28 December 2008

Sunday After Nativity

Today the Eastern Church celebrates St. Joseph the Betrothed, the Prophet King David, and James the Kinsman of the Lord. On the Western calendar Sts. Joseph and James have their own day, but David doesn't. Happy namesday to me.

Come let us extol David the king, the grandparent of God; for from him sprang forth out of a stem, namely the Virgin, and from that did shine forth Christ the Flower, renewing the creation of Adam and Eve from corruption: for He is compassionate. (Sticheron, Tone 1)

27 December 2008

Best of 2008 -- Part 1

As 2008 comes to a close I'd like to recall articles from the past year on various topics. Today I will list some articles on the work of the Holy Spirit, Charismatic gifts, and the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Click each title to read the articles.

25 December 2008

God Enters History

God seeks out man in the midst of his worldly and earthly connections and relationships; God, whom no one, not even the purest of men, can discover for himself, comes to man of His own volition and enters into relationship with him... God is the one who acts, and it is He who brings salvation to man. (1)

He [God] has entered into history, has come to meet man, and thus man can go to meet Him. He [man] can unite himself to God, because God has united Himself with man. (2)

Human listening to the message of faith is no passive reception of hitherto unknown information; rather, it is the awakening of our submerged conscience and the opening up of the powers of understanding that are awaiting the light of truth within us. (3)

The longing for the infinite is alive and unquenchable within man. None of the attempted answers will do; only the God who Himself became finite in order to tear open our finitude and lead us out into the wide spaces of His infinity, only He corresponds to the question of our being. (4)

In the revelation of God it is, in the end, precisely a matter of Him, the Living and True One, breaking into our world and thus breaking open the prison of our theories, by means of whose iron bars we seek to protect ourselves against the coming of God into our lives. (4)

~Pope Benedict XVI
(1) The Unity & Diversity of Religions
(2) The Truth of Christianity
(3) Truth-Tolerance-Freedom
(4) The New Questions that Arose in the Nineties
** Compiled in the collection "Truth & Tolerance"

23 December 2008

Christ is Born, Glorify Him!

Chanted by Reader Nader Hajjar, Ottawa.
Video by kalamation and Fr. Francois Beyrouti

22 December 2008

The Last Song You Hear on Earth

In the mid 1980's I had a garage band called "Vladimir's Universe" that performed in local clubs. My mentor was a guy named Tom V. Silvia. He had a studio in a garage where he recorded and produced a demo tape for me.

After losing touch with him for 20 years I decided to Google him and found that he passed away in 2007. On his memorial page I found out that he was a devout Catholic who was involved at a parish here in Ann Arbor. Requiescat in pace! May his memory be eternal!

I bring this all up because there was a recording of him on the memorial page. Tom mentioned that in Catholic teaching the last sense lost when you die is hearing. That's why the priest whispers in the ear of someone who died.

Being a musician, Tom felt it was important to leave with a good song. He chose "Love Supreme" by John Coltrane--partially because of it's length.

The Eastern tradition (Orthodox & Byzantine Catholic) is to chant the entire Psalter for the dying person. I hope that my kids will do this for me. If God would allow it, I would love to pass while my oldest son is chanting Psalm 51 "Miserere mei, Deus" in Tone IV 4.

21 December 2008

Fourth Sunday of Advent

We beseech Thee, Almighty God, to purify our consciences by Thy daily visitation, that when Thy Son our Lord cometh He may find in us a mansion prepared for Himself; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

20 December 2008

Spiritual Gifts in the 4th Century

Early-fourth century Church Historian Eusebius of Caesarea had this to say about the gifts of the Spirit in his time:

For some of them drive out demons effectually and truly, so that those who have been cleansed from evil spirits frequently believe and unite with the Church. Others have a foreknowledge of future events, and visions, and prophetic revelations. Still others heal the sick by the laying on of hands, and restore them to health. And, as we have said, even dead persons have been raised, and remained with us many years.

As also we hear that many brethren in the Church possess prophetic gifts, and speak, through the Spirit, with all kinds of tongues, and bring to light the secret things of men for their good, and declare the mysteries of God.

~Church History 5:7

19 December 2008


I take my relationship with Christ seriously. But it's the kind of "seriousness" that children exhibit when they play. Intensity and absorption mingled with abandonment and joy. As G.K. Chesterton said, "It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it."

There is a kind of "seriousness" that is poison. It leads to legalism and even depression. That was the problem the pharisees had. They were so uptight that they served God out of duty rather than love.

This "tainted seriousness" is not just found in religion, but also in politics and everyday living. Rigidness is one manifestation. Another is to believe that things are actually as bad as you imagine they are.

So what's the antidote? One is to just lighten up. Another is to exaggerate circumstances until they are so ridiculous that you can't help but laugh. St. Francis of Asissi was good at this as exemplified in a conversation he had with friar while walking in a cold winter storm:

"When we come to St. Mary of the Angels (monastery) soaked by the rain and frozen by the cold, all soiled with mud and suffering from hunger, and we ring at the gate of the place and the brother porter comes out and says angrily: 'Who are you?' and we say: 'We are two of your brothers.' And he contradicts us, saying, 'You are not telling the truth. Rather you are two rascals who go around deceiving people and stealing what they give to the poor. Go away!' And he does not open for us, but makes us stand outside in the snow and rain, cold and hungry, until night falls--then if we endure all those insults and cruel rebuffs patiently, without being troubled and without complaining, and if we reflect humbly and charitably that the porter really knows us and that God makes him speak against us, oh, Brother Leo, write that perfect joy is there."

By imagining such an extreme scenario, he could walk in the snow and rain with joy rather than complaint and despair. Plus, even if such a thing happened, he was already prepared to be joyful.

Jesus offered the cure of exaggeration to the pharisees. They were blind to justice, mercy, and faith because of their "seriousness". Our Lord said that they "strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!" (Matthew 23:24). What an absurd image, but it showed how ridiculous their legalism was. Then he continued with images of cups that are clean on the outside but filled with filth, of whitewashed tombs that contain decaying bodies.

Take the horrendous tragedies in your life and look at them in a way that will make you laugh. If you are taking life too seriously, have a bowl of camel soup.

18 December 2008

Our Lady of Expectation

“O God who wished that your Word would take the flesh from the womb of the Virgin as announced by the Angel and whom we confess to be the true Mother of God, may we be helped by her intercession.”

Today, in many parts of the world (but sadly not in America), it is the feast of Our Lady of Expectation. One week before Christ-Mass we celebrate the Holy Virgin "great with child".

The feast is kept alive in many countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy and Poland as well as in a few religious orders. In older editions of missals, this feast is still listed as a votive Mass. There are special prayers and novenas to “Our Lady of Expectation” available for women who cannot conceive or bear a child.

The origin of this feast goes back to the bishops of the 10th Council of Toledo, in 656. They felt that the joy of the Annunciation was overshadowed by the somber character of Lent, so they moved the feast to the week before Nativity. Later, they re-joined the rest of the Church in celebrating the Annunciation on March 25th. But they kept this day as a way to celebrate the Virgin with child .

16 December 2008

Active Waiting

Fear is what makes it hard to wait. The more afraid we are, the harder waiting becomes. Fearful people want to get away from where they are. When we can't flee, a common reaction is to fight.

But waiting is part of movement from something to something more. If you are between opportunities, you are still somewhere... you're "between".

While waiting, we should live actively in the moment. Experience God where you are now. Embrace the present moment as the place you're meant to be.

Seed has been planted, something has begun. Fulfillment of God's promises will come if we cultivate and fertilize what he has sown. That is active waiting.

15 December 2008

The Waiting

When we read the Bible we often plow through from one passage to the next like any other book. What is hard to grasp is the time lapse between events.

We jump from the Ascension to Pentecost in a matter of minutes, forgetting that there was a lapse of 9 days. What happened during that time? They waited.

We read of the Anunciation when the archangel told Mary that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. After a brief stop at Elizabeth's house we read ahead and Christ is born. This also takes a few minutes for us to travel. We forget that nine months pass (at least in the Catholic Church the feast days remind us of the time lapse). What did Mary do during that time? She waited and prepared.

It's hard to realize that St. Paul spent years in various towns. They weren't weekend crusades or week long camp meetings. It took time to establish a church.

Why should our lives be any different? How often we expect God's work in our lives to be instant. When the Holy Spirit plants an idea about His direction for our lives we must be patient until it blooms.

"And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6)

14 December 2008

Third Sunday of Advent

Stir up Thy power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let Thy bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with Thee and the Holy Ghost, be honor and glory, world without end. Amen.

10 December 2008

Being Catholic Matters

In our pluralistic society a common attitude is that it doesn't matter what church you belong to as long as you love Jesus. I will agree that one's eternal salvation is a mystery and I treat everyone who follows after Jesus as a Christian brother or sister whether they are Catholic or not. Many evangelical and protestant authors have written books that I've benefited from. The prayers of my non-Catholic family and friends are always welcome.
Yet, the Body of Christ is not some fragmented nebulous conglomeration of conflicting interpretations of Scripture (1 Corinthians 12:13). The Church is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Timothy 3:15) built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets (Ephesians 2:20). The authority given to the Apostles was passed on to faithful men (2 Timothy 2:2) who hold the traditions they were taught orally and in writing (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Who fulfills all of these criteria? Only the Catholic Church (and I include the Eastern Orthodox under this umbrella) can claim Apostolic succession and uninterrupted faithfulness to Apostolic doctrine. The Church is living and breathing, it adjusts and grows over time, but it's roots and fruits remain the same.

Here's why it matters: Jesus promised that He would preserve the Church and gave it authority (Matthew 16:18-19). As part of the Catholic Church I come under this protection. I have the assurance that the Fathers and the Magisterium are guided by the Holy Spirit to keep me from error (John 16:13). I can receive the divine presence of Christ through Communion (John 6:53-54) and the removal of sin and renewal of my relationship with God through Reconciliation (1 John 1:9). I am part of a 2000 year old, world-wide spiritual family!

I'm sorry if my triumphalism makes you uncomfortable, but these are the facts. As Catholics we have so many resources to assist us as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Other "ecclesial communities" might have zeal (Romans 10:2), heartfelt worship (John 4:24), and television ministries (Luke 9:49-50)--but they can't claim the authority and protection that exists in the Catholic Church.
It does matter!

08 December 2008

Nightingale Sounds

One of my favorite Christmas songs is the 16th century "villancico" from Spain called "Riu Riu Chiu". Several recordings have been made including a version by the Monkees doing the first two verses (see video below). I post this today because the song mentions today's feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here's my own moderately literal translation:

Riu, riu chiu protected by the River
God kept our Lady from that wolf the devil
God kept our Lady from that wolf the devil

The rabid wolf attempted to bite the Theotokos
But Almighty God knew how to defend her
He wished to create her impervious to sin
Nor did she embody original sin

This newborn child is the mightiest of monarchs
Christ patriarchal dressed in human flesh
He humbled Himself in order to redeem us
He who was infinite took on finitude

Many prophecies told us about His coming
And now in our days we have seen them fulfilled
God became man on earth do we behold Him
Now man goes to heaven because it is His will

Christ is here giving life to the dead
He comes to redeem the fallen race of Adam
Jesus is the light that shines in the day
He is the Lamb of God John the Baptist prophesied

Now we have received what we were all desiring
Let us go together bearing our gifts
Let us give our wills to the God who was willing
to come down to earth becoming one of us.

07 December 2008

7 Minutes in Heaven

No, I'm not talking about being locked in a closet with a love interest to see what happens. Then again, maybe on a spiritual level I am. Jesus should be our beloved and He did tell us to go into the closet to pray.

Anyway, I came across this great recommendation for spending deliberate time with God. Sure, I talk to Him throughout the day, but it's still good to set a daily "appointment" where I can stop and listen. No doubt, Jesus was in constant communication with the Father throughout His earthly ministry, but He would go off to pray. If God incarnate set aside time time to pray, how much more do we need it.

So here's the plan: deliberately spend seven minutes with God. Two minutes of quiet, contemplative prayer in the morning and five minutes of Bible reading and "Lectio Divina" (meditation on the Scripture) at night.

Sure God deserves more of our time, but setting aside this time is a good place to start a routine.

Second Sunday of Advent

Merciful God, who didst send Thy messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

03 December 2008

St. John of Damascus: Theotokos

Moreover we proclaim the holy Virgin to be in strict truth the Mother of God. For inasmuch as He who was born of her was true God, she who bare the true God incarnate is the true mother of God.

For we hold that God was born of her, not implying that the divinity of the Word received from her the beginning of its being, but meaning that God the Word Himself, Who was begotten of the Father timelessly before the ages, and was with the Father and the Spirit without beginning and through eternity, took up His abode in these last days for the sake of our salvation in the Virgin’s womb, and was without change made flesh and born of her.

For the holy Virgin did not bare mere man but true God: and not mere God but God incarnate, Who did not bring down His body from Heaven, nor simply passed through the Virgin as channel, but received from her flesh of like essence to our own and subsisting in Himself. For if the body had come down from heaven and had not partaken of our nature, what would have been the use of His becoming man? For the purpose of God the Word becoming man was that the very same nature, which had sinned and fallen and become corrupted, should triumph over the deceiving tyrant and so be freed from corruption, just as the divine apostle puts it, For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:21). If the first is true the second must also be true.

Hence it is with justice and truth that we call the holy Mary the Mother of God. For this name embraces the whole mystery of the dispensation. For if she who bore Him is the Mother of God, assuredly He Who was born of her is God and likewise also man.

~St. John of Damascus (645-749) whose feast is celebrated today
(from "An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith" 3:12)

01 December 2008

The Icon of Advent

The Virgin Mary
is the icon of Advent.
Let us call upon her
to help us to become
an extension of humanity
for the Lord who comes.

~Pope Benedict XVI