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


An Elegant Hymn

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Baptism of a Naked God

[As the people were in expectation, and all men questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ, John answered them all, "I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." So, with many other exhortations, he preached good news to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother's wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he shut up John in prison. Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."] (Luke 3:15-22).

In contemporary Biblical scholarship, Luke presents here his theme of the universality of salvation. John the Baptist urges the crowds to reform their social conduct in anticipation of the public ministry of the Messiah. Note also how Luke finds Jesus praying at every major key moment in his mission. Jesus prays here at his own baptism. He also prays before feeding the crowds; before the temptations; at the Last Supper with the Apostles; in the Garden of the Mount of Olives before being betrayed; and while crucified on the cross for those who crucified him and his "enemies."

The Holy Spirit is the life that gives life and the fire that gives light. This is why he descended as tongues of fire on the early church. In the ancient tradition the dove was considered the creature that flies up to the highest sky to bring down peace from heaven. The Holy Spirit descended upon Christ in bodily form as a dove because he brings heaven to earth. And the Father's voice reminds the readers of the "beloved Son" in Psalms (Psalms 2: 7) and in the Father's testimony to Christ in Christ's own transfiguration (Luke 9: 35).

For Origen (Origenus), the famed Biblical scholar of the 3rd century, the baptism of John the Baptist belonged with the Old Testament symbols as a shadow; baptism in the church is the image; and the eschatological baptism of fire and the final conforming to the resurrection of Christ are mystery (Cf. Jean Daniélou, La Table Ronde, 1948). The above themes are related to the providential unfolding of God's will in history to save humanity. Baptism is the crossing from slavery in Egypt to the freedom of God's people - a people enslaved to the tyranny of sin. St. Paul relates baptism to the faithful's  journey into the resurrection as he writes to the Colossians "and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead." (Colossians 2: 12).

But an astonishing interpretation of the eschatological meaning of Christ's baptism is found in Henri Boulad, S.J. A couple of weeks ago, in his homily on Christ's baptism, Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. commented on the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire (homily in French here). He said that Jesus was born naked, was baptized naked, and was crucified naked. In all the key moments of his mission, Christ is naked (nude).

Is this our God, a naked God? It is written by St. John the Evangelist that "God is love" (1 John 4:8). St. Augustine explores this revolutionary concept of God in a rational thought. According to him, as explained by Henri Boulad, if God is love then he must love another from eternity. The Father empties himself of his divinity - his all - and gives it to the Son. The Son receives it with gratitude but like his Father does not keep it to himself - everything is given back to his Father. The Holy Spirit is the unlimited force or energy of love that binds the Father and the Son in the One God (see here). Emptied of oneself, God is nude...God is naked..God the Son submits himself in love to God the Father. Emptied of oneself is the character of God and the attribute of true love.

A couple who are truly experiencing joy in their love for one another feel "lost in love". When a married couple are each nude in their bed, they are telling each other: I am all yours -Take me as I am. This is the same movement by which God accepts each of us as she is and purifies her from within. The sexual intimacy of a married couple expresses the desire of each of them to be distinctive yet together-in-one. This is a reflection of the deep Trinitarian reality that encompasses the entire expanding universe (see Quantum Synthesis here). A little smile of a child turns his mother, however initially upset, to carry him, because love connects members of families and people and connects them with God whose Spirit moves them to repent and return to him.

In the prevailing fear in the world today, we need understanding and communication. We really need solidarity especially that we are praying these days for Christian unity. We are made to be relational. This is why the God of Christians cannot be shelved.  It is constant prayer that initiates in us a dialogue with God.  Our baptism is only the beginning as his baptism was only the beginning of his public and missionary life!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Good News of the New Year

We thought the new year 2016 will have a better start than last year's massive crimes against humanity. Yet, the world witnessed an escalation of attacks by Islamic extremists in Europe and America and the "politically-correct" response of political leaders and authorities (see for example these news here, here, and here). With so much fear and discussions continuing to depress us further about radical Islam,  and the persecution of Christians everywhere in the world especially in countries in the Arab world, Europe, China, and Africa, I wish to share two great stories sent by close friends.

The first story is about Padina, an Iranian Muslim woman, and her mother who both converted to Christianity after a miracle healed the mother.They pleaded Christians to pray for them as they continue to live in the Islamic Republic of Iran where "apostasy" from Islam is punished by death (see news and video here). The second story comes from the pen of Abbé Alain Arbez about the life of Saint Vincent de Paul who liberated many people from slavery under the tyranny of the Islamic Ottoman Empire in the 17th and 18th centuries (in French here). Saint Vincent de Paul was one of the great saints that Fr. Henri Boulad spoke about in his great lecture at Jesus the King Church in July 2015 (Henri Boulad, S.J.: Lord, give me a heart of compassion here). His Congregation of the Mission (known also as Lazarists) continues to serve the disadvantaged and needy in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia to this day. Their work has since extended to the rest of the world. 

Since love is the essence of life, we are not exhausted to hear about saints and martyrs who loved God in what they did and in every person they met. Such holy men and women as the Virgin Mary, Catherine of Alexandria, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, John of Damascus, Dominic,  Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi, Gertrude the Great, Rita of Cascia, Teresa of Avila, Jean Vianney Curé d'Ars, Charbel Makhlouf, and Thérèse of the Child Jesus lead the ones whose lives changed the world. The great historian Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, who spent two years preparing for his priesthood under the spiritual direction of St. Vincent de Paul, wrote that the establishment of Christianity was the one point of real importance in the whole history of the world (read The Catholic Encyclopedia about Bossuet here).

Thursday, December 31, 2015

On the Last Day of 2015: Happy New Year

On this last day of 2015, I wish my readers a happy and blessed new year 2016 full of peace and good health; physically, psychologically, and spiritually.

I thank God that we have been granted life in spite of global terrorism and today's temptations that remind us of Apocalyptic messages particularly in the Book of Revelation attributed to John the Apostle.

In this Year of Mercy, it is my prayer to God that in his unlimited mercy He may accord global humanity eternal joy for which He created us and for which He offered us salvation through Jesus Christ. This is also the prayer of Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, made cardinal by Saint Pope John Paul II, whose literature on the mystical beauty of God has been read by many followers (see "Love Alone is Believable"), Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. mentioned von Balthasar's prayer in one of his talks on eschatology in 2015 and the late Richard John Neuhaus, founder of First Things, referred to him in his article "Will All be Saved?"

I learned, however, that the great scholar René Girard, retired professor of civilization and French at Stanford University, passed away to God at the age of 91 on November 4, 2015. His influence on the development of mimesis in shaping culture and religion has been immense. His significant contribution to many fields of knowledge can be seen here:
From Imitatio website, you may wish to read Mark Anspach on René Girard's legacy here. I first learned about Girard when I was reading comments and reactions to the lecture of Pope Benedict XVI  at the University of Regensburg in 2006. One of the commentators was a Muslim writer who mentioned Girard's work on the centrality of the cross in Christianity and the response to violence. At that time I also learned of the writings of Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, S.J. related to the situation of Christians with radical Islam.  In fact, Girard's work became more relevant after the violent attack of Islamic extremists on 9/11, 2001 when planes were hijacked and crashed in the Twin Towers of New York killing some 3,000 U.S. citizens. Girard wrote frequently in First Things ("Are the Gospels Mythical" here and "On War and Apocalypse" here).

I lectured about Girard's thought a few times in 2007 and 2009 (see here). Fr. Georges Farah, whose credentials include a doctorate in philosophy and another in theology from The Sorbonne in Paris, commented too on Girard's mimetic theory and the scapegoat mechanism that Girard found in his anthropology of religion.
Let's hope a new year will usher the peace of Christ through Christian action and prayer in the global social and political changes of today and tomorrow. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Can Britain's Ban on the Muslim Brotherhood be a Turning Point for Global Christianity?

I think there is sufficient evidence that (as Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. said here in his homily) the world is converting to Christianity. In his apologetic book "Christianity among Other Religions", Professor Fr. Roch Kereszty, O. Cist. wrote that the only religions that preach to convert the world are Christianity and Islam. 

If Islam collapses, then there is an opportunity to fill the gap by Christian missions. 

Add the following points from recent reports:
1. According to The Economist (based on statistics provided by independent sources) Christianity remains the religion of Europe more than any other religion including Islam. Christianity is well and alive in Latin America and is increasing in Africa with vigor. Americans who are the most religious people on earth are fundamentally Christians. See the report here

In France, the National Front of Marine Le Pen has scored political points after the Paris Attack. According to Time Magazine here she may well form the next French government in 2017 (whether Majority or in a coalition with other parties). Her party is opposed to Islam in France. If she gets to power her strong voice will be heard in the rest of Europe's capitals as she promised a strong France and a conservative Christian French comeback, but it could also divide Europe. 

2. The Economist published an article on December 27 by one of the veteran writers "Charlemagne" on Pope Francis. Charlemagne's article states that Francis was selected to receive the 2016 Charlemagne Prize for his active role in breathing "a new life in the construction of Europe" citing Francis words that "Europe must be based on ideals, not economic calculations: above all the ideal of the sanctity of human life." This is a symbolic recognition of the Church's role in renewing Europe that could awaken Europeans to restore their recognition of Europe's Christian roots and promises reception of the Christian soul. 

3. Pope Francis has proven his geopolitical skills in a number of occasions - notably his intercession to reconcile Cuba and the U.S. where he took pain to sit down with the ailing Fidel Castro and his brother during his visit to Cuba in Summer in order to bring the Cuban people back to Church. On his way to the Philippines Pope Francis sent a message to the Chinese authorities greeting them for allowing his plane to go through their air zone. As a gesture he had delayed meeting with the Dalai Lama since the latter is an outspoken enemy against China for persecuting his Buddhist monks in Tibet.
However, there seems to be an improvement in the relationship between the Vatican and China. See this report published in September 2015.

4. The Far East has also been busy protecting the lands from Islamic extremists. India had its share in silencing them by force. China, as reported earlier this year in "Foreign Policy", is taking care of Islamic extremists in the Western Region and Northern Region infiltrated by Islamists. America loves it as China forces its troops into Afghanistan to clear it from Taliban as the American troops leave by 2016. And Russia loves it too as Chinese troops clear the Northern borders  of China that they share from any Islamic extremists while Putin finishes off Islamic extremists in Syria and turns his gaze to silence Erdogan and his Islamists as he did re the bridge that Erdogan wanted to build in order to revive a caliphate. When those are finished ISIS will be no longer a threat.
There are reports that talks between the Vatican an the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate are underway for a meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kiril of Moscow. See this report.

5.  I am not sure that Germany's Angela Merkel's admirable generosity towards Muslim refugees is based solely on a feeling to make up for the persecution of religion in East Germany's Communist era or the Nazi's persecution of Jews. In my opinion, there are probably hidden intentions in welcoming Muslim refugees without prior screening:
a) Merkel has and continues to press Greece's government to impose austerity measures on the Greeks for the loans and guarantees she provided as the leader of the Euro-zone. Her finance Minister criticized the Greeks this month for not facilitating the Islamic refugees crossing to Europe and forgot of course the bad treatment of Christian minority and the Ecumenical Patriarch at the hands of Turkey's Erdogan. 
b) On the contrary, Merkel who oversees Germany's ascension to power in Europe must have a plan for bringing a million Muslims into Germany in one year. These refugees will not find jobs unless they accept to work as cheap labour in the industrial factories and facilities for very small wages that Germans could not accept. This way she will be able to meet three challenges:
First: Germany would be able to continue exporting its products not only to Europe but to Africa and Asia too, now that they are cheap.
Second: Germany would be able to stop the ascending economic power of China by cutting off the Silk Road promised by Xi Jinping from taking place even though it cost China billions of dollars. 
Third: As a Capitalist, Merkel would be able, through the above policy, to remove labor unions from being there and obstructing her re-election.
The above means that her affection is temporary.
Recall that Pope Benedict who hails from Bavaria, Germany was the most vocal Catholic that critiqued Islam in his lecture at the University of Regensburg.  The Islamic reaction was visible and violent in many Muslim countries. Dismayed, Al-Azhar cut off dialogue with the Vatican.  And, of course, the liberal media attacked the Pope for his courageous stance.

I believe Pope Francis will use his popularity, communication and geopolitical skills to attract more Christians on the fringe back to Church, and convert as many from other religions in the globe. I think we are witnessing a turning point in world politics which have to be sustained by constant prayer and action for real peace; the peace of Christ. 

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.

Today's Quote

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


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