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 26, 2014

The Desire for Christ

Christmas in 2014 was a prayer for peace to the Incarnate Word of God Jesus Christ: peace in my soul and the souls of many friends; peace and health for fellow friends struck by disease; peace in the Church where Satan her enemy is actively seeking to diminish her mission; peace eternal for those who passed away recently, including the dad of a fellow Knight of Columbus in Toronto and the many victims killed recently in the Middle East like the children of Bethlehem whom Herod in his rage against the new king of the Jews had killed (Matthew 2: 16); and a prayer too for peace in a world divided by power-hungry politicians and aggressive materialists whose selfishness has already caused a large gap between the few rich and the many poor as well as many lost jobs for the young generation.

We watched the Holy Father Francis deliver a rare rebuke to the powerful prelates and officials of the Roman Curia in the Vatican where he listed 15 illnesses of power-seeking and coldness towards others. We also noticed a somber pope with a rising tone in his voice giving the Christmas Urbi et Orbi when he urged the listening world to be open to God, prayed for the victims of atrocities in so many countries especially for children and other victims of the radical Islamist war on everyone else in the Middle East.

With the above unresolved, The Economist published a report titled "Islamism is no longer the answer" which, at last, recognizes what Christians in the Middle East have been suffering since the beginning of the failed "Arab Spring" supported by Western powers. The same materialist publication published an extensive report too titled "Why is everyone so busy?" lamenting the fact that contemporary workers have no time for the family in an age of excessive individualism and selfish capitalism.

And yet in spite of the sad news, I enjoyed Christmas in more than one way: First we participated in the Christmas Eve Mass at St. Basil's Roman Catholic Church with my family; contacted some of our extended family in the Middle East, Europe, and North America...Second, I listened to the inspiring words by Most Reverend Bishop Ibrahim on the Incarnation (in Sawt el Rab last Friday here in Arabic); and the recent homily by the Jesuit scholar Fr. Henri Boulad on the desire for Christ (here in French).

Bishop Ibrahim said: The Son of God chose our human weakness to experience us and save us through his humanity united to his divinity. In his incarnation, the Son of God assumed our humanity in everything except sin in order to restore our state to the original one willed by God... We need to grow every year in faith and in understanding of the mystery of the incarnation where we increasingly deepen our faith and touch the presence of God in our lives... Jesus is the "Prince of peace" in spite of suffering. The real Christian carries the peace of Christ in his heart even if he, like Christ, is crucified on the cross.  As for Christians suffering violence in the East today, they can live Christmas as did Jesus. As a  human person, Jesus had no power over history and was probably the first immigrant when Mary and Joseph took him to Egypt to escape from the threat of Herod. As God, Christ respects the freedom of humanity and offers himself in a mysterious dialogue with her to become aware of his closeness and return to him who said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). I respect human freedom to immigrate away from the dangers in the East but we also encourage Christians in the Middle East to remain and be active in their lands. However, if they want to immigrate and are accepted by the civil authorities, no one should stop them...

Bishop Ibrahim continues: We cannot see the birth of Christ except through the eyes of the Virgin Mary who was chosen by God to be the mother of his Son in the flesh. She carried him in her womb, delivered him, cared for him, and was with him to the end and yet remained ever-virgin,..She is our mother... Question: How can we understand so much suffering in the world? Is God only watching people suffer and die? He answers: This is a big question. But for people who have faith and want to build bridges to perceive the presence of God, they understand that suffering and joy are two sides of the same coin. Suffering is only the outer shell of the essence of life and deeper joy which we often go through to realize love. Suffering is not required but if we encounter it, we have the choice of accepting it and working to relieve ourselves and others of pain. A Christian who carries Christ in his heart cannot really be Christian unless he loves and gives of himself to the other like Christ our God who is love gave himself and his life for all.

To answer a question on social services by the Melkite Catholic Church in Canada, Bishop Ibrahim said that the Church has founded a center "Bonheur du Ciel" with the active Fr. Majdi Allawi to care for the lost, forgotten, and needy in Montreal.  How can we live joy? Unless we give of ourselves and our needs, we cannot have joy. The goal of Jesus is for us to live in joy in union with God who is the eternal love and joy. How about children in Church? When the angels sang in the birth of Christ, their center of joy was the infant Jesus. In the same way we must not forbid children from singing in the church which is the house of Christ. To a Muslim brother who wanted to know why Christians believe that God became human, the answer is simply that "God is love" (1 John 4:8)! When we fell in sin, God, out of profound love, still gives us the free choice to be reunited with him through Christ.

Finally, Bishop Ibrahim advises the faithful: We need to reflect on God, so close to us who assumed our nature in Christ and who gives us the truths of faith, and love - abundant love!

Now with Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. a profound question is addressed. The question of joy versus pleasure was the topic addressed in his homily on the last Sunday before Christmas. In his charismatic and intriguing style, Henri Boulad takes his listeners from the natural to the supernatural. "Which period is more beautiful in love: The time of engagement or the time after marriage? In engagement each one there awaits and desires the other, while marriage is the consummation of this desire.  The dialectic of desire and pleasure is developed in my book 'Chastity and Consecration' but the question frequently asked is about the meaning. Desire is a tendency towards another, a waiting and a nostalgia for the other. Pleasure comes to complete desire and suppresses it. It is a paradox and a contradiction of terms! Let us reflect... In the heart of this question, consider the state of consecrated celibacy. This is the state of men and women who renounced marriage...We can consider them monsters, illuminated, psychopath, or rather a path for escape or some old-fashioned detraction... Desire goes up...up...and when completed it drops to nothingness. Realizing this desire kills it! Is there a way for a solution to this opposition between desire and pleasure? I have always looked for a justification of my vow for chastity. It is not at all natural. Probably someone would think it is anti-natural, but I would say it is supernatural. It is not understood except in faith and is not lived except in grace! What does this mean? It means that there is a certain taste, profundity, and beauty in the waiting period that does not exist in the act of completion of desire."

Henri Boulad, S.J. is a profound thinker who is never satisfied with simple explanations. Like the late Jacques Dupuis. S.J., another Jesuit theologian, he attempts to find common elements with other religious experiences as encouraged by Dominus Iesus which was approved by St. Pope John Paul II. In this context he read a text by Salah Mukhaimer on Islamic Sufism that he had translated from Arabic. In his search he read the ancient Tantric Buddhism and Hindu esoteric mysticism too, in spite of its deficient character in adherence to monism, an experience that is probably older and different from Judaism and Christianity. Scholars date this non-revelation cult to as early as 1500 BC.

A translation of the text authored by Salah Mukhaimer thus reads "Delay of attaining pleasure in the total completion of the sexual act opens a path of waiting that would imply a blessedness in torment that supposes a continuity of desire in tension with a tendency towards...Thus joy is a continuing desire and tendency towards..." Henri Boulad sees here a valid point: The joy of a child is wholly a tendency.The adult person looks to put his hand or possess the object which is the attainment of pleasure. Once the adult person attains pleasure, the object of his desire becomes like a fleeting wind. "What is Sufism (mystical experience) if it is not this? Mystical experience is a hope and tendency to in a state of suffering pleasure without allowing the surpassing of the state of waiting." Mukhaimer wrote.

In Mukhaimer's text, Fr. Boulad finds a torture, yet joy is defined in this context as a tendency of desire towards the beloved.  In Tantric Buddhism, Fr. Boulad found a "profound text" on sexuality by accepting desire without looking for completing it (called accepting "emptiness" without attempting to fulfill the emptiness)! This is called consecrated chastity!

For Fr. Boulad, the most beautiful moments of love are those of waiting because "waiting enlarges the heart." It was the last Sunday before Christmas. "The manger was without Jesus.The emptiness in life... spiritual life...The emptiness of the desert (The desert Fathers?).  My sentiments are here: It is a reminder that humanity was awaiting the coming of the Divine...God let humanity grow her desire for him until in Mary's womb the desire was accomplished... Come Divine Messiah...Come, come, come...In Mary's heart and womb, the desire of Mary (alone) grew so intense that she attracted the God of heaven (or "forced" heaven) as a lover. In Mary humanity attained her fulfillment. She is the consecrated virgin and remained a virgin all her life. Consecrated celibacy means that nothing human fills my heart. You may ask 'Should we stop getting married?' No. Get married. It is fine. But know that human love does not fulfill the human heart. Nothing human fulfills your hearts. It is clear that in love there is an essential poverty which means not to possess the other and not to possess pleasure. 'Eat this fruit and you shall be like God' is Satan's lie to die. Yes, we need to live in a state of emptiness and a state of waiting. Marriage is good but care not to turn it into selfish pleasure. In his first letter to the Corinthians Chapter 7, St. Paul advised those who are married to live as if they are not and those who possess as if they possess nothing.  This is the foundation of my spirituality: Total attachment in total detachment; neither attachment which makes us slaves nor detachment which is indifference."

"Amin Maalouf wrote 'Love is thirsty. Rain is there but I will retain my thirst rather than get a sip of water in my mouth. Love is a flower and not a fruit. Love is a promise before it can be an accomplishment'! Think of love versus pleasure. Reflect and pray..."

"The virginity of Mary is this response: Love attains its culmination in the Incarnation of the Word for it was the hope of humanity for thousands of generations"!

O Come All Ye Faithful Joyful and Triumphant...O Come Let us Adore Him Christ the Lord. Listen here:

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Joy of Christmas with Georges Farah

While we celebrate Christmas, we miss Fr. George Farah, the priest who was pastor of Jesus the King parish for the past-twenty one years. A man of joyful character, his last name “Farah”means joy. He joked with me that he and I not only carried the same name “George” but almost the same last name except that mine “Farahat” meant multiple joys. In reality George Farah has been an outstanding minister of joy, not only at Christmas but all the time in preaching and action. A man for people, he celebrated with all and invited all to enjoy their gifts together in the Church and elsewhere whether in the Eucharist, lectures, church festivals, or outings. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, he said quoting St. Paul. It is the sign of Christians who, in spite of their weakness and sufferings, are called to rejoice in meeting the other and grow in faith to Christ.

His high learning. a doctorate in philosophy and another in theology from the highly-esteemed Sorbonne in Paris, did not alter his joyous character but only deepened his faith in the love of God. God, he preached, is not only the generous father, but is an outpouring love for all human beings; sinners and saints. As taught by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, God is the eternal self-sacrifice abandonment or love of the Father to his eternal Son Jesus Christ and the Son returning love with gratitude to his eternal Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit who is the binding love. The Church is the minister of love who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, witnesses to Christ in the entire world. “The Holy Spirit reveals the Son and the Son reveals the Father” he said.

A philosopher himself, George Farah was interviewed about God and freedom since his doctorate thesis in philosophy dealt with Nietzsche's post-modern philosophy. Nietzsche had questioned the morality of power in religion. For him, a God who presses his power on humans through an agency or religion is not real because he strips humanity of their freedom and creativity. In George Farah, the God of Christians offers the only real freedom that guarantees human development, not only in eternal love, but in appreciating human creativity and dignity too here on earth. The entire philosophical and scientific explorations rooted in Christian civilization are only the beginning of realizing that God is in us, encourages us and moves us to him. It is this freedom of Man's dream in becoming God, one with God, for which the Word of God assumed our nature. How was it possible that God could assume our nature in the incarnation of the Word (Christ)? George Farah responds “God could not stay away from his beloved creation. His love made him become one of us and dwell with us 'Emmanuel'.” God does not wish anyone to be lost. He came for the lost (Cf. Matthew 18:14; Luke 15: 4, 9, 24, 32; Luke 19: 10; John 6: 12).

Today we need to examine our conscience and return Christ to Christmas by educating ourselves and children guided by the Church, exiting ourselves and our worries, thinking of others, praying for the sick, an helping as much as we can the needy in our community and especially the suffering Christians in the Middle East.

Today's Quote

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


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