Today's Wisdom

When we meet a person truly in need, do we see the face of God?
Pope Francis

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Hero Saint George

Saint George is a great hero whose feast "St. George's Day" is April 23. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Saints, George suffered at Lydda in Palestine and died a martyr for Christ around 303 AD where his tomb was shown. Some historians believe that George was born to a Christian officer who was a friend of Diocletian the Roman Emperor. When Diocletian turned against Christians and started his persecution, George was one of the Christian soldiers who refused to worship the Roman god but because of his father's friendship with Diocletian, George was given a second chance to convert to the Pagan Roman religion. As George insisted on worshiping Christ, he was decapitated, suffered, and ended a martyr. St. George's cult is both ancient and widespread with feasts in the East where he was called 'megalomartyros' and in the West where he occurs in the Martyrology of Jerome and the Gregorian Sacramentary. Churches were dedicated to him in Jerusalem and Antioch in the 6th century and from early times invoked as a patron of the Byzantine armies. Britannica Encyclopedia, which is not religious, has an article about St. George where it is written "George was known in England by at least the 8th century. Returning crusades likely popularized his cult (he was said to have been helping the Franks at the Battle of Antioch in 1098)" [Cf. George, Saint. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved April 21, 2017, from Encyclopaedia Britannica 2006 Ultimate]. Other online sources abound with information about Saint George. Read it for example here. In Renaissance, artistic works flourished around building and renovating churches - One legend shows St. George, a knight on his white horse, defending the Church against Satan.The popularity of St. George continues to amaze people of every faith. Muslims venerate him under the name Al-Khidr. Churches, States and cities have been named after him in many places from the Republic of Georgia in the East to the State of Georgia in America. St. George is highly venerated in Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Greece, Italy, France, England, and others. In Egypt alone, there are more Churches dedicated to St. George than any other saint except the Blessed Virgin Mary. In a few of old churches such as "Mar Guirguis" Coptic Orthodox Church in Old Cairo, people attend a retreat on St. George's Day where it is believed that St. George comes at night and heals persons afflicted with Satanic possessions.

For me, St. George's intercession sought by my mother - of venerable memory - is, at least partially, the reason why she conceived, and gave birth to, me. Our grandmother, my mother's mother, told us the story: My mother was having her first pregnancy. Scared that it was hard she implored Saint George and made a vow that her first son will be called George. On the other hand my pious dad - of venerable memory - so much loved his mother and father that he wanted to name his first son by the name of his dad 'Shaker'. God, in his abundant love to both, created two persons or a twin in the same womb. But wait! On delivery my mother was so tired that my dad had to call the doctors home. At home Dr. Zakhary performed a cesarean surgery and started to close the womb. This is when his assistant Dr. Leon told him that he sees somebody else in the corner. At this point I was delivered to my beloved mom. And from there started another big responsibility for the parents of both Shaker and George who called me joujou - the nickname in Lebanon for George!

Today some young friends joke with me so I tell them: You must first call me joujou!!!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ibrahim El-Haddad: Light from the Depth of Death !

Note: Words in blue color are useful links for background.

I have accumulated so much in the past week of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ...On Holy Thursday at Holy Rosary Roman Catholic parish in Toronto, Msgr. Robert Nusca, gave a homily on Christ's serving his Apostles, washing their feet, and exhorting them to serve each other as he, the Master, bowed to serve them - because "he loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end" (John 13;1). Msgr. Nusca emphasized how important it is for us today to serve the needy and pointed to the programs that the parish runs including "Out of the Cold" and helping St. Vincent de Paul Society as well as other social programs for the lonely and elderly people.

On Good Friday at the Byzantine Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Toronto, I prayed with the Melkite Catholic parishioners of Jesus the King and others as the distinguished  Homsy Choir sang the hymns of the burial of the Crucified Jesus Christ in anticipation of his Resurrection, Echoing earlier words of the Holy Father Francis, Fr. Ibrahim El-Haddad reminded the congregation of Jesus' saying (John 12: 24) that if a grain of wheat dies in the depth of the earth, it produces much fruit. The death of Jesus was necessary to release the Church to all nations and restore heaven to all of them. The victorious Christ is the light from the darkness that enlightens all nations...

Fr. Georges Farah (with a doctorate in philosophy and another in theology from the renowned Sorbonne) shared with me an article by Robert Kennedy Jr. in which he shows that the leading nations of the U.N. and regional powers are fighting against or with ISIS for control of oil resources and pipelines in the Middle East (see it here). If every one of the above nations fights militarily for its own prosperity at the expense of other people, there will be a huge price paid by humanity. And I remembered the homily of Palm Sunday by Msgr. Samuel Bianco (here). The leaders of the U.N. may be hiding things or manipulating other nations. The independence of each nation is good as long as it does not infringe on other nations rights to survive and flourish. But the latest news that we hear involve military confrontations and/or economic sanctions from/against America, Russia, China, European countries, and North Korea...The human globe continues to live in suspense...

In spite of the above,  I remembered that the Gospel reading started with the Word "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1: 1). Professor Msgr. Paul Feghali interpreted it as the cornerstone of Christian  faith. It is great that the Fathers of the Church chose it for the Resurrection since this elevates it to the highest veneration.

And two homilies give me hope: In the mid-night Mass of Easter at the Cathedral of the Transfiguration, Fr. Ibrahim El-Haddad showed us that true joy is not in the food and gifts that we prepare for feasting, but is in the risen Christ who brings us eternal life in heaven. What is the value of freedom if at the end we are dead? he questioned. And answered "When Christ is revealed - and he is your life - you too will be revealed in your glory with him" (Colossians 3:4) and again "For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from, heaven comes the Saviour we are awaiting for; the Lord Jesus Christ; and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body" (Philippians3:20-21).

And in Alexandria, Egypt, the Jesuit scholar Fr. Henri Boulad went further in his homily on Easter Sunday (see it here in French). Each of us creatures has life but Jesus IS LIFE - Life of everything living in the cosmos since he is the origin. Then when he died and crossed death he resurrected to eternal life! What do I benefit from his Resurrection? Christ opens eternal life to us. He had to die like the little grain that dies deep in the ground to be fruitful in order to open life for those who seek it. The word "Pasche" means "passage". God saved Moses and his people when they crossed the Red Sea symbol of death to the Promised Land. Jesus saves us when he leads us to eternal life. Christ has risen from the dead and by his death he has trampled upon death and has given life to those who were in the tombs (Byzantine chant)! In Teilhard de Chardin, the risen Christ is the Cosmic Christ. The whole cosmos is restored to the Father in the risen Christ. Christ is victorious because love - his love - must be victorious!

And above all, the Christian East and the Christian West celebrated the Resurrection of Christ together in 2017. We hope this is a new step in the ecumenical dialogue for Christians to be one in one universal Church!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

How Large is the Mercy of God ?

On Palm Sunday April 9, at the 9:30 am Mass in Holy Rosary I listened to Msgr. Samuel Bianco's homily on the betrayal of Christ by Judas Iscariot - (Msgr. Bianco was the Rector of St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica downtown Toronto for many years).  In the Roman Catholic calendar, the Last Supper and Judas' betrayal to the crucifixion of Christ are read in the Palm Sunday Mass. See Matthew 26:14-75 (http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/bible/matthew/26:14).

Who betrayed the Lord ? In Msgr. Bianco's homily, humanity betrayed the Lord throughout history from Adam and Eve to the latest born child. Yet, God in his outpouring love, a Father, could not leave humans excluded from him in the darkness of evil. Was it not enough that the Lord God took on human body, shared the misery of humanity and was after all crucified by his people as a criminal in order to save us ? The betrayal of the Lord took place in the same day of Palm Sunday when two Coptic Orthodox parishes in Egypt were set on fire by evil acts  which resulted in over a 100 injured persons and some 40 persons killed. They were Christians celebrating Palm Sunday Mass in the parishes.

Today, Msgr. Bianco said, leaders of members in the United Nations know what evil betrays the men of their countries. Yet they are silent or encouraging radical extremism. Confusion reigns over citizens of the globe. Lethal weapons are being developed with no mercy for the poor who are struggling to earn their daily bread...How did society become a desert of selfish strangers? In spite of all the horrors where we betray God, he continues to love his children - all of them.

Msgr. Bianco continues: When Pope Benedict was asked how we know sinners are in hell, the pope answered that the Church in her long history has recognized thousands of saints in heaven but has not officially declared anyone in hell. God only knows our fragile weakness.

In commenting on the Parable of the Lost Son, Fr. Georges Farah had said that the father was looking for his son since he left home to a far country. When he saw his son, he ran in his old age and forgot his dignity to kiss him "for he was lost and has been found"(Luke 15:32). Jesus teaches us about the merciful Father in heaven.

So how large is the mercy of God? Msgr. Bianco says "Look at the horizon of the sea. Can you can see the end ? The mercy of God is greater than we can imagine."

Friday, April 7, 2017

Not Death but Life

In spite of the terror over Syria by the powerful military exercises of the American forces and the Russian forces, we have hope in God that with his inspiration wisdom will prevail.

In the past few days and weeks I witnessed God's work in a few persons that I know. One dear friend, a doctor in Cairo, watched her Mami or mom in pain and nearing death. Her mother was a friend of mine since both were young in Egypt. She is Catholic so I advised her to call a Catholic priest in order to give her mom the Sacrament for the sick. Regardless of the advances in medicine, people still die. Every Catholic Christian (and for that matter, any Orthodox Christian by his priest) is advised to receive the Sacrament for the sick if he/she is in danger or is about to undergo a serious surgery. The practice is based on the Epistle of James Chapter 5, verses 14 and 15 (here). After receiving the Sacrament, her mom departed to God in peace and her daughter informed us. We continue to be close friends "I will never forsake you nor abandon you" (Hebrews 13: 5f).

This past week, I witnessed a homily on happiness or joy summarized in Christ's Beatitudes and found at the beginning of Chapter 5 of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. The homily was given in Arabic by the Biblical scholar Msgr. Paul Feghali, Friday March 31 (See my reflection on it here and here in English). I also witnessed acts of love that lead to heaven on Saturday April 1 and Sunday April 2 and would like to share a 4th personal event that made me happy. It was as if what Msgr. Feghali taught on Friday at the Byzantine Cathedral of the Transfiguration materialized in the next few days!!!

On Saturday April 1, the mother of a close friend at Jesus the King Melkite Catholic parish was prayed over after she had departed to God. Her daughter and grand-daughters visibly exhausted by the pain of separation still found a space to smile which is rare today. The funeral service was conducted by Fr. Ibrahim El-Haddad and his Assistant Pastors Fr. Michel Chalhoub and Fr. Youhanna Hanna. Hymns were sung by the Homsy choir, thus reflecting the polyphony they excel at. But the main surprise was the place where the funeral took place. The mother had lived most of her life in Egypt and served as a teacher to many Egyptian students. Her daughter too educated in Egypt has a Coptic Orthodox dad who had departed to God years earlier. Upon inquiry by friends, Coptic Orthodox Fr. Pishoy Salama opened St. Maurice and St. Verena parish for the Melkite Catholic priests and faithful to pray the funeral services. At the end I thanked Fr. Pishoy for his fraternal and ecumenical initiative emphasizing the Church built on the Apostles. He answered "We are one (in Christ)". His answer is typical of what the Catholic Church recognized too since Pope St. John XXIII initiated the Second Vatican Council which produced Nostra AetateThe suffering endured in recent years by the mother and her only daughter as well as her family has become a crown in selfless love. And selfless love is the way to real glory in heaven. How has the daughter with the help of her husband been able to raise three kids and care for her ailing mother? Managing the family became possible after she earned the title of a Professional Pharmacist; a field in which she has many years of experience and knowledge. With the money raised from their work, the family bought a pharmacy. Hard work helps us survive, but it is God's Spirit who works in the heart that moves us to repent and help his Church from the heart.

On Sunday April 2, we attended the 9:30 AM Mass at Holy Rosary Roman Catholic parish. In the Mass Professor Msgr. Robert Nusca gave the First Communion or the Eucharist to children prepared through catechism. And Msgr. Nusca praised a lady who ran the catechism classes for the kids. She  is on the Parish Council but works much more for the Church although as a Professional Lawyer and a Partner in a large law firm, she is quite busy all week. He also clapped with the rest of the attendees when near the end, the children sang as hymn in honor of Jesus whom they received. When I congratulated her for the achievement, she denied her role and thanked the parents who brought their kids to the catechism classes. Yes, they deserve to be congratulated but this lawyer went out of her way to teach others as well as coordinating conferences in the parish. Congratulations to Christians for this lady and the parents.

I left the last event to the end - On Monday April 3, I was seen by my family doctor who happens to be a Catholic missionary. I did not think he will approve of what I suggested, but he did approve of every medication that was withdrawn when I was hospitalized to be continued. This was for me a great day. Thanks be to God...

More on The Word

In addition to what was written here, Professor Msgr. Paul Feghali spoke too about Christ's warnings in the Sermon on doing good in order to be seen and gives three examples (found in Matthew Chapter 6 ): Almsgiving, Prayer, and Fasting...

However, says Msgr. Feghali, the overarching principle found also in the Sermon is that God is our Father. Judaism influenced by other religions looked to God in a slave-morality. In the Roman empire as much as in others, slaves were bought and sold. The Jews experienced slavery in Egypt until their liberation by Moses who introduced the Law made perfect by Christ. Moses himself could not see God in the bush. Yet in Christ we see God. Christ said to his disciples "I no longer call you slaves because a slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends because I have told you everything that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15: 15). The only prayer that Christ taught his disciples starts with "Our Father" (See Matthew Chapter 6 ). If God is a Father then as children of God, we can ask him anything. In her prayer as a child to the Father, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus asked for everything. And before her death she promised that she will send a shower of flowers/favors from heaven our way.

On fasting, Msgr. Feghali spoke about Jesus' description of the heart and eye. "The heart is the center of life - The Greek's philosophy used the mind but in the East we use the heart" he said "because from the heart come the good and bad utterances about others".  When Jesus spoke about light he identified the eye: "The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be." (Matthew 6: 22-23) Here Msgr.  Feghali connects the light to Christ's Sermon and exhorts the Christian faithful to become what Christ says "You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden...Just so your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father" (Matthew 5: 14-16). Note here again the emphasis on God as Father!

In the Sermon too Christ goes beyond the neighbor and calls on all to "love your enemies". He contrasts the Law with his new Law: "You have heard that it was said 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5: 43-44). As a Jew he himself went to his traditional enemy when he entered Sikhar of Samaria and talked with the Samaritan woman. He also healed the daughter of the Canaanite woman when she asked him although the Canaanites worship Baal (pagan idol) and, on the cross, forgave the people who crucified him to death, and justified his followers by his Resurrection from the dead. You may wish to re-read the entire Sermon. In the end of Chapter 5, he sums it up "So be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5: 48).

Amazingly, Matthew inspired by the holy Spirit writes at the end of the Sermon in Chapter 7 "When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes."


Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)







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