Posted by: Fr Chris | November 8, 2021

Saint Michael’s Day in the Byzantine Rite – Nov. 8

Today we commemorate Saint Michael the archangel and all angels, on a feast day that is nearly 1700 years old, from the council of Laodicea in 364. The day was established in November, the ninth month after March (with which the year began in ancient times) since there are Nine Ranks of Angels. The eighth day of the month was chosen for the Synaxis of all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven since the Day of the Dread Last Judgment is called the Eighth Day by the holy Fathers. After the end of this age (characterized by its seven days of Creation) will come the Eighth Day, and then “the Son of Man shall come in His Glory and all the holy Angels with Him” (Mt. 25:31).

Patrick Comerford: Welcoming strangers and entertaining angels without knowing it

Traditionally there are said to be nine choirs of angels: The nine choirs of angels were listed by Pseudo-Dionysius, an important spiritual writer from the late 300s as Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels and Angels. The Seraphim attend God’s throne in the heavenly Liturgy (Isaiah 6:1-8). While western art has reduced the awesome Cherubim to chubby little babies, in Scripture they are far more impressive: six-winged, and four faces: that of a lion (representative of all wild animals), an ox (domestic animals), a human (humanity), and an eagle (birds), from where we get the symbols of the Four Evangelists of the Gospels. Thrones carry God’s Throne in heaven, and serve the wishes of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Dominions are shown as having two wings but carrying orbs or scepters. They organize the guardian angels. Virtues are the angels through whom God’s signs and miracles are made in creation. Powers fight demons and are shown with shields and swords. Principalities are shown wearing crowns and carrying scepters. They organize bands of angels, fulfill the orders of higher-ranking angels or God Himself. Archangels serve as messengers of God, guard countries, and often help with Christian armies fighting evil forces. Angels serve as messengers to individuals, and from their ranks come the personal guardian angels assigned to protect the billions of human beings.

The word angel is an abbreviation of the Greek “Angelos,” meaning one who is sent or a messenger.  An angel is a spiritual creature naturally superior to man and often commissioned by God for certain duties on earth.  “The name angel,” wrote St. Augustine, “belongs to his office not to his nature.  Your ask what is the name of his office?  He is an angel.” 

            All the angels were created good, so that they would love God and one another, and that they might have from this life of love, continual and great joy.  God did not will to make them love by force, and therefore, He left it up to the angels to decide for themselves – whether they wished to love Him to live in God, or not.

            One was Lucifer, the light-bearer, ended up as the Prince of Darkness.  He did not wish to love God and fulfill the will of God, but desired himself to become like God.  He began to oppose and disagree with Him in all things, and he became a dark, evil spirit – the devil, Satan.  The word devil means slanderer, archenemy of God, and the word Satan means the adversary of God and all that is good.  This evil spirit tempted and took with him many other angels who also became evil spirits and are called demons. In the Middle East one reason people built and lived inside of walled towns and villages was because they feared Satan who ruled over the wilderness.

            Lucifer either wanted to be like God, or was offended by God taking on a human nature – we really don’t know. But in the Book of Revelation, we read:  Then one of the highest archangels, Michael, came forth against Satan and said: “Who is equal to God?  There is none like God!” And there was a war in heaven: Michael and his angels made war against Satan; and Satan and his demons made ware against them (Rv 12:7 ff).

Saint Michael The Archangel Photograph by Michael Arend

             Evil power could not stand against the angels of God. Good will always win. Satan, together with his demons, fell like lightning into the nether regions, hades. Hades, or the nether region, is the name for the place of separation far from God, where the evil spirits now dwell.  There they are tormented in their malice, beholding their powerlessness against God.  All of them, because of their refusal to repent, have become so confirmed in evil that they can no longer be good. They strive by deceit and cunning to tempt every person, whispering false ideas and evil desires in order to bring us to damnation and join them in hell.

God has assigned guardian angels to us to help us make the free choice to reject hell and to choose heaven. These angels know what hell is like – so they seek to save us, guide us, lead us. It is easy to choose evil – original sin has damaged humanity with the tendency to commit sin.

Today is the opportunity to renew our awareness of the holiness that surrounds us – the guardian angels who protect us, the archangels who watch over the world and fight evil, the choir of angels involved in the worship of God in paradise and who stand firmly against the forces of darkness, like Michael. The challenge is to listen to our own guardian angel’s prompting, to hear the voice of God, to resist all temptation. If we do that, then we fulfill our mission of being with God, just as the nine choirs do.

KNOW YOUR ANGELS…. - ICONS AND THEIR INTERPRETATION in 2020 | Angel, Archangels, Painting
Posted by: Fr Chris | October 30, 2021

40th anniversary

Although I was ordained on May 10, 1981, my family had opted back in 2019 for an October celebration as it is always pleasant here in early October after the Balloon Fiesta.

The Divine Liturgy was on October 12, the feast of Our Lady of the Pillar. That shrine is where Christopher Columbus and his crew prayed before setting sail in 1492.

Our Lady of the Pillar, Spain

October 13 was the dinner; that of course is the anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima in 1917.

Family kneeling at Fatima, October 13, 1917

You can read my biography and see some photos at this site created by the Eparchy of the Holy Protection of Phoenix.

I am extremely grateful to God for forty years of priesthood – pray that I will be able to be a better priest and a better man for the last third of my life!

Posted by: Fr Chris | October 24, 2021

40th Anniversary of Priesthood

An online booklet has been posted by the Eparchy of the Holy Protection of Mary, with a biography and some photos.

You can go here: to read about my anniversary celebrations on October 12-13, 2021.

"Thou art a priest forever ordination holy card"

You can check out my two published books here:

The Forgotten: Catholics of the Soviet Empire from Lening Through Stalin (2001), available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Finding a Hidden Church (2009)

I am currently finishing Looking Back to Tomorrow: the History and Mission of the Byzantine Catholic Church, and Catholics in the Gulag: Faith and Witness in Soviet Labor Camps. Hopefully both will be out in early 2022.

Posted by: Fr Chris | October 20, 2021

No Madonna Stamp for Christmas 2021

A Visit From St. Nick Stamps

Mr. Louis DeJoy

Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer

United States Postal Service

475 L’Enfant Plaza, S.W.

Room 4012

Washington, D.C. 20260

October 20, 2021

Dear Mr. De Joy,

I am writing to ask why the Post Office has not issued a Christmas stamp featuring the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child. Every year beautiful stamps have been issued with that theme. What happened in 2021? The stamps are all secular, and emphasis was put on books of stamps featuring Santa Claus.

Christmas obviously celebrates Christ’s birth, even though that is often lost in the rush of commercialism and buying gifts. But once we get to December 25, most people’s thoughts still turn to Jesus.

I really want to know what happened this year. I think we all deserve an explanation as to why this was done. I find it to be a serious mistake, that we can buy only last year’s Madonna stamps but no others,  if we want to keep “Christ in Christmas.”

Thank you for your attention and I anticipate your response.

Sincerely yours,

Rev. Christopher L. Zugger

Last Year’s Stamp is still available at least:

Our Lady of Guápulo Stamps

Posted by: Fr Chris | October 2, 2021

Love your enemies: do good to those who hate you. Do we??

19th Sunday after Pentecost; 2 Corinthians 11:31 – 12:9; Luke 6:31-36

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.

RADICAL WAY OF LIVING THEN AND TODAY Jesus is proposing a radical, really radical message. No one is taught to simply stand there and get hit. We certainly aren’t taught to give away our own clothing, nor to give to every single person. His point is that as Christians – as people of Christ – we must be patient, loving, accepting, kind, and to do so to everyone. Do I acknowledge the humanity of a homeless person by saying hello, by praying for their deliverance from addiction, mental illness, or poverty? Do I give to charities that help the homeless, the persecuted, or the sick? Do I curse those who have abused me, hurt me, even hated me? Or do I pray for them, show them kindness in return, hope that they get out of their anger and hatred? There’s always a choice, always.

In World War II, the Axis invasion of the USSR was accompanied by the horrendous massacres of Jews, persecution of the Slavs, terrible destruction of towns due to the heavy fighting, killing of communists and people – rightly or wrongly – denounced as communists. The return of the Red Army was especially violent across eastern Europe, punishing anyone remotely connected to the German nationality or accused – rightly or wrongly – of having helped the Axis forces. On July 17, 1944,  Stalin had 57,000 captured German soldiers marched through Moscow. The people watched not with curses or assaults but in silence. And then women broke through the lines of the secret policemen and Red Army soldiers to take cups of water to those soldiers, to the hated enemy, literally following Matthew 10:42 and Mark 9:41 – whoever gives a cup of water in my name, shall have their reward.

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

We live in an era of cancel culture – a clip on the internet can result in me losing my job, respect from others, being denounced as a racist or a hateful person. Even if the clip is a short one, people jump on it. The Border agents were accused of whipping Haitians on the basis of one photograph, and politicians said they would pay for what they did. But they never did whip anyone – their horses have long reins. But all three men are now wicked racists who do violence to helpless immigrants.

No one is forgiven, no one is given the chance for explanation, no one is handed the chance to reform or learn from their errors – instead people are fired, reviled, despised, threatened and can have protestors on their front lawn or apartment door. Where is the teaching of Our Lord? Are we even willing to do what the gospel says: to give to those who have hurt us tremendously, to be those women in Moscow that hot July day? What reward do we want? Self-righteous pride and anger or being a child of the Most High God? Our society has so lost its way with the decline of church attendance and Christian values and it is the duty of every Christian to bring it back.

Saint Paul: He was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, This mystical experience of experiencing heaven itself, the very presence of God, comes after he has gone through so much. He gives a little verse at the start of his scary escape from Damascus, being lowered over  the city wall in a basket, at night, in darkness, because of his preaching. But then God gives him this enormous, awesome, stunning consolation. God consoles him enormously.

but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Thorn in the flesh in the Old Testament did not refer to physical pain or affliction, but to attacks by one’s enemies. Speculating on what he meant is useless – the Corinthians knew. Put into the context of his letter, it comes during all kinds of suffering during his mission: misunderstanding by other Jews, assaults by pagans, beatings to the point of being unconscious. Proclaiming the gospel was dangerous, as it is today. We may not be beaten to that level physically, but emotionally that can happen.

He boasts about his own limitations – he stuttered, he had obvious hardships, nowhere does he say that his family from Tarsus accompanies him – who boasts about their limitations? We live in a culture of promoting oneself, of pride, of striving for power, money, youth, beauty, perfection. We look up to athletes who throw a ball or use a bat and are paid millions upon millions of dollars. That’s yet another sign of our American, our Western culture losing its way. People complain about 90 minutes in a heated church but sit for 3 hours in a freezing cold stadium to watch a football game.

What am I proud of? I should be proud of whether or not I love, whether or not I forgive, whether or not I am charitable to others and to organizations that help those in need or who are suffering or persecuted for their faith. We are a little parish – not even 80 households. But Paul was one man traveling on foot. We have a YouTube channel that can influence others for years to come, but even more so, we have the love for Christ, and His love for us, from the God-Man Who hung on the cross for hours in terrible agony, to teach us how to truly love, forgive, repent, and live a new life. I can give a cup of water, and change the world. Christ is among us.

Posted by: Fr Chris | September 4, 2021

To love: the fate of the world rests on this

15th Sunday; 2 Cor. 4: 6-15, Matthew 22:35-46.

Glory to Jesus Christ. After my last posting, I ended up in the hospital, then rehab, then I got a Covid infection from the rehab and I was flattened at home for a few weeks. But here I am back again, ready to make trouble and to confront myself in what I write and what I preach.

Both readings 2 Cor. 4: 6-15 and Matthew 22:35-46 are very important. Paul starts out with the image from the beginning of the bible: Let light shine out of darkness – and he ties that to the entire process of conversion. It is a new life, a new way to exist. But then he goes on to say that we are like earthen vessels, pots made of clay, easily breakable, referring to the pots used in the temple to hold sin offerings. But we are not to be destroyed, to have an end with no hope, we are not filled with sin or destined to disappear like those pots –  we have the treasure of God’s grace, God’s energy in our ordinary, frail, sinful bodies.

These vessels will go away – our souls will not. Verse 14: He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. Into his presence. And these earthen vessels will be raised up in the resurrection of the dead, no longer as broken and damaged by sin, but glorified and raised up as Jesus was.

The question always is, how will we get there? Am I living in such a way that I will get there? Am I doing what is right? Am I living a life of conversion? The Gospel gives us the answer.

This scene in Matthew, chapter 22, is a set-up, a confrontational scene, but this kind of debate about Jewish theology also happened normally. The Pharisees created heavy burdens on people by trying to make all of over 600 various laws and rules equally important, but they also did a lot of popular education. They liked producing summaries, short answers to hard questions that could be easily memorized by anyone regardless of education. So, the question posed to Jesus is one of those that invites a summary:

Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?

Christ quotes two passages: Deuteronomy chapter 6, verse 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  Deuteronomy actually says to love God with all your heart and soul and strength. But here it is changed to mind. Normally it was interpreted that strength meant using your wealth in God’s service, but Jesus is saying no, it has to be again from inside – from the mind, which itself was seen by the Jews as being rooted in the heart.

Then he adds Leviticus chapter 19, verse 18 Love your neighbor as yourself.Finally, he throws in this sentence – All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

That is NOT what was taught at the time. What was taught is this: The fate of the world hangs on observance of the law, service in the temple, and deeds of loving-kindness: truth, judgment, and peace. Jesus makes the fate of the world hang solely on how we love.

3 Ways to Act and Not Overreact | Rachel Britton

What kind of love? Loving God was to fulfill the covenant, the relationship established by God with humanity, through Abraham, then Moses, then David, but now through Christ, the last covenant. Romantic love is meant to imitate Christ’s love – the romantic love we have today really did not exist in this form before Christianity. People loved, we see that in ancient writings and in Scripture, but modern love is is an echo of the love shown on the cross. The fate of the world hangs on how these two commandments are lived, which are given on the Cross.

In the dialogue about the messiah being David’s son, there was a lot of debate then about who the messiah would be. In the dialogue Jesus is saying that the new supersedes the old – God’s new work in the kingdom, the whole mission of Jesus, is built upon the traditions and faith of the Jewish ancestors, but now, it is David’s legal descendant, David’s son, Jesus, who is fulfilling the mission as he gets close to enduring the passion. Remember the opening verse of Matthew’s gospel: An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah,[the son of David, the son of Abraham.  Jesus is the son of David, the son of Abraham – his mission is built on the mission of the prophets and God’s beloved ones of Israel – but he will go so much further since He is the absolute fulfillment of all those prophecies and writing as the son of Mary and Son of God. His divine nature and His unique blood of God and Man on the Cross are given out in love.

No one could answer him regarding David or David’s son as the key – why? The Jewish leadership of that era had reached its limit – they had no answer to give anymore.

Jesus is going a new way – the love he is using is covenant love – faithful love – love that is mutual – love that continues though even if the other party has failed. Love does not depend on the other; if I love, I simply love. I do not demand a response, I do not make my love conditional on the other’s behavior, I continue to love. God loved Israel always, even during their breaks of the covenant by worshipping false gods and doing terrible things. God loves the Jewish people still. God loves me when I worship my false gods and I do terrible things. God loves me still.

Here’s the thing – while our culture throws around the word love, how much love is there?

Love is rooted in commitment, respect, hope, passion, and above all fidelity. Love must be constant. This is the huge leap of Christianity. We give that respect and fidelity and absolute love to everyone and to God, and we must be absolutely, completely, totally, radically, firmly, lovers of God, and so a holy nation set apart which loves our neighbors completely. And this is supposed to be consistent, all the time, no exceptions granted.

Where is that totally achieved? By Whom? 

Life in the cloister: Inside the peaceful world of southeast Michigan's Discalced Carmelite Nuns ...

Only on the cross, only by Christ Himself. But – here’s the key – we KNOW we are earthen vessels. We KNOW that the light comes from the hand of God. We KNOW that grace is God’s energy, poured out to us. And so, we KNOW that while we will fail – guaranteed unfortunately – to always live up to this commandment, we also KNOW that a) we have to get up and try again, and b) the future of humanity hangs on how well Christians do this. If we as the new Israel fail to change the world, how can we expect others to join into the Body of Christ?

But if we as the new Israel keep on trying, then we can indeed expand the Body of Christ, the Church. And that is a life of conversion.

So, going back to the beginning; Am I living in such a way that I will get there? Am I doing what is right? The answer is going to be no often. The goal is to make sure that the answer is yes much more often; that I say yes because of love and trust, not fear; that I am seriously working to love not only the ones I like, but the people who are “other” to me; and above all that I am striving – reaching, working – to fulfill what Jesus taught that day and be one with God and imitate God.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  Love your neighbor as yourself – everything hangs on those 2 commandments. We can say easily well all Christians do that; Well, all good people do that. Really? Look at the divisions that are ripping apart our own country, the horrible behaviors that people think are perfectly acceptable as we proclaim the need to preserve my rights, my interpretation of the laws and even the very constitution of the United States. We put down the right, the left, the moderate, the wrong religion, the wrong political view, the wrong interpretation of history – we suppress one another and refuse to forgive one another for past faults and we do so with a smile proclaiming our own righteousness. Seriously? This is how western civilization is supposed to be? Modern civilization is rooted in the achievements of Christianity – and the core of that is love, which includes forgiveness for past sins, and in the end, only love endures as Saint Paul wrote in chapter 13 of First Corinthians.  Love – the love that impels me forward into the embrace of the life-giving Trinity. Out of the three great theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, love endures – why? Because when we get to heaven, our faith and hope are fulfilled, and love will call my soul forward into the court of the great heavenly king. How I behave here determines my destiny getting into the presence of the Lord.

Does my speech impel souls towards the Holy Trinity? Do my actions, my internet searches, my Facebook postings, my video choices? How do I treat my spouse, my children, my in-laws, my relatives, my friends, my co-workers, the people I go to school with, my literal neighbor on my block? Do I even know the neighbors on my block? What do I do with my pets? What do I do when someone comes over to my house?

We are earthen vessels. We are flawed. But we are made to know God, to serve God, to love God, and in knowing and serving and loving Him, we must absolutely love those around us, and those far away from us, and all those made in the image and likeness of God, whether we agree with them or not, whether we like them or not.

If I do that, if I live as an earthen vessel relying on God’s great mercy, and if I live as if the fate of the entire world hangs on how well I live these commandments, then I – we – can indeed change the course of history and bring souls into that embrace of the Holy Trinity.

Love your neighbor as yourself.Finally, he throws in this sentence – All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

And quite honestly, that is why each of us is here: to be transformed by knowing divine love, to love others, and to bring souls to Christ.

I AM A CATHOLIC by heart: Life of Saints
John of the Cross

One of the greatest of the Catholic mystics is Saint John of the Cross. He worked with Saint Teresa of Avila in reforming the Carmelite Order, and ultimately in calling the Spanish Church into a new explosion of spirituality. He was fiercely persecuted, wrongly imprisoned, beaten and whipped because of his preaching that cut to the hearts of those who heard him and responded with violence. Yet he wrote some of the most sublime, magnificent spiritual poetry ever composed. He also wrote that at the end of life, we will be judged by God as to how much we loved.

We are meant to walk with God, as Adam and Eve did before original sin broke that relationship between God and human beings. We can only do that if we imitate God. And once again from the little friar, Saint John of the Cross: Where there is no love, put love, and then you will find love.

We can change the course of our parish, our town, our Church, the entire world if only we do that.

Christ is among us.

Posted by: Fr Chris | July 10, 2021

Healing the blind

This chapter is filled with miracles of healing: raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead, forgiving and curing the paralyzed man, healing the woman suffering from a long-term hemorrhage,  conversion of Matthew himself, deliverance of the man possessed, and then these 2 blind men.

He also gives teachings about conversion, and in the cure of the 2 blind men, he tells them not to say anything. That of course is pointless as everyone would know right away when these men walked out of the house that they could see. And it is pointless since everybody everywhere talked about the cures Jesus performed. So no matter where he goes, people are ready and waiting for him. And what are they waiting for? Two things: his teaching, which brings spiritual health, and the cure of the sick and diseased.

The big question in all of this is Do you believe I can do this? The second big question is, what do I see when I look at Him? The Pharisees were deeply disturbed, because he was constantly breaking the various rules such as no work on Sabbath and talking to women when he was alone. They were committed to protecting the Jewish people from paganism by enshrining all of the hundreds of rules and regulations. And surely there were those who were just plain jealous. The two blind men on the other hand, praise Jesus as the Messiah – they call him Son of David and ask for his mercy first, then the cure. They have faith, great faith, that he can do so.

So, what do I see when I look at Christ, and how strong is my faith? In various parts of the gospel, we read that Jesus withdraws to pagan territories like Tyre and Sidon, and that pagans come to him for cures. Ironically a lot of people who worshipped pagan gods had more trust in him than many of the Jewish leaders. Those same leaders, and often Jewish public opinion, often saw sickness and handicaps as a punishment from God for the person’s sins or even their parents’ sins. Christ saw people who were hurting in soul and body and came to heal both.

Paul warns us in the reading from Romans that we have to Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God (verse 7).
The beginning of this reading starts with a warning: put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. Just as Matthew had to convert from a way of life that brought him wealth and power, but also isolation from most of Jewish society, every one of us has to convert from the wrong things that we are attached to and which isolate us from God.

I think it is easy for us to forget that even if we are hooked on a substance or behavior or attitude, we really can be delivered from it, just like all of the various people who are delivered from possession by Satan throughout the gospels. We can easily forget that people who drive us crazy with their negative behaviors are accepted with all their faults by Jesus Christ, just as we who all have our own issues are accepted by Him. We are still called to conversion, to radical conversion, but God does not withhold his love from us until we do so.

Jesus asks the two blind men: Do you believe that I can do this for you? They both say yes. They both have complete trust in him. When the man possessed opens his mouth, the people are stunned. They were used to they physical miracles by now, but they were not used to spiritual ones. That is why they cry out that nothing like this has ever been in God’s chosen people. Lots of prophets had preached and taught, and a large number had performed cures and physical miracles, like Elijah – whose feast we observe on the 20th – did. They all knew about that. They did not expect this miracle. This man is cured not just of being mute, he is freed from the powers of hell.

Too often people think that they are forsaken by God. Too often we think our souls are incurable. Too often we do not see the people around us as people whose very souls are known by God and loved by him., Too often we forget that God is the source of all healing, physical and spiritual. Too often we just give up. Saint Monica prayed for years that her son would come to Christ, and he becomes both a great theologian and bishop. Who knows how long these two men had been blind? That doesn’t matter. What matters is they saw who Christ really is, freely praised him, and had complete confidence in him. Saint Paul constantly went to people and called his new Christians to love not only each other but the whole world.

It is up to us  do the same: to have trust, to accept people as Jesus accepted them, and to keep on going with confidence. It can be very hard sometimes, but with God’s mercy and grace, all things are possible.

Hand-Painted Icon of St. St. Peter and Paul
The two pillars of Christ’s Church

Epistle 2 Corinthians 11:21-12:9

A thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.

We have no clue what the thorn in the flesh was – some kind of physical affliction obviously. The greater study should go to the verses before, and the closing lines of this section. He lists how much he suffered because of his preaching – and that is important not only because he went through all that, and it was very intense. Some of this he could have avoided because he was born as a Roman citizen and citizens were protected by law against torture and unjust attacks. Instead, he accepted all of that and emphasizes his own weakness, a weakness each of us has. None of us rule the world, none of us have perfect lives, none of us have all the answers.

But BECAUSE of that weakness, BECAUSE he accepts that weakness in himself, he has two profound spiritual experiences. The first is being lifted up into the third heaven, the peak of heaven where angels serve in the presence of God. BECAUSE he was willing to give up so much and accept so much, and acknowledge his own weaknesses, God grants him the ultimate ecstatic vision according to first century Judaism and Christianity.

God says to him My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” That is the exact opposite of not only our culture but all the cultures of the world now and before us. We exalt money, athletic accomplishments, so-called famous people whose lives everyone follows to the smallest details. People post outrageous things on the internet so as to gain followers, and track how many see it and also how many comment on it. Nobody in American culture goes around saying Look at me, how weak I am. No one would listen to them!

But God makes it very, very clear – power is made perfect in weakness. The Eternal Word of God comes into the world conceived in a woman’s womb, and leaves the world after suffering the worst suffering and death known in the ancient world. And so, Paul can honestly write to a community which knew him very well:

 I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.

Gospel Matthew 16:13-19

What does Christ offer Peter? Awesome power it would seem –  I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church. From Simon bar Jonah to Petrus, from fisherman to the rock to serve God and build up Christ’s Body on earth.

He adds:  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Incredible power and authority! To the man who will abandon him at the worst possible moment, who will deny Jesus in Jesus’ very presence in the courtyard on Good Friday morning just before dawn. Someone with that experience is the one who will open and close people’s futures based on their sins? Jesus knew precisely what He was doing. Here is a weak man, a man who will commit the ultimate sin of double betrayal, but who will in the end, like Paul, die so as to witness to Christ Jesus. Here is a man who will judge others with compassion, because he has been there in their shoes. He is the right man to decide whether or not to loose the sins, and that is a model for every bishop in the world, from the Pope on down, and for every priest entrusted with administering the Sacrament of Confession.

Finally, this line: “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

As we all know, Moscow became the capital of the Soviet Union in 1918, after the communist takeover of the Russian Empire. One of the first things Lenin did regarding Soviet power, in December 1917, was to establish the dreaded secret police. Until the very end of the USSR in 1991, the secret police ruled from a building called the Lubyanka in Moscow. The building used to be an insurance company, but was taken over by what became the KGB. Its cells were notorious for the physical and psychological tortures inflicted on thousands of people. For those tens of thousands, almost all of whom were innocent of the usually absurd charges against them, the Lubyanka was a gateway to hell.

 As it expanded, the Lubyanka took over the schools, convent, and rectory of the French Roman Catholic church of Saint Louis, which stands on the same block. Security cameras filmed every single person who went in and out of that church. Saint Louis and the French parish in Leningrad became the only two open Catholic churches in the entire Russian republic.

Why tell you this? That verse, The gates of hell shall not prevail against it, was inscribed in gold letters on a black banner near the church’s high altar. At every Mass, at every visit parishioners who came to pray in front of Jesus in the tabernacle, the faithful saw that banner. The Lubyanka is now run by the Russian secret police, who do whatever Vladimir Putin tells them to do to any person, so little has changed in that building. But Saint Louis still stands today, offering multiple Masses every day of the week.

People wonder how the Church will survive. They wonder if this is the worst that things have ever been. We have been shocked by the sexual abuse scandals and how so many bishops around the entire world covered it all up for decades. We are shocked by financial scandals committed by bishops and priests and even Sisters. We are shocked by some priests’ sermons. We are still shocked by the collapse of vocations to priesthood and sisterhoods in this country in the last 50 years. We are shocked by so many things that take place in the Catholic Church today. And it has been bad, and it is terrible, and it is sinful the stuff that has happened. And we have had some truly awful successors to Peter over the centuries.

But look at history – there were people who thought the Church was finished in the 4th century, in the 16th century, in the 18th century, throughout the entire 20th century. But she is still here. Peter’s successor still sits on the papal throne. Conversions to the faith still happen. During this pandemic every priest in this city told me that they had to increase the hours for hearing Confession, for binding and loosing people’s sins. Yes, we are diminished in size in many ways. Yes, there are serious challenges. Yes, there is constant propaganda and misinformation given about the faith in the media. Yes, there is continuing persecution of Catholics in many countries.

But the gates of hell itself shall not stand against the Body of Christ. Peter’s failures during Jesus’ lifetime are dramatically overshadowed by his later ministry and writing and martyrdom. When we focus on our weaknesses and accept them, when we are able to actually boast of our weaknesses and accept them like Paul, when we allow God’s grace to make us perfect, then all is truly well. The members of the Body of Christ are given the opportunity to do wonderful things, but only if we respond to that grace given to us in baptism, confirmation, Holy Communion, confession.

The rock of the Church will endure. The question for each person hearing this, in person or online, is will my faith endure no matter what the forces of hell throw against me?

Dedication of the Basilicas of SS. Peter & Paul | Communio
Posted by: Fr Chris | June 23, 2021

Nativity of St. John and Conversion

For 500 years before Christ, the voice of prophecy bad been silent in Israel.

When John the Baptist appears, dressed like the ancient prophets and coming out of the desert, there is great excitement. That is why the Gospels say that “all Jerusalem” goes out to him. the prophetic voice was heard again. He not only denounced people for their evil deeds but he challenged them to pursue higher things. Thus, we see people of every class and rank show up on the riverbanks. He is giving a traditional washing, so that people both repent of their sins and at the same time are cleansed spiritually and physically.

Even more exciting for these huge crowds, he not only came out of the desert after years of lonely spiritual formation for his role to prepare the way of the Lord but there is “one greater to come.” Thus when Jesus begins His mission, people are prepared to hear his words, hoping that is not only the greater one but also the messiah.  John and points beyond himself. He did not wish to bring attention to himself; but to prepare people for the one who was to come — Jesus, the Messiah.  This is why he not only points to Jesus literally and figuratively, but when they finally meet as adults, he proclaims Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the SIN of the world. The people of the world will be delivered from the curse of original sin through this Lamb who will be sacrificed for them on Passover.

John’s preaching was the same message Jesus would frequently repeat: “Repeat and believe the Gospel” that is, believe in the good news being given to you.  


But obviously he continued his apostolate of preaching since John fearlessly denounced evil wherever he found it. He’ rebuked Herod the King for contracting an evil and unlawful marriage. This of course is his downfall. He criticized the Sadducees and Pharisees, the religious leaders of Israel, for focusing too much on rituals and rules and not enough on God’s awesomeness, love and enormous mercy. His preaching sweeps all of Palestine, creating not just enthusiasm but repentance and a return to seeing the rules of the Law as a key to be united with the Holy One through prayer and personal sacrifice. The church calendar honors him marking his conception, his birth, and his death. The only other people in that category are Christ and Our Blessed Mother.

In Luke’s Gospel account, Mary, pregnant with Jesus, went to visit her relative Elizabeth, who was six months along in her pregnancy with John. At Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth was “filled with the holy Spirit” (1:41) and her unborn son “leaped for joy” (v. 44) in her womb. Both Elizabeth and her child were responding to the awesome reality of being in the presence of God in the flesh. Another translation is that the child rose in order to worship Jesus in Mary’s womb. John even in the womb recognizes who his cousin is and will become. We know that babies in the womb respond to sounds, their parents’ voices, music, all kinds of things. This baby recognizes God Incarnate. It fulfills what Saint Gabriel said to Zechariah earlier in Luke: the child would be “filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” (Lk 1:15).

So why today for his birth? June 24 was eventually chosen as the date for the solemnity because Scripture tells us that John was conceived six months before Jesus (see Lk 1:36). Presumably, then, John was born about six months before Christ, and Christ’s nativity was celebrated on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. John was the herald of Christ. So he cannot have a perfect pregnancy, and thus he is born one day short of nine months.

We are not all called to such a life of heroic holiness, of going out into public and proclaiming the truth of the gospel and the truth of the Church’s teachings in the magisterium. We are called to be living witnesses to those around us in how we speak, what we do, and how we behave with others. John is an excellent intercessor specifically for that. He criticized the crass drive for wealth and power that had engulfed so much of the upper classes, a world not unlike our own. He was poor and simple – we do not have to wear camel’s hair and live in the desert. We are called to decide what is important in our lives, and then follow through. We are called to witness to others as best as we can that we are We are called to pray for others, for the conversion of sinners, the return of those who have wandered away from Christ, for healing of our country and its leadership. Above all, we are called to live as children of God and loyal Catholics.

Elizabeth and Zechariah welcome their newborn son
Posted by: Fr Chris | May 8, 2021

Last Sunday of Easter: Man Born Blind

My Weekly Confession: Letting Light in the Window
Christ touches the eyes of the blind man

Today is the last Sunday of the Easter season – this week we will have Ascension Thursday, which begins the nine-day preparation for Pentecost.

Easter is meant to be disturbing- the holy women went out to the grave to mourn and to finish their task of anointing the body of Jesus. Instead, there are angels giving a completely unexpected message and an empty tomb. They ran back to the city to announce the news to the apostles, who of course refused to believe them. Only Peter and John go out – the leader of the apostles and the youngest – to see for themselves, and they came back bewildered by it all.

The resurrection is meant to challenge us, to disturb us, to make us think, to wonder.

This young man was born blind – that is important. Saint Ambrose points out that

There is, indeed, a kind of blindness, usually brought on by serious illness, which obscures one’s vision but that can be cured, given time; and there is another sort of blindness, caused by cataract, that can be remedied by a surgeon: he can remove the cause, and so the blindness is dispelled. Draw your own conclusion: this man, who was actually born blind, was not cured by surgical skill but by the power of God.

Spiritual Renewal and the Healing of the Blind — Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
The Man Born Blind is sent to the pool, which resembles the baptismal font

Some of the Pharisees can’t accept this because Christ made a paste of clay, working on the sabbath, and they go to his parents, sure that this cannot be their son, or that surely, he was not born blind. Other Pharisees accept the miracle, precisely because this was not removal of cataracts but giving sight where there had never been sight.

There are several important points in this story:

  1. Out of all of the places in Jerusalem with water, Jesus sent the man to Siloam. The pool at Siloam had two purposes: the practical was that it provided the water that enabled Jerusalem to endure a siege by an army as its water could not be cut off. Spiritually, priests poured water from the Pool of Siloam onto the temple steps “so that it would flow down and out through the Temple to the world outside, and so indicate the way that the Jewish faith would satisfy the world.” Christ uses this water to save the man from blindness, and the miracle will bring about faith in Jesus; He fulfills the mission of Judaism and will save the world.
  • John hints further that the water has a special link with Christ since he tells us that “Siloam,” the name of the pool, means “the One sent,” a frequent description of Jesus. No wonder that in art on the walls of the catacombs the early Christians often depicted the healing of the blind man as a symbol of Baptism.
  • God is the only one who can work on the sabbath according to the Jewish tradition, because He keeps the universe functioning. Jesus has appropriated that to Himself, affirming His divinity and power.
  • Jesus asks the man if he believes in the Son of Man – using the title of the Messiah. The man recognizes Jesus’ voice, and falls down to worship Him and recognizes Him as the savior.
  • At the time of the miracle, believers in Jesus were not being expelled from the synagogues. But when John was writing, that is what was happening. The Church and the Synagogue had split, and Jewish Christians had to decide where to go – follow Christ as God and Man, or stay with Judaism. This addition to the story of the miracle is meant by John to encourage his readers to stay with Christ instead.
  • The last 3 Sundays of the paschal season and Mid-Pentecost are all tied to the theme of baptism and water. Besides recognizing a baptismal theme in this story, readers of John would also be taught that a series of testing may be necessary before sight really comes. Only gradually and through suffering does the man born blind come to full faith and enlightenment. The same thing holds for every generation of Christians.
  • Every generation will also have those who are blind to faith, those who choose to be blind to faith, and those who do not know about the faith.
    The baptized have an obligation to teach all the truth – just as the young man tries to teach the Pharisees themselves.

Do you believe in the Son of Man? We have to move from the baptism we received as babies to a mature faith. Do I believe? This man is able to say Yes, Lord, I do believe.

Now we have to do the same, every year, every month, every day.

The western world has very much lost its way. Western civilization has its roots in the Greco-Roman and Jewish worlds, but grew and flourished through its embrace of Christianity. Today church attendance has plummeted in western Europe and Canada to record lows. In Europe only 40% of people say that they even pray, in Ireland 55% never go to Mass at all. In Canada only 13% of people go to any kind of religious service of any faith. Even in Mexico only two-thirds of the people say that they are Catholic.

In America 55% of Catholics went to weekly Mass in 1965; in 2019 it was 23%.

Coronavirus and the mass closing of churches has just made it worse. In the 1918 flu churches were only closed from August until Christmas. Now people have learned to spend nearly a year watching services online or television.

Every single person here today knows folks who have lost their faith, or who have never had faith. Every one of us has relatives and friends who don’t know Jesus Christ. Each of us can easily fall into the same category, each of us can get lazy, each of us can become blind to the beauty of faith and its mysteries.

Not only that, but how many of us who still have a traditional faith have a mature faith?

Too often when people face a hardship, or learn about a church’s scandal, or things don’t go the way they want, they simply walk away not only from prayer but from God Himself. We have to be brave enough to say “I do believe” and worship. We have to be brave enough to trust even when we feel that we are blind spiritually. We have to be brave enough to love God and those around us no matter what. We have to be willing to put ourselves out there and change the world.

In Africa, 90% of Catholics go to Mass every week. The majority walk for miles, in harsh weather or tough conditions. They understand that at Mass they receive the Body and Blood of Christ – which too many American Catholics don’t believe – and they stay in church for up to two hours at each Mass. We in America need that enthusiasm, that hunger, that desire, that willingness to share our faith with others. This is the last Sunday of the Easter season, and when we come back on Wednesday night or Thursday morning, there will no longer be the song “Christ is risen.” But that disturbing resurrection remains, that disturbing proclamation that God has changed everything continues. The question will be, do we live accordingly? Christ is risen.

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