Posted by: Fr Chris | March 26, 2018

The Holy Anointing on Great Wednesday

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Tonight we receive the Mystery of Anointing, or Sacrament of the Sick. why?

  1. In memory of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus with expensive ointment at the house of Simon the Leper – Jesus says she did this in preparation for His burial. She anoints him and weeps because of her sinful life and her desire to go forward now in holiness.       

The sinful woman anoints Jesus at the house of Simon the Leper (Simon is center, with SS. Peter, James and John watching)

2. Judas leaves the house and betrays Christ to the priests of the Temple in exchange for 30 pieces of silver, the bounty for catching a bandit. Ever since, this night is called Spy Wednesday, as he now becomes a spy within the apostles.

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The devil tempts Judas into betraying Christ to the Sanhedrin

3. The next days are the most important of the liturgical year, and as such are also a time when we may be tempted to sin -either in food or in thoughts or in actions. This anointing helps us to both fight Satan and curb our own passions.

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The Gospel Book open to receive us 

 4. For  the Anointing, the Gospel Book is brought forward and held over our heads. This contains the Four Gospels only, the living Word of God among us. We are covered by the Eternal Word of God, sheltered under His embrace, protected by His grace watching over us. It is a moment to experience God’s enormous love and mercy for us.

In the anointing itself, we are blessed with the holy oil so as to receive healing for soul, mind, and body. Whatever our difficulty is – physical, emotional, spiritual – this is the moment to bring it forth. This is the place to present it to God. We will be anointed at the head, the hands, the feet or lower legs. At the moment of anointing, we have to open ourselves to God’s healing power, for our souls, minds and bodies alike.

With this holy anointing then, we can go forward to do battle with Satan, go forward to walk with Christ the rest of this Holy and Great week, and go forward with Jesus’ healing power inside us.

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Christ our true God, Who willingly ascended the Cross for us, save us! 

Posted by: Fr Chris | March 24, 2018

Palm Sunday / Annunciation

Double feast – Today is Palm Sunday obviously -Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem. And also the Annunciation – which commemorates the day when Jesus is created inside the womb of the Virgin Mary through the action of the Holy Spirit. The key there in the whole episode of Gabriel coming to Mary is her Yes – Let it be done unto me according to thy word – Luke 1: 38. She says yes although she has absolutely no preparation for this – Jewish writings did not talk about the possibility of God becoming Incarnate in a woman – rather at the time they were looking for a royal messiah, a king to drive out the Romans and reestablish an independent and truly Jewish state, not the puppet kingdom of the Herodians who did not follow Jewish law. Her reply sets the entire event, all of world history from that moment on, into motion – Let it be done unto me.

Why does that matter? In the 1st century world people worshipped many gods – but these gods could be nasty, even vicious. Their will was forced upon the worshipper, often with no regard for them. So despite claims by certain enemies of the Gospel that this the re-creation of a pagan story it is definitely not. Mary is asked – the Divine Office says that creation holds its breath waiting for her answer and rejoices when she says that wonderful verse.  Without the Incarnation, there is no holy week, no passion, no resurrection, no Christianity whatsoever. The Logos, the Word, takes up residence in Mary’s womb while remaining in heaven as the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity and Jesus exists: God and Man, united in one unique, never to be repeated Person, Who comes to earth in order to save sinful humanity from itself and restore the balance between God and mankind on the Cross.  God becomes Man so that Man might become God in the womb of the ever-virgin sinless Mother of God.

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Ustyug Annunciation (original is 12th century) showing Jesus Incarnate 

The entry – what animal does Jesus ride? The colt of a donkey, one which had never been ridden.  First, it is a donkey, the most humble of animals, not a warrior’s horse, not a royal chariot pulled by beautiful horses , but a donkey, the same kind of working donkey that probably carried the pregnant Mary to Bethlehem 33 years earlier. And it has never had a rider -we know in the American West that if you try to mount a horse of any kind that has never felt weight on its back, there will be one heck of a negative reaction. The horse, donkey or mule will buck and toss, and fight against the strange feeling of pressure on its spine, and it takes a while to accomplish that task.

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But this colt knows its Rider – it knows Who it is that rides it: its Creator, the creator of the world, through Whom all things were made – and the colt accepts Him right away. Many of the Jews hailing Jesus that day were anticipating that this famous preacher and healer would overthrow the existing order – they wanted a political upset. Others probably were just excited to see Jesus up close at last; some may have been looking for healing.  Jerusalem would be packed with pilgrims for Passover, with thousands camping on the hillsides below the walls and every inn and house filled with visitors.  So Jesus’ entry is one seen by Jews from around the civilized world, as we are reminded 50 days after Easter on Pentecost when the crowd realizes all the languages that are hearing Peter’s words: Jews from Africa, Persia, and from across the whole Roman empire. Jesus’ public and very triumphal entry into the holy city is a bold statement to the ruling Jewish priesthood, to the leadership of both Pharisees and Sadducees, and to  Pontius Pilate and king Herod Antipas: I am here, I am active, and something is going to happen this week, something big and beyond your control. Even the temple guards listen to His preaching in the early part of the week and will say “No one has ever spoken like this.”

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Today in Roman rite churches the Passion narrative is read, with the priest, deacon and people taking different parts.  The Eastern Churches look at Holy Week differently. We walk with Christ all week, day by day, experiencing His preaching, His cleansing of the temple, His prayers. We will be anointed with holy oil on Wednesday night for both physical and spiritual healing, just as the sinful woman anointed Christ with her tears and expensive ointment. We will be at the Last Supper, we will be at the betrayal, at the arrest in the midst of the camping pilgrims, His abandonment, at His illegal trial, His equally illegal torture, His unjust imprisonment, and finally at the first Way of the Cross and His Crucifixion. We will descend into darkness on Good Friday night and keep watch at the tomb with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, as Saint Matthew recorded in chapter 27, and finally we will begin to anticipate the coming hope of His glory on Saturday night.

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The holy shroud, or plashchanitsa, laid in the tomb Good Friday night 

It is the week of weeks, the days of days, the holiest most sacred time of the year. There are services here every night, plus during the day on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  Take the time out to pray, to think. Take time away from television, Facebook, smart phones, Snapchat and everything else to read what is happening in the Scriptures, to look at footnotes in Catholic Bibles and get the full impact of what’s going on. Take time on Good Friday night to come into the church in the dark to be with Jesus lying in the tomb, as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary did on that first Good Friday evening. Allow ourselves to confront our sins, our bad habits, our anger, our weaknesses and ask Jesus to strengthen us, heal us, lift us up. Take refuge in the pierced side of Jesus Christ on the Cross, like the doves that find clefts in the rock to rest it – take rest in Jesus’ five wounds.  Do not let it be an ordinary week of commuting, studying, working, playing sports, goofing off. Pick up a good book from the church’s store today, one you’ve never read, and use it this week. Above all, pray – pray that we as a parish walk with Jesus every step of the way; that we as a parish grow in faith and commitment to God and His Church, that we as individual souls get closer to Jesus through His self-giving this week of weeks, and find the healing that we need, including the healing we don’t even know we need. 

Let us walk with Him, walk with the Virgin Mary, walk with the holy women and St John who are the only ones to accompany Him, and ask His grace to move forward in our personal lives, and as a parish, and that His Precious Blood will truly wash away our sins, and the sins of this suffering world which has so much going crazy in it. Only in God do we find our answers, only in God will we find our peace, only in God will we know who we truly are and who we are meant to become.

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Christ is among us.

Posted by: Fr Chris | March 21, 2018

Joseph of Egypt and Christ

Genesis, chapter 43  – first Old Testament reading tonight

6th Wednesday of Great Lent. You meant evil against me but God meant it for good. 

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The calendar has been following the story of Joseph, the next-to-last son of Jacob and Rachel. The story itself is fascinating – the young brother whose interpretation of dreams aggravates the older brothers, who were already mad at him because their father favored him and his little brother Benjamin. Only Judah, from whom the name Jew is taken for the future Israelite nation, has any sense, and even he falls into the trap of the other nine who not only lie to their father about what happened to his son, but they even end up lying to Joseph about their father’s wishes after Jacob dies, in chapter 50, when Joseph weeps over their final lie.  But there are several important themes and this is why the Byzantine tradition uses the Joseph story in the last week of Lent – Lent ends for us on Friday  night, followed by the Raising of Lazarus and Palm Sunday, and then Holy and Great Week.

First: God is at work throughout the story, not in a blaze of revelation as He will in Exodus, but rather through the actions of various people. In fact He works through the sins of some of them, as Joseph points out tonight in the reading: because of the brothers’ jealousy, he was carried off into Egypt and rose to a position in which he can save the entire People of God during the seven year famine.

Second: Innocence. Joseph has done nothing wrong to his brothers – they are simply angry that he tells them the truth about his dreams, rather than asking – as people did then – are these dreams messages from God about the future?

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Joseph does not give in to the wife of his Egyptian master when she tries to seduce him. He is innocent, but abandoned by his own brothers; he is innocent in the seduction, but is sent to prison. His innocent interpretation of the dreams is once again true: one prisoner dies, one is exonerated. He does not seek favoritism, only the truth in all innocence.

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Third: Guilt. Judah says at the discovery of the silver goblet in  Benjamin’s bag that their guilt has been uncovered and now God is punishing them. That is the first acknowledgment that what they did to the innocent  Joseph was radically wrong.  But with guilt comes repentance: all ten offer to become slaves in order to save Benjamin’s life and return him to their father. They know they did wrong and got away with it, but no longer.

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Fourth: Reconciliation. Joseph restores them to himself, forgives them, embraces them, and points out that their sin actually worked to the salvation of the entire tribe of Jacob: all those people in the tribe, the servants and herdsmen, all their families, all their animals will be saved because Joseph was sold.

Fifth: at the end of Genesis, there is the promise of fulfillment of God’s promise: that they will inherit the land promised by God to Abraham, and they will be delivered out of Egypt.

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Joseph obviously is seen as a forerunner of Jesus Christ. Joseph is innocent but suffers; Joseph is sold as Jesus was sold;  those who were guilty ultimately are faced with their sin and the opportunity for forgiveness, as Jesus offers us His forgiveness; Joseph brings salvation to the people God has chosen through what he does for them, as Jesus brings salvation to all humanity.  It’s up to us to imitate Him, and to take hold of what He offers us every day, not only in Lent.

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Posted by: Fr Chris | March 16, 2018

Blessed Torello of Poppi – March 16

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This life reads like that of an Eastern anchorite! This Italian man was prompted by a most unusual event to withdraw into the mountains of Italy and live as a hermit. He achieved not only great holiness, but wolves responded to his prayers, like Saint Francis, his patron.

Born 1202 in the Tuscan town of Poppi, Blessed Torell of Poppi came from the noble family of Torelli. When he lost his parents at the age of eighteen, he was thinking of devoting himself to the service of God and gave generous alms to the poor. But he had two bad friends and was soon corrupted by their example and influence, so that he became the scandal of the town. One day, when he was about thirty-six years old, Blessed Torello of Poppi was amusing himself with his associates at the game of bowling. During the game a rooster perched on his arm and crowed three times. Torello took this as a warning from heaven, deserted his friends without delay, and went to confession to a priest at the abbey of San Fedele, one of the houses of the Vallombrosan Benedictines. He later joined the Third Order of Saint Francis.

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After purchasing the land around this cave and giving what remained of his property to the poor, he built a little hermitage at the cave and cultivated a small vegetable garden to provide himself with food. But he ate very little and fasted for days at a time. He limited his sleep to three hours daily, and slept on a bed of brushwood and thorny twigs. To overcome the persistent temptations of the flesh and the devil, he scourged himself unmercifully and sometimes immersed himself in freezing water.

Like St Francis, he possessed a supernatural power over the wolves, of whom there were many in the Casentino mountains during the thirteenth century. He worked several miracles in behalf of children who were carried off by wolves, and for others who were attacked and bitten by wolves, both before and after his death. When he was eighty years old, Blessed Torello went back to the abbey of San Fedele to make a general confession of his whole life and to ask that his body be buried at the abbey. He died this day in 1282 while he was at prayer.                  – edited from: The Franciscan Book Of Saints, ed. by Marion Habig, OFM

A question for us: Torello was moved to repentance by the striking event of the rooster crowing three times, as it did for Saint Peter during the Passion of Christ. So what will it take to move us to permanent repentance over our habitual sins?  The Crucifix? Good Friday? The stillness of the tomb on Holy Saturday? Without repentance and conversion, the celebrations of Easter Sunday will be empty. 

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Sweden still flies the cross on its flag, but fails to protect those mocked as “worshippers of the Cross” by jihadist Muslims in its own country. 
Sweden Refuses to Investigate Muslim Attacks Against Christian Refugees
By Tyler O’Neil

As Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees seek and find asylum in Europe, they bring their religious tensions and persecution with them. Specifically, Muslim migrants often persecute Christian migrants, or immigrants who converted to Christianity. Open Doors Deutschland documented 743 attacks on Christians in Germany in 2016, and German police documented another 100 in 2017. Similar violence plagues Christian refugees in Sweden, but the Scandinavian country has yet to issue an investigation.

“I fled the war to avoid this kind of thing,” a Christian refugee from Syria known by the alias Amir, told police, according a local newspaper in 2015. A 26-year-old jihadist and fellow Syrian refugee threatened to “slaughter” Amir, cut his throat, and even harm his family back in Syria. The man who threatened him was eventually sentenced to probation and fined 8,000 kronor (approximately $900) in damages.

A survey published by Open Doors Sweden last year found that Amir is far from alone. One hundred and twenty-three Christian asylum-seekers reported religiously motivated persecution, and 512 separate incidents. Christian refugees received 65 violent assaults, 55 death threats, 7 cases of sexual assault, along with instances of social exclusion, insults, contempt, and threats. More than half, 53 percent, said they had been violently attacked at least once. Almost half, 45 percent, reported receiving at least one death threat.

More than three-quarters of those who faced such persecution were converts to Christianity, and almost all of the perpetrators were Muslim. Other refugees or immigrants carried out more than four-in-five (81 percent) of the attacks, 415 out of 512. The most popular solution suggested by victims? Separate housing for Christian and Muslim immigrants. “One time they told my daughter that she was not allowed to eat in the canteen without wearing a headscarf, if she wanted to keep her head,” one of the survey participants told Open Doors. “Another time, they told my son that he was not allowed to have a visible cross around his neck if he wanted to remain in one piece.”

Survey participants reported that perpetrators had been hired by the Swedish Migration Agency or the refugee home. “When only the Muslim staff was working at the refugee shelter, they looked at me strangely, treated me unfairly, spread lies, mocked me, and excluded me,” one Christian migrant said. “This spread to the entire staff. Even the manager of the refugee shelter was one of those who bullied me.”

In an article for National Review, Jacob Rudenstrand, deputy general secretary of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance, and Peter Paulsson, director of Open Doors Sweden, lamented that “the reaction both in the media and from government officials have been cool.”

His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf - today received the Patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Church - His Bliss Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Yonan who is visiting Apostolic visit to Sweden and visits Syrians belonging to the Syrian Catholic Church.  -------------------------------------------------- - His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf Received His Beatitude Ignatius Joseph III Yonan - Patriarch of Antioch and all the East for the Syriac Catholic Church at the royal castle in Stockholm today.

Syriac Catholic patriarch and bishops with King Carl XVI Gustaf

“Despite news reports of such attacks against Christians, Sweden’s government has launched no serious investigation,” Rudenstrand and Paulsson reported. “There are many studies focusing on hate crimes against Jews and Muslims in Sweden but few on hate crimes against Christians, even though statistics from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention show that police reports of the latter have risen in recent years.”

These incidents go beyond the Open Doors report. Last month, the Christian newspaper Världen idag reported that an asylum-seeker who had converted from Islam was attacked while leaving a Pentecostal church in Karlstad on February 11. In Stockholm, a new Christian convert was stabbed by fellow asylum-seekers on the same day he was to be baptized. He had recently begun wearing a cross.

Christians wearing crosses have been attacked and had their crosses ripped off by Islamists, the European Parliament reported in 2015. Rudenstrand and Paulsson confirmed this trend.

Terrifyingly, anti-Christian bias seems to have worked its way into the official government apparatus for refugees. The Swedish Migration Agency, which evaluates applications for residence and citizenship, has given Christian asylum-seekers pop quizzes on theology. These quizzes ask questions that many Swedish churchgoers would be unable to answer, and the testimony of churches and pastors is often dismissed outright.

Refugee challenges “include ensuring that Christians who were victims of genocide — a genocide that the government has refused to recognize — are not persecuted all over again after they resettle in their new country,” Rudenstrand and Paulsson wrote.

Perhaps Christians who faced persecution in the Middle East expected to find a haven from these struggles in historically Christian countries like Sweden — a country whose flag is literally in the shape of a cross. Tragically, evidence suggests refugees bring the religious battles and persecution — complete with violence, death threats, and sexual assault — with them as they move into Western societies.

This does not necessarily mean that Western countries should reject refugees, nor that all Muslims should be suspected of this kind of persecution. However, it does demonstrate that countries like Sweden need to defend the rights of persecuted Christians within their own society. Such governments need to stop ignoring the plight of the persecuted, even if they are Christians in a nominally Christian country.

Posted by: Fr Chris | March 7, 2018

Finding Our Way Back to God

Today the Byzantine Rite presents Genesis 9: 18-29 as the first of the two readings for the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts which is offered tonight.

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In Genesis, the story of the flood differs from the pagan stories. In the Bible, God is angered by the moral failings of the people made “in our image” – they are not reflecting His image at all. God creates with wisdom and justice both – in the stories of the pagan gods of Mesopotamia, the gods create by trial and error. God makes concessions to the survivors after the flood – for the first time, He allows the killing of animals for food, but even so puts on restrictions that the Jews follow to this day. In last week and the readings from Genesis this week, God establishes a covenant of peace with the survivors and their descendants. Unfortunately in chapter 9 there is already a violation, showing just how much sin remains in fallen humanity as a result of the curse of original sin.

Noah is presented as the first person to make wine, and so he accidentally gets drunk and falls asleep. His son Ham finds him naked, and instead of covering him up, brings in his brothers to see the sight. In the Semitic world, and in all human cultures, nakedness was something to avoid – God provided Adam and Eve with coverings of animal skins, and people have dressed ever since in some clothing.

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Expulsion of Adam and Eve 

Not covering up his father’s accidental nakedness is serious disrespect for his father, a complete failure of piety and of the family structure, within weeks of their escape of disaster! Ham is presented as the father of the future residents of Canaan, and the Canaanite religion in the time of Moses, the Judges and Kings was filled with sexual liberties that violated God’s law. This offense by Ham is presented to us as the source of the Canaanites’ many sins against purity, family, and protection of human life that the Israelites would be confronted with and be tempted by. Indeed, even the wise Solomon fell into the sins of his pagan wives. Since Shem is presented as the ancestor of Israel, it is hinting to the later reader that this predicts Israel taking over the cursed descendants of Ham.

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Canaanite priest offers child sacrifice to the baal Molech 

The spiritual point of this passage is a profound one – the readings are structured so that particular passages fall on Wednesday and Friday evenings, the nights when the most people would attend Presanctified Liturgies in the Byzantine Empire. Wednesday is the day when Judas arranged his betrayal with the priests, Friday of course is the Crucifixion of Christ. So here is a strong reminder to everyone attending, down to our own time: nakedness is not something to be indulged, to be sought for. Nakedness is restricted to marriage – in the book of Leviticus, nudity is connected with marital relations between a husband and wife. Our culture today is simply SOAKED in the abuse of the gift of sexuality – little girls are beauty queens, men are shown on billboards wearing the briefest of underwear, young people are encouraged to have sexual hook ups as casual enjoyment, taking what is meant to unite a husband and wife and bring about children as something to have over and over with people that hardly even know each other.

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Giving of each other in Holy Matrimony 

Our culture in North America and Western Europe has lost its way so much. We are just a mess spiritually and psychologically, as everything from schools to media to internet gives the wrong messages to people. Let us pray tonight that we turn our backs on our own sins, like Shem and Japheth do with the blanket, that we pray for those who have lost their way – or worse, have never had moral and spiritual guidance, that all of us will turn our hearts to God in Whose image we have been made.

Posted by: Fr Chris | February 28, 2018

How much do we TRULY value our Faith?

In this article below, an Italian priest talks about meeting up with the few remaining native Catholics in Somalia. There used to be a large Catholic community there, not only Italians but converts as well with 8,500  Somali Catholics  in 1950. Now under Islamic fundamentalism, grandchildren of Catholics have murdered their own grandparents because they refused to join Islam. Grandchildren! Two Catholic converts were beheaded in 2011 and another in 2012. These old Catholics hunger to attend Mass and receive Communion, while 65% of US Catholics can’t be bothered to go regularly on Sundays. One-third of Americans are ex-Catholics! Come Holy Spirit and renew us!! 

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Mogadishu’s Catholic cathedral in happier days before the last bishop was murdered while offering Mass in 1989

A small community of Somali Christians lives their faith in hiding
Mogadishu (Agenzia Fides) – A small community of Somali Christians lives in Mogadishu. There are about thirty elderly people. They live hidden for fear of the reprisals of Islamic fundamentalists. But, they consider their faith as the most precious gift. Fr. Stefano Tollu, military Chaplain of the Italian contingent of Eutm Somalia, the formation and training mission financed by the European Union, managed to get in touch with one of them in recent days. A quick meeting, in order not to arouse suspicion and not to draw too much attention, but very intense and full of human and religious meanings.
“I had the opportunity to meet Moses (invented name, ed)”, says Father Tollu to Agenzia Fides, already a Salesian missionary, now a priest incardinated in the diocese of Faenza and serving in the Military Ordinariat for Italy. “He is a Christian who grew up in the reality of the Italian Protectorate and then in independent Somalia, still very tied to our country. Many consider him the spokesman of the Somali Catholics. He defines his community as endangered”.
In Somalia, a version of Sufi Islam has coexisted for centuries with other faiths. For the past twenty years, however, an intolerant version of the Koranic faith has taken hold. Al Qaeda and its local branch al Shabaab are a continuing threat both for non-fundamentalist Muslims and Christians. In recent months the Islamic State has also appeared in the country, which has created the first bases in Puntland.
However, the danger arrives even within the Christian families themselves. It is still Fr.Tollu who speaks: “Moses told me that ‘those born in the’ 90s, have become intolerant and do not understand their elders who profess Christianity. Therefore the elders flee, go away from their children and grandchildren”. Moses showed the Italian priest a list of Christians who died recently, some for natural causes, others for violent causes. “I promised him I would remember them in the Holy Mass” – said the Chaplain, recalling that, as reported by the Somali Christian, “some were killed by their children’s children”. “Violence is in homes and we, who are few, we risk our lives every day”, Moses told him. The few faithful Somali Catholics cannot have continuous spiritual assistance: “At the moment – concludes Father Tollu – there are no security conditions for a priest to carry out his pastoral service in Mogadishu peacefully. I hope that in the future, once the country has been freed from terrorist infiltration, it will be possible to recreate the minimum conditions for the Christian presence in the city. At the moment I promised to pray for them during Mass. We are united in daily prayer, we are brothers in Christ even if today they are forced to hide their faith”. (EC) (Agenzia Fides, 28/2/2018)I

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Mogadishu cathedral today after Islamic fundamentalists wrecked it in 2008. Today it is a food and medicine station for refugees, with a tent city on the grounds. The diocese planned to restore it in 2013 but the current news from there is very bad. 

Posted by: Fr Chris | February 21, 2018

Second Week of Great Lent

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Glory to Jesus Christ. For the rest of Lent, I will be posting some of my Lenten sermons here. Feel free to share: this is for the second Thursday

The lectionary, the cycle of readings, used in the Byzantine rite, both Orthodox and Catholic,  is ancient, and has not been changed in centuries – the Church set these readings up for the the evening Lenten services. There is a reason therefore that these readings fall on these nights: to speak to the congregation about very important messages from Scripture! This is from Thursday’s readings.

Adam and Eve have a 3rd child, Seth, since Abel was killed and Cain has gone elsewhere. Seth in Hebrew means to replace – he is more than that though. The gift God gave to humanity in Genesis 1:26-28 of being fruitful and multiplying, and also remaining the peak of God’s creative work, and being made in the image of God, is passed down through the line of Seth.

The numbers of years for people’s lives in the genealogy are not meant to be exact. In the ancient Near East, kings were said to have lived 36,000 years – obviously not true. They loved exaggeration, something common in Jesus’ time centuries later, and the point of those exaggerations was to say that the kings were awesome rulers. It was a common belief that the very ancient world was a time of giants, a time when life was on a larger scale than now, so the years were greater. But for the Jews, there is a limit – 1,000 years is divine perfection, and none of the descendants live that long. They come close, but never make it.

21: When Enoch had lived sixty-five years, he became the father of Methu′selah. 22: Enoch walked with God after the birth of Methu′selah three hundred years, and had other sons and daughters.  24: Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

Enoch: he lived righteously – despite the alienation of original sin, it is still possible to live according to God’s commandments. He does this so well that God “took” him – the same verb used for Elijah when he is taken away by God in Kings. The word is deliberately mysterious. If it was possible then to live in full righteousness, so well that God would want to have the soul live with Him, all the more so for us who have been given the fullness of revelation of Christ Jesus, the Son of God, the King of Glory, Whose passion and resurrection we are preparing for. If Enoch could live well in a time of increasing alienation from God’s ways, how can I do so now? Part of the answer comes in the 2nd reading, from Proverbs, chapter 6: 3-20, in verses 16-19.

There are six things which the Lord hates,  seven which are an abomination to him:      1 haughty eyes,  2 a lying tongue, 3  hands that shed innocent blood, 4  a heart that devises wicked plans, 5     feet that make haste to run to evil, 6  a false witness who breathes out lies, 7  and a man who sows discord among brothers.

Presuming none of us are killers of innocent blood – the other six unfortunately we can do, and do often: pride, lies, making up bad things to do, hurrying to commit sins, lying to the point of excluding any truth, and causing trouble. God HATES covering the truth with falsehoods and making trouble. That last one can be anything from children fighting over toys to Russian trolls creating fake news and other such folks who spread falsehoods.

I cannot tell you the number of times I get some message in email or on Facebook and I think “hmm, that can’t be true” and within five minutes of research I find out it is not true. Then when I post the truth, I get attacked. What is it with our modern society that it exults in spouting such nonsense? I read on the BBC website today that there are Americans already denouncing the teenagers who survived the massacre in Parkland, Florida, saying they are paid actors who travel from massacre to massacre and are paid by some secret government fund. Seriously? Who attacks children who just survived seeing their teachers and friends shot down in cold blood by a masked gunman? That is being someone who sows discord, and the bible clearly states that this is something that the Lord HATES.

Enoch walked with God, as Adam and Eve did in the cool of the evening in Paradise: that means that they lived in perfect harmony with God. Human beings are made for that: to walk with God in peace and unity NOW, on Earth. And the God Who HATES lies, evil, doing wicked things, working to create evil, is not going to want to walk with someone who does. This is the fierce warning given to us tonight as we now shift into the second part of the liturgy and prepare to receive the Sacred Body of Christ. It is meant to be a night of self-examination, and an opportunity to dedicate ourselves to truth, and to work so as to be a person who can walk with God, here and now.  Christ is among us.

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Posted by: Fr Chris | February 14, 2018

2,000 New Homes for Christians in Iraq

The money came from Aid to the Church in Need, not the US. Despite Vice-President Pence’s promise that we will be helping the neglected Christian population directly – since the UN only helps those in UN camps, whose populations are very hostile to Christian refugees – no American government funding has shown up yet.

Charity Gives Aid to Repair 2,000 Assyrian Homes in Iraq
By John Newton and Murcadha O Flaherty
Click on the link below to donate directly to A C N. 
Assyrian family in north Iraq. ( Aid to the Church in Need)

Christians forced out of their ancestral lands in northern Iraq are rejoicing after a leading Catholic charity announced an urgent injection of aid to rebuild an extra 2,000 homes.The US$5 million (£3.6 million) package from Aid to the Church in Need will support projects renovating 2,000 houses on the Nineveh Plains –1,500 in Qaraqosh and 500 in Bartella, Bashiqua and Bahzani.

ACN’s international executive president Baron Johannes von Heereman, who has met with displaced families in the Iraqi Kurdish capital Erbil, stressed the urgent need to provide help.He said: “If we do not do everything in our power to support this first third of returning Christians, they will leave their towns again — and perhaps even the country — for good.”

ACN Middle East projects head Father Andrzej Halemba said he was encouraged that up to 35 percent of Iraq’s Christian had already returned to their homes.He said: “More than 30,000 Christians have in the meantime gone back to where they lived before the Islamist terrorist groups invaded.”However, their situations are anything but easy.”

Father Halemba said that Christians are facing high heating and electricity costs due to a severe winter. He added that although Daesh (ISIS) had been defeated in the region, their extremist ideas had taken root in some sections of society.

Rebuilding is being overseen by the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC), which was formed by the Chaldean, Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic Churches.Since it was set up in late March 2017, the NRC has rebuilt nearly 3,000 houses — with ACN providing support for the renovation of 784 homes. The latest aid package is a stopgap measure until more charities, governments and NGOs back the NRC scheme.

Assyrian family in north Iraq. ( Aid to the Church in Need)

Father Halemba said: “It will be possible to achieve the greater objective — namely, to restore 6,000 houses — only if we provide concrete aid together with other players and only if this region is not left to its own devices.“This would enable at least each second displaced person of the Christian minority to return.“Otherwise, we have to fear a reversal of the currently still tangible homecoming process.”

Father Halemba added that to keep people from emigrating from the area, further steps needed to be taken to ensure long-term security.Since 2014, when Daesh seized the Nineveh Plains, Aid to the Church in Need has provided more than US$40 million (£28 million) for Iraq’s Christians.

ACN provided nearly half of all emergency aid — food, medicine, shelter and schooling — for displaced families supported by the Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil.Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has stated that his country needs more than US$97 billion (£70 billion) to fix crumbling infrastructure.There were more than 1 million Christians living in Iraq before the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. Numbers have declined to between 200,000 and 250,000 today.

My note: Muslim states without non-Muslim populations tend to veer into harsher interpretations of the Quran and Hadith (sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammed) and also tend to miss out on Western-style education and health care which the Churches promote through their universities, schools, hospitals, and clinics. It is in the best interest of the USA to get involved in rebuilding these countries and instilling hope in their societies. 

 

Perhaps when one Christian man is shot by Islamic fundamentalists, it is not that important a story. It is to his parents, his brother who escaped, his friends – both Muslim and Christian. There is no outcry – it is another victim killed because he believed Jesus is the Son of God, another person whose potential was snuffed out because he would not renounce Christ. Another ordinary day in the life of far too many Christians – while in the free West, the majority of baptized in North America and Western Europe no longer are drawn to step inside a church a regular basis. 

Bassem Herz Attalhah, also known as Haythem Shehata, was on his way home from work in El-Arish, capital of North Sinai governorate, on Saturday evening (13 January), with his brother Osama and neighbour and friend Mohamed, when they were stopped by three armed men, aged between 23 and 25.

Related image

Dome of the Coptic church in Sharm el-Sheikh, North Sinai

They were wearing black jackets,” Osama, 38, told World Watch Monitor. “They approached us and asked Bassem to show them the wrist of his right hand, and when they saw the tattoo of the cross,* they asked him: ‘Are you Christian?’ Bassem answered ‘Yes, I am Christian’, and repeated that again in a loud voice.”  would we be so bold as to answer that question in a situation already dangerous?    *Coptic Orthodox in Egypt put a tatoo of the cross on their children’s right wrist as a  permanent sign of faith. 

The men then asked Mohamed his name and made him show his wrist. When they saw he had no tattoo, he was allowed to leave. Then they turned to Osama. Osama is a common name, also among Muslims, and the men didn’t know he was Bassem’s brother.

“Bassem told them that I had children,” Osama recalls. “They asked me to show them the wrist of my right hand and, when they didn’t see any cross, they thought that I was Muslim.” The men didn’t see the cross that Osama has tattooed on the top of his hand because it was hidden under his sleeve.

“They fired two shots on the ground close to my legs and asked me to leave,” he recalled. “And then they shot Bassem in the head. I could not believe what happened to my brother. He fell on the ground in front of me and I was unable to do anything.”On his way to find help, Osama says his legs gave way from the shock. Their mother, upon hearing the news, fainted and had to be taken to hospital.

“We lost a person dear to our hearts. My brother Bassem was a very good and kind man. He had a strong relationship with God. He was always reading in the Bible, praying and going to the church. He was loved by all people,” Osama said.

When Bassem’s close friend Milad Wasfi heard he had been killed, he couldn’t believe it and called his friend’s phone. His call was answered, but not by his friend.“The terrorists answered me and said they belong to State of Sinai and promised to kill more Copts before they put down the phone,” he told World Watch Monitor.

Scores of Coptic Christian families left for Ismailia and Suez, about 200 km away, after a string of killings in El-Arish last year — including one incident where a woman witnessed her husband and son killed by a gunman who then ticked them off an IS hit-list. In March 2017 it was estimated that 70 per cent of the 160 Coptic Christian families living in the city had left.  Bassem, Osama and their parents had been among those who fled the city. Struggling to find work in Ismailia, however, the two brothers left for Cairo, and when things did not work out for them there either, they decided to return to El-Arish in September. The situation seemed to have stabilised and their father joined them, selling carpets, while Bassem and Osama set up a shop for mobile phones. One month later they brought the rest of the family back from Ismailia.

Saint George church in El-Arish, burned out in 2015 by Muslim Brotherhood. Christians can wait years for a permit  to restore a church, build a new church, or hold services without a church. 

Bassem’s friend Milad, who is still living in Ismailia, fears for his own future and for the other displaced Christians families of El-Arish. “The hope and the dream of [one day] returning to our homes in El-Arish has become very difficult, especially after this incident,” he said. In February last year President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi ordered his government to “take all necessary measures” to help resettle Christians fleeing North Sinai. But, as World Watch Monitor reported in July, as the attacks against Copts continued, they have found it harder and harder to believe their government could protect them.   

Bassem was buried this morning (15 January) in his home village of Dweik, in Tema district, Sohag governorate. “Bassem was a very good man,” Milad says. “Honest, quiet, modest, a light-hearted person and close friend to me. From early childhood he loved the Church and he was a man of prayer and worship. He didn’t renounce the faith and didn’t deny his Lord Jesus Christ. He didn’t fear death. Actually, he didn’t die but has won the real life in Heaven, enjoying being with Jesus. We pray that God will comfort us [and] thank God for saving the life of Osama, to care for his five children and his parents.”

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