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 )

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sex Education in Ontario, Canada?

This past week has been one of the funniest in Ontario's politics. The moral dilemma revolves around the Liberals introduction of sex education to kids from Grade 1. While Canada is busy securing its citizens against the threats of ISIS, Ontario's Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne had the audacity of tearing apart the family's fabric by introducing sex education in all grades of schools starting with kids in Grade 1. Not so fast,..PAFE organized huge demonstrations against the Lesbian lady who fired back saying this was "homophobia"! See CBC here.


Monday, February 16, 2015

History of Religions

In "The History of Religions - Essays in Methodology" first published by the University of Chicago in 1959, we find essays by three distinguished scholars of religion: Mircea Eliade; Jean Daniélou; and Louis Massignon.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Dark Matter

I received on February 15, 2015 this picture of martyred Christians in one of Nigeria's churches. The picture, with a message attributed to a Spanish priest named Juan Carlos Martos, could not be independently authenticated but confirms reports by BBC and NBC that the Islamic terrorists Boko Haram have already killed many Christians and are endangering the lives of 200,000 more in Maiduguri in North East Nigeria (see reports here and here).

This follows two deadly attacks Sat.Feb. 14 in Copenhagen, Denmark in which two persons were killed and 5 police officers were wounded. BBC reported here that the head of Danish Intelligence indicated the high possibility that the attack was inspired by the attack on Hebdo in Paris which killed 17 people in January. Of particular significance is the fact that the perpetrator, shot dead by the police when found, targeted the Jewish community and the Danish cartoonist who has been threatened by Muslim fanatics since he first drew a caricature of Islam's founder in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten in 2005.

On Sunday Feb. 15, the militant Islamic State (ISIS or IS) killed 21 Christian Egyptians in Libya which drew immediate condemnation from governments around the world while Egypt declared a week of mourning and sent its aircraft forces to discipline the Islamists in Libya for their daring challenge. It is significant that the IS speaker vowed to conquer Rome (the See of the papacy and the center of world Catholics) uttering to the "Crusaders" that safety of Christians and the liberal West will be only wishes. The Italian government announced it will participate in the war against Jihadists...How much more patience is there in the hearts of peace-loving people to sustain human injustice?

And finally, the Canadian Supreme Court made news by ruling to give parliament one year in order to strike down any life left in the law of assisting Canadians by health professionals to commit suicide. Many Church leaders found this ruling immoral. In Mass at the Holy Rosary Church, Professor Fr. Daniel Callam, CSB, who taught at the University of St. Thomas in Texas, addressed the issue from the arguments raised by Blessed John Henry Newman (the mind behind the Oxford movement in 19th century England who converted to Catholicism and who influenced Vatican II on the "Development of Doctrine"). Fr. Callam observed the radicalism of subordinating the moral law to human-made law.

On Saturday too I spoke with another great mind, Fr. George Farah, who did study and teach Nietzsche, the father of postmodern atheism, along with other philosophy courses he taught to university students. Fr. Farah predicted the apocalypse of most living humans in the complex raging wars in economic and military confrontations between nations. But then who will triumph?

But above all I was reminded by "Dark Matter" which in scientific definition means matter in the universe that cannot be seen by strong telescopes due to lack of light yet hypothetically accounts for most matter in the universe.  In ancient thought, dark things represented Satan and Satanic influence. In a recent exchange by email with the Jesuit scholar, Fr. Henri Boulad, the deep question of the reality of Satan was raised following his recent homily (in French here). He said in his homily that the ancient translations of the Lord's Prayer plead with the Father to 'deliver us from the Evil One' and not as we now get it translated 'Deliver us from evil'. He continued to show the example of Job in the Old Testament tempted and accused by Satan in the court of Heaven because Job was a man of great righteousness. Henri Boulad found my reply that the Devil exists to be most interesting which may require further discussion (see my reply here). It is the teaching of the Church that the Devil exists. This is supported by violent evil that exceeds human power and intelligence in the modern world. Henri Boulad. S.J.  had said in a May 2013 homily that the "Prince of Darkness" attempted many times to crash Christ into his slavery (homily here in French). In the same homily using Biblical references employed by Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.  Fr. Boulad talked about Jesus the Alpha and Omega whose death and resurrection restored life to man. In the slavery of Satan religion itself could lead to atheism (See Fr. Henri Boulad - whose mission is to change the world to the truth of Christ -interviewed in Toronto here.)

Was Pope Francis predicting a Third World War when he spoke last year about increasing violence and the spread of wars?  Did he mean Satanic influence? How can Christians help him in restoring the hope of peace in Christ our God and Lord? Can we do anything, probably by prayer (e.g the Akathist hymns), meditations and charitable work for the poor in Syria, Iraq and Africa as Lent is here?

Let us think of one Biblical word: St. Paul said to Corinthians "Imitate me as I imitate Christ" (1 Cor 10: 31).Let us pray. Think of Jesus, the Alpha and Omega for he will lead humanity to eternal victory. "He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne" said Christ in Revelation (Revelation 3: 21).

Friday, February 6, 2015

My secret thoughts

As I learned with horror about the fate of the Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh burned alive by the Islamic State (IS) extremists, I could not help but imagine what would be my reaction if they did this to me. There was not a drop of mercy in the hearts of the torturers towards him and his family who had pleaded with the Jordanian government for his release and safe return. BBC published an analysis of IS fear tactics here. I could now imagine the torment of the rich man in the Parable of "The Rich Man and Lazarus" (Luke 16: 19-61). If being burned for a few hours sends such cries to heaven, what kind of suffering would be endured for eternity in Hades/hell?  I can understand why not many people wish to attend any serious spiritual discussions. They have enough stressful days at work and home to even think of coming to a Bible meeting on a Friday night. Everyone wants to relax or have some entertainment only to escape from the torment of the past week that may repeat in the next one. Is it not enough that hell is a possibility for anyone, but we must also endure hell on earth?

However, the following may shed some hope for us on earth.

Last night at Jesus the King Church, we had a video run from the popular "Catholicism" Series by Professor Fr. Robert Barron. The topic of the video "How to be a disciple of Jesus" was introduced by Fr. Youhanna Hanna. Again, as in last Friday 's lecture on the deep Christian meaning of Exodus, this  session (including Questions and Answers period with Fr. Youhanna near the end), was attended by a great number of faithful which we had not seen in previous videos and movies. I can only attribute the increase in number of attendees to the desire by the faithful to learn more from the Church, helped in a few cases by the fact that their kids had just finished a session in learning First Communion catechism. The discipline with which everything was run is a new phenomenon in a mainly Arabic-speaking community. However small the acceptance of God in my life is, I believe God is working in the souls of the faithful and is attracting us to his love in Christ.

Professor Fr. Barron is a precise speaker who focused here on the Beatitudes in Jesus' teachings (Matthew 5) and the Parable of the Prodigal Son given by Jesus to show the abundant mercy and love of the Father towards every human person (Luke 15: 11-32). Referring to St. Thomas Aquinas on detachment from the world as taught by Christ and the Apostles who witnessed him, Fr. Barron explains 4 attachments that the true disciple of Jesus needs to free himself from with the help of God's grace: Possessing things; Addiction to pleasures of the body; Selfish Power; and Honor. Freeing ourselves from these attachments is shown in the lives of modern saints such as Saint Pope John Paul II and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta who both used provocative non-violence in response to violence and insult. Both Gandhi of India and Bishop Tutu of South Africa are also taken as examples. The fact that Gandhi, a Hindu great person, is mentioned as a model for Catholics cannot be hidden under the excuse that he learned the Gospel when he was in England. Peter Kreeft, a Catholic scholar/apologetic and convert from Protestantism did not shy from stating that non-Christians too can be saints and mystics. For this, we need to learn how the Second Vatican  Council recognizes the development in understanding revelation by the Church (known as the development of doctrine) (See Dei verbum here).  The great theologian Avery Cardinal Dulles explained the development of the doctrine of salvation here.

Finally Professor Fr. Barron mentioned  the Parable of "The Prodigal Son" (Luke 15: 11-32) which shows God's love for his children; those who love him and those who despise him (see lecture here).

To know God is not an exercise of the body or the mind but in grace to strive to find him in the depth of love (see my lecture here).  See Pope Francis who is leading a reform of the Church, and preaching reconciliation everywhere he goes. In each local church, there must be a renewal of Christian life, and in every society Christians need to recall the promises of Christ and stand for the truth, help the needy and the elders, and pray for reconciliation in the family, with friends, and with all others. I need to reflect on God, his eternal selfless love, his words in the Bible and his saints everyday even if for a few moments, because this is my only salvation!

We need to focus on Christ in our prayers and meditations based  on discernment of the good by our conscience in today's moral relativism.  It is only a start that needs to be followed up. Thanks to Fr. Barron for his message of hope in Christ.

Related Topic: See my reflection on Christ the Alpha and Omega here

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Difference between Christianity and Religions - EXODUS

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 and 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 of God 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. But our understanding develops in the Church (Cf. Vatican II; Dei verbum). For more on the development of the idea of God in the Bible see here.

Since we have just celebrated the "Theophany" of God in the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist, I will reflect here on water, the abode of death for ancient cultures. Water in which man dies also signifies blessings from above. Rain that watered the fields and helped grow food was, for the ancients, a life-giving source that the gods bestowed on men. But this is another story. Let's keep our focus on Exodus because there is much to learn from it. In Exodus chapter 14, the Hebrews cross the waters, but how do they cross and not die? Pharaoh and all his host follow them but the Egyptians could not cross and died in water. For their earlier stubborn refusal to let the Hebrew go, the Egyptians had received the 10 plagues and, for fear of more, let the Hebrews leave, but in the last minute found that they are losing slaves who could have served Egypt and wanted to catch them. Why could not they catch the Hebrews to bring them back to slavery? Where was that? In his commentary, the Biblical scholar Richard J. Clifford, S.J. gives answers to the above questions: The God of Israel is compared in Exodus to the Baal to show that, like the Baal, God is the fearsome divinity bringing thunders and fire upon his enemies but only God is superior and in charge of heaven, earth, and the netherworld. The power of God can therefore make waters stand or get emptied to allow his servants to cross the Red Sea while his enemies are drowned by the same water when they attempt to catch the Hebrews. They cross and find themselves at the narrow area of the Red (Reed) Sea or rather the Sea of Reed which means bitter - Bitter water of myrrha cannot be tasted (Cf. Exodus in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary; Pp. 50-60). The people of God must experience pain here and in the desert (for lack of water and food) and be lost without God for 40 years to be prepared to enter the promised kingdom. Repentance is required before tasting God (in the Eucharist and in eternal life). In the New Testament Jesus said "Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able." (Luke 13:24). A great effort is required for entrance into the kingdom.

EXODUS Beyond History
Now Exodus is not an escape. It is a crossing from slavery under powerful tyrants to liberty. In my opinion, subject to Church authority to correct if not accurate, it is the restoration of human dignity to the original one created by God in his image, but deeper than this it is the exit - Exit from the self. In Exodus, water and exit from the self are joined as an expression or symbol of being in the true God.

How is that? First, in baptism, we are initiated to die and be buried with Christ in order to rise with him. It is only the first step in becoming Christians; for we have to undergo the difficulties of life without hatred or complaints and participate in the body of Christ by building it or expanding it where we are and where we go. None of the above can be completed without the grace of the Holy Spirit who acts in all sacraments to make us holy.

Exodus or exit from the self represents the central character of Christianity. It represents the eternal act of boundless love of God the Father towards his eternal image the Son. The Son receives the Father (divinity) and with gratitude exits from himself or gives himself (divinity) to the Father. The Holy Spirit is the eternal force of love that relates the Father and the Son in the boundless love that he is. According to the Jesuit scholar Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J., this is the Augustinian reasoning based on Scripture and the Fathers faith. Christian faith is not contrary to reason.

Ideologies and major religions of the Far East say to God "I am You" but a true Christian tells God "I am yours." In heaven, the elect do not melt in God as in other religious mystic sects, but remain distinct from God whose glory is their light (Revelation 21:3; 21:23).

The above little reflection briefly explains what sets Christianity apart. God is not only transcendent and not only immanent, but penetrates humanity and transforms humans to be with God in heaven if they only listen. The One through whom everyone is saved is JESUS CHRIST our God and Lord.

Since water is part of this discussion let us add more reflections from other scholars. Fr. Georges Farah, PhD, also taught the deeper meaning beyond water in Scripture. The story of Jesus walking on the waters of the sea is more than a mere event to show his power; for it reminds the listeners of Jesus' victory over the waters of the sea considered the abode of death. He is the One who takes Peter by the hand to deliver him from death. He is the One who leads the Church, new Israel, out of the bondage of death and "slavery in the land of Egypt". According to Georges Farah, every event recounted in the Gospel has multiple meanings; all meant to encourage the young church to persevere in the times of darkness.

Joseph Ratzinger, another renowned scholar who became Pope Benedict XVI, commented on Jesus walking on waters and coming to the apostles (Mark 6: 45-52): The apostles were crossing the lake. Jesus alone is on land while they are wearing themselves out in rowing without making any headway since the wind is contrary. Jesus is praying and, in his prayer, he sees them struggling on. So he comes to meet them... But what is decisive is that while praying , when he is 'with the Father' he is not removed from them. When Jesus is with the Father, he is present to the Church...Conversely the Church is, so to speak, the object of the encounter between Father and Son and thus herself anchored in the Trinitarian life. Here Ratzinger emphasizes the necessity of the Church as minister of salvation (See Dominus Iesus here).

In other words, it is not water that matters most but the presence of Jesus our God to us if we let him in.

From Baptism to the Eucharist Back to Georges Farah, in the Eucharist, God allows himself to be eaten by us. God goes all the way to unite himself to us in the Eucharist. In John 6 we read "So Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him." The least we can do is thank God for the grace of love that he comes to us in the Eucharist which imparts life in Christ to those who take it in the state of grace. 

While Exodus showed us the mystery of the Trinity in a symbolic way, and water is used in baptism to initiate us in the Church. the Eucharist brings us to eternal joy which Christ wants to bless each one with and for which he died on the cross and rose from the dead.

Joy or Threat of Death Today
But do we feel that joy imparted by Christ? Alas, fear has become a global concern in the last few years with the increasing communication about violence and the 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. 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. Is coexistence possible between nations and cultures today?

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.  But 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.)

A Recent Event: Steps in Joy in the Philippines
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 on 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?

Have we forgotten the deep meaning of Exodus or Jesus walking on waters? Exodus or exit from the self is the difference between Christianity and religions... Christianity is Christ present to us. If Christ calls us as with Samuel, let us follow him...Let us repent and grow in faith.. Christianity is the way to God; for he said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). What would have been the fate of Christians if the apostles did not open their Judaic tradition to the 'pagans' and their understanding to the Greeks and Romans? Christianity advanced the world in all fields particularly in "knowing God" who loves everyone. To know God is not an exercise of the body or the mind but in grace to strive to find him in the depth of love (see my lecture here). I saw remains, bones, and tombs of martyrs and saints in the catacombs in Rome and the monasteries in Lebanon and Egypt. Martyrs and saints continue to adore him in their hearts and on their knees. See Pope Francis who is leading a reform of the Church, and preaching reconciliation everywhere he goes. In each local church, there must be a renewal of Christian life, and in every society Christians need to recall the promises of Christ and stand for the truth, help the needy and the elders, and pray for reconciliation in the family, with friends, and with all others. I need to reflect on God, his eternal selfless love, his words in the Bible and his saints everyday even if for a few moments, because this is my only salvation!

A Little Closing
In a lecture I gave in 2006 to young adults, I outlined some fundamental dimensions for Christians:
1. Social: Strengthen your faith and involve yourself in social activities and charities (Knights of Columbus is only one example); involve yourself if possible to stand for the truth of Christ in social encounters in universities, schools and professional organizations that challenge the faith.
2. Spiritual: Learn from the Bible and saints; Exercise yourself in spiritual exercises gradually with a spiritual director (Example here); Participate in Mass; Learn and continue to fast and give alms.
3. Vertical Dimension: Build a relationship of love with God who loves you. For this seek spiritual direction from the pastor or a monk who has experience with Christ.

We are not saints (yet). We have responsibilities towards our families and society which mean that we need to balance our approach in every word we utter and every action we make. In a polarized world with fear and threats of violent death, I find St. Augustine's words to be appropriate "Be moderate in everything except in love".

The above can be considered as a proposal subject to approval by Church authority.

Hymn: The magnificent hymn "Love Divine" was sung by the ranks of dignitaries and the Choir of Westminster Abbey in the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011
"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. 

Today's Quote

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


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