Monday, December 25, 2006

Byzantine Hymns and Readings for the Nativity

Praying for each of you a joyous celebration of our Lord's Nativity and the glorious season of His Birth, here are the proper hymns and readings for Christmas according to the Melkite calendar.

Happy Christmas!



You Nativity, O Christ our God, has shed the light of knowledge upon the world. Through it, those who had been star-worshipers, learned through a star to worship You, O Sun of Justice, and to recognize in You the One who rises and who comes from on high. O Lord, glory to You!

O Little Child lying in a manger, by means of a star, heaven has called and led to You Magi, the first-fruits of the Gentiles, astounded to behold, not scepters and thrones, but extreme poverty. What, indeed, is lower than a cave? What is humbler than swaddling clothes — and yet the splendor of your divinity shone forth in them resplendently. O Lord, glory to You!

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent in Essence, and the earth presents a cave to the Inaccessible. The angels with the shepherds sing His glory, and the Wise men with the Star travel on their way, for to us is born a New Child, who is God from all eternity.
("HOLY GOD...")

As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia



Chanter: All those on earth worship You and sing to You. (All repeat)

Chanter: Sing Alleluia to God, O all the earth.

All: All those on earth worship You and sing to You.

Chanter: All those on earth worship You.

All: And sing to You.


BRETHREN: When the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.

I will tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, "You are my Son, today I have begotten You.

Ask of Me, and I will make the nations Your heritage,
and the ends of the earth Your possession.


When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East, and have come to worship Him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.”’ Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.’ When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.


O my soul, magnify the One who is more honorable and glorious than the heavenly powers! Behold a mystery, a strange and wonderful mystery: the cave has become heaven, the Virgin a throne of the Cherubim, and the manger a noble place where Christ our God reposes. Wherefore, let us praise and Exalt Him!


The Lord has sent redemption to His people:
He has established His covenant forever. Alleluia.


You Nativity, O Christ our God, has shed the light of knowledge upon the world. Through it, those who had been star-worshipers, learned through a star to worship You, O Sun of Justice, and to recognize in You the One who rises and who comes from on high. O Lord, glory to You!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Kontakion of Preparation for
the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord

Today the Virgin is on her way to the cave where she will give birth to the Eternal Word of God in an ineffable manner. Rejoice, therefore, O universe when you hear this news, and glorify with the angels and the shepherds, Him who shall appear as a Child being God from all eternity.

[We've been singing this since 26 November, excluding the celebration of the Maternity of St Anna the Mother of Mary AKA the Immaculate Conception. For more information about Kontakia (plural), check out, click on Kontakion and follow the instructions.]

Friday, December 15, 2006

Rubrics, the Priest and the Byzantine Tradition

The term “rubric” has its origin in the use of red ink to print directions in Christian service books. Over the centuries, rubric has become synonymous with the word rule, and it often carries the connotation of exacting directions for carrying out some particular task. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of “liturgical” churches is the importance of the rubrics within the worship service and the insistence, real or imagined, on following specific and detailed rules to enact the liturgical worship.

To some extent, every worship service is directed, but what distinguishes the Catholic Tradition (including the Orthodox Churches, Churches of the East and several Protestant communions) is the importance of the specific order and purpose of each component in the service. This essential emphasis manifests itself most clearly in the teleturgics (liturgical practice, “following the rubrics”) performed by the clergy.

To celebrate the Divine Liturgy, the priest and deacon are required not only to have prepared the vessels and gifts, etc., but their minds and hearts as well. The preparatory services not only ensure that everything needed for the celebration is in place, but also help establish a spiritual focus on the Great Mystery that will unfold in the Liturgy. For the Byzantine Tradition, the importance of rubrics can not be overstated.

The Catholic Tradition emphasizes that worship is essentially adoration of God. The duty owed to God by man is faithfulness to the revelation of God manifest foremost and primarily in acts of adoration. If God is love, as St John plainly tells us, then our reply to that love is found in gathered celebrations that allow our love to be expressed correctly with the same selflessness our Lord manifest in His Incarnation. To worship God is to love God, to adore Him. Offering God worship in the right manner is essential to Catholic, and particularly Byzantine, worship.

It is not, therefore, without reason that orthodox is the term often used to define Byzantine worship. Orthodox, typically explained as meaning “correct doctrine”, actually means “right praise” or “correct glory” in the sense of the desire to correctly offer adoration and glory to God. For the Byzantine Christian, every liturgical rite and service requires order and demands attention and proper decorum. This is because every act of worship is an act of adoration, an act of love offered to the God who first loved us.

Rubrics are a spiritual discipline for the clergy. Following the rubrics requires concentration and a sense of posture appropriate to standing before God Himself. The priest finds that he must spiritually empty himself in order to celebrate the Mysteries and services. Through this self-emptying he can truly serve in persona Christi and offer up Christ to God the Father in the Holy Anaphora. The focus is always on Christ, and obedience to the rubrics becomes a path that leads the priest to grow in His Image through the very adoration and worship he offers Him.

When the rubrics present a choice, the priest carefully considers which option to choose. He is mindful that to truly preside he must, in a sense, become invisible; his selections must always be made with the purpose of helping other worshippers and must never distract. He never allows himself to become the focus of attention beyond carrying out the role assigned him by the rubrics.

It is sometimes claimed that rubrics can be obtuse and restrictive, but such a view misunderstands the splendor of Grace that flows through following their directions. Far from imprisoning us, the rubrics offer us the assurance of true freedom in our worship. Rubrics ensure that the God we worship is indeed being worshipped in a manner appropriate to Who He is and whom He has called us to be.

This allows us to encounter the text of the prayers with a dynamic intensity and attention appropriate to an act of self-offering. The prayer of the Saints, the prayer of the Church, becomes our prayer. We are united with the Church around the world and throughout the ages, and the prayers and hymns are revealed to be manifestations of our unity in Christ. Thus, following the rubrics becomes a humbling and uplifting reception of a Divine Gift that always prevents the text of the prayer from becoming dry repetitious words.

While the rubrics for the laity are not as many or as specific as are those for the clergy, I heartily encourage everyone to keep them close at heart. When we are attentive to the rubrics our minds and hearts find little that can distract us from offering true love to the Holy Trinity.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Insightful Article about Contraception

Thanks to Catholic World Report, I came across a very good article on the contraceptive mentality by Jennifer Roback Morse entitled A Rubber Ideology: Taking on Condomism. I recommend it as a valuable contribution to the dialogue to raise awareness of dangers inherent in the pro-contraception/pro-abortion positions. The article is from the National Review Web Site.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Advent and The Two Sundays Before Christmas in the Melkite Byzantine Tradition

For Latin Rite Catholics and most western Christians, Advent is a season of preparation with a focus on repentance and anticipation for the coming of the Lord Jesus. It is marked by the four Sundays that precede the Great Feast of the Nativity (Christmas). As a season of repentance, it shares certain features with the season before Easter. Like Lent, the Gloria is not sung, and the liturgical color is somber, generally purple although rose is prescribed for the third Sunday, and the lectionary texts feature readings that contrast the second and glorious coming of Christ with His humble birth in the manger. Thus, there is a unity of theme and liturgical movement in Advent that is at once coherent, simple and obvious.

In contrast, Advent in the Byzantine Rite is complex. It differs in length, focus and practice from the season as celebrated in the West. In fact, considered as specific season, the Byzantine Advent can be viewed as somewhat confusing, if not incoherent. The reason for this requires some examination.

For Byzantine Churches, Advent is a time of fasting and abstinence. The Eastern Churches always precede a feast with a fast. This reveals why we call those great celebrations, like Christmas, Easter, etc. "feasts" in the first place. It is a “feast” precisely because a) it is an important celebration, and b) the celebration itself includes the expectation that people will actually feast.

To make the festive element clearer, fasting in advance of the feast is a spiritual discipline that reminds the faithful of their dependence on God. It allows time for reflection on our need to repent (which may be the subject of a future entry … what repentance means in the Byzantine Tradition). It also serves to promote solidarity with all people since fasting foods are essentially the food of the poor – simple grains, vegetables, etc. During a fast, the rich eat the food of the poor and the king shares table with the downtrodden. And the celebration of a feast is the occasion for everyone to feast like a king, so to speak.

However, the length and liturgical continuity of Advent in the Byzantine Tradition reveals little coherence. Unlike the Roman Church, Byzantine Advent begins on 15 November, forty days before the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord (Christmas). In truth, the season itself doesn't have an official name; it is variously called "the Nativity Fast", "Christmas Lent", or "St Philip's Fast" (whose feast is celebrated on 14 November). It lasts forty days as an obvious parallel to the forty day fast before Pascha (Easter), but whereas Great Lent has manifest liturgical features that indicate its theme and purpose, Advent seems strangely lacking in focus.

A common mark of seasonal unity in the Liturgy is the Kontakion. These hymns, often called “sessional” actually function as ‘seasonal’ markers within the liturgical year. A Kontakion may be appointed in advance of an important celebration to alert us that it is coming. Certain Kontakia also continue to be used for a period after a feast. Yet, the Kontakion of Preparation for the Nativity of our Lord seems to be the only unifying liturgical element to the Byzantine Advent season. Other seasons have special antiphons, etc., but not Advent. The hymns of the Menaion reveal no special seasonal focus but relate specifically to the particular saint or saints commemorated.

What's more, there is not quite the uniformity of color as found in other liturgical seasons. The liturgical colors are red, then blue, then red again. The red reflects the number of martyred saints on the calendar during this time period. The blue is for the feast of the Presentation of the Virgin, which is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Byzantine Tradition.

These changes in liturgical color would prima facie seem to contrast the Advent fast from the season preceding it, the “Sundays after Pentecost”, which features the color green. But some Byzantine Churches account time after the Feast of the Cross (14 September) as “Sundays after the Feast of the Cross.” This is significant because red is the liturgical color for the Feast of the Cross (which is actually a fast, but that’s another story). And in fact, red remains the principle liturgical color from the Feast of the Cross until Christmas, with the exception of particular days when other colors are seen as more appropriate (like the blue for the Feast of the Virgin). So there doesn't appear to be a direct relation between the liturgical colors of red and blue and Advent as a season.

Further, as a time of fasting and abstinence, there is great diversity among Byzantine Christians as to the specifics of any required abstinence and the severity of the fast itself. Some Eastern Christians begin a strict fast on 15 November, others get serious around the first of December, and others wait until mid-December.

In the Melkite Church, fasting and abstinence is prescribed to officially begin on 10 December (although technically this year – 2006 – it began at sunset on the evening of the tenth since fasting is inappropriate for the Lord’s Day). And while some see this as a modern ‘liberalization’, I suspect it is the key to understanding what Advent really is in the Byzantine Tradition. I also suspect that the Melkite practice reflects an older more authentic tradition than the forty day practice.

This Melkite Tradition is connected liturgically to the only particularly seasonal elements of the Byzantine Advent cycle. The two Sundays after 11 December are specifically devoted to preparing us for the great Miracle of God born in the flesh. They are called the Sunday of the Forefathers (the second Sunday before the Nativity) and the Sunday of the Genealogy (the Sunday before the Nativity). These, along with the services particularly connected to Christmas Eve, are the only celebrations during the Advent Fast that in any specific way relate to or even refer to the Nativity of Christ. Thus, they are the only truly seasonal celebrations within the season.

The first of these special days, the Sunday of the Forefathers, speaks of the people of the Old Testament and the preparation for the coming of the Savior. Likewise, the Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday of the Genealogy, features the Gospel reading that lists all the generations of the ancestors of Jesus. Combined, the two Sundays direct us to anticipate the Feast of the Nativity and remind us that far from being a myth, the God of our Faith reveals Himself to us in the reality of human history.

The earliest date the Sunday of the Forefathers can possibly occur is 12 December. It seems more than coincidental that the Melkite Fast begins on 10 December. I posit that the current Melkite practice reflects an older expression of the Tradition. It reflects an Advent season that truly seeks to prepare us for the Great Feast of the Nativity. It does not parallel the forty days of the fast of Great Lent, and I believe this is historically significant.

Feasts related to the birth of our Lord (Christmas, the Circumcision, etc.) and the beginning of His ministry (Theophany) arose later in the history of the Church than those feasts related to the Crucifixion and Resurrection. From the beginning the Church saw the Passion, Death and Resurrection as central events in its liturgical life. Feasts related to Pascha show the greatest elaboration of hymnody and clear traditions related to preparing for it. This undoubtedly reflects not only their significance but their antiquity.

The two Sundays before Christmas reflect the extent to which the Byzantine Church developed a liturgical season in anticipation of Christmas before the Schism. Whereas in the West, there was no fear against allowing liturgical seasons to evolve after the Schism, the East clearly sought to resist changes in liturgical practice. Thus, although in the East custom (later to be viewed as Tradition) somewhat followed the West in establishing a longer season of preparation before Christmas, the evolution of hymnody and other elements that would give it coherence never evolved. Furthermore, once a period of fasting had been established there was a strong tendency to avoid change, particularly if it amounted to a 'shortening' of the fast, as this might be viewed as a concession to human weakness.

In current Melkite practice, those who have been influenced by theologians in the Orthodox Churches tend to lean towards the 15 November start of the Christmas Fast, while those who tend to gravitate towards the 10 December date do not. I believe that both options (if you will) are equally valid.

Clearly the forty day fast is a late adaptation. Yet this does not prevent those who choose to do so from beginning their Advent on the earlier 15 November date. However, this also reveals that those who wait for the 10 December date are not merely following recent trends or showing lack of commitment. They are following an older expression of the tradition and, perhaps, beginning their preparation for Christmas in a somewhat more intimate manner due to the close proximity of the feast to the start of the fasting period.

While affirming the benefits for those who begin their preparation for Christmas on the earlier date, the dynamic spiritual life of the Melkite Church allows the earlier authentic custom to remain the norm, and thus neither the celebration of the Nativity nor the Triumph of Pascha are confused nor become stultified. Each retains an appropriate focus and temperence. The Advent Fast can be kept as a short season that indicates the surpise of God's Nativity in the world, and the preparations for Pascha contribute to our reflection on the great Mystery of God loving us so much that He was willing to die for us.

So Whether you begin your Nativity Fast on 15 November or 10 December, let the days of the Advent Fast be marked by fasting, abstinence, special prayers and devotions to our Lord and the Theotokos (“Birth-giver of God”). Incarnate your prayers with acts of charity to others, and give thanks to the Lord whose love for us is so great that He came to live amongst us!

Maranatha! Come, Lord!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Prayer for the Holy Father

Oremus pro Pontifice nostro Benedicto. Dominus conservet eum, et vivificet eum, et beatum faciat eum in terra, et non tradat eum in animam inimicorum eius. Amen.

Courtesy of Whispers in the Loggia and the Knights of Columbus.

For official information about the Holy Father's historic trip, check out the Home Pages of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople , the Holy See of the Vatican, and EWTN.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Christian Faith and the Catholic Church?

Some time back, I wrote a short piece for print publication, and the day after I submitted it received a phone call. The editor questioned my use of the odd phrase "the Christian Faith and the Catholic Church." Did I intend to use "Christian Faith" in a broader ecumenical sense? Was I attempting to distinguish Christianity in general with the Catholic Church in particular? The editor noted that the article had no apparent ecumenical focus and seemed to be solely dealing with issues related to the Catholic Church itself.

I explained that the Church Fathers often spoke in such terms. My use of the phrase was merely echoing that nomenclature. The editor therefore suggested that I simplify the phrase to reduce possible confusion for the readers. As I explicitly rejected the suggestion to "just go with the Roman Catholic Faith" we eventually agreed on the phrase "the Catholic Church." (It also saved four words!)

C'est la vie!

The discussion brought into clear relief differences in how we often view the Faith and our Church today versus the view of the Fathers. For them, there was but One Church, the Catholic Church, and One Faith, the Christian Faith. The editor interpreted my choice of phrasing in terms of a distinction, a contrast. When the Church Fathers spoke of the Christian Faith and the Catholic Church they were asserting an essential relationship, not a contrast but an identification. For them, to be a Christian is to be part of the community of Faith, the household of God, the Body of Christ; i.e., the Church. (If there's no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole, we might equally say that to the Church Fathers there's also no such thing as a Christian apart from the Church.)

That the editor, a very well-educated, intellectual professional for whom I have much respect, misunderstood what I considered to be a simple turn of phrase is not surprising. The sometimes-wide gulf between what our Lord requires, what the Gospel proclaims and the Church teaches and what we occasionally see actually happening in the Church is often so striking as to require little comment here. We perceive the ideal and bemoan the reality of human failure to live up to the ideal. And, of course, there is the issue of competing churches, perspectives and interpretations.

Yet, we should reflect on the Fathers' understanding that the relation between the Faith and the Church is of identification and essential connection, not difference and distinction. For the Fathers, to be Christian is to be in the Church, and to be a member of the Church is the sin qua non of whether one is a Christian. It is an iconic view recognizing the essential truth that the Image can both affirm and be affirmed by the reality of the human condition. The Fathers could squarely face the brutal realities of human weakness, cruelty, sin and corruption while un-hypocritically also affirming the Truth of the Gospel and what it both inspires and requires of us.

Then how did we come to such as state as our contemporary situation in which it seems natural to balance the Faith and the Church as separate or even mutually exclusive realities?

In truth, what seems to have happened is that for some theologians a certain embarrassment arose in the era so quaintly called the Enlightenment. The new focus on man qua man, later coupled with the industrial revolution's discovery that tools could evolve to such a point as to substantially change the world, led to an evolution in man's self-understanding at once intellectual, moral and metaphysical.

Long held assumptions of human life were shown to be either mistaken or alterable. Comets no longer need be feared as harbingers of God's wrath (although we have now substituted paranoia that one might hit the planet and cause massive destruction anyway). Norms once thought immutable were reconsidered as products of history and ambition and were therefore alterable. New methods could improve on or replace the old ways.

Science alone could be trusted for truth, now conceived as correspondent to verifiable facts. Empiricism is the natural philosophical presupposition of modern science. The focus on empiricism, and therefore experimentation, led many to fear that the Church and the Faith were soon to be revealed as mere relics of an ignorant and barbaric past. (As a side note: I highly recommend How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas E Woods Jr.) In such a climate it is natural that theologians would seek ways to contemporize the Faith, to make it seem more modern and thus more acceptable to the emerging modern mindset.

Theologically, the focus shifted, at first ever so slightly and later much more profoundly. Spiritual things were seen as opposed to the material, the real, and the scientific. Mystical experiences, by their very nature often contrary to or beyond the categories of rational thought, were placed on the opposite side of a great divide from reason and logic. The balance seemed perfect: on the one hand, science, objectivity, reason; on the other hand, faith, subjectivity, mystical experience.

Practically speaking, this bifurcation separating the spiritual from the material allowed science to ascend to a place of religious-like dominance in culture. ("Better living through science" was but one of the familiar mottoes of the twentieth century.) The charge of unreasonableness in showing something to be contrary to observable fact became the habeas corpus to convict many older arguments and opinions. Occam's Razor took on nearly divine axiomatic superiority. "The facts speak for themselves." Applying the scientific method (to wit., analytical experimentation, observation and narrowly drawn conclusions) seemed the path to open the doors to a greater understanding of everything. It could be applied to history, sociology, politics and economics.

While the benefits of scientific progress for human society, viewed from a purely materialistic standpoint, were undeniable, for the spiritual life, the evolution of the new mindset has proven to be devastating. In seeking to contemporize religious dialogue and practice, theologians found their path truncated by the wall of separation dividing faith from reason. Religious discourse itself turned inward with a tacit acceptance that, since the very content of the dialogue was itself subjective, differing interpretations and explanations were to be expected.

To claim an objective truth for a religious belief or practice became seen as a retreat into a fantasy world of Dark Ages superstition and ignorance. Miracles were explainable; they were either natural events given a religious significance or myths not requiring reasonable assent at all. The parting of the Red Sea was an ebb tide; the light of Mount Tabor was the glint of sunlight on snow; the Resurrection was a metaphor indicating the ongoing significance of Jesus’ ethical teachings, etc.

This has been what passes for contemporary theology since at least the late 1800’s although, as noted earlier, the roots of this trend go back much further. Prevented from embracing the totality of its world of discourse, theology becomes either reductionistic or fundamentalist, in both cases accepting the diminished existence granted it by the modern and post-modern world.

Given such progressive developments, especially in the last century, we find ourselves today in a cultural climate that relegates religious discourse to the realm of the pseudo-intellectual. Secular atheism attempts to muzzle any religious discourse as ignorant, intolerant and unwelcome in the arena of public debate. The problem is compounded by the unconscious unwillingness of many theologians to challenge the basic assumptions that relegate faith to the private realm, or at best in the public realm as a mere tool for political or sociological ideologies.

It is widely decried that catechesis has been largely ignored or deformed by the ill-conceived 'trendy' interpretations of the last generation or so. "Faith seeking understanding" has been transformed into a "dress it up for modern consumption" approach.

Needless to say, the attempt to conduct catechesis in more contemporary ways has not produced laudable results. We now have generations of people who aren't sure what they believe or why, and whom are embarrassed that someone might point the finger and expose them as "one of those people" who ignorantly hold to superstition and/or attempt to enslave others to their own rules.

Catechesis, when practiced at all, is too often a platform to promote a political agenda, sociological innovation, or New Age-type self-focused psychological analysis. There is an almost visceral rejection of any attempt to catechize utilizing the fullness of discourse. Instead, while focusing on the subjective the catechumen is reminded to maintain a certain detached objectivity.

The fear of actually being discovered really to believe in something can immobilize. I actually once saw a man make the sign of the cross with all the pomp and circumstance of flicking away an after dinner crumb. ("I didn't want to draw attention to myself... it might offend!") It isn't that one isn't permitted to believe in something, but rather that one must not cross the line to claim it possesses an objective truth that might oppose or offend someone else.

This was the reason for the vitriol against Dominus Iesus. The Catholic Church actually dared to proclaim that it still believed in all that 'old nonsense!'

(How appallingly uncouth!)

What is needed is the courage to engage in religious discourse in all its fullness, the setting of appropriate priorities in life, and the challenge to accept open public commitment to the Truths of the Faith that alone can inspire, challenge, comfort and give real meaning to the totality of human existence.

This need has been recognized in the Church from the beginning. In one of his sermons on John's Gospel, St John Chrysostom wryly comments on the enthusiasm of the people for what today we might call 'secular' entertainment.

"They that are spectators of the heathen games, when they have learned that a distinguished athlete and winner of crowns is come from any quarter, run all together to view his wrestling, and all his skill and strength; and you may see the whole theater of many ten thousands, all there straining their eyes both of body and mind, that nothing of what is done may escape them. So again these same persons, if any admirable musician come amongst them, leave all that they had in hand, which often is necessary and pressing business, and mount the steps, and sit listening very attentively to the words and the accompaniments, and criticizing the agreement of the two. This is what the many do. Again; those who are skilled in rhetoric do just the same with respect to the sophists, for they too have their theaters, and their audience, and clappings of hands, and noise, and closest criticism of what is said."
(First Homily on John )

He goes on to gently remind his listeners that if they can be so enthusiastic for these things they should attend all the more to that which treats of God and things eternal.

The Golden-tongued knew the dangers of temptation of distraction. In our situation, that danger is even greater. Not only are the sources of distraction more numerous, but religious discourse has been allowed a smaller sphere in contemporary society than in ages past.

Yet, in another sense, little has changed since the days of John Chrysostom. Society still urges that we should spend our time (and treasure) on the latest fad or fashion (or electronic device). Modern culture pressures to suppress religious expression that might lead to actual reflection on whether such trendy pursuits have any lasting value. To perpetuate the focus on self and the pursuit of material pleasure society encourages the separation of Church from society, and faith from the Church. Distraction remains as tempting today as in the fifth century.

Thus, catechesis is conceived to be difficult and tedious. Better to be amused by any drug or distraction that comes along than to contemplate a reality that might have existential consequences for me and how I live my life. This is the allure of the New Age movement and the many do-it-yourself spirituality groups. Instead of experiencing the life of Faith in the Church, a life exploding with Divine Light and immortality, a sense of fantasy and ego seeks to find satisfaction in that which can never satisfy.

Catechesis requires dialogue with the living God. Society finds such conversation obscene. Neil Postman's book Amusing Ourselves to Death provides provocative reflection on the dangers of distraction. While his focus is on particular media, the larger assertion and danger is easily extrapolated. I first read the book twenty years ago and have found it even more relevant today.

If you visit a Catholic bookstore, like Pauline Books and Media (one of the best, in my opinion), and browse the "Adult Instruction" aisle you can find dozens of books on the Faith. Everything from the latest Trivia of Church History for Dummies to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (There's even the wonderful reader's digest edition, the Compendium!) The central Truths of the Faith can be examined and studied at the level of the mildly curious as well as from the perspective of the intense inquirer. The Compendium or the Catechism itself is the place to start. The ‘popular’ volumes are unfortunately too often infected with the modernist reductionism.

But ultimately, it is the courage and commitment to truly live the Faith that is important. How wonderful it would be if when we visit the Church instead of keeping an eye on the clock we kept our eyes on the great Mystery unfolding before us! How beautiful to realize God's love for us and to actually respond with love from the depths of our heart. How blessed to stand in the silence of His Divine Presence and let ourselves experience that compassion that not only created us but also continually seeks to draw us closer to Him. How precious to realize how close God is and the love with which he surrounds us.

That’s what the Christian Faith and the Catholic Church is all about, Charlie Brown!

If we allow ourselves to experience that love, catechesis will not be a problem. The Liturgy will reveal a melody of peace few could otherwise imagine. Instead of crumb-flicking signs of the Cross, we'll be offering that prayer with the confidence and open joy of the young man who wants the whole world to know he's in love and how wonderful his girlfriend really is. We'll find in the Scriptures, the prayers and teachings of the Church not just some dry study of what and why but a vibrant romance of God's desire for our love. We will discover that being a member of His Church is actually sharing in the life of the Trinity.

We will see that the Life Jesus shares with us is unique, intimate and an incomparable treasure.

In short, we'll find true joy and abundant life.

Or we could go just on amusing ourselves to death.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Day Greetings

As we gather at our respective tables to feast on whatever serves as traditional holiday fare for our families let us make today truly a day of Thanksgiving. In a world of war and want our ancestors all suffered much to come to these shores. Our mothers and fathers struggled to build hearth and home, and to provide not only the simple necessities for life but also the luxuries of domestic love for themselves and their children.

Whether by stormy sea voyages or on footpaths that in the last century included the very heavens themselves, they all made their way to this distant land seeking the fulfillment of a promise. That promise was and is so simple, yet nowadays too often seems a mere cliché. The promise was freedom -- the opportunity to stand before God and man and to live free. The promise to live in peace, to love one's family, to pray to God and offer thanks.

And so as we dedicate ourselves to feasting, football, the 'traditional' start of holiday shopping, and the many other activities that we find so suitable on this day, let us be thankful. For to be a Christian is to be thankful; thankful for the Divine Mercy that not only creates us but gives us new birth as His children. Let us be thankful for the salvation that washes clean the stain of sin and opens spiritual eyes to see in each other not just neighbors but brothers and sisters. Let us be thankful for our heritage, our nation and its history -- with its many mistakes, conflicts and ultimate triumphs, and our values that have given incarnation to the vision of humanity seeking peace and fellowship through the bonds of liberty.

Let there be a moment of silence at the table as we each reflect on the many things for which we have true cause to be thankful. Then offer up prayers to express that thanks to God our Father. In such manner we will not only express who we are as Americans, we will affirm what we are as God's children.

May His mercy and peace accompany us today and every day to the ages of ages. Amen.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Melkite Greek Church in the Life of the Catholic Church

This entry should be understood as a further reflection on the article The Rite Not to be Roman, cited earlier. I wrote it as a summary piece for a recent bulletin for my community. If you haven't yet read The Rite Not to be Roman, may this interest you to do so. Olsen goes into more detail and, as I've said, is worth the read!

The place of the Greek Catholic (or Byzantine) Churches in the life of the Catholic Church is often misunderstood. In fact, to the West the Church is erroneously called the “Roman Catholic Church”. Yet official Church documents, such as papal decrees and writings of the Ecumenical Councils, reveal that the Christian Faith subsists in the Catholic Church. The addition of the term “Roman” evolved partly as an insult by early Protestants (particularly Anglicans who attempted to see themselves as an alternative ‘branch’ of the One True Church) in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Catholic Church itself is actually a family of Churches whose unity is founded in the saving Gospel proclaimed by Jesus Christ and signified by visible unity and communion with the Holy Apostolic See of Peter in Rome. It was to St Peter alone that our Lord first granted the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and only later extended this authority to the other Apostles. It was to Peter alone that the triple charge to “Feed my sheep” was given by the Risen Lord. In fact, St Peter was not only the fist Pope of Rome, he was also the first Patriarch of Antioch.

The primacy of Peter does not detract from the independent, dynamic witness to the Gospel that is the possession of those ‘other’ Churches in communion with Rome. Our Catholic Faith does not enslave us to follow practices that, while valid, wholesome and cherished by the Church of Rome, are not part of our own Christian heritage. From time immemorial Popes and Patriarchs have repeatedly affirmed the value and equality of Eastern Catholic Liturgy, Sacraments, Holy Orders, practices and devotions. Indeed, Pope Leo XIII was adamant that attempts by some Roman Church Bishops to impose Latin practices on Eastern Christians were abominations that had no place in the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council, and subsequently the Great Pope John Paul the Second of Blessed Memory, clarified that it is not the “Byzantine Rite” but the “Byzantine Churches” which form integral parts of the Catholic Church, which includes the Holy Church of Rome. We are one Church yet also several particular Churches united in Faith, Hope and Love, with a common Tradition and multiple heritages, each unique and equally valid.

Thus it is that western Christians who attend Melkite Catholic Liturgies find the experience at once familiar, and yet exotic and mystical. While Roman worship tends toward a noble simplicity, Byzantine worship exalts the mystery and majesty of God’s salvation in the sacrifice and triumph of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. For us, the focus of direct adoration of God (the highest duty of man or woman in responding to God’s generous Love) finds its fullest expression in the Sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy. We come together to praise, worship and share the Unity of the Faith in the Mystery of the Word and the Altar. In the Divine Liturgy we step outside of human time and space to enter the eternity of Heaven and, surrounded by the Angels and Saints, stand before the awesome Judgment Seat of Christ tremble to step forward and partake of His precious Body and Blood, uniting ourselves to His Divine Life, even as he condescended to share in our own.

The life of the Greek Catholic Community of Faith is also not restricted by archaic false piety that seeks to needlessly separate and distinguish ourselves from what is universal and salutary in the life of the larger Church. We joyously celebrate all that we have in common with all Catholic Christians throughout history, fearlessly maintaining our living connection to our own past while boldly accepting the challenges of the Twenty-First Century. It this very vibrancy that impels us to a deeper appreciation of the Faith and our unique contribution to the holy task of reuniting our separated Eastern brethren to full Communion with ourselves and with Rome.

And so the Greek Catholic Churches gladly accept our mission to witness to the Unity of the Faith, to proclaim our orthodoxy in the fullness of the Christian Faith as equal members of the Catholic Church, and to do our part to spread the Gospel, proclaim the Day of Salvation and pray for the reconciliation of all men to God our Loving Father. We welcome all who come in peace to love and serve the Lord!

I will possibly add several reflections in the near future on the unique role of the Eastern Churches and the middle-path we tread both refusing to allow ourselves to be "romanized" and avoiding a dift into anti-Roman difference for the sake of being different. As a former member of one of the Separated Brethren Churches I have strong opinions on that danger.

(And because I still enjoy pointing out that the importance of our Melkite Patriarch was clearly manifest in the role he played in the funeral rites of our dearly departed Pope John Paul the Great, I attach here a list of the Patriarchs of Antioch.)

Chronological List of The Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchs

St. Peter the Apostle (c.45-c.53); Euodios (c.53-c.68); St. Ignatius I (c.68-100); Eros I (100-c.127); Cornelius (c.127-c.151); Eros II (c.151-c.169); Theophilos (c.169-182); Maximinos I (182-191); Serapion (191-211); Ascelpiades 211-220); Philetos (220-231); Zebinnus Ozniophios (231-237); St. Babylas (237-253); Fabios (253-256); Demetrianos (256-262); Amphilokhos (262-267); Paul of Samosata (267-270); Domnus I (270-273); Timaeos (273-277); Cyril (277-299); Tyrannos (299-308); Vitalius I (308-314); St. Philogonos (314-324); Paulinos of Tyre (324-325); St. Eustathius (325-332); Eulalios (332); Euphronios (333-334); Philaclus (334-341); Stephen I (341-345); Leontius (345-350); Eudoxius (350-354, 354-357); St. Meletius (354); Annias or Ammianus (357-360); Euzoius (360-370); Dorotheus (370-371); Paulinus (371-376); Vitalius II (376-384); St. Flavian I (384-404); Porphyrius (404-408); Alexander I (408-418); Theodotus (418-428); John I (427-443); Domnus II (443-450); Maximus II (450-459) — The episcopacy of Antioch was raised to a Patriarchate by the Council of Chalcedon in 451— Basil (459-459)-- Acacius (459-461); Martyrius (461-465); Peter the Fuller (465-466, 474-475); Julian (466-474); John II (475-490); Stephen II (490-493); Stephen III (493-495); Callandion (495); John Codonatus (495-497); Palladius (495-505); Flavian II (505-513); Severus (513-518); Paul II (518-521); Euphrasius (521-526); St. Ephraim (526-546); Domnus III (546-561); Anastasius the Sinaite (561-571, 594-599); Gregory (571-594); St. Anastasius II (599-610); Gregory II (610-620); Anastasius III (620-628); Macedonius (628-640); George I (640-656); Macarius (656-681); Theophanes (681-687); Sebastian (687-690); George II (690-695); Alexander II (695-702); vacancy 702-742 ; Stephen IV (742-748); Theophylact (748-767); Theodore I (767-797); John IV (797-810); Job I (810-826); Nicholas (826-834); Simeon (834-840); Elias (840-852); Theodosius I (852-860); Nicholas II (860-879); Michael (879-890); Zacharias (890-902); George III (902-917); Job II (917-939); Eustratius (939-960); Christopher (960-966); Theodorus II (966-977); Agapius (977-995); John IV (995-1000); Nicholas III (1000-1003); Elias II (1003-1010); George Lascaris (1010-1015); Macarius the Virtuous (1015-1023); Eleutherius (1023-1028); Peter III (1028-1051); John VI, also known as Dionysus (1051-1062); Aemilian (1062-1075); Theodosius II (1075-1084); Nicephorus (1084-1090); John VII the Oxite (1090-1155); John IX (1155-1159); Euthymius (1159-1164); Macarius II (1164-1166); Athanasius I (1166-1180); Theodosius III (1180-1182); Elias III (1182-1184); Christopher II (1184-1185); Theodore IV (Balsamon) (1185-1199); Joachim (1199-1219); Dorotheus (1219-1245); Simeon II (1245-1268); Euthymius II (1268-1269); Theodosius IV (1269-1276); Theodosius V (1276-1285); Arsenius (1285-1293); Dionysius (1293-1308); Mark (1308-1342); Ignatius II (1342-1386) — With Ignatius, the Patriachate transferred to Damascus — Pachomius (1386-1393); Nilus (1393-1401); Michael III (1401-1410); Pachomius II (1410-1411); Joachim II (1411-1426); Mark III (1426-1436); Dorotheus II (1436-1454); Michael IV (1454-1476); Mark IV (1476); Joachim III (1476-1483); Gregory III (1483-1497); Dorotheus III (1497-1523); Michael V (1523-1541); Dorotheus IV (1541-1543); Joachim IV (Ibn Juma) (1543-1576); Michael VI (Sabbagh) (1577-1581); Joachim V (1581-1592); Joachim VI (1593-1604); Dorotheus V (1604-1611); Athanasius III (Dabbas) (1611-1619); Ignatius III (Attiyah) (1619-1631); Euthymius III (1635-1636); Euthymius IV (1636-1648); Michael III (Zaim) (1648-1672); Neophytos (1674-1684); Athanasius IV (Dabbas) (1686-1694); Cyril III (Zaim) (1694-1720); Athanasius IV (Dabbas) (1720-1724); Cyril VI Tanas (1724-1760); Maxim II Hakim (1760-1761); Theodosius V Dahan (1761-1788); Athanasius IV Jawhar (1765-1794); Cyril VII Siaj (1794-1796); Agapius II Matar (1796-1812); Ignatius IV Sarruf (1812); Athanasius V Matar (1813-1814); Macarius IV Tawil (1814-1815); Ignatius V Qattan (1816-1833); Maxim III Mazlum (1833-1855); Clement Bahouth (1856-1864); Gregory II Youssef-Sayur (1864-1897); Peter IV Jaraijiry (1898-1902); Cyril VIII Geha (1902-1916); vacant (1916-1919); Demetrius I Qadi (1919-1925); Cyril IX Moghabghab (1925-1947); Maxim IV Cardinal Saïgh (1947-1967); Maxim V Hakim (1967-2000); Gregory III Laham (2000-Present)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Good Article on Eastern Catholicism

My friend and brother in His Vineyard, Fr Miguel of Augusta emailed a very nice article entitled The Rite Not to Be Roman by Carl Olsen from a recent issue of This Rock magazine. It does a very nice job of explaining some of the differences between the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Roman (Latin) Church.

It’s unfortunate that so many people have either no knowledge about the Eastern Catholic Churches or misconceptions about who we are and our contributions to the Church Catholic. Even usually well informed Roman (Western) Catholics typically don’t understand the relationship between the Eastern Churches and Rome. I recall trying to correct a friend who was absolutely convinced that my Patriarch was appointed by the Pope because “all bishops are appointed by Rome.”

Highlights of the article include the following:

“Ultimately, true Catholicism is not found in uniform worship or liturgy-the Catholic Church has not, since its earliest days in Jerusalem, been uniform in those areas. Rather, it has been united in its common faith, doctrine,and sacraments, concretely demonstrated by communion with the pope, the bishop of Rome. While there is a proper diversity in the realm of liturgical practice, devotions, and even disciplines, there is an essential unity in doctrine and dogma.”

Also noteworthy:

“…the Eastern Churches show forth the authentic unity and diversity that is truly Catholic. Eastern Catholics are concrete evidence that the Catholic Church is not a monolithic and homogenous Western institution but an ancient, catholic, and worldwide communion of the faithful united by dogma, doctrine, and the See of Peter.”

Don’t take my word for it, it’s worth reading. Check out the following link:

For those interested, in the future I might include a few references, reviews or summaries of resources (Books, article, weblinks, etc.) I've found informative or useful over the years.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Reflections on the Upcoming Elections

As Election Day draws near in the United States we are bombarded by political TV and radio ads, intrusive political telephone calls (from people and from pre-recorded messages), political junk mail (both mass mailing forms and even hand-addressed photocopies from local supporters) and the barrage of interviews and discussions in every media imaginable.

For the Christian, elections and participating in the political process requires prayer and consideration. At first blush this may seem both obvious and trivial, but in reality the very possibility of participating in the political process involves several important issues that the Christian will do well to contemplate.

The Church teaches us that in Christ we become children of God. “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.” (Gal 2.26) The magnitude of this fact cannot be underestimated. “God is Love,” as St John teaches us. (1 Jn 4.8b) But if God is Love and we are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1.27), then our lives must in some way reflect that divine nature. As St Paul notes, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2.20) In a very real way to be a Christian is to “have put on Christ.” (Gal 2.27)

We see then that the fact of our salvation in Christ implicitly has moral consequences. St John adjures us, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 Jn 4. 11) When I receive the love of God within my heart I am impelled to transform my understanding of the world around me, and I come to perceive that every human being is also equally worthy of love. I come to recognize that the likeness of God within me is a likeness shared by all of humanity. Thus, life in Christ is characterized by love, and decisions and actions naturally flow from that love.

This connection between love for God and love for others is fundamental to our integrity as Christians. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.” (1 Jn 4.20-21) The Love of God that refreshes the divine image within us prompts us to have a generous love for our brothers and sisters in this world. It is an axiom at once moral and political, personal and social.

St James allows no ambiguity concerning the moral responsibility that flows from being a Christian: “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (Jas 2.14-17) The reality of my being a child of God, of having His divine image inscribed on my heart, must manifest itself in my choices and in my actions.

This moral imperative lies at the heart of the Christian Faith and our understanding of humanity and has crucial significance for politics. In the ancient Church, as exemplified in the Byzantine Catholic Tradition, the Divine Liturgy makes this plain. The Anaphora (the Eucharistic Prayer) of St John Chrysostom includes a petition “for our public servants, for the government and for our armed forces” which concludes, “O Lord, grant them peaceful rule that we too in their tranquility may lead a calm and quiet life in all virtue and honor.”

In the United States, citizens have a civic right to participate in the political process of electing representatives and leaders. Citizens have the right to vote. With that right comes a responsibility that carries great weight, especially so for the Christian. The Christian vote can never be solely about personal preference nor which candidate or party will benefit me personally. The Christian must prayerfully cast his or her vote according to the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2.16)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, like all orthodox Christian treatises, sees the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes as the central pillars of Christian morality. By reference to these basic principles Christians can in good faith make moral choices and participate in the political process. Reflecting on the fact that all people are children of God, endowed by God with infinite human dignity, Christians measure the worth of political opinion held by the candidates and cast their vote accordingly.

As the final hours wind down to Election Day, Christians should spend time in prayer and reflection on basic Christian principles and candidly review the positions and beliefs of the various candidates. Following the example of our Lord, Christians will vote based on Faith, not blindly following this or that party. Indeed, let us pray that all citizens will reflect on their own faith traditions and following their moral compasses will cast their votes in humility and prayerful dignity so that our nation may benefit from a government seeking the best for all of God’s children.

Short Reflections on the Feast of the Cross

(Originally written in August 2005)

On 14 September the Church marks the Triumph of the Cross. In the Byzantine Churches the Feast is also called the "Exaltation of the Cross." A clue to the antiquity of the Feast is that both the Byzantine and Roman Churches celebrate the Feast on the same date. For many, the Feast may simply pass by without significance. Yet the history of this commemoration shows it to have significance even today.

St Constantine the Great legalized Christianity in 313 a.d. and showed great generosity to the Church. Indeed, many of our ideas about the very structure of a classical European church building are derived from the fact that Constantine donated imperial Roman government buildings to the Pope and Bishops for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy (Holy Mass). Such is the origin of the old Roman Basilica.

In 326, the mother of Constantine, St Helena, went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. While there, she collected relics to distribute among the churches now springing up through the Empire. The inhabitants of Jerusalem told her that the site where Christ had been buried was a traditional local gathering place for prayer and worship. Going to the site, St Helena had workers begin digging, and ultimately three crosses were found. Legends provide two alternative explanations about how she chose the True Cross: 1) a dying woman was laid on each of the three crosses, and the True Cross healed her of her infirmity; 2) a corpse was brought forth and laid on each cross, the True Cross resurrecting him. However it was chosen, both St Helena and St Constantine were convinced that they had found the True Cross and a Church was built over the site, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Cross itself was initially taken to Constantinople for the veneration of the faithful, and later divided up between the Church of Roman and several other important Christian Centers.

The importance of the Feast of the Cross lays not so much in the historic details of the finding of the True Cross. Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christians observe the Feast of the Cross with a fast in honor of our Lord’s great mercy in dying for us and as firm reminder that our salvation is rooted in history. Christianity is not a religion of myths but a Faith in the One God who reveals Himself through historic circumstances. The hard reality of the Crucifixion confronts us with the undying Love of God and the suffering our Lord Jesus was willing to endure for our sakes. The unfolding of our salvation in history assures us that we are not just His creatures but His children, created in His Image and Likeness.

Take some time off this September 14th and go to Mass. Offer thanks to our Lord for the gift of salvation lifted up through the Cross unto Eternal Life.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ship Without a Rudder

America has evolved to the point where decisions are determined based on public opinion. This method has not been debated but is assumed as the obvious consequence of the democratic ideal that is America. The American way is to decide an issue based on majority vote; the very system and heritage of the 'land of liberty' promotes this approach. In itself, this is not a bad thing. To the concern that a majority vote could lead to an immoral or dangerous result, we take comfort in the various checks and balances of the Federal system the center of our republic and our republican democratic ideal.

Yet when a culture is removed from the moral underpinnings of Faith, it is too easy for the 'safeguards' of the system to fail. Against the argument that Faith is restrictive and binds its followers to a narrow vision of life, we need only examine the opposite. Without Faith as a compass progress becomes directionless with every choice risking extinction.

However, it is sometimes charged Faith often does not provide the definitive answers society seeks. Instead of being the monolithic oracle that can answer every question, it is argued that Faith often fails to provide the compass-like guidance it proclaims, leaving society to grapple in a dark wilderness in search of answers.

Yet, it is not necessary that Faith should provide clear answers at the outset of a public debate; it is that Faith should guide the dialogue in discerning solutions in the public debate. If this obtains, the decisions of a society, guided by the moral reasoning of Faith, always result in a reality that is not only acceptable to the religious mind, but that is also revealed as ultimately inevitable and the product of firm of theological reasoning. The consistency and inner coherence of Faith guides without reducing human freedom. A society guided by Faith is a society guarded by reason, freedom and peace.

But what of a society that has cut itself off from Faith? Consider that "in the day" (as it is commonly phrased these days) it would have been unthinkable for abortion, divorce, gay culture, etc. to be considered normative, common and natural to the average person. It would be unthinkable to be confronted by ballot initiatives promoting this or that practice; practices formerly recognized as vices but today understood as liberties. In this reality Faith is not the temple of virtue and driving force of moral good producing guidance and security, Faith is the object of comfort and confirmation of utilitarian pursuits, driving personal gain and the elimination of true moral boundaries.

In a society where Faith has become a mere marketable product subject to the whims of fashion and devoid its power to transform superstition and irrational focus on the self becomes the sole motivating cause of change and ‘progress.’ In a culture where Faith itself is assailed and commanded to change and be changed by the shifting sands of public opinion that nation is set adrift, like a once mighty ship without a rudder.

In such a rudderless vessel, an argument founded in Faith seems unnatural, close-minded, and even blindly prejudicial. Without the "firm foundation" of Faith, society no longer voyages along the sea-lane of perfection but wanders the waters of wantonness. Without the moral absolutes of Commandments, the journey to justice is passed over for the meandering of immoral mediocrity. Without the Beatitudes there is only bareness, base utilitarian squandering of resources and the objectification of human personhood as prurient fodder for personal gratification. Ultimately, such a vessel must surely run aground. Its once might hull and mast crushed on the rock of a cold and angry shore. Without Faith society does not advance, it regresses.

Faith is essential for the true advancement of human society. Without Faith there is only wilderness, icy desolation and the isolated murmuring of existential nothingness. Instead of wholeness and transfiguration, we find only the empty desire for fulfillment and satisfaction. The emptiness of human existence, that unfulfilled life that finds no completeness or satisfaction in any experience, plods on seeking that which it can never have without the Divine.

That life which aches in the emptiness of the human life reduced to the meager existence of the animal;

That being created in a nobler image and hungering for Angelic Food which alone can nourish, while yet wasting away on the swill of debased debauchery;

That thirst which craves the Chalice of Immortality which only the One who shed His blood can give, while parched on the dregs of a cup fit only for the decaying decadence of degradation;

Lo, it cries out for a Savior.

Like the prostitute it clings to the feet of the One who alone can save while demanding to "go and sin no more."

Like the dead it awaits the One who alone can defy the conventions of modern imagination and issue the challenge, "Lazarus, come forth!"

Like the prodigal, it awaits the moment when it will come to itself and cry out "How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger!"

In that moment, there is repentance.
And in repentance there is hope.

In that turning, there is forgiveness.
And in forgiveness there is commitment.

In that renewed society there is salvation.
And in salvation there is love.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Respect for Life and the Dignity of the Human Body

From the beginning, when God created the universe and “saw that it was good”, He created humans “in the image and likeness of God.” (Gen. 1.25; 1.27) This ‘image’ is the source of our innate ability to love and be loved; it is essential to our humanity. It permeates our very existence allowing us to appreciate the beauty of a foggy morning sunrise, the grandeur of a thunder storm, the cadence of a melody, and the smile of a loved one. It is at the heart of the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life.

Life is a gift from God. Each human being is a unique creation of God, and so we not only respect life we cherish it. From conception to natural death, the human person has infinite worth precisely because he or she is created in the image and likeness of God. This is why we reject abortion, euthanasia and murder as contrary to the will of God – it kills a creature that has infinite dignity. To kill a human being, created in the image of God, is to reject God Himself.

In the Theology of the Body, the Great Pope John Paul II contrasts the spiritual beauty of intimacy in the love of husband and wife with the spiritual emptiness of wanton sexual license in the decadent pursuit of selfish physical indulgence. The one leads to life; the other to death.

Recognizing the dignity of the human person necessarily includes respect for the integrity of the human body. A sexual act devoid of this respect reduces a human being to a thing for one’s own sexual gratification and violates his or her dignity. It ignores personhood and idolizes the flesh for sexual pleasure.

Therefore, the Church denies the notion that sexual immorality is a ‘victimless’ crime. We particularly condemn acts that harm the young and vulnerable, and recoil against the abuse of children for debased sexual pleasure. We work to safeguard them from predators who would degenerately use them, and construct safe environments where the innocence and dignity of their bodies will be respected and protected.

Our Lord said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Mat. 18.6) Respect for life and for the dignity of the human body is not a matter of politics or orientation. It’s not about personal choice or point of view. It’s not about liability or public relations. It’s about accountability; it’s about being created in the image and likeness of God.

The Holy Nativity versus Merry Xmas – The True Joy of Christmas Season

(Orignially written in December 2005)

As December twenty-fifth approaches, the world around us prepares to take down the trees and put away the “holiday” banners. At the same time, therapists are already gearing up for the time when depression seems to strike more people than any other time of year. And no wonder! After all, don’t the Twelve Days of Christmas end on December twenty-fifth? The party’s over. All that’s left is the drunken bacchanal of New Year’s Eve.

Many think “Xmas” is over. How wrong they are.

It’s not Christmas, but Advent, that ends on December twenty-fourth. In the Catholic Church, Advent (the season leading up to Christmas) is a somber time of prayer, contemplation and fasting. We don’t celebrate the Lord’s birth, we await it. It is a time of reflection and anticipation.

Christmas Season really begins on December twenty-fifth and ends on January sixth (the Feast of the Epiphany) – the true Twelve Days of Christmas. The solemn mood of Advent gives way to a joyous melody of our Lord’s birth. Consider the tonal differences of hymns like “O Come Emmanuel” versus “Angels We Have Heard on High”.

The Church rightly proclaims Christmas as a season of joy, a time of gratefulness in which our Lord shows us the importance of family. It reveals the great Mystery that God’s love for us is so profound He came down to be born in a manger in Bethlehem (literally, “the House of Bread”). Through our Baptism and the Holy Mass we are all one family, and the Holy Family of Nazareth becomes our model for family life, “a model of what the family should be,” “a place of love and sharing,” in the words of Pope Paul VI; a school where we “learn to realize who Christ really is.”

Christmas is a time for cherished customs and traditions reflecting God’s love. Such happy customs abound in the Catholic Church. For example, the much-maligned Christmas tree, representing the Tree of Life in Paradise, is traditionally not lit until after the Vigil Mass of Christmas and remains in the home at least until after Epiphany. Some still bring wine to be blessed and drunk on the Feast of St John the Beloved Disciple on December twenty-seventh. In the Eastern Church, the family gathers to share St Basil’s Bread (Vasilopita) on January first. In many Italian homes, Epiphany is the day for gift giving, and in the Byzantine Church holy water is blessed for house blessings. In fact, the joy of Christmas typically continues to the Feast of the Presentation on February second. And these all draw us back to the Holy Mass and to our Lord.

Therefore, let us celebrate this holy season of Christmas with the joy and thanksgiving it rightly deserves. And let us never forget that this is the Season of God’s Light coming into the world making us all members of God’s Family! Let us proclaim, “Christ is born! Glorify Him!”

Holy Lent, Holy Repentance – A Season of Joy

(Originially written in late February 2006)

Roman Rite Catholics begin their annual Lenten Journey to Easter with Ash Wednesday. For Byzantine Rite Catholics, Lent begins two days earlier on “Clean Monday.” In both traditions, Lent is a season marked by penitence and special devotions. Significant spiritual acts indicate its great importance in Christian life.

The theme of Lent is repentance, and various practices and devotions emphasize this theme. In the West, the weekly Stations of the Cross features prominently, while in the East, the great Akathist Hymn is chanted every Friday. Throughout Lent, the Church calls us again and again to repentance.

Yet some hesitate. In our sophisticated world, many have mistakenly come to believe that repentance is little more than a superstitious relic of the past. To them, the Sacrament of Reconciliation seems repressive. The very idea of penance seems an alien masochistic practice to our modern ‘feel good’ culture.

How short sighted they are! Lent is not a maudlin time of sorrow and despair. Of course, there is contrition for sins, but Lenten repentance is also an act of joyous renewal. God’s Great Mercy beckons to us, and through repentance we turn back to receive His generous forgiveness. We come to recognize that even as we are in complete need of God’s mercy, in His Great Love for us He is always ready to accept our repentance and lead us to holiness. Every practice and custom of Lent becomes an occasion to inspire us to that repentance that is both joyful and life-giving.

The Church teaches that the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Holy Confession) must be received at least once a year, and that during Lent. From what has been said above, it is easy to see why. The seasonal practices and devotions associated with Great Lent are especially suited to assist us as we approach the Sacrament of forgiveness.

In a world overwrought with anxiety and neuroses, self-doubt, self-pity, and self-righteousness, Reconciliation has the spiritual power to heal us from sin. It reopens the doors to life filled with Divine Love. More and more, people are coming to see this important Sacrament as a vital part of their spiritual life. Like the psalmist, those who frequent this Mystery of forgiveness find themselves thanking God: “Too heavy for us, our offenses, but You wipe them away.” Oprah can’t do it, but our Lord can!

Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say: “There are two ways of knowing how good God is: one is never to lose Him through the preservation of innocence; the other is to find Him again after He has been lost.” During this Lenten season, make time to receive this wonderful Sacrament of Reconciliation and experience for yourself the great Love of God it reveals.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Modern Culture, the Catholic Church and Homosexuality

Culture, the Catholic Church and Homosexuality
— Where is the Ambivalence?

An article recently appeared in the Charleston, South Carolina's Post and Courier Faith and Values section entitled Gay Catholics Struggle with Ambivalent Policy. The article states that the Catholic Diocese of Charleston "laid out an ambivalent opinion” regarding a gay rights group that recently held a workshop in a local Congregational church. "The Diocese of Charleston's spokesman ... when asked about why this workshop did not take place in a local Catholic church ...described its goals as heresy. He then talked about reaching out to gay Catholics with open arms." The article raises the question whether the Church is in fact ambivalent in its views about homosexuality and if not why such a perception may exist. It is easy to see why the Church’s views would appear to be ambivalent. How can the Church condemn homosexuality and yet claim to ‘reach out’ to those who consider themselves homosexual? At best, such a claim seems ‘ambivalent;’ and at worst, hypocritical. And if not, then we must ask why modern culture thinks it is.

Why the Catholic Church Condemns Homosexuality. The Church’s position is based in an understanding of God, and an imperative which that understanding enjoins on believers, that ultimately is neither hypocritical nor ambivalent (and is certainly not malicious). Catholic anthropology (man’s understanding of his relationship with God) is founded on the revelation that God is Love. (1 Jn 4.8) Every position taken by the Church regarding human life and society has its origin in this principle. We recognize that life itself is a gift from God to be treasured and protected. We believe that the universe was created as good, and that each person on earth is a precious gift of God worthy of respect and bearing inherent dignity.

A consequence of our belief in God is that we have free will to accept God’s love and to love God, or to reject God’s love. (Love that is not free is not love but slavery.) Sin and death are corruptions of God’s creation and are not willed by God but merely permitted. They exist only as a product of the free will choice to reject God’s love. Rejecting God is rejecting the Author of Life itself and therefore is the movement and state of sin, the origin of death.

Our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross and triumphant Resurrection overthrows the power of sin and death and offers us the opportunity to regain the immortality enjoyed in the beginning in Paradise. Christ invites us to draw closer to the God who is Love and in so doing restores that image of God within us that makes us children of God. As we draw closer to God we grow in His likeness and so receive life ever more abundantly. (Jn 10.10) We come to recognize the beauty of that life present in creation and the intricacies of its form and order.

Perceiving the order and intricate unity of nature we recognize homosexuality as sinful in that homosexual behaviors are obviously contrary to the design and purpose of the human body. This is empirically undeniable. The complementarity of the sexes manifests a physiological ‘fit’ that has no parallel in same sex intercourse, a fact often obscured in public discourse on the topic.

Thus, the Catholic Church teaches that homosexual behavior is inconsistent with Christian morality and is a grave sin; that same sex attraction is inherently disordered; that homosexual acts are physiologically harmful to the dignity the human body; and that the "gay culture" is unacceptable as a life-style “alternative” for Catholic Christians. Willful homosexual activity is a gravely disordered violation of the dignity of the human body and therefore is consequently a rejection of God. It is for this reason that homosexual activity is condemned by the Church.

Can the Church Reach Out to Homosexuals? This brings us back to the issue of the perceived ‘ambivalence’ in the Church teaching on homosexuality. How can the Church maintain that homosexuality is sinful and yet also ‘reach out’ to those who identify themselves as homosexual?

Modern culture believes that we must either "hate sin and hate the sinner" or "love sin and embrace the sinner." It prefers to "love the sin" since it conceives opposition to this view as “hating the sin and hating the sinner." It exalts diversity and equality of opinion and the supremacy of dialogue; and it believes that opinions are valid only to the extent that opposing views are admitted to have equal value. Since committing to objective truth would belie the equal value of all opinions, standing ground for one's principles is often anathema. No one must claim to have ultimate truth (Jn 18.38) because truth itself must be defined as a relative and changeable commodity.

Yet, the Church claims to uphold objective truth about God and this alone has serious consequences. But the Church also denies the simplistic dichotomy between loving the sin and the sinner versus hating the sin and the sinner. The solidarity of all humans as children of God convinces us that no one is beyond salvation. Reflection on the truth that our love for God has its origin in Him brings forth within us not only love for God but also a generous love for “our neighbor.” This is so firmly part of the Divine Mystery of God’s Love at work within us that it forms part of the “Two Great Commandments.” (Matt 22.40f)

Thus reflecting on God and following Scripture, we conclude that “God hates sin but loves the sinner.” We recall that with every act of creation “God saw that it was good.” (Gen 1.10, Wis 11.24) We distinguish between the actions of a sinner on the one hand and the sinner as a child of God on the other; and consequently, we naturally reach out to everyone as a brother or sister in Christ. The same belief in God that reveals homosexual activity to be contrary to the will of God also impels us to love and have compassion on those who experience same sex attraction.

For the Church to be true to itself and its beliefs, we must reach out to the sinner, whoever that sinner is and no matter what the sin is. It is not a matter of obedience or compulsion so much as it is the natural expression of who we are as children of God. Far from holding an ambivalent or self-contradictory position towards homosexuality, the Church is both consistent and generous in proclaiming a Truth that challenges and leads to salvation.

Modern Culture Avoids Engaging the Church in Dialogue. It is clear that many would prefer for the Church to 'adapt' to prevailing contemporary standards rather than be true to its own Faith and teachings. For the Catholic Church to continue to teach the 'hard sayings' of the Gospel provokes a confrontation with Truth many today would prefer to avoid. It violates the "I'm OK, You're OK" axiom that has been emblematic of modern secular life since the 1960’s.

The Church’s claim to speak the truth implies before all else that there just might be revealed Truth out there. Truth may have an objective reality that cannot be altered by public opinion or cultural drift. Our belief is centered on Jesus Christ who proclaims the Gospel as objectively true. Thus, the Church offends merely by continuing to proclaim the Gospel and Jesus Christ. That such a Gospel exists in itself confronts modern culture with a challenge it would prefer not to consider.

Rather than addressing what the Church actually teaches, contemporary culture instead commonly characterizes the Church as ignorant or malicious. If it engages in real dialogue about what the Church actually believes it risks discovering that its choices, opinions or behavior might be revealed to be immoral, or worse sinful. Such a dialogue might require us to think and perhaps even change! (As GK Chesterton quipped, "The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his own age.")

The Post and Courier article includes an example of how culture avoids discussing what the Church actually teaches. It notes that "slavery, racism and the discrimination of left-handed people" were "phenomena once accepted by society and people in the church" but which "changed over time." Worthy of discussion though they are, introducing slavery, racism and discrimination into the argument actually deflects attention from examining the Church’s teaching on its own merits. In the end, it is a red herring that does not address the real issue.

After forty years of the "I'm OK, You're OK" culture, we must ultimately confess that you and I aren't ok. There is sin and sickness and evil in the world; and sin does have its wages. The Gospel is a difficult spiritual path along which we all sometimes stumble. Yet, stumbling does not relieve us from the responsibility to continue the journey towards our ultimate goal. The Catholic Faith is founded on and has held fast to the Gospel for two millennia. Our Lord came, not to make God over in man's image, but to make man (male and female) to grow in the Image and Likeness of God. There is nothing ambivalent about it. The real ambivalence is in those who either do not listen clearly to what the Gospel proclaims or else who don't want to listen. As Chesterton said, "It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting but has been found hard and not tried.”

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Thoughts on the proposed revised translation of the Creed for the Roman Rite

The US Bishops have been meeting, and the Latin Rite Bishops have been discussing the proposed revised translation of the Holy Mass.

(I wonder what the Eastern Bishops have been doing to kill time during this ordeal. Dominos? Backgammon?)

I've read quite a bit on the proposed new translation of the Creed. Closed Cafeteria includes a link to what purports to be a pirated copy of official study text the Bishops have been considering. Curiosity, and a deep-seated desire to see our brethren of the Roman Rite have a more wholesome and accurate translation of the Latin original, led me to examine it.

Now, I'm not a Latin scholar. However, knowing that the Latin "substantially" agrees with the Greek original (and the word is in quotes advisedly), I find several points of concern. One of these has received a fair amount of attention, but not the others. As they have to do with the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation, I consider it not inappropriate for me to stick my big Byzantine nose in to this decidedly Latin business.

Concerning the Incarnation of God the Son, the Latin reads:

"et in unam Dominum Iesum Christum,
Filium Dei Unigenitum,
et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula."

The proposed translation has:

"I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only-begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before time began."

I have no problem with the change from "and in" to "I believe in" as this sublimes the meaning in English better than the Latin preference for dependent clauses. What concerns me is "born of the Father before time began."

Here is a case where word for word translation could clarify the meaning of the original. God the Father did not give birth to God the Son. Hence, "born" does not function appropriately to convey the 'begottenness' of the Son of the Father in this phrasing. The fact is that the Latin obviously seeks to translate clearly what is in the original Greek. It states belief in "one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten born of the Father." To further prevent the potential English misunderstanding that the Father gives birth to the Son, the translation could validly state, "the Only-begotten, begotten of the Father."

Note, however, that if the Latin word order were more accurately followed, the "born of the Father" would still make theological sense. This is because "et ex Patre natum" is intended to follow "Unigenitum." We could validly say He is "born of the Father" precisely because He is the Only-begotten. This preserves the distinction in English that males ‘beget’ while females ‘give birth." Thus, He is "born of the Father" because He is the Only-Begotten.

Note: There is a very scholarly discussion on the Creed at Wikipedia that discusses the use of the term "Only-begotten."

And finally, the Latin phrase concludes with "ante omnia saecula." This is a direct rendering of the Greek πρό πάντων τών αιώνων, which literally says, “before all ages.” “Before time began” approximates what the Greek and Latin state, but only approximately. The term “ages,” and the underlying concept it so beautifully and poetically conveys, is that God Is before all things exist. This relates both to the spiritual realm and to the material realm. This relates to the things "visible and invisible" referred to in the opening clause. Translating the phrase as "before time began" does not preclude that "there was when He was not." And since the Creed had its origin in the Arian controversy, we might safely conclude that the Council Fathers chose "before all ages" for the express purpose of excluding this possibility. (Remember, it is – and was – possible to say "before time began" in Greek!)

All this being said, a more precise translation of this passage should be either of the following:

"I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only-begotten Son of God,
begotten of the Father before all ages."


"I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Son of God, the Only-begotten
born of the Father before all ages."

This brings us to the following translational issue:

The Latin states

"Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato;
Passus et sepultus est,
Et resurrexit tertia die, secumdum Scripturas,
Et ascendit in caelum, sedet ad dexteram Patris.
Et iterum venturus est cum gloria,
Iudicare vivos et mortuos,
Euius regni non erit finis."

This is translated as:

"Crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate,
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
In accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven
And sits at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory
To judge the living and the dead
And his kingdom will have no end."

I would simply note that "Crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate" does not need "also."

In addition, stating that our Lord "suffered death" is a noble but perhaps misguided attempt to clarify that "passus" indicates a "suffering unto death," not the sense of the term currently in vogue indicating a state of being vexed. Precision – not to mention the wealth of catechetical opportunity it would provide – would argue either a straight forward "He suffered and was buried" or even the previous ICEL text "suffered, died and was buried."

Other nits I could pick would include leaving out "men" in the translation of "qui propter nos hominis et propter nostram salutem descendit de caelis." This is a case where attempting to be inclusive (PC) risks reducing the inference to allow the misconception that the Son "came down from heaven" for us – the assembled community, as opposed to for all humanity.

"People" won’t work in this context as in many areas it tends to indicated a specifiable group of humans (e.g., "You people, get outta my yard!").

"Humans" still sounds stilted and unwieldy.

"for all humanity...?"

Oh, and no matter what you say, it is clear that precision would truly require "qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur" to be translated "will be poured out for you and for many." Argument in favor of "for all" because someone might think that ‘certain people’ are not included is but a theoretical shibboleth. It is similar to the misguided theological paranoia that a Tabernacle on the Altar, or behind it, would confuse the people at Mass.

Having said all this, I’ll take my big Byzantine nose and move on.

Κύριε 'ελέησον !

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Unity of the Faith

At every Divine Liturgy, just before the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, the Deacon offers the litany “for the Unity of Faith.” This unity of Faith also includes, in the original Greek, the intention of praying for the unity of “the Faith.” It is an acknowledgement from the time of the Church Fathers that the essential Oneness of the Church requires the prayerful assent of human will.

As Byzantine Christians, we join with all Catholic Christians and Christians of the East in affirming that the True Church of Christ is found principally through the so called marks of the Church, enumerated in the Creed; that is, the Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

The Apostolic mark is shown in the continuity of Tradition within the Church, the handing on of the phronima, the traditions and mindset that marks the life of individual Christians and the Christian community of Faith.

The catholicity of the Church is revealed in the adherence to those essential doctrines that distinguish true Christianity from the lies and falsehoods of heretical teachings, like gnosticism, atheism, and syncretism (especially in its New Age/Wicca “I’m OK, You’re OK” versions).

The holiness of the Church is preserved through the Rites and devotions of the Church that flow from the living witness of the Spirit preserving us in right worship (“orthodoxia,” literally, “right glory”). Thus, the worship of the Church itself preserves the integrity of the Christian witness.

When holiness, catholicity and apostolicity are found, the final and definitive mark to distinguish True Faith is the Oneness, or Unity, of the Faith. All religious groups claim truth, but the Unity of the Faith uniquely manifests itself in the bond of fellowship that fully incarnates our Lord’s prayer “that they may be One.”

More than a mere claim that we believe the same thing as someone else, Unity of Faith reveals a spiritual joy and cooperation, a prayerful thanks and trust in the persevering power of the Spirit to guide us into all things. Unity of the Faith does not admit the jurisdictional squabbles of pride and division but fearlessly embraces the path of brotherhood and fellowship.

To be truly orthodox is to throw off the shackles that separate for the celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery that unites us all in Christ. Believing the same Truths, we refuse to separate ourselves from others who also share the Unity of the Faith. The Church of Christ is more than an ethno-theological ghetto. Holy communion can not be denied to those who believe the same Faith as we, who proclaim the same Gospel as do we, who pray the same prayers as we.

In our Byzantine community we rejoice to share in that Unity of the Faith with all historic Catholic and Apostolic Churches. This unity is manifest in our openness to all who share the historic Creed of Nicea and the teachings of the Great Ecumenical Councils. It finds its fullest freedom in our acquiecence to the historic prerogatives of the Pope of Rome as the visible source and foundation of that Unity, whose representative, the Bishop of Cordova, chaired the Holy Council of Nicea in a.d. 325.

At the same time, we proudly offer our unique contribution to the Unity of the Faith in fully and dynamically expressing our Byzantine Catholic witness to the Gospel. We reject the fog of a ghetto-mentality that replaces unity with uniformity and would blunt the victory of our Lord’s Resurrection and Victory with a spirituality of fear and xenophobia. We neither gloat nor cower as we live out our witness to the Gospel of our Lord handed down from the Apostles. In a family there is no fear of bondage, and in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church all are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. As St Cyprian said, "If God is our Father, the Church is our mother."

Thanks be to God for the Unity of the Faith and the sharing in His Sacred Body and Blood offered on the Cross for our salvation and given us at every celebration of the Divine and Holy Liturgy throughout the world and through the ages. Amen.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

True Catholicism and Obedience

In my association with the Romans in the United States I am constantly amazed, shocked and appalled at the disconnect between those who proclaim their orthodoxy and the insolence they manifest in their interactions with others, especially their superiors, and in particular their bishop. I suppose that as a Byzantine I have a different view of things, but I can’t understand how even those who proclaim their orthodoxy most fiercely are among the first to speak condescendingly to their bishop.

I’m not speaking of heretical bishops, or bishops who do not have the care of their flock at heart. I speak of bishops who are faithful followers of Jesus Christ, successors of the Apostles, fully and faithfully in communion with the Holy Father. I have witnessed disobedience thinly disguised as initiative, insults cast off as signs of intellectualism, threats couched as appeals to a superior knowledge of canon law, and crass back-street foul-mouthed outbursts claimed as upright outrage at supposed hierarchical incompetence.

For example, a priest protests that an initiative proposed by the Bishop might somehow infringe on his ‘freedom’ and ‘rights’ as a pastor, when in reality he fears that such an initiative might reveal actions at best questionable on his part. The bishop courteously replies that he has no intentions of impinging on the priest's rights, but that the intiatve must continue.

The Result: Penitence?

Reform of one’s ways?


Instead an ever more shrill series of hollow threats at canonical action (which even priest knows would be unsustainable), culminates in filthy language, charges that the bishop is engaging in infantilism, hysteria that the rights of the priest are being impeded by the diocese, and exclamations that the exercise of episcopal authority proposed would be somehow be beyond the law.

The sad thing to me is that these priests are convinced in their hearts that they alone know the better way. They seem to really think they are being good priests and sons of the Church. They are certain of their orthodoxy. To these men, their loyalty to Catholicism is manifest when the bishop is ignored, circumvented, humiliated (in public, if possible), and castigated for disagreeing with them and their preferences.

No offences to other Christian communities, but these men betray themselves to be protestant in spirit, rather than orthodox in belief.

I say, "protestant" advisedly.

If they truly believed and followed the teachings of the Catholic Church there is simply no way they would dare speak to their bishop in this way. Instead of deriding him they would encourage him; instead of insulting him they would pray for him; instead of showing disobedience behind his back they would be the first to support his holy efforts for the salvation of souls. Instead of sitting through meetings with rolling eyes, and attention divided between the matter at hand and their parish web page, email and personal finances, they would prayerful attend to his every word.

Believe this to be so: No man can proclaim his Catholic orthodoxy if a) he does not support the Holy Father, b) he does not publicly support his bishop, c) he does not offer up daily prayers for the chief shepherd of the diocese in humility and love. These go hand in hand with all the revealed Doctrines of Holy Mother Church.

As the Holy See’s inspection of the US seminaries continues perhaps someone will make reading the Epistles of St Ignatios of Antioch mandatory!

Please God, forgive me this frustration. Help me to see my own sins rather than those of my brothers. Help me to seek peace rather than my own sense of justice.

Dear Lord, save your people and bless your inheritance!

PS, what is the reaction of holy bishops to priests as described above?

He offers prayers for them, engages in ascetic discipline on their behalf, and humbly works around them to proclaim the Holy Gospel.

I am such a sinner! May our Lord ever protect His holy Bishops and grant them many years!