Today's Wisdom

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

Friday, December 30, 2011

Paul Antaki The Great

We are saddened by the passing away of the holy archbishop, and dean of all Greek Melkite Catholic bishops, Paul Antaki in Cairo, Egypt. Our consolation is that he will now intercede before Christ in heaven for everyone and especially for the suffering ones on Earth and in Purgatory. Paul Antaki was a great example for me personally and for many other people of several generations especially in his deep commitment to the Church, living spirituality, commitment to the young adults, vocations to the priesthood, and extreme humility coupled with extraordinary capacity for self-sacrifice which he practiced unceasingly. I recall his letters to me since I arrived in Canada which he signed as Fr. Paul Antaki and his constant encouragement. I do not know much about the iron person Paul Antaki who managed to earn the respect and love of everyone I know he knew. But this is what little I know: After serving as a priest director of the Patriarchal College, he worked tirelessly in the parishes of Alexandria and Cairo. At the young age of 42, he was elevated to the ranks of bishops by the synod headed by Patriarch Maximus V in 1968 to be General Patriarchal Vicar on the See of Alexandria, Egypt and Sudan. Many pastoral visits to the parishes in all of Egypt and Sudan followed his installation. In 1971, I requested my first meeting with him in which it became apparent to me that this man was truly a man of ecumenical breadth and commitment to dialogue with the Orthodox Churches. He was enthusiastic about the youth and actively managed their activities in the Melkite parishes in Egypt and Sudan. I worked under his direction in the Catholic Apostolic movements and conferences held from 1972 which brought together some highly intellectual Catholics and the Catholic youth. In January 1978, he inaugurated the first youth meeting with the Patriarch and soon asked me to lead the new Supreme Council of Melkite Youth (university and older) in Egypt which I served for one year. Three times he called me to the priesthood and three times I declined, but he never gave up on the youth. In 1984 he accepted to be my guest for a few days when he visited Toronto, Canada. Archbishop Antaki visited Toronto again in 1990, celebrated Mass at our home, and at St. Luke Roman Catholic Church (used at the time by Melkite Catholics in Toronto.) As always, his presence meant a special occasion to my family and to the many other friends who knew him.

In 2002, Archbishop Paul Antaki resigned as Patriarchal Vicar in Cairo due to reaching the age of 75 but remained a spiritual director for many people and was followed by Archbishop Joseph Jules Zerey who is today the General Patriarchal Vicar on the See of Jerusalem. When the choir director Joseph Homsy passed away, I informed him of the sad news and he immediately contacted the Homsy families with condolences. Many other stories come to mind about how this man of God implanted a great spiritual plant in Egypt, but I will leave them to another post. To the Greek Melkite Catholic Church together with all its bishops, priests, orders and faithful all over the world, the passing away of Paul Antaki is a moment for celebration and not for sending condolences since I believe heaven is now celebrating the arrival of this humble servant. I am confident that Paul Antaki will be elevated to the ranks of the blessed as John Paul the Great. As he is a great Christian, I wish, therefore, to call him Paul Antaki the Great!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Is this the last Christmas in Jerusalem?

In view of this year’s developments in the Arab world, we need to understand the crisis that Christians are facing in the Middle East. First: Let us go back to the roots of Christianity. How were the early Christians able to spread Christ’s message with power from the Holy Land to the Roman world and eastbound to India? The Church was born in Jerusalem and so too was the Council of the Apostles held. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Council opened the Church to the Gentiles and, by the same Spirit, 1900 years later Vatican II Council opened the Catholic Church to other Christians in the world. While the Apostles were one, today’s Apostolic Churches are not. Christians in the Middle East suffer because of divisions mainly between Catholic Christians and Orthodox Christians. As we approach the year 2012 and in this Christmas, let’s pray for an Ecumenical Council convoked by the Pope that would invite Catholic and Orthodox bishops to participate and therefore seek to unite all Catholics and Orthodox of the world. In the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, this step would not only protect Christians in the East from violent fundamentalism but also Christians in the West from atheism. And, above all, it would resound the prayers of the early Christians “Come O Lord” (Revelation 22: 20). Second: To preserve Christian presence in the Middle East and guarantee their human rights to freely practice their religion, let’s recall the message of the Holy Father on January 1st this year in which he asked for the protection of Christians in the Middle East. Since then he implored us many times to support those poor and suffering Christians in the region. Charity demands us to help them financially and spiritually.

As evidence for the demand of helping those needy people, recent findings in anthropology point to the development of reciprocity since the earliest human tribal societies. Reciprocity entails trade of goods for the benefit of my nation and yours. It results in collaboration of economies for the survival of all. Anthropologists found evidence too for self-sacrifice for the survival of the community which reminds us of the sacrifices that love requires. Total selfless love springs from Christ alone “who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”(Phil 2: 6-11). It is in this spirit that the early Christians shared everything (Acts 2: 44).

While many Christians dedicate much of their time and money in charitable works, the world needs more of them and their charity to spread the good news of Christ. This reminds us that we must do like the widow whom Christ praised. She was not praised for how much she gave but for how much of her survival need she gave. It is the free response to God’s grace, which is love, that matters. Everyone can generously support the above causes by giving from his heart in spite of the global economic crisis. In Jerusalem started Christ’s mission; and to Jerusalem He must come back. Every time, we sacrifice for our suffering brothers in the lands that carried the first Christian mission to the world, we share in the Christian hope of blessing on the Day of the Lord by the Judge and God of all. And while Christmas is here, it is not enough for Christians to worship Christ in their Churches. We must worship him too in our actions of good will towards the least of His brothers.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fear Not!

Yesterday, my colleague who works at Microsoft left me a message that she would not be able to come to my office today because her husband had a cat-scan done and was called by his physician to go see the physician this morning. And she wanted to be with her husband when he receives the “surprise” news about his health status. That was fine with me. After all, she was coming today to teach me new things about Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. I could wait but she, her husband, and the doctor could not possibly wait. Fear was taking over and with fear the expectation of patients and their families worsens. Today she called me to say that they visited the doctor and are relieved to know that her husband has only a tumour in one of his kidneys and the doctors want to do more tests. At least for her and her husband they can enjoy this Christmas. I will see her in a week. But then I will tell her about fear and the way God overcomes fear in us!
My personal experience with illness started since 1986, the year when I had a mild heart attack, the replacement of the aortic valve with a mechanical valve and a double bypass surgery in 1987, followed by my enlarged prostate in 2001, aortic aneurysm found in 2002, kidney cancer (renal cell carcinoma) treated with a partial nephrectomy surgery in 2005, and stroke in 2007 following my prostate surgery in Montreal.
May 12, 1986, I recall waking up in the middle of night, having heard a coarse voice mocking me in my dream along with my father’s tender voice to go to the hospital. I was having severe angina. At Toronto General Hospital Dr. Michael Sole, FRCP, at the time research director, professor of medicine at U of T, and later chief cardiologist at TGH, diagnosed my case: a mild myocardial infarction (heart attack) due to an enlarged aorta and a thickening of the blood arteries. The aortic problem damaged my aortic valve and enlarged my heart. He warned us that without the replacement of the aortic valve, I would die within 2 years. On January 13, 1987 I underwent a successful heart surgery: aortic valve replacement with a mechanical valve and double bypass surgery carried out by Dr. Hugh Sculley, at the time an icon in valve replacements. The mechanical valve required me to take daily an anticoagulant called coumadin, to prevent formation of blood clots on the valve. From 1987 to 2001 I was followed up regularly by my family general practitioners Dr. Alyanak to 1992, and from 1992 Dr. Yehudi Shields - both at Mount Sinai Hospital (by the way, Dr. Shields was recognized for 50 years excellent services by the Hospital). From 1987 to 1992 I was seen by Dr. Sole once a year who informed me that another mild heart attack may have occurred in February 1987. But overall the valve was working fine, and from March 1987 there has been no change in my heart. I have been doing an echocardiogram every year to check the valve and the aorta. In late 1990s due to an enlarged prostate I started doing the PSA blood test which could indicate whether there is any malignant tumor. In January 2002, Dr. Shields surprised me that my PSA is fine but an ultrasound shows my aorta enlarged. He immediately consulted Dr. Sole whom I saw in March of the same year. Dr. Sole’s echocardiogram report said that there is an aortic enlarged aneurysm of 6-7 cm and being alarmed he sent me in the same day to Dr. Sculley to have an aorta repair surgery in less than a week (I knew later that Dr. Sole was top student at Harvard medical school). In meeting with Dr. Sculley, I asked him to postpone the surgery for a couple of months to allow me to participate in the graduation ceremony of my son Christian from St. Michael’s Choir school at the end of June 2002. Dr. Sculley agreed. I personally did not want to go through another heart surgery so I started calling Dr. Sculley in August, but he was already having a problem with his hands that eventually prevented him from performing any surgery. My file was then transferred to Dr. Tirone David, FRCS, known as the greatest heart surgeon in Toronto and one of the top in North America. In my first meeting with Dr. David, he explained that this is not my first heart surgery, and that it is complicated by the fact that the aortic aneurysm is in the ascending aorta. He gave me a survival chance of 60-70%. I said “Thank you but no. I would rather not do it.” In mid 2004, Dr. Shields following on my enlarged prostate found a strange thing in the left kidney based on the ultrasound test and decided to send me to a urologist from Mount Sinai by the name of Dr. Juda. Dr. Juda sent me for more medical tests and when the results came back, he diplomatically announced to us that there is probably a cancer in my left kidney and he said “I am sending you to a top shotgun-Dr. Jewett at Princess Margaret Hospital”. Dr. Michael Jewett, FRCS, is probably the top urology surgeon in Toronto. He is professor of surgery at U of T and a top researcher with 188 papers on prostate cancer and other urology illnesses. He was Chairman of urology at U of T and head of urology at UHN. Dr. Jewett said he was sure I have renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer) in the left kidney that required removal but refused to perform the surgery since I have a large aortic aneurysm. I went back to Dr. Shields hoping to convince Dr. Jewett or find an alternative surgeon. He did! But Dr. Jewett first offered the services of one of his students to perform it laparoscopically. The answer was no by the surgeon so I returned to Dr. Jewett. On January 25, 2005, I had my partial nephrectomy surgery performed by Dr. Jewett himself. He removed 40% of my left kidney to ensure that no cancer will spread. Since then I have been doing a yearly check-up on the kidney. While recovering from the surgery in 2005 I had bleeding from the kidney due to my anticoagulant. It took me back to the hospital for another 20 days. In April 2006 I had the first urinary tract obstruction due to my enlarged prostate. On and off using a catheter, I asked Dr. Jewett about any procedure that would relieve it. He said they do in Toronto the traditional TURP surgery which carries a risk of bleeding, but a new method called HoLEP is used by Dr. El-Helali, a top prostate surgeon, in Montreal. I went to see Dr. El-Helali in May 2007 and had my prostate surgery at Royal Victoria Hospital performed by Dr. El-Hilali on July 10. His assistant urged me to take my anticoagulant which I had stopped before the surgery as required but I thought that I do not need bleeding in Montreal. “I will come back to Toronto in 3 -4 days and can then restart my anticoagulant.” On July 18, 2007 I felt dizzy- My wife Samia called 911 and immediately they transferred me to North York Hospital. I was treated there from stroke. The neurophysicians said that a clot formed on the mechanical aortic valve when I did not take my anticoagulant. It travelled to the brain and caused the stroke. Thanks to God, I survived. My speech became slightly slurred and my writing became difficult but other than that I had full memory, comprehension, and all the motor functions intact. The stroke however reset my systolic blood pressure to less than 100. My beta blocker had to be reduced which caused my heart beats to go over 90 per minute. It also caused me stress and resulted in extra heart beats. I was seen by Dr. Sole in early October. He did an electrocardiogram to check my heart, an echocardiogram to check the aortic aneurysm, and a holter monitor to check my extra beats. He saw me again in November and did a blood pressure monitor to ensure my blood pressure is not hypotensive. The results were amazing: My electrocardiogram showed no change in the heart electricity since 1987. My echocardiogram showed no heart failure, and no change in the aortic aneurysm. It is even slightly less, measuring 5.8 cm. My holter monitor showed that my extra beats are benign. They are the type that results from stress and eventually they disappeared. My blood pressure monitor showed my blood pressure is exactly what it should be – not hypotensive that could induce a stroke, and not hypertensive that could cause cerebral hemorrhage -about 105-65.
Dr. Sole said to me “You fell on the right side” The stroke has corrected the risk of my aneurysm rupturing.
And Dr. Sole said this to me “God is smiling on you”!
Dr. Sole did another echocardiogram and an electrocardiogram last year. He was amazed that the aortic valve is working fine; both cardiograms showed a stable heart with no heart failure.
When I look back at 25 years of illness, I am amazed that not only have I survived the 2 years ultimatum for an enlarged heart, but also survived the kidney cancer, the dangerous aortic aneurysm, and the stroke. Everything worked together to give me life, even though I did not deserve it. My great sins and pride did not stop the hand of God to work through those genius physicians. In all these events, God intervened to rescue me from death. As he worked through physicians he also works through many more.
The cause is simple: God loves. Christ loves. I cannot fail today 4 full years after the stroke, to recognize the miracle that God has worked for 25 years in my body. I am a living miracle. But the greater miracle remains...”Fear Not” Christ said; for when there was a storm he calmed it and when there was sadness he overcame it.
What can I say today to my colleague from Microsoft? Fear Not – He is there! Blessed be the name of Christ.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Poverty in the Church

While many middle-class people are struggling with the global economic recession and the loss of jobs in Europe, the U.S. and Canada, I can only offer prayer that the hierarchy of bishops in the Catholic Church, and leaders of other Christian Communions, share more in the suffering of their people. An example in the footstep of Christ, who had no place to rest his head on, is for the bishops starting with the Pope to relinquish some of their palaces, houses, red silk garments, and honour guards and give the proceeds to the new poor. This will be only a symbolic gesture on the part of the high authority in the Church for we know that the Catholic Church spends much on the causes of poverty and education. But it will be a signal to atheists who continue to find wrongs in every thing that the Church does.
Moreover, Vatican II gave priority to the poor. In gesture after gesture, the saintly Pope Paul VI gave up his "Tiara" following in the footsteps of his predecessor Blessed John XXIII who made it a tradition that the Pope would receive other dignitaries in the Vatican standing with them on equal footing or almost. Blessed John Paul II showed much humility when he celebrated his own coronation by offering wine to his colleagues the bishops going around the table and serving them! Of particular concern to me is the way Eastern Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs still hold on to crowns and display of honorary icons on their chests! Some Protestant leaders in the U.S. display gold rings and expensive suits while continuing to ask for donations on TV! I hope I am proven wrong. The example comes always from the top! Preaching, although necessary, is not enough!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Development of Knowledge

Why is knowledge important?

Why is knowledge important? Because without knowledge we remain content with ourselves and we would, therefore, stagnate. According to the accepted Theory of Evolution, the long evolution of life required creatures to adapt to the environment. As humans we would not have been here had our human ancestors not adapted to the difficult life they faced. From the cave-man to today’s civilization, survival remains a challenge. In a simple phrase, we stand on the shoulders of giants: philosophers and scientists who not only pioneered methods of understanding, learning, and discovery but also invented new products that made our lives easier. Humans have larger brains than other creatures. The larynges in humans allow them to utter words - they are able to speak in languages which are a symbolic way of expressing themselves, their experiences and their thoughts. Since humans have memory they are able to remember and record their experiences. Thinking in abstract developed in mathematics. Reflecting on human experience developed in arts. Archeologists found artistic paintings in the caves of Lascaux in France dated 18,000 years ago.

Deeper Knowledge?

But with all the above developments in knowledge, we still miss the most important knowledge: Knowledge of the Other. Knowledge becomes a relationship that requires two persons or more to share it. It then becomes deeper in feelings of wonder, passion, and achievement. Yet it still gets deeper in collaboration for survival together. Notice the word: together. The human race becomes a multitude not only by reproduction as in other animals but also in making tribes and nations.

Here is very briefly what I think based on my studies. This is only my opinion and needs to be ratified by the Catholic Church for its truth:

God worked throughout history in his creation to bring them closer to him. The story of Adam and Eve sheds light on the fruitful work of God. He who did not need anyone freely created the universe and life so that his love may be manifested and at last his own image his Son, the Second Adam, may save man and bring creation to his Father and offer it in his act of selfless love. "Adam knew Eve" did not mean that he knew her name or her feelings or even had sex with her but it meant that he knew her in the way she is - in her depth. Flesh from his flesh and blood from his blood. Blood is the symbol of life. He loved her as she is and this is why they begot their children in their conjugal act - Life from life and love from love. This is the fruitful work of God. This was the first Covenant, a covenant between Adam and Eve blessed by God. Knowledge is not only a mental act. It is deeper. It points to the relationship in which everyone gives himself to the other. And when we give ourselves to God, we mean, like Christ, to love God with all our hearts and minds and strength, literally to give him all we are - Not only all we have but all we ARE even as we die. For without death there is no life. And the life Christ gave us is the eternal life in the Trinity - God. We need to imitate Christ in his love, not only of his own people the Jews, but of strangers too - Samaritans and Gentiles in the land of Canaan, and not only of strangers but also of his enemies. He forgave both Jews who shouted “Crucify him” and Gentiles who executed Pilate’s orders even when they conspired to kill him on the cross. His enormous sufferings of being abandoned and his enormous sufferings of physically being tortured, flogged, crowned with thorns, crucified, and shot with a spear in the heart while his mother was watching him are the sufferings of God himself who would not accept less than death for the life of humankind. To know God is to know Christ, who is God in the flesh, among us. And to know Christ is to love him as he loved us.

An Introduction?

The story of the development of knowledge is much more interesting than what you see here. In a few months you should be able to purchase my book “An Introduction to the Development of Knowledge” from and many other bookstores in Canada and the U.S. In the book, I build on the findings in physics from subatomic particles to huge galaxies in the universe, and the latest in quantum physics. Of more interest you will read in the book about the development and research in information systems, artificial intelligence, economics, anthropology, neuroscience and psychology. But more to the point you will find some fascinating works in man’s search for God since the beginning of civilizations, God’s self revelation to man and man’s response to God throughout history. Lastly, the development of knowledge is a fascinating story for it is your story and mine - the story of God’s love unfolding in the lives of creation.

The story of God’s love for man culminates in Christ with whom we are “entangled” for it is impossible after we indeed know him that we could not be in love with him.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Why Have You Abandoned Me?

Why have you abandoned me? Why do not you come any more to visit me? I am here imprisoned in the altar and hardly see anyone of you. I am like the lonely parents whom you do not visit anymore. You come only to ask me a favour or insult my generosity with your fighting in my church. Or you sit in my house laughing with each other and uttering lowly jokes without any respect for my presence. You come to my house and forget to pray to me although you know that I created you and nurtured you. You sit around my house playing cards or gossiping when I am here suffering your abandonment. If I did not love you, you would not be judged. If I did not offer you your eternal joy, you may be justified in denying me. But you know that I loved you and continue to love you. You know that I suffered and died so that you can live. You know that I give you myself everyday in the Eucharist. Yet you receive my blood and body when it suits you without confession and without repentance. You ungrateful children, how long can I bear your intransigence? Wake up for the enemy is going around to swallow you. I am the Alpha and the Omega. Come to me.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Power of Christianity

Fear and hope drive every human person. This is my basic theory. It is out of fear that the child in his very early age clings to his mother, for he needs to survive. He depends on his mother and surroundings to be nourished but above all to be protected from any predator. The little smile of his mother brings him comfort but he is most comfortable when he knows that he is loved by her. Expand this notion to families, tribes, nations and the world. You will see the same model. Anxiety is at its highest when I know that I am threatened in my survival. The global economic hardship experienced today is a story about humans whose needs for survival are crushed by others who have followed their selfish greed.

And the reverse is true. I am happy when I experience the love of someone else especially if that person is powerful enough to protect me. When I was a child I was protected by this tender love of my mother. I love her because she loved me first. She actually sacrificed for me so much that I still love her even after she passed away. Is this not the most valuable thing in my memory? Let’s move this thought forward. How much is love sufficient? Can someone love me unconditionally like my mother? Of course she loved me because I am her natural offspring. This is the natural phenomenon which neuroscientists keep talking about. Certain hormones in the brain such as oxytocin help the mother bond with her child.

I must love myself. By this I mean that I always need to satisfy my survival needs. Beyond my love of myself, my love of my mother and my father is a response to their enormous sacrifices for my life. This response is manifested in many ways but at least it is manifested in my attitude to trust them, respect them and pray for them. As we grow together (the environment) and as we have many similar traits (genetics), I am open to love my brothers and sisters. One problem is sibling competition which can bring about envy since each one wants to get ahead and possess the greatest good for himself. The Biblical story of Cain and Abel is an example and so is the envy exhibited by Jacob’s sons towards their younger brother Joseph. Many questions have been raised about mimetic violence in family, community, and among nations. The more we have pride and envy the more we want to crush the other. My imitation of my model can turn me into an envious person. See the contemporary writings of René Girard in his Mimetic Theory. Predation is, in a way, the history of all creatures but only humans have enough intelligence to recast this evolution into a cultural development of respect and love.

From another angle too, it has been found by anthropologists that collaboration between men goes back to the cave-man. Reciprocity of goods is stronger than enmity. It develops in trades between tribes until it reaches mutual defence against a common enemy. Survival becomes a collective enterprise. You may wish to read “The Fair Society” by Peter Corning. In spite of violence, Steven Pinker traces evidence of the decrease of violence in the history of Western human societies and others. Altruism which is the self-sacrifice for the benefit of the community is also found not only in humans but other creatures, such as birds, as well. This has been documented in many writings for over 2 decades.

Love is the epitome of values. It is the reason why we miss the people we love. But it also demands self-sacrifice. Love is the highest norm of every true civilization.

What amazes me is the Christ event. Regardless of any culture or religion, Christ showed by action and teaching that love is not only possible towards my people, but also towards the strangers and above all towards my enemies. But Christ pushes the limit to eternity. He loved his disciples, his fellow Jews, the strangers whether in Canaan or Samaria, and his enemies who crucified him and killed him. And the fruit of his love has been the spreading of his good news. The Gospel only tells us a little about Christ, and this is why we attempt to follow those who imitated him: the Church of the apostles, martyrs, and saints. Christianity did not survive only because of emperors embracing it but mainly because many followed Christ and dared to imitate him in building a huge civilization of learning. For we all must learn and continue to learn what he illuminated the world with: Love.

As for hope, it is characteristic of human persons since humans are endowed with unique intelligence and memory. If you can remember who you are, you surely want to live eternally without the minimum suffering. But true hope is more than selfish hope - because if you love others you want them to be with you. Heaven is a state of joy where all lovers and beloved are together. According to the law of non-contradiction, it is impossible to hate whom you love. From a Christian perspective, according to the late Richard John Neuhaus, faith is hope anticipated and hope is faith disposed toward the future.

If, according to the New Testament, God is Love, then God must love another in order to be love in His essence. According to the Biblical revelation, God wills that everyone be saved. He creates out of love and saves out of love. The Trinity can be perceived although never comprehended. According to St. Augustine, God the Father begets His Son eternally in selflessly loving Him. The Son loves the Father too. The bond of this eternal love from the Father to the Son and from the Son to the Father is the Holy Spirit. Modern theologians look to Christology “from below” in order to reference everything from the humanity of Christ. The idea is not flawed since he who is eternally begotten from the Father was born by the power of His Spirit from the Virgin Mary in time. Taken from this direction, if Christ brings humanity to God, it follows that he is God incarnate otherwise he would not have been able to save any human person.

Such is the beauty of Christ and Christianity! Today we need Christ and His Church more than ever!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thérèse of the Child Jesus - The greatest saint in modern times

"Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19: 14)

If we literally analyse the above statement of Jesus in the Gospel, we conclude that children will be in heaven. This tells us that people who have a child-like trust in God as children do with their parents, will enter heaven, or rather heaven will grow in them.

But what makes Thérèse the greatest saint in modern times? She did not perform any miracle in her life. She did not have the stigmata nor was she able to penetrate other people’s hearts. She was not a prophet, nor a teacher. She did not even see people but was a cloistered nun in a simple convent in Lisieux. We, in fact, would not have known anything about her short life had she not written her autobiography on order from her superior.

She was born in 1873 to two pious parents (who have recently been beatified). She was the 9th and youngest child of Louis and Zelie-Gerin Martin, therefore, the most spoiled of their children. Her father used to call her affectionately “My queen”. She was walking with him one night and saw the stars making the letter T in the sky. Amazed she told her dad “Look, my name is written in heaven!” Her mother died of breast cancer when she was only 4. Her father had a stroke and died when she was only 15. Thérèse grew in the atmosphere of a religious family: all her sisters, like her, became nuns. This shows the example of the parents in bringing up their children. They respected their children and loved them. They recognized their dignity and joyfully carried them to become what they wanted to be.

Now little Thérèse was very sensitive – after her mother’s death she adopted her sister Pauline as her second mother. Thérèse wanted to be happy. When as a child she was asked to choose one toy from a basket of toys, she grasped them all. She claims to have been miraculously cured from illness when the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary seemed to smile to her. However, her change from “mine” to “yours” came about when she had an inner conversion experience on Christmas eve when she was almost 14 years old.

Her desire to be with Jesus grew and became an exploding love which led her to plead with Pope Leo XIII to enter the Carmelite order at the early age of 15. Approved on an exceptional basis she was admitted. Here started her “little way” - doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way. She wanted to be a saint but saw that she could not imitate the great saints who fought the spiritual wars and “earned” their merits with great deeds. For her, it was enough to do one’s little job but only do it with confidence in God’s merciful love. Thérèse practiced this way to the end. A happy girl, confident in God’s love, finding satisfaction in reading the Bible since she did not understand the great teachers, and doing her daily duties with care, she grew in carrying the cross of Christ. Her doubts of the existence of God and her physical illness did not prevent her from growing in faith, hope and love. She died of tuberculosis at the early age of 24. Her last word was “My God, I love you!”

We know now from history that Pope Benedict XV in 1922 had to break the rule that no cause for sainthood could be considered for at least 50 years after her/his death. She was beatified in 1923 and canonized in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. In 1997, on the occasion of the centenary of her death, Pope John Paul the Great, who himself was one of the most learned popes, made her Doctor (i.e. Teacher) of the Church.

The reason was simple: She was simple. She attracted many people to her “Little Way” to sainthood. When her book was published a few years after her death, it became a phenomenal best seller among ordinary lay people. Her popularity became world-wide with “showers” of miracles and conversions attributed to her intercession. Many churches have been consecrated to her, and at Lisieux where she lived and died, there is a shrine of her.

She has been, and continues to be, one of the most beloved saints in the history of the Church.

How important is this example for us and our world in this post-modern age where the rule is no rule, love is rather the selfish physical desire, and greed is the driver of souls.

Thérèse of Lisieux – Teacher of the World! That is what I think.

The End?

The End is characterized by the Second Coming of Christ. The Gospel tells us in vivid parables that we must remain vigilant. But what does “vigilant” mean? If you are a student you have an incentive to study hard. You spend time sharpening your skills and memory to get the best marks. It is serious for you. This is how important the Second Coming of Christ was to the early Christians. Note that Mark 13 talks about two different events: The first is the destruction of the Temple which took place in 69-70 AD when the Romans, led by Titus, destroyed Jerusalem and killed its inhabitants. The second event is the eschatological coming of Christ “on the clouds” which is more important to us. Writing in “The New Jerome Biblical Commentary” (1991), the Jesuit Biblical scholar Daniel Harrington indicates “The cosmic portents (in reference to “the Sun will be darkened...”) preceding the coming of the Son of Man echo certain Old Testament texts: Isa 13:10; Ezek 32:7; Amos 8:9....” However, the Son of Man here is not the angelic figure described in Daniel 7:13 but “is clearly Jesus” says Harrington. According to Harrington, the Biblical message is an exhortation to confidence and vigilance (Mark 13: 28-37). The definitiveness of Christ’s saying is expressed here “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Jesus speaks the language of Isa 51:6 and 40:8 to underscore the divine authority of his teaching.

"But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Although Arians in the 4th century, and today’s Mormons argued, based on this text, that Christ did not know the exact time of the end of the world, the early Church was confident of the divinity of Christ to whom Thomas testified “My Lord and My God”. According to Tradition, Christ meant that he was not going to reveal what he knew as the Son of God of the mystery of the end, but only as humans are curious the question may not be answered. This interpretation is in harmony with the Church’s doctrine that Christ was not only God but also fully human. In the 11th century St. Malachy received the gift of prophecy and is said to have received a vision of the popes from his day to the end of time. According to the documented vision, there remains only one pope after the current Pope Benedict XVI before the end of time (see

Meeting Jesus is the most important event that we must prepare for. Confidence in Jesus, as shown in the lives of saints, is the key to this preparation. This is the meaning of the Third Secret of Fatima which many Christians seem to be curious about. This is particularly important in the current crisis of global economic hardship. Preparation requires personal repentance and forgiveness. Christ asks us to love God and love each other as he loved us. Reading the Gospel and praying need to be followed by actions including helping those in need, and by receiving the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist. Confidence in Jesus will move us to thank him for everything he does and allow him to enter in our minds and hearts.

One particular prophecy of Christ intrigues me, although it can safely relate to the persecution of the early Church: children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.In my opinion, this prophecy can be applied too to today’s attempts by governments to eliminate old people. When my own mother had her stroke in 1999, she was transferred to the nearest hospital in Brampton. As she was in vegetative state, doctors and nurses in the hospital urged us to authorize them not to resuscitate her if she gets a heart attack. She was 79 when she had her stroke and lived 3 more years in this state. We refused to authorize doctors to pre-emptively kill an innocent person. For the government, she was only a number who occupied a bed. The budget for healthcare medicare is a matter of cost. This is another thing that you must be vigilant about.

In the teaching of the Church, every life is sacred from natural conception to natural death. The tightening of economic spending may force governments to implement such ideas as euthanasia especially because the elderly live longer than years ago. However, as Christians we must oppose such barbaric ideas resurrected from the Nazi’s regime. As Christians we are invited to console the elderly in their loneliness. For love must triumph in the end. While we suffer here we are confident that Christ will wipe out every tear when we hopefully join him in the New Jerusalem of heaven (Cf. Revelation 21: 4). We hope we will be among the elect.

Curé d'Ars - A Spiritual Father

Jean-Baptist Marie Vianney lived in 19th century France. Born a son of a farmer in 1786 near Lyons, he entered the seminary at the age of 20 but had difficulties in his theological studies. He was, however, ordained a priest because his bishop felt it was necessary to have not only knowledgeable priests but holy ones too. His first appointment was to assist the parish priest at Ėcully who appreciated Vianney's assistance until his death in 1817. Vianney was then appointed parish priest of Ars-end-Dombes (a remote small village of about 250 inhabitants). There the curé d’Ars, as he was popularly known, started his active campaign against immodesty. He preached everyday and received confessions of the faithful that was unmatched by any known priest before him. He spent 14 to 17 hours a day in the confessional. His fame spread quickly especially that he was regarded by all as a miracle worker. He was also given the gift of reading people's hearts. People from far away visited him and requested his guidance which forced the atheist government of the Revolution to set up transportation routes to Ars. One story stands out which tells us of his holiness. On entering the church he saw a peasant sitting in front of the Eucharist. Vianney asked him what he was doing and the answer came: I look to him and he looks to me! That was Jesus in the Eucharist who continues to look to every one for a little prayer or at least a look. The great Curé experienced much suffering and diabolical temptations but he never broke his commitment to Christ! He died in 1859 and was canonized in 1925.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Maximilian Kolbe in imitation of Christ

Maximilian Kolbe was a Capuchin priest when he was arrested with other Christian and Jewish Polish people by the Nazi during World War II. He had been publishing devotional material that promote consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary, for when he was a child the Virgin Mary appeared to him in a vision and offered him two crowns a white one (for purity) and a red one for martyrdom. He said he accepted both. During his theological studies at Rome, he observed the vehement demonstrations by Freemasons against the Pope in which they placed the black standard of the "Giordano Burnisti" under the windows of the Vatican, on which the archangel Michael was depicted lying under the feet of the triumphant Lucifer (Satan). The event inspired Maximilian to organize the militia immaculata to convert Freemasons to the Catholic faith through the intercession of the Blessed Mother of God. When the German military occupied Poland in 1939, they sent those suspected of hiding the Jews to Auschwitz concentration camps where they were subjected to hard labour and eventually extermination. The story of Maximilian's true heart is shown in the last few weeks of his earthly life. As always, prisoners attempted to escape the brutal situation, and at one night on July 31, 1941 three prisoners succeeded in their escape. The German commander immediately picked up 10 men to be starved to death as a deterrent for other prisoners. The men, picked up randomly, cried out in despair but one of them shouted "My wife; my children!" At this moment, Maximilian asked the commander to take him instead saying "I am an old priest and this man has a family." The commander accepted and Maximilian went to the starvation prison with the other 9 people. One of the most dramatic moments in the life of the universe echoed then and there, for it was followed by the conversion of those taken with Maximilian due to his persevering and encouraging prayer with them. On August 14, 1941, he was injected with a lethal injection as, while all his co-prisoners were already dead, he appeared to survive longer than expected. A hero of love in imitation of Christ, this man died so that another man and his family may live. He was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1971 and canonized as a martyr by Blessed Pope John Paul II in 1982 in the presence of Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man who was saved by Maximilian's death in the War.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ignatius of Loyola

The founder of the order of the Society of Jesus in the 16th century was not born a monk. He was born to a Basque noble family, a man of pride ascending the ladder of fame in Spain, then manifested in the military honour and power of knights, until he was seriously wounded in the battle of Pamplona in 1521. Such was the case also with Francis of Assisi. In Ignatius of Loyola we see again the power of the transformation God uses in us -weak humans - so that we can become one day united to him in Christ. God who is the eternal Mystery is also the approachable father who calls everyday his servants to become closer to his eternal Son.
While being hospitalized, Ignatius read De Vita Christi written by the influential theologian Ludolph of Saxony and there he contemplated in a vision the "discernment of spirits." From the hospital emerged the conversion to Christ when Ignatius experienced the joy of being with Christ and likewise the experience devoid of joy when he projected his glory without Christ. True joy is a fruit of the Spirit as written in the New Testament. And here Ignatius discerns the true joy which will carry him, with some friends, to Jerusalem and then to Rome. The Jesuits or Society of Jesus, approved by Pope Paul III in 1540, were active in the Counter Reformation preaching. They carried the missionary work to China in the Far East, to the Middle East, and the New World. Ignatius of Loyola was beatified and then canonized in 1622. In his active life as a disciple of Christ, Ignatius educated many followers in the Exercises. The Jesuits have been at the forefront of Catholic education. Not an easy task in an increasingly secular environment, they continue to teach and found universities and schools in the entire world. Among them you will recognize such giants as the twentieth/21st centuries Henri de Lubac, Karl Rahner, John Courtney Murray, and Avery Dulles with their suffix S.J. or sj which means Society of Jesus. On this blog, many of them are featured in links to other websites of great learning. In this spirit, Christians are invited to learn, guided by the Church, and be open to the Spirit.

Michel Chalhoub on Repentance

Fr. Michel Chalhoub spoke at Jesus the King Melkite Catholic parish about the need for repentance. He said that we are preoccupied by temporal things at work, family, and entertainment to the point that we leave no space in our thought for God. The advances in consumerism and material innovation are not matched by advances in hunger for spiritual renewal. This is particularly seen in the Mass when people receive the body and blood of Christ without having confessed their sins. St. Paul said that he who receives the sacred body of Christ without merit brings upon himself judgment. "You may say: I did not steal or kill, but are you sure that in your heart you have not killed the reputation of your neighbour? Could not you humble yourself before God as he humbled himself to the point of death for you?" He continued: When I raise the cup to the Father in the Eucharistic prayer, I kneel and so you behind me should kneel in your hearts. The love that God showers on us everyday requires us to repent and be humble. He touched upon an event in the life of St. Elizabeth. When the Blessed Virgin Mary rushed to visit her cousin Elizabeth, she did not expect the older woman who had just been pregnant miraculously to receive Mary with humility. In Luke we read that Elizabeth said to Mary "And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me." In her humility Elizabeth was granted the revelation that from Mary shall come the Lord. It is with such humility that we should repent, receive the Sacrament of Penance or Confession and only then receive the Body and Blood of Christ our Lord and God. Michel Chalhoub also said that when he kneels before the Eucharist, he prays for all the people in church and all their sick and their departed ones so that the ever loving God may grant his mercy to all.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The "Occupy" Phenomenon

The phenomenon started a couple of weeks ago in the heart of Capitalism as a protest of the "99%" of Americans who feel they have been betrayed by the government and its supporters of lobby groups which allow 1% of the population represented in Wall Street and the corporate elite to "steal" and control the resources, wages, and survival of the vast majority of people. The phenomenon has now spread to many more cities in the U.S. and in Canada where more protests have been launched by similar protesters. In Europe, and particularly the periphery where people are suffering more government programs cuts, there is an astonishing wave of protests in Greece, Italy, and Spain. Some commentators have already expressed the similarity in many ways with the Arab uprising in the Middle East. America, Canada and Europe indeed have been in what is arguably "a double dip" economic recession that, if not checked, will bring the entire globe to its knees. Many questions can be raised: 1. What is the specified objective of these protests - Are they about lost jobs? Higher fees for tuition in universities? Pensions? Poor conditions? 2. Is there a proposed alternative to respond to the above needs that protesters are proposing? 3. If these protests descend into anarchy and violence, as happened in Italy today, the police will have to respond and this by itself will discredit the good cause of protesters. How can they be justified in a civilized society? 4. We may be able to compare these protests with those in the Middle East except that violence in the Middle East is increasingly taking place along sectarian and religious lines especially the latest violence by the governing armed forces against Christian protesters in Cairo, Egypt last Sunday. It is evident that dictatorship is not only that of the political dictators exploiting the resources of their people, but also the dictatorship of the majority of rich corporate elites enslaving the workers as well as that of denying people of certain religious groups the right to worship according to their own creed. We will have to come to this again as it touches on the concept of fair society which is an urgent moral issue today.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Francis of Assisi - The Friend of Creation!

On October 4, the Catholic Church remembered St. Francis of Assisi. Francis was born to a rich merchant in Assisi in the 12th century. He was given the name Francesco (the French man) by his father in honour of his French business. In Francesco's early youth years he spent his time with rich friends and in worldly pleasure, yet he also showed generosity to beggers. This is the heart that the Crucified opened up. In 1201 Francis joined a military expedition against Perugia and was taken as a prisoner where he spent a year in captivity. When he returned to Assisi he became seriously ill and there had a conversion experience. While praying at the church of St. Damieno, he had a vision of the Crucified Christ speaking to him and asking him to "Rebuild my Church." Francis took this request literally and started rebuilding the church of stone with money from his father's business. While asking God to show him the way, he came to understand Christ's request in a new way - rebuild the Church of souls. This was a turning point in Francis' life. Francis had already spent much time in meditation and came to reject the worldy life that he had experienced in his early youth. The Roman Church was at the peak of its earthly power with Pope Innocent III. Francis requested the pope to allow him to start a beggars order. Innocent III had a vision of the future Church after which he approved Francis' request. All of this is history, but the significant lesson is the way Francis responded to the call of the Crucified. His conversion was probably gradual. However his generosity allowed him to share in the poverty of beggars' life of need and create a huge order with many followers - The Franciscans who grew up to count in thousands only in a few years. Francis was called the Alter Christus (the Other Christ); for he imitated Christ in his tender love of all creatures. Francis taught by example and talked to animals, birds, called the Sun Sister and the moon Brother and seemed at ease with wild animals. He is probably the first humanist in history; for he loved Christ and every other human he encountered. He built the first manger and added real animals to be part of the nativity scene. He insisted on the beauty of creation and was himself a poet. His mission took him to Egypt to preach to the Muslim Khaliph Al-Kamel and then to Acre but without success. Francis received the first known stigmata in history and suffered with Christ in silence "to complete" in his flesh "what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for the sake of his body that is the Church" (Col 1:24). On his death bed, Francis was surrounded by his followers singing his hymn "Make me an instrument of your peace." Contrary to us, he was not afraid of death; for he himself considered death "a brother." Since his mission started in the 13th century, he has been beloved by many generations; for like the prostitute whom Christ forgave, he "loved much." (Luke 7: 47)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

An Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI

Your Holiness Benedict XVI: I would like to thank you for the many gifts given to you by God that you have invested in serving in the vineyard of Christ. Your defence of the Church and her Lord in your addresses, books, and theological works are a shining post in theological development in the Catholic Church. Your participation in Vatican II as an expert and your work in ecumenical encounters following the Council shine more your committment to Christian unity. There is a lot more that I can cite from your work that would take me an entire book to write. However, I wish only to focus on the challenges we face today in the Middle East. As a son of the Catholic Church and in the spirit of Vatican II, I implore you to help advance the theological dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox Churches that the Catholic Church recognizes as true sister Churches of the Church of Rome. True, Christian unity is a gift from God but I believe that God uses his servants to realize the day when they share the full communion together. I also recall to your attention that most Eastern Churches whether Orthodox or Catholic are suffering in the Middle East and are mostly poor compared to the riches and assets owned by Roman Catholic Churches of the West. In the same spirit of Vatican II, I recall the insistence of the Council for a preferential treatment of the poor and the gestures made by your predecessor of venerable memory Pope Paul VI. Pope Paul VI gave up the tiara and his ring for the benefit of the poor. Blessed Pope John XXIII, who convoked Vatican II and worked tirelessly for opening the Catholic Church to the world, said that the Church seeks today to apply the remedy of mercy to her children. Blessed Pope John Paul II advanced the cause of the poor in his many addresses and called for a sincere dialogue between the rich North and the poor South. It is with the above consideration that I approach you to seriously consider the poor Christians in the Middle East. I propose that your holiness help them in their struggle for survival and encourage them to do the best not only for the Church but also for their own families that are suffering. I can think only of the remnants of Greek Melkite Catholics in the Middle East, my own community, that our patriarch and bishops are pressing to stay in the Middle East only to preserve the presence of Christians there. If the Catholic Church is serious about keeping the presence of Christians in the Middle East, she can do more than simply exhorting the faithful. Through the Vatican's diplomatic representatives, she can press governments in the Middle East to ensure the continuous safety of all Christians in that region of the world and their freedom to practice their religion. She can also help them financially and support them to remain Christian in this region. Moreover, a public gesture from your holiness would generate positive feelings in the media such as those of your predecessors of venerable memory: Probably visiting the war-torn region of Eastern Africa that is causing great famines among its most vulnerable citizens. And while speaking about Africa I note that it is the continent where Catholic missions are gaining to Christ many new faithful. This continent, together with Asia, deserves the attention of the Holy See. And as a case in point, upon their recent independence, 30 million Christians in Southern Sudan are in need of much help to reconstruct their lives after 50 years of an atrocious war with the North Sudan that claimed many innocent souls. A Jesuit priest from the Melkite Catholic Church, who has been active as vice-president of Caritas International in the Middle East and worked in Sudan himself, has proposed the idea of twinning between a rich town/city in Germany or North America and a poor one in Southern Sudan. According to him, the idea had already been successfully implemented in Europe assisting poor villages. A website is being developed for this purpose. Your personal powerful intercession for those poor Christians in Southern Sudan will definitely bear fruits. Africa is ripe as a vineyard for the Catholic Church. I will continue to recall your words at your inauguration as the Vicar of Christ in 2005: I want to be a humble servant in the vineyard of the Lord. Finally I seek Your Apostolic blessing in the name of Christ. Yours faithfully, George Farahat Chancellor, Jesus the King Council, Knights of Columbus Lecturer, Jesus the King Greek Melkite Catholic parish Toronto, Canada

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Recalling The Second Vatican Council

It is hard to write any theological work on the modern history of the Church without an appreciation of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II). By all accounts, Vatican II (1962-1965) is historically the most ecumenical or universal Council in Church history. It was attended by almost 3000 bishops from all over the world. Although the Orthodox Churches of the East did not participate in the interventions, they sent representatives as observants, and so did the Anglican Communion and many other Protestant Communions. Distinctively the Eastern Catholic Churches participated in full vigor. On the eve of the Council Athenagoras I, the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch, sent a message to Maximus IV, Patriarch of the Melkite Catholics in which he said "You represent Eastern Orthodoxy." So much was there hope and fraternal love between the Churches that Blessed Pope John XXIII sought in invoking the Council the unity of all Christians. But in fact the Council became a much larger factory for the presentation of Catholic dogma always in need of representation to different ages yet always guided by the Holy Spirit in the fullness of truth. In his address in 1959, John XXIII attributed the call to the Council to a sudden inspiration by the Holy Spirit for "a new Pentecost"! It is worth mentioning the names of giants that contributed to the documents and reforms ushered by Vatican II, most of them were experts invited by the Pope or assisting the bishops coming from different countries: Karl Rahner, Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), and many others...Why do we need to recall Vatican II to mind? It is because we see fundamentalism growing as the evil reaction to such a blessed event. When the Council completed its work, the Catholic Church experienced new lay movements such as the Neo-Catechumenal Way, but also as lay people started getting involved in the New Pentecost, some priests and nuns left their vocations and fidelity to the Catholic Church. Hans Kung, a liberal theologian who participated in the Council challenged the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope and was therefore expelled from teaching in Catholic universities. Liberation Theology was born in Latin America and was immediately espoused by leading theologians there where Marxist ideology was infiltrating Latin America. In addition some Fundamentalist Christian sects started to attract more Catholics away from the bosom of the Mother Church. The Sexual Revolution ushered in Europe brought promiscuity into the minds and actions of many young adults. And individualism crept in all over the Western hemisphere promoted by lax civil laws about divorce and legalized abortion. It seems that Heaven intervened with the election of John Paul II. He was a blessed man. John Paul II took his name in veneration of Pope John Paul I who had taken his name in memory of the two great Popes of the Council: John XXIII and Paul VI. John Paul II dedicated his long pontificate to the vigorous implementation of the directives of Vatican II. He defended the Council's teachings on the dignity of every human person which became the hallmark of his pontificate.
What are some of the highlights of the doctrinal pronouncements of Vatican II?
1. The development of doctrine
2. The governance of the Church by the bishop of Rome and the other bishops in communion with him (Collegiality).
3. The infallibilty of the Church a) in pronouncements of the Ecumenical Councils b) When the bishop of Rome speaks as teacher of the Church Ex-Cathedra c) When all the bishops of the Church together with the Pope pronounce on doctrines or morals d) When the entire Church believes certain doctrines.
4. Evangelization to non-Christians as necessary for the mission of the Church.
5. The possibility of salvation to non-Christians who have not received the gospel.
6. The primacy of conscience of every individual provided he searchs for the truth.
7. The development of understanding in Tradition of the words of God in the Bible through the Magisterium.
8. The recognition that the Orthodox Churches retain valid sacraments, although they are in imperfect unity with the Catholic Church.
9. The recognition that all Christians have in common the fundamental doctrines that Christ preached as recognized in the Nicene Creed.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Case against Capitalism

Much has happened between 2008 and 2011 that obliges me to reassess the role of Capitalism as a morally acceptable system. The financial crisis of 2008 does not seem to abate as economic recovery in North America is very slow. The GDP growth has been repeatedly revised to lower values in both the U.S. and Canada. The European countries are undergoing a larger crisis. The Euro-zone countries are unable to fulfill their promises to help the less privileged members of Europe such as Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. America alone, who through globalization has exported its own economic system and almost imposed it on the rest of the world, seems to be struggling with the downgrade of its credit rating by Standard and Poor this week. What can we make of an economic system that feeds on the theory of free-market? Investors do not need to grow as much as the average citizen needs to grow. Compare the powerful American education system with those in Africa. Graduates from African or Asian universities require to qualify their degrees to the equivalent degrees in the U.S. The investment in the young people in America costs the average American money which is unaffordable by African graduates. Yet, the resources of Africa have been exploited by the Western powers. It is a long story of slavery that goes back to many centuries. Today the New World must give back to the poor of Africa. In the big picture I propose one moral solution: America, Canada, Australia and Europe need to lower their standard of living of individuals gradually to a level that would match that of Asian and African economies. But is this possible? Unlikely, since greed and selfishness are part of the human weakness especially in a materialist economy. Probably we must learn from those old civilizations that a fair society can be built on the moral integrity of the faithful. The Church has always defended the poor and today too she needs to raise her voice for their sake. The Master taught us this by his example, and the examples of holy people He inspired throughout the ages.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


In the aftermath of the global recession caused by the financial crisis of 2008-2009, the jobless rate increased drastically in almost all of America and Europe. It also affected the Middle East where unemployment rose in many countries above 15%. Today, the unemployment rate in the U.S. is nearly 10% while it is around 8% in Canada. Yet, we cannot measure the negative effect it has on families and individuals. Most people who are laid off are in their 50s thus it would be hard for them to find jobs that match their experience. Worse, both the U.S. and Canada appear to have tightened the immigration from other less-developed countries. Europe too is suffering from a hard-hit euro which has brought inflation to a higher level. The question is for how long would we have high unemployment? The right to work is recognized in every culture. Think about it.

Monday, July 11, 2011


The United States is about to default on its debt. If the political debates between Democrates and Republicans do not resolve within a few weeks, this will be unprecedent not only for the near collapse of the American economy but also for the global economy at large! It is morally unacceptable that discussions between Congressmen of the U.S. and the U.S. government determine the fate of billions of poor people on earth. The IMF which is the largest world bank can do nothing to prevent a return to old empire! Think of the Roman Empire and its decline. But today we have satellites and Internet communications that almost nothing can be hidden. This is a WARNING to the U.S. Wake up! It is also a WARNING to the many governments i.e. people who deal with corruption and accept it. It has become fashionable to eliminate the adversaries by force. More stories of corruption are coming to the news these days about the largest tabloid newspaper in Britain which is now out of print. Investigations have been launched against its billionaire owner by the British authority for immorally tapping into telephones of people. Others are hinting at corruption in the Italian government. But it seems that this is a worldwide phenomenon in spite of the U.N. Declarations about human rights! On top of the list come the dictatorships we know about in the Middle East. But the dictatorship that makes me shudder is that of the mightly dollar! The Capitalist economic system is probably the best system today but there are millions who are still suffering poverty and now is our turn. Nor is Communism a solution! Communism was able to generate corruption and violence in the U.S.S.R. and its satellite countries. Violence is still the norm in Communist China and Cuba on the part of corrupt goverrnments. However, the distribution of wealth must be implemented to reach out to Africa and Asia. Blessed John Paul II frequently warned that Capitalist monopoly is not tenable - He suggested the Third Way! For rich people to accept lowering of their standard of living, it takes more than regulations of the economy. It takes good will on the part of citizens and governments. We must give priority to the needs of others. This is where love shines. This is where Christ shines. It is in the hearts of the faithful that Christ reigns...We must repent! Is not that what Fatima was all about?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Many non-Catholic Christians question the doctrine of purgatory. Although Orthodox Churches pray for their dead, they have no clear answer as to why a dead person needs prayers if he/she is in heaven where he/she already enjoys the blessed life with the holy ones in the presence of God, or if he/she is in hell where the damned do not have hope in the goodness and mercy of God. However an explanation was offered by Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church as to the reason why the Coptic Orthodox Church offers prayers for their dead. He simply says that Christians who have departed this life go to paradise (not heaven) if they are blessed and wait there in peace for the Day of Judgment. The unrepentent go to Sheol (not hell) where they await their damnation on Judgment Day. As for other Christian souls, they do not rest and so the Church prays for them that they may attain peace in their hope to be among the elect on Judgment Day. In history, however, purgatory was known since the early centuries of Christianity. Purgatory affirms why Catholics pray for the dead in the hope that they died in grace. It can be inferred from the words of Christ himself. In Matthew chapter 12, Christ speaks of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as a sin that will not be forgiven "neither in this age nor in the age to come." But what sin Christ cannot forgive? Note that Christ spoke of this sin after he was accused that his healings are performed by the power of Satan, so he immediately relates his power to the Holy Spirit. But why could not he, who has all the power to forgive, forgive this sin? Here we refer to the principle of the cooperation of the sinner with grace. Even though grace is a free gift from the Spirit of God, it must be received by the person. The fathers of the Church, especially St Augustine, interpreted this sin as the total refusal of the person to repent of his/her sins until the last moment of life. Since the Holy Spirit is always urging sinners to repent, this sin is considered a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which again is impossible for anyone who repents before death. Now, if Christ mentions that there are sins that are forgiven in the next life, it means that some sins are committed that do not lead immediately to hell where there is no hope, and not to heaven where no one defiled with any slight impurity can see God who is all pure. These sins are known as "venial sins." In purgatory, a state of the saved souls that are yet not able to see God, a purification takes place. The fire of purgatory is the burning desire of wanting to be with God. The soul in purgatory knows that she is saved but longs to be with the beloved One. From Church history, it is known that many saints passed through purgatory before they were to see God "face to face" (Cf. 1 Cor. 13). The elect must "complete what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for the sake of his body" (Col 1, 24). This means that for us to see God we must die to ourselves even if gradually; for no one can see God and live.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Divine Heart

Today we celebrate the feast of Divine body of Christ in the Melkite Catholic Church. While violence continues to rage in the Middle East, we need to look beyond the divisions of religions. In the Middle East, factions of the same people are found in war against each other in the name of religion. Christians are scared that Muslim fundamentalism will take over their freedom. Western powers are taking advantage of the largely undemocratic political systems to force their form of democracy and oultaw dictators, but my impression is that it has to do with control of the area economically and politically. Muslims are divided between Shia and Sunni. Christians are divided between Western and Eastern. Let's forget for a moment the schism between factions, cultures, and religions and ask the one God whom we all worship to help us stop the blood shedding in the name of Christ who shed his blood for the reconciliation of all people with his Father. This would be a celebration of the Divine Heart...The heart of Jesus!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Beginning the Consecrated Life

Robert Hanna (now Brother Youhanna) and his son Emile gave a reflection on their experiences that led each of them to a reversal from a worldly life to a life consecrated to God. A married man with two children, he enjoyed the good life as he was rich. His own car dealership in the affluent city of Toronto afforded him a comfortable earning. He felt however that, in spite of his wealth, he was missing happiness in his heart. He said his relationship with his wife and children was getting worse when he suddenly felt the power of darkness surrounding him and showing him the abyss. Realizing the seriousness of his state, Robert begged God to hold him. He was reassured that in spite of evil God loves him. It was not an overnight experience but rather a journey. "I spent many weeks in prayer" Robert said. After you fall you get up in hope and continue, he says. The journey to be in the presence of God takes determination but the joy that God is here and loves you makes up for the suffering. Robert wanted to consecrate the remainder of his life to be for Christ alone. Robert has been assisting in the Mass as well as in services for the youth throughout the past many years since his conversion. In preparation for the consecrated diaconate and priesthood, he followed many studies at theological seminaries in Toronto and Lebanon. Ten years or so after his initial conversion, Robert or Brother Youhanna will be consecrated this year a priest of the Melkite Catholic Church! His son Emile is also following in the footsteps of his dad. Having lived an estranged youthful life from God for 3 years, Emile returned to the Church last year and has been serving in the Mass at Jesus the King church as well as in assisting in the catechism of kids there. Emile says that he cried in his prayer as he felt the loss of his soul and the misery he came to know. He asked God to show him the way and persisted in his prayers. It takes humility to believe that you are not the centre of the world. Realizing that Christ is the centre of my life, I want to consecrate my life to be for him in prayer everyday, Emile said. As Brother Youhanna said, discerning the call for the life you are meant to live is important. Prayer is an important step as it brings us into dialogue with God. The Church guides us through Scriptures, the Mass and other sacraments, prayers, her teachings, and spiritual direction. The objective of our lives is to be holy and have eternal joy in the presence of our loving God. Christ calls us to serve in the way that He finds is best for us. Some are called to live as lay persons with families. Some are called to live a monastic life. What is important is to follow the direction that Christ wishes you to follow. This is the way of holiness!

The Development of the Doctrine of The Trinity in Tradition

A quick look at Biblical theology gives us a very scant picture of the doctrine that is central to Christianity: The Trinity. In the Old Testament we can hardly find any mention to the Trinity. The Trinity is mentioned in Christ's farewell address to his disciples (See Matthew 28: 19). However, Christ did not speak of the Trinity in a very explicit mode. In the Gospel according to John there are many references for the relationship between Christ and the Father. If we follow the timing of writing the New Testament books according to contemporary Biblical scholarship, we note that the divinity of Christ was perceived by the Apostles after his Resurrection - notably in the words of Thomas to the risen Christ "My Lord and My God" (John 20: 28). In the early Christian Church the Apostles continued to preach about Christ in the Temple. However, their understanding of the Divinity of Christ was clear from the confession of Peter that Jesus is the Messiah in Mark to the vision of Stephen about Christ sitting at the right hand of God (See Acts) to the confession of Paul to the Philippians that "Though [Christ] was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped" (Ph 2: 6-7). This is an early Christological hymn that Christians sang to Christ since Apostolic times according to modern scholarship. In the Letter to the Colossians, Paul again refers to Christ being "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1: 15-20). There is no way to deny that Christ was worshipped as God since the Apostolic times. By the end of the first century documents by Christian authors attest to the divinity of Christ (Cf. St. Ignatius of Antioch). This continues in the second century with philosophical debates with non-Christians (Cf. Justin Martyr, Origen, St. Ireneaus). It is important to know that the fathers did not write for the sake of writing, but to correct errors of early Christians and non-Christians. Against the Arians in the early 4th century Athanasius championed the philosophical expression "Homoosious" in the First Council of Nicea (325 AD), an expression not used in the New Testament, to emphasize the faith that Christ is consubstantial with the Father and so he is equal to the Father in his divinity. Augustine further explained the Trinity from the New Testament "God is Love." If God is love, who or what does he love? If he is unlimited he could not love the world from eternity because that would make him dependent on creation which, the Bible says, was created by God! If God loved himself from eternity then he would be in love with the self i.e. narcissism. This is the opposite of love! The only logical solution is if he loved another person yet that person is his image (proceeds from him.) But how about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, Augustine reasoned, is the binding love between the Father and the Son (Christ). The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Love is the only thing that matters. God is that open fount of love in dynamic inner relationship that Ratzinger dares to call the Trinity a Relatedness of Father, Son and Holy Spirit! How did Ratzinger arrive at this new expression today? By following the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. This is also the thought of the Jesuit Karl Rahner. They take the thread of Tradition, reflect on it and develop it in the Church. More to come!

Sunday, May 29, 2011


In Greek mythology, Sisyphus challenged the gods and was able to chain "the god of death" for he loved life and thought he was more clever than the gods. Of course, his challenge did not go well and soon the gods agreed to punish him. In the underworld, his punishment consisted of perpetually rolling a great stone from the base of a steep hill to its top then before he arrives, the stone would roll down and he was to go pick it up and again roll it to the top. Sisyphus had to comply. But how did he feel about this task? Everytime Sisyphus rolled the stone, he felt the pointless hard work on ascending to the hill's top, but on descending Sisyphus felt for a moment that he was free and indeed was happy to see the stone rolling down. If we apply this to our own situation, we will see sisyphus everytime we despair but also everytime we have hope that we will overcome our suffering. However, there is more to this story than Sisyphus alone, for he alone is still a miserable man! The Greeks imagined many gods, each with a particular power. The gods served themselves and could not care much about those suffering Greek slaves. Our God is the God of love who created all humans out of love. We learn from Christ that his love for each one was infinitely higher than any other love. He loved his enemies who crucified him and still forgave them till the last breath! Which god is then truer? If you think it is the Greek god(s) you are free, but if you think it is Christ then your freedom requires you to do what he did or else he is not really your God. When a Jewish lawyer asked Christ "Who is my neighbour?" Christ answered him with a story of a good Samaritan who took care of his wounded Jewish enemy. At the end, Christ referring to the Samaritan said to the lawyer "Go and do likewise" (Luke 10)!

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Happiness is what we all (everyone) seek, whether Christians or non-Christians. Atheists as much as religious people also seek happiness. The old civilizations as much as the modern ones were preoccupied with that same goal: happiness. Happiness is found in nature. Climb a mountain and sit on top of it - Once you look at the stars shining in the night, you will feel happiness, a humbling feeling that there are things which we cannot reach, yet they are beautiful, awesome and rewarding. Or go by the sea, and spend some time at the shore - You will discover a great mystery when you notice that the horizon seems unending...Look further into the life on Earth. There are so many living organisms everywhere that feed and grow on others. Life cannot stop because of you or me, for the Creator wills life and happiness to every being. The highest level of happiness on Earth is achieved in the human person. There, the hormones in the brain work out to induce love toward others. It is part of God's mystery that you and I can think - the creation and development of life is nothing less than a miracle. The question is: What is the good way of enjoying happiness and living a joyful life? That is a question that we shall attempt to answer, because not every kind of pleasure leads to happiness. The Master said "What benefits man if he gains the entire world but loses himself". Although every natural desire in my heart is implanted by God, and so must be good, the excessive use of it would lead me to slavery. When I am too attached to money, greed will be my master; when I am too attached to sexual desires, I will become a slave of the flesh; and when I am too attached to myself, I will lose myself into the abyss of pride! I like St. Augustine's words "Be moderate in everything except in love." Happiness in its fullness is more than natural things and deeper than desires. It comes from God who wills us to be happy eternally. In his grace, we are transformed to love everyone including our enemies. The mystery of the incarnation of God points us to contemplate his love for us regardless of our own merits. It is because he loved us that he died the worst death as a real man. Christ only loves and his love brings us eternal happiness!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

May 13 - Mary's Intercession in Fatima

May 13, 1917 is the day that the Catholic Church celebrates for the apparition of the Virgin Mary to 3 children in Fatima, Portugal. In her apparition, Mary warned that the then current world war (World War I) would finish but another greater world war would emerge in the pontificate of the pope who follows the next unless people repent. She also said that Russia will succumb to the evil forces of atheist Communism that will attempt to submit many nations to Communism but that with dedication of Russia to her heart by the Roman Pontiff, Russia will eventually come back to her heart. The two prophecies or "secrets" took place as predicted and many people perished in World War II. Mary also foresaw a great tribulation in the Catholic Church in her "Third Secret" that the pope will be assassinated and many Christians will be martyred when Rome itself will be desolate. The Third Secret, feared by many Catholics, has been interpreted in the assassination attempt against the life of now Blessed Pope John Paul II in 1981. Penance has been the call of the Virgin Mary since she appeared, but how many of us truly responded to her call! As bishop Fulton Sheen indicated in his book "The First World Love", published in 1952 by McGraw-Hill Book Company, the fact that Mary was sent to Portugal is relevant. Fatima is the name of a Muslim woman venerated in Islam as the daughter of their Prophet Mohammed. In the Qura'n, Mary is considered the most pure creature of humans and next to her is Fatima according to a variant of Hadith. Muslims occupied Portugal for centuries before they were driven out by Catholics. A story about Fatima appears in Fulton Sheen's book: While Muslims were driven out from Portugal, a Catholic young man had fallen in love with a Muslim called Fatima in a little town. She became Catholic to get married to him and out of appreciation, the name of the town was changed to Fatima. While Muslims consider Christians to be infidel, Mary is the one common person who is exalted by Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Muslims as the most pure woman. Bishop Sheen believed she will play a significant role in the dialogue of Christians and Muslims and in the end Muslims will come to worship her Son Jesus. On a personal note, I believe that my heart attack on May 12 1986 was treated and my heart survived until now through the intercession and prayer of this lady that the Church venerates for her tender love. She is a mother of all people. Many Christians and Muslims venerate her. She prays for all...

Today's Quote

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


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