28 February 2009

Crystal Ball and Chain

"If a prophet arises among you, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder which he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, 'Let us go after other gods,' which you have not known, 'and let us serve them', you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him, and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and cleave to him." (Deuteronomy 13:1-4)

False prophets have always been a problem. Sure, their predictions might come true, or they might perform signs and wonders, but if their message contradicts the True Faith, then they should be rejected.

Fulfilled predictions or miracles do not validate doctrine. During my visit to Tennessee I met a young man who is converting to the Catholic Church from a "Oneness" Pentecostal church. He was a certified minister in a denomination that rejects the Trinity. They expressed the gifts of the Spirit just like charismatic Catholics, but their teachings were out of line with the historic Christianity. He gave up his ministry and his friends to be united to the Church founded by Jesus Christ on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets.

But what about in the Catholic Church--are there false prophets there? Yes, there are people who claim private revelation from Jesus or the Blessed Virgin within the Church and gather followers around themselves. They might set themselves up as spiritual directors or "Secretaries of the Lord". People who are spiritually hungry, weak in their faith, or poorly catechized are easily influenced by such characters.

The result is bondage, especially when their messages lead to fear. It leads to distrust of the Church's teaching authority. It can turn into personality cults. When the hierarchy tries to correct such people, rather than submit to the apostolic authority of the Church, they consider themselves persecuted and above the Magisterium.

"...there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:7-9)

St. Paul wasn't just talking about those outside the Church. A message that produces panic and worry should be questioned. True prophets are used to convict and warn, but the fruit is repentance, not anxiety about the future.

24 February 2009

Lenten Perseverance

You who fear the Lord, wait for His mercy;
and turn not aside, lest you fall.

You who fear the Lord, trust in Him,

and your reward will not fail;

you who fear the Lord, hope for good things,
for everlasting joy and mercy.

Consider the ancient generations and see:
who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame?

Or who ever persevered in the fear of the Lord
and was forsaken?
Or who ever called upon Him and was overlooked?

For the Lord is compassionate and merciful;

He forgives sins and saves in time of affliction.
~Sirach 2:7-11

Today's first reading from Sirach was exactly what I needed to catapult me into Lent. Yesterday I drove back to Michigan from my month stay in Tennessee. At 3pm I prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet and spent the hour in mediation and contemplation. The presence of God was so strong and I knew everything would be alright.

I felt the Lord telling me to focus on mercy during Lent. Both receiving and giving.

Mercy is more than just forgiveness or clemency. Mercy reaches out to want, misery, or suffering. The Incarnation of Christ, every miracle he performed, and the crucifixion. are all expressions of Divine Mercy. The Psalms say His mercy endures forever.

"Miserere" is the Latin word for mercy. "Misericordia", means "heart of mercy" and is usually translated as compassion (For instance: Salve Regina, mater misericordiae). At every Mass we pray Kyrie Eleison (in Greek) or "Lord, have mercy". It is both something God does and something He IS. Through the Holy Spirit God's merciful love pours into our hearts the power to grow in faith, hope, and love, and to serve Him with joy.

What is human mercy? St. Thomas Aquinas defined mercy in general as "the compassion in our hearts for another person's misery, a compassion which drives us to do what we can to help him." Our sensitivity to others should result in action.

What does Sirach say? Wait for His mercy. And what should we do while waiting? Don't get distracted and turn away, trust in Him, hope for good things. Then Sirach reminds us of God's reputation for mercy: consider the ancient generations and see.

What conclusion can we draw? For the Lord is compassionate and merciful; He forgives sins and saves in time of affliction.

Who ever persevered in the fear of the Lord and was forsaken? This is an important reminder as we start the Lenten journey. It should be a time of heroic virtue and growth. A time to conquer passions and uproot habitual sins. Persevere on the Lenten path and your reward will not fail.

22 February 2009

Forgiveness Sunday

The first time I set foot in an Orthodox church was on Cheesefare Sunday. I was overwhelmed by the incense, icons, chanting, and vestments. The standing up and sitting down, and the occasional foreign tongue was challenging to follow. The priest mentioned something about Lent starting and invited everyone to come to Forgiveness Vespers that evening.

Evening came and I decided to go. Vespers was interesting, but then came the Rite of Forgiveness. One by one people came forward, made a bow and said "forgive me" to which the other person replied "God forgives". I thought to myself, "If only more churches did this. Maybe there would be fewer factions and splits."

Of course, going through a forgiveness ritual and actually living a forgiveness lifestyle are two different things. Year after year our parish celebrated the Rite of Forgiveness. Year after year the community was plagued with factions, politics, and blatant un-forgiveness. Lips that once kissed each cheek in forgiveness, soon turned to gossip.

Tonight the Byzantine Catholic mission I attend is having Forgiveness Vespers. And we will have the Rite of Forgiveness. If you don't have the blessing of attending the service, at least start out the Lenten season by asking those around you for forgiveness--start with your family, then work your way out from there.

Kontakion for Cheesefare, Tone 6

The complete Forgiveness Vespers service book from the Metropolitan Cantor's Institute is available HERE

20 February 2009

Jesus Encounters of the Gospel Kind

I've been studying the Gospel of Mark with some friends. In the first two chapters we met several people: John the Baptist, Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, a man with an unclean spirit, Simon's mother-in-law, a leper, a paralytic with some dedicated friends, scribes, Pharisees, Levi the tax collector and a dinner party full of sinners.

While reading a book called "Abba's Child" by Brennan Manning I came across something that caused me to read their stories in a deeper way:

"Jesus discloses God's true feelings toward us. As we turn the pages of the gospels, we discover the people Jesus encounters there are you and me. The understanding and compassion He offers them, He also offers you and me."

I am each of those characters. He calls me to follow Him. He wants to deliver me from bondage, from sickness, from paralysis. He wants to be with me even if I am a social outcast. Am I the voice crying out in the desert, or the self-righteous Pharisee? I can think of times where I've been both.

We should let the Lord love us and heal us.

19 February 2009

The Vocation of Being Yourself

Poet Wendell Berry wrote in his essay God and Country that using the term "full-time Christian service" turns the devoted life into a religious specialty or career. It removes the possibility of devotion from other callings. If the priest or preacher is a "full-time Christian servant", then the farmer can merely serve God in his spare time.

The work of Christ on earth is not just for the professionals. At several points in my life I was in full-time "career" ministry. Now that I am a "civilian" it's easy to discount what I am doing for the Kingdom. Would my service mean more if I wore a collar or a cassock? Of course not. My daily social contacts provide opportunities to minister to others. A parent, a good neighbor, a caring friend: all of these are vocations.

The fathers at Vatican II reminded the ordinary Christian of this. In Apostolicam Actuositatem they explained, "the laity likewise share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ and therefore have their own share in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world." Here are some other declarations from this document:

"Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ."

"On all Christians therefore is laid the preeminent responsibility of working to make the divine message of salvation known and accepted by all men throughout the world."

"They should not cease to develop earnestly the qualities and talents bestowed on them in accord with these conditions of life, and they should make use of the gifts which they have received from the Holy Spirit."

When you wake up in the morning, ask the Lord to show you ways to bless those around you. Seek the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the building up of the Church. Be the fragrance of Christ in a dying world.

18 February 2009

The Eyes

The mysteries concealed in ordinary realities are often revealed most fully to the eye that observes rather than to the hand that seizes and holds.

Reality can be luminous and radiant with inner meaning for eyes that are content to observe with gentleness and respect.

~Charles Cummings, OCSO
The Mystery of the Ordinary

17 February 2009


I wondered why my allergies began to act up. Then I noticed that something finished off my bag of nuts. Then I saw the little droppings. Eek! A mouse!

So I bought some mouse traps and baited them with peanut butter. One behind the refrigerator and one under the stove.

I came back an hour later and Ralph managed to get the bait without activating the trap behind the fridge. Clever rascal. So I baited it again. An hour later, same story. I didn't bother to bait it again.

The next morning I woke up and found Ralph with his neck snapped in the trap under the stove.

Why would I bring up the murder of one of God's creatures? Because he made me think about temptation and compromise.

The first time you "take the bait" and seem to get away with it you feel lucky. The next time you're bolder in your action--no consequences again. But eventually, SNAP! You're trapped.

Lent is the perfect time to conquer your passions. To stop taking the bait from the traps in your life. The goodies are there, but you can resist them. That's what the prayer component of Lent is for.

16 February 2009

The Physician

"Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." (Mark 2:17a)

"Those who are well" is one word in Greek: ἰσχύω (ē-skhü'-ō). It means those of sound health but is also used to mean strong or powerful. "Sick" is the Greek word κακῶς (kä-kō's), meaning ill or diseased, but also miserable. As with any language words have literal and figurative meaning.

Who did Jesus say this to? The scribes and Pharisees. They had power and considered themselves strong in the faith because they were strict observers of the Law. So did they need Jesus too? Of course they did.

I always looked at this verse to mean that broken people need Jesus the most of all. Well, that is true, but I also see another meaning here. They "have no need" for healing, not in the sense that they don't require it, but that they don't see any use for it.

The Pharisees considered their works enough, so a savior wasn't necessary. Pride blinded them to the sickness of sin within them. The addiction to control and order made change seem unnecessary, even threatening. The towers they built to protect themselves from the unclean became prisons that kept them from true healing.

How often do we reach a level of devotion and religiosity and feel like we've "arrived"? We are whole and can cruise through the rest of our lives saying the Rosary, going to Sunday Mass, and even popping by the Adoration chapel now and then. Wrong. Refusal to keep growing leads to decay, like a body that breaks down due to inaction.

It is vulnerability that brings liberation from this prison. Grace comes crashing through and our wounds are exposed. We realize that we are broken and in need of healing. Then our acts of devotion become part of our healing. Then the Sacraments become medicine to our souls. The Church becomes a spiritual hospital.

If we recognize our sinfulness, admit our frailty, and face our wounds then salvation makes sense. We will hear the Lord calling for us to follow Him. We will leave everything to sit at His table.

Originally posted to a private Bible Study group I am involved with.

15 February 2009

The Return of Christ (Meatfare)

Today is Eastern Catholic "Mardi Gras": Meatfare Sunday. The last day to eat meat before the beginning of Lent. Dairy and oil can still be used until next Sunday when Lent gets into full swing.

In the Lenten Triodion, today looks forward to the Last Judgement. If you follow the daily readings of the eastern typicon you would have noticed many references to Christ's return recently.

Our Gospel reading for today comes from Matthew 25:31-46. In it Jesus describes the Last Judgement in vivid detail. The Kontakion for the day echoes this and pleads, "deliver me then from the unquenchable fire and make me worthy to stand at Your right hand, O most Righteous Judge."

I find it interesting that the Epistle reading, 1 Corinthians 8:8-9:2, doesn't talk about the coming of Christ, but rather instructs us about the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. "If food is the cause of my brother's falling, I will never eat meat..." and "Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do."

Fasting is not some way of punishing ourselves to please a cosmic sadist. Rather it is a discipline, done for reasons such as charity, propriety, or gaining mastery over your passions. Fasting for the wrong reasons is worse than not fasting it all.

It is easy for Eastern Catholics and Orthodox to get prideful about the austerity of our fasting compared to that of our Western brothers. Let us fast for the right reasons and combine it with increased prayer and alms-giving.

14 February 2009

St. Valentine's Day Reminder

"Saint Valentine passed a note to his jailer's daughter, whose sight he is thought to have cured," says Clare Ward, spokeswoman for the Catholic Enquiry Office, the official body providing information on Catholic life in England, "The note had no romantic content, but it's from this story that the tradition of sending notes of appreciation has come from.

"If tomorrow you are still looking for your soul mate, the actual patron saint is St Raphael. He's the person you should dedicate your day or pray to if you are looking for Mr or Mrs right."

St Raphael, helped Tobias enter into marriage with Sarah, who had seen seven previous bridegrooms perish on the eve of their weddings. It is he within the canon of Catholic saints who is properly associated with helping to forge partnerships.

The entire BBC article can be found HERE

13 February 2009

Dragon Slayers Welcome

Today I went for a drive with my parents on a stretch of road called "The Tail of the Dragon". It's very popular with motorcycle riders who challenge themselves on the 300+ curves that wind along an 11 mile stretch of US-129 in Tennessee.

I don't know if Fr. Ed Fride, the Harley ridin' priest of Christ the King in Ann Arbor, has ever been on it. I could see him with an icon of St. George on the back of his leather jacket!

While musing about the construction of the road I realized that some obstacles had to be avoided, while others they blasted through. Overall, though, the builders followed the terrain to create a way through the mountains.

The road is so analogous to my life right now. There are twists and turns, surprises around the corner. Hardly anywhere to turn off. Plenty of beautiful scenery. Some curves require slowing down.

This is the route God is taking me. I can be fearful and ride the brakes, put the top down to enjoy the sunshine and the scenery, or feel the rush as I lean into the curves. I think I'll just let Him drive while I enjoy the ride.

12 February 2009

Christian Sympathy

In the last year, God showed me the healing power of vulnerability. By being honest about my dark feelings, my brokenness, my pain, He used others to help me recover from some deep wounds. In the process, those I've been open to have also found comfort, knowing that they are not the only ones who struggle, doubt, and hurt. Honesty builds community and draws Christians closer together.

Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, when he was still an Anglican priest, delivered a homily titled "Christian Sympathy" at the Feast of the Nativity. In it, he explained that hiding our wounds makes our religious beliefs unreal. That fear of facing our shadows results in shallowness. And that just as our Lord lowered Himself to embrace the woundedness of humanity, we too must lower our defenses to each other.

Here are some excerpts from his sermon:

Christians can sympathise with each other, even as by the power of Christ sympathising in and with each of them.

I consider that Christians, certainly those who are in the same outward circumstances, are very much more like each other in their temptations, inward diseases, and methods of cure, than they at all imagine. Persons think themselves isolated in the world; they think no one ever felt as they feel. They do not dare to expose their feelings, lest they should find that no one understands them.

Christians, though they really differ much, yet as regards the power of sympathising with each other will be found to be on a level. The one is not too high or the other too low. They have common ground; and as they have one faith and hope, and one Spirit, so also they have one and the same circle of temptations, and one and the same confession.

Perhaps the reason why the standard of holiness among us is so low, why our attainments are so poor, our view of the truth so dim, our belief so unreal, our general notions so artificial and external is this, that we dare not trust each other with the secret of our hearts. We have each the same secret, and we keep it to ourselves, and we fear that, as a cause of estrangement, which really would be a bond of union. We do not probe the wounds of our nature thoroughly; we do not lay the foundation of our religious profession in the ground of our inner man; we make clean the outside of things; we are amiable and friendly to each other in words and deeds, but our love is not enlarged, our bowels of affection are straitened, and we fear to let the intercourse begin at the root; and, in consequence, our religion, viewed as a social system, is hollow. The presence of Christ is not in it.

11 February 2009

Notre Dame de Lourdes

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, celebrating the first appearance of the Blessed Virgin to St. Bernadette in 1858.

To you, our Champion Leader and Mother of Christ our God, do we, your children, sing a hymn of praise and thanksgiving for your appearance and miracles that you continue to send down on us as showers of Divine Grace at Lourdes. As through the waters of Baptism we were made new in Christ, so through the waters that gushed forth from the grotto of your appearance we are enlivened by the Grace of God, as we sing:

Rejoice, O Radiant Fountain All Immaculate, bedewing our souls with Life-giving Springs!

~First Kontakion from the Akathist to Our Lady of Lourdes by Dr. Alexander Roman.

St. Bernadette was disappointed with the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes when it was finished. It was taller and older than the apparition she saw. When Bernadette visited the shrine of Our Lady of Grace in northern France and saw the icon venerated there she exclaimed, "That is how Our Lady appeared to me! Exactly like that!"

So, the Mother of God at Lourdes resembled the Theotokos as depicted on Eastern icons. That explains why you will often see pilgrims to Lourdes carrying the Byzantine icon of Our Lady of Grace in procession.

08 February 2009

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

As we move closer to Great Lent, this Sunday in the Eastern Rite reminds us of the Prodigal Son.

Heavenly Father, and God of truth, Who sent Your beloved Son to seek the sheep that was lost, I have sinned against heaven and in Your sight, recieve me back like the prodigal son, and put on me the first robe of innocence which I lost by sin. And have mercy on me a great sinner. Amen.

**According to the Eastern custom this is the last week that meat is allowed on non-fasting days. Next Sunday is the Sunday of the Last Judgment, also known as Meatfare Sunday. It will be the last day that meat can be eaten prior to the fast of Great Lent.

06 February 2009

Embracing Simplicity

Keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have; for He has said "I will never fail you nor forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)

Being content with what you have can be a difficult thing to accomplish. Even those with abundance can lack contentment, especially if their identity depends on their material possessions. Right now I'm on the other end--I have just enough to survive and am learning to do what I can with what I have.

Having a tight budget makes me think twice before I buy something. It makes me more conscious of what food I get at the grocery store. It narrows the perception of needs and wants. But I am learning contentment.

Embracing simplicity is the best course of action during these challenging times. But I'm not just referring to limiting material possessions. To simplify means to cut away the excess and find the essentials. To rise above the noise and the clutter; to embrace what is pure.

Giving up all material possessions and living off the land will not necessarily simplify life. It could complicate things. What I'm recommending is a change in attitude and action. Encounter life more directly, immediately, and first-hand. If you are directly in touch with life, you will discover how little you actually need.

As you come to appreciate the wonders in the world that God made and the people He put in your life, you will discover that luxuries don't truly enhance your life, but can also complicate it. Wouldn't you rather have a life that is clearer, more direct, less pretentious, and less complicated?

Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Simplification helps remove anxiety. I've found that I pray less and less for things and more for people and situations. In other words, my spiritual life is less cluttered. I spend more time thanking God for simple things like beautiful sunsets and new friends.

But I say, walk in the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)

Our Lord admonished us to deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow Him. When the clutter and distractions are removed you will see what that cross is: the mission that only you can accomplish. Once we turn off the noise, we can hear that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit speak to us.

04 February 2009

Found at Peace

Are you zealous to be found by Christ to be without spot or blemish and at peace? St. Peter said that as we wait for the return of Christ and the final judgement of the world this should be our attitude (2 Peter 3).

Do you endure trials as "discipline" from the Lord? Strive for peace and holiness as the writer of Hebrews directs (12:11-15).

Peace. That word has been warped and twisted and hits our ears with so much baggage. But it is what we must strive for. Peace with others, peace with God, and peace with ourselves.

In both of these passages peace is joined to holiness. It takes effort to be holy, but the fruit of holiness is peace. In Monday's feast of the Presentation we heard the elder Symeon declare, "Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace... for my eyes have seen Your salvation..."

If Christ came riding on the clouds in judgement today, would you be at peace? Would you stand and cheer or hide from His wrath?

Even in the middle of the world's turmoil we can be peacemakers. Surrounded by sickness we can be healers. Amid disaster we can bring relief. But the key is active holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.

"Last Judgement" by Kandinsky

02 February 2009

Candlemass / Jesus Presented in the Temple

Receive, O Simeon, Him whom Moses once beheld in darkness granting the Law on Sinai, and who has now become a babe subject to the Law. This is He who spoke through the Law: this is He whose voice was heard in the prophets, who for our sakes has taken flesh and has saved man. Let us worship Him.

Come, and with divine songs let us go to meet Christ and let us receive Him whose salvation Simeon saw. This is He whom David announced: this is He whose words the prophets uttered, who for our sakes has taken flesh and speaks to us in the Law. Let us worship Him.

~Vesper Stichera by Patriarch Germanos (Eastern Rite)

Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine,
secundum verbum tuum in pace:
Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum
Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum:
Lumen ad revelationem gentium,
et gloriam plebis tuae Israel.

(Luke 2:29–32)

01 February 2009

February Arrives

February is dedicated to the Holy Trinity

TE DEUM, Patrem ingenitum, te Filium unigenitum, te Spiritum Sanctum Paraclitum, sanctam et individuam Trinitatem, toto corde et ore confitemur, laudamus, atque benedicimus: tibi gloria in saecula.

O GOD, unbegotten Father, only-begotten Son, Holy Spirit and Comforter, holy and undivided Trinity, with our whole heart and lips we confess Thee, we praise Thee, and we bless Thee. To Thee be glory forever.

The Holy Father's Prayer Intentions for this month are:

Church Pastors -- That the Church's pastors may be ever more docile to the action of the Holy Spirit as they teach and serve the people of God.

Peace in Africa -- Guided by the 2nd Special Assembly of the African Synod of Bishops, may the local Church find effective ways to promote reconciliation, justice, and peace.

Some feast days include:

The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple (Feb 2)
St. Agatha (Feb. 5)
St. Scholastica (Feb 10)
Our Lady of Lourdes (Feb 11)
Sts. Cyril & Methodius (Feb 14)
St. Leo the Great (Feb 18)
St. Polycarp (Feb 23)

**Lent Begins this month! For Eastern Catholics it starts on Feb 23 while on the Western calendar Ash Wednesday is Feb 25. Keep it a time of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving as we prepare for the glorious feast of Christ's Resurrection.