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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Bishop Ibrahim: Help build the limitless Church of God

Most Reverend Ibrahim Ibrahim, DD is the Eparchial Bishop of Melkite Catholics in Canada. He visited the community in Toronto from March 13 to March 15. On Friday March 13 he spoke to a full-house of faithful at Jesus the King Church following the Acathist prayers. On Saturday March 14, the Parish Council had an extraordinary meeting with Bishop Ibrahim who chaired the meeting and discussed his plans and advice for the Church in Toronto as well as its link with the other parishes in Canada. On Sunday March 15, Bishop Ibrahim  concelebrated the noon Divine Liturgy at Jesus the King parish with the Pastor/Administrator Fr. Ibrahim El-Haddad and his Assistant Pastors Fr. Michel Chalhoub and Fr. Youhanna Hanna. Bishop Ibrahim celebrated too the 6:30 pm Divine Liturgy with the community at St. Ambrose Church. In spite of a busy schedule, he managed to encounter the parishioners and have lunch with them in Jesus the King parish. The visit was well organized by Fr. Ibrahim El Haddad.
All of the above could have been ordinary as expected. But in each day, many experienced an extraordinary blessing from heaven. It was an outpouring of joy. The culmination of joy occurred in the event of the Divine Liturgy which started at noon with the "Homsy" choir singing of beautiful hymns while Sir Knights of Columbus from St. John Paul II Assembly, of which Jesus the King Council Sir Knights are members, marched into the Church and saluted the clergy as they entered and made their way to the main altar.

On Friday night, Bishop Ibrahim spoke to the crowd on many topics that I thought they could form a book. He spoke in simple words and not in abstract. He spoke about beauty that emanates not from the external looks and nice cloth but from the inner spirit of the heart. Real beauty is not what we desire but what God desires in us and for us. "To be humble of heart you do not need to be another St. Francis of Assisi - a young man who left the wealth of his father and became a beggar and formed one of the most enduring orders to serve humanity, but within your milieu serve the others, who need your gifts, with joy. We live in Canada where many people are atheists or agnostics. Consider this an opportunity to extend your free service to them for, after all, they are brothers and sisters." Here I recalled the words of the late saintly Archbishop Paul Antaki to us when over 30 years ago he knew that we were planning our immigration to Canada. As much as he loved us and loved Egypt, he did not advise us to stay in Egypt but rather encouraged us with the words "Go to Canada. May the Lord help you increase faith in a society with little faith."

Bishop Ibrahim spoke about the Church too: "The Church is a mother like Mary who delivered the salvation of mankind. We honour the Mother of God because without her the incarnation of Christ -and our redemption in him for eternal life - would not have taken place." Compared to her purity and humility Bishop Ibrahim noted: "Some sit in the place of honor during the church ceremonies or festivities to show off their importance. Others speak of themselves as if they built the church here or there and forget that 'Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.' (Ps. 127, 1). Directing his talk to children in attendance he offered them the advice of growing in the protection of their parents in church who is an authentic mother. He said to the youth: "You are the future of the Church, but you have a responsibility to carry her forward and build her from coast to coast."
"What a shame" he said that some children who grew through the sacrifices of their parents send them away instead of caring for them in their old age. It is probably justified in the East where workers are hardly able to get by for living, but in Canada where the standard of living and medical insurance allow free medical treatment and decent income, this sin against parents and the elderly must be reversed. Bishop Ibrahim noted the misguided word about the clerics (Bishops, Priests,and Deacons) who serve the Church as imported from a judgmental attitude born in other religions/ideologies and never found in the New Testament. As his voice rang in the Church, I thought Elijah the great prophet who spoke with Christ in his Transfiguration on Mount Tabor was here to bring down purifying fire on the faithful. Yet Ibrahim Ibrahim resounded "I do not judge nor should you" citing Christ's commandment "Judge not, that you be not judged." (Matthew 7, 1). The Church of Christ is very large. She embraces peoples from all races. By our measures, "she is limitless and has no geographic boundaries" he said. "Although Canada is the second largest country in the world, it still has boundaries but the Church transcends such boundaries of oceans. This is the Church that the youth should help build. Eternity starts here."

As he closed, he went deeper in telling us that in the Divine Liturgy, the Mass "heaven embraces earth in the body and blood of Christ, the Eucharist - Live by the commandment of Christ to love to the end - Embrace everyone you know, love your enemies as He taught us by his life, death and Resurrection."

About the Divine Liturgy on Sunday:
The chants of the Homsy choir appropriately included "Ispola"  to Bishop Ibrahim, and some very fine tunes from the Russian Byzantine melody and other melodies which gave the prayers an aura of heavenly glory. 
In his short homily Bishop Ibrahim insisted that homilies should not be copied from other sources or   long but touch the hearts of people and share their hopes according to the words of the Holy Father Pope Francis in his Evangelii Gaudium (Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today's World). Instead, Ibrahim Ibrahim turned people's attention briefly to the missionary work the Melkite Catholic Church is establishing in Canada such as the ordination of a new priest that he will perform next week in Windsor and other events all the way to Calgary and Vancouver then in Quebec and other provinces in the North. But probably his most impressive prayer took place when in raising the offerings, he mentioned the Roman Pontiff, the Melkite Patriarch, Bishops and priests and stopped to particularly bless and recognize Fr. Georges Farah "who served this parish for over 21 years and his name means joy" to which there was an immediate applause in the entire church. Fr. Georges was present as Bishop Ibrahim had invited him and there his services were recognized by the Bishop. The new Pastor/Administrator Fr. Ibrahim El Haddad was also mentioned (and so were Fr. Chalhoub and Fr. Hanna) with another round of applause. What mattered here is the act of the Bishop in maintaining unity in the Church. It needed an astute and large heart to gather the old and the new; the parents and the youth around the table of Christ in order to help the faithful in state of grace  receive the body and blood of the triumphant Saviour.

Today's Quote

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


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