and at the end of time. No one can escape it. We have been given the fullness of revelation through the Catholic Church, and we have been fed with the Bread of Life, some of us for a few years, some of us all our lives. Whatever the case, we are invited to make this day a day of both renewal and repentance, and to go forward in the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit, so as to grow closer to the Father and become holier on our own personal roads to paradise. Christ is among us.

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Fr. Jack Custer of St. Michael Cathedral, blessing the Passaic River, 2018 

Posted by: Fr Chris | December 26, 2018

Mary as Mother of God

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Synaxis of Theotokos

I always say that we continue to learn until death, and this feast is a good example of that. We commemorate Mary today as the Mother of God, the God-bearer, the Theotokos.  I was taught in seminary that the word Theotokos was coined in 431 AD for Our Lady at the council of Ephesus. We now know that is not true at all, which is important both for ecumenical dialogue and for our own understanding of Mary.

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We now know that this word Theotokos, and all it implies, was in popular use very early on. The famous scrap of papyrus paper on which the prayer Sub Tuum Praesidium, Under Your Protection, was found has been dated to come from the 200s.
We hasten to thy protection, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.

It is especially important because Mary is invoked as the Mother of God, as one who intercedes in heaven before God’s throne for us, and the prayer has the word “we”, which shows it was used in common worship. It is not a pious thought from one lost individual, but a prayer that was said in church, less than 200 years after Jesus’ resurrection.  She is being honored for her role in our salvation history in Bethlehem, Egypt and Nazareth, the woman who carried God in her womb, the unique God-Man, fully divine and fully human, and who raised Him to adulthood. What does this divine maternity mean?

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It is much more than she carried Jesus Christ in her womb. It is rather that she lived as His Mother, and all the things that a good mother does for her child. It is important that she stands at the foot of the Cross when He dies – she is there from beginning to end, and then at the next beginning, as Luke tells us she is in the upper room when the Holy Spirit descends upon the apostles and disciples on Pentecost.

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Luke presents her in a special way. In the annunciation to Zechariah, Gabriel is angered that he, a priest, who should know the Jewish scriptures, doubts that God can give a son to him and his equally elderly wife. There are many examples of surprising pregnancies in the Old Testament. Mary on the other hand, converses with the angel in a very calm way, asking the right question, and then accepting God’s action in her. This shows us how she lived: in daily awareness of God, in close harmony with God, in the way that God intended us to live before the fall of original sin. She is not surprised, not frightened, not worried. She simply asks a common-sense question: how can this happen, as this was never something that happened in Jewish history ,a virgin conceiving? Gabriel tells her that the spirit of the most  high ,the ruah elohim, will descend upon her. He uses the words used in Genesis for the creation of the universe, and Mary accepts, firmly and briefly and powerfully – let it be done to me according to thy word. “Thy” — she has a close friendship with Gabriel and with God. Word – It is the Logos, the Word of God, Who descends into her to become the God-Man inside her.

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Would that we would live in such harmony with God!  We are distracted by so many concerns, from  private ones to work to family to issues of the nation or world. But we are made to live with God, to visit with God daily like Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening in the Garden of Eden. We are made to be close to Him, and ultimately to be with Him for eternity. That is the divine maternity of Mary – she is not only the Mother of Jesus Christ, and therefore the Holy Mother of God. She is our mother, who was given to the entire Church on Calvary by Jesus Himself when He said to John, “Behold your Mother.” She is praised not because she carried and gave birth to Jesus. She is praised because she heard the Word of God and kept it – literally incarnating God’s Word in her womb, and incarnating God in her actions of love and care for Christ, for St. Joseph, for the early Church, and now for us still today.

Tonight let us beseech the holy Mother of God to help us to live with God, to be with God, and to be able to not only visit with Him daily – in prayer, or Holy Communion, or both – but to live so that we will be able to be with Him forever.

 

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