Posted by: Fr Chris | August 11, 2018

Jesus and the Rich Young Man – and me

12th Sunday after Pentecost, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saint Zita, incorrupt since her death in 1272 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Christ is among us.

Posted by: Fr Chris | August 6, 2018

Faith and the Transfiguration of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by: Fr Chris | July 4, 2018

Check out Verse 3 of our National Anthem

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

Lyrics

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

Testifying to Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted by: Fr Chris | June 13, 2018

Happy Feast of St Anthony!

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

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

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

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

 

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High Altar of Saint Anthony church, Buffalo, New York 

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

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

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

 

Posted by: Fr Chris | June 11, 2018

China Changing One Child Limit??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: Fr Chris | May 20, 2018

Pentecost Monday

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

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

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

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Saint John’s School, Kenmore, NY

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

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Gospel Book cover: Christ the Teacher and Four Evangelists 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dove nesting before icon of the Holy Spirit 

Posted by: Fr Chris | May 19, 2018

Descent of the Holy Spirit, 2018

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Today the Roman rite uses red, in honor of the flames of Pentecost; the Eastern Churches emphasize the new life of the Holy Spirit, and so we wear green. In Europe, churches are covered with green branches, green sheaves are on the floors, and people hang greenery from their apartment balconies or gates of houses.

In 30 A.D. the day of Pentecost fell on Sunday, May 28. Thus from its very beginning, Pentecost was always observed on Sunday, the first day of the week, the day of resurrection.  Pentecost for the Jews  celebrates the giving of the Torah, God’s gift of the Law, which is the guide for how we are to live in the world. The Torah is the spelling out of the details of the Covenant that was sealed at Mount Sinai. When God spoke to Moses atop Mount Sinai there was thunder, lightning, trumpet blasts and fire on the mountaintop.  Just as the giving of the Law on Sinai was accompanied by fire and loud noise, so also was the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

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St. Cyril of Jerusalem : The apostles and disciples partook of fire, not of burning but of saving fire; of fire which consumes the thorns of sins, but gives luster to the soul. This is now coming upon you also, and that to strip away and consume your sins which are like thorns, and to brighten yet more that precious possession of your souls, and to give you grace; for He gave it then to the Apostles. And He sat upon them in the form of fiery tongues, that they might crown themselves with new and spiritual diadems by fiery tongues upon their heads. A fiery sword barred of old the gates of Paradise; a fiery tongue which brought salvation restored the gift.

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St. John Chrysostom points out in his Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit came not only on the twelve apostles but the entire community praying in the upper room, fulfilling what St John the Baptist said in Matthew 3:11: He will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit and fire and thus fulfilling the prophecy in the book of Joel quoted by St Peter: I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’ (Joel 2:28).

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Pentecost mural and Transfiguration mural, Drohobych 

 The reason the devout Jews came to Jerusalem was not just to celebrate Pentecost, but because of a strong feeling in the Holy Land and the Jewish diaspora that Daniel’s prophetic “weeks” were fulfilled and there was a general excitement that the Messiah was to appear (Daniel 9:24-27). The thought among both the pilgrims and the residents of the holy city is that since these Galilean men could not know all the languages and dialects they were speaking under the influence of the Spirit of God. Thus the listeners knew at once something far beyond the ordinary was occurring.

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It’s important to point out that the tongues were not unintelligible speech, for Acts 2:6-11 lists the various nationalities and regions in the audience where people heard the disciples’ message in their own native language. The grammar does not suggest that all the disciples spoke at the same time, but rather the foreign listeners heard the speakers speaking in his own native language. This event was the opposite of what occurred at the Tower of Babel where God scattered the people by giving them different languages after they tried to reach heaven with their tower. Now on Pentecost,  God unites a mix of people from thirteen different regions of the Roman and Persian empires so that everyone can understand the message of St Peter. The people hear the proclamation in Arabic, Aramaic, Berber, Coptic, Greek, Latin, Persian and its sister languages, plus the Semitic dialects from Mesopotamia – thus the people said they are speaking in our own tongues – not the nonsense sounds one hears in some Pentecostal Catholic Charismatic groups, where people cry out in garbled sounds, but actual languages in which the message of the Gospel was proclaimed to an enormous diverse crowd of people born Jewish and converts to Judaism. From its inception, the church was a diverse group of people who hailed from a variety of cultures and languages. It was in the midst of this great diversity that God sent the Holy Spirit upon his church and started a movement that would change the history of the world forever.

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Covering the floor in green sheaves for Pentecost Sunday 

Traditionally in our Byzantine Catholic parishes the Heavenly King is sung before the sermon, so as to inspire the priest or bishop to preach not only well, but to give authentic interpretation of the faith to the congregation.

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Heavenly King, — living in heaven as 3rd Person of the Holy Trinity: God is the ruler of the entire created universe, and therefore He is our ruler, not man’s laws which challenge God’s laws, but divine laws rule us;

Comforter,  to strengthen us in any time of trouble, challenge, difficulty, sorrow -whatever you can think of, the Holy Spirit of God is there;

Spirit of Truth: when Father Jerzy Popieluszko began his Masses for the nation in communist Poland, thousands of people packed his church and filled the streets outside – only at that church did they hear the truth in a nation soaked in propaganda. Now we face people who write hoaxes on the internet and twist the truth, politicians who routinely lie – we must be a people of truth. The truth shall set you free says Our Lord – not lies, not personal whims, not propaganda from right or left, but truth;

everywhere present – God is everywhere – when we commit our darkest sin, He is there; when we have our greatest joy, He is there; He knows everyone and every creature and every object: HE is present constantly. What did God do when our people were being murdered on  such a monstrous scale, asked Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. The rabbis answered, the divine presence was there, weeping over our losses, and weeping over the killers who refused to respond to His grace but persisted in serving evil instead. What do I serve in the constant presence of the living God? God? Or Sin?

filling all things, how does the universe keep going? The breath of God which animated all life at the beginning of creation still does so – God keeps the universe alive!

Treasury of blessings, a treasury is a place filled with important and expensive treasure, a place of wealth. What does God consider His wealth to be? The ability to bless us, to send His divine love  upon us, His invitation to be united to Him – the Holy Spirit offers us this access constantly;

Giver of life: I read yesterday of an Australian woman carrying twins – one baby had a heart defect. Rather than have surgery on the baby in her womb, she decided to have it killed, aborted, murdered. The only problem is, the hospital killed the wrong baby. Then she decided to have an emergency Caesarean section so that the so-called defective baby could be killed in the delivery room. What an atrocity. This is where our enlightened western society has taken us with the right-to-choose: violence is the answer more and more often. God gives life – God takes life. Not doctors, not abortionists, not murderers, but God. He is the source of life – we have made ourselves into little gods and goddesses who supposedly know what’s right for unborn babies, for elderly people who just won’t die, for sick people whose medical bills we don’t want to pay, for mentally ill people who have given in to temporary despair. Provide funding for surgery in the womb? for more mental health care? for dignified living? No, but kill – oh yes, let’s kill, kill, kill – and we wonder why disturbed young men take up guns and massacre their schoolmates.

come and dwell within us the Holy Spirit is our  friend who knows everything, a friend who has my highest good at heart, who can be called on to help at any hour of the day or night; and even better, He lives inside of us – not just in heaven, but inside each and every one of us! All we have to do is ASK Him to help us, to be more aware of the Divine already present, already here.

cleanse us of our sins Strengthen us, heal us, guide us to confession to a priest so that we may hear those all-powerful words: you are forgiven and absolved! There is a reason the Church has confession – to hear those words, to help us confront our weaknesses, our failings, our problems, and to come away as clean as we were at baptism.

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save our souls I cannot save myself – only with the grace of almighty God can I be saved.

Gracious Lord a gracious person in the medieval era was a grace-filled person. To be gracious to others is to imitate the Living God Who gives us His energies, what we call His graces. God is the most grace-filled Person in the universe, outside of the universe – He is the fountain of life.

Ben Fogg has taken a momentous step this weekend. He made his Profession of Faith last night in the truths of the Catholic Church; he made his first Confession; now he is chrismated with the sacred oil consecrated by the bishop, using the elements described in the Bible, confirmed and thus receiving the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.  The elements that prompt and promote continuous conversion — growth in goodness, deep faith, patient perseverance — require constant work. Each stresses the need for disciplined prayer, a steadfast spirit of determination and commitment, and humility.

This is your personal Pentecost, Ben, your personal Descent of the Holy Spirit; mystically, through the gift of kairos, of sacred time, we are present at that first Pentecost that Sunday, and we all here – if we are open to it – can again ask the Holy Spirit to renew Himself inside our own hearts, our minds, and commit ourselves again to those gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. And this Spirit can keep the fire of conversion burning deeply within our hearts — if we choose to let it. May you choose to do so for the rest of your life, so as to enter eternal life with the Holy Trinity and all the saints who have gone before us, and may each of us gathered here today do the same.

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Mosaic in dome of Cathedral in Saint Louis, Missouri 

Acts of the Apostles: 16:16-34,  John 9:1-38

The epistle from Acts gives us a curious tale – the girl possessed by demons goes around the city proclaiming constantly that Paul and the others are preaching the path to salvation and are the servants of the Most High God. It is a reminder that while indeed there are evil spirits, even they have to acknowledge Christ and Christianity, and that it is the fullest way of salvation.
The history of the Church shows that demonic forces have been unleashed against the Church in the past twenty centuries, from the pagan emperors of Rome to the communists ruling in Asia and Cuba today and the secular forces that are loose in the western world ignoring God and shoving Him and His people out of public life,  but the Church continues to endure. The devils may be loose in the world, and they may employ people who have come to hate God and Christianity, but in the end they cannot win. The triumph of Jesus on the Cross and risen from the dead is the victory of the war for souls. Battles are fought for each soul, for a particular area, but Christ has won the war. Finally the epistle gives us another episode from the early Church: the jailer and his entire household are baptized, and  a meal is celebrated after the baptism. The whole household: everybody, of all ages and all social status, and the meal is obviously the Eucharist being celebrated by Paul. It serves as a reminder of the ancient order of the three sacraments of Initiation being available to infants as we have been doing – baptism, Chrismation/ confirmation, and holy communion. This series is still the norm in the Roman Church, even though it has been disrupted in the last 100 years by St Pius X separating Confirmation and Communion, and though infant Communion disappeared in the Roman Church after the Protestant reformation: when someone converts to the Roman Catholic Church at Easter, they are to receive all three sacraments together. And many dioceses of the Roman rite are restoring the unity of Confirmation and Holy Communion for  young children in light of this ancient usage.

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Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Albuquerque, New Mexico 

This is the last  Paschal Sunday of 2018: the Easter season ends with sunset on Wednesday – this week we will celebrate Ascension Thursday, a holy day of obligation. In the Roman rite archdiocese of Santa Fe the feast is moved to Sunday, so if you can’t come here and go to a Roman Catholic church for Mass it won’t be the feast day readings. In the American Roman Catholic Church only the dioceses in the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania still keep Ascension Thursday. All Eastern Catholic Churches around the world keep the feast on Thursday. Why does that matter? Easter is kept for forty days, then we have nine days from the ascension of Our Lord back into heaven until the Holy Spirit is sent down to us on Pentecost. The forty days obviously matter in Scripture: forty is used as a time of preparation and purification: the flood lasted 40 days; there are 40 years of Israel wandering in the desert until the new generation of Israelites is ready to enter the promised land; Jonah fasted for forty days before preaching in Nineveh; Jesus fasted for forty days before beginning His public ministry. The last Sunday of the forty days is a particular feast of a stupendous miracle but also a conflict. For the 3rd Sunday water is used again , this time to wash the eyes of the man born blind, as a sign of our baptism. All of the preaching in the forty days was directed toward the new converts to strengthen them in their faith, and to the existing Christians to remind them of why they had been baptized. But the conflict reminded the new converts that their choice means they have to stand up against temptation to yield to the past, or to forces around them that don’t want Christ’s Church and the true faith to lead them forward in life.

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Cure of the Man Born Blind 

The miracle is that of a man born blind is cured; other cures had been of people who probably had cataracts or glaucoma, but here it is someone blind all along. The conflict of Jews expelling believers in Jesus as the messiah and Son of God didn’t happen in Jesus’ lifetime – John has taken what the members of his church experienced and put it into Jesus’ time so that they can see that really we always have to make a clear choice regarding faith in Christ. The man sets out, with the clay on his eyes, walking through the city to Siloam, whose name means One who is sent. Jesus sends him off testifying simply by his odd appearance, soon to testify with his own words, and when the blind man washes off the clay he can see. Rather than accept the obvious proof of Jesus’ power, the Pharisees reject the miracle and reject the man. But when he hears Jesus’ voice, then the man worships Him. The man rejected as steeped in sin since birth, the man who the leadership could not tolerate seeing, hears and sees the truth in the person of Christ. It is a tremendous moment in the gospel, since very few people ever worshipped Jesus during His lifetime on earth.

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The Holy Trinity: the angels at Mamre 

God the Father made all things through Christ our Lord Who calls us all to serve Him and to love Him; the Holy Spirit lives in each of us; we are all made in the image and likeness of God. We are here in this church to worship God and to receive the Holy Body and Life-giving Blood of Christ. We exist to worship God. Without priesthood there is no Eucharist, and in the Eastern Churches that also means no baptism, no confirmation, no weddings. We have been asked to submit names of people we think God may be calling to the priesthood, or the diaconate, or consecrated life. God speaks to the human heart – sometimes we may be afraid to hear Him, or think we are unworthy to serve Him. But He calls us, and He has set up His Church on earth so that priesthood is necessary, diaconate is very important, and consecrated life brings joy to Him. I am going to observe 37 years of ordained ministry on May 10th. It hasn’t gone the way I expected, not at all. I had no knowledge about Arizona or New Mexico when I was ordained in New Jersey, except for the story of the statue of Our Lady,  La Conquistadora, in Santa Fe.

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La Conquistadora in St Francis Cathedral, Santa Fe 

I always have had physical challenges since I was a baby, but I never thought I’d need a wheelchair and be limited in getting around or working or writing. Bishop Dudick who ordained me intended to send me to Rome for study, but instead I ended up in Phoenix because I needed a dry climate. I came here after 3 years in Phoenix, not knowing a soul except Agnes Adamsko, whose daughters still attend here and whose grandson-in-law is a deacon in Phoenix. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, committed lots of sins, but have somehow managed to stay in the priesthood all this time. There are things I wish I had done, and things I wish had never done. But the wonder of God’s loving mercy is that He continues to abide with us, that He continues to invite us closer. We are not trapped in one stage of life – to live a sacramental life with regular reception of the Mysteries of the Holy Eucharist and Confession is to live a life fortified by God. I cannot do a lot of what I enjoyed doing – I never imagined when running down the steps of a subway station to catch a train that I’d be in this chair. At the same time, I never imagined that the fellow I corresponded with in the eparchy of Mukachevo would end up following me as pastor of this parish. The Christian life is filled with surprises. Priesthood is loaded with surprises, one of the greatest being the realization that when we step aside and let God’s grace work through us, marvelous things can happen: people are born again into the Trinity, sins are forgiven, couples are married, the sick find healing and strength, bread and wine become the living Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Stepping aside and letting God work through us is a good model for anyone to live by. Standing in God’s way only causes problems.

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Fr. Artur Bubnevych carrying icon of Our Lady, Helper of Mothers at March for Life 2016, in Santa Fe 

Continue to pray for vocations: our parish has produced four priests, two Sisters, and one monk so far, even though our population has never gone over 150 souls. Continue to pray for those who are ordained to priesthood and diaconate or have taken religious vows. Continue to love God and to love His Church – Vatican II clearly taught in Dignitatis Humanae: this one true religion continues to exist in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus entrusted the task of spreading it among all people … all persons are required to seek the truth, and when they come to know it, to embrace it and hold fast to it, paragraph 15. We are blessed to have seen many people convert to the faith in this parish because of this parish, we are blessed to have seen Catholics return to faith in this parish, and we are blessed to see Christian family life flourishing in our parish, both in extended families and as a parish family. Let us ask God in this liturgy and in our own private prayers that this parish be a spiritual powerhouse of vocations to  ordained,  consecrated, married, and single life, of people committed to not only this parish but to this Catholic and Apostolic religion which our parish seeks to proclaim to all New Mexico in our unique way as Byzantine Catholics. May the Most Holy Trinity strengthen us, may Our Lady of Perpetual Help, to whom I’ve been devoted since I was a little boy, watch over us, may we listen to the voices of our guardian angels in making right choices, and may we be strengthened by the prayers of our saints and martyrs, to stand firm in this faith handed down to us from Christ by the apostles and their successors. Like the man born blind, may we hear God’s voice, and fall down and worship Him. Christ is among us.

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