Today's Wisdom

When we meet a person truly in need, do we see the face of God?
Pope Francis

Handel's Messiah by Halleluja Chorus

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An Elegant Hymn

Written by the Late Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III (in English My Throbbing Heart; in Arabic قلبي الخفاق )

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Difference between Christianity and Religions

STILL IN PROGRESS...Do not read. Thanks...

STILL IN PROGRESS...Do not read. Thanks...

Can you imagine life if you did not exist? Let me first thank God for my life and for my existence. Thanks also to the many people I learn from and those who supported me and sustain me for God works in everyone and everything to perfect us and each one of us. I have two little cats at home.We fear to lose them. You see why we should protect each other and help each other. Because when I help you in good conscience I am actually helping myself. God calls each one by name "Samuel, Samuel..." Samuel was so close to Eli so he thought that Eli called him so he ran to Eli and said "Here I am!", but Eli told him to go lay down again. Samuel listened to that tender voice calling him again and this time Samuel said, "Speak, for thy servant hears." (cf. 1 Samuel 3). Do I listen to God who speaks through others? I do not need to be a prophet to hear his loving voice!

In fact the Bible has deep meanings in every word that God inspired the writers to write.


Fear of death has possessed us since the beginning of life.  Fear has been with us for longer than we ever thought. The ancient Egyptians feared the gods who punish the dead and built the pyramids to house their kings remains in the hope that one day they will be brought back to life.

But fear has become a global concern in the last few years with the increasing communication about violence and killing of Christian (and other) victims in the Middle East and other countries in the world by extremists who claim they are acting to avenge the God of Islam. The most recent attacks on January 7 and 8 in France did not spare any soul of the "infidels" and resulted in more hatred towards Islam by the average person in the civilized world.  The assassination of some 17 persons has united secularists, Christians, Jews and some moderate Muslims against radical Islam. Commenting on the event from a geopolitical perspective, Dr. George Friedman, an expert on global intelligence, wrote an article in Stratfor here where he practically dissects the near impossible situation of terrorism today and warns that the more-than-ten centuries war between Islam and Europe/the West will likely continue. Of concern, he maintains that Muslims in Europe and elsewhere do not share the values and principles on which the Western civilization is built. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has called for a war on radical Islam, But how would a European or an American policeman in the fight of terror distinguish between a tolerant Muslim and a radicalized Muslim if the latter does not wear a distinct uniform?

Weeks earlier in December, 2014, Henri Boulad, S.J. addressed the European Parliament in Brussels where he mounted a strong defense of Christians in the Middle East who since the Islamic conquests of the 7th century have been subjected to a "dhimmi status" (second degree) with periods of calm and periods of persecution and today count for only 2% of the local population. Fr. Boulad reminds Europeans that their crusades and colonization were historical reactions to the aggression of Muslim forces into Europe. The propaganda of self-imposed guilt is run by a suicidal obsession with political correctness. "Telling the truth has become a crime today. Denouncing Sharia, as a flagrant contradiction with the most basic human rights, is being accused of racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia … Europe is seen as driven to retreat and to sell off with ease her values and principles that she has taken centuries to acquire. She is slowly losing her freedom of expression, her resilience to resist, and her immune system." Urging Western experts (whose knowledge of Islam is rather bookish, theoretical and academic) to consult Eastern Christians "who have bathed for centuries in Islamized societies and have a different approach, a different sensibility" in the dialogue with Islamic scholars, he raises his voice "Beyond all divisions - East and West, Islam and Christianity, Left-Right - what is important is to save man, his values, his freedom, and his dignity" and finishes like a hero "EUROPE, TAKE CARE NOT TO LOSE YOUR SOUL! Because on this soul depends the fate of Eastern Christians."

At the same time in Nigeria too, the terrorist Boko Haram executed and/or raped some 2,000 innocents in the name of Allah. In a very recent program, an Arabic-speaking Muslim who had converted to Christianity, puts the blame for the Paris massacre and other violent reactions on a long Islamic tradition of text that is being taught to Muslims by Muslim scholars sponsored by fundamentalist states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia and critiques French President Hollande for being too politically correct towards Muslims (In Arabic here). On the new year's eve celebration of the birthday of Islam's founder, addressing the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University and its scholars a passionate Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (a moderate Muslim) called for a religious revolution of Islamic religious discourse and education after what he termed "centuries of ideologies that have been sanctified" against the the entire world. (Listen to the address with English subtitles here.)

We cannot keep up with the news of recent violations of justice.  Lest we forget, the tension between NATO and Russia on Ukraine has not been resolved diplomatically. Mutual accusations and sanctions continue to hurt nations. This is most felt in the loss of the value of the Russian Ruble and the deteriorating income in lower gas prices. The global reduction of gas prices, due in part to new technology used to find and increase oil production in America, caused layoffs of many workers by oil companies trying to stay afloat in a merciless shifting global market. The Canadian industry of gas and oil suffered the same loss. Twenty years earlier St. Pope John Paul II had warned in Toronto against "the imperialistic monopoly" of economic and political supremacy gained by the rich North at the expense of the poor South. In his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation (Evangelii Gaudium) Pope Francis strongly condemned excess in free-market capitalism, but very few capitalists seem to have responded in our days of consumer-based materialism.

While fear prevails in many parts of the world, six million Christians joyfully attended and sang in the outdoor Mass presided over by the outreaching Pope Francis in Manila, the Philippines as reported today the 18th of January by BBC (See the report here). How is this man able to galvanize that huge following everywhere he goes unless he has much love for the poor and forgotten?






Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Three Saints Who Lived in the East

If a record-breaking crowd (six million) of Christians in Manila attended the Sunday Mass celebrated by Pope Francis and followed him everywhere he went, then it is not only the pope's charming personality that attracted them nor their material poverty that made them brave stormy weather to attend the outdoor Mass, but rather a need to be close to God. It is this same touch of hearts that the Holy Spirit uses to give us an opportunity to humbly partake with saints in becoming Christ-like or holy children of God. Pope Francis praised the people of the Philippines for their heroic trust in God in spite of recent natural disasters. The missionary work of the Church is so great in the East that we can hope many saints will be produced there by the grace of God. In scriptures, God's holiness sets him apart. He is described as "consuming fire" or "the Lord of hosts". Yes, But in Christianity the essence of God is love - "God is love" (1 John 4: 8). His love is his power manifested as a consuming fire and his holiness makes him close to every soul.

In fact, the East has always been a fertile ground for holiness as it witnessed the lives of saints such as Abraham, who, according to tradition, walked with God from Ur to the land of Canaan, Elijah the great prophet of Israel's faith, Moses who spoke with God on Mount Sinai, and many more saints. When the Word of God became man in Palestine, worked wonders, taught with authority, yet was crucified outside Jerusalem because he said he was equal to - and one with - God, he accepted death out of love towards the Father and all his fellow human beings. Through his unlimited love he opened the gates of heaven and continues to save many people in the world starting with the witness of his most blessed mother the Virgin Mary, the Apostles and disciples who, with many, witnessed him after his Resurrection and saw his Ascension. It is from the "Middle" East that the Church, founded by our Lord and God Jesus Christ, grew and expanded in the known world in spite of persecutions throughout the Roman empire. It was in Antioch (today north of Syria into Turkey) that Christ's followers were first called Christians, and in Antioch too Paul preached and Peter founded his first Petrine See before founding the See of Rome where he was martyred. Consequently the Successor of Peter, Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic Church, not only carries "the keys to heaven" given by Christ to Peter, but also carries the title "Servant of servants" used by St. Pope Gregory I.

With this very brief introduction, let us consider 3 saints from the East. St. Anthony the Great (his icon inserted here is found on Fr. Ibrahim El Haddad's Facebook page as the Church celebrated the saint's feast on January 17).  Anthony lived in Egypt (c. 251-356 AD), was rich but on hearing Christ's words to the rich young man ""Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor" decided to literally follow Christ, distributed his belongings, became ascetic and went into the solitude of the desert to listen to God. For years, the hermit was sought by people for spiritual advice and only left his place when needed by the Church to strengthen his fellow Christians in the Arian persecution.  St. Anthony the Great is considered the father of monastic tradition. When St. Athanasius had to go to Rome, he published Anthony's biography which introduced the monastic tradition to the West;  a movement that flourished in the following centuries and continues to serve humanity in many forms and schools including the Franciscans, the Dominicans, and the Jesuits which remain the largest monastic order in the world today.

Charbel Makhlouf lived in Lebanon (1828-1898). The youngest of five children born Youssef to Maronite Catholic parents Antoun Zaarour Makhlouf and Brigitta Elias al-Chediac, he studied at the parish school and since his early years spent much time in prayer and contemplation of God. His mother wanted him to get married but he secretly left home in 1851 and taking the name "Brother Charbel" he joined the monks at the Hermitage of St. Paul in the Qadisha Valley. In 1853, Charbel took his monastic vows, studied for the priesthood, and was ordained returning to the Monastery of St. Maron.  Rigorous asceticism and a profound union with God accompanied by miracles continued to characterize Charbel's life for the next 23 years. After his death, hundreds of thousands visited his tomb and many claimed to have been miraculously healed through his intercession. He was beatified in 1965 and canonized in 1977 by Pope Paul VI but his healing continues to-date as reported by witnesses. We visited his cell in 1974 and saw the profound effect this man continues to leave on his followers.

Lorenzo Ruiz was born around 1600 AD in Manila of a Chinese father and a Filipino mother, both Christians. In his youth he served as altar boy with the Dominicans. A professional calligrapher, he was a full member of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary, got married and had two sons and a daughter. His life took an abrupt turn when he was accused of murder.He was therefore sought by the authorities according to two Dominicans who knew him. At the time, three Dominican priests were about to sail to Japan in spite of a violent persecution in Japan against Christians. Lorenzo asked to go with them as he wanted to escape. But only when they were at sea did he learn that they were going to land in Japan. They landed at Okinawa and were soon arrested and taken to Nagazaki. Fifty thousand Catholics who once lived there were dispersed or killed by persecution.  They were subjected to severe torture. As any ordinary person Lorenzo was not prepared to die. However, in the last few hours he became bold with his interrogators and refused to renounce his faith. He was immediately put to slow death with other Christians by hanging upside down in pits...On September 29, 1637 Lornezo died a martyr for the faith. According to Latin missionary accounts sent back to Manila, Lornezo's  last words were "I am a Catholic and wholeheartedly do accept death for God; Had I a thousand lives, all these to him shall I offer."   Lorenzo Ruiz was beatified by St. Pope John Paul II in the first beatification ceremony outside Rome. He was canonized by St. Pope John Paul II in 1987, the first Filipino saint and Patron Saint of the Philippines.

[And the LORD came and stood forth, calling as at other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for thy servant hears."] (1 Samuel 3:10).This was Samuel's response to God's whispering in his ears...Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. commented last Sunday "Today, God still comes and whispers through what you do: your spouse, your child, newspaper you read, Facebook, Internet ...When will you listen." I think listening to God is the beginning of becoming a saint!



Thursday, January 8, 2015

Exodus Again

If the mind of God is unlimited, then the quest of the human mind for unlimited satisfaction can be achieved only if God and man became one - This is the singular event of the incarnation of the Word of God.

It was reflected in the magnificent hymn "Love Divine" sung by the ranks of dignitaries and the Choir of Westminster Abbey in the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFckP0F93JM
"Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down... Finish then thy new creation, pure and spotless let us be"...
All of them sang regardless of their ranks...all of them bowed but probably not many thought of the words "Finish then thy new creation, pure and spotless let us be." A new creation is God's unfinished work awaiting the promised glory. In the same year 2011, the dark powers of extremism were unleashed against innocents in the Middle East. By the beginning of 2015, Islamic terrorism has not only persecuted Christians in the Middle East, but also divided Muslims in countries from Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, troubled Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Arab Gulf states, Libya, and Tunisia. ISIS, an extremist "Islamic State" threatened the West.

Dr. Ahmed El Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, certainly spoke of his admiration of Christ and said how his eyes get tears when he reads Christ's Sermon on the Mount (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2ycjRV3hLQ).  This is a moderate stance from a Muslim thinker who is probably against much of what Christians preach, but it is still a point of progress for Muslim moderates. Again, I do not admire what the satirical artists of Charlie Hebdo did in publishing pictures ridiculing the most sacred person for Muslims...While I am certainly offended and hope that the Islamist criminals will be found and justly tried in court, I hope that God will forgive them and will help us forgive them as much as we can.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Exodus

As I was finishing this post, the good news from Egypt reached us. The Egyptian President El-Sisi, a moderate Muslim, has just visited St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo to congratulate the Coptic Orthodox Christians for Christmas 2015 where the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, Pope Tawadros II,  was celebrating the mid-night Mass of Christmas. This is definitely a great gesture for Christians and Muslims in Egypt that we hope will find its way throughout the rest of the suffering Middle East. It does not, however, eliminate violence and excessive materialism in the world.

This is what materialism tells us: Three things can trouble the human person: Fear; Death; and God. We usually wish to be in peace without any worries about them. We only need an "exit" (i.e. "exodus") from them.  

In biological sciences, Darwin is credited with the principle "Survival for the fittest." The "New Atheists" of today such as Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss are scientists who devote much time attacking religion because they constrain their research to what is observable in the cosmos where survival of the stronger or larger necessarily eclipses the smaller. In schools today, our children learn mostly what constitutes physics but very little, if any, about metaphysics (i.e. beyond physics).

In post-modern philosophy, Frederick Nietzsche is credited with moral relativism and "the death of God." Nietzsche (died in 1900) sees the slave-morality as a social illness that has overtaken Europe — a derivative and resentful value which can only work by condemning others as evil. In Nietzsche's eyes, Christianity exists in a hypocritical state wherein people preach love and kindness but find their joy in condemning and punishing others for pursuing those ends which the slave-morality does not allow them to act upon publicly. Nietzsche calls for the strong in the world to break their self-imposed chains and assert their own power, health, and vitality upon the world. In relativism (called also Postmodernism), everyone is right. There is no absolute right and absolute wrong. This helps political correctness in the pluralistic world of today.

Sigmund Freud and later schools of psychology, introduced psychological repression that repels one's own desires for pleasure. Therefore sexual promiscuity and playing with sexual organs for pleasure only, are considered something normal taught to students in schools of the academic minds in the West. In more materialist studies the mind is reduced to the material brain which then abolishes real human freedom. Everything becomes an illusion akin to the deterministic world of Daniel Dennett and the Far East philosophy of reality as an illusion.

Exodus is therefore not only the name of a Biblical book that ushers the blessings of God when in response to his servants God liberates his people from slavery but also a pattern in today's materialist culture augmented by today's exodus of Christians and non-Christians from the lands in which the early Church developed. The psychological and material impacts of wars in the Middle East since 2011, or probably since 2003 in Iraq, have reduced the lives of many inhabitants to a mere survival of ghosts. The entire region from North Africa to Turkey has produced much violence. For survival that every reasonable person seeks, exodus to the West has been growing. 

Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan too have seen refugees from Syria and Iraq. But the swelling of numbers (over a million refugees in Lebanon) calls for immediate rescue efforts by governments. Nonetheless sectarian tensions are growing in Europe and North America fearing for the security of their citizens threatened by violent Islamic extremists who could infiltrate their borders and cause much destruction. Exodus is therefore a moral issue that must be addressed. It is life, above all, that is being destroyed. Pope Francis lamented: No one cares when a poor person dies of hunger, but the media rushes to give us the news if the stock market lost a few points.

See some of the latest news here (in The Guardian): 

See also how you can help needy Christians in Syria here: http://foodforsyria.org and needy Christians in Iraq here: http://www.iamiraqiiamchristian.org/ (both websites have been built by the Knights of  Columbus at Jesus the King Church).

Let's get simpler...An anecdote that I read years ago in The Catholic Register goes like this: Satan was making a grand plan to deceive humanity so he gathered all his troops and asked them: What lie shall we tell the world to fall into our traps. One of the little devils came to him and said: Tell them there is no God! Satan thought and answered him: This is not hard - Every thoughtful person knows that there is God. Another devil came to him and said: Tell them there is no right or wrong! Satan thought a little and answered him: But everyone who goes back to his conscience knows that there is indeed right and wrong - It depends on what you make of it. A third devil jumped up and down and said: I found it - Tell them there is time! There is ample time to do as you please. And Satan praised this devil for he found the lie that people would fall for...

The above anecdote is relevant to us. Yes, we think that there is a lot of time here. But more so, it has become fashionable to think less and waste our time in entertainment with shallow thoughts (Facebook has over a billion registrants who mainly exchange congratulations, party pictures and the like with friends - Many persons I know built their entire discussions like the herd imitating others in taking their own pictures and showing them off to the rest of friends). The excuse is simply that everyone is busy (See The Economist research article here) but is only free for a few minutes a day. Yet, in a contradiction of terms, we believe the devilish lie "There is time"! It is self-destructive! Why? Because I can make hundreds of friends on virtual social networks, yet fail to know them. How sad would it be when I find out that none of them was close by when I needed her or him most! The entire Web experience is intended for open education and business development, as well as increased social development but not to replace our own families and social life. Selfishness creates wolves in us driven by greed and human weakness of the flesh. You will be surprised to see how the Web has been infected not only by hackers (from North Korea!) but also by ads on cheap sex as if women are for sale!

Today we see how our consumerist society has invested in the ideology of self-empowerment. Businesses flourish based on selling products to consumers. The more we consume the more business flourishes. This is the child of materialism married to capitalism. The new generation is busy with spending on new stuff or trying it. Let's have fun today. Leave tomorrow and its worries. No need for marriage if half of the marriages end up in divorce. Young adults who choose to get married can hardly afford to beget kids. Let humanity end itself and its civilization?? Can we allow civilization to disintegrate before our eyes when we claim that Christianity carries the spirit of humanization?

In view of the above, it is hard to avoid today's exodus: An exodus from the true reality beyond matter; an exodus from true love and true joy; an exodus from values that lead to eternal life!

But if anyone thinks of Biblical Exodus, he will find hope that God is liberating many today in spite of human weakness and sin. To quote Fr. Henri Bolulad, S.J.: "As the magi were sincere in their search for the king of truth, sincere atheists and non-Christians searching for the truth will be the first to worship little Jesus." In this way God brings the far to his kingdom and awakens "dormant Christians",

Christians cannot reject modernity. On the contrary Christians need to always maintain a good dialogue with today's world of thought and systems. Christians have always been at the forefront of science and technology. However, Christians need also much education in Christianity and the love of God who created us and redeemed us. We need not fear for God himself came from heaven to be with us and is there to embrace all. "Open the doors to Christ," said St. Pope John Paul II.  For this I propose Christians start with prayers and reflections such as St. Ignatius' spiritual exercises even if for 10 minutes a day. I also propose that Christians keep a moderate stance with regard to the media and interaction with everyone. Christians are, after all partakers, of the human development. The enmity between the People of God and the world was broken by Christ and his disciples.

Use the Web: Will you look up the lives of saints on the Web? Learn from the Bible about Jesus Christ our Lord and the saints. Try St. Irenaeus of LyonSt. Athanasius,  St. Basil the Great, St. John of Damascus, St. Bernard of ClairvauxSt. Francis of Assisi, St. RitaSt. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Charbel Makhlouf, St. Gemma Galganni, or St. Maximilian Kolbe. Those are worthy of imitation.

On another occasion, I will explain some of the good system technologies that can benefit Christians as tools in helping the Church.

Any sincere person with good intentions will find Christ in others. If men really need to spend time after work, they may better join the Knights of Columbus or other Christian organizations where both men and women are active in the vineyard of the Lord for the Church needs her young adults in creative projects to assist the community and for the world to come to Christ The Truth (John 14, 6).


Friday, January 2, 2015

Can we achieve full joy in this world?

Can we achieve full joy in this world?
"The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ." (Cf. Pope Francis; Evangelii Gaudium, 2013; The Joy of the Gospel.)

Today's Quote

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







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