Pope Francis on a Mission

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Handel's Messiah by Halleluja Chorus

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Victorious Christ




Listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XppXi_jZKWk

This Palm Sunday, Christians all over the world celebrated the entry of the victorious Christ in Jerusalem. The entry 2000 years ago was celebrated by crowds singing hymns to the Messiah and carrying palms of trees as a sign of victory. Although the same crowds who celebrated Christ's entry into Jerusalem turned against him on the following Friday, the Church continued to celebrate Palm Sunday as an event that prefigures Christ's coming with power. The Jews still await his coming while Christians await his second coming. The Christian concept of power is distinct from the concept of power in other religions, because the power of God is not magic nor the imposition of a law for obedience, but rather an unending love that is the essence of the living Triune God before all ages and to eternity. God creates everything, including time, out of love. The Father wishes to share his immense joy with creation. He is free and full of joy because he has eternally kept nothing to himself but has given his full divinity to his image the Son. The Son too, in gratitude and love, returns the divinity he receives to his Father and thus he is in full joy and is free. The Holy Spirit is the bond of love between Father and Son. He is also full joy and free because he shares everything he gets with the Father and the Son. He is the life-giver to all creation (Genesis 1: 2). By this same power of the Holy Spirit, Christ was incarnate from the Virgin Mary. The incarnation of Christ could not have taken place without the acceptance and collaboration of Mary with the divine power (Luke 1: 38). Throughout his life, Christ performed miracles by the power of God which is his power only out of love. His teaching was with power and authority derived from his divinity (Matt 7: 29). His passion unto death is not only an example, but the revelation of his power of love in trusting his Father, thanking his Father, and as a human person dying in his Father's hands. Christ's love is revealed in his filial obedience to his mother Mary and to Joseph, his outreach to the enemies of his Jewish culture whether the Samaritans or the Canaanites, his choice of uneducated men to be his followers, his compassion for the prostitutes, the tax collectors, and the socially outcast, and  surely his forgiveness of his killers while on the cross atoning for the sins of the world. His resurrection and ascension body and soul to the Father are by the power of love that brings about the entry of humanity into the mystery of God. The victorious Christ still labours in time through his Spirit in order to bring creation that he so much loved into the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21: 2).
However, the drama of the holy week, that Christ experienced in his suffering to death, continues in fallen and redeemed humanity. The killing of Fr. Frans van der Lugt in Syria last week was followed by much suffering in the Middle East. The Knights of Columbus at Jesus the King Church had launched last December a project to help the Syrian sick and hungry which is a relief (You can probably help in this holy week here).  In Ukraine again reports of Russian army movements are causing alarm in the West (See The Economist here) as well as opposing reports from Russia that Putin is attempting to replace the American dollar with the Russian ruble in the global market of currency which would affect most economies that depend on the American dollar. The same publisher claims that an economic alliance between Russia and China may as well involve Germany (See here). And we wonder how humans betray each other so easily for their own false glory.
Jim Flaherty, a lawyer and economist from top universities who had a long outstanding career in Canada's public service and since 2005 served as Minister of Finance passed away last week at the age of 64 only a few weeks after his retirement in March. He loved his family and worked to help the disabled (See CBC).
Yes, we can mourn the departed but we cannot despair of God's love towards them and us. He is the only hope after all humans could do to survive death. We hold this hope in view of the Resurrection of Christ (See Joseph Ratzinger on the truth of the Resurrection here).
Palm Sunday this year was my 60th birthday anniversary. It was significant for me because in 1986 after my heart attack, I asked Professor Dr. Michael Sole my cardiologist and a top caring researcher, what age he thought I would live to. His answer then was that if everything went well I could live to be 60. Of course he could not predict how long I would live, but the number got stuck in my memory especially because I was so fearful that I could die within 2 years. Dr. Sole did not know then that within 16 years he would diagnose a near-fatal aortic aneurysm for which I was seen by Professor Dr. Tirone David, a top heart surgeon in North America, in 2003. Dr. David explained the high risk associated with the surgery so out of fear I decided not to have the surgery. When I had my kidney cancer in 2004, Professor Dr. Michael Jewett, a top urology surgeon, asked that I confirm with Dr. Sole and Dr. David whether I could undergo a surgery to remove the carcinoma tissue from my left kidney, a surgery successfully performed in 2005 but after which I had a massive bleeding due to my blood anticoagulant. And again after a successful prostate surgery in Montreal in July 2007, I neglected taking my blood anticoagulant.medication which caused a stroke with depression. The strange thing is that I survived until today in spite of all my selfishness, sins and the above medical problems (If interested read the full story written in 2011 here).  When I was seen by Dr. Sole after my stroke, he said to me "God is smiling upon you." Last November he repeated "You have proven us wrong." But who really has proven them wrong? Certainly not I. I only want to live, My family wants me to live. My extended family and friends pray for me. The only one who can give me life is God. This is why my wife always reminds me to be thankful to God; for my aortic aneurysm could have ended my life since 2002; my cancer discovered in a urine checkup, could have ended my life; my stroke could have ended my life'; and still I am growing older.
Only a day before Palm Sunday, I contacted all my friends by email, and on Facebook to respond to a request by an aging man for his 60th birthday anniversary. The responses, some 300, overwhelmed me with the generosity that I could not expect from men and women whose lives are very busy. Yes, I wanted to know who reads me. But I also wanted to see how a little effort can generate a lot of thanksgiving to God, and a lot of  empathy, and a lot of togetherness. If God responds with such generous love to me who is unworthy, how much more would Christ really pour himself when in the holy week so many Christians can pray including you my friends? He uses everyone of us in order to strengthen the other and open himself or herself to God. Such is the victorious Christ!
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Assassination of Fr. Frans van der Lugt in Syria

Fr. Frans van der Lugt was not only a highly-learned Jesuit priest, and not only a carrier of Francis name the Alter-Christus, and not only a man who carried out the vocation of being with the poor and helping non-Christians and Christians alike in war-torn Syria, but also suffered like his Master and God the betrayal of human conspiracy with the Devil who two thousand years ago, about the same time in a similar conspiracy, crucified Christus the Master and God of all.
In Homs, Syria today, the killing of Frans van der Lugt this morning, cries out to heaven not for revenge, but following the example of Christ, for forgiveness of the killers. Since the glorious death and Resurrection of Christ, hell can no longer have a say in the court of the Most High as it tried with Job the righteous man of old or as it did with David the King when hell stirred him to sin and David the King sinned (Or as hell stirred the Father of Fathers Abraham to lie and Israel's sons to sell their brother Joseph into slavery). Yet God's mercy and utter love never fails. In spite of sins by sons and daughters of the Church in its long history, God never takes revenge. He only pours himself in love of his creation.
I dare to say that so much has God given us through Christ his unique Son, in creation and in redemption, still working out in the history of civilizations, that the most heinous crime can be forgiven in Christ, and hell can surely expect its own failure, emptiness or destruction.
If Satan (who calls for division) comes again, the Holy Spirit will rebuke him as did Christ who is one with the Father in the Holy Spirit.
Let us think not only of ourselves but also of Syria's people and others who are undergoing difficulties in Egypt, Lebanon, and the entire Middle East. Let us think of Europe and especially Ukraine whose people are now divided in the name of protection by the world's divided powers.
I pray for Canadians, my beloved people, families and children; for people of the United States, our neighbour country; and especially for agnostics in spite of differences.
May the Lord continue to bless the work of Pope Francis together with other bishops in advancing the peace of Christ in the world. We seek this blessing through the intercession of Mary Mother of God, saints and ask God to receive his servant Frans van der Lugt in the heavenly kingdom of Christ.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Concert for Christian Unity! Is it Enough?

This past Sunday March 23, 2014 we watched a beautiful concert at Jesus the King Church in Toronto, performed by brilliant musicians from Lithuania and choir members of Jesus the King choirs. How could Fr. Georges Farah get the organizers and participants to spend so much time in preparation is another story. The concert included works by Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as well as less well-known composers, but significantly enough Fr. Farah sang the Byzantine Christian glorious hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary "Axion Estin" in such a wonderful Greek melody. It was appropriate since the Church was starting its celebration of the Feast of the Annunciation. Listen to one choir singing it here.
This was an opportunity for an encounter and collaboration (through music) between Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity. What more beautiful hymn can the choir sing other than Mozart's Ave verum which they did on that afternoon. Listen to one choir singing it here.
And if the beauty of Corpus Christi is such a foretaste of heaven, what would be the real heaven? I can only refer the reader to the article titled Why the Beloved is Beautiful which lifts us with the words of St. Gertrude the Great when Christ spoke to her soul - Thus she wrote "Then I understood the meaning contained in those sweet and ineffable words: 'God will be all in all' (1 Cor. 15:28); and my soul, which was enriched by the presence of my Beloved, soon knew, by its transports of joy, that it possessed the presence of her Spouse. Then she received these words with exceeding avidity which were presented as a delicious beverage to satisfy the ardor of its thirst: 'As I am the figure of the substance of God, My Father, in His Divinity, so also you shall be the figure of My substance in My Humanity, receiving in your deified soul the infusion of My Divinity, as the air receives the brightness of the solar rays, that these rays may penetrate you so intimately as to prepare you for the closest union with Me'."
Is not this a sign of the call today to Christians for their mission and unity?
Get our children to learn and enjoy the everlasting angelic hymns. Give our kids hope in the mercy of God. Help them realize the wonders of a loving Father...
As if I was dreaming of Christian unity, I woke up to the reality of divided Christendom over a piece of land. I was reminded by the conflict in Ukraine between the Christian West and the Christian East. What a waste of resources! What a waste of talents! Why Can't the leaders of the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church agree? Or is this above our heads? But the historical wounds are deeper than what we know in spite of much dialogue between Churches for over 50 years.  Pray that the conflict ends between Russia and the Western world. Remember too that this Easter in April Catholics and Orthodox will celebrate the death and Resurrection of Christ together, and in May Catholic and Orthodox leaders headed by Pope Francis and  Ecumenical Patriarch of Orthodoxy Bartholomew will meet in Jerusalem 50 years after the first meeting between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I, both of venerable memory, in 1964.
What role can our Christian leaders play in the visit of Pope Francis to Jerusalem? Or can they play a role? Let me suggest that our venerable patriarchs and bishops who will receive Pope Francis in Jerusalem remind him of the need to act as he said in his Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. At least the Holy See can order the rich Catholic dioceses in America and Canada to financially support the Vatican's efforts for economically helping the poor and persecuted Eastern Christians in the Middle East including those in Turkey where the Ecumenical Patriarch of Orthodoxy resides. It would be great if Patriarch Kirill the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia meet also with the Pope in Jerusalem and take action to influence the ending of the drama in Ukraine. If Patriarch Kirill is convinced that he can contribute to the restoration of Christian unity, he will listen to Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew. Are we dreaming?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Missing Humanity in Ukraine and a Malaysian Airplane

I was hoping that this 300th post would carry more good news. But all last week we watched in horror the mystery that is not yet clear of a Malaysian airplane that vanished from its normal route. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, its crew and all its passengers are still not found in spite of global search by satellites, security experts and investigators in Malaysia and the U.S. among others.  The New York Times has reported on Sunday March 16 "A signaling system was disabled on the missing Malaysia Airlines jet before a pilot spoke to air traffic control without mentioning any trouble, a senior Malaysian official said Sunday, reinforcing theories that one or both of the pilots may have been involved in diverting the plane and adding urgency to the investigation of their pasts and possible motivations.With the increasing likelihood that Flight 370 was purposefully diverted and flown thousands of miles from its planned route, Malaysian officials faced more questions about an investigation, marked by days of contradictory government statements, that has ballooned into a global goose chase for information." This looks more or less like another hijacking of an airplane that reminds us of 9/11. But we hope this time that the passengers and crew members are safe on an island somewhere in Asia. If it becomes evident that the disaster is caused by an act of terrorism, the global community needs to take actions to make sure this does not happen again. The most terrible thing is having so many innocent people pay with their lives for political gains.  Pope Francis asked tens of thousands of Pilgrims in Rome to pray for the missing passengers and crew members and their families.

While nearly everyone is concerned about the fate of the Malaysian airplane, a global concern is also rising about the fate of Ukraine after the Russians pushed Crimea Region to rejoin Russia in spite of agreements signed by Russia in 1994 that guarantees the integrity of Ukraine as a sovereign country. While Russia seems to be isolated internationally from the global political players, the people of Crimea voted to rejoin the Federation of Russians on Sunday March 16.  But the problem seems to be larger. People in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are fearful of an expansionist Putin that seems to be regenerating the dream of the Soviet Union. Some analysts compare Putin to Hitler who started World War II by invading Poland with the same argument of rescuing his comrades -"Germans"!  However, Don Murray of Canada's CBC offered a comparative analysis to the start of both World War I and World War II  arguing that the Western allies today are far from united against Russia's lion:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/crimea-referendum-tough-talk-likely-only-response-to-putin-s-coup-1.2575125
My concern is with Christians who seem to continue their division between East and West. I still hope that Pope Francis meeting with Eastern Christian leaders in Jerusalem in May will result in more than a protocol of a mutual kiss of peace. I am not sure how in this new situation will Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople represent the Orthodox Churches, given the fact that the Patriarch of the largest Orthodox Church of 200 Million Russian Orthodox Christians is in Moscow. Could prayers of Lent make a difference as they are directed to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary?  

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Revolution of Love

First: Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. continues to impress us, not only by his missionary work, his breadth in the knowledge in and appreciation of new developments in human and natural sciences (e.g. Teilhard de Chardin), but also by his deep spirituality and humility in his own words. This outspoken Jesuit priest said many times that he is here to "change the world." Someone who is not familiar with Fr. Boulad's own active mission may think that this is arrogance. However he continues to defy such claims in the manner he conducts himself with his many listeners and students. Henri Boulad spoke passionately on Sunday February 23, 2014 about the "revolution of love" (Watch it here in French). What did this man say? America, Russia, China, and the Islamists dispute over the world...I should add here that we probably see in Ukraine today the same kind of conflict that exists in the Middle East. This time it is between the new government of Ukraine and supporters of closer relationships with the European Union and the West on one hand (the majority are Catholics whose interest or comfort zone is with the liberal West) and supporters of closer relationships with Russia on the other hand (the majority are Orthodox Christians whose interest or comfort zone is with the conservative Russian regime). In a dictatorial move, President Putin has sent his Russian troops to "protect Russians in east Ukraine" with a "unanimous" approval by the Russian Parliament. It is a reminder of the take-over of Georgia in 2008 that shows the powerful dominates and probably along cultural/religious lines which Samuel Huntington described in his 1994 book The Clash of Civilizations. To the massacres and hatred in Syria and many other places, Boulad says "my spontaneous reaction is to carry a weapon and kill my enemies... Eye for eye...Evil for evil....It is the reaction of Peter when he cut off the ear of a servant as Jesus his master was attacked in the garden and Jesus answered him 'He who kills by the sword, by the sword he shall perish'." And Henri Boulad said "I cannot stand the hypocrisy of nations that call themselves democratic and yet enact hatred... Our world is a jungle. It follows the law of the most powerful...
"And where is the Church in all of this?" He asks. "She has no army and no power. The dreams of a powerful church that punishes the infidels are only bad dreams. Jesus says to us 'Love with all your heart, and all your strength.' Yes, we love those friends that surround us with their affections and comfort us...But real love starts when it becomes practically impossible to love. The Gospel is a challenge to what is natural and animal. If you partake (or share) then give everything...Who lives this love? Certainly not I who struggles as St. Paul did with 'the old man' in him that wants vengeance...Nevertheless, here is Christianity - here is the Church - here is the Gospel. Either we live love to the end or we are not Christians ...What did political revolutions change? I am not against political  revolutions that aim for liberation. But then people dispute again and a new slavery sets in. The essential revolution is that of the heart. This is the revolution of Jesus Christ. He knows that no political revolution can change us; for we need a change in the human person. It is the revolution of love. This is why he came. We are all happy that the Jesuit Pope Francis is for the needy and is making changes in the Vatican. But where are the billions of Christians? There will be more disputes between the powers of this world by violence. There will be changes of chiefs but misery will not finish unless we change the world. But I believe that we can change the world...The first word is 'I can' by the grace of the one who said 'Love your enemies'."

Second: Henri Boulad also touched on his personal struggle with the demonic powers of hatred that could enslave the heart. "I have enemies and they detest me. My spontaneous tendency is to detest them. But I say to myself 'Henri, you are not Christian?' - One day Sister Emmanuelle with whom I was working in helping the hungry in Mukkatam said to me 'Fr. Boulad, find for me someone who really loves?' Reflections made me rethink whether I am working for my own glory or for God. It is impossible to love my enemies. This is the challenge of the Gospel. Only through this love let us attempt to be in the Church and change this poor world. Probably a church is dying but a new church is being formed, the church of love. It seems to me that we can change the world by small gestures of love step by step starting with changing our hearts first by the grace of God."

Third: Reflections on love If such a spiritual missionary man could reveal the depth of evil thoughts, how much more evil do we ordinary lay persons harbor in our hearts? I recall Paul Antaki the Great, the late bishop of Melkite Catholics in Egypt. In one retreat with the young Catholics, of whom I was one in 1974, he spoke of his sins, and said that both Peter and Judas betrayed Christ, yet Peter not only saw his sins but also the mercy of God and repented while Judas, who saw only his sins, hanged himself. This was a lesson of hope for me. Always hope in Christ's mercy even if we betray him because there is always a second chance in this life; for He died for the many and not only a few elect.

Christ passionately spoke of his Father here "What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish." (Matthew 18: 12-14). St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church and Patron of Preachers in the Church who suffered at the hands of the Byzantine political wolves in his days, spoke too about the enormous love that God bestows upon us: "God seeks you to return to him even if through one tear in your eyes". Loving God takes time, commitment and perseverance. See St. Bernard of Clairvaux on the four loves here. He is a Doctor of the Church and a mystic too. St. Francis of Assisi, named the Alter Christus, also had a lot of sufferings to partake for Christ, but he never gave up. On the contrary he named the Sun and Moon his sister and brother and found the goodness that God implanted in creation. St. Ignatius of Loyola who founded the Order of the Society of Jesus was a soldier and learned the hard way to become a disciple of Christ. He wrote his Spiritual Exercises, a masterpiece in finding God and in discerning the good in everyday life which is followed to this day by many Christians because of their imitation of Christ. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the greatest proclaimed saint in modern times and Doctor of the Church who lived only 24 years, is yet another great witness to the love of God in little ordinary things. Last year, Nelson Mandela passed away. He spent years of spiritual battles in prison where he learned how to forgive his enemies and reconcile with them.

Fourth: More reflections on love And I recall a lecture of the late Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, Pope Shenouda III, that I attended in 1973. The great Orthodox theologian of Eastern Christian tradition, in his popular and simple style, spoke to thousands at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo and I was one of them. How could he elevate the spirit of joy in my little searching mind remains a mystery; for he spoke about God's love for the little and ordinary people. He said this word "Do not ever think that heaven is for saints. Heaven is for the ordinary ones!" All my fear dissipated in that night and was replaced by a joy so much that on my way back home after the lecture I hardly avoided an accident that could have rendered me incapacitated. Coming from a monk that had experienced the harsh solitary life in the cave for 6 years, I found the lecture a response to the gloom and doom that many preachers warn the faithful about.

Fifth: Love and violence - Murderers know no religion
In his homily in Mass at Jesus the King parish this past Sunday February 23, 2014, Fr. Georges Farah spoke of the last judgment and said that today nations use religion and worship by killing their victims. They do it with zeal but are they following the truth? Is not this the story of Cain who killed his brother Abel in worship of God? However Christ tells us otherwise. Before you worship God, go and reconcile with your brother; for this is the true religion of Christ. The Fathers of the Church were not perfect but they defended the truth of Christ - Fear not."

Conclusion
All of the above is real. But the question remains: How can Christians eliminate violence and hatred today not only on an individual basis but in whole communities? Are not we all interconnected? First Christians need to examine their conscience, then they need to eliminate hatred towards each other and towards others too? Will Christian leaders in the conflict-torn countries and Christian leaders in the Roman Catholic Church attempt a kind of reunion? For example, Christians in the Middle East want to survive and flourish in their lands which are historically the lands that first became Christian. There is hope that the meeting of the leaders of Catholic and Orthodox Churches with Pope Francis this coming May in Jerusalem may result in more than the exchange of the traditional kiss of peace. A reunion of Churches in the face of violent Islamism and other powers is now urgent. It is in this sense that we must read the visit of Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II to Pope Francis in Rome last May and the encounter of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew with Pope Francis in the official installation of the latter last March in Rome.

He who has ears to listen let him listen...

Today's Quote

"And the Word came and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth" (John 1: 14)



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