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, April 7, 2017

Not Death but Life

In spite of the terror over Syria by the powerful military exercises of the American forces and the Russian forces, we have hope in God that with his inspiration wisdom will prevail.

In the past few days and weeks I witnessed God's work in a few persons that I know. One dear friend, a doctor in Cairo, watched her Mami or mom in pain and nearing death. Her mother was a friend of mine since both were young in Egypt. She is Catholic so I advised her to call a Catholic priest in order to give her mom the Sacrament for the sick. Regardless of the advances in medicine, people still die. Every Catholic Christian (and for that matter, any Orthodox Christian by his priest) is advised to receive the Sacrament for the sick if he/she is in danger or is about to undergo a serious surgery. The practice is based on the Epistle of James Chapter 5, verses 14 and 15 (here). After receiving the Sacrament, her mom departed to God in peace and her daughter informed us. We continue to be close friends "I will never forsake you nor abandon you" (Hebrews 13: 5f).

This past week, I witnessed a homily on happiness or joy summarized in Christ's Beatitudes and found at the beginning of Chapter 5 of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. The homily was given in Arabic by the Biblical scholar Msgr. Paul Feghali, Friday March 31 (See my reflection on it here and here in English). I also witnessed acts of love that lead to heaven on Saturday April 1 and Sunday April 2 and would like to share a 4th personal event that made me happy. It was as if what Msgr. Feghali taught on Friday at the Byzantine Cathedral of the Transfiguration materialized in the next few days!!!

On Saturday April 1, the mother of a close friend at Jesus the King Melkite Catholic parish was prayed over after she had departed to God. Her daughter and grand-daughters visibly exhausted by the pain of separation still found a space to smile which is rare today. The funeral service was conducted by Fr. Ibrahim El-Haddad and his Assistant Pastors Fr. Michel Chalhoub and Fr. Youhanna Hanna. Hymns were sung by the Homsy choir, thus reflecting the polyphony they excel at. But the main surprise was the place where the funeral took place. The mother had lived most of her life in Egypt and served as a teacher to many Egyptian students. Her daughter too educated in Egypt has a Coptic Orthodox dad who had departed to God years earlier. Upon inquiry by friends, Coptic Orthodox Fr. Pishoy Salama opened St. Maurice and St. Verena parish for the Melkite Catholic priests and faithful to pray the funeral services. At the end I thanked Fr. Pishoy for his fraternal and ecumenical initiative emphasizing the Church built on the Apostles. He answered "We are one (in Christ)". His answer is typical of what the Catholic Church recognized too since Pope St. John XXIII initiated the Second Vatican Council which produced Nostra AetateThe suffering endured in recent years by the mother and her only daughter as well as her family has become a crown in selfless love. And selfless love is the way to real glory in heaven. How has the daughter with the help of her husband been able to raise three kids and care for her ailing mother? Managing the family became possible after she earned the title of a Professional Pharmacist; a field in which she has many years of experience and knowledge. With the money raised from their work, the family bought a pharmacy. Hard work helps us survive, but it is God's Spirit who works in the heart that moves us to repent and help his Church from the heart.

On Sunday April 2, we attended the 9:30 AM Mass at Holy Rosary Roman Catholic parish. In the Mass Professor Msgr. Robert Nusca gave the First Communion or the Eucharist to children prepared through catechism. And Msgr. Nusca praised a lady who ran the catechism classes for the kids. She  is on the Parish Council but works much more for the Church although as a Professional Lawyer and a Partner in a large law firm, she is quite busy all week. He also clapped with the rest of the attendees when near the end, the children sang as hymn in honor of Jesus whom they received. When I congratulated her for the achievement, she denied her role and thanked the parents who brought their kids to the catechism classes. Yes, they deserve to be congratulated but this lawyer went out of her way to teach others as well as coordinating conferences in the parish. Congratulations to Christians for this lady and the parents.

I left the last event to the end - On Monday April 3, I was seen by my family doctor who happens to be a Catholic missionary. I did not think he will approve of what I suggested, but he did approve of every medication that was withdrawn when I was hospitalized to be continued. This was for me a great day. Thanks be to God...

More on The Word

In addition to what was written here, Professor Msgr. Paul Feghali spoke too about Christ's warnings in the Sermon on doing good in order to be seen and gives three examples (found in Matthew Chapter 6 ): Almsgiving, Prayer, and Fasting...

However, says Msgr. Feghali, the overarching principle found also in the Sermon is that God is our Father. Judaism influenced by other religions looked to God in a slave-morality. In the Roman empire as much as in others, slaves were bought and sold. The Jews experienced slavery in Egypt until their liberation by Moses who introduced the Law made perfect by Christ. Moses himself could not see God in the bush. Yet in Christ we see God. Christ said to his disciples "I no longer call you slaves because a slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends because I have told you everything that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15: 15). The only prayer that Christ taught his disciples starts with "Our Father" (See Matthew Chapter 6 ). If God is a Father then as children of God, we can ask him anything. In her prayer as a child to the Father, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus asked for everything. And before her death she promised that she will send a shower of flowers/favors from heaven our way.

On fasting, Msgr. Feghali spoke about Jesus' description of the heart and eye. "The heart is the center of life - The Greek's philosophy used the mind but in the East we use the heart" he said "because from the heart come the good and bad utterances about others".  When Jesus spoke about light he identified the eye: "The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be." (Matthew 6: 22-23) Here Msgr.  Feghali connects the light to Christ's Sermon and exhorts the Christian faithful to become what Christ says "You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden...Just so your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father" (Matthew 5: 14-16). Note here again the emphasis on God as Father!

In the Sermon too Christ goes beyond the neighbor and calls on all to "love your enemies". He contrasts the Law with his new Law: "You have heard that it was said 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5: 43-44). As a Jew he himself went to his traditional enemy when he entered Sikhar of Samaria and talked with the Samaritan woman. He also healed the daughter of the Canaanite woman when she asked him although the Canaanites worship Baal (pagan idol) and, on the cross, forgave the people who crucified him to death, and justified his followers by his Resurrection from the dead. You may wish to re-read the entire Sermon. In the end of Chapter 5, he sums it up "So be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5: 48).

Amazingly, Matthew inspired by the holy Spirit writes at the end of the Sermon in Chapter 7 "When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes."

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Word

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1: 1). This is the cornerstone of the Church's faith. It is found too in Matthew 28: 19 "Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the holy Spirit." On Friday March 31, 2017 on the invitation of Fr. Ibrahim El-Haddad, ;pastor of Jesus the King Melkite Catholic Church, Msgr. Paul Feghali gave a word on the Word to all attendees of the Akathistos hymns at the Byzantine Cathedral of the Transfiguration. Msgr. Feghali is Professor of theology and philosophy at a number of universities and seminaries in Lebanon. He is a well-known Biblical scholar, with a doctorate in philosophy and another in theology from the renowned Sorbonne University in France, who wrote over 300 books. In his homily, Msgr. Feghali based his word on joy described in Jesus' teaching found in Matthew 5, 6, 7 and particularly in the Beatitudes taught by Jesus in Matthew 5.
The Gospel is integrated with the Old Testament. Remember that the audience of the Sermon on the Mount are Jews - Some likely knew the Psalms by heart.
Msgr. Feghali has often spoken about the 5 homilies found in the Gospel according to St. Matthew: Five is a symbol of holiness - It is the 4 directions East, West, North, and South and in the center is God's holiness from whom every good comes. In Matthew 567 the center of the Law of Christ is found. The Sermon on the Mount: Christ teaches from the Mount, not because the others are lowly but because he brings them closer to the Father. The Gospel is integrated with the Old Testament. Remember that the hearers of the Sermon on the Mount are Jews of the first century - Some likely knew the Psalms by heart.
The Beatitudes:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" - Msgr. Feghali said that in the Old Testament, the poor are those who are without material possessions and whose confidence is in God (See Isaiah 61: 1) but today the word is translated "humble". The kingdom of heaven is theirs because they trust in God their Father. This is how Christians need to be. Unfortunately Christians have become more concerned with their material consumption and forgot about God who never forgets his children "Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, I will not forget you" (Isaiah 49: 15).
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land" - Msgr. Feghali indicated that Jesus refers to Psalm 37: 11 here but the meaning is not the land of Palestine as in the Psalm but rather the kingdom.
"Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied" - Msgr. Feghali said that righteousness means change of heart and conduct in conformity with God's will.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" - Msgr. Feghali said mercy comes from God. By our acts towards the needy, we receive from God multiple folds; for God sows seeds of goodness in our hearts - But it is everyone's response to God's gifts that helps him more than the needy (See The Parable of the Sower here).
"Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God" - Msgr. Feghali said that only one whose heart is clean can take part in the temple worship. To be with God in the temple is described in Psalm 42:3 (here).  But those who choose to follow Christ will see God face to face in the kingdom.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" - Msgr. Feghali prayed for those who work for peace rather than violence and destruction.
More was said than I could remember. The above is only a selection from The Word, a TV program in Noursat that Msgr. Feghali often contributes to in Arabic. For one session about whether God is a Father or a Judging God, see:
May the Lord be blessed...

Today's Quote

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


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