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

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Wish?

I watched them twice in two days and since then they never left my memory. I am speaking about a little known band of the "Christmas Wish" missionaries that performed at Jesus the King Church. They are young adults in their 20s. Their mission, as I understand it, is to play and sing Christmas carols to people in homeless shelter houses, orphanages, senior homes, churches, public places, and every other corner of the city. They are not particularly professional but they impressed almost everyone who watched them in the Church with their joy radiating from their little faces. Their leader claims to have received a mission from God. Michael is from Australia. He toured many countries performing his mission! His team that I saw is made up of adult girls and boys that live here yet they belong to the world from Japan to Brazil. I wondered how they survive unless they do it as a hobby on the side, but my wonder grew to admiration of those dancers/singers who can attract so many people only because they smile in spite of hardship. Which brings me to the claim that the world is falling away into sin. Yes, there is ample sin in the world. I particularly experience hardship these days at work and with it a cross I hope I will endure. And who lacks a cross? Many of my relatives and friends are experiencing hardship in many ways - some have lost their jobs, others their spouses through divorce, others are seeking to marry but unable to find their future spouses, families are suffering, others are lonely and yet others are sick mentally or bodily. Today I was told that a young girl in grade 10 has been diagnosed with leukemia. And in the dilemma of experiencing evil, it is pervasive in the entire world - My pride is one of them...The dilemma is multiplied by the fact that almost every man and woman born in this world have a wounded nature and selfish tendency. I see structures of hypocricy, political correctness, manners without value, society without dignity, and corporate slavery to the boss who is a god to his enslaved employees or subjects. This is why I experience our need of God's mercy. It is not on earth although it can start here if man risks his pride and "falls in love." It is all about fear for the self. We must hope for the blessed life in heaven for all those who open their hearts to God and repent. Against all thoughts that promote the idea of a just God, I believe that God is all merciful; his justice is only a reflection of his love, and has no sense of revenge as we do. When the Lord in the Bible says "Revenge is (reserved) to me," he, as a father, disciplines his children to grow and mature but never does he revenge. The revenge intended in the Bible is a disciplinary act and not a destructive act of a vengeful God. I also experience the need for each other, to pray for each other and think of each other in the Holy Spirit, the love which the Church calls the communion of saints. The communion of saints, as far as I understand it, includes the love expressed in prayers of saints in heaven, those of souls in purgatory, and prayers of the Church on earth. This continues till the end of the world. The Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the angels and saints are praying God in heaven, and to their prayers are added those of souls in purgatory, and those on earth especially the Eucharistic prayer in every Mass in which calvary is re-presented through the offering of Christ himself. That is why Paul the great apostle was able to say that he completes what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. The result if truly lived is the joy experienced in this "Christmas Wish" missionary band. The incarnation of God in Christ was nothing short of a new world - a new song of joy. In spite of being born silently in a manger, Christ was sought by Herod for fear that he will be overthrown. The king was fearful and in his vengeance he killed those children as we kill the unborn today. Yet Christ did not overthrow Herod. He escaped from the tyrant to give him a chance. And the chance is still available to us. The entire story of Christmas is here again. The invitation is open. God is with us. But would we risk our habits of indulging into every party and spending to remember the angelic hymn? Let's forget ourselves for a few days, listen to God's voice and shout: Joy to the world!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Does Hell Exist?

In the past couple of weeks a few people following the news of CERN's Large Hadron Collider being recharged and running have been asking the question whether the earth will be absorbed by a huge black hole. Scientists were fast to reassure them and us that there is no worry of such catastrophe happening. What people and scientists could not figure out is the question: what would happen to us if the catastrophe eventually happened? Would dead people have a life? And if yes, what kind of life? Hell or Heaven, or neither? There is no other question on people's mind, if not consciously then subconsciously, that requires an assurance: Does hell exist? And if it exists who will be saved from damnation? The question is eschatological and beyond the reach of science. According to theologian Roch Kereszty, O. Cist "Hell in the sense of damnation or definitive spiritual dying is taught unequivocally only in Christianity." In this view "the possibility of final damnation in its frightening reality has appeared only where God's love has been most clearly and most unambiguously revealed, namely inthe cross of Christ." In his book, "Jesus of Nazareth" published in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI comments in detail about the Lord's Prayer. There, the Roman Pontiff who is not only a well-known theologian but also a Biblical scholar commenting on "Lead us not into temptation," writes these words: We are helped a further step along when we recall the words of the Gospel 'Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil' (Mt 4:1) Temptation comes from the devil, but part of Jesus messianic task is to withstand the great temptations that have lead man away from God and continue to do so. As we have seen, Jesus must suffer through these temptations to the point of dying on the Cross, which is how he opens the way of redemption for us. This is not only after his death but already by his death and during his whole life that Jesus "descends into hell," as it were into the domain of our temptations and defeats, in order to take us by the hand and carry us upward...A brief look at the Book of Job, which in many respects prefigures the mystery of Christ, can help us clarify things further. Satan derides man in order to deride God: God's creature, whom he has formed in his own image, is a pitiful creature. Everything that seems good about him is actually just a facade. The reality is that the only thing man - each man - ever cares about is his own well-being. This is the judgment of Satan, whom the Book of Revelation calls "the accuser of our brethren...who accuses them day and night before our God" (Rev 12: 10). There is more to Benedict's exegesis - I only cited his words above where he speaks of Christ's descent into hell. You see how Benedict applies it, not only to his physical death, but to his entire life. Benedict pictures clearly the reality of man: the only thing that each man ever cares about is his own well-being. Christ himself in his human nature was tempted to care for his own well-being in the night of his arrest. He made an existential decision to align his human will with his divine will and accepted it to the point of shedding his blood for the salvation of all. Hell is not a place but a state of the self. Its fire is more than only physical torment, although it includes it. The fire referred to by Christ as "Gehenna" is most likely a figure that references the valley of Hennom outside Jerusalem where idolatrous Jews and pagans sacrificed their children as an offering to their god Molech and by the time of Christ was a huge burning place of garbage. This is a figurative way of describing hell. However modern Biblical and psychological research reveals that hell according to the definition given by Pope John Paul the Great "is not a punishment imposed externally by God but a development of premises set by people in this life." C. S. Lewis, in his masterpiece "Mere Christianity," thinks that there are certain sins that have a sense of hell - these include hatred, envy, and, above all, betrayal. This leads me to think that the fire of hell reflects the inner hatred of the selfish person who cared about no one in his life but himself. He accumulated fortunes and benefited nothing because he cared only for himself (Luke 12: 16-21). In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, we ask what was the rich man's mortal sin? His negligence of his fellow people and mostly the needy around him was probably nothing serious compared to the individualism we live today. Yet because he lived the "good rich life" his attention was limited to his immediate brothers (Luke 16: 19-31). He was the only one who could judge how much he loved. This was only a parable - there was not likely any real Lazarus who suffered at the rich man's door, but the parable has a message for all generations. Here in this life, we make our own existential choice with regard to the relationship with the Other (God and fellow humans). Hell is directly related to salvation in the Christian Tradition. The Church has never infallibly declared anyone is in hell, yet she has canonized many saints. However, hell remains a reality that we cannot avoid its possibility. Richard John Neuhaus, in the footsteps of the great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote that as Christians we must hope that all humans may be saved from eternal damnation in hell. Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. who was the greatest contemporary American theologian, wrote in 2008 on the development of the doctrine of salvation. In it Cardinal Dulles carefully traces the question of salvation in the history of the Catholic Church. Anyone versed in understanding the development of doctrine is strongly encouraged to read this eloquent masterpiece in the global age we live in. There are endless questions that each one's conscience asks. We live in a materialistic society, with relativistic moral laws, and atheistic post-modern mentality. What is morally unacceptable in the Christian Tradition has become legalized as if it is normally acceptable - We now make our own truth which Pilate asked Christ. Take for example abortion, same-sex union, premarital sex, and divorce. Today, pre-nuptial agreements are used to guarantee engaged men and women their share in distributive assets should their marriage end in divorce. That is how low the marital commitment has come to be judged and seen by a falling civilization. There is, however, ample opportunity in this generation for living a Christian life of love. In spite of the increasingly hard and fast-paced life, many people - young and old - continue to help others. I see it at work, in the street, and in Church. More young people are seeing the light of God in prayer and spiritual nourishment. More too are engaged in Christian movements regardless of how orthodox it is. The internet used by many to publish selfish stuff, is also used by many to encourage others and help them. Doctors without frontiers is just one example of organizations that help life. Knights of Columbus is another, and Birth Right, here in Toronto, supports unwed pregnant mothers to have their babies. This, I think, is what Pope John XXIII meant when he said that this generation is not lacking in saints. Even when the reality of hell exists, the power of Christ is much more powerful. Our prayer is that, in spite of hell, Christ will win many many many souls. The Book of Revelation itself gives us this hope with its emphasis that multitudes will be in heaven (Rev. 19: 1). God will wipe the tears of many (Rev. 21:4). It is not us who work but the Spirit of God who works in us and helps us in all ways to repent. It is astonishing that where sin increased, grace multiplied (Rom. 5: 20). It is astonishing that a thief stole heaven before anyone else went in, only because he asked the Lord in the last moment of his life (Luke 23: 42). To the Apostles Jesus said "Rejoice for your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10: 21). Rejoice for our God's name is Love. He who cost himself to descend into hell would not let any person perish in hell unless that person insists with full knowledge and consent that he wishes to be in hell. "God runs after you to find even a tear in your eyes to save you" said St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church and the greatest preacher of Christianity.
References
1) Pope Benedict XVI. (2007). "Jesus of Nazareth," pp. 161, 162, Doubleday.
2) Kereszty, Roch. (2006). "Christianity Among Other Religions: Apologetics in a Contemporary Context," p. 127, Society of St. Paul/Alba House.
3) Pope John Paul II. (1999). Papal Audience on Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, L'Osservatore Romano http://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JPHEAVN.HTM#Note
4) Neuhaus, Richard John. (2001). "Will All be Saved?," First Things http://www.firsthings.com/article.php3?id_article=2216
5) Dulles, Avery. (2008). "Who Can be Saved?," First Things http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=6126
6) Lewis, C.S. (1960). Mere Christianity, HarperOne

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Devil's Plans?

An anecdote that I read years ago in the Catholic Register goes like this: Satan was making a grand plan to deceive humanity so he gathered all his troops and asked them: What lie shall we tell the world to fall into our traps. One of the little devils came to him and said: Tell them there is no God! Satan thought and answered him: This is not hard - Every thoughtful person knows that there is God. Another devil came to him and said: Tell them there is no right or wrong! Satan thought a little and answered him: But everyone who goes back to his conscience knows that there is indeed right and wrong - It depends on what you make of it. A third devil jumped up and down and said: I found it - Tell them there is time! There is ample time to do as you please. And Satan praised this devil for he found the lie that people would fall for... This lie is particularly widespread in our world today. Let me count a few examples: 1. Advances in medicine have made it possible for humans to live longer than they lived 50 years ago. The average life expectancy is between 80 and 85 years, when 50 years ago it was 60! 2. Today's technology has allowed us to have fun all the time when we can have fun. If not TV, then internet. If not internet, then iphones. If not iphones then facebook. We do not need to bother with visiting friends if we can "text" them our messages or email them. In fact, our kids are more used now to playing electronic games individually rather than playing soccer in teams. Individualism is the rule of a digital society. In fact so pervasive digital technology is today that Alan Kirby of Oxford considers postmodernism to be already dead (Digimodernism, 2009). Digimodernism requires a lecture by itself to analyze the trend in "global" culture. 3. We have no time for each other, although the lie says that we have time! Parents know that it is very hard for them to be together more than one hour everyday, and probably not everyday. Both work and come home late. When parents come home they come to their chores whether cooking, doing laundry, or home-repairs. Meanwhile their children, if there is any, are left since the morning with strangers and are left at home with computers that run violent games. Everyone is busy. And funtime is being choked - If it exists, it is mainly using technological gadgets. 4. Our youth are the most vulnerable and confused. Running between school/university and a new job that has no permanent status, they are divided. In many cases they are suffering loneliness from divorced/estranged parents or carrying too much debt from loans. They hardly find time to have fun. And when they want to have it they end up in night clubs. Some are on drugs or in intimate premarital sex only to find that they wasted their youth. Some get married if they have been blessed and the rest stay unmarried until they eventually wither. In this drama it is important to realize that with no or little offspring, there will hardly be any future generation particularly in Europe and North America. It is called the fertility dilemma! This is our life - our lie! We live a lie that we have time. However life can be extended it will still come to an end! In spite of the goodness we carry, we live a lie that we can make our own life the way we want it, and we still do not understand that life is more than pleasure and more than survival. We live a lie that the most important person in my life is an individual, me. We live a lie that our children can be educated on their own through the new technology - the least calculation is done today by the calculator, handy on computer, rather than through human memory. With the availability of so many things today, we have come to be a bit lazy or probably too tired! Why cook if we can order food? Why sew if we can buy cloth? Why go to work if we can work from home? The digital technology has allowed us much material comfort. Yet we are psychologically too stressed. Although we have time, we are so busy that we feel we have no time. There is hardly time for the family together. There is hardly time for prayer. There is hardly time for God! On the subway, people are either talking on the cell, playing games by themselves, reading a newspaper, or asleep. The little time we have for ourselves is misused. Has Satan succeeded in seducing us, or some of us? Do we really have time? What kind of time? This is a phenomenon about how matter influences the mind and spirit. Eight centuries ago Thomas Aquinas wrote that the proper hierarchy follows from the spirit leading the mind and the mind leading the body senses. He did not know much medicine but his ideas opened the horizon for man to explore natural sciences, and discover the universe in his body and outside of his body. This Angelic Doctor of the Church developed the synthesis between nature and man. If man is to live, he needs to give priority to the spirit without abandoning the needs of the body. Time is not lost if we live it the way it should be lived - the way of true love in the spirit which is the Spirit of Christ. Long ago, our ancestors were wiser for they knew that life is meant to be eternal, and for it to be eternal they listened and clinged to the Master who said "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14: 6). The question to this generation is what John the Baptist put to the Jews of his time "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance" (Matthew 3: 7, 8). Will we heed the call?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Be moderate in everything except in love

I always think of St. Augustine's words "Be moderate in everything except in love." Being moderate has its consequences of not being too liberal nor too conservative - This is the middle road. I attempt to join in my thought the conservative outlook of Ratzinger and the liberal outlook of Rahner, so that in the end I can retrieve from both the truth in as much as it conforms to the Christian tradition as I see it. In the same way, I attempt to join the zeal of conservative Eastern Orthodox Churches (which are real Churches) and Evangelical Communions (who belong to Christ in their unflinching faith) with the more liberal approach of inculturation, openness to the human needs, and Biblical criticism recognized by the Catholic Church done without compromizing the essence of the Creed. This is partly only why I believe in the Catholic Church who alone enjoys the fullness of truth, and still recognizes the goodness found anywhere and in any tradition. Her openness is so great that it encompasses the universe of humanity. God is the source of everything. Since God is Love, the essence of everything is love. Even when I believe that the essence of everything is love, it does not blow me into a radical non-Christian belief because I believe too that non-Christian religions have a share in the ray that its fullness exists in Christ alone. The good elements in these religions belong to Christ and so every good there is in the end oriented towards Christ who alone saves - He is the mediator between God and man (every man). This flows in Christ through the Sanctifier agent - the Holy Spirit who sanctifies all in as much as they receive His urges and grace. As the Creed states, Christ is God from God. He is perfect in his divinity and in his humanity which remain united in his person. The sacrament of Christ on earth is manifested in the Catholic Church who, by God's grace, develops in the fullness of truth and grace (Development of doctrine as expounded by John Henry Newman). Development itself is part and parcel of how Christians perceive the truth - It is not corruption of dogma since it does not alter the organic unity of the sacred deposit of faith, only how it is perceived. This is also in accord with development in all branches of knowledge (natural, psychological, spiritual, philosophical and otherwise) both objective and subjective. In a way, we know more today than our ancestors. It also points to the fact that unity of knowledge has its source in the one God we worship. Knowledge includes experience - Knowledge in the ancient traditions meant subjective experience of the other. In this sense, it is written that Joseph did not know Mary since he did not know her in her inner depth which man and woman naturally communicate through intercourse. In this sense too we never encompass or comprehend God in his essence. The apophatic theology in the Eastern Christian tradition tells us that God is unknowable in his essence. Our knowlegde is limited to what we sense transmitted to us through the mind - which uses the brain as its physical channel. You see from the above the important movement - Rather than focusing on what divides, the focus is on what unites which is the work of the Holy Spirit in us. I think that prayer is that form of dialogue with God and his saints - never exhausted, through the Spirit. As God is a communion of three persons, so we too are created and exist as a communion. The Church, Catholic and one, embraces all people of good will. She is the guiding star par excellence who is always in need of renewal (Vatican II). In the end, the Alpha and Omega, Christ, will unite to his Father all who are saved in Him so God will be all in all (Revelation).

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Who is Catholic?

To be Catholic is not synonym with being formally an adherent to the Catholic Church, for the Catholic Church is much more than how it is shown in the world. All people of good will, Christian and non-Christian, are related in a way unknown to us, to the Catholic Church. Even atheists who do good, belong to the Catholic Church. On the other hand, it is not enough to be formally attached to the Catholic Church. The Holy Spirit works in every human person open to His deep and incomprehensible love. Is not God free to give His love to everyone? Then why do we question Him? Even death cannot stand in God's utter pouring love. John Chrysostom the great Eastern saint of the 4th century said that God runs after everyone in order to only find a tear in his eyes so that He can save him. If a fallible man, however saintly he is, can describe God's love in this way, how beautiful is the ultimate reality in itself? And the Catholic Church who is the sign of God's salvific history with man, how can it not be the instrument through which everyone is invited in Christ to the eternal kingdom? Everyone means every human person on earth of any race, of any religion, of any faith and of any culture. "I knock on the door" says the saviour of all. Those who come to receive Him in their hearts and work with His grace are Catholic. This does not mean, however, that all non-Catholics are able to receive the same as Catholics who practice their faith for in the Catholic Church alone exist the dimensions of full unity through the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, all sacraments, Tradition from which the Bible was born, and Apostolic succession. Looking at the big picture, we recall that Christ said "Who is not against you is with you."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hallowed be Thy Name

The Lord's prayer has this beautiful phrase "Hallowed be Thy Name" which traditionally has been interpreted as the Christian call for giving glory to God. But what is God's glory? In Christianity, it is understood that God is glorified in his creatures. If ancient religions understood glorifying God as an act of slave worship constantly fearful of a distant deity and always in need of the master's favour, the development of Christian tradition understands it as loving God with all our hearts, not out of fear but in awe of His presence. His ineffable love of creation cannot and can never be matched by any love, however deep, given to Him by any creature. And the base of this thought is that God loved us first. In fact, our existence is due to his free love. This is why saints are saints. It is not because they gave God anything he lacked. It is not because they performed great deeds. It is not because they contributed to the growth of justice and peace. It is only because in their humility they loved God as the moon reflects the light of the Sun. Saints realize that their love to God and everyone around them is only a reflection of God's first love. The words of Christ about the sinner who annointed his feet with ointment still ring in our ears today "Therefore I tell you her sins which are many are forgiven for she loved much" (Luke 7: 47). What did this sinner give God? She was embroiled in adultery. But because she loved much , she is forgiven. Love is the language of God. He cares about every single creature but never imposes himself. His justice is mercy. And his mercy is love to the end. What the saints do is nothing but love. And, contrary to popular belief, they are not lacking today. Blessed Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) known for his big heart said that in our age there are as many saints as there ever was in any generation in history. The great John Paul II canonized as many saints as all his predecessors did in many centuries. His motto was "Do not be afraid. Open your doors to Christ." And in these days, when the entire Catholic Church celebrates All Saints, and All Souls, it is an opportunity for us to hope that many will be saints, including this generation. The Church always hopes against hope. Albert Camus wrote in his philosophy about the Absurd the myth of sisyphus who was sent to the underworld because he angered the Greek gods and challenged death. His fate was to push a stone up a mountain then watch it fall back to the bottom. His punishment was to go down everytime from the top of the mountain to its bottom to roll the stone back to the top. I see in sisyphus the sign of hope. Sisyphus will eventually overcome his fate - Even if he has to watch the stone falling back he will not yield! Saints are of the same perseverence. God only knows no limit to perseverence in his love that overflows in spite of a sinful world. He surely cares to give it to us. Hallowed be His Name.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Language of Angels

Last night we had the privilege of listening to music performed by some professionals in the field. Amazingly the power of music has always been linked to angels who sing to the Lord God. Praising God through prayer is only another form of the angelic worship. Choirs and musicians enter, and with them the entire Church, into the heavenly thanksgiving that all creatures owe to the creator and sustainer of everything. We simply respond on behalf of all created things to this eternal Love, God, who created us out of love. How long can we sing to God? It would take us, I think, an eternity because, in singing from the heart, eternity becomes a second, a moment in time. Now I understand that eternity in heaven is not a boring act of mental contemplation but an experience of utter joy far beyond only the mental understanding, although it does not suppress it. In heaven, we enjoy God.
Music is a higher form of language. The language of angels.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Perceiving The Truth: Why Christians should be Catholic

After having a close study of the political, cultural & economic situation in the globe today, I can only propose one proposal for the survival of Christians: All Christian Churches and Communions should be in full communion with the successor of Peter, the pope of Rome. There are a few simple reasons for this:
1) Morally: The only voice that can be listened to in the world is that of the pope.
2) Economically: All Eastern Churches are suffering an Islamic revival against Christianity (Middle East?). The only Church that has enough power to rescue them is the "Roman" Catholic Church. Union agendas between Eastern Catholics and Orthodox have failed (e.g. Balamand declaration, the Zoghby project...etc.)
3) Population: The largest Church in the world that is still expanding is the Catholic Church (Over a billion faithful). Recent statistics suggest that Africa is being won by Catholic missionaries.
4) Although Western Europe is losing its formal Christian affiliation, there is now more than ever an awareness in modern Europe that they need to face down Islam.
5) The only other force consists of thousands of fragmented Protestant Christian communities in Europe and the Bible Belt in America. However they compete with each other. No unity exists among Protestant or Orthodox churches.
6) Anthropologically, based on Girard's work, selfishness seems to be the rule of humans in the world although goodness is the root of their nature. Only saints are able to conform to God's grace and will. It follows that unity under one man (the pope) is practically more feasible than puritan dogmatic speculation. Although Christian unity efforts have been tried for half a century, no one Church has made real steps for rapproachment with other churches except Rome. The rest is bogus! As an example the Eastern Orthodox Churches agreed with the Ancient Oriental Churches on all doctrines of faith since 1988. Twenty one years later, none of them has really reunited with any of its sisters!
7) All churches except for the Catholic Church suffer from a nationalist cultural imprint on their current reality be it in the East or in the West. On the contrary the Catholic Church expanded through inculturalization (adapting, for example, to the cultures in Africa & Asia.)
8) The Old Oriental Churches recognize only the first three Ecumenical Councils up to 431 AD, the Eastern Orthodox Churches recognize 7 Ecumenical Councils up to 787 AD. Only the Catholic Church confesses continuity until today - It held 21 Ecumenical Councils, the most recent was held from 1962 to 1965. It is simple: Each Church recognizes Councils until its separation from the universal Catholic Church. And only the Catholic Church continues to hold Ecumenical Councils.
9) Only in the Catholic Church there is a development of doctrine: The Old Oriental Churches still celebrate the same liturgy as they had it in the 5th century. The Eastern Orthodox Churches still celebrate the same liturgy as they had it in the 10th century. Tradition cannot be static, otherwise it dies. According to Cardinal Newman (19th century) there is a development of doctrine based on tradition. One example: icons were not known in Christ's time, but were adopted in the Eastern & Western Churches since the 3rd-4th century; Statues were used in both Christian East & West until Islam in the 7th century attacked the East. Since then the Eastern Church has kept icons only. The Western Church continued the tradition of both icons and statues.The idea is simple: A picture does not change but human perception of the picture develops as humans come closer to the picture. No change in dogma - only development in understanding them. This is not limited to thought. It involves experience which develops as we grow in faith. It can be represented by artistic works such as music and paintings. As much as arts developed in the West, they were hindered in the East due to the presence of Islam.
10) Only the Catholic Church recognizes formally the advances made by modern Biblical scholarship. Catholic Biblical scholars use historical criticism and other tools to decipher more fully the meaning of Scriptures in the context of the cultures in which they were written under God's inspiration.
11) In the Catholic Church there is recognition that scientific advances can lead to a limited understanding of the truth since the author of both Revelation and science is God. Since 1988, there has been 6 international conferences on science & religion sponsored by the Vatican.
12) The Catholic Church is the only Church that recognizes the validity of Orthodox Churches. On the other hand, Orthodox Churches do not recognize the validity of the Catholic Church. Of course we can do nothing without Christ. We need Christ's Spirit who is already working in so many Christian commmunities for the unity of all Christians. It is only obvious to me - and I may be wrong - that full unity will require more than prayers and theological dialogue. It requires, to borrow a word from Islam, submission to God. If all heads of Christian Churches & Communions agree to meet, pray and dialogue, it may be a first step, but there must be a spirit of commitment to unity. The only Church that enjoys full unity is the Catholic Church. Based on the above, it follows that the unique approach for Christian survival is to unite under the leadership of the pope of Rome. Pope Benedict XVI predicted in 1999 (when he was still a cardinal) that Christians will become small communities. He thinks that Christianity will revive and live in its own apparent defeat! In fact, it is in persecution more than in good times that the body of Christ grows.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Complex Projects versus Complex Mind!

I would like to offer a glimpse to the reality of the interconnectedness of projects in different sciences only because they all have in common the uniqueness of the human person. Quantum physics which I studied in my Engineering undergraduate studies further confirms new understandings of relatedness. I will mainly base my post on:
1) The article by Mizell and Malone published in Engineering Management Journal on cost estimation used at NASA (December 2007)
2) Scientific American article on the origins of the mind (September 2009 issue)
3) Quantum physics, explained in numerous works by great contemporary physicists

Marc Hauser, past professor of psychology, human evolutionary biology, and organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University, proposes what he calls “humaniqueness” as properties of the distinctive mind of humans that sets it apart from the minds of other creatures. Professor Hauser shows the following characteristics of the human uniqueness (My post here has to be limited to only mentioning them in brief):
1. Generative computation: the ability to create a virtually limitless variety of “expressions,” be they arrangements of words, sequences of notes, combinations of actions, or strings of mathematical symbols
2. The capacity for the promiscuous combination of ideas. We routinely connect thoughts from different domains of knowledge, allowing our understanding of art, sex, space, causality and friendship to combine. From this mingling, new laws, social relationships and technologies can result.
3. The use of mental symbols. We can spontaneously convert any sensory experience—real or imagined— into a symbol that we can keep to ourselves or express to others through language, art, music or computer code.
4. Only humans engage in abstract thought. Unlike animal thoughts, which are largely anchored in sensory and perceptual experiences, many of ours have no clear connection to such events.
We alone ponder the likes of unicorns and aliens, nouns and verbs, infinity and God. “Indeed, mounting evidence indicates that, in contrast to Darwin’s theory of a continuity of mind between humans and other species, a profound gap separates our intellect from the animal kind. This is not to say that our mental faculties sprang fully formed out of nowhere. Researchers have found some of the building blocks of human cognition in other species. But these building blocks make up only the cement footprint of the skyscraper that is the human mind. The evolutionary origins of our cognitive abilities thus remain rather hazy. Clarity is emerging from novel insights and experimental technologies, however.”

Hauser thus establishes the basis of different mind in humans. It shows, in contrast to Darwin’s theory, a profound gap between us and animals, or as the well-known paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin put it, there is a leap from the biosphere to the noosphere which is the sphere of the human mind that can ask himself about himself. The complexity of the human mind, unmatched by that of any other creature has been confirmed by much recent research. Hauser gives this example: “One of our most basic tools, the No. 2 pencil, used by every test taker, illustrates the exceptional freedom of the human mind as compared with the limited scope of animal cognition. You hold the painted wood, write with the lead, and erase with the pink rubber held in place by a metal ring. Four different materials, each with a particular function, all wrapped up into a single tool. And although that tool was made for writing, it can also pin hair up into a bun, bookmark a page or stab an annoying insect. Animal tools, in contrast—such as the sticks chimps use to fish termites out from their mounds—are composed of a single material, designed for a single function and never used for other functions. None have the combinatorial properties of the pencil.”

Let’s now compare the above with some of the findings & conclusions proposed by Mizell & Malone for complex projects at NASA:

First: The cost estimating process becomes harder as the complexity and size of projects increase. This is particularly clear from the fact that key variables are not known at the start of large projects – for example staffing requirements are unknown with certainty at that point while client management requires a budget estimate before sign off. Moreover, software development activities are labor intensive. They are affected by and affect HUMAN PERFORMANCE. This shows that complex projects for the most complex creature require an understanding of subtle cognitive functions at least in human relationships e.g. human resources staffing and the effect human performance has on delivering a project which in turn affect human performance in next projects. Even these relationships cannot be understood in isolation – See below.

Second: Human nature prefers a single number for an estimate as opposed to a range of numbers even though a range estimate will have a much higher probability of including an accurate value (Boehm and Fairly, 2000). This is why a range is recommended.

This shows that humans have to deal with ranges of numbers rather than single numbers for their complex projects. Here is a hint about quantum physics which we ought to deal with. Quantum physics stipulates that every process-result is probable until it is measured. According to the Uncertainty Principle, only at the time of measurement is there certainty. Furthermore, John Polkinghorne, retired professor of mathematical physics at Cambridge University, wrote, in one of his latest books: Quantum Physics and Theology, about relationship as science is attempting to discover it at the subnuclear level: “Quantum theory brought to light a remarkable form of entanglement between subatomic particles that have once interacted with each other (the so-called EPR effect), which implies that they remain effectively a single system however far they may subsequently separate spatially- a counterintuitive togetherness-in-separation that has been abundantly confirmed experimentally as a property of nature. The physical world looks more and more like a universe that would be the fitting creation of the trinitarian God, the One whose deepest reality is relational”

Third: Expert judgment relies on experience of past projects and industry average which fail to tell the entire story. On the contrary, every project is unique in its environment and organization factors. This is true since we know that no one human can subsist in isolation – The environment, the tribe, society or whatever makes up a human organization is vital for human action. This has been shown also in apes. Moreover, subjective experience counts. This is what has been missing in the Newtonian world.

This is why Mizell and Malone propose a simulation model as follows:
1. Use a software development process model: A graphical representation is useful to educate decision-makers on the inherent complexity of large software projects
2. Capture uncertainty for key parameters by using probability distributions: Three are most important: a. Size of project/product; b. Productivity of project team; c. Defect rates. This will allow us to develop range estimates that consider the uncertainty that exists before the start of a project.
3. Run Model and Obtain Confidence Intervals for Effort and Schedule: Calculate confidence intervals and focus on the top half of the confidence interval to dissuade managers from accepting the lower part in order to meet the lowest possible cost and schedule.
4. Compare Model Results with Other Estimating Techniques.
5. Use model results to debate unrealistic budgets: Run it with animation so that decision-makers can visualize the process and its complexity.
6. Update Model with Actual project data as project evolves (Experience): This can be very useful in analyzing problem areas and effort based on actual project data to-date.

We can therefore safely conclude that:
1. The human mind is the most complex in all creatures on earth
2. However, this mind requires complex computer tools to realize its complex projects today.
3. Which requires this mind to use quantum physics probabilities 4.
Which then (according to the EPR Experiment) shows that this mind cannot stay in isolation of other creatures – Relationship is of the essence to cultivate – How more important would it be to cultivate it in business and social life?
5. That gets us, in my opinion, into the most fundamental of all principles: Communication, collaboration and, if possible, love. (Comment for this blog: This was a post in my Master studies of Information Systems. Christian teaching is referenced multiple times particularly in the work of John Polkinghorne, and in the final conclusion on love as the epitome of the Christian way of life.)

References: Mizell, C., Malone, L. (2007), A Project Management Approach to Using Simulation for Cost Estimation on Large, Complex Software Development Projects, Engineering Management Journal, Retrieved on September 3, 2009 from http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdf?vid=1&hid=3&sid=1d33c98f-9e1e-4296-bb45-fbbbb64b33ef%40sessionmgr11
 Hauser, M. (2009), Origin of the Mind, Scientific America, Retrieved on September 5, 2009 from http://www.sciamdigital.com/
Polkinghorne, J. (2008), Quantum Physics and Theology, Oxford University Press.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God. He was symbolically pictured as moving on water bringing life out of chaos at the beginning of creation (Genesis). This is why the Creed calls Him the "giver of life" physical, spiritual and eternal. The Holy Spirit inspired the prophets to utter the message of God and the Bible writers to write the message of God in the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Holy Spirit is called by Christ "The Spirit of Truth" for "He will guide you in all truth". So powerful is the Holy Spirit that the incarnation of God came about through His power and the cooperation of Mary the mother-to-be of Jesus. Jesus's public life started by the power of the Spirit who led him to the wilderness to be prepared for his Messianic mission and confirmed him in his baptism. Jesus calls him the Advocate for "When they bring you to trial and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak but the Holy Spirit" (Mark 13, 11). It is said that God's relationship with Man can be traced in three ages based on how it is perceived: The Age of the Father since creation and His preparation of the Chosen People in the Old Testament to the coming of the Son, The Age of the Son since the incarnation of Christ to his Ascension, and the Age of the Holy Spirit from the time of Christ's sending of the Spirit at Pentecost to the end of the world. We live in the Age of the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that the Holy Spirit did not have a role in the Old Testament or in the life of Christ. It is only how it was perceived by people. The Divinity of the Holy Spirit was challenged by Macedonius in the 4th century. The entire Church condemned his teaching at the Second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 381 AD. We know of the gifts of the Holy Spirit from the event of Pentecost when he came upon the disciples and they started speaking in languages. There are many gifts of the Spirit, which we continue to see to-date, but what is more important here is his fruits. For example he brings joy to people. What is most significant is his work in each one of us to lead us into repentance. St. Augustine referring to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12), interpreted it in a non-literalist way. He wrote that the Holy Spirit urges us to repent day and night. Blasphemy is the continuous rejection of the Holy Spirit's urge for me to repent until death. This means that the Holy Spirit works always to bring us back to God. The most joyful description of the Holy Spirit is that he is "The Spirit of Love." He signifies the essence not only of Christianity but of the Holy Trinity - God's inner life. This love is the eternal self-emptying (extacy) giving that the Father and the Son share. This binding force of self-emptying love is the Holy Spirit (St. Augustine). The Holy Spirit, since the beginning, has been working in every human, every tribe, every culture, and every civilization to bring them to the love of God. He chose the People of God to reveal to them himself (the fullness of light). However he has been giving a ray of this light to other religions, cultures and nations. According to Rahner, God's self-revelation is given to every individual regardless of their heritage, religion or culture in as much as they can perceive his light. Those who act in good conscience on the urges of the Spirit will eventually become Christian. Saints are people who respond to the Spirit even if they are not explicitly Christian. Those, according to Rahner, are anonymous Christians. But how do they find God? It is only in Christ that anyone can be saved. The Catholic Church firmly believes that Christ is the sole mediator between God and Man. And the Holy Spirit is the agent who actualizes Christ in the redeemed human race. It is the Holy Spirit who acts in the sacraments of the Church to make us holy. When Christ instructed the apostles to preach the Gospel, he said to them "Go, teach the nations, and baptize them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit." One of the signs of the Holy Spirit is unity. We find full unity only in the Catholic Church. Although the Eastern Orthodox Churches and Protestant communions have much in common with the Catholic Church, they lack this unity, found in the Petrine office, which is essential to the one catholic Church defined in the Creed. May the Holy Spirit lead all Christians to unity.
May His glory shine in us.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Thomas Collins on The Assumption of Mary

This is the 100th post in this blog. It is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary Mother of God. The post contains excerpts* from the homily of Most Rev. Archbishop Thomas Collins** in the Mass of the Solemnity of the Assumption which took place at St. Michael's Cathedral this past Saturday - It was also the ordination Mass of our friend Mounir El-Rassi to the priesthood.
[God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple. A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems. Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth. She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne.The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God....Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed One.”] (Revelation 11: 19a; 12: 1-6a; 10 ab) This reading from Apocalypse is a reference to the sign of the woman whose son was destined to rule the nations. She, like any other human, had to escape into the desert in order to deliver her son. She has to suffer like the Israelites suffered in the desert before the glory of her Son should shine. This is Mary the mother of Jesus Christ, crowned with twelve stars referring to the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of her Son and God. She is clothed with the sun and the moon is under her feet. That is how the Second Eve brought us salvation after the First Eve brought us the curse. The dragon, that is Satan, lured the First Eve into disobedience, and wanted to lead the Second Eve into disobedience too. But Mary, reminds us Luke, said “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Mary, like her Son, was assumed to heaven because she surrendered all her life to the will of God. It is because she was willing to give her life to God that he was born of her. This is our mission too: To surrender ourselves, as Mary did, to God. Today, when we are faced with challenges to our faith, let us follow Mary in her path for we want to hear the angel in our midst “Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed One.”
* The excerpts are my own paraphrasing of parts of the homily.
** Archbishop Thomas Collins is a well-known Biblical Scholar.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Transfiguration of Christ

[Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.] (Mark 9: 2-10) The story of the Transfiguration sets before our eyes a number of challenges. What is the mountain that we have to climb in order to see Christ in his Divine dazzling white clothes? What is the significance of Moses and Elijah conversing with Jesus? Then Peter dared to tell Jesus of his own terrifying joy “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!” Note how the Gospel mixes joy with terror in man’s heart! And to add to the glory of the Divine transfigured Christ, a voice from a cloud announces “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” At the end, the Apostles are not to tell anyone until the Son rises from the dead. Here is a simple interpretation: 1. We have to climb the mountain of selfishness every day. This is what we must do to really see Christ in his glory. Although he pulls us, it is up to us too to get there! We are not fully his disciples until we are free from our selfishness – a freedom that can be realized only through self-sacrificing love. 2. Moses and Elijah represented the Law and Prophets which confirmed to the Jews that Christ was the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets. However, even those great figures had their own shortcomings. Elijah killed the priests of Baal, and Moses wanted to enter the promised land by force! But again God as always works through their own thinking and culture and slowly opens their and our hearts to the Son. In this glimpse of God, both Moses and Elijah are already freed from their sins. This is why they can stand and talk to the Divine face-to-face. 3. Peter was overjoyed with this moment of glory that he, James and John experienced. The experience of God is not only joy but also an experience of awe. They were surrounded by a cloud which signifies the Divine presence. And the voice coming from within is to confirm the truth of the Divinity of Christ testified to by the Father. “Listen to him” – The only one that all generations from now on must listen to is Christ – This connects it to Peter’s earlier question “Rabbi.” But why listen to him? Because he will teach love, and will show it to the point of death. He is the lamb or the scapegoat whose sacrifice will be unlimited and eternal – the sacrifice that will fully reveal God’s love and Satan’s lies. 4. Why did Christ ask the 3 Apostles to hide what they experienced until his Resurrection? Because no one can understand the Messiah until he has experienced His Resurrection. The Apostles were scared after Christ’s death, and only after they experienced his Resurrection, have they started to preach the gospel of salvation first in the Temple to the Jews then to the gentiles all over the world. 5. And today, when Christ is being killed again, in the persons of innocent victims, by the “Satanic” powers everywhere, how should Christians react? No. Not by retaliation for He did not retaliate. When he was on the cross he loved and forgave his enemies. Our God and Christ is not a vengeful God – He will not strike the unfaithful as some fundamentalists think. In our everyday life, we can think more of the people we meet, and give them a smile and encouragement; think of our families and friends, and give them a hug; think of our spouses and give them a kiss; think of the strangers and give them a little of what we have; think of people who do not share our faith and show them the real Christ. The glory of Christ is here because heaven came to us in Christ. But we hardly see it. “Maran Atha” says the Book of Revelation which means Come O Lord. Come O Lord in our hearts and make us real Christians for we want to see your glory as your 3 disciples experienced it in the Transfiguration.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Apocalypse Now!


René Girard’s latest work on “War and Apocalypse” (First Things, August/September) stirred much-needed debate in the intellectual realm. The Stanford professor (whose theory of mimetic rivalry was a pioneer in contemporary anthropological and psychological research) has come back.

But before we discuss his latest article, we need to explore his thought. In his theory of mimetic rivalry, Girard shows how we are born with a tendency for selfishness. Mimetic rivalry, that is imitative rivalry, exists in human natural relationships. According to him, I desire what "the other" has, not only because it is good, but more importantly because he also desires it. Thus, in effect, by desiring what he has, I want to fulfill myself by “raping” and destroying him. I am my god, and will expand my family, my tribe, my nation, my religion, and my culture only because they are mine! When people fight because of rivalry, it becomes contagious, and society descends into chaos and disorder. The only Satanic remedy to restore order found in the early cultures was the scapegoat. In pagan cultures, men would collaborate and exclude or kill a person they accuse of not following them. The act of killing unites them again and order is restored. This is the ritual of sacrifice in archaic religions. Following the exclusion or killing act of the “innocent” person, the band starts feeling guilty as they see the victim not moving anymore. They then attempt to reintroduce him in their memory by making him divine, and celebrating his feast with dance and festivities. This remembrance accomplishes again what Satan wants: a lie. Order is re-established based on a lie (killing an innocent person), and a person is now divine based on another lie. This powerful chain was only broken by the death of Christ. This is the Satanic power that Christ reversed by his death, not because he was innocent but because being innocent he did not retaliate. On the cross he forgave his accusers.

In his research, Girard found that the story of killing an innocent person violently goes back to the earliest human people. Archaic religious texts and mythology are based on the same theme. The exception is the Bible. Contrary to the mythic stories of other religions, in the Genesis story of Cain killing his brother Abel, the author does not condemn the victim but the killer. The victim is also justified in many other Biblical events such as the story of Joseph who resisted the invitation of Egypt’s ruler's wife to intercourse and ended up being imprisoned for his innocence. Joseph was released and eventually became the prime minister of Egypt. As the people of God become more responsive to the Spirit of God, God reveals himself more fully in terms of relationships to His people (e.g. the victim husband Hosea to his people). The full self-revelation of God becomes actualized in Jesus Christ, His Only Son. Only in Christ, the truth is fully revealed and Satan’s lie is revealed. The only way out of the vicious circle of violence is to not retaliate which means becoming like Christ. It is because Christ gave himself, died a victim of violence voluntarily and did not retaliate that he in his human body lived again in glory (the Resurrection and Ascension in body and soul). It is true that since Christianity came into the world, a great development of morality has taken place moving entire cultures from the more violent to the less violent and accomplishing great deeds for the dignity of humanity. However, in Girard’s thought, the Spirit of Christ is working in cultures and time. The development of moral values has taken time. For example, although it was always pronounced by the Church, only in the 18th century has slavery started to be recognized and eliminated in Christian societies and the rest of the world.

Girard says that Christians are not fully Christian until they have renounced violence in all its forms, not only in their culture but also in their individual hearts. Now we can talk about Apocalypse. Since 9/11, Girard says, an abhorrent phenomenon has appeared. Fundamentalist Muslims use new technology to force America and the free world into embracing Islam. Islam is spreading everywhere in Europe, a dying continent. The religion that initially grew by the sword in the 7th century is growing again through violence. Since primitive culture and religion grew by violence, there is a renewed concern that humanity will succumb to violence again. What makes it worse is the experience of the 20th and 21st centuries – two World Wars, followed by a Cold War, followed by more struggles and wars that took place recently in Islamic countries. In my view 9/11 is not the beginning of Islamic fundamentalism. Since the mid 1970s, there has been a violent revival of Islamic fundamentalism (in fact, the Wahabi movement in Arabia started fundamentalist Islam in the 19th century and eventually they were given the entire Arabian desert by the British upon the end of World War I). This includes Iran, Saudi Arabia, Palestine/Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. But we cannot blame Muslims alone for the disasters of the world. In spite of a development in moral values because of the Christian influence all over the Western world, we are still self-destructive because, as humans, we have the power to think selfishly and act violently. In spite of the Spirit of Christ, Christians were killing each other in Northern Ireland until a few years ago. Who invaded Iraq in 2003 but Christians? Who was following his own self-interest but a Christian President of America? That is why we are not yet Christians in the full sense. By invading the "other" we are still not fully Christians - the act of true self-giving is missing not only at the cultural level but also at the individual level. There are probably more people of good will in other religions than those self-proclaimed evangelizers in North America. Satan is still going around like a lion seeking who he can swallow as recorded in the New Testament. Satan is called the accuser, divider and destroyer and he lives victorious in our civilizations, bringing us closer every day to destroy each other. This is the epitome of self-annihilation - Hell.

Another phenomenon is intriguing today. Contrary to the martyrs who died for their faith, Muslim fundamentalists die to bring death to "the other" (Christians and Jews). How would hell look like if we add to the equation the great emerging economies and military powers? China and Russia are among the leading military and economic powers today. They are trying hard to get ahead of themselves. They may be a threat to the superior West. Girard thinks that the world military powers have been studying the military theory of Carl von Clausewitz (19th century) for decades!

Should we be concerned? Will America and Europe succumb to the new might? We cannot predict the end yet, for Christ himself warned us that no one knows the hour except God. Apocalypse was meant for hope and support to Christians when John wrote it at the end of the first century, but is it also meant for the last days? As Christians we cannot fail to hope, for the Saviour is with us till the end of the world. John Henry Newman in the 19th century wrote about development of doctrine and faith. There is a development in our understanding of everything Christian, not only because the Second Vatican Council affirmed it in the 20th century, but precisely because it is guided by the God of Love.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Saints

Who are saints? Saints are people like us, who live or lived a life full of love for God and others. In brief, they cared for the "Other." This "Other" is Christ who lives in the needy, the sick, and the oppressed. Saints are the ones who do the Father's will in their lives and forget their own will. Saints rejoice in others who repent by the power of the Holy Spirit. Saints are known by their humility. As greed was the origin of sin, humility is the crown of holiness. But above all, saints are open to God's grace in their everyday life. They labour in the Lord's vineyard without regard to their entitlement. We find many saints in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. The Church commemorates them and many more. Above all the Blessed Virgin Mary was and is the humble and silent servant of God. For this, the Lord wished to be born of her and she foretold that "all generations shall call me blessed." She was silent so that Christ speaks. The Gospels hardly speak of her, yet we know from Tradition that she is the most pure of all creatures. The 3rd Ecumenical Council proclaimed Mary "Theotokos" (i.e. bearer of God) in 431 A.D. John the Baptist is alslo highly commemorated since he prepared the way for Christ by his austere life and obedience to God. From the Old Testament, we see many people who listened to God and followed him. One of them is Samuel who said to God "Speak O Lord for your servant is listening." Another silent servant of God is St. Joseph, Mary's fiance, who was a simple carpenter. In spite of his doubts about Mary's virginity, he was humble enough to accept what the angel told him in a dream. There are many saints in the history of God's people. Think of Stephen the first martyr who was stoned to death by his fellow Jews and yet he asked God to forgive them as did his Master. From the early Church, in addition to the apostles and disciples of Christ, we recall St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Basil, St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory, St. Augustine, St. John of Damascus, St. Benedict, St. Barbara, St. George, St. Damiane, St. Anthony, St. Polycarp, St. Cyril, St. Methodius and many more. From the more recent history we recall St. Francis, St. Rita, St. Charbel, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Jean Vianne Cure d'Ars, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, St Edith Stein, St. Faustina, and St. Rafka. Some of the recent Beatified are Blessed Marie Bawardi of Jesus Crucified (a Melkite nun who lived in Egypt & Palestine in the 19th century) and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The cause for the beatification of Pope John Paul II is almost complete. The Church has proclaimed some 4,000-5,000 saints to-date but heaven has a lot more saints. Many unknown saints have never been noticed. In order to avoid abuse, since the 15th century the Catholic Church established rules for declaring saints. There are three important steps that must be examined and completed for a person (candidate) to be beatified and canonized. These are: 1) Heroic life of virtue must be established based on testimonials by people who knew the candidate. 2) The candidate's faith must be in accordance with the teaching of the Catholic Church based on documents written by him/her and/or certification by authorities. 3) At least 2 miracles (that cannot be explained by scientific investigation) are attributed to the candidate's intercession. These are established through a medical committee. Following the cause for beatification, the Congregation for sainthood must approve the above findings before they go to the Pope for approval and proclamation. Saints point us to Christ. They pray for our salvation. And they rejoice when one sinner repents. The essence of sainthood is nothing else than love - true love.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Why do Catholics and Orthodox Christians have icons and statues in their churches?

There are two important events in the life of Christians that illustrate why we have icons and statues in our churches. The first is the event of the Incarnation itself. When the Word became man, he took on our flesh – Picturing him is not forbidden. On the contrary, it is venerating to the One who, being fully Divine, shared our humanity. This tradition is as early as the painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary by St. Luke according to ancient tradition. St. Veronica is said to have wiped Christ’s face on his way to the cross by her handkerchief. His face was immediately imprinted on it. In Christianity, the Jewish tradition was married to Greek thought. And with this, the magnificent arts of Rome and Greece were developed into Christian art (music, painting, sculpture, architecture...etc.) The second event was the advent of Islam into the Byzantine empire by the 7th century which caused a heresy in the East. The heresy “destruction of icons” lasted almost a century until in 787 A.D. the seventh Ecumenical Council proclaimed the truth about the Christian faith. At the Council, icons were restored to churches and peace to the empire. Why the Eastern Church no longer has statues of Christ and saints can be explained as an effect of the aftermath of Islam. It is interesting that Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer in Europe's 16th century, never intended to eliminate statues from churches. As St. John Damascene, the Arab theologian explained in the 8th century, people who could not read the Bible and the liturgy could still worship by looking at icons. In the early and Medieval Church and up to the printing industry in the 16th century, the Bible was copied by hand in monasteries. Ordinary people infrequently read it outside the church. Thanks, however, to the Greek culture, schools of theology and philosophy flourished and thanks to Christian thinkers in both East and West they became centres of learning. By the 12th century the university of Paris was already shining with many great minds. There is a third event which we tend to neglect - it is peculiar to the West as Islam was already in most of the Medieterranean countries. This was Renaissance. Renaissance developed humanism from the classic literature and influenced the Christian West in many ways. We see that in St. Francis' emphasis on the nativity and humanity of Christ. The West developed a culture open to life. Polyphony in sacred music was born in the 11th century. Gothic cathedrals are also a characteristic of Christian churches. The great painters such as Michael Angelo and Raphael brought more beauty into the Christian tradition. Think of this panorama and think how Christ has been pictured in abundant ways and colours, and you will see a sea of imagination. He has brown eyes in the East, blue eyes in the North, yellow hair in the West, and black one in Africa. Christ has the most beautiful face - and he points us to the Father! Why not paint him who dared to be visible to us? Why not paint his mother who participated in his mission and carried him in his life and death and is now with him? Why not paint saints who were heroically transformed to his "image"? The Church carries Christ in all the earth and till the end of times.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Why do we need to pray?

In every religion and culture, people pray. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists do. You and I pray everyday even though we do not really know. Before we speak of the great prayers of holy people, let’s explore the little ones…Our own prayers. When my son asks me for a favour, he does not say “I pray” but “Please.” When at work your colleague asks you for a service she says “please.” Your boss sends you a request for a task that must be done and still he says “please.” When some stranger lets me get off the bus ahead of her, I say “thank you” When my wife cooks a meal I like, I say “thank you” to her. Yesterday my eldest son bought me a nice shirt – I wanted to kiss him because he thought of me. Prayer does not have to be explicitly defined. It is innate in everyone from the little baby who needs the affection of his mother to the oldest living person who needs the care and love of his/her family. The little baby cannot say “please” yet his mother responds with giving him her affection and love. The same with everyone. It is not only private but also communal. When someone excels at his services whether at work, in the community, or in Church, people gather around him and praise him. They celebrate his services and give him a gift to recognize his contribution. We see all the above forms of prayer in every place. Prayer of supplication, thanksgiving, and praise. Yet this is only the beginning. Here is the important message: Every one of us is imperfect. He/she needs the other. Psychological studies show that a person cannot live by himself alone. People have to be in communion. Some people do this more intensely than others. They reflect on what they pray. They spend time by themselves at home to meditate. They even call on God. They talk to God even if for one minute everyday. All this is done out of need. Did you know that recent scientific research was able to find the origin of language but is unable to find the origin of worship? All humans need to worship. From the stone age to this day man worships. Prayer is only a form of worship. The development of prayer over the ages included deep meditation. In Christianity, this started with the Desert Fathers in Egypt and was brought to other parts of the world by imitating the first Fathers. .St. Anthony of Egypt is believed to be the first in a tradition that spanned the entire Christian civilization for many centuries. Many orders developed out of this deep connection to God who are still serving the world in prayer, thought, and service including the Benedictines, the Franciscans, the Jesuits, the Basilians, and many more. To-date, there are many monasteries in the world. At a deep spiritual level, monks have the courage to spend months and years praying to God. Again their prayer is meant to submit to the Father their supplications for the human needs both material and spiritual, their thanksgiving for everything we receive, their praise of God for his outpouring love that in spite of our shortcomings and sinfulness he continues to provide. The greatest miracle of all is that God loves us to the point that he came to us. He created us out of love, He became one of us and dwelt among us in Christ and he continues to dwell among us in the Holy Spirit. This is what all Christians believe. However the most enriching prayer is that of the Eucharist where the community offers thanksgiving to the Triune God. Furthermore it is the sacrificial act of God himself (who empties himself continuously in eternity by that eternal love of the Father and the Son through the Spirit). God the Son himself offers thanksgiving and sacrifice on our behalf to the Father and at the same time He is the One offered through his body and blood by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Mass, the entire Church prays the prayer of supplications, the prayer of thanksgiving and the prayer of praise. She is united to her head Christ and with him offers the gifts to the Father through the Holy Spirit. This is why we are encouraged to take the body and blood of Christ since it is really present on the altar. We need however to be careful that we receive it only when we are in the state of grace (i.e. not in the state of mortal sin). When we receive the body and blood of Christ it is there that we partake of the Divine (Theosis). Do we need to pray? Yes we do – We already do it everyday, albeit at beginners level, but we need to recognize, and deepen it in our souls through the one who said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14: 6)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The New Elijah

I met Archbishop Elias Chacour a couple of weeks ago in Toronto, together with a number of Melkite Catholics, the parish council, and above all Fr. Georges Farah and Fr. Michel Chalhoub. Archbishop Elias Chacour, Melkite Catholic archbishop of Galilee in Patestine/Israel was in Toronto to open a conference of the Presbyterian communion. He is frequently invited to speak to Christian denominations in the U.S. and is venerated as the voice of Eastern Christians who endured much suffering in the land of Christ at the hands of both the state of Israel and more recently the Muslim extremist government of Hamas.
Elias Michael Chacour was born in 1939 in Upper Galilee in Palestine to an Arab Christian family, members of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. At the age of eight he was evicted along with his whole village of Biram by Zionist forces and became a deportee and a refugee but remained in the region. Because he remained in his homeland, he was granted Israeli citizenship when the state was created in 1948. Completing his schooling in Nazareth, he studied theology at St. Sulpice Seminary in Paris, returning home in 1965. He was ordained a priest by Archbishop George Hakim of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and all Galilee, who became Patriarch Maximos V. He later studied the Hebrew Scripture at the Hebrew University. Chacour is vice president of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre. Seeing the lack of educational opportunities beyond grade 8 for his Palestinian fellows, he started his project of creating schools, that today number 10 schools, in his Mar Elias Educational Institutions. Chacour is the author of two best selling books, "Blood Brothers" and "We Belong to the Land." "Blood Brothers" covers his childhood growing up in the town of Biram, his development into a young man, and his early years as a priest in Ibillin. This book has been translated into 28 languages. His second book, "We Belong to the Land," recounts his work in the development of Mar Elias Educational Institutions, from humble beginnings to major schools for educating Palestinian young people and for helping to bring about reconciliation in a land of strife. This book has been translated into 11 languages.
Appointed by the Melkite Catholic synod to the bishopric service, Chacour currently serves as Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and all Galilee. His most recent educational work includes the building of a university in Ibillin. His diocese, the largest Christian in Israel, counts 76,000 faithful in 65 parishes. He speaks 11 languages, and has been twice nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace. For years Archbishop Chacour has been invited to lecture in conferences and to "Mega church" audiences in the U.S. and Europe. His ecumenical service that started in Palestine is bearing fruits worldwide.
His message echoes that of his Master, Jesus Christ, "Be Not Afraid" uttered almost 2000 years ago in the same place where he serves now. He reminds me first of Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh who was called "The Lion of the Council" at the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Above all, he reminds me of Elijah, the great prophet of Israel, who in the time of the great apostasy of the people of God, dared to stand alone at Carmel and call back Israel to God. This calling (in this 21st century) is as needed as ever. When today's Christianity is facing annihilation in the Middle East at the hands of fundasmentalists, both Jewish and Islamic, Christians must be encouraged to hope against hope and continue to live, albeit being persecuted, in the holy land. This is what Chacour says. But how can this "New Elijah" preach the Gospel to a hostile surrounding? Without a moment of doubt he answers "by defending peace based on justice." Is not that what Pope Benedict XVI indicated in his visit to the holy land this past May? Let us hope that this prelate of ours will succeed in his worldwide mission.
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For more info please refer to the many sites about Archbishop Elias Chacour using Google.
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Friday, June 12, 2009

Why we need to learn every day

Never stop learning. As long as you live, there is always an opportunity to learn. Because if you do not learn you will not be able to give back. Have an open mind like John of Damascus in the 8th century, Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, and Karl Rahner in the 20th century. They not only brought new ideas but developed existing ideas. Have a commitment to Tradition because it carries the experience of the people of God. It is our responsibility to be open to others and to love others. This is the way of Christ. But how can we love them if we do not know them? In the ancient traditions, knowledge was not meant only for the objective intellectual mind but also for the subjective experience of my fellow people to the point that the marital sexual act was referred to as knowledge. For example, Joseph's committment to the virginity of Mary the Mother of God was referred to in the Gospel as "He did not know her." It meant he did not have sex with her (i.e. did not know her deepest experience). We know that Mary was fully in love with God that with her obedient cooperation she considered herself only a servant and He became flesh of her flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit. Do we learn through our ideas only? No. Read again. We learn from experience more than we learn from intellectual ideas. Keep this in mind and heart.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Accountability before the Judge of Man

This past Friday, we watched a documentary interview with a contemporary priest, Fr. Steven Scheier, who lived an ordinary life of a priest, until he was near death in an accident. In the interview with Mother Angelica a few years ago, Scheier recounts his extraordinary story. On October 18, 1985, he was traveling from Wichita to his parish in Kansas. According to Fr. Tommy Lane, Fr. Scheier was involved in a terrible accident: a head-on collision with a pickup truck. Fr. Scheier was thrown from his vehicle. His entire scalp was cut off on the right side. He had suffered a broken neck, and the second cervical vertebra was broken. One of his parishioners who happened to be in the hospital was told he was being given a 15% chance to live. But he recovered unexpectedly and was able to return to his parish. He was saying Mass, and started reading the Gospel of Jesus' parable of the fig tree "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, `Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?' And he answered him, `Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'" (Luke 13: 6-9). While reading it in the Church, the page became illuminated, enlarged and came off the lectionary towards him. After Mass, Fr. Scheier remembered a conversation that had taken place shortly after the accident. In that conversation Fr Scheier found himself standing before the judgment of Christ. He says the Lord took him through his entire life, and showed him how he had failed in his priestly service. Fr Scheier said “yes” to everything Jesus said about his life. Now before Christ he was talking to Truth and when you are talking to Truth you can’t give excuses. At the end of his judgment his sentence from Jesus was hell. Fr. Scheier said “yes” as that was the only logical thing he deserved. At that moment, however, he heard a woman say, “Son, will you please spare his life and his eternal soul?” The Lord replied, “Mother, he’s been a priest for twelve years for himself and not for me, let him reap the punishment he deserves.” “But Son,” she said, “if we give him special graces and strengths then let’s see if he bears fruit; if not, your will be done.” There was very short pause, after which Jesus said, “Mother, he’s yours.” Fr. Scheier experienced Jesus’ mercy but Mary was the one who interceded for him.
That was the interview which reminded everyone of the truth of our lives. Our eternal life depends on how we live our present life in this world. Although we know that God is all-loving and merciful, it does not free us from responding to the calls of the Spirit of Jesus who knocks on our doors relentlessly. The experience of Fr. Scheier is particularly relevant to our way of modern life. Especially when the beast is here to swallow every faithful, who can guarantee his eternal life? We are all, very likely, the fig tree and Mary, our mother, continues to implore her unique son as the vinedresser did in the parable. How long will the Master be patient? Our three years are not forever. This was a priest who performed his regular duties as required, but he himself confessed in the interview that he thought with his mind only and not with his heart. It is a mystery how God uses all things, even near-death experiences, to save souls. We know for sure from recent scientific research that the subjective element in Man's experience, in this case near-death experience, cannot be discounted as mere illusions. Here is a possible miracle but the real miracle is surely the transformation of this brother who "was dead and now is alive" (Luke 15: 32). This is the work of God who saves. He is our hope.
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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mere Christianity!

The title of this post is that of a great book written by C. S. Lewis whose conversion from atheism to Christianity brought many fruits in the 20th century. The book was published and translated into many languages, not the least Arabic. That is how I learned about it. I read it first in Arabic some 30 years ago when it was published in Cairo, Egypt. My lecture here is about mere Christianity, but unlike Lewis, it is only a few lines long. In the Christian faith, God not only makes history and is beyond history, but also enters into it. He becomes a creature with all its limitation, even though he remains perfectly Divine with limitless power. In his humility, He was born in a manger, raised as a son of a carpenter, died on a cross as a criminal, and rose to eternal life when everyone was asleep. If Mary Magdalene did not tell his disciples, no one would have ever known! Mary herself thought he was the gardiner. The disciples traveling to Emmaus did not recognize him. A few days after his cruel death, he was walking and talking with them. When he appeared to the 10 apostles who were hiding for fear of the Jews, they first thought they were seeing a ghost! And when Thomas joined them, he also doubted that the Master was real until he touched the Master's wounds! For fourty days he spoke with them reassuring and confirming. For fourty days he showed them himself, now in his glorified body, ate with them and, before his ascension, blessed them. What transformed these fearful disciples? What made them go in the synagogues to preach and teach? What power made Stephen the first martyr utter the words "Forgive them" when the elders of the Jews were stoning him to death? I do not think this story can be brushed off as a fiction. The "enlightened" liberal Biblical scholars of the Enlightenment down to Bultmann in the 20th century sought to "demythologize" it. But more evidence shows otherwise. No one thinker now doubts the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. By all accounts, the empty tomb and the testimony of so many people, from the apostles including Paul in his early epistles to the 500 who saw Christ at once plus the many writings of early Christians are only the beginning. St. Paul himself described it in his first letter to the Corinthians written in th early 50s " But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead came also through a man." (1 Cor. 15: 12-21). According to contemporary Biblical scholars the firstfruits represent the portion of the harvest offered in thanksgiving to God which implies the consecration of the entire harvest to come. Christ's resurrection is not an end in itself; its finality lies in the whole harvest, ourselves. What is the meaning of the Resurrection for us TODAY. What does Christ recall to your memory? The young adults who attended the lecture gave beautiful testimonials from their own experience. Let's just go over one. One said that when she ignored a beggar her younger sister reminded her "What would Jesus do today if he were you?" Her answer was a person who felt and experienced solidarity with the beggar. She acted on it immediately, apologized to him and gave him food. You may act differently. However following her conscience, she did act. Christ was hidden in this beggar. He was in need as surely he is in many hungry people in the world. It does not matter how many times we worship in Church or how many times we take the Eucharist as long as we fill ourselves and ignore the other. She acted - Not only prayer but also action. We do not need to be scholars to follow Christ. In the simple things we can also become saints.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Source of Revelation: Tradition or Scripture?

My lecture last Friday was the first attempt to re-express the Catholic faith in as simple way as possible to my audience. Following the format of the RCIA, we looked at the Christian revelation. The Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches believe that revelation is expressed not only in Scripture but also and more importantly in Tradition. Tradition includes the liturgy, sacraments and unwritten doctrines of the Christian faith. The books of the Bible were not dictated by God, like some fundamentalists believe, but they were inspired by God in the community of His people. Furthermore, the sacred authors of the different books of the Bible wrote the books under God's inspiration using their own understanding, in the context of their culture at the time of writing. There are different literary forms and different styles in the books of the Bible. Look, for example, at Genesis and compare it with Song of Songs. One is a narration in figurative language about the origin of the human race and the other is poetry about God's relationship with his people. God does not force people. He always requires the cooperation of the human mind with the divine gift (grace).
To give you one example about the importance of Tradition, have a look at the last chapter of the Gospel of John. The author wrote "But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. " (John 21: 25). It is an expression that tells Christians two things: First, Jesus did many other things that are not written. Second, implicitly the reader needs to inquire the author about those other things. Note that the author is one of the apostles or a close companion. Note also the expression. It is not a scientific account because "the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." If the author refers the reader to the apostles, this means that he wants the reader to listen to the apostles, their close companions and successors.
How was the New Testament written? There are 3 phases. First, the disciples of Christ listened to his words and witnessed his miracles. Second, they preached what they experienced to the world around them. Third, when they were being martyred or getting older, the Christian community asked them to commit to writing what they were preaching.
Based on contemporary historical research, the first written accounts were some of the Letters of St. Paul around 49 C.A. The historical gap between the death and Resurrection of Christ around 30 C.A. and the letters of Paul is less than one generation. Many contemporary Biblical scholars and researchers using archeological evidence are boldly saying that there is very minimal chance of corruption of the text. But it is important to note that Tradition is recognized by almost all Biblical scholars to be the source of the written material in the Bible. Without the Church there is no Bible. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) authoritatively declares that the source of both Tradition and Scripture is God himself in his revelation (1). Since this lecture is meant to address the basic teaching of the Church, only this official reference is mentioned below.
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Today's Quote

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







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