Posted by: Fr Chris | November 27, 2019

GIVING THANKS in 2019

Thanksgiving Day is the one reminder every year that, despite the American model of being self-sufficient, none of us truly  make it on our own. No one goes through life all alone.  No matter if you are a believer or an atheist, it is the one day to stop and be thankful for what we have and for the country we live in.The atheist will just be grateful and that’s that. For the believer, it is the day to acknowledge God’s benevolent mercy and His graces that have brought us safe thus far.

Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Message To Atheists, Humanists and Other Americans | FREEDOM ...

In 1864, while the Civil War was still raging, President Abraham Lincoln set the last Thursday in November as the national day to give thanks. He wrote: a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.

He acknowledged God’s generosity to America in a time of war, and pointed out specifically that God ” has largely augmented our free population by Emancipation and by immigration, while He has opened to us new sources of wealth and has crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry with abundant rewards.

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The Bible does not say that having wealth means you are blessed by God – that is a Protestant heresy. But we pray at every Liturgy for an abundance of the fruits of the earth. Christ and the writings of the prophets all emphasize that the poor are God’s special people. So how do we tie that in with a dinner that is one of the biggest of the year? The poverty that God demands is this: We should do what we can so that no one to be hungry or thirsty or naked or homeless or sick or living all alone (Mt 25:3-46). The poverty demanded of the Christian must be the desire to seek before all else the Kingdom of God, which is God’s will and plan for us, which includes love for all creation, a thirst for righteousness, and mercy. Christ promised, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things (food and drink and clothing) will be given you besides” (Mt 6:33).

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Above all, this is where we come to give thanks. This Divine Liturgy, any celebration of the Holy Eucharist in any of the Rites of the Church, is the primary place for thanksgiving. The very word “eucharistia” means to be grateful, to rejoice, and to give thanks. For all those taking the time to worship at God’s holy altar for Thanksgiving Day, may we most especially be grateful for our  Church and parish, our faith in Jesus Christ, and above all for the Holy Gifts we will receive today.

On Receiving the Holy Mysteries – The Morning Offering

Posted by: Fr Chris | November 23, 2019

A Dwelling Place for God

I am going to focus today on the reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. The excerpt we heard today is from chapter 2, verses 14-22, which is the epistle for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost. The Gospel today is that of the 27th Sunday, so it just happens to match up to one of Paul’s themes, that of the conflict between adhering to the Jewish Law and being a Christian.

Luke 13:10-21 – Healed of Our Infirmities | Fr. Charles Erlandson Erlandson

In the Gospel, Jesus immediately heals the woman whom He sees, not waiting for her to ask Him to do so. Because that was an act of energy, of power, the rabbis are upset that He did this on the Sabbath and in the synagogue itself. They are so bound by the Law and its rules that they will not rejoice in the cure of someone who had suffered for years from either a physical deforming of her body or the curse of Satan. The Law most definitely allowed for livestock to be watered and fed on the Sabbath, since they were dependent on the owners for help. So even more so should God bring deliverance on the Sabbath to a person who was suffering. Sabbath is meant to be a day not only of rest but of renewal, and this woman is now renewed in a most dramatic way!

In Ephesians, Paul is talking to a Greek and Jewish community. Orthodox Jews rejected Greco-Roman culture and close relations with any Gentile. Gentiles thought Jews were very odd people who worshipped only one God instead of the pantheon of gods that everyone else prayed to, bound by a lot of strict laws regarding food, marriage, and connections with non-Jews. So there was little interaction between the two communities outside of necessities such as legal issues or shopping.

One of the big issues in the missionary Church was the role of these two communities and the place of Jewish restrictions. Paul is invoking a lot of imagery here that we do not necessarily get right away. Right before the section we heard, Paul writes about how the Greeks, meaning any non-Jew, were separated from the people of Israel as well as from God Himself. Now they have been brought close to God through the Blood of Christ, that same Blood which we are preparing ourselves to receive shortly in Holy Communion.

He is our peace, Who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility”  – the wall he is referring to is the symbolism of physical wall in the Temple in Jerusalem. This wall blocked off the Courtyard of the Gentiles from the inner courts where only Jews could pray. There was a large sign on that wall, warning Gentiles that if they went past that point they would be killed. That is how strict the separation was between the two communities. Now, Paul says, there is no wall, physical or symbolic,  physical or spiritual, that would block part of humanity from God’s mercy and redemption. The Church is not meant to be an isolated community, but a truly catholic, universal Church that embraces everyone.

Paul goes on to say that Jesus, through His sacrifice, abolished all those strict laws that cut off the Jews from the rest of the world and Jesus has made a New Man in His Body that was  crucified and risen, as Paul says, bringing the hostility to an end. This is the inauguration of a new age, the messianic age, which marks the union of all nations in God Himself. The Good News of the gospel of Christ was now being preached to both Jews and Greeks, uniting everyone through the Holy Spirit to the Father. He says in verse 19 that they are no longer strangers, but members of one united household.  If we are in a household, built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, then we are in one family, a family that everyone belongs to.  And we all belong to that whether or not we want it that way. We may not want certain people in our house, but that is really just too bad, since Jesus lived, died, and rose for the salvation of every human being.

Jesus, the Chief Cornerstone - Matthew 16:13-19 | God's Family Church – Cranston RI – You are ...

In the ancient world, the cornerstone was very important. For Jews, it was the foundation stone upon which the entire building would rest. Now the word that Paul uses for cornerstone is found only once in the entire Old Testament, in the book of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 28, verse 16 where God says, “I am laying in Zion a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation.” The Jews interpreted this as being not just a cornerstone but as being a symbol of the Messiah Himself.  It is this Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ Whose birth we are preparing for, that is the absolute foundation of the Church. Paul concludes with this: in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Now say to this ourselves: I am a dwelling place for God.  I am, everyone is. So, if everyone is united into the family of God through the preaching of the Gospel, then that shows just how important it is to continue to do missionary work in the name of the Faith, and why it is important that people convert. I read of a priest in the Amazon whose mission has been there for fifty-three years, but there has not been one  convert. No wonder there are no priests there- some the European priests think that baptizing Indian converts would somehow be a sign of European colonization and that all these indigenous tribes live a happy life of peace and harmony in the jungle. They ignore the rampant warfare which would come to an end if the Gospel of unity was preached, and they ignore the reality of how harsh life is in the jungle. Those people suffer from malaria, tuberculosis, polio, and have short lives due to the harshness of their world. The Gospel could bring peace among the tribes, and the traditional works of mercy that always accompany Catholic mission work would bring better health and longer life spans to these people. In a sense it is a new racism, saying that we have nothing to offer indigenous people and exalting them into some pure native condition living in perfect harmony with nature.

I am a dwelling place for God. Not only do the tribes of the Amazon need to hear this but so does Europe and North America, every Muslim country, and every remaining communist state. Each person is a dwelling place for God, each person is not only made in God’s image but has God living inside. The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation/ Chrismation bring the soul into intimate union with God, deliver the soul from original sin, and infuse the soul with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is why it is a sin to kill, because we are attacking the image of God. This is why the unborn are so valuable – each is a unique person who will never be repeated again. This is why it is a sin that cries out to heaven for punishment that our Congress cannot even vote against infanticide, the deliberate killing of babies born alive after botched abortions. This is why it is another sin crying to heaven that corrupt bishops and sinful priests molested both children and vulnerable adults.  

This is why the dying are to be treated with reverence and love, and not pushed to commit suicide  so that everyone else can get on with their own lives and insurance companies can save money. This is why missionaries go about rescuing abandoned baby girls and abandoned children who are deformed or handicapped in some way.  This is why the Catholic Church has been a defender of human rights against monarchs, tyrants, communists and fascists alike: each living person is a dwelling place of God, made in God’s image, and will never ever be seen again on the face of the earth.

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One of the main themes in the life of Jesus Christ is compassion. He had both great sympathy and great empathy for people who were suffering. He would perform miracles for those who had leprosy, were blind, were crippled or paralyzed, and raised the dead for those who were mourning. In His infancy and childhood, Jesus had to be taught by Our Lady and Saint Joseph how to grow as a human being. Out of respect for the independence of Jesus’ human nature and human free will, God does not force the divine nature upon the human part of Christ. Rather He grew like we all do, learning from His parents and the community around Him. He learned both what to do and what not to do.

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Liturgically we are in the last weeks of the pregnancy of Our Blessed Lady. She and Joseph are going to embark on the long walk to Bethlehem. That is a long walk, which could take up to ten days to finish. Our Christmas Fast has been in place for nine days: 31 to go. We are asked to do penances, to abstain from certain foods, in order to cleanse our souls and prepare for the Birth of the Lord. Each of us has our own things to work on, but let me suggest that it would be a good idea to ask Saint Joseph and the Mother of God to intercede for us before God’s throne and flood us in particular with the grace of compassion, and with the grace to be free of any and all prejudice. We live in the richest, most powerful country ever seen in human history, but also in a country afflicted by racism and where it is almost impossible to have a calm conversation about politics. Catholics are meant to be a people constantly going through spiritual renewal, constantly learning more about both God and themselves. Catholics are meant to be people who will defend the human rights of any living person, born or unborn, sick or healthy. We are supposed to be a Church which encourages all the living to live fully, in the embrace of the Holy Spirit.

I am a dwelling place for God. This is a challenge, to believe and accept that God lives in us. For the rest of the Christmas Fast, let us strive to be more aware of this reality of God living in us and the people around us, old and young, relatives and strangers, born and unborn. Let us be more aware of the unity we have with others instead of the differences. Above all, let us work at preparing our hearts and homes to really welcome the Christ Child in a new way this year, different from any other year.

Christ is among us.

What was it like to be pregnant with the Savior? | The New Theological Movement

Posted by: Fr Chris | November 20, 2019

The Great Value of a Little Girl

Theotokos's Entry into the Temple (The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary), Mosaic.c ...

Presentation of Our Lady

This is one of the later Marian feasts to come into the calendar, originating in Jerusalem around 543. It gradually spread to the Western Church, but was put onto the general Roman calendar only in 1585.

A Syrian convert wrote a book called the Protevangelium of James around 150 AD. It is basically a mix of original Gospel accounts of the Infant Jesus mixed with speculation about the early life of Our Lady. There were several of these, mixing in the authentic Gospels, pious thoughts, and outright fantasies.

This feast has its origins in this text, which claims that after Mary’s birth to elderly parents, she was put into the Holy of Holies at the age of three and lived there for nine years. Now we know this is not true – the High Priest himself only went into that sacred space once a year to say the Holy Name of God. The person who wrote this knew little about Judaism, but these books were not meant to be historically accurate. They are a type of ancient literature that both filled popular hunger for more stories about Jesus and Mary, but also used these stories as a teaching tool.

Theotokos

So what does this feast day tell us still?

  1. Mary is a unique individual in human history: she is recognized not only as a perpetual virgin, but also as the New Eve who does not yield to the temptation of sin.

  2. In her unique holiness, in her status as the New Eve, she lived in a state of intimate connection with God Himself, as we were originally meant to be until the Fall.

  3. The Gospel for Marian feasts mixes two separate events together. One is where a Jewish woman uses a typical phrase giving honor to the mother of a rabbi: Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that nursed you! This fulfills Mary’s prediction that all generations will call her blessed. But Jesus sets this praise aside, pointing out that it is even more important that people hear His Word and act on it, which of course Mary does throughout her life. The second incident praises Mary of Bethany for listening attentively to the words of Jesus. This reflects another role of Our Lady, who in Luke, chapter 2, ponders the events of her pregnancy and the birth of Christ in her heart. So she is both the one who hears the Word of God and acts on it, and the contemplative, the one who listens closely and incorporates God’s Word into her life. Here she is the model for consecrated laywomen, cloistered nuns, and active Sisters alike.

  4. In the ancient world, little children did not have much honor. A family could lose as many as half of its children, or even more, to various diseases and epidemics. But in the protoevangelium, Mary is honored by her parents from her conception onward. The whole story of putting her in the temple as a three-year old is an early Christian praise of the holiness inherent in children, and the value that children should have for us. In an era where abortion has now led to some of our political leaders actually consenting to the murder of infants born alive, this a poignant reminder of just how we as Christians must value human life.

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  1. The Holy Land is the western edge of Asia. We forget that much of what we do in the Byzantine liturgical tradition is affected by our Asian origins. For example, we bow instead of genuflecting to show honor to the Most Holy Eucharist. A three year old girl still has no value in much of modern Asia, and girl babies are routinely murdered in India and China. There is an area in India of 132 villages that has not seen any girls born alive in a period of three months this year: 216 boys were born, but not one girl was registered. The Church however proclaims in this feast day that this little girl is to be honored, treasured, and seen as very important to the future of the human race, something that the pagans of 150 AD would not have agreed to whatsoever, and apparently a lot of people today would not believe.

  2. Finally this feast day points to a profound central truth for us. The Virgin Mary is shown as living in the temple, a sign that she will become the true temple of God. She will be the living tabernacle, the one in whom the God-Man will live for nine months. Just as all women are affected by pregnancy in various ways, Our Lady is especially changed. Having been the living tabernacle, the only one who can be called Mother of God, she becomes the protector for Jesus along with Saint Joseph. She will teach Christ in His humanity, and advocate first for Him, then once He starts His ministry, advocating for us. We see this begin at the Miracle of Cana, where she presents Jesus with the need of the newlyweds not to be embarrassed at having run out of wine at their reception. Jesus does what she asks, and this is an important sign for us. He will make her our Mother at the Cross, presenting her not just to John but to all of us.

Virgin Mary of The Sign "Znamenie", Orthodox Icon - at Holy Trinity Store

On this day, children are blessed. Again, this affirms the value of children in a world that has become so messed up that there are people who wear shirts saying Thank God For Abortion. Children are not only our future as a nation, and as a Church, but are each made uniquely in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity. Let us ask Our Blessed Mother to continue to pray for us as her children, for the salvation of this country consecrated to her Immaculate Conception, and that as a Church we can once again change attitudes around the world towards all children, born and unborn.

Christ is among us.

Posted by: Fr Chris | November 16, 2019

Saint Philip Fast and Advent

I will be preaching an Advent Mission December 9-11, 2019, at Our Lady of Fatima Church on Lomas Boulevard NE. That will be the second week of Advent for Roman Catholics, but halfway through the preparation season followed by Christians who adhere to the Byzantine Rite. For Byzantine Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, Saint Philip’s Fast began on November 15, forty days before Christmas.

In the East, this is still a season of fasting, penance, and reflection. Feast days of prophets abound, those brave men who heard God’s Voice and wrote about the coming Messiah. We are urged to expand our abstinence from meat from Friday to Wednesday and Monday. Above all, we are urged to prepare our hearts and souls for the Christ Child, the God-Man Who loves us so much that He willingly enters into our world, and will ascend the Cross  in order to save us.

Child Jesus/ Cross 8x10 | DEVOTIE | Pinterest | Crosses, Children and Jesus

So, how ready is my heart for Jesus? Am I prepared to welcome Him? In the rush of buying presents, going to parties, hearing countless ads on television and radio urging us to BUY, BUY, BUY MORE AND MORE – do I buy time for Him in my heart?
Will I open the depth of my heart to Him?

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God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son. The Baby Whose birth we prepare for is the same Person Who will sweat blood in the Garden on Holy Thursday. He is the same Person Who will suffer incredible tortures and humiliation. Our Blessed Lady, the Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary, will truly have her heart pierced beholding  her beloved Boy on the Cross. We forget all this with movies about Santa, “Christmas spirit”, Christmas love, Christmas at home, Christmas on the mountain, Christmas with snow — tons and tons of holiday films that will never once mention the true  Spirit of Christmas. That is the self-giving, the willing humility, of God becoming Incarnate in the womb of Our Lady. But even more, He wishes to enter into EACH ONE OF US at Holy Communion, through the Consecrated Gifts.
That must be our goal for Advent, for Saint Philip’s Fast, for Great Lent, for every week of the year: to be transformed by God’s grace in our reception of the Most Holy Eucharist. May God strengthen us in these days, and may we move forward in holiness first. If we put holiness first, all the other things that our culture says we “need” for a “real holiday” will fall into their proper places behind our hunger for Jesus Christ.

Lessons from the Christmas Manger – The Faith Explained with Cale Clarke

 

Posted by: Fr Chris | November 10, 2019

VETERANS’ DAY

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

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

The Freed Slaves of Montgomery County - Clarksville, TN Online

Freed Slaves in Union Army, 1865

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

How is always more important than when.. | pearlsofprofundity

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

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

Thank a Veteran with a Free Haircut - Your Town Monthly

 

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

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

Seven Archangels - Wikipedia

Dear daughter of Jesus,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P. Pio

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Posted by: Fr Chris | October 26, 2019

Exorcism of the Demoniac, from Luke 8, and Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Muslim converts in Vienna, Austria 

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

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

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

Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Albuquerque

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

 Image result for jesus opens heaven

 

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

Related image

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

Image result for souls enter heaven icon

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

 

What will I answer?

 

Christ is among us.

Posted by: Fr Chris | October 11, 2019

Which Seed Am I in Relation to God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sower went out to sow… | friarmusings

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

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

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

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

Icon of Our Lady Of Fatima - The Byzantine Forum

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: Fr Chris | September 13, 2019

The Holy Cross and Us

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

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

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

Members of Isil dismantle crosses from a church

Cross torn off Iraqi Catholic church by ISIS “warriors”

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

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

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

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

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

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

No evangelism without prayer | volgdeboereninzuidafrika

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

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

Abbey Roads: The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

 

 

Posted by: Fr Chris | September 7, 2019

The Wounded Heart and Our Blessed Lady, given to us

Sept 8

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

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

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

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

About St. Macarius - Macarian Apologetics

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

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

Y CATHOLIC: THE EUCHARIST

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

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

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

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

Christ is among us.

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