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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Monday, 2 March 2015

THE POSITION OF THE POPE IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

Pope Pius IX

Definitions of the First Vatican Council, 1870:

5. Therefore, if anyone says that it is not by the institution of Christ the lord himself (that is to say, by divine law) that blessed Peter should have perpetual successors in the primacy over the whole Church; or that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of blessed Peter in this primacy: let him be anathema2. Wherefore we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other Church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman Pontiff is both episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world. In this way, by unity with the Roman Pontiff in communion and in profession of the same faith , the Church of Christ becomes one flock under one Supreme Shepherd 5.

According to Vatican I, the Pope has ordinary and episcopal power over all the faithful, both clerical and lay, throughout the world, a power that transcends borders, from which nobody is exempt, and which covers all dimensions of church life.   Even so:
This power of the Supreme Pontiff by no means detracts from that ordinary and immediate power of episcopal jurisdiction, by which bishops, who have succeeded to the place of the apostles by appointment of the Holy Spirit, tend and govern individually the particular flocks which have been assigned to them. On the contrary, this power of theirs is asserted, supported and defended by the Supreme and Universal Pastor; for St. Gregory the Great says: "My honor is the honor of the whole Church. My honor is the steadfast strength of my brethren. Then do I receive true honor, when it is denied to none of those to whom honor is due." [51]
All bishops must obey him in everything that concerns faith, morals, discipline, as much as any lay person; yet this does not detract from the power of the bishops over their flocks; but, on the contrary, the pope's authority asserts, supports and defends episcopal authority which they wield as successors of the apostles, not merely as the pope's lieutenants .  

 A question arises: how can the bishops not be mere papal representatives if he can freely order them to obey him as much as he can order the laypeople to do the same?  If he has full and supreme power, the absolute fullness of supreme power over all and each of the bishops and laypeople alike to teach them and guide them in the way of salvation, how do the bishops have a role that is distinct from his?  What is the difference between the pope and diocesan bishops on the one hand and the pope with his assistant bishops on the other if the whole Catholic Church were one universal diocese?

9. So, then, if anyone says that the Roman Pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church, and this not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and government of the Church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the Churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful: let him be anathema.
It is also defined that when the pope, in his role as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, he speaks ex cathedra, with supreme apostolic authority, by the divine assistance promised to Christ to blessed Peter, with the infallibility which God has endowed his Church, the dogmas defined, must be accepted by all, and are irreformable in themselves, without the consent of the Church.
9. Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.

This definition has caused much discussion.   There are those who have held that every encyclical, every proclamation that a pope makes as pope to the whole Church, is ex cathedra and, therefore, is protected from error by the Holy Spirit, and this includes canonizations.   Others have said that infallibility is invoked only when its denial will lead to excommunication - the "may he be anathema" formula is used - because, only then, are we dealing with something of sufficient importance to use papal infallibility.   Theologians have differed about the number of papal statements since 1870 where infallibility has been used: some say only the two "marian" dogmas, while others add to the list.   It is clear that the phrase "ex cathedra" is too vague as it stands.  It begs too many questions.

Can a pope define a dogma whenever he wants to?   Are there no restraints on the exercise of the pope's power, either in his exercise of jurisdiction or of his teaching authority?

Many non-Catholics have been more keen to contest the truth of these definitions than to understand them; but it is true that they are not easy to understand for outsiders, because the Franco-Prussian War interrupted the Council.

One thing is certain.  The definitions are in  legal language and are pre-occupied with law, and when it is said about papally proclaimed dogmas that, "... such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable," this does not mean that the consent of the Church is irrelevant.   Both before the definition on the Immaculate Conception and before that of the Assumption, there was a painstaking investigation into what Catholics believe; and a monk told me that my monastery actually voted on the Assumption as part of this investigation.   No, the definition is talking about a further legal procedure after the proclamation before a dogma is officially recognised as being infallibly taught. If it is agreed that the Holy Spirit has aided the pope in formulating the definition, then it would be illogical to require another legal step before accepting it.  Secondly, a papal dogma is not a belief imposed by the pope from outside, but a belief already held; hence, under normal circumstances, it will be  spontaneously recognized by most Catholics as their own faith, and the others will realise that they have to get into line: any further step would be superfluous. 

The main characteristic of Vatican I is its "universalist ecclesiology". in which the word "church"  means the church spread throughout the world, in which local churches are parts, and which is held together by the universal acceptance by bishops and people of papal authority.




Continuation of the theme in the 2nd Vatican Council, "Lumen Gentium", 1964:


This Sacred Council, following closely in the footsteps of the First Vatican Council, with that Council teaches and declares that Jesus Christ, the eternal Shepherd, established His holy Church, having sent forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father;(136) and He willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world. And in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, He placed Blessed Peter over the other apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion.(1*) And all this teaching about the institution, the perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and of his infallible magisterium, this Sacred Council again proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful. Continuing in that same undertaking, this Council is resolved to declare and proclaim before all men the doctrine concerning bishops, the successors of the apostles, who together with the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ,(2*) the visible Head of the whole Church, govern the house of the living God.
In this passage of "Lumen Gentium" on the hierarchic structure of the Church, the 2nd Vatican Council starts with the apostles and their successors, with the bishops first, and then places the "sacred primacy and infallible magisterium of the Roman Pontiff" in that context.  The meaning and reason for the Petrine ministry is seen as ""a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion."   Hence, the teaching of Vatican I is repeated but put in a context in which the apostolic mission of the episcopate is fully recognised.

This being the case, it follows that any behaviour on the part of the papacy that would swamp the authority of the bishops as successors of the apostles or would not "assert, support and defend" the authority of bishops better than if the papacy was not there, would be inappropriate and contrary to the proper hierachical nature of the Church.  This raises many questions, but we can glean much more from Vatican II to help us have a clearer picture.

Vatican II: Eucharistic Ecclesiology

The most explosive teaching that was introduced into Vatican II is called Eucharistic Ecclesiology, not as an alternative to universalist ecclesiology, but as a corrective. It is found in the letters of St Ignatius of Antioch for whom the "Catholic Church" is the local church.  He wrote:


See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. —Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ch 8
 Eucharistic Ecclesiology is clearly expressed in the Constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium" and, even though it is about the liturgy, has enormous implications for the study of the Church:
10. Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper.

It says that the liturgy is  the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed and the font from which all its power flows.  As the celebration of the liturgy is an activity of the local Church rather than the universal Church, this invites us to look at the Church from a completely different angle.   One who has developed our understanding of the eucharistic dimension of the Church is Joseph Ratzinger, as theologian, as cardinal and as pope.  He wrote:
 the Eucharist binds all men together, and not just with one another, but with Christ; in this way it makes them "Church". At the same time the formula describes the fundamental constitution of the Church: the Church exists in Eucharistic communities. The Church's Mass is her constitution, because the Church is, in essence, a Mass (sent out: "missa"), a service of God, and therefore a service of man and a service for the transformation of the world. The Mass is the Church's form, that means that through it she develops an entirely original relationship that exists nowhere else, a relationship of multiplicity and of unity. In each celebration of the Eucharist, the Lord is really present. He is risen and dies no more. He can no longer be divided into different parts. He always gives Himself completely and entirely. This is why the Council states: "This Church of Christ is truly present in all legitimate local communities of the faithful which, united with their pastors, are themselves called Churches in the New Testament. For in their locality these are the new People called by God, in the Holy Spirit and with great trust (cf. 1 Thes. 1,5).... In these communities, though frequently small and poor, or living in the diaspora, Christ is present, and in virtue of His power there is brought together one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church" (Lumen Gentium, n. 26). This means that the ecclesiology of local Churches derives from the formulation of the Eucharistic ecclesiology. This is a typical feature of Vatican II that presents the internal and sacramental foundation of the doctrine of collegiality about which we will speak later."


Let us look as some of the implications of eucharistic ecclesiology.


1)   The unity of the Church is such that the whole Church is sacramentally manifested in each and every eucharistic assembly, especially when the local bishop celebrates with his priests and people.
2)  When St Paul says to the Corinthians, "You are the body of Christ" (1. Cor. 12, 27), he is talking to a local church.   Each church is the body of Christ and all churches together are the body of Christ, just as each consecrated host is the body of Christ, and a ciborium full of hosts is nothing more or less than the body of Christ. Thus, at the profoundest level, each church is identical to each of the others and to all the others put together.



3)  This is in keeping with Roman authority as understood by St Irenaeus near the end of the second century.  He wrote:
Now it is within the power of anyone who cares to find out the truth, to know the tradition of the Apostles, professed throughout the world in every church. We can name those too who were appointed bishops by the Apostles in the churches and their successors down to our own time.... But inasmuch as it would be very tedious in a book like this to rehearse the lines of succession in every church, we will put to confusion all those who, either from waywardness or conceit or blindness or obstinacy combine together against the truth, by pointing to the tradition, derived from the Apostles, of that great and illustrious Church founded and organized at Rome by the two glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul, and to the faith declared to mankind and handed down to our own time through its bishops in their succession. For with this Church, because of its more powerful leadership, every church, that is to say, the faithful from everywhere, must needs agree, and in it the tradition that springs from the Apostles has been continuously preserved by men from everywhere.    (Adversus Haereses)

As each local church is identical to all others, the fact that St Irenaeus says that all churches, and the faithful everywhere, must agree with the Church in Rome does not imply that the Holy Spirit gives the charisma veritatis to the church of Rome alone: they agree with that church because what the church of Rome believes, is their faith too: the same Holy Spirit working in synergy with each Church in a living Tradition stretching from the time of the Apostles to the present day and is classically expressed in the liturgy.   However, if they disagree with the bishop of Rome on fundamentals, then they should be worried because "With this church, every church...must needs agree."

4) if, in a profound sense, each local church is identical with all others, then, in the same sense, all essential episcopal functions  are likewise one, being functions of the head who is Christ.  This is the teaching of St Cyprian of Carthage who says:

"[After quoting Matthew 16:18f; John 21:15ff]...On him [Peter] He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigned a like power to all the Apostles, yet he founded a single Chair, and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was; but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one Chair. So too, all are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the Apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?" 
This unity we ought to hold firmly and defend, especially we bishops who watch over the Church, that we may prove that also the episcopate itself is one and undivided. Let no one deceive the brotherhood by lying; let no one corrupt the faith by a perfidious prevarication of the truth. The episcopate is one, the parts of which are held together by the individual bishops. The Church is one which with increasing fecundity extend far and wide into the multitude, just as the rays of the sun are many but the light is one, and the branches of the tree are many but the strength is one founded in its tenacious root, and, when many streams flow from one source, although a multiplicity of waters seems to have been diffused from the abundance of the overflowing supply nevertheless unity is preserved in their origin.
For St Cyprian, all bishops sit on the same identical chair, that of Peter, and it is up to the individual bishops to carefully guard that unity, since it is Christ who has united them.

5)  However, there is nothing in his understanding of the Church to stop us drawing a lesson from St Irenaeus.  If the episcopal function is one, then there is absolutely nothing to stop one bishop speaking for all; and, since what makes them one is their sacramental reflection of the one Christ in the Spirit, then there is no reason to deny that he can speak for the rest with the aid of the same Spirit.   If that were the case, two things would follow: a) they would not be accepting the statement as coming from the outside, because it would be their statement too, even if they hadn't physically made it themselves; and b) their recognition of its truth would be spontaneous, once they understood it, for the same reason.   However, if they rejected it, they should be worried because they would be out of step with the rest of the Episcopate. 

When the Council says, "The liturgy is the font from which all [the Church's] power flows," what are the implications?

Tradition is the Christian life, our sharing in the life of the Trinity, as it has been lived in the Church since the time of the apostles to the present day, and the understanding of our faith that flows from it.   It is rooted in the Scriptures and is a living process, formed by the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church and is expressed especially in the liturgy.

For this reason, as Pope Pius XI put it, "the liturgy is the chief organ of the ordinary magisterium of the Church." What the bishops realised when they came together in council was that, as Tradition is embedded in the liturgy, and liturgy is a living reality that belongs, by its very nature, to the local church, then Tradition takes many forms and has been shaped, and is being shaped, by the Christian history of many Christian peoples, reflecting their culture and their Christian experience during the course of their history.   Thus, as the Eucharist takes many forms, so does Tradition; and as the Eucharist is one and each celebration is an act of the whole, universal Church, Tradition is one, and its many forms are coherent one with all the others.  It follows that
1)  The Holy Spirit is actively involved in the local Church, as is expressed in the second epiclesis, after the words of institution in the "new" eucharistic prayers.
2)  Tradition takes different forms by its very nature, and this is why there are different "rites", each with its own insights into the Truth, its own ways of doing things which have been sanctioned by the Holy Spirit by bearing fruit of ecclesial love and holiness.
3)  Because these differences arise from the very nature of the Church living in a multi-cultural world, no rite may impose its own insights or ways of doing things on another.   Thus Rome was wrong to try to impose its own version of the papacy on the Orthodox East, because it was an answer to western problems and Eastern problems were different, the West having to keep the Church united in a chaotic, warring civilisation.  Thus the present Pope, echoing his two predecessors, has no intention of making the same error.
4)  At the same time, our insights must be coherent with other traditions, and theirs with ours, which is why we have ecumenical dialogue.  
My own opinion is that we must take seriously, not only our doctrine on the papacy, but Orthodox objections to it because they too represent a form of Tradition and invoke the Holy Spirit in their understanding of the faith.   Thus, they may learn something about primacy, and we may learn something about synodality.  
Both in Vatican II and in the extraordinary synod of 2014, bishops could say what they wanted without any  significant danger to the unity of the Church, because each knew that he did not have the last word which belonged to the Pope who is, for the most part, silent.   In contrast, in an Orthodox synod, there is nothing to stop an Orthodox patriarch from not attending or from walking out if things aren't going his way. He couldn't do that in imperial times: for sobornost to work, there is a need for an ecclesial substitute for the emperor, as the West realised early on.  In a Catholic synod, they have to stay and thrash out their differences so that a common mind be formed.   "O, Fr David," sighed an Orthodox archimandrite wearily, many years ago, "We are the church that speaks most about sobornost (synodality), but practise it least!"   On the other hand, we Catholics are coming to appreciate sobornost, largely through the theology of the Orthodox. 
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Of all the ecumenical dialogues, those with the Orthodox are the most beneficial to both parties, even if the Russian patriarchate does throw a spanner in the works and we don't become one, the dialogue will help us because the division between us is artificial, and insights, given by the Holy Spirit, illuminate both sides of the divide, even when they appear to favour one side rather than the other: we are united whether we like it or not in that both sides celebrate the identical Eucharist and thus participate in the Liturgy of heaven.   If the Russians manage to stop the whole process because they wish to continue to play power politics, the process will will not die: the theology of both sides demands it, and the sight of patriarchate jostling for power at the top of Orthodoxy is not a particularly edifying sight, either to the Orthodox themselves, or to Christian bystanders.

5)  If the liturgy "is the font from which all her [the Church's] power flows," and liturgy is the main activity of the local church, then diversity in Christ is as much a characteristic as unity in Christ.  Thus, if as Vatican I says, by unity with the Roman Pontiff in communion and in profession of the same faith , the Church of Christ becomes one flock under one Supreme Shepherd,  so there is the need to cultivate and protect the diversity, and to allow local churches to bear witness to the Truth in their own way.   Hence, synodality is as important as papal primacy, and without it the Catholic Church is unbalanced, as is Orthodoxy without a proper universal primacy.


For the whole document, please click on the title.

This decree, however, flows from the "fount - like love" or charity of God the Father who, being the "principle without principle" from whom the Son is begotten and Holy Spirit proceeds through the Son, freely creating us on account of His surpassing and merciful kindness and graciously calling us moreover to share with Him His life and His cry, has generously poured out, and does not cease to pour out still, His divine goodness. Thus He who created all things may at last be "all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28), bringing about at one and the same time His own glory and our happiness. But it pleased God to call men to share His life, not just singly, apart from any mutual bond, but rather to mould them into a people in which His sons, once scattered abroad might be gathered together (cf. John 11:52).
Thus begins the first chapter of this wonderful document, one of the principle authors of which was the young Father Joseph Ratzinger.   We are going to look at its underlying understanding of the particular Church.  If you haven't read it, it would be a good lenten task to read the whole decree prayerfully.

As a young theologian, Fr Joseph Ratzinger was enthusiastic about collegiality and held that episcopal conferences and synods that the pope would call were exercises in collegiality. He even advocated that they be given teeth - real authority to make decisions. In the decree Ad Gentes it is assumed that local missionary churches would have much more freedom to adapt than they actually have.   Unfortunately, after seeing widespread liturgical abuse and the summary rejection of Humanae Vitae, he retracted these views and took refuge in Vatican I.  We saw a pope bringing about Vatican II things by Vatican I methods; hence the need for Pope Francis.  However, sometimes the conciliar theologian showed himself, as when he permitted the "old Mass" and established it as the extraordinary version.  He said that the Church has never suppressed an orthodox liturgy and considered it outside the competence of pope and bishops to do so.   The pope's duty is to guard Tradition, not to suppress it.  This is good eucharistic ecclesiology because liturgy is the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church working at a local or regional level, and once recognised as liturgy, it must be treated with the respect it deserves and be protected rather than abolished while there are communities to celebrate it. Eucharistic ecclesiology sees the basis of ecclesiastic law in the sacramental/liturgical life of the Church and in the ecclesial love that is engendered by our participation in the liturgy, rather than the other way round: law has its limits.

   However, to be coherent, the pope should also allow particular churches to adapt their liturgy to local customs because they too will do this with the aid of the Holy Spirit.  Of course, they will make mistakes, but the Holy Spirit will get his way in the end as long as they keep Catholic communion - he always does, because that is the nature of the Church

In Ad Gentes, the Church is missionary by nature, and all, clergy, religious and laity alike, are called to bear witness to Christ by their lives and to take any opportunity to give the Christian message and to support missionaries. Local bishops must foster awareness of this missionary dimension of the Christian life.

The object of missionary activity is to form local churches which truly belong to the place where they are.
Thus it will be more clearly seen in what ways faith may seek for understanding, with due regard for the philosophy and wisdom of these peoples; it will be seen in what ways their customs, views on life, and social order, can be reconciled with the manner of living taught by divine revelation. From here the way will be opened to a more profound adaptation in the whole area of Christian life. By this manner of acting, every appearance of syncretism and of false particularism will be excluded, and Christian life will be accommodated to the genius and the dispositions of each culture.(6) Particular traditions, together with the peculiar patrimony of each family of nations, illumined by the light of the Gospel, can then be taken up into Catholic unity. Finally, the young particular churches, adorned with their own traditions, will have their own place in the ecclesiastical communion, saving always the primacy of Peter's See, which presides over the entire assembly of charity.
Attention has been drawn to how the liberty of "young" churches to be themselves makes them similar to sui juris churches, Catholic Ukrainians, Catholic Copts etc.  Certainly, the emphasis of Ad Gentes on adaptation, if generally followed, is all of a piece with eucharistic ecclesiology and a multi-formed Tradition.  Perhaps sui juris churches should be much more widespread as a way of protecting diversity in unity which, according to Pope Francis, is the mark of the Holy Spirit.


POPE FRANCIS IN ISTANBUL
HIS HOMILY IN THE CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL
my source: Aleteia
In the Gospel, Jesus shows himself to be the font from which those who thirst for salvation draw upon, as the Rock from whom the Father brings forth living waters for all who believe in him (cf. Jn 7:38).  In openly proclaiming this prophecy in Jerusalem, Jesus heralds the gift of the Holy Spirit whom the disciples will receive after his glorification, that is, after his death and resurrection (cf. v. 39).
The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church.  He gives life, he brings forth different charisms which enrich the people of God and, above all, he creates unity among believers: from the many he makes one body, the Body of Christ.  The Church’s whole life and mission depend on the Holy Spirit; he fulfils all things.
The profession of faith itself, as Saint Paul reminds us in today’s first reading, is only possible because it is prompted by the Holy Spirit: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3b).  When we pray, it is because the Holy Spirit inspires prayer in our heart.  When we break the cycle of our self-centredness, and move beyond ourselves and go out to encounter others, to listen to them and help them; it is the Spirit of God who impels us to do so.  When we find within a hitherto unknown ability to forgive, to love someone who doesn’t love us in return, it is the Spirit who has taken hold of us.  When we move beyond mere self-serving words and turn to our brothers and sisters with that tenderness which warms the heart, we have indeed been touched by the Holy Spirit.
It is true that the Holy Spirit brings forth different charisms in the Church, which at first glance, may seem to create disorder.  Under his guidance, however, they constitute an immense richness, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unity, which is not the same thing as uniformity.  Only the Holy Spirit is able to kindle diversity, multiplicity and, at the same time, bring about unity.  When we try to create diversity, but are closed within our own particular and exclusive ways of seeing things, we create division.  When we try to create unity through our own human designs, we end up with uniformity and homogenization.  If we let ourselves be led by the Spirit, however, richness, variety and diversity will never create conflict, because the Spirit spurs us to experience variety in the communion of the Church. The diversity of members and charisms is harmonized in the Spirit of Christ, whom the Father sent and whom he continues to send, in order to achieve unity among believers.  The Holy Spirit brings unity to the Church: unity in faith, unity in love, unity in interior life.  The Church and other Churches and ecclesial communities are called to let themselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, and to remain always open, docile and obedient.
Ours is a hopeful perspective, but one which is also demanding.  The temptation is always within us to resist the Holy Spirit, because he takes us out of our comfort zone and unsettles us; he makes us get up and drives the Church forward.  It is always easier and more comfortable to settle in our sedentary and unchanging ways.  In truth, the Church shows her fidelity to the Holy Spirit inasmuch as she does not try to control or tame him.  We Christians become true missionary disciples, able to challenge consciences, when we throw off our defensiveness and allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit.  He is freshness, imagination and newness. 

UNIVERSALIST & EUCHARISTIC
ECCLESIOLOGIES. 


Back in the early sixties, when I first read, as a student of Fribourg University, an essay by Nicholas Afanassieff called "The Church which Presides in Love."   In it Afanassieff talked about "eucharistic ecclesiology."  It is where I read about it for the first time.  I was struck by its brilliance, its Truth jumped out of the page and hit me, and my theological perspective was changed for ever.   For all this, it became apparent to me, even a I enthusiastically accepted it, that it suffered from one flaw: it opposed St Ignatius with St Cyprian; and my own reading of the two church fathers made me believe that they were fundamentally in agreement.  I re-read them, only to find my conviction re-enforced. I also thought that the picture of the Church found in the Acts of the Apostles was more in keeping with a universalist view, and that the "church" in Ephesians and Colossians is also universalist. I think he tried to prove too much. While Afanassieff saw eucharistic ecclesiology and universalist ecclesiology as opposed, I can only see them as complemenary.  I suppose that is why I am  Catholic and he remained Orthodox.  Even when, at the end of my studies, at the suggestion of my professor of patristics, I went to the "Semaine Liturgique," at the Institut Saint Serge in Paris,  and he was actually there - I was too much in awe to approach him directly - I could not find an answer to my disquiet.  So, here it is, my position as it has remained for fifty years.

Though Nicholas Afanassieff illumined my reading of the documents of Vatican II like no other theologian, even Joseph Ratzinger, and this convinced me that, at the deepest level, we share the same faith, he assumes and in no way proves that St Ignatius of Antioch and St Cyprian are incompatible.   Both are Catholic (and Orthodox) saints; both uses of the word "church", for the local church and for the church throughout the world are sanctioned by Tradition; and each use is compatible with the other.   Afanassieff writes:
The Church in its empiric esse, the one and only Church, appeared to exist in the form of a multitude of churches. How could the unity of the Church be preserved despite the multiplicity of churches?   Cyprian answered the question by applying St Paul's doctrine to these many churches...all the local churches together are the one and only Body of Christ, but the empirical church is to some extent the sum of its separate parts....A single body must be crowned by a single head, showing in his own person the unity of the whole system.  If we take the universal theory of the Church, we cannot refute the doctrine of universal primacy just by saying that the Church has Christ as Head; that is an indisputable truth.   The question is..why can a local church have a single head while the entire universal Church is deprived of one?  (The Church Which Presides In Love by N. Afanassieff)


If  universalist ecclesiology and eucharistic ecclesiology are two approaches to the same mystery, then there must be a way to justify a universal primacy in eucharistic ecclesiology: it cannot be required by one theology and be ruled out by the other.

In the words of Pope Benedict, the Mass is the Church's constitution:
 The Mass is the Church's form, that means that through it she develops an entirely original relationship that exists nowhere else, a relationship of multiplicity and of unity.

Each Eucharist is a participation in the heavenly liturgy which is common to the whole Church throughout the world, and the whole church on earth was connected to the heavenly liturgy  by the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
According to the Constitution on the liturgy:
8. In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle.[22] With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until he our life shall appear and we too will appear with him in glory.
Through our participation in the Mass, we are taken up into Catholic unity by the Holy Spirit with all others who celebrate the same Eucharist and become one with the angels and the saints in heaven, as we approach the Holy of Holies, together with Christ, passing through the veil that is his flesh, into his Father's presence, as the Letter to the Hebrews says.   We are lifted out of our own local community and become one with all the rest.   This unity also needs sacramental expression and to be a really human reality as well as a divine one: hence, the Pope.

LOOKING AT THE DECREES OF VATICAN I THROUGH THE PRISM OF EUCHARISTIC ECCLESIOLOGY 
click "Presiding flows from Charity" - Pope Francis


In the Church, all “presiding” flows from charity, must be exercised in charity, and is ordered towards charity.     (Pope Francis)



One distinction that should be very obvious, but has been hidden from us by the fact that, for centuries, popes have been secular rulers as well as popes, is the enormous difference between jurisdiction in the "world" and jurisdiction in the Church.  In the world, the law reigns, and love observes the law: in the Church, God's Love reigns, and the law follows this Love. 

In the world, the ability to make laws and to see that they are obeyed has to be backed by force.  When Rome no longer had the ability to protect England and enforce its laws, they withdrew their forces, law broke down and the Arthurian legend was born.   Thanks to the weakness of the Byzantine Empire over centuries Western civilisation could not  rely on the emperor and, in part, the western church stepped in to fill the vacuum.   Even in the most civilised countries, up to the present time, even when the hand of physical power is hidden in a velvet glove, if someone wants to leave his place half way through a trial, he will be restrained by force.  In the world, law only works when it is backed by physical power.

Jesus, in giving authority to Peter and the apostles, said nothing about establishing a police force or an army to enforce that authority. Jesus did not justify the use of physical force; but, at the same time, the Church cannot operate as a single body without law.

For this reason, a system of law has developed in the Church called Canon Law which operates like any other legal system, but it differs from other systems in that, left to itself, it has no physical force to back it up.  The difference was hidden in Christendom because the Church could always call on the civilian power to enforce its decisions if need be.   Now, however, it stands alone.

We can now ask by what authority does the Church operate.   The answer is obvious, by divine authority, by Christ's authority.   If we leave the answer there, we will not uncover what is unique about church law as a system.  Let us look at it through the spectacles of eucharistic ecclesiology: what does the Eucharist say about Christ's authority?   What does Christ's sacrifice on Calvary say about Christ's authority, the authority of him who reigned from the Cross?   To cut it short, it says that Christ's authority was a function of his divine/human love.   That is not any kind of love: it is the love of the Blessed Trinity by which the universe was created and by which we have been redeemed.  It is the love for which we have been created to share.

Let us look at papal jurisdiction eucharistically as a function of Christ's love working at the level of human law. I believe that, using this perspective, everything becomes clear.  Papal jurisdiction is as wide and universal as Christian charity and is restricted in its application by the duty to respect and serve other members of the Church as love demands.   Thus, the pope's jurisdiction over his brother bishops cannot be separated or distinguished from his duty to respect and serve them, because his jurisdiction over them and their obedience to him are functions of ecclesial love.  Thus a synergy is possible between the pope's authority over the faithful as successor of St Peter and their bishop's authority over the same faithful as successor of the apostles when ecclesial love is present.

There is a balance to be sought between unity and diversity, and the ideal balance may vary from century to century or from one set of circumstances to another.   There was a time when bishops tried to  obtain the privilege for their sees to have the bishop chosen by the pope as a better alternative to having the local prince appoint his youngest son or as a cheap way to reward a servant, but that situation has passed.   Neither do we need to find strength against our enemies in centralization.   There is a strong case for giving particular churches more freedom and for actively seeking diversification.   It  makes sense for what Pope St John Paul II did in asking in Ut Omnes Unum Sint for ecumenical help to design the papacy of the future so that the various forms of Tradition that are expressed in the liturgy of local churches may be transcended by being taken up into Catholic Unity that is formed by the fact that there is only one baptism and one Eucharist even though celebrated in different ways, and only one body in Christ.
This universal Church is unique in that each of its many parts manifests the whole, especially in the Eucharist.   Each priest who presides at the Mass presides in the principle act of the universal Church, the bishop in his own name as successor of the apostles and the priest in the name of the bishop.  The Bishop of Rome also presides at this act, and from it flows his universal ministry as successor of St Peter whose relics lie under his altar: he is thus sacramentally first among equals.

Father John Behr has something interesting to say about the pope, but the whole talk is excellent.

SAINT MILAD SABER AND HIS TWENTY COMPANIONS



Their story is the same as the Acts of the Martyrs of the first centuries. Killed by the sword of Islam out of pure hatred for their Christian faith 






ROME, March 2, 2015 – They refused to worship false gods, they remained strong in the faith of their baptism, they were decapitated while calling upon the name of Jesus.

The twenty-one Egyptian Christians killed in Libya by the militias of the Islamic caliphate have entered immediately into the ranks of the saints. The patriarch of the Coptic Church, Tawadros II, has had their memory inscribed in the Synaxarium, the martyrology of the Coptic Church, with a feast on the eighth day of the month of Amshir, which corresponds to February 15 of the Gregorian calendar.

It is the day on which the caliphate issued the video of their killing. And on the Coptic liturgical calendar it coincides with the feast of the presentation of Jesus at the temple.

In the video, everyone has been able to note that at the moment of decapitation, some of them were calling upon the name of Jesus in Arabic and whispering prayers. The most distinct words were from Milad Saber, the son of farmers from a village in central Egypt. He was unmarried, while most of his companions were married, with one or more small children. Fifteen came from Al-Our and six from other villages of the same region, around the town of Samalut. More than eighty of their companions are still in Libya, originating from these same villages.

It is a region with a strong Christian presence and with a very ancient church that is a pilgrimage destination, high on a bank of the Nile, where tradition says that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus stayed during their flight into Egypt.

And it is also a region, with its local capital in Minya, in which the Copts have often been the target, even in recent times, of hostility and aggression from Muslims, with little or no protection from the security forces.

But many things have changed in the days since their martyrdom. The Egyptian prime minister, together with six other ministers, visited one by one the homes of the parents, wives, and children of those killed, and said that he is "proud that Egypt has these martyrs in paradise." He pledged to the Christians: "All of you are a great value for the nation. We are ready to sacrifice ourselves for all the sons of Egypt." He has announced that he will have a church built at state expense in memory of the martyrs in the village of Al-Our.

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi wasn’t far behind. He has announced the construction of a church in honor of the martyrs in Minya itself, the capital of central Egypt in which numerous Coptic churches still bear the signs of the latest attacks carried out by Muslim fanatics.

But this is only the most recent of the surprises produced by general Al-Sisi, who rose to power after overturning the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is very hostile toward the Copts.

Al-Sisi is not an expression of the military “secularism” represented by the previous “rais” of Egypt, from Nasser to Sadat to Mubarak.

He too comes from the highest ranks of the military. But he has always been and still is a fervent Muslim, and precisely for this - it appears – was placed at the head of the army during the ephemeral presidency of Mohammed Morsi, by that same Muslim Brotherhood which now has him under its thumb.

He knows the Quran by heart and quotes it in every speech, prays, fasts at the appointed times, has a wife who wears the veil and a daughter who wears the complete niqab.

But he was also the model student who in the United States in 2006, at the US Army War College in Pennsylvania, wrote a doctoral thesis on democracy and the Islamic world, judging them as compatible. 

“We went to the same mosque and he was the most informed of anyone on Islamic history,” Sherifa Zuhur, one of his American professors, told Giulio Meotti of “il Foglio.” “Al-Sisi opposed Islamic extremism not only because this clashes with the West, but also because it has divided Muslims and has done great harm to their capacity to reinterpret the faith in line with modern humanitarian principles. And instead of assisting the development of the Arab region it has led to its disintegration.”

And in fact against Al-Sisi, pragmatic and pious, a fatwa has already gone out from those who want him dead, after the explosive historic speech he gave at the end of December at the major Islamic university of Al-Azhar and after his attendance at Christmas Mass in the Coptic cathedral of Cairo, an unprecedented action.

A “revolution in Islam” is how his actions have been described by the Islamologist Samir Khalil Samir, an Egyptian Jesuit who teaches at the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut and at the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies in Rome.

But here are the names of the twenty-one Coptic martyrs killed in Libya by the caliphate’s executioners:

Milad Saber Mounir Adly Saad, bachelor from Menbal village;
Sameh Salah Farouq, married, one child, from Manqarius village;
Ezzat Boshra Nassif, married, with one son of 4 years, from Dafash village;
Mina Shehata Awad, from Al-Farouqeyya village;
Louqa Nagati Anis Abdou, 27 years, married, with a baby of 10 months;
Essam Baddar Samir Ishaq, bachelor; both from al-Gabaly village.

And from Al-Our village:

Hany Abdal-Massih Salib, married, three daughters and one son;
Guergues Milad Sanyut, bachelor;
Tawadraus Youssef Tawadraus, married, three children from 7 to 13 years old;
Kyrillos Boschra Fawzy, bachelor;
Magued Soliman Shehata, married, two daughters and a son;
Mina Fayez Aziz, bachelor;
Samouïl Alham Wilson, married, three children, 6, 4 and 2 years old;
Bishoï Stephanos Kamel, bachelor;
Samouïl Stephanos Kamel, brother of the latter, bachelor;
Malak Abram Sanyut, married, three children;
Milad Makin Zaky, married, one daughter;
Abanub Ayyad Ateyya Shehata, bachelor;
Guergues Samir Megally Zakher, bachelor;
Youssef Shukry Younan, bachelor;
Malak Farag Ibrahim, married, a baby daughter.

Naturally, these are not the only Christians to have fallen victim to the hatred that many Muslims nurture towards the "apostates" from true Islam, equated with the form that they profess.

The latest in the series are the Armenian, Syriac, and especially Assyrian Christians of thirty-five villages in the far northeast of Syria along the Khabur river, occupied in recent days by the army of the caliphate.

Dozens killed, hundreds taken hostage, thousands who have fled abandoning everything.

The irony of history is that the grandparents of these Christians took refuge there in the 1930’s to escape the massacres of which they were victims in the newly formed Iraq.

“Abandoned by all, this is their sentiment,” the Vatican nuncio in Damascus, Archbishop Mario Zenari, has said.

In effect, these Christians do not have their armed men, they do not have Kurds, Sunnis, or Shiites to defend them, they have no support from the international anti-caliphate coalition. They are truly the least of the least, with the sole comfort of Christians in other countries - for example, through Aid to the Church in Need - who offer them basic assistance in the places where they find refuge.

TYPICAL SECULARIST INTOLERANCE
OF THE TRUTH

The White House released a statement yesterday to condemn the beheadings of the 21-Egyptian Coptic Christians by ISIS in Libya but refused to refer to the victims as Coptic Christians or even just Christians. The statement, released by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, only referred to them as ‘Egyptian citizens’.

Here’s the full statement:

Statement by the Press Secretary on the Murder of Egyptian Citizens

The United States condemns the despicable and cowardly murder of twenty-one Egyptian citizens in Libya by ISIL-affiliated terrorists. We offer our condolences to the families of the victims and our support to the Egyptian government and people as they grieve for their fellow citizens. ISIL’s barbarity knows no bounds. It is unconstrained by faith, sect, or ethnicity. This wanton killing of innocents is just the most recent of the many vicious acts perpetrated by ISIL-affiliated terrorists against the people of the region, including the murders of dozens of Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai, which only further galvanizes the international community to unite against ISIL.

This heinous act once again underscores the urgent need for a political resolution to the conflict in Libya, the continuation of which only benefits terrorist groups, including ISIL. We call on all Libyans to strongly reject this and all acts of terrorism and to unite in the face of this shared and growing threat. We continue to strongly support the efforts of the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General Bernardino Leon to facilitate formation of a national unity government and help foster a political solution in Libya.

As a Christian this is pretty insulting and I’m sure it is even more so to the American Coptic community. But apparently insulting the faiths of others is par for the course with this administration, just as they did when the president referred to the Jewish shooting victims in France as a random shooting of ‘bunch of folks’.

In contrast, here is the statement by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

“I am outraged and saddened by the beheadings of Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christians in Libya by groups linked to ISIL. Coming soon after the savage burning of Royal Jordanian Air Force pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh, the threat posed by ISIL could not be clearer.

On behalf of all Canadians, I offer my deepest condolences to the families and friends of those killed and to the Coptic community here in Canada, who will feel the loss especially grievously.

Canada is proud to stand with its coalition partners in the fight against ISIL. We will continue to stand firmly together against these terrorists who threaten the peace and freedom we hold so dear at home and that we wish for those abroad.

Barbaric acts such as this do not shake our resolve but, rather, confirm the rightness of our cause and the vital necessity of our mission against ISIL. We will not be intimidated.”

The differences are striking. Harper even offers his condolences to the Coptic community in Canada. The White House didn’t even bother to mention the Coptic community here in the U.S. But then they would have had to acknowledge that these were Christians, something they clearly refused to do even though our president is supposed to be ‘Christian’.




A little while ago, I heard on the BBC an account of a persecution of Christians by Islamists in Africa.   It didn't say that the victims were Christians, nor that they would have been spared if they had become Muslims.  Rather it said that they had been put to death "for religion", thus attacking their religion as much as that of the terrorists.  The most intolerant people in Britain are not Muslims: they are secularists.   Hearing Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry say how evil religion is, it makes me wonder when we shall have a secularist caliphate in England.   In fact, in the twentieth century, more Christians were killed by atheists than by Muslims.  The only protection we have is that their case is not very persuasive.

Friday, 27 February 2015

2nd SUNDAY IN LENT 2015

icon of the Transfiguration
by a monk of Pachacamac
The Transfiguration: Law Through Moses, Grace &Truth Through Jesus Christ 
Pope  St Leo the Great

by
St. Leo the Great, Pope and Early Church Father
 my source: The Crossroads Initiative
The Lord reveals his glory in the presence of chosen witnesses. His body is like that of the rest of mankind, but he makes it shine with such splendor that his face becomes like the sun in glory, and his garments as white as snow.

The great reason for this transfiguration was to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of his disciples, and to prevent the humiliation of his voluntary suffering from disturbing the faith of those who had witnessed the surpassing glory that lay concealed.

With no less forethought he was also providing a firm foundation for the hope of holy Church. The whole body of Christ was to understand the kind of transformation that it would receive as his gift. the members of that body were to look forward to a share in that glory which first blazed out in Christ their head.

The Lord had himself spoken of this when he foretold the splendor of his coming: Then the just will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Saint Paul the apostle bore witness to this same truth when he said: I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not to be compared to the future glory that is to be revealed in us. In another place he says: You are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

This marvel of the transfiguration contains another lesson for the apostles, to strengthen them and lead them into the fullness of knowledge. Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets, appeared with the Lord in conversation with him. This was in order to fulfil exactly, through the presence of these five men, the text which says: Before two or three witnesses every word is ratified. What word could be more firmly established, more securely based, than the word which is proclaimed by the trumpets of both old and new testaments, sounding in harmony, and by the utterances of ancient prophecy and the teaching of the Gospel, in full agreement with each other?

The writings of the two testaments support each other. The radiance of the transfiguration reveals clearly and unmistakably the one who had been promised by signs foretelling him under the veils of mystery. As Saint John says: The law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. In him the promise made through the shadows of prophecy stands revealed, along with the full meaning of the precepts of the law. He is the one who teaches the truth of the prophecy through his presence, and makes obedience to the commandments possible through grace.

In the preaching of the holy Gospel all should receive a strengthening of their faith. No one should be ashamed of the cross of Christ, through which the world has been redeemed.

No one should fear to suffer for the sake of justice; no one should lose confidence in the reward that has been promised. The way to rest is through toil, the way to life is through death. Christ has taken on himself the whole weakness of our lowly human nature. If then we are steadfast in our faith in him and in our love for him, we win the victory that he has won, we receive what he has promised.

When it comes to obeying the commandments or enduring adversity, the words uttered by the Father should always echo in our ears: This is my Son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased; listen to him.



PASTORAL VISIT TO THE ROMAN PARISH OF 
ST. JOHN BAPTIST DE LA SALLE AT TORRINO

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI


Sunday, 4 March 2012: Year B

my source:Libreria Editrice Vaticana




Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Parish of St John Baptist de La Salle,

First of all I would like to say a heartfelt thank you for this most cordial and warm welcome. I am grateful to the good Parish Priest for his beautiful words, and for the spirit of familiarity that I am encountering. We really are a family of God and the fact that you also see the Pope as a father is something very lovely that encourages me! However we must now remember that the Pope is not the highest authority to appeal to. The highest is the Lord and let us look to the Lord in order to perceive, to understand — as far as we can — something of the message of this Second Sunday of Lent.

Today’s liturgy prepares us both for the mystery of the Passion — as we heard in the First Reading — and for the joy of the Resurrection.

The First Reading refers us to the episode in which God puts Abraham to the test (cf. Gen 22:1-18). He had an only son, Isaac, who was born to him in his old age. He was the son of the promise, the son who would also bring salvation to the peoples. Nevertheless one day Abraham received from God the order to sacrifice him as an offering.

The elderly patriarch found himself facing the prospect of a sacrifice which for him, as a father, was without any doubt the greatest imaginable. Yet not even for a moment did he hesitate and having made the necessary preparations, he set out with Isaac for the arranged place.

And we can imagine this journey toward the mountaintop, and what happened in his own heart and in his son’s. He builds an altar, lays the wood upon it and having bound the boy, grasps the knife, ready to sacrifice him. Abraham trusts totally in God, to the point of being ready even to sacrifice his own son and, with his son the future, for without a child the promised land was as nothing, ends in nothing. And in sacrificing his son he is sacrificing himself, his whole future, the whole of the promise. It really is the most radical act of faith. At that very moment he is restrained by an order from on high: God does not want death, but life, the true sacrifice does not bring death but life, and Abraham’s obedience became the source of an immense blessing to this day. Let us end here now, but we can meditate upon this mystery.

In the Second Reading, St Paul says that God himself has made a sacrifice: he has given us his own Son, he gave him on the Cross to triumph over sin and death, to triumph over the Evil One and to overcome all the evil that exists in the world. And God’s extraordinary mercy inspires the Apostle’s admiration and profound trust in the power of God’s love for us; indeed, St Paul says: “He [God] who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” (Rom 8:32).

If God gives himself in the Son, he gives us everything. And Paul insists on the power of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice against every other force that can threaten our life.

He wonders: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?” (vv. 33-34).

We are in God’s heart, this is our great trust. This creates love and in love we go towards God. If God has given his own Son for all of us, no one can accuse us, no one can condemn us, no one can separate us from his immense love. Precisely the supreme sacrifice of love on the Cross, which the Son of God accepted and chose willingly, becomes the source of our justification, of our salvation. Just think that this act of the Lord’s endures in the Blessed Eucharist, and in his heart, for eternity, and this act of love attracts us, unites us with him.

Lastly, the Gospel speaks to us of the episode of the Transfiguration (cf. Mk 9:2-10): Jesus manifests himself in his glory before the sacrifice of the Cross and God the Father proclaims his beloved Son, the one he loves, and commands the disciples to listen to him. Jesus goes up a high mountain and takes three Apostles with him — Peter, James and John — who will be particularly close to him in his extreme agony, on another mountain, the Mount of Olives.

A little earlier the Lord had announced his Passion and Peter had been unable to understand why the Lord, the Son of God, should speak of suffering, rejection, death, a Cross, indeed he had opposed the prospect of all this with determination.

Jesus now takes the three disciples with him to help them to understand that the path to attaining glory, the path of luminous love that overcomes darkness, passes through the total gift of self, passes through the folly of the Cross. And the Lord must take us with him too ever anew, at least if we are to begin to understand that this is the route to take.

The Transfiguration is a moment of light in advance, which also helps us see Christ’s Passion with a gaze of faith. Indeed, it is a mystery of suffering but it is also the “blessed Passion” because — in essence — it is a mystery of God’s extraordinary love; it is the definitive exodus that opens for us the door to the freedom and newness of the Resurrection, of salvation from evil. We need it on our daily journey, so often also marked by the darkness of evil.

Dear brothers and sisters, as I have said, I am very happy to be with you today to celebrate the Lord’s Day. I cordially greet the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Sector, Fr Giampaolo Perugini, your parish priest, whom I thank once again for his kind words on behalf of you all and also for the pleasing gifts you have offered me.

I greet the Parochial Vicars. And I greet the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who have been here for so many years. They deserve praise for having fostered the life of this parish, because their house immediately offered generous hospitality to it, during the first three years of its life.

I then extend my greeting to the Brothers of the Christian Schools, who are naturally attached to this parish church dedicated to their Founder. I greet in addition all those who are active in the parish context. I am referring to the catechists, the members of the associations and movements, as well as the various parish groups. Lastly I would like to embrace in spirit all the inhabitants of the district, and especially the elderly, the sick, and people who are lonely or in difficulty.

In coming to you today I noticed the special position of this church, set at the highest point in the district and endowed with a slender spire, as if it were a finger or an arrow pointing towards heaven. It seems to me that this is an important indication: like the three Apostles of the Gospel, we also need to climb the mountain of the Transfiguration to receive God’s light, so that his Face may illuminate our face. And it is in personal and community prayer that we encounter the Lord, not as an idea or a moral proposal but, rather, as a Person who wishes to enter into a relationship with us, who wants to be a friend and to renew our life to make it like his.

This encounter is not solely a personal event; your church, set at the highest point in the neighbourhood, reminds you that the Gospel must be communicated and proclaimed to all. We do not expect others to bring different messages, that do not lead to true life. Make yourselves missionaries of Christ to your brothers and sisters wherever they live, work, study or just spend their leisure time.

I know about the many important evangelization projects that you undertake, in particular through the after-school prayer and recreation centre called “Pole-star” — I am also glad to wear this shirt (the centre’s shirt) — where, thanks to the volunteer work of competent and generous people and the involvement of families, the gathering of young people through sports is encouraged, without however neglecting their cultural formation, through art and music. Above all the relationship with God, the Christian values and an increasingly aware participation in the Sunday Eucharistic celebration, are inculcated in them here.

I rejoice that the sense of belonging to the parish community has continued to develop and been consolidated down the years. Faith must be lived together and the parish is a place in which we learn to live our own faith in the “we” of the Church. And I would like to encourage you to promote pastoral co-responsibility too, in a perspective of authentic communion among all the realities present, which are called to walk together, to live complementarity in diversity, to witness to the “we” of the Church, of God’s family.

I know how committed you are in preparing the children and young people for the sacraments of Christian life. May the upcoming “Year of Faith” be a favourable opportunity also for this parish to increase and to reinforce the experience of catechesis on the great truths of the Christian faith, so as to enable the whole neighbourhood to know and to deepen its knowledge of the Church’s Creed, and to surmount that “religious illiteracy” which is one of the greatest difficulties of our day.

Dear friend, yours is a young community — it is made up of young families and, thanks be to God, of the numerous children and youth who live in it. In this regard, I would like to recall the task of the family and of the entire Christian community to educate in faith, assisted in this by the theme of the current Pastoral Year, by the Pastoral Guidelines proposed by the Italian Episcopal Conference and without forgetting the profound and ever up to date teaching of St John Baptist de La Salle.

You in particular, dear families, are the environment in which the first steps of faith are taken; may you be communities in which one learns to know and love the Lord more and more, communities in which each enriches the other in order to live a truly adult faith.

Lastly, I would like to remind all of you of the importance and centrality of the Eucharist in personal and community life. May the heart of your Sunday be Holy Mass which should be rediscovered and lived as a day of God and of the community, a day on which to praise and celebrate the One who died and was raised for our salvation, a day on which to live together the joy of an open community, ready to receive every person who is lonely or in difficulty.

Indeed, gathered around the Eucharist in fact, we more easily realize that the mission of every Christian community is to bring the message of God’s love to everyone. This is why it is important that the Eucharist always be at the heart of the faithful’s life, just as it is today.

Dear brothers and sisters, from Mount Tabor, the mountain of the Transfiguration, the Lenten journey takes us to Golgotha, the hill of the supreme sacrifice of love of the one Priest of the new and eternal Covenant. That sacrifice contains the greatest power of transformation of both the human being and of history. Taking upon himself every consequence of evil and sin, Jesus rose the third day as the conqueror of death and of the Evil One. Lent prepares us to take part personally in this great mystery of faith which we shall celebrate in the Triduum of the Passion, death and Resurrection of Christ.

Let us entrust our Lenten journey and likewise that of the whole Church to the Virgin Mary. May she, who followed her Son Jesus to the Cross, help us to be faithful disciples of Christ, mature Christians, to be able to share with her in the fullness of Easter joy. Amen!







© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana 

Lent as our Spring Training 
by Father Pius Parsch


Lent is a privileged season for spiritual renewal – our time for spring cleaning within our souls, or literally, our spring training.

Aside from deepening our prayer life, we are called to embrace fasting and almsgiving.

These forms of self-denial are called ascetical practices, from the Greek askesis, meaning training for athletic contests.

The root word helps us to understand the “why” behind our Lenten observances. We do not give more of our time or resources simply for the sake of doing something extra, nor do we “give up” things just to feel the pinch of missing them.

Rather, we are letting go of ourselves, and our attachments, in an intentional way because we are working toward something, and Someone. We are striving to grow closer to the Lord by concretely repenting for our sins, and by participating in Jesus’ own self-denial.

One of the great figures of the 20th century Liturgical Movement, Pius Parsch, describes the true meaning of Lent:

…the mystery is re-enacted in each person’s heart: in your soul Christ is wrestling with the devil; or better, by the very fact that you are a member of the mystical Christ, you are involved in this fight….

Therefore we must re-live our Savior’s Passion in Lent…as disciples we must die with Christ in order to rise with Him as new men on Easter.

Parsch sees our supernatural life in God as the key to Lent:

I view Lent, indeed the whole Easter cycle, from the approach of a life filled with God. The Christmas cycle was dominated by the idea of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that was expected during Advent and established at Christmas and Epiphany. Dominating the Easter cycle, however, is the theme of supernatural life engendered, renewed, and perfected.

Fasting is a means toward the goal of a “more flourishing inner life” —

We must remember that we are members of Christ’s Body; by sin we defiled this Body, but now we will help to purify it.

Parsch emphasizes that our life in Christ is the whole point of our self-denial, or else it becomes meaningless:

The essential lesson contained in the Gospel discourse is that the fast should be a deep inward matter of the soul devoid of all selfishness or ulterior motivation….

Fasting of itself, therefore, is of no value; only when linked with the sacrifice of Jesus does it become useful and meritorious….

First we follow Him as the penitent par excellence into the desert of self-denial to fast with Him for forty days. Our fast will be spiritually fruitful if we keep it in unity with Him, if it is an extension of His fasting.


–The Church’s Year of Grace, Volume II



ABBOT PAUL TALKING TO THE COMMUNITY ABOUT LENT





           
Brethren, we’re already over a week into Lent and, as happens every year, the good resolutions I made on Shrove Tuesday are beginning to wear thin. I wonder what will be left by Easter? I have always enjoyed going to Confession on Shrove Tuesday: the idea of being shriven on that day still thrills me more than the thought of pancakes and I genuinely try to have a good “spring clean” in preparation for Lent. But, once Ash Wednesday is passed, it’s not long before things begin to fall apart again. And here we come to the fundamental lesson about Lent and it’s one that I have to learn anew every year. For Christians, and that means monks as well, conversion is not an option and penance is not a matter of personal choice. St Catherine of Siena beautifully reminded us this morning that, “Discernment and charity are engrafted together and planted in the soil of that true humility which is born of self-knowledge.” Lent is not going to work unless we allow God to call the shots, unless we begin to do his will, and that can only be discerned in the reality of true humility. Lent ultimately demands total surrender to God’s will.

            The Holy Rule reminds us that a monk’s life “ought to be a continuous Lent.” St Benedict, who knows monks through and through, says that, although “few of us have the strength for this,” nevertheless “during the days of Lent, the entire community should try to keep its manner of life most pure and wash away the negligences of other times.” How can we keep our manner of life most pure and wash away our negligences? St Benedict’s reply to that question is that we should “refuse to indulge in evil habits and devote ourselves to prayer and reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial.” We all know our evil habits, if not, just ask the monk sitting next to you! And we are self-indulgent, allowing ourselves to give in to temptation. Part of the cure is to pray more, not only by giving more time to prayer, but being more focussed on our prayer, that time we give purely to God. We probably spend more time than we should reading newspapers and magazines, watching television or zapping round the Internet. Have I chosen a Lenten book this year? Am I reading it and feeding on its content? Do I go to Confession often enough or am I careless and regularly procrastinate, when I need both absolution and the grace of the Sacrament? Then, how do I practise self-denial? We can trivialise this by limiting it to food and drink, a sort of one-lump-or-two mentality, whereas it really involves becoming less self-centred, less self-obsessed and certainly less critical or envious of others. St Benedict often refers to such behaviour as murmuring. If I could overcome murmuring this Lent, what a burden would be lifted, from me and from us all. I wonder if you feel the same as I do?

            Now, St Benedict invites us to “have something above the assigned measure to offer God of ones own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” That is certainly necessary and true: we can pray more and abstain more during Lent, and we can try to do it in the joy of the Holy Spirit, as a means of preparing for Easter. But a more genuine spirit of conversion comes about through the repentance that derives from the self-knowledge, which in turn leads to humility, and is God’s gift to us when we truly open our hearts to his grace. It’s the compunction of heart that St Benedict hopes will mark our observance of Lent. While being faithful to our own chosen penances is important, of even greater importance and of lasting value is the patient acceptance of whatever God allows us to suffer not just in Lent, but throughout our lives. I refer to the personal, often deep-rooted, quirks of character we have either inherited from our forebears or acquired in the course of life. Lent begins to make sense when we accept from God as his gift those areas and aspects of our lives that, at times if not always, seem so difficult for us to accept. And, of course, self-acceptance must lead us to accept others, with their foibles and idiosyncrasies, and so begin to love and respect them as brothers in Christ, the brothers that Christ himself has chosen for us to share our lives with as Benedictine monks and members of the same community. This is the good zeal of which St Benedict writes so eloquently in Chapter 72. “They should each try to be the first to show respect to each other (Rom 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body and behaviour, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another.”

            How can we do all this? Surely the Lord, and St Benedict too, is expecting too much of me, asking me to go way beyond my capabilities. Of course he is. Would God ask me to wallow in mediocrity? Surely he wants me to be holy as he himself is holy? In today’s Gospel, Jesus said to his disciples, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. If you, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him!” St Benedict encourages us in the Prologue, “Every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection.” We must trust that God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, but do I have the humility to allow God to help me? It’s the old problem of getting in God’s way when all he wants to do is help us. Surely by his Incarnation he has shown us most clearly that this is his will and desire, allowing himself to become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and that includes everything that would separate me from God and his loving purpose.

            Lord, help me to accept the gift of life, that you have given me, and the vocation, to which you have called me. Help me to embrace them fully and to embrace with your divine love all those who share my life as brothers. Let my Lenten penance be to say “Yes” to you with all my heart now and for ever. Amen.

            Brethren, we’re already over a week into Lent and, as happens every year, the good resolutions I made on Shrove Tuesday are beginning to wear thin. I wonder what will be left by Easter? I have always enjoyed going to Confession on Shrove Tuesday: the idea of being shriven on that day still thrills me more than the thought of pancakes and I genuinely try to have a good “spring clean” in preparation for Lent. But, once Ash Wednesday is passed, it’s not long before things begin to fall apart again. And here we come to the fundamental lesson about Lent and it’s one that I have to learn anew every year. For Christians, and that means monks as well, conversion is not an option and penance is not a matter of personal choice. St Catherine of Siena beautifully reminded us this morning that, “Discernment and charity are engrafted together and planted in the soil of that true humility which is born of self-knowledge.” Lent is not going to work unless we allow God to call the shots, unless we begin to do his will, and that can only be discerned in the reality of true humility. Lent ultimately demands total surrender to God’s will.

            The Holy Rule reminds us that a monk’s life “ought to be a continuous Lent.” St Benedict, who knows monks through and through, says that, although “few of us have the strength for this,” nevertheless “during the days of Lent, the entire community should try to keep its manner of life most pure and wash away the negligences of other times.” How can we keep our manner of life most pure and wash away our negligences? St Benedict’s reply to that question is that we should “refuse to indulge in evil habits and devote ourselves to prayer and reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial.” We all know our evil habits, if not, just ask the monk sitting next to you! And we are self-indulgent, allowing ourselves to give in to temptation. Part of the cure is to pray more, not only by giving more time to prayer, but being more focussed on our prayer, that time we give purely to God. We probably spend more time than we should reading newspapers and magazines, watching television or zapping round the Internet. Have I chosen a Lenten book this year? Am I reading it and feeding on its content? Do I go to Confession often enough or am I careless and regularly procrastinate, when I need both absolution and the grace of the Sacrament? Then, how do I practise self-denial? We can trivialise this by limiting it to food and drink, a sort of one-lump-or-two mentality, whereas it really involves becoming less self-centred, less self-obsessed and certainly less critical or envious of others. St Benedict often refers to such behaviour as murmuring. If I could overcome murmuring this Lent, what a burden would be lifted, from me and from us all. I wonder if you feel the same as I do?

            Now, St Benedict invites us to “have something above the assigned measure to offer God of ones own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” That is certainly necessary and true: we can pray more and abstain more during Lent, and we can try to do it in the joy of the Holy Spirit, as a means of preparing for Easter. But a more genuine spirit of conversion comes about through the repentance that derives from the self-knowledge, which in turn leads to humility, and is God’s gift to us when we truly open our hearts to his grace. It’s the compunction of heart that St Benedict hopes will mark our observance of Lent. While being faithful to our own chosen penances is important, of even greater importance and of lasting value is the patient acceptance of whatever God allows us to suffer not just in Lent, but throughout our lives. I refer to the personal, often deep-rooted, quirks of character we have either inherited from our forebears or acquired in the course of life. Lent begins to make sense when we accept from God as his gift those areas and aspects of our lives that, at times if not always, seem so difficult for us to accept. And, of course, self-acceptance must lead us to accept others, with their foibles and idiosyncrasies, and so begin to love and respect them as brothers in Christ, the brothers that Christ himself has chosen for us to share our lives with as Benedictine monks and members of the same community. This is the good zeal of which St Benedict writes so eloquently in Chapter 72. “They should each try to be the first to show respect to each other (Rom 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body and behaviour, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another.”

            How can we do all this? Surely the Lord, and St Benedict too, is expecting too much of me, asking me to go way beyond my capabilities. Of course he is. Would God ask me to wallow in mediocrity? Surely he wants me to be holy as he himself is holy? In today’s Gospel, Jesus said to his disciples, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. If you, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him!” St Benedict encourages us in the Prologue, “Every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection.” We must trust that God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, but do I have the humility to allow God to help me? It’s the old problem of getting in God’s way when all he wants to do is help us. Surely by his Incarnation he has shown us most clearly that this is his will and desire, allowing himself to become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and that includes everything that would separate me from God and his loving purpose.

            Lord, help me to accept the gift of life, that you have given me, and the vocation, to which you have called me. Help me to embrace them fully and to embrace with your divine love all those who share my life as brothers. Let my Lenten penance be to say “Yes” to you with all my heart now and for ever. Amen.
Bartholomew I’s Lenten message
by NAT da Polis

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople asks all the faithful to engage in conversion to God and love of brother. We are like "broken pots ... every day because of the evil." Rediscovering our "likeness to God" to turn away from the "horrible crimes that we see these days hit the entire world."


Istanbul (AsiaNews) - Today Lent begins according to Orthodox tradition, a period when, according to the mind of the great Fathers of the universal Church, man is called to ponder his future and reconfirm the eschatological sense of his life. 

The fasting that begins today and ends on the day of Our Lord's Resurection, does not mean a rejection of material life, but the submission of material needs in the process that leads the human existence to participate in the holiness of the Lord, as the message that the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew addressed the faithful suggests.

"This season - says Bartholomew - commences as a salvific preparation for the "great and most sacred Pascha of Christ." We are referring to Holy and Great Lent, which we must live "by offering prayer and seeking forgiveness," in order truly to taste Pascha "with all the saints," by becoming "saints," by confessing before God and people that we are "clay vessels" that are shattered on a daily basis by the evil one, always "falling and rising." That is to say, we must admit our human imperfection and failure, as well as our insignificance before God, by repenting and repeating day-in and day-out, at all times and in all places - even as we are made "holy" through baptism - that "one is holy, one is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father".

"Our Creator wants us to be in communion with Him - continues Bartholomew - in order to taste His grace, which is to participate in His sanctity. Communion with God is a life of repentance and holiness; whereas estrangement from God, or sin, is identified by the Church Fathers with "evil of the heart." Sin is not natural, but derives from evil choice".

Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch adds," is a quality that belongs to the Lord as "the one, who offers and is offered, who receives and is distributed." The celebrant of the Sacrament of the Divine Eucharist".

"Our Church which aspires exclusively and solely to our salvation, "rightfully proclaimed" one season as a period of special prayer and supplication in order to calm the passions of our soul and body ".

"Lent is a period of preparation and repentance as the voice of our conscience, which is internal and inexpressible, our personal judgment. When it finds us doing wrong, it protests vehemently inasmuch as "nothing in the world is more violent than our conscience".

"Thus - continues Bartholomew - each of us must be at peace with our conscience in order that "we may offer a mystical sacrifice in the fire of our conscience," surrendering our passions and offering them as an oblation of love toward our fellow human beings, just as the Lord gave Himself up "for the life and salvation of the world." Only then will forgiveness rise from the tomb for us as well; and only then shall we live in mutual respect and love, far from the horrific crimes that we witness plaguing the entire world today".

Finally, the Ecumenical Patriarch concludes his message with an appeal as the spiritual father of all our Orthodox faithful throughout the world, "Let us rather walk with God's grace in order to cleanse our conscience "with the good option" of repentance in the conviction that heaven and earth, as well as all "things visible and invisible" will ultimately emanate the light of our Lord's resurrection"

Archbishop Demetrios: Lent Is Not a Journey of Despair

Holy and Great Lent
Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance….
Matthew 3:8                                    
To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In the hymns and services of the Triodion period and at the entrance of this holy season of Great Lent, we are called to repentance.  We are invited to come before God in the humility of the Publican.  We are beckoned to return to His dwelling and His compassionate embrace as the Prodigal Son.  We are confronted with the causes of our separation from God and our need for His great mercy.  It is truly a time of repentance as we prepare to commemorate and contemplate all that has been done for us through Christ our Lord.
This solemn and reflective journey is not one of despair.  This is not a time of inconsolable grief or of deep anguish and anxiety.  Holy and Great Lent is a time of spiritual renewal in which repentance finds forgiveness and grace, engenders hope, strengthens our faith and leads us to abundant and eternal life.
First, we know through the Gospel that genuine repentance receives forgiveness and grace.  The sincerity of the Publican expressed in his cry, God, be merciful to me a sinner, was recognized by God, and his sins were forgiven (Luke 18:13).  John the Baptist preached, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, calling people to prepare to receive the One who was coming in grace and truth (Matthew 3:2).  The Cross of our Lord is before us, offering by the grace of God a way to salvation through repentance.
Second, repentance nurtures hope.  As the power of God’s grace transforms us, as we see the blessedness of life restored to communion with Him, we experience the joy of hope.  For the Prodigal Son it was the journey to return to the house of his father, hoping that something better awaited.  At the beginning of this holy season our repentance leads us on the path of hope, knowing that hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts (Romans 5:5).
Third, as through repentance we receive forgiveness and grace and our hearts are filled with hope, our faith is strengthened.  As we prepare to celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promise to defeat death, restore us to life, and lead us to the Resurrection, our faith in Him grows.
Finally, in this sacred time of prayer and reflection, our repentance leads us to salvation.  Through repentance our eyes are opened, we turn from darkness to light so that we may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Christ (Acts 26:18).  Through the revelation of the absolute truth by Christ and His Cross and Resurrection, we know where our repentance leads, and we know that ultimately we enter the ineffable realm of a saved life with the perspective of eternity.
At the beginning of the Great Fast and Holy Lent, let us contemplate the power of repentance and take this opportunity to examine our hearts and minds.  Let us pray in humility seeking the forgiveness and grace of God, returning to communion with Him.  Let us find renewed hope in the light, peace, and joy that comes from our Crucified and Risen Lord.
With paternal love in Christ,
†DEMETRIOS
Archbishop of America


Get Real for Lent
by Fr. Stephen Freeman (Orthodox)
my source: Glory to God for All Things

According to St. Basil, God is the “only truly Existing.” Our own existence is a gift from God who is our Creator. None of us has “self-existing” life. We exist because God sustains us in existence – in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

Sin is the rejection of this gift of God – a movement away from true existence.
Much of our attention in the modern world is engaged seemingly with things that have no “true existence.” We engage with illusions, with digital constructs. Our economy allows us to escape the normal necessities such as seasonal scarcity or other mundane concerns. We are increasingly removed from the very environment in which we naturally live.

It is said that astronauts, after spending a prolonged time in space, have lingering effects of zero-gravity. Our bodies are made for gravity and require its constant pull for everything from muscle tone to bone density. But we now live in situations in which many forms of natural “gravity” have been reduced or removed. What effect does the long-term ability to have almost any food at any time of year have on the human body? As someone who has spent the better part of my life at a desk, I can attest to the effect of a sedentary existence. My lower back, my range of motion, the flexibility of my joints are all consistent with the modern white-collar worker.

What effect do such things have on the soul? For the soul requires “gravity” as well. Plato stated in his Republic, that all children should learn to play a musical instrument because music was required for the right development of the soul. We give far too little thought to such things, assuming that no matter what environment we live in, our inherent freedom of choice remains unscathed and we can always decide to do something different, or be something different.

I could decide to run a marathon tomorrow, but I know that the first quarter-mile would leave me gasping for breath and exhausted. You cannot go from 40 years at a desk to the demands of a marathon – just because you choose to do so.

And so we come to Great Lent.

Some see this season of the year as a spiritual marathon. They rise from their sedentary spiritual lives, set off in a sprint and fail before the first week is out. The failure comes in anger, self-recrimination, even despondency.

The first year that I “chose” to fast in the Orthodox manner (it was 4 years before I was received into the Church), the priest I discussed the fast with said, “You can’t keep the fast.” I argued with him until I realized his wisdom.

“Do something easier,” he told me. “Just give up red meat.”

“What about chicken?” I asked.

“Nope. Eat chicken. Eat everything except beef and pork. And pray a little more.”

And so I returned to my Anglican life, a little disappointed that my zeal had made such a poor impression. But my family accepted the proposal and we ate no red meat for Lent. It was, in hindsight, the best Lent my family had ever had. No longer were we musing over “what to give up for Lent,” and instead accepted a discipline that was given to us.

In subsequent years that same priest (who is now my godfather) increased the discipline. And we were ready for it. It is interesting to me, however, that my first experience of an Orthodox fast was being told not to be so strict. The “strict” part was learning to do what I was told. That is sometimes the most difficult fast of all.

Lent is a time to “get real.” Not eating some things is actually normal. In our modern world we have to embrace a natural “gravity” that we could easily leave behind – at least, we have to do this if we want to avoid an atrophy of the soul.

In 2000, the average American ate 180 pounds of meat a year (and 15 pounds of fish and shellfish). That was roughly a third more than in 1959. Scarcity is not an issue in our diet. Our abundance is simply “not real,” and the environment frequently shows the marks of the artificial nature of our food supply. But we have no way of studying what is going on with our souls. What I know to be true is that – as goes the body – so goes the soul. Those who engage the world as consumer are being consumed by the world to an equal measure.

And so we get real.


Getting real means accepting limits and boundaries. Our culture is a bubble of make-believe. It rests on an economy of over-consumption. The crash of 2008 came close to a much greater disaster and could have easily gone into free-fall. Many fail to understand just how fragile our lives truly are. In the season of Lent (and on all the fasting days of the year) we embrace the fragility of our lives. We allow the world to say “no” and take on extra burdens and duties. It is worth keeping in mind that such things do not make us spiritual heroes, first they have to make us human.

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Sundays of Lent by Fr Alexandr Schmemann

my source: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archidiocese
The Following is an excerpt from Great Lent, by Alexander Schmemann
From Chapter 4: The Lenten Journey

Each Sunday in Lent has two themes, two meanings. On the one hand, each belongs to a sequencein which the rhythm and spiritual "dialectics" of Lent are revealed. On the other hand, in the course of the Church's historical development almost each lenten Sunday has acquired a second theme. Thus on the first Sunday the Church celebrates the "Triumph of Orthodoxy"-- commemorating the victory over Iconoclasm and the restoration of the veneration of icons in Constantinople in 843. The connection of this celebration with Lent is purely historical: the first "triumph of Orthodoxy" took place on this particular Sunday. The same is true of the commemoration on the second Sunday of Lent of St. Gregory Palamas. The condemnation of his enemies and the vindication of his teachings by the Church in the 14th Century was acclaimed as a second triumph of Orthodoxy and for this reason its annual celebration was prescribed for the second Sunday of Lent. Meaningful and important as they are in themselves, these commemorations are independent from Lent as such and we can leave them outside the scope of this essay....

As to the first and essential theme of lenten Sundays, it also is primarily revealed in the scriptural lessons. To understand their sequence, we must once more remember the original connection between Lent and Baptism-- Lent's meaning as preparation for Baptism. These lessons are therefore an integral part of the early Christian catechesis; they explain and summarize the preparation of the catachumen for the Paschal mystery of Baptism. Baptism is the entrance into the new life inaugurated by Christ. To the catachumen, this new life is as yet only announced and promised, and he accepts it by faith. He is like one of the men of the Old Testament who lived by their faith in a promise whose fulfillment they did not see.

This is the theme of the first Sunday. After having mentioned the righteous men of the Old Testament, the Epistle (Heb. 11:24-26; 32-40; 12-2) concludes:

...and these all, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised since God has foreseen something better for us.

What is it? The answer is given in the Gospel lesson of the first Sunday (John 1:43-51):

...you shall see greater things than these... truly, truly I say unto you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

This means: you catachumens, you who believe in Christ, you who want to be baptized, who are preparing yourselves for Pascha-- you shall see the inauguration of the new age, the fulfillment of all promises, the manifestation of the Kingdom. But you shall see it only if you believe and repent, if you change your mind, if you have the desire, if you accept the effort.

Of this we are reminded in the lesson of the second Sunday (Heb. 1:10-2:3):

...therefore, we must pay close attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it... How shall we escape if we neglect such salvation?

In the Gospel lesson of the second Sunday (Mark 2:1-12) the image of this effort and desire is the paralytic who was brought to Christ through the roof:

...and when Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic: 'My son, your sins are forgive..'

On the third Sunday-- "Sunday of the Cross"-- the theme of the Cross makes its appearance, and we are told (Mark 8:34-9:1):

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

From this Sunday on, the lessons from the Epistle to the Hebrews begin to reveal to us the meaning of Christ's sacrifice by which we are given access "into the inner shrine behind the curtain," i.e., into the holy of holies of God's Kingdom (cf. Third Sunday, Heb. 4:14-5:6; Fourth Sunday, Heb. 6:13-20; and Fifth Sunday, Heb. 9:11-14), while the lessons from the Gospel of St. Mark announce the voluntary Passion of Christ:

...the Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men and the will kill Him....
(Mark 9:17-31)-- Fourth Sunday

and His Resurrection:

...and the third day He shall rise again. 
(Mark 10:32-45)-- Fifth Sunday

The catechesis, the preparation for the great mystery, is drawing to its end, the decisive hour of man's entrance into Christ's Death and Resurrection is approaching.


Today Lent s no longer the preparation of the catachumen for Baptism, but although baptized and confirmed, are we not in a sense still "catachumens"? Or rather, are we not to return to this state every year? Do we not fall away again and again from the great mystery of which we have been made participants? Do we not need in our life-- which is one permanent alienation from Christ and His Kingdom-- this annual journey back to the very roots of our Christian faith?
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