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, February 15, 2013

J. Jules Zerey on Lent

“O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18, 13)

My beloved religious, and all our faithful sons and daughters,

From the city of Jerusalem and its holy streets, I invite you for a holy pilgrimage with Christ who carries his cross. He carries it while being insulted, suffering and in silence. For twenty centuries millions of pilgrims have walked in the footsteps of Christ along this road known as the Road of the Cross “Via Dolorosa.” They walk behind him in awe, silence and penance.

This Road of the Cross leads us to the spot of crucifixion known as Golgotha. In this spot, where the cross of Christ was erected, how is it possible for us not to prostrate in homage to him while our eyes rise looking at the cross from which the crucified Christ looks to us? This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – the Lamb of the new Passover.

When the Jews celebrate their Passover, they slaughter a one-year old lamb in memory of their exodus from Egypt, their liberation from the slavery of Pharaoh, and their crossing of the Red Sea that opened before them doors of liberation. For Christ is the New Lamb that rescues us from the hands of the most ruthless pharaoh, the Devil to whom we become slaves if we let ourselves follow his will. Nevertheless our Lord Jesus, by his sacrifice on the cross, saves us from the hands of that tyrant, and opens before us the paths of liberation from our sins granting us their forgiveness by his cross and by the power of the Holy Spirit whom we received in baptism.

Holy Lent invites us to return to the self in order to discover our sins and ask for their forgiveness. We often utter the word “forgiveness of sins” but do we know our sins in order to repent and receive their forgiveness? The answer is found in returning to reading the teachings of our Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.  I, therefore, invite you to read them in the fifth and sixth chapters of the Gospel according to Matthew. We discover the dimension and depth of sin in as much as we fail to apply these teachings in our own lives. Some people think it is impossible to apply them. Yet, Christ assists us by his Holy Spirit to do these commandments so that they become a living constitution for our lives.

In the Sermon on the Mount we read “Blessed are the clean of heart: they shall see God” (Matthew 5, 8). We see that cleanness of heart and purity are missing today. The Church suffers much because many of her children slide into attractive promiscuity offered through space TV channels and pages on the Internet. The loss of purity makes them blind to seeing God. They therefore fall in fornication, adultery and any other acts that disturb the ethical and moral system.

In another text in his Gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ invites us to be meek and humble of heart as he is (Matthew 11, 29) thus rejecting our human natural tendency to pride, anger, violence, and  other similar tendencies. 

The Saviour teaches us to love each other as he loved us (John 13, 34). In yet another text he taught us that the greatest commandments are love of God and love of neighbour (Mark 12, 30-31).  Our love to each other must drive us to be generous and to live a life of communion with our brethren as the early Church was (Cf. Acts 4, 34-35). Let us recall here the warning of Jesus not to hang onto material wealth; for he said “You cannot serve two masters: God and mammon” (Matthew 6, 24). Love of money, greed, and cold-heartedness open to us the doors of cheating and stealing while they prevent us from giving and assisting the poor (Luke 12: 33-34), (Luke 16, 13), (Luke 21, 1-4), (Matthew 19, 16-26). As for the person who encounters Christ, he will be transformed from a person who loves material wealth to a generous and unselfish person as Zacheus did when he encountered Jesus (Luke 19, 1-10).

I would like to also mention other sins such as envy, gossip, gluttony, and laziness. We often do not pay attention to how dangerous they are for our spiritual lives. Envy occurs when we look with an envious desire to what our neighbour owns or when we compare what we have with what others have and say “Why him/her and not me?” So often I hear our sons and daughters say this sentence! As for gossiping, it may be the most common sin among people that wounds the reputation and feelings of others. Gluttony causes problems to our physical health and may reflect negatively on our spiritual health. Fasting is therefore the best treatment for our health. Let us not enslave ourselves to the desires of the flesh as if they were gods! Lastly laziness diminishes our desire to pray and participate in the service of the parish and in sharing in its activities.

Let us ask for the grace of the Holy Spirit to enlighten us and purify us: “O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth Who art everywhere present and fillest all things…: come, abide in us and cleanse us from every sin”… Thus we discover our sins, repent of them and run to the priest confessing them to receive their absolution. Enough claiming “I will confess to God directly”! Confession to the priest is one of the essential teachings of the Catholic Church. I propose that you do it at least once a month or when necessary.

Fasting, Prayer, and Almsgiving together with Repentance  

Fasting: As Christ fasted for forty days in the desert, so are we too invited to fast; for Christ is our model. Remember that fasting offers us many benefits in both our spiritual life and our bodily life.

Prayer: Through meditation in Holy Scripture, individual prayer and participation in Church prayers. How overjoyed I am by those faithful – some of them are elderly - who come from far to participate in the Church prayers during holy Lent. I ask beloved parents to encourage their sons and daughters to pray and be a first model for them to follow!

Almsgiving: The source of almsgiving is brotherly love. The self-lover, selfish person who hangs to money does not usually feel the needs of his neighbour, is not moved with compassion, and does not perform acts of mercy. See the Parable of the Rich and Lazarus (Luke 16, 19-31), the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10, 29-37) and the General Judgment (Matthew 25, 31-46). These are good examples of our duties to love our neighbour.

An important matter that results from weak human nature and to which we hardly pay attention is grumbling or refusal of the situation we have in life. We often reject difficulties in life arising from limitations to health or other situations in the family such as problems in health, material capabilities or work. This renders us sad, desperate, and grumbling! This is the cross that Christ invites us to carry in the path following him. This refusal to accept the situation of our life and to carry our cross indicates a lack of trust in our heavenly Father who loves us, cares for us, consoles us, hears our prayers, lightens our suffering, and solves much of life’s difficulties.

In spite of the many sins committed as indicated above, I invite you to have joy; for our God who is a just judge (Matthew 5, 21-22), (Matthew 25, 31-46) is also a merciful father who does not will the death of any sinner. He created us to share in his divine life and sent his beloved Son but we crucified him. Nevertheless, his mercy surpasses every measure and is much more than our sin. His sacrifice on the cross and his redemption of us are stronger and more perfect than all the sacrifices. It is one perfect sacrifice whose efficacy reaches out to all humanity throughout all ages and places; freely granted to anyone who discovers Christ, believes in him and in his salvation; a sacrifice that opens to us the doors of repentance and forgiveness, the doors of heaven and eternal life.

Beloved brethren, how cannot our hearts move before the free love of God towards us? We deserve the most severe punishment for the least sin. For Christ the Lord, glory be to him, teaches us that whoever says to his brother “You fool” deserves the fire of Gehenna (Matthew 5, 22). Nevertheless, our God, who loved us so much, pulls us out of sins and forgives them by the merits of the passion and death of his Son Jesus Christ. Yes, we want in this holy Lent to encounter Christ, and that our living faith in him and his salvation gets renewed.  We want to renew our love to him. We want to be united with him and thank him; for by his sacrifice on the cross, he merited forgiveness of our sins. By receiving him in the Divine Liturgy, we are filled by the Holy Spirit who abundantly grants us his numerous gifts and graces, and brings us to cry out to God the Father “Abba” – “father” (Galatians 4, 6).

In this Year of Faith, and by the inspiration of the new evangelization that the Church calls us to, let us strive in Lent to be able to see the salvific passion of Christ and his glorious Resurrection singing in joy “Christ is risen from the dead, and by his death he has trampled upon death, and has given life to those who are in the tombs.”
May you have a blessed and holy Lent!

Archbishop Joseph Jules Zerey
General Patriarchal Vicar
for the Greek Melkite Catholics in Holy Jerusalem

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Prophetic Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI declared today that he will resign as pope at the end of this month. He spoke to a consistory of cardinals and surprised them as well as the rest of the world that he freely decided after reflection to resign from the Petrine ministry. He stated ageing and health weakness to be the reasons for his resignation. Yet, in contrasting him with his charismatic predecessor Blessed John Paul II, Benedict's relatively short papacy reminds us of Blessed John XXIII since the latter too had a short papacy which inaugurated the springtime of Vatican II in the Catholic Church.

As a young theological expert, Professor Joseph Ratzinger participated in Vatican II and his thought has since influenced the papacy. His spirit of humility and, I should add, collegiality reminds us of Pope Paul VI. His defense of the teachings of the Catholic Church as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) under John Paul II gave him the full support of the papacy. This was particularly true when the CDF released its document Dominus Iesus in 2000. Although it was criticized by mostly liberal theologians, Dominus Iesus stands as an authentic and moderate expression of the faith of the Catholic Church. His valued work as a theologian of wide respect gave him a clear advantage over other highly-esteemed cardinals when a successor to John Paul II was sought in 2005.

Since his election as Pope Benedict XVI, he sought to regain Europe from a harsh secular mind to a Catholic modern civilization. He did this successfully in more than one opportunity.
First, he was able to demonstrate the primacy of reason over the arbitrary will of a dictator in the rational dialogue with modernity. He delivered  it in his famous lecture at the University of Regensburg in September 2006. By citing the 15th century debate of Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus with a Persian Muslim scholar, the pope exposed the fallacy of fundamentalist thought that, regardless of its religious "inspired" source, interprets its text as an act of the will without applying reason. He continued to attract many admiring students due to the depth of his theology.
Second, on request of Anglicans, he allowed Anglican bishops, priests and faithful parishioners to be received in the Catholic Church thus preserving their own tradition while they voluntarily agreed with the doctrines of the Catholic Church. Of course, the media did not cover this 2009 event, but it was a step forward for reunion of Europe as once again a single Christian communion.
Third, he successfully sought the reception of bishops and other followers of the schismatic Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) into the Catholic Church. As a result some traditionalist Catholics returned to the Catholic Church.
Fourth, he defrocked priests and bishops found guilty of child abuse, recognized their "filth" which had alienated a significant number of Catholic individuals in the West, and courageously defended the rights of the victims as well as those of the state to bring them to civil court for their alleged crimes.
Fifth, Benedict XVI continued to defend life from conception to natural death thus giving moral support to pro-life campaigns in the entire world. He took the ever Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of God as an example. He also found examples in the pro-life stance of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Sixth, on the ecumenical front, Benedict XVI  continued the open-dialogue policy established by Vatican II with the Orthodox and Old Oriental Churches as well as the Assyrians, Lutherans, Baptists and the Anglican Communion. He has been clear that ecumenism does not mean compromise on dogmas but that Christians must seriously seek the will of Christ.
Seventh: He followed in the footsteps of his predecessor by visiting countries in all continents of the world for peace and to support Catholic missions. He continued to improve the relationship of the Catholic Church with world religious leaders and faithful. In October 2011, he met with religious leaders in Assisi and recognized the crimes committed by Catholic sons in their conquest of America against victims of Indian Americans. In spite of recent violence in the Middle East, he visited Lebanon in September 2012, and reached out to both Christians and Muslims calling on them to persevere in the dialogue of civilizations as he did in encouraging Muslim scholars for their open letter initiative in 2007.

The resignation of Benedict XVI is a prophetic sign for the world. Since Benedict XVI was active against consumerism, atheism, and relativism, his evil enemy will attempt to destroy the Church and realize in a Satanic move what Cardinal Ratzinger had predicted in 1999 for the Church to be smaller and persecuted. This idea may be pessimistic and supported by prophecies attributed to St. Malachy who lived in the 12th century and was a friend of St. Bernard. According to certain conservative interpretations of these prophecies, the next pope is probably the last pope "Petrus Romanus" who will preside over the Holy See and see the destruction of Rome before the Second Coming of Christ the Judge. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints but warns against such practices that claim to read the future as astrology, recourse to Satan or demons, conguring up the dead, the phenomenon of clairvoyance, horoscopes, and other false practices...(CCC 2115-2116). In all cases we must pray to God our saviour and protector and listen to the teaching received in the Church in any good or dark times. Reading the Bible with a good heart can give us light. And we need to continue to hope against all hope that the One who built the Church on the rock of Peter will preserve her until he comes again.

Benedict XVI has been a luminous pillar of Christian faith. His writings alone are an encyclopedia in Biblical scholarship, Christian traditions, anthropology, philosophy, comparative religious studies, as well as science and faith.  As a starter see the Vatican website and

He contributed to a strong contemporary Church that has been built on the Apostles almost 2000 years ago, and continues to grow in spite of the enemy's trials - the community bought by the blood of Christ and following him by saints. Until Easter, Catholics will be praying for a good successor to the Successor of Peter.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Importance of Communicated Information

Yesterday I enjoyed the latest in Microsoft Office 2013 as Kerstin and I delved in both Word and Excel 2013. Throughout the past sessions I found Kerstin to be a smart person who is eager on learning more as I teach computer science courses at Jesus the King Church. 

Commitment is probably the best thing we can find in a community but enjoyment makes time go fast as Fr. Boulad taught me. What is amazing about the latest developments in software is the fact that vendors are now integrating each others products in their own offerings. For example, I was able to integrate emails in Gmail into Outlook and from there   I could export them to an Excel spreadsheet. Not only Microsoft but IBM too offers integration with MS Dynamics in its latest CRM offering.

The sheer communication and sharing of information is the basis of the development of human civilizations since the beginning of the human race. Information itself is at the core of the existence of creation. The Gospel of John starts with the words "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." (John 1: 1). This is how John expresses the eternal relationship of the Father and the Son in the holy Spirit. In its 2004 document on "Communion and Stewardship" the Catholic International Theological Commission states that "the level of organization in the universe, which contains highly organized forms of living and non-living entities, implies the presence of some 'information'". It goes on to say that "the DNA of the chromosomes contains the information necessary for matter to be organized according to what is typical of a certain species or individual." (Imago dei, 30). The entire document can be read here:

We are all "information systems" not only biologically but also spiritually created in the image of God. God communicates himself to us continuously as Karl Rahner, S.J. expressed and we communicate with God and each other as much as we become more truly human. But I do not really need to get into abstract discussion to express my conviction that information is essential to humans. Of course we must not learn nor communicate what is vain. Parents communicate freely the best they know to their children - They communicate their good information to their children and by doing that they contribute in the formation of their children. Because they love their children they communicate everything to their children freely. I could not find a more natural example.

Today's Quote

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


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