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

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Human Family's Gifts to the Baby of Bethlehem

As Christmas is here, our thoughts are directed to the Holy Family in Bethlehem. In the manger, humanity experiences God whose love for her brought Him from heaven. In the manger too, Mary feeds her son Jesus while Joseph watches on them to secure his little family. When King Herod looks to kill the new-born "king" Jesus, Joseph gets his family to escape to Egypt and live there until Herod is no longer a threat and the family is able to go back to the Holy Land. This is the Holy Family - Holy because they are for each other. 

But it is not only this family that is holy. In Christianity, "God is love" (1 John 4:8). Yes God is one but how could He be love if He is alone?! From eternity God poured out Himself in love and thus begot His Son, an image of Him. God became a father when He poured out Himself and at this point He looked at his Son and experienced love. In His act of unlimited love, He emptied Himself and gave His divinity totally to His Son. The Son received His Father’s love and discovered that He has everything from His Father and He could not live without love, because life is love and nothing else but love. So the Son emptied Himself and gave all He has - all the divinity - back to the Father. Neither the Father wants the gift of divinity nor the Son wants it. Why? Because full love is giving and giving away oneself! In order to realize His fatherhood, the Father has to empty Himself - the Son, after listening to the love whispering in Him, gives back His filial love to His Father. This dynamic force of love that pushes the Father to love and the Son to return His Father’s love with love is the Holy Spirit. In true faith, this dynamic movement of love continues from eternity to eternity. The Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the eternal Holy Family in one God...

How far is the typical family today from the Holy Family? While the ancients regarded childlessness a curse, today abortion of unwanted children in the womb is easily obtained. Today, individualism, not individuality, stresses selfishness and facilitates divorce between married couples.  Some TV shows of entertainment often encourage the sensual instincts which can in turn enslave men to their sexual desires of possessiveness rather than faithfulness to their spouses. Prostitution, the oldest industry in history, has become popular and attractive for the money it brings thanks to the superficial media accessible by every person. Education of children and teenagers is no longer based on the moral requirement of virtue.  In Ontario, Canada, the Liberal Government has added this year a curriculum of sex education for teenager students that angered many faithful parents since it contains such practices as emphasizing "the importance of consent and discussions (between students) about delaying or abstaining from any genital contact including vaginal, oral or anal intercourse." ! But who am I to judge anyone? Pope Francis gave us the example of finding the good in the human family and investing our energy in making our society and the world a better place to live in. He follows the Gospel of Jesus Christ who says "Love your enemies". It is for the revival of the Christian family including her estranged members that Pope Francis had the Synod on the family held earlier this year in Rome.  We are also aware that in our society today, excessive materialist consumerism has spread everywhere and, because of the greed in profits by  large business in global outsourcing, it most recently caused difficulties to middle-class families thus almost eclipsing society into two layers: a very small minority of very rich people and a large majority of poor people. The hardship of the family is no longer limited to raising well-educated and morally upright children, but rather the social failure of these children in finding jobs for which they studied and graduated after spending much money, often with their parents help. As a response to such difficulties facing families, the building of a just and equitable social order is best achieved in the distribution of wealth that would avoid a "revolution of the hungry". Christian families need to grow, and grow in love. The family whose members have a bit of time for each other can make a difference in understanding the needs and responding to them in a responsible way. Parents need to communicate constantly with each other and with their children, but above all they can be good examples for the new generations. In weekends family members have the opportunity to eat together, talk together, play together and pray together. Indeed in every parish, families can support each other and the community in every field because love is creative.This is the beauty of the family. It is the role, not of celibate bishops and priests, but of every Christian family. 

In the world, the Christian family of Churches faces more persecution. In the West, materialism and atheism pervade society and challenge Christian morality. In a recent symposium, Cardinal Thomas Collins made it clear how the courts in Canada challenge Christian morality.  The above influences Christian individuals and families to lose their faith. In the Near East, Islamic extremism has caused untold suffering to Christian families that the Christian family presence in the Middle East is threatened like never before. The Knights of Columbus (especially at Jesus the King Church), among others, are helping vulnerable families in Syria, Iraq, and the Holy Land through sponsoring and transferring donations from North America. As terrorism reached Africa, Europe and North America it became urgent that Christian families become reunited and rise over the above threats which would inspire Bishops of all Churches in East and West to work together for the renewal and fullness of Christian unity in the Triune God. 

Today everyone must be concerned about the larger family; the human family. As the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis starts, let us think of the vulnerable, the needy, and poor and share with them generously of what we have.  Let us ask the God of love to forgive us our sins, and help every one, near and far including extremists, realize the true joy that is Christ. Christ is the light of nations and the blessing of the poor. He will enrich the hungry and bring peace to the fighting nations if we only believe and act on faith!

This Christmas, what gifts can we give to the baby of Bethlehem? In his inauguration, Saint Pope John Paul II said "Open your doors to Christ". Indeed, every person, every family, and every parish needs to open their/our doors to Him who took the risk to become one of us in order to save us.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Global Terrorism Or Jesus the King

Christmas is a time to come closer to Christ and to each other, to pray for the many in the Church and outside her, and share with the needy of what we have been given. It is also a time to receive God's forgiveness through the sacrament of confession and share in the reception of  Christ's body and blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist for "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53). On Friday December 18, we had a prayer evening at Jesus the King Church for the  unity of the family and the human family with supplications to the Holy Family (especially to protect families from terrorism and atrocities) as Pope Francis requested (for details see here).

Let's sing: "Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down"

To share with the needy, Jesus the King Melkite Catholic Church in Toronto, under the leadership of Fr. Ibrahim El-Haddad and his assistant pastors, has already sponsored close to 40 persecuted families of Syrian refugees making it one of the most active of Churches in the Greater Toronto Area. For details, contact the pastor's office.

Islamic terrorism has caused much suffering and put the world on high alert (see the latest here and here). Rather than getting easily angry after watching the news of Islamic terrorism, we could listen to Bishop Robert Barron on responding to terrorism here, to his "Catholicism" series in which he shows the mystical union of Christ and the Church (beautifully presented here), or read Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. in his lecture on Christian compassion here, In fact, in one of his most recent homilies (in French here), Fr. Boulad opens up hope due to the messianic character of Christianity and condenses salvation history, still being written, in one homily. Henri Boulad said that with Jesus Christ there is a new humanity which we call the Church that is larger than being defined by a restrictive definition. Based on Dominus Iesus, I too think that being Catholic means a universality that finds its unity in the Catholic Church, to which everyone of goodwill is linked in a mysterious way regardless of religion, yet we, the Church, must continue to attract non-Christians to know and love Christ consciously (read me here).  "Since Christ laid the foundation in the soil of humanity, the Church has been growing as a tree from the ground up. Since Christ entrusted the world to us, the world is in our hands..." The tendency of religions is to look to the past - The foundation is in the past,,,scriptures are in the past and prophets are in the past, But this raises a temptation of fundamentals in which fundamentalists of narrow-minds often fall, Boulad said. Resistant to any change, they do not understand that the Gospel is a journey, a cross-over and a forward movement to the future. God is ahead-Christ is ahead. It is why we speak of Christianity as a religion of eschatology (in Greek, eschaton means the crowning in the end), he said. After the Ascension of Christ, the disciples were asked to go preach the good news and do as their master did to help humanity and build the world in the goodness and love of Christ. Thus to prepare the world for the Second Coming of Christ, Christians need to pray, engage and work for purifying humanity from sins, egoism, and violence. "The Second Coming depends on us"! Not to wait for Christ to come but to engage in building society and the Church. The more important engagement is to be transformed myself by grace and to do like Little Thérèse of Lisieux who while in the Carmel was able in her short life to engage her inner heart, transform the world and so was declared patron of missions (see her story here). There are two types of society: One lives in cyclic time and the other lives in linear time. The one in linear time is the Christian society of hope and development. The goal is Christ "The Omega Point" according to Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. Christ attracts creation into his love.The cyclic time belongs to ancient myths. In his huge work in anthropology, Mircea Eliade wrote  about "The Myths of The Eternal Return". Christ is the goal of creation...He calls me and invites me to be with him. "Take courage. I have conquered the world" said Christ (John 16:33). At this point the Jesuit scholar Henri Boulad ended his homily.

Then stands Mary Immaculate in her joy - "Mary conceived God in her thoughts before she conceived him in her womb" said St. Augustine. In one of his lectures at Jesus the King Church, which he delivered every week, Fr. Georges Farah defended the veneration of the Virgin Mary above all creatures and said a virgin is translated from Batula or Batul in the ancient Hebrew which is related to Beit Il or the house of God. How could Mary be the house or the temple of God? She could not unless she was without the stain of sin: original sin and personal sin. When someone sins, he misses his goal. Your goal is to be like God. You miss the goal when you become a slave to your selfishness and desires. But this little girl Mary was dedicated to God in the temple since her early childhood. She said Yes to his angel and never sought her glory. She was always in the shadows. To be born of an immaculate virgin, Christ saved her by protecting her in her conception from original sin and his grace accompanied her throughout her suffering and joys. And today, when there is much suffering and violence in the Middle East, we call on the Virgin Mary to protect her children there. She leads all to her son and point them to him as she pointed the workers in the wedding in Cana to Christ. To this picture, Bishop Ibrahim Ibrahim adds the beauty of the soul. In his talk to Sawt el-Rabb last December (here in Arabic), he said "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... "

From feeling the beauty of Christ, which St. Peter expressed "Lord, it is good for us to be here" when he saw Christ shines in the Transfiguration, we have to come back to our troubles. Fr. Jim Reposkey, Pastor of St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church in Toronto, recently gave a fiery homily reflecting today's corruption in the competition to accumulate money and possess more power. "We all do it" he said referring to the "Pagan society" which Thomas Cardinal Collins described a few weeks ago. Fr. Jim Reposkey continued "Then who can be saved?" Who can be saved if Man continues to uproot nature and refabricate its components to his own selfish desires? Pope Francis eloquently wrote about it in his encyclical "Laudato Si" (here).  Who can be saved if all what I care for is me? Who can be saved if, for political gain, we support the abomination of immorality? (Henri Boulad S.J. touched on this here). Fr. Reposkey concluded "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God." 

And yet, global terrorism is still manifesting itself in the possible evil use of new technology. On December 8, MIT Technology Review published a news article here in which the giant American technology company Google claims it has proved that a D-Wave computer installed by Google at NASA is a quantum computer that can run at 100 million fold against a conventional computer (see here a little explanation of quantum computers). There are serious fears that NASA may usher with this technology the so-called space wars. The issue is about dominion of America over the rest of the world not only economically but also in waging military wars using high technology via satellites and unmanned space ships.Control and power could ultimately destroy the inhabited earth especially if the new American administration next year is hawkish.

In September 2015, the American "Foreign Policy" published an article that raised moral questions as researchers in neurotechnologies have been able to control the human brain and read people's thoughts. The U.S. Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working on extensive projects with universities that would allow the coding of artificial intelligence in advanced computers which in turn could be hooked to brains, potentially directing bionic soldiers or pilot aircrafts and implanting new memories in allies and enemies alike as desired by the controlling state or group. The race of the above efforts has been going for years in Russia, the European Union, and Japan "This is your brain as a weapon" said the author.

If the above materializes, the world could shortly see a new form of what we could call global terrorism...This is not the desire of any ordinary Christian before Christmas. As Fr. Boulad said "The desire of humanity for heaven brought heaven to earth". This is what we believe Christmas is all about. Joy to the world...How long will it be is another question for wounded humanity. Johann Sebastian Bach expressed humanity's longing for Christ in his musical masterpiece "Joy of Man's Desiring" here. As we go forward I hope to start to love him with ordinary people who choose him. We will still sing:  "O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant - O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem - Come and behold him born the King of angels. O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him Christ the Lord..."

Today's Quote

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


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