Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Friday, June 6, 2008

Relationship of Christians and Muslims

The New Testament 1. From Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: "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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 43-48) 2. Jesus to the disciples: "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) 3. St. Paul to the Romans: “If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18) The Ecumenical Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) DECLARATION ON THE RELATION OF THE CHURCH TO NON-CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS 3. The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5) who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom. Catechism of the Catholic Church 841 The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."

Arab Christianity – A Brief History

Arab Christianity already existed centuries before the appearance of Islam. With the Muslim invasion of Middle Eastern countries, the invaders changed the culture of the local people and imposed Islamic legal system (Sharia) on the local inhabitants. Christians and Jews were considered Zhimmis (Ahl Alzemma), i.e. second class citizen required to pay a poll tax if they did not want to convert to Islam or be killed. This is the covenant of Omar under which they are protected. The development of the Sharia over time did not allow Christians to have a say in the court neither were they allowed equal rights in worship. A limitation of Christian worship places was also in effect – no new churches could be built without the governor’s or Sultan’s approval. However, persecution of Christians was limited and intermittent compared to that of European Christians against Jews in the Middle Ages.
In modern times, European colonialists reformed the education and legal systems in the Middle East. Muslim reformers started to appear in the 19th century but also did Muslim extremists in Arabia and Egypt of the 20th century. The Muslim Brotherhood founded in 1928 gained wide support in the 2nd half of the 20th century and soon Islamic fundamentalist movements in almost all Arab countries appeared under their influence. From 1979 a Shia Islamic revolution in Iran exported their ideas to many Islamic movements all over the world. The so-called Terrorist organizations operate in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. Their objective is to regain control of their lands from Non-Arab/Non-Muslim or “pseudo-Muslim” rule.

1. At Pentecost: Acts 2:11 - Arabs are in the list of people who became Christian.
2. Paul refers to his visit to Arabia in his letter to Galatians
3. Eusabius in 3rd century mentions Arab bishop of Hauran
4. By 4th century Christians are in South Arabian coast and Eastern region of Arabia
5. In 5th century 20 Episcopal Sees are found in Roman province of Arabia
6. Christian Arab tribes : Ghassanids in north Arabia (Monophysites) Lakhmids at Hira - Iraq (Assyrians)
7. 4th and 5th century doctrinal disputes include a heresy that the deity is a triad not a trinity in one God –Mohammed criticizes this heresy in the Qura'n
8. At the same time political imperialism of Byzantium governs the Middle East.
9. 5th-6th century Arab Christians use Greek, Syriac and influence Islamic text - most Arab Christians express faith orally - not in Arabic language
10. Mohammed in Kaaba covers a picture of Mary and Christ.
11. When Islamic forces invade Syria, Palestine and Egypt, the local people welcome them for 2 reasons:
 i. Consider them as a heretical Christian group
 ii. Get rid of the imperialist Byzantium
12. Islam considered people of the Book to be Dhimmis : pay poll tax and keep low social profile according to the covenant of Omar with Christians
13. 8th century: Ommayad Khaliph Abdel Malik starts islamization and arabization of invaded territories.
14. 8th century on: Apologetics are written in Arabic by Christian theologians (e.g. St. John of Damascus, Jacobites and Nestorians)
15. Under Islamic government, Christians are tolerated and still majority until the 9th century
16. By 10th century Coptic is gradually replaced with Arabic in liturgy of Coptic Church.
17. In 1054, the Great Schism between the Western and Eastern Churches (Catholic vs. Orthodox) – Two later Ecumenical Councils in Lyons (1274) and Florence (1439) attempt Christian unity but it does not last. 18. 11th-12 century Intermittent persecution of Arab Christians by Fatimide Muslim Khaliphs (e.g. Alhakim Bi Amr Allah)
19. 12th-13 century: Crusaders start with good intention to liberate Holy Land from Muslim control but end up with bloody battles with both Muslims and local Christians of the Holy Land. The 4th crusade diverts to Constantinople and sacks it.
20. Meanwhile, the Apostolic See of Antioch seeks moderation and cooperation with the Latins (Rome) thus preserving its Orthodox communion and inclination to Catholic communion.
21. 1453: The Byzantine Christian empire falls to the attacking Muslim Ottomans, The Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople is given administrative power over all Christian denominations in the Middle East.
22. 17th-18th century: Latin missionaries in the Middle East convert some Christians to the Catholic communion. Melkite Church is born in1724 with a schism among the Antiochine Orthodox bishops. Other Eastern Catholic Churches are established except for the Maronites who were already in communion with Rome since the 10th century. The Chaldean Catholic Church is also established since the 16th century.
23. Since 18th century Mamluks are weakened by the French and English colonialists
24. Colonialists help Arab Christians and introduce European laws and education
25. The Wahabis Islamic movement gains control in Arabia
26. 20th century: First half: Arab Christians are leaders in nationalist movements after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Second half: Israel is established and Palestinians become refugees (1948); Islamic revival and more recently extremism. Islamic Fundamentalism especially after the Revolution in Iran (1979) has established an Islamic state. Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries control oil production since 1973. Islamic fundamentalism is exported from Iran and Arabia to the rest of the Arab world thus weakening the presence of Arab Christians. Many Christians flee the Middle East to North America and Australia
27. 21st century: 2nd Iraqi war culminates the fundamentalist movement and splits Muslims among Sunni and Shia. More persecution of Christians in Iraq.
28. Hamas Islamic movement is elected to govern Palestinians and imposes extreme Islamic rule in Palestine. Hizbollah supported by Iran reigns in Southern Lebanon and demands more control in Lebanese government with threats of uprising.
1. The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity (1998)
2. The Blackwell Companion to Eastern Christianity (2007)
3. Arab Christians, An Endangered Species, by Anglican Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, 1999 -
4. Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, Address to Pope Benedict XVI, May 8, 2008,

Has Science Discovered God?

Has Science Discovered God? 
May 2, was the Alpha and Omega lecture that the source of everything contemporary science discovered is the intelligence we call God. The lecture was a video created and published in 2004 by the Institute of Metascientific Reseasrch:
About the Video: The publisher had these words on the cover: "A half-century ago, in 1955, Professor Antony Flew set the agenda for modern atheism with his “Theology and Falsification”, a paper presented in a debate with C.S. Lewis. This work became the most widely reprinted philosophical publication of the last 50 years. Over the decades, he published more than 30 books attacking belief in God and debated a wide range of religious believers. Then, in a 2004 Summit at New York University, Professor Flew announced that the discoveries of modern science have led him to the conclusion that the universe is indeed the creation of infinite Intelligence."

It was a complex panorama of 100 years of scientific findings compressed in 50 minutes on video. The fast and often deep narration by great minds attests to the complexity of the matter. I suspect that many of the people in audience have not fully digested it yet. This was my fear which I expressed before the showing of the video. As suggested after the lecture, we will have to revisit this video and discuss it slowly in several sessions in future. Thanks to all the people who ventured to attend and reflect in the short discussion after the lecture. Let’s now plunge into the main points made. Forgive me if I insert some additional points – I have been studying the subject for many years.
First: The ascension of life The origin and timeline of creation suggested by the Big Bang theory has been clearly explained by the explorations of the Hubble telescope, the cosmic background radiation (found by Penzias & Wilson, 1965) and the explorations of COBA satellite (1990s). This timeline of the cosmos starts 13.7 billion years ago. The Big Bang was a huge explosion or rather an expansion of a tiny “singularity” according to Stephen Hawking (i.e. nothing). The cosmos expands and in the process billions of stars and galaxies are formed from the extraordinary nuclear energy present in very hot particles. The Sun is one of the stars and in 9 billion years the earth is formed and cools off within the solar system. This is the time when inanimate matter is formed (e.g. iron). Life suddenly appears at roughly 10.5 billion years starting from carbon-based matter with amino acids to cells then the formation of bacteria. This is cellular life. To-date there is no way to recreate any life from inanimate matter (Attempts by Miller in the 1960s to recreate carbon-based life failed when applied to the atmosphere of the early earth). At this level reproduction occurs by replication. The ability to move is still not there yet. This is followed by fish and other water inhabitants. Within this period, about 300 million years later, some invertebrates move to land. Plants appear on land in another 300 million years, but now dinosaurs rule the earth. At about 13.5 billion years there is a sudden appearance of animals and birds. It is believed that most phylas appeared suddenly in the Cambrian explosion, and the dinosaurs were all extinguished by a huge comet (S. J. Gould, 1970s). This phase signifies the move of intelligence from sentient beings to consciousness. We note here that reproduction is now by sexual mating. Species in this phase have the ability to move. And finally at about 13.7 billion years homosapiens (humans) appear from primates. Some high primates such as chimpanzees have the ability to think and communicate at a very rudimentary level but humans alone are distinguished by their ability to think, even abstract thinking including mathematics, listen to and compose music, appreciate beauty, and communicate at a high level using a language they understand – This is the advent of mind (What Teilhard de Chardin calls the noosphere).
Conclusions from the above scientific findings: a. There is a beginning to the existence of the universe. b. There is a gradual evolution for life to appear starting from inanimate matter to the appearance of sentients followed by the appearance of animal consciousness to finally the leap to the appearance of the mind. c. There appears to be an unknown cause or intervention in the sudden appearance of living beings at the Cambrian explosion period. d. There appears to be a guidance in evolution (i.e. it is not random but there is a plan and history has a direction). Eastern philosophy and religions argued that history is cyclical, but here science shows history has a beginning and a direction.
Recent works by biochemist Michael Behe shows there is irreducible complexity in organs of living beings and so must be the work of intelligent design beyond the creation. William Dembski argues too from information theory that specified information in living beings is evidence for intelligent design beyond the creation. This confirms the Biblical data of creation.
Second: The fine-tuning of the universe In 1986 scientists confirmed the existence of the Anthropic Principle (Barrow and Tipler). According to the Anthropic Principle, the universe is fine tuned for life to a very accurate degree. There are some 30 constants that govern the laws of physics (such as Pi, Planck’s constant…etc). If one constant is slightly changed, the universe would end or collapse. Stephen Hawking says that if the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have recollapsed before life could have formed. Freeman Dyson draws the following conclusion “I conclude from the existence of these accidents that the universe is unexpectedly hospitable place for living creatures to make their home in. Being a scientist, trained in the habits of thought and language of the twentieth century rather than the eighteenth, I do not claim that the architecture of the universe proves the existence of God. I claim only that the architecture of the universe is consistent with the hypothesis that mind plays an essential role in its functioning” (Ian Barbour, When Science Meets Religion, 2000 - See also Paul Davies, Cosmic Jackpot, 2007).
Conclusion from the above scientific finding: The fact that the very vast universe we live in is fine-tuned for life on our planet is evidence for a super mind behind it.
Third: The language puzzle In 2002-2003 an article in Times suggested that monkeys are probably able to understand and even produce work comparable to human writings. The article suggested that given enough time monkeys could even write one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. An experiment was carried out on these animals to verify this ability. A keyboard attached to a computer was left between their hands for a month. They produced over 50 pages but nothing was meaningful in their output. To type a single-letter word in English, say an “a”, you need to type “a” followed by space bar followed by another “a.” If you estimate there are 30 letters on average in the language including extra punctuations, the probability of typing the correct one-letter word is 1 out of 27,000. To try this with a word from Shakespeare’s 48 sonnet such as “Shall”, the probability becomes 1 out of 10 to the power of 680. If you count the particles in the universe (electrons, neutrons …etc) the total is 10 to the power of 80. This means that the probability of typing a word is 1 out of 10 to the power of 600. It is virtually impossible that monkeys could get it right. The evidence is clear. Meaningful words exist only in human language. The video showed examples from the earliest Indian civilizations 5,000 years ago.
Fourth: The DNA super processes The structure of the DNA molecule was discovered by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. A particular sequence of three bases within a strand of DNA corresponds to a particular amino acid. The order of the triplets of bases in the DNA determines the order in which the amino acids are assembled into the protein chains that form the cells of all living organisms. In DNA, an “alphabet” of just four “letters” (the bases) grouped in three-letter “words” (triplets, each specifying one of the amino acids), is arranged in “sentences”(specifying particular proteins). Thousands of sentences of varying length and word order can be made from the twenty basic words, so there are thousands of possible proteins. Long strands of DNA made of exactly the same four bases in various sequences, constitute the genes of all organisms, from microbes to human beings. In all organisms the same genetic code is used to translate from DNA to amino acid, which seems to indicate a common origin for all living beings. Recent techniques for comparing the molecular structure of similar proteins in various living species allow us to estimate the time since their lineages diverged. For example, the enzyme cytochrome-C in humans consists of a sequence of 104 amino acids. In the comparable sequence in monkeys only one of these amino acids is different; horses have 12 that differ and fish have 22, indicating increasingly distant kinship (Ian Barbour, When Science Meets Religion, 2000). Looking closely at it, DNA is transcribed into RNA. RNA is translated into proteins and proteins recreate themselves in a process called folding (they assemble themselves without external intervention). Every cell makes 2000 proteins every second from amino acids. Does this tell us that behind the DNA super processes, there is a super intelligence? It is this particular discovery that impressed atheist Professor Anthony Flew and made him become a theist!
Fifth: The brain-mind problem This is the subject of huge studies since the early 1980s. Some of the great philosophers of mind include John Searle. Neuroscientists attempt to explain how the mental state of consciousness is reflected in the brain processes of 100 billion neurons in every human brain. However, no single human is able to explain the “hard problem,” that is, when I see a red apple what gives it its redness in my mind? Subjective experience of the “I” can never be encapsulated in an objective formula like when science speaks about a “he.” Agnostic neuroscientist Steven Pinker agrees that the “I” does not refer to anything in the body (or the brain). One of the marvels that the video refers to is the complexity of the eye in all conscious living beings and how it is communicating information in humans.

All the above constitute a very beautiful tapestry of contemporary scientific evidence that supports the evidence of a super mind as the great physicist and atheist Fred Hoyle said. But intelligence is not, in my opinion, the most accurate description of God. The recent attempts in theoretical physics are trying hard to find a “theory of everything.” The M-string theory by Ed Witten in 1995 attempts to unify the four basic forces in the universe (electromagnetic force, strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, and gravity). The theory postulates dancing strings at the bottom of every being which remain inaccessible to any scientific experiment. It also postulates that all existing matter lives in 11 dimensions. The accomplishment of Einstein in his Relativity Theory was to show that there are not 3 but 4 dimensions to every thing in the universe including length, breadth, height, and time. Hugh Ross, with a PhD in astronomy postulates that God uses the 11th dimension. Moreover quantum physics in the 1920s showed that everything in the atomic world has two characteristics, a wave-like and a particle-like character. Since it was found, new technology made full use of it (e.g. laser and transistor, flash memory chips in USB drives).

However, the mystery that no scientist understands is called quantum entanglement at a great distance. It has been stipulated that when an electron or a photon is smashed using a particle collider, the resulting 2 particles will still communicate at a large distance from each other even though the Theory of General Relativity prohibits any speed higher than the speed of light (Cf. EPR). There seems that there is some kind of “relatedness” or communication in the microcosmic world. Does this probably tell us anything about the deepest nature of existing matter? Is it possible that God created the cosmos to reflect his inner-being as we Christians believe it? Again the Trinity means three persons in one God. They are fully in love: The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father and the binding love between them is the Holy Spirit. The nature of God appears to be love - eternal love. Self-emptying love – Full relatedness and communication. And where is the kingdom of God? Christ tells us: it is “inside you.” What I said here is only an opinion. We believe in the teaching of the Church and the Church is protected by Christ from the powers of hell till the end of time. God bless. George Farahat May 3, 2008

World Food Crisis

World Food Crisis Why are there demonstrations in third world countries such as Thailand and Egypt? The Economist called the food crisis ‘The Silent Tsunami.” First let’s look at what some of the media and world food agencies are saying: CRS - Gas prices have gone up and so they affected transport cost of grains. - Recent interest in bio-food has caused the prices of commodity to go up. - The value of the American dollar has decreased, an affected underdeveloped countries in terms of purchasing power. CBC The current food crisis was caused by - Higher oil prices - Freak weather - Low food reserves - Growing consumer demand in East Asia (e.g. China and India), and Latin America The result is that of the 6 billion inhabitants of Earth, 5 billion have had solid economic growth and higher standard of living in the past decade, while the bottom 1 billion have become more poor (Africa?). The effect was multiplied because of globalization. Globalization has positive effects such as increased free trade, to the point that economic ministers of the G8 started talking about how trade is booming and it is about time to eradicate hunger in the underdeveloped countries. With the help of the World Bank and other world financing organizations, governments of underdeveloped countries were pressured to reduce and eliminate subsidies for food. But low supplies of food provided the reverse effect: 1. Poor families in underdeveloped countries spend 80% of their income on food 2. 800-900 million people in the world sleep hungry every day Add to this the deforestation of many forests and climate change, and you get the result: Countries that used to export food are now importing food. Economists and other commentators are saying now that the world trading system is failing. But the real cause of this crisis may lie in the fact that big grain traders are increasing their profit at the expense of poor countries. Food agencies are trying to help but how far can they go? May be the problem is more than a passing economic crisis. It is a deficiency in the structure of the world economic system of free market. The Church in the voice of Pope John Paul II did propose a “Third Way” after the collapse of socialism and the triumph of liberal capitalism. The Pope based his new Third Way on a different value - the value of Man. How important is the human being? In liberal capitalism the human individual is given freedom, but what kind of freedom? He is enslaved to materialism and consumerism. He is enslaved to how much he owns. The multinationals do not care about the individual’s welfare but about their financial profits. With socialism, especially in its extreme form, communism, the human individual is subject to the totalitarianism of the state. The government exploits not only the possessions of citizens, but also those at the top gather to themselves what now belongs to the state – This is called corruption of the government. The “Third Way” of John Paul II is based on protecting the human dignity of the person. Here is an excerpt: “I devote my very rare free moments to a work that is close to my heart and devoted to the metaphysical sense and mystery of the person. It seems to me that the debate today is being played out on that level. The evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation, indeed in a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person. This evil is even more of the metaphysical order than of the moral order. To this disintegration planned at times by atheistic ideologies we must oppose, rather than sterile polemics, a kind of "recapitulation" of the inviolable mystery of the person.” (Cardinal Karol Wojtyla to Henri de Lubac) This echoes the life and teaching of his master in the Gospel. Christ lived a poor man, the son of a carpenter. He taught his disciples to give of what they have (Matt 5:8) and not to worry about material possessions (Matt 6:25-34). Christ used powerful parables to show how the rich who clings to his material possessions will be judged (Luke 12). He also judged the rich whose only sin is his negligence of the poor neighbour (Luke 16: The Rich and Lazarus). And he taught that we must depend on God our father alone (Luke11: 13). In the Acts of the Apostles, we see also a powerful example of the Christian community after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2: 44-47) Do we dare to think in these terms today? Do we dare to live this kind of life today? Do we give from what we have to those who do not have? And how do we as individual Christians share in alleviating this food crisis? Is the dignity of the person, whom John Paul II defends, important to us? Do we care about the needy in the underdeveloped countries regardless of their race or religion? This is the question!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Jesus heals the man born blind!

This is the sixth sign (miracle) that John alone narrates in his Gospel. The first was Jesus’ sign in Cana where he changed water into wine; the second was his healing of the official’s son at a distance; the third was his healing of the paralytic at the pool; the fourth was the multiplication of food; the fifth was Jesus’ walking on water. And of course, the seventh sign which completes the number to 7 is the raising of Lazarus from the dead. We will come back to the significance of the number 7 when we discuss the Sabbath below. In this story we first note that sickness was considered a curse from God brought about even to the 4th generation of children (cf. Exodus). Jesus first rejects this notion and says it’s to glorify God. Second note how the saliva of Christ (not the clay) made all the difference. He recreates the eye as he created man in Genesis. He is God. Through him all things were made. Even touching him or being touched by him was enough to bring life (cf. the son of the widow in Naeen who came back to life by Christ’s touch). If Christ’s saliva gives sight, how much more do we receive by taking his whole body and blood in the Eucharist. He asked the beggar to go wash in the pool of Siloam, (Sent): this is a symbol of Christ who is sent by the Father. The beggar came back seeing. And this raises questions by the neighbours who cannot believe their eyes. First: doubt (It is not him) Second: how (Then how are your eyes opened?). What compounds the reaction is that the healing was on a Sabbath. This moves the whole story to another and deeper level. Now whoever did this miracle must face judgment by the Jewish authorities. The Pharisees will have to judge Jesus but they first must question the victim of this “crime,” and so they hurry to question the beggar (vv. 13-15) and in doing that there is a division among them (v. 16) – Now who is the divider par excellence in history? Is not he the one called the Devil? You get now a bit of the significance of who is really standing against Christ. The problem is not only healing but also healing on a Sabbath. The 3rd commandment that Moses received on Mount Sinai forbids work on the Sabbath. The Sabbath must be kept for the Lord God. What is the significance of the Sabbath? It is the 7th day when God rested after he created all creatures. Literally we must rest like God on the seventh day of the week. But here is one interpretation of the meaning: The seventh day has not come yet! According to the scientific “Big Bang” theory, the universe has existed for about 13700 million years. The Church does not accept a literalist interpretation of Scripture. Seven is the number or symbol of perfection. When everything is perfect and God is glorified in all the elect and his kingdom is finally established then creation will have arrived at seven. Christ said earlier “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” In history, our Sabbath is now Sunday: the day when Christ rose from the dead, defeated death and opened heaven to us. The early Church moved the Lord’s Day to Sunday where the sacrifice of Christ is re-presented in the Eucharist and in memory of the Easter event. The parents of the beggar are called in to testify. Like us today, they deny the truth that Jesus opened their son’s eyes because they are afraid that the Jews will kick them out of the community and for fear that they will be excommunicated. Fear reigns! And the Pharisees now ask the beggar for the second time “Give God the praise; we know that this man is a sinner” (v. 24). “Give God the praise” means “tell the truth” (Cf. Sam 6). And they are challenged by the beggar “Whether he is a sinner I do not know; one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see” (v. 25) His defiance becomes more persistent “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God he could do nothing” (v. 32, 33) (This is true since the only healing of a blind person in the Old Testament is that of Tobit and he was not born blind). They shot back “You were born in utter sin and would you teach us?” So they excommunicate him from the Jewish synaguoge. In fact John wrote his Gospel in the nineties when the Jewish Council had already passed judgment against Christians in 85 AD and cursed them as heretics in its 18 benedictions. Now Jesus heard that they had cast him out and the Gospel says that Jesus “found him.” This miracle is unique because it shows that Christ looks for the sick ones and the ones in need. He goes after “the lost sheep” Not only that the beggar in the first place did not ask for Christ’s healing but also Christ looked for him after he was physically healed. His love for every one is great! “Do you believe in the Son of man?” Who is the Son of man? He is the one who appeared in front of the eternal and was given glory for ever (Cf. Daniel). The beggar –Man- now asks in an open dialogue “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” The answer is quite clear “You have seen him and it is he who speaks to you. He said: Lord I believe and he worshiped him” (vv. 36-38) Worship is an act reserved to God. You can see now how the beggar came to identify Christ as God himself. The story takes the reader gradually from “Rabbi” (v. 2) to ”Prophet” (v. 17) and then finally being “worshipped” (v. 37). “Jesus said, For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (v. 39) The Pharisees thought “Are we also blind?” And Jesus replied “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘we see,’ your guilt remains “ (v. 41) Evidently the healing of Christ is beyond the physical healing only – It goes deeper to the spiritual. He heals spiritual blindness too. The Pharisees self-righteousness is judged and humility is praised (Cf. Matt. 5). Blessed Mother Theresa said once “The most awful disease in America today is spiritual blindness” by George Farahat

Jesus meets the Samaritan Woman

Jesus meets the Samaritan Woman (John 4) Jesus “had to pass through Samaria.” Of course, he did not have to pass through Samaria. The Jews had a shorter route to avoid passing through Samaria since the Samaritans were considered worse than gentiles. Since the Babylonian exile this group of Israelites mixed with non Israelites and so were influenced by the introduction of Babylonian gods in their worship. They became the enemies of the Jews. So why would Christ go there? Did not the Gospel say “He came to what was his own” (John 1)? Did not he himself announce to the Canaanite woman that he was “sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matt 15: 24)? But here he is in Samaria and precisely in the town called Sykhar where Jacob’s well exists. He had to pass through Samaria because he will call these strangers into his church and kingdom. A Samaritan woman came to draw water at noon. Women in that culture would walk miles to the well to draw water early in the morning or late in the evening. They would do that to avoid the hot weather. But for a woman to come at noon bearing the heat, it means she was an outcast of her community. Jesus wants the outcast. He goes a further extra mile and calls in sinners who are having sexual affairs without marriage. Note how he calls them gently, gradually and with full respect of their dignity (vv.16-18). He does not condemn sinners but sin. In this context, Jesus asks the woman to give him a drink. Jews considered Samaritan women to be ritually impure and therefore drinking from their jars was forbidden. Jesus is thirsty but obviously it is another kind of water. When she questions his request, he offers her the “spring of water welling up to eternal life” (v. 14) not the stagnant water of the well. What is this water? Jesus is thirsty for love and that is what he will give. He is the source of living water. He brings her up from the material water to the spiritual living water of eternal life. This living water is precisely the Holy Spirit. This is why he concludes that “true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth” (v. 23). The Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of truth” (John 16:13). Water was used in the Old Testament as a symbol of God’s act of saving and giving life to man as well as prefiguring the fullness of salvation in Christ. Recall how God saved Noah and his people through water, and how the Israelites were saved through crossing the Red Sea. The Church continues to use water in the sacrament of baptism as a sign of death with Christ and regeneration through him (CCC 1217-1222). Amazed she responds “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes he will tell us everything” Jesus said to her “I AM he, the one who is speaking with you.” (vv. 25-26). An astonishing announcement “I AM” - the same name that God gave to himself when he spoke to Moses for the first time. Jesus is God. He is one with the Father (John 17:11). She ran to her village and told her citizens. Many of the Samaritans believed on account of what she told them. The woman is presented as a missionary like the disciples (v. 39) How does this story help us today? Three lessons:: Love your enemies and reach out to them Do not judge those who sin against you And the third one is that the water Christ gives is Love. It is also the water that he is thirsty for. It is from a spiritual dimension the thirst he had when he was on the cross. He is thirsty for souls to save! And he expects us to love him in the faces of the needy, the sick, and the outcast. He gives and reveals the Spirit. “God is Love” (.1 John 4:16). Love is the essence of the Trinity. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. And the Holy Spirit is the bond of mutual love of the Father and the Son. The story of love is also the story of God with humanity from creation to redemption, the Resurrection and the sending of his Spirit to be with his people until the kingdom is fully established and he is glorified in his elect at the end of time. But that is another lecture. Christ is risen. He is truly risen. by George Farahat

Pentecost: The Power of the Holy Spirit

“When the day of Pentecost had come, [the Apostles] were all together in one place.” What is Pentecost, we ask? Pentecost is a Greek word for 50. It was used by Jews living in Alexandria in the first century to denote the feast of harvest because it occurred fifty days after the festivity recalling the Passover. The feast of harvest was commanded by God to be celebrated in thanksgiving for the harvest. In it, the Israelites offered the first fruits of the harvest – So it was also called the feast of first fruits. Since the harvest lasted 7 weeks, it was also called, in tradition, Feast of the Weeks. In Jewish tradition, the Israelites stayed 50 days in the desert after crossing the Red Sea and before they were given the Law. More dramatically some Rabbis thought Moses awakened the people on the night before he received the Law from God on Mount Sinai. The Apostles had gone through the worst nightmare, the crucifixion and death of their teacher, then the great joy when they saw him for 40 days after having risen from the dead. And Luke, in the first chapter of Acts, says that before his Ascension, Christ asked them to remain in Jerusalem to receive the promise of the Father “for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the holy Spirit” (Acts 1: 5). What did the Apostles expect on that night of Jewish Pentecost? Today, when we compare, we can say: The first Passover was that of Moses and his people but the second is that of Jesus and his people; the first or Old Covenant was that of God with Israel through Moses, but the second or New Covenant is that of God with his the new Israel (the Church of Christ) through Jesus. And a symbolic meaning of Pentecost is that it comes after seven weeks (seven*seven). It completes what is already perfect and adds 1 to it. May be this 1 indicates the unity that God will bring to a divided humanity. We know that the divider is the Devil. We know now that God is reversing the work of the evil one. “And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.” Wind is an expression of the presence of the Spirit in Scripture -The wind blows where it wills (John 3:8). “And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them.” Fire refers to God when his angel talked to Moses on Mount Sinai – Moses saw only a burning bush that is not consumed (Exodus 3:2) and also when the Lord God descended on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18). “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Speaking in other tongues is the gift of the Holy Spirit that reverses the confusion of language at the Tower of Babel. We are no longer a divided humanity. It also speaks to the universality of the Christian mission to the world. The Church was born at Pentecost and is universal or “catholic.” Pentecost was celebrated with much festivities. Devout Jews came from the Diaspora to Jerusalem for the feast. But look at their reaction when they heard the sound: 1) Many were amazed because each one heard them speaking in his own language although the Apostles were all from Galilea (vv. 6-12). 2) Yet others mocked the Apostles “They are filled with new wine” (v. 13) – These Jews think the Apostles are drunk. Who usually gets drunk? People who have social problems, psychological deficiencies or addiction to Alcohol. It is an escape from the present troubles into a momentary pleasure. This definitely was not the case of the Apostles. Their state of mind reflects joy – fullness of joy. And joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23). The Spirit gives his gifts to everyone and carries us to another cosmos – another presence! The work of the Spirit restores us to our original state in the image of God. This is the state that we lost in the Fall of our parents. Since then, our hearts desire the creation rather than the Creator. How does he restore us? By urging us to have the desire for God (e.g. Zacchaus) and cooperation with his grace (St. Paul: Do not resist the Spirit). We recall now what Christ said to Nicodemus “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”(John 3: 3). The Greek word for “born again” (anothen) has the same meaning as “born from above.” God does not fix us – He rather recreates us. This is a lifetime process – it is not a single event, although we can experience the renewal work of the Spirit and his gifts more intensely at certain moments in life (Charisms). When Nicodemus is perplexed by Christ’s answer, Jesus explains “Unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3: 5). If you move to Acts 2 verse 38, you will see the same “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” Pentecost reminds us always of our own "baptism by the Holy Spirit." Baptism is joined with repentance and repentance is necessary for responding to God’s call to all people. The Church, since Apostolic time, has administered baptism as an essential first step for becoming a Christian. Paul says that in baptism we are buried with Christ so we rise with him. This is why the Eastern Churches, including the Melkite Catholic Church, continue to this date to administer baptism by immersion. In the sacrament of chrismation or confirmation, we fully receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit and become witnesses to Christ as the Holy Spirit witnesses to Christ. “But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: `And in the last days it shall be, God declares,that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those daysI will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth beneath, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and manifest day. And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shallbe saved.'” (vv. 14-21). This is the first proclamation (or kerygma) by Peter. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are manifest and Peter, recalling Joel’s prophecy, asks the people to believe in the reality of the resurrection of Christ. As the Coptic Patriarch Shenouda said: In this first testimony, Peter attracted 3,000 people to convert and become Christians – Today a famous preacher can hardly convert a dozen of people! The Apostles still considered themselves part of Judaism. They continued to pray at the Temple like their Jewish brethren, but they added the Eucharist in their worship which distinguished them (v. 46). The Eucharist became the centre of their worship. The “Christian movement” as it was called by Jews at the time, emerged from Judaism and the Holy Spirit worked in it the mission to go not only to Jews but, the pagans, and other religions all over the known world. One last thing we note here: The Holy Spirit prompted the great sharing in the Christian community: everyone who had possessions distributed them for the ones in need – everyone exited from himself to be in service for the others in need (v. 45) St. Gregory the Theologian in the 4th century wrote that the descent of the Holy Spirit brought to its completion the divine revelation of the holy Trinity. St. Gregory Nazianzene rebuked Macedonius’ teaching that the Holy Spirit is only a creature. The 1st Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381 AD) proclaimed the divinity of the Holy Spirit. St. Augustine in the 5th century taught that the Father loves the Son by eternally emptying himself and the Son receives the Father’s love and returns to the Father his love by eternally emptying himself. And who is the Holy Spirit? Augustine, and with him the Church, teaches that the Holy Spirit is the mutual love of the Father and the Son in the one God, the blessed Trinity. Today, the Holy Spirit is working in the Church renewing it, as Pope John XXIII prayed to the Spirit on the eve of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965.) The Council brought many fruits in renewing the Church including the opening of the Catholic Church to Christian unity with the “separated brethren” of other Christian Churches and communions. The Council also opened the path to dialogue with other world religions, first Judaism (our elder brothers as John Paul II used to say), then Islam the third monotheistic religion, and with all world religions. John Paul II, at the beginning of the third millennium prayed that the Holy Spirit usher a new Pentecost. These are extraordinary events in the life of the Church. How about the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of ordinary people? Some theologians dare to believe the Spirit is working in every husband that resists the temptation to cheat on his wife and every wife that resists the temptation of sexual gratification outside marriage. The Spirit is working in every teenager who resists the encouragement of his friends to bully other kids and to compete for the first place. The Spirit is working in every worker who resists competition with his co-workers. “Heavenly King, Comforter, the spirit of truth, You are everywhere present and fill all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of life, come and dwell within us, cleanse us of all stain, and save our souls, O gracious Lord.”(Entrance Prayer of the Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine Tradition) Prepared by George Farahat May 10, 2008 Note: The above has been compiled from a number of on-line homiletic sources including Catholic, Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox resources. For an in-depth scholarly treatment consult The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (1990). The above work may contain theological opinions not in full agreement with the official teaching of the Catholic Church. As Catholic Christians, we believe what the Catholic Church teaches.

Today's Quote

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


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