Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Monday, May 22, 2017

What Made Rita of Cascia a Saint?


Today May 22, we remember Saint Rita; a great saint born in 1381, faithful wife, tender mother, and the one we ask her assistance and prayers for impossible cases. May the Lord bestow his healing on so many sick people both physically and spiritually through her intercession, and may He bless all especially those that carry her name.
The question what made Rita a saint is quite asked today since many young adults are without jobs in their careers or even in their interest, which could lead them to disappointment, failure and possibly suicide. Sick people are hardly able to find good care whether in medical clinics or in hospitals. The media talk mostly about bad news and bad relations even though the Internet should have brought more people together. On the social level, the family is under attack especially in the advanced West with sexual promiscuity, legalized abortion, and legal recognition of same-sex marriage created by radical feminism , Economically the poor are getting poorer while the very few rich are getting much richer. This is the reverse of how Rita as a person lived.
Since early age Rita dreamed of becoming a religious nun, but her parents got her married to a man who subsequently became notoriously violent and unfaithful. She accepted her parent's decision, endured her husband's insults and infidelity, and prayed for her husband to change his way of life bringing him at the end to repentance. With the above, she was able to raise her two twin kids in a Christian atmosphere. Her husband was dealing with a sort of mafia when he was murdered in a vendetta. Rita publicly forgave his murderers but her sons wanted to avenge the brutal murder of their father. As she prayed for them, they both died of dysentery a natural death a year later before they could accomplish their vengeful act.
After the death of her husband and children, Rita desired to join the monastery of St.Mary Magdalene in Cascia but fearful of being associated with Rita due to the scandal of her husband's violent death, the nuns refused unless she could obtain a reconciliation between the hostile parties in Cascia. With prayers Rita was able to resolve the conflicts between the families and at the age of thirty-six was allowed to enter the convent where she excelled at living the Augustinian Rule of care. She was seen levitating while in prayer as she asked Christ to give her a share in his passions. So close to Christ was this woman that her request was answered as thorn on her forehead. She died from tuberculosis on May 22, 1457. Miracles attributed to her intercession caused her beatification by Pope Urban VIII in 1626. She was canonized by Pope Leo III on 24, 1900. on the 100th anniversary of her canonization in 2000, St. John Paul II noted her remarkable qualities as a Christian woman. "Rita interpreted well the 'feminine genius' by living it intensely in both physical and spiritual motherhood" said the holy Pope.
St. Rita has acquired the universal reputation, together with St. Jude,  as a saint of impossible cases. Her body remains incorrupt and is preserved intact in a shrine in Cascia. How much we really need her today. She carried the cross and followed Christ. Can we imitate her?


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Lessons from Pope Francis

Since Pope Francis last week made major pronouncements, an article about lessons that one can learn from him would be too large to fit in this space. We will therefore discuss only a few lessons this time and leave others to another time shortly.

Pope Francis is the first Jesuit Pope. His many years of experience do not necessarily prevent critiques from voicing their objections to some of his policies. But we can be sure that he follows the dictum of the first Jesuit, St. Ignatius Loyola, "Finding God in everything!"

Lesson One:

In his TED Talk, titled "The Future You"and released April 25 only three days before his visit to Egypt, the Holy Father uncovers a number of facts that he wishes his listeners would realize. I had sent it with a transcript to my readers, but you may still wish to listen to the address here:
https://www.ted.com/talks/pope_francis_why_the_only_future_worth_building_includes_everyone OR read the transcript here:
https://www.ted.com/talks/pope_francis_why_the_only_future_worth_building_includes_everyone/transcript?language=en#t-1060153

Remarkable statements by the pope:
1. "The future is made of encounters...Life is about interactions...We all need each other...None of us is an island, an autonomous and independent 'I' separated from the other, and we can only build the future by standing together including everyone."*
2. "Even science points to an understanding of reality as a place where every element connects and interacts with everything else."**
3. "How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us! How wonderful would it be if solidarity were not simply reduced to social work and became, instead, the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples, and countries. Only by educating people to a true solidarity will we be able to overcome the 'culture of waste,' which does not concern only food and goods, but first and foremost, the people who are cast aside by our techno-economic systems which, without even realizing it, are now putting products at their core, instead of people."
4. "Good intentions and conventional formulas, so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough. Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face. The 'you' is always a real presence, a person to take care of."
5. Remembering the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37), Pope Francis follows the Master, Christ, in answering the lawyer's question: Who is my neighbor? "The story of the Good Samaritan is the story of today's humanity" Francis says. "People's paths are riddled with suffering, as everything is centered around money and things instead of people."He believes that there is "a habit by people who call themselves 'respectable' of not taking care of the others thus leaving behind thousands of people...on the side of the road" but there are those who are taking care of the other even out of their own pocket ...Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta actually said 'One cannot love unless it is at their own expense'. "Now you might tell me 'I am not the Good Samaritan nor Mother Teresa of Calcutta'. On the contrary we are precious...Each and everyone of us is irreplaceable in the eyes of God. Through the darkness of today's conflicts, each and everyone of us can become a bright candle, a reminder that light will overcome darkness and never the other way around."***
6. He leaves his "bomb" to the end "The more powerful you are the more your actions will impact people, and the more responsible you are to act humbly - Power (for oneself) is like drinking on an empty stomach - you are too drunk, you feel dizzy, you lose your balance and you end up hurting yourself and those around you if you do not connect your power with humility and tenderness. Through humility and concrete love, on the other hand, power - the highest and strongest one - becomes a service, a force for good."

Notes:
* Relatedness and love lead to the resurrection  - This is what the sharply-brilliant Professor Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) wrote in his book "Introduction to Christianity" (see http://todayquestions.blogspot.ca/2012/04/joseph-ratzinger-truth-of-resurrection.html). But as I wrote in my essay titled "Quantum Synthesis" the cosmos and all its matter (including humans) influence, or are related to, each other. It is the result of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle based on probable existence in quantum space. Furthermore Dr. John Polkinghorne, whose work is mentioned in the same essay, concludes that quantum theory shows that "the physical world looks more and more like a universe that would be the fitting creation of the trinitarian God whose deepest reality is relational." Cf. Polkinghorne, J. "Quantum Physics and Theology; An Unexpected Kinship", 2008, Published by Yale University (see http://todayquestions.blogspot.ca/2013/10/the-quantum-sign-of-life.html).

Why would Pope Francis care about the above? Obviously the pope hopes that technology can be used to get people together, pray together, and chat in good manners. One space where computers can be useful is education. Computers are already helping students in select schools to solve their homework problems without cheating or being overburden with requirements. A particular focus is on assisting Christians and non-Christians in religious education especially where religion is used to contaminate society with hatred for others, where Christians are persecuted in their own countries, or where they have been the original inhabitants (e.g. some Islamic countries in the Middle East).

Quantum computers under development by Google and NASA have been demonstrated in 2015 (see http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/gadgets/a18475/google-nasa-d-wave-quantum-computer/). In November 2015, a TED Talk given by Professor Leo Kouwenhoven at the University of Delft in Holland shows quite a few good applications in which the quantum computer can be used to help the needs of today's society - It is obvious that nature uses the same natural processes in human bodies (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUuaWVHhx-U). Motivated by profits, big companies such as IBM and Microsoft are competing with the above companies with the result of hopefully getting an earlier supercomputer. The question then becomes a matter of pricing and market demand since we live in a capitalist global economy.

** Pope Francis invites us to learn by imitating those who take care of others like the children who imitate their parents. The first eyes the infant sees are his mother's caring eyes. The infant is nourished from her breast. The infant grows in love of his mom and his dad because they loved him first. This is a psychological insight by the Holy Father that permits us to see how the human race lives. Love begets life. God also promises life "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will never forget you" (Isaiah 49: 15). But more than the above insight, he makes it clear that proper communication for life requires "tenderness" that the parent goes down to the level of the child to understand what he needs and fulfill his needs. In the same way God came down in Jesus to our human level in order to fulfill our needs - eternal needs of joy and life. Imitation or mimesis has been rediscovered by René Girard. When he passed away, the popular Bishop Prof. Robert Barron wrote about Girard's influence on understanding Christ's death and resurrection today. See "René Girard, Church Father" here: https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/ren-girard-church-father/4982/ 

*** Love requires sacrifice as Christ sacrificed himself for the salvation of the world. The Pope gives a number of examples including Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the Parable of the Good Samaritan. He also shows the grain of yeast that dies in the ground to become a tree - In the same way it was necessary for Christ to die in order to restore humanity to the Father through the Church. 

Lesson Two:

One of Pope Francis' last messages in Cairo was given in the Mass that he concelebrated with the Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak in the Air-Defense Stadium in Cairo.
The full text of Pope Francis' homily, heard by Christians and Muslims in Egypt, and sent to the media across the world can be found here https://zenit.org/articles/popes-homily-at-air-defense-stadium-in-cairo-egypt-full-text/
What True Faith has the Power to do: Nothing is impossible for God!

Based on the Gospel reading (Luke 24: 13-35), two of Jesus' disciples were going to Emmaus and were conversing about Jesus. Jesus was walking besides them but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. Seeing them in a state of despair, Jesus asked why? They answered that Jesus of Nazareth who "was a prophet mighty in deed and word" was crucified to death by their chief priests and rulers - but they "were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this it is now the third day since it took place".Some women of the group, however, astounded them that they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body."  Jesus replied "Oh, how foolish you are!... Was not it necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter in his glory." So, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures. As the day was almost over, they invited him to stay with them.When he said the blessings, broke the bread, and gave it to them their eyes were opened and they recognized him but he vanished from their sight! It was a surprise which prompted them to quickly return to Jerusalem where they found the eleven saying the Lord has truly risen and has appeared to Simon...

Remarkable statements by the pope:
1. "The two disciples are returning full of despair ...The Master is dead and thus it is pointless to hope...The cross of Christ was the cross of their own ideas about God; the death of Christ was the death of what they thought God to be. But in fact it was they who were dead buried in the tomb of their limited understanding."*
2. "Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power."**
3. "The Church needs to know and believe that Jesus lives within her and gives her life in the Eucharist, the scriptures, and the sacraments. The disciples on the way to Emmaus realized this and returned to Jerusalem in order to share their experience with the others. 'We have seen the Risen One...Yes, he is truly risen!' (Luke 24: 32)"***

Notes
* Fr. Prof. Georges Farah commented on the tomb or rock in which Christ was buried. He called it "the cave of Plato" in the Greek philosopher's Republic. The inmate of the cave is imprisoned and is blind because he cannot see. According to Fr. Farah, we too are imprisoned in our own darkness and fantasies but Christ rose to give life to those who believe and act on their faith.

** Here Pope Francis probably refers to ideologies that do not recognize God's suffering love. The power of God is love.

*** Here Pope Francis boldly tells his listeners that the Church continues to be nourished by the Eucharist as a sign of full unity in Christ. The celebration of the Eucharist is a joy because of the Real Presence of Christ.

Coptic Christians teach us lessons marked by their martyrs blood over many centuries - The Church in Egypt was founded by St. Mark and one of the strongest defenders of faith was St. Athanasius whom the Church remembers on May 2 (see an article by Archbishop Charles Chaput in "First Things" here: https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2017/05/the-land-of-athanasius-and-its-lessons).

Finally:
What courage does this pope have! What astronomical hopes take him to places everywhere! How is he able to attract such crowds! Did he really attract the outcast and marginalized to the Church or did he go them? A question that can be answered only by history.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Hero Saint George

Saint George is a great hero whose feast "St. George's Day" is April 23. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Saints, George suffered at Lydda in Palestine and died a martyr for Christ around 303 AD where his tomb was shown. Some historians believe that George was born to a Christian officer who was a friend of Diocletian the Roman Emperor. When Diocletian turned against Christians and started his persecution, George was one of the Christian soldiers who refused to worship the Roman god but because of his father's friendship with Diocletian, George was given a second chance to convert to the Pagan Roman religion. As George insisted on worshiping Christ, he was decapitated, suffered, and ended a martyr. St. George's cult is both ancient and widespread with feasts in the East where he was called 'megalomartyros' and in the West where he occurs in the Martyrology of Jerome and the Gregorian Sacramentary. Churches were dedicated to him in Jerusalem and Antioch in the 6th century and from early times invoked as a patron of the Byzantine armies. Britannica Encyclopedia, which is not religious, has an article about St. George where it is written "George was known in England by at least the 8th century. Returning crusades likely popularized his cult (he was said to have been helping the Franks at the Battle of Antioch in 1098)" [Cf. George, Saint. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved April 21, 2017, from Encyclopaedia Britannica 2006 Ultimate]. Other online sources abound with information about Saint George. Read it for example here. In Renaissance, artistic works flourished around building and renovating churches - One legend shows St. George, a knight on his white horse, defending the Church against Satan.The popularity of St. George continues to amaze people of every faith. Muslims venerate him under the name Al-Khidr. Churches, States and cities have been named after him in many places from the Republic of Georgia in the East to the State of Georgia in America. St. George is highly venerated in Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Greece, Italy, France, England, and others. In Egypt alone, there are more Churches dedicated to St. George than any other saint except the Blessed Virgin Mary. In a few of old churches such as "Mar Guirguis" Coptic Orthodox Church in Old Cairo, people attend a retreat on St. George's Day where it is believed that St. George comes at night and heals persons afflicted with Satanic possessions.

For me, St. George's intercession sought by my mother - of venerable memory - is, at least partially, the reason why she conceived, and gave birth to, me. Our grandmother, my mother's mother, told us the story: My mother was having her first pregnancy. Scared that it was hard she implored Saint George and made a vow that her first son will be called George. On the other hand my pious dad - of venerable memory - so much loved his mother and father that he wanted to name his first son by the name of his dad 'Shaker'. God, in his abundant love to both, created two persons or a twin in the same womb. But wait! On delivery my mother was so tired that my dad had to call the doctors home. At home Dr. Zakhary performed a cesarean surgery and started to close the womb. This is when his assistant Dr. Leon told him that he sees somebody else in the corner. At this point I was delivered to my beloved mom. And from there started another big responsibility for the parents of both Shaker and George who called me joujou - the nickname in Lebanon for George!

Today some young friends joke with me so I tell them: You must first call me joujou!!!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ibrahim El-Haddad: Light from the Depth of Death !

Note: Words in blue color are useful links for background.

I have accumulated so much in the past week of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ...On Holy Thursday at Holy Rosary Roman Catholic parish in Toronto, Msgr. Robert Nusca, gave a homily on Christ's serving his Apostles, washing their feet, and exhorting them to serve each other as he, the Master, bowed to serve them - because "he loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end" (John 13;1). Msgr. Nusca emphasized how important it is for us today to serve the needy and pointed to the programs that the parish runs including "Out of the Cold" and helping St. Vincent de Paul Society as well as other social programs for the lonely and elderly people.

On Good Friday at the Byzantine Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Toronto, I prayed with the Melkite Catholic parishioners of Jesus the King and others as the distinguished  Homsy Choir sang the hymns of the burial of the Crucified Jesus Christ in anticipation of his Resurrection, Echoing earlier words of the Holy Father Francis, Fr. Ibrahim El-Haddad reminded the congregation of Jesus' saying (John 12: 24) that if a grain of wheat dies in the depth of the earth, it produces much fruit. The death of Jesus was necessary to release the Church to all nations and restore heaven to all of them. The victorious Christ is the light from the darkness that enlightens all nations...

Fr. Georges Farah (with a doctorate in philosophy and another in theology from the renowned Sorbonne) shared with me an article by Robert Kennedy Jr. in which he shows that the leading nations of the U.N. and regional powers are fighting against or with ISIS for control of oil resources and pipelines in the Middle East (see it here). If every one of the above nations fights militarily for its own prosperity at the expense of other people, there will be a huge price paid by humanity. And I remembered the homily of Palm Sunday by Msgr. Samuel Bianco (here). The leaders of the U.N. may be hiding things or manipulating other nations. The independence of each nation is good as long as it does not infringe on other nations rights to survive and flourish. But the latest news that we hear involve military confrontations and/or economic sanctions from/against America, Russia, China, European countries, and North Korea...The human globe continues to live in suspense...

In spite of the above,  I remembered that the Gospel reading started with the Word "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1: 1). Professor Msgr. Paul Feghali interpreted it as the cornerstone of Christian  faith. It is great that the Fathers of the Church chose it for the Resurrection since this elevates it to the highest veneration.

And two homilies give me hope: In the mid-night Mass of Easter at the Cathedral of the Transfiguration, Fr. Ibrahim El-Haddad showed us that true joy is not in the food and gifts that we prepare for feasting, but is in the risen Christ who brings us eternal life in heaven. What is the value of freedom if at the end we are dead? he questioned. And answered "When Christ is revealed - and he is your life - you too will be revealed in your glory with him" (Colossians 3:4) and again "For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from, heaven comes the Saviour we are awaiting for; the Lord Jesus Christ; and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body" (Philippians3:20-21).

And in Alexandria, Egypt, the Jesuit scholar Fr. Henri Boulad went further in his homily on Easter Sunday (see it here in French). Each of us creatures has life but Jesus IS LIFE - Life of everything living in the cosmos since he is the origin. Then when he died and crossed death he resurrected to eternal life! What do I benefit from his Resurrection? Christ opens eternal life to us. He had to die like the little grain that dies deep in the ground to be fruitful in order to open life for those who seek it. The word "Pasche" means "passage". God saved Moses and his people when they crossed the Red Sea symbol of death to the Promised Land. Jesus saves us when he leads us to eternal life. Christ has risen from the dead and by his death he has trampled upon death and has given life to those who were in the tombs (Byzantine chant)! In Teilhard de Chardin, the risen Christ is the Cosmic Christ. The whole cosmos is restored to the Father in the risen Christ. Christ is victorious because love - his love - must be victorious!

And above all, the Christian East and the Christian West celebrated the Resurrection of Christ together in 2017. We hope this is a new step in the ecumenical dialogue for Christians to be one in one universal Church!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

How Large is the Mercy of God ?

On Palm Sunday April 9, at the 9:30 am Mass in Holy Rosary I listened to Msgr. Samuel Bianco's homily on the betrayal of Christ by Judas Iscariot - (Msgr. Bianco was the Rector of St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica downtown Toronto for many years).  In the Roman Catholic calendar, the Last Supper and Judas' betrayal to the crucifixion of Christ are read in the Palm Sunday Mass. See Matthew 26:14-75 (http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/bible/matthew/26:14).

Who betrayed the Lord ? In Msgr. Bianco's homily, humanity betrayed the Lord throughout history from Adam and Eve to the latest born child. Yet, God in his outpouring love, a Father, could not leave humans excluded from him in the darkness of evil. Was it not enough that the Lord God took on human body, shared the misery of humanity and was after all crucified by his people as a criminal in order to save us ? The betrayal of the Lord took place in the same day of Palm Sunday when two Coptic Orthodox parishes in Egypt were set on fire by evil acts  which resulted in over a 100 injured persons and some 40 persons killed. They were Christians celebrating Palm Sunday Mass in the parishes.

Today, Msgr. Bianco said, leaders of members in the United Nations know what evil betrays the men of their countries. Yet they are silent or encouraging radical extremism. Confusion reigns over citizens of the globe. Lethal weapons are being developed with no mercy for the poor who are struggling to earn their daily bread...How did society become a desert of selfish strangers? In spite of all the horrors where we betray God, he continues to love his children - all of them.

Msgr. Bianco continues: When Pope Benedict was asked how we know sinners are in hell, the pope answered that the Church in her long history has recognized thousands of saints in heaven but has not officially declared anyone in hell. God only knows our fragile weakness.

In commenting on the Parable of the Lost Son, Fr. Georges Farah had said that the father was looking for his son since he left home to a far country. When he saw his son, he ran in his old age and forgot his dignity to kiss him "for he was lost and has been found"(Luke 15:32). Jesus teaches us about the merciful Father in heaven.

So how large is the mercy of God? Msgr. Bianco says "Look at the horizon of the sea. Can you can see the end ? The mercy of God is greater than we can imagine."

Today's Quote

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







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