Tuesday, August 14, 2018


I have never liked pews and I have made no secret of my dislike. There have always seemed to me to be out of place in an Orthodox church. Originally, the main reason was the tendency to use the pews to relax, watch a show with the priest as the main character and the altar servers and chanters/choir as a supporting cast.

Then, there is the issue of prostrations. There is something unwieldy about having to slide out of the pews in order to make a prostration. If the church is small and the service fairly well attended, the available space around the pews becomes an issue and a prostration, an exercise in body control not to bump the person next to you. At times, people get discouraged and not even try.

 I still consider those valid reason - perhaps primarily so, but recently another reason has been coming up in my mind: rigidity.

Pews impose a rigidity on the congregation that seems artificial. People go to a place and remain there for the whole service. By virtue of being human and simply needing to move your feet even a little bit, a lack of pews will will create some random movement. You don't finish the service in quite the same place you began.

This hits home for me as a parent of small children. In the context of normal human motion, the motion of children within the service is not an anomaly. Yes, it may happen on a different scale than the motion of adults, but it is part of a continuum. However, if the standard is the artificially imposed rigidity of pews, then any motion begins to seem out of place and children can begin to seem out of place - perhaps not even consciously. To me, that stinks. Pee-ew.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee 2018 (adult)

Luke 18:10-14

Once upon a time, some time around the beginning of Lent, two Orthodox Christians were going to church. Since it was the beginning of Lent, their priest had mentioned at some point in the past weeks about the sacrament of confession. As they were going to church, one of them thought, "God, I thank you that I have not killed anybody; I have not stolen, I give some money to the church; I don't really need to go to the sacrament of confession," while the other prayed:

Lord Jesus Christ, my God, loose, remit, forgive, absolve, and pardon the sins, offenses, and transgressions, which I, a sinful, useless, and unworthy servant have committed from my youth up to this present day and hour, whether in knowledge or in ignorance, whether by word or in deed, whether in my intentions or in my thoughts, whether by habit or through any of my senses.

In case you're wondering, that last fragment is from one of the prayers from the service of preparation for holy Communion prayed by St. John Chrysostom. It feels strange to think that a saint, one of the great saints of our Church, who is commemorated a couple of times during the year, and then in a couple of days, with St. Basil and St. Gregory, as one of the Three Hierarchs—what a strange thing that that he read, St. John Chrysostom, this morning's gospel, and he looked at the Publican and he took that to heart, that he really looked into his heart to see what is there. He didn't look at those around him; that's not the measuring-stick. It wasn't for St. John Chrysostom, and it is not for us. Our measuring-stick is to be holy as God is holy, as we are reminded in both the Old and the New Testaments.

Okay, we may say this prayer was St. John's, and maybe he had done something that we don't know about that he really needed to repent of. But the Church this morning in Orthros, and starting today and going through Lent sets before us and sings in Orthros and, if I may make a small parenthesis, in the prayers that we are looking at in our religious education series—we looked at the prayers in Orthros—and one of the prayers says, "Grant us to chant with understanding." So not just to say the words and say them beautifully, but to understand what we are saying and to apply it to our lives and let them come into our hearts.

When I ponder in my wretchedness upon the many terrible things that I have done, I tremble for that fearful day, the Day of Judgment. But trusting in the mercy of Your compassion, like David I cry to You, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your great mercy."

It is typical to read these and apply them to ourselves, to think that they should apply to us. We don't live in a world that is particularly focused on self-reflection, and I think most of us know that we have a certain part of ourselves that isn't quite what God would like us to be, what He calls us to be. It is uncomfortable to sit and think about that and admit that to ourselves and—well, I was going to say, "God forbid," but that sounds strange—God forbid we have to say it in front of the priest!?

It can be difficult, but when Christ said that the kingdom of God is taken by violence, He doesn't mean physical violence. It means that trouble that we have to take up with our own selves, to look for God's illumination so we can see ourselves as we are, and we take up this work of repentance. Again, it's not about "Well, I'm better than him, I'm not as bad as people a couple of steps away from here at the jail or the people who have to go into drug rehab programs" or whatever other comparisons we come up with. That's not our measuring stick. We are called to be holy as God is holy, and that takes some discomfort. It takes reading this prayer of St. John Chrysostom’s before God in preparation for holy Communion. It takes reading or singing through these hymns that are placed before us in the Triodion, in the lenten period, and saying, "You know, these do apply to me, because I may not have murdered and I may not have stolen, but this, that, or the other thing are in my heart. I've been angry, I've gossiped"—who knows. We know that we're not quite holy as God is holy.

The period of Lent is a period of work, of hard spiritual work. So let us look at these prayers. If you'd like a copy of the preparation of holy Communion, let me know. They are part of the prayers we've been looking at in our educational series, and I can print a copy for you. If you're able to, come to Orthros or to Vespers and see and hear the things that we chant, on the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee or on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, because the hymns, many of them, are written in the first person, and they're written so that they bring us to repentance, so that we have the opportunity to throw away all the things that have accumulated in our souls and be resplendent with the light and brightness of God, the likeness in which we have been created.

May God guide us there, to be able to stand before an icon of Christ, taking time on our own, meditating on those things that we have fallen short of the glory of God and ask God for forgiveness and guidance, that we may draw near to Him and that we may fulfill the calling of becoming saints. May God grant us the strength, the wisdom, the grace, the patience, the courage to do this, and may we do it so that we may have true joy and peace in our hearts and, with that joy and peace, lift up our voices in thanksgiving and glorification to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.


Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee 2018 (children)

2 Timothy 3:10-15

These letters from St. Paul to St. Timothy sure are something, aren't they? They say so much. They show the care that St. Paul has for this young man who learned the faith that he learned from St. Paul when he used to learn from St. Paul. There are two things that strike me in this morning's reading that I wanted to talk to you about a little bit.

The first one is that St. Paul reminds St. Timothy that he has endured struggles. He tells him about several instances where bad things—if I can call them that—happened to him. He says: You know what happened to me at Lystra, at Iconium. We know that St. Paul was imprisoned, and we know that he ended up dying a martyr's death. But St. Paul also said that from all those things God delivered him; He gave him strength. Eventually God gave St. Paul strength to face his martyrdom.

So the first thing that we need to keep in mind is that our lives are not always going to be easy. Just because they led to difficulties does not mean that God has left us. God is there with us in those difficulties, just as He was there with St. Paul, as He has been with all those who have suffered. God, as St. Paul says in another letter, because He has suffered and tempted, He is able to help those who are suffering and being tempted. The Son of God in His incarnation, has suffered. In this, He has not abandoned those who are faithful to Him, but He is there with them in their suffering. So just because we encounter difficulties does not mean that God has abandoned us. God does not abandon.

The other thing that I wanted to talk about in this morning's letter from St. Paul to St. Timothy is that St. Paul tells St. Timothy: You hold fast to these things you have learned because you know whom you have learned them from. St. Paul relies on his authority as an apostle of Christ. He is telling St. Timothy: Your parents were faithful—your mother and grandmother—and I am an apostle. You have learned the faith from people who were trustworthy. I want you to think about that as you learn your faith. Whom are you learning your faith from? Who God is, what God asks from us in terms of how we should live our lives—you are learning that from the Church of Christ: the Church of Christ who can, through the bishop, can trace her lineage down to the apostles, who has fought throughout history through the sufferings of the confessors and the deaths of martyrs to keep the faith pure and to hand it down to us in such a way that if we follow it, we could be led to the joy of Christ, both here on earth and of course in the kingdom.

So you know whom you're learning things from. You're learning from the successors of the apostles, from the Church that Christ has founded. Take courage and have faith that what you are learning is the truth that Christ has handed down through the apostles, and through the bishops and the priests through the ages, all the way down to us. And know that whatever difficulties you encounter, God is with you in them. He never forsakes you.

But, knowing these things, let us be diligent in learning our faith, knowing what we believe, knowing what those beliefs mean in terms of how we should live our lives, and let us always draw near to God so that... Even though He is near to us, there are times when we might not perceive His presence. So let us open ourselves in prayer and join ourselves to Him so that we may be able to perceive His presence in those difficult times, to know and not forget that He is with us to the end of the ages. For this promise that God has given, that he will be with us in all circumstances, let us be thankful and give glory, to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Sunday of Zacchaeus 2018 (adult)

Luke 19:1-10

It's our first inkling that Lent is near, one week away from the Triodion, four weeks away from Lent. I think Zacchaeus is one of my favorite characters in the entire Bible, because, like the Publican, which he was, the Publican whom we'll read about next week, he knows the life he has led. So when he encounters Jesus, he tells him, "Half of my goods I give to the poor, and, if I have defrauded anyone, I am restoring it four-fold." He knows that he's done some things that he shouldn't have done, that he's taken more than he was supposed to, that he has defrauded people, and he even knows who those people are. I find that amazing: the fact that he has that presence of mind, that knowledge about himself, to be able to say: Yes, I know I've defrauded people, I know who those people are, and I am going to do everything I can to make it right with them, that being part of our being made right with God.

Our Old Testament professor in seminary often talked about the two dimensions of the cross, that there is a vertical dimension, where we have our relationship with God, but there is also a horizontal aspect to the cross, and that we cannot really be made right with God if we do not, as much as is in our power—we were talking about that in our religious education class this week—as much as is in our power, if we don't try to make it right with one another. That's why we ask for forgiveness before receiving Communion and why there are admonitory verses in the service of preparation that say, "Before receiving the Blood in Communion, make peace with those you have offended."

Here Zacchaeus encounters Christ, and he is struck by the fact that he is not right with God, but he has this realization, first of the knowledge of the things that he has done. And this reminds me of the old Greek saying, that the unexamined life is not worth living. Obviously, at least at that point, Zacchaeus was able to examine his life, to know what he had done wrong and to try and set things right. So he encounters God, he realizes he is not right, and he realizes that part of making his life right with God meant making things right with those whom he had defrauded, those he had wronged.

So we are coming to Lent, and I know I talk about this often, but the things that Zacchaeus did are set before us as an example, as are many of the things that are in there - as I was talking to the little ones, St. Paul was talking to St. Timothy, but he's talking to us. We have the story of Zacchaeus and his example of how to repent, and that is an example for us as well. Of course, I'm mentioning this because, yes, we are coming to Lent, which is traditionally the par excellence time when we partake of the sacrament of confession, but that requires us to know what we have done in our lives, to be honest with our shortcomings so that we may bring those to Christ, that we may be not just forgiven but also healed of the things which are not of the according to the will of God.

And, just as Zacchaeus did and as we are admonished to do in the service of preparation for holy Communion, we don't just come to the sacrament of confession, but we try as much as is in our power to make right the things we have done wrong, to apologize to those whom we've wronged, if we have fallen like Zacchaeus and taken more than was our share, or whatever it may be. We are four weeks away from the start of Lent, and it's a time of preparation. In order to come to Pascha, to the Great Feast, prepared, able to receive the joy and the light in its fullness, I think it's good to start preparing now, to think: When Lent comes, what do I need to set right—with God and with those around me?

Let us take the time to start thinking about that now, so that when Lent comes we may be prepared ultimately, through the sacrament of confession and all those things that repair the relationship that we have with God and with one another.

So Zacchaeus is one of my favorite characters, favorite people in the Bible. I shouldn't say "character," because he's not a fictitious character, but he is someone who turns his life around and turns his life to Christ, and that changed how he interacted with those around him as well. May God give us the grace, the wisdom, the strength, to face ourselves and to right the things we have done wrong and to come before Him in the sacrament of confession, to be forgiven and healed of our sins and of our passions, so that we may indeed be lightened, be burden-free, be bright with the light of the grace of God and so, always with peace and joy, give glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sunday of Zacchaeus 2018 (children)

1 Timothy 4:9-15

Today’s reading is one of my favorites. St. Paul is writing to St. Timothy, whose feastday is tomorrow. St. Timothy was an apostle of the seventy and he was the bishop of Ephesus. There's one thing here: "Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." So we see here in St. Paul's words that Timothy is a fairly young man, but he says, you know, live the way you're supposed to live. Be an example. Even though you're young, don't make that an excuse, but do your best to set an example, in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Yes, you're young, but you are a Christian, and this is how you're supposed to conduct yourself.

That's a difficult thing to remember, because we have many examples, if we look around us, of people who want to continue to act like children in society. We don't have to look too far to see people who are grown up and who should know better and who continue to try and act like children or young men and women. Here we see the opposite: that we want to become mature in our faith, from a young age. Yes, we make mistakes along the way, and that's the way we learn. In our faith, we learn our whole life through. But, as St. Paul tells Timothy, he's telling us, even especially to you who are young: Let no one despise your youth.

Set an example of how you talk: talk with love for one another, do not gossip, do not lie. Set an example in your speech. Set an example in your conduct: do not get angry easily, do the things that you need to do even though they may not be the things that we love the most. I know I didn't like homework a whole lot when I was in school, but, again, these are things that are, for the most part, good for us: they teach us things, they help us to grow as human beings. So set an example in your conduct. Do the things that you need to do, joyfully. Live your lives in love, in faith, and in purity.

Like I said, St. Paul is telling Timothy, but we read them in church because he tells them to all of us. So do your best from now, when you're young, and the rest of us wherever we may be in life, to follow these words of St. Paul, and set an example, in speech, in conduct, in love and faith and purity. Because these are the things that make the people around us know that we truly have the grace of Christ, that we are actually Christians because we have the love of God within us and the peace of God within us. Let us ask God to guide us, let us strive to the best of our ability to do the things that St. Paul tells here to St. Timothy, and let us always give glory, to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.


Thursday, November 02, 2017

Nigeria car trip

topgear.com asked for motoring horror stories for Halloween. I tried posting this as a comment, but it seems to have disappeared as of this posting. So, since I've finally written the story, Magda convinced me to post it here.

Many years ago, my family lived in Nigeria for a couple of years. We bought an old car that had some issues. Several of them came to light when we took a trip to the Yankari Game Reserve. This was a trip that had been planned for a while and coordinated with some co-workers of my father's, so we were not going to postpone it just because our brakes were less than reliable.

So, the story starts on the morning of the trip, when a friend of the family and I went to a mechanic to get the brakes fixed. He would be the driver for the trip because, even though my father had a driver's license, he didn't actually drive, my mother didn't drive, and I was about 15. In any case, we spent a couple of hours at the mechanic and, even though we weren't quite sure he had fixed things properly, we went to pick everyone up. On the way home, this friend expressed his uncertainty at the state of the brakes, but neither he nor the rest of us were going to be dissuaded by such a trifling thing. So, we left Kaduna, with the plan to stop overnight in Jos. My father had directions.

This worked great until we got to a place where the road forked and he wasn't quite sure which way the directions meant for us to go. So we stopped to ask directions and, as best as we could tell later, were sent the long way around. Which meant that, by then, the sun was setting. This was probably not the best time to find out that our headlights were good for either searching for things right in front of the car (right) or signalling to aliens in outer space (left). At this point it is left to the reader's imagination to decide why we did not let the other car we had with us (a VW beetle, which, of course, had no issues whatsoever for the entire trip) take the lead. In any case, we did not and forged on as before. Until we missed a roundabout that came before a railroad crossing.

Well, we did not actually miss it, we just missed seeing it. What we actually did is hit it at about 100 kilometers an hour. Thankfully, 1979 Honda Accords were small and low to the ground, so we all enjoyed the little car's best impression of a plane, until our not-so-delicate landing. On said railroad tracks, where the car refused to start. Thankfully, no trains were coming and we were close to a village, so we enlisted some help in pushing the car off the tracks. Nothing was seriously wrong with the car, so after some fiddling under the hood and taking care of a couple of things that had gotten loose, the car was ready to go again. At this point, the fuel gauge, which had not worked since we got the car, started working and it kept on working without problem until we left Nigeria. So the lesson here is: if there’s something wrong with your car that you can’t fix, try sending it flying and see if that fixes it.
Anyway, at this point, some part of our brains returned and we did have the beetle lead the way to Jos. We made it there around 10 p.m., found a nice hotel, and settled in for the night. In the morning, we thought we’d better at least get the brakes checked. So we looked for another mechanic, who looked at the brakes, checked them, promptly let some air into the lines, and declared himself satisfied. We tried getting the air out of the brake lines, but somehow that process dealt the death blow to our master cylinder. Except we did not know it at the time. I can only imagine how our friend who was driving found out.
I found out because we were supposed to make a U-turn to return to the hotel and by the time we passed the third opportunity, I had to ask why we weren’t turning. The answer came back surprisingly calmly: “No brakes.” So we did the only thing we could do: we kept going until we found an uphill U-turn opportunity. We turned around and headed for the hotel. Thankfully, the road to the hotel was uphill, so we had enough time to slow down so that both my father and our friend could lean half-way out the windows, wave frantically at the guy at the gate, and yell “no brakes.” The message got through, as the gate opened in time for us to crawl to a stop just beyond it. Time for another mechanic.
This time we found one who seemed to know what he was doing. The only problem was that a brake master cylinder for a 1979 Honda Accord was not readily available. So we got a master cylinder for a different car (Datsun?) and only connected two of the lines – to the rear tires, if my memory serves me right. So we had brakes. Sort of. You had to pump them three times before they would actually hold enough to lock the tires. But would we be deterred by such a minor detail? Of course not.
Somehow, the rest of the trip to Yankari went without a hitch and we had a wonderful time there. The place is breathtakingly beautiful and I remember it as vividly as I remember car flying on the trip there. But this is a car story, so on to our journey back.
Things went well until we got to a fairly big town (Bauchi, perhaps, though my memory fails me here). There, we came up to an intersection directed by a traffic cop. Because this is the trip where everything happens, he motions to stop as we get close to the intersection. Of course, the car that finally stops is the car in front of us. So we hit the brakes once, twice, three times. Then we hit said car in front of us. Now, that car was a taxi. Which, in Nigeria circa 1993, meant that its front and rear bumpers were reinforced with thick pipe. In other words, that car sustained no damage. Ours was not in too bad a shape, either. But, of course, this took place right in front of the traffic cop. So here he comes, ready to investigate. Amazingly, our family friend managed to convince him that he had no business giving the stop sign when he did, so we managed to get on our merry way.
Merry, that is, until the flat tire. By now it was getting a bit late and we need to find a place to patch the inner tube. So, because the people in the beetle needed to be at work early the next morning, we sent my mother and brother with them, while three of us stayed behind to nurse the Accord back to Kaduna. The tire got patched, and we got going again. By the time we passed Jos, night had fallen. Given our previous experiences with the headlights, the fact that the crash earlier in the day did nothing to improve their functionality, and the usual state of most Nigerian roads (the “Built for Nigerian roads” bumper stickers proudly advertising it everywhere), we were, at that point, going 20-30 km/h. Until a car would come up behind us. At that point, we would speed up to match its speed and try to follow it in the hope that it would avoid most potholes. Unfortunately, most cars driving at night on that road seemed to be taxis that were very much intent on getting to their destination regardless of the damage they would inflict on their cars. So, at the second or third pothole, we would give up and return to our turtle pace.
Finally, one car came up and looked like the driver cared enough to avoid potholes. So, we followed it for about ten minutes, when, in the middle of nowhere, it pulled over on the side of the road. Our family friend decided to also stop and try to talk to the driver of the car. Don’t worry, this is a car horror story, not an actual horror story. Although, for the lady who was driving the other car, it might have seemed a bit like a horror story for a few seconds (car following you... stopping behind you in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night... well-built man walking up to your car...). In any case, our friend talked her into allowing us to follow her into Kaduna. Which, in the end, turned out to be a good thing for her, too, because at some point on the way she managed to run out of gas. We, however, for all the other things we had not planned for (night, or stopping the car, to name two of the more obvious ones), had brought a canister of fuel with us. So, some time after 2 am, we finally made it back, and all these years later, the details still have not faded :)

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Sunday of the Samaritan Woman 2016

We just heard the story where Christ comes to a well, meets a woman and asks for a drink, and I think it's a bit strange that—he's asking for a drink, he needs a drink—but the discussion turns away from these things. They don't continue to talk about water, but as the discussion went on, it became more and more about worship. She said, "We Samaritans worship here, and you Jews say we need to worship in Jerusalem." That's interesting, don't you think? That you're there, you're in the heat of the day, and yet this woman starts talking about worship. There's a reason for that, because worship is really important: how you do it.

How we worship and what we do when we come together to pray is really important. Christ tells us that people will worship in spirit and truth. And you know what? That's what we do here, because when we gather together, when we celebrate the Divine Liturgy, the priest will pray that the Holy Spirit come down upon us—that's everybody here—and upon the gifts here presented. So we worship in the Spirit. And we worship in truth because, just like Christ has said, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I will be." And we know that Christ is the truth.

So we come here to celebrate the Eucharist by worshiping in spirit and truth just as Christ told the Samaritan woman. And we come here because this is what God told us to do. He told the disciples, "When you come together, do this in remembrance of me." He showed them how to worship: to come, to break bread, to bless the bread, to bless the wine, to partake of the body and blood of Christ. And this is what we do here. It's really important that we do this, because God told us and showed us to do this, and he showed us how to do it. So we come here to do this, to fulfill the words that Christ said. We come here, we worship in spirit and truth.

We pray, and the Holy Spirit transforms the bread and the wine into the body and blood of Christ, and we partake. This is our worship. This is Christian worship, and this is what we do. Like I said, it is so important that even in the heat of the day, being tired and thirsty, and the woman having other things to do, they talked about worship. So we must always, always be careful about worship. We come here, we pray, and we sing. To do what Christ said that we should do, because in this way, not only are we fulfilling his word, but we are sanctified, we are blessed, and so let us always give thanksgiving and glory to God: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

As I was saying to the children earlier, worship is important. But why is it important? What makes it so important that even in the dry desert, in the desert heat, the midday sun, the conversation would turn to that? The thing is that, as human beings, the way that we are created, we cannot help but worship. And the question is, then: what do we worship? It's not by accident that football stadiums have been referred to as "modern cathedrals," because it is, for many people, a worship experience. There is, I think, no other explanation for the fanaticism or the maniacal fervor with which some people follow their sports teams and they live and die with their success and they attach so much importance to certain events that we hear of players receiving death threats for not playing well or for involuntarily injuring an opponent. It is this level of involvement that makes the sports to many people a religion. But it's not just sports.

There are many other things that we can worship, like we could worship politics and ideologies. We can worship money. We can worship our bodies and spend all our time and money making sure that we look as young as we possibly can. There are so many things, and this is part of Christ's warning when he teaches about the kingdom of heaven, because we are worshipful beings, and we need to make sure that we worship God. Everything else… There are good things. There are other good things in life that we love, that we devote time to, but we need to make sure that, whatever those things are, we worship God. That means that we take time to come and be here, form the body of Christ in worship. That we spend time with God. That when we make decisions in our lives from all those other things that are good but not primary, that we always keep that question in mind: Is this for my salvation? Is it for the salvation of my family? Is it going to lead me closer to God and his kingdom.

Worship is important for that reason, and especially when there are so many other things we can worship and that we do worship in our society. And I think there is something there, something that's missing in a large part of our society that we can offer to it. Last evening in our discussion in our Introduction to Orthodoxy series, someone mentioned that the Orthodox idea, the Orthodox understanding of who God is is different from what that person had experienced outside of the Orthodox Church. I think that is an important thing for us to remember. We see in the epistle reading today that the apostles spread the word of God and people were converted. I think if we recapture that understanding of God, if we are able to preach the loving God we believe in in Orthodoxy… We say at the ending of so many of our prayers, "For you are a good and loving God." We take to heart and our theology, our hymns, our prayers are infused with the understanding that "God so loved the world that he sent his only-begotten Son."

Yes, Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead, but God is the loving and merciful God who did everything for our salvation. And I think, unfortunately—and I'm not here to judge or condemn any other Christian body—but it seems that the "God" that a lot of America encounters in the encounters with Christianity is not the God of love, compassion, and kindness. We see this perhaps in the caricature of the Christian God that's presented in the media, for one thing. That is not the God we believe in, but that God is the God of salvation. That is the God that we need, that our neighbors and society need. So let us not be shy about our faith. Let us not be timid about our worship. Let us, if we have the opportunity, talk about our faith. If we have the opportunity, invite others to see who God is, the God we worship, here in our holy Orthodox Church.

So perhaps we won't be able to... but by God's grace—God works in mysterious ways—we may be able to say, as St. Luke says in the Acts of the Apostles, that many were brought to Christ because they heard this message of hope, of love, of the compassionate God who came and who, on this one day, sat in the heat next to the well of Jacob to bring this one woman, and through her that entire village, to salvation. To this God, the God of mercy, love, and compassion, let us always give thanks and glory: to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.


Monday, May 23, 2016

Sunday of the Paralytic 2016

I said earlier to the kids that the statement by the paralytic that he has no one to help him is both an important and a heart-wrenching statement.

The question that comes before this is perhaps even more important for each and one of us individually, because Christ asks the paralytic, as he does a couple of times in his ministry: "Do you want to be healed?" There's no evidence anywhere else in the Bible or in Tradition to say that the paralytic was somehow enjoying the state of disability, but it's possible to become comfortable where we are, even in a state of illness, in a state of sin: we become comfortable with it. It's just what we're used to, and it doesn't take that much work to keep the status quo. So if we are asked, "Do you want to be healed?" it is easy for us to stop and say, "Well, I'm not sure."

This is part of where this paralytic is an example for us, because he doesn't say that. He tells Christ the situation, and, yes, he desires that healing. This getting stuck, getting paralyzed, if you will, in a place that is comfortable, even if it may not be the right thing, can happen to us as people and it can happen to us as a community. So we need to look at where we are in our lives. We need to always keep an open mind and an open heart to the Gospel, to what we are called to become by the grace of God, again, both as individuals and as a community.

It is, like I said, easy, and I guess it is natural if we take the fallen human nature to be "natural," for all of us to want to be comfortable, to get to a place where we can say, "Okay, I've gotten here. I don't need to struggle any more." Yet, we know that life here on earth is struggle—against sin, against human nature, against the principalities and powers of this world as St. Paul tells us—to our very last breath. It takes courage, it takes grace, it takes faith, and it takes the support of one another for us to be able to break out of that pattern and to be able to come to Christ and say, "Yes, Lord, I want to be healed. I want to escape from the paralysis in which I find myself. I want to become holy as you are holy."

It is a challenge that this gospel places before us every year: to look into our hearts and see. Do we really want to be healed? Are we willing to do everything that we can do on our part? God will do his, but are we willing to open the doors of our heart, the doors of our mind, for him to enter, to transform us? Again, in one of the prayers of thanksgiving for holy Communion, it says that we receive the Holy Body and Blood "for the illumination of the eyes of our hearts, [...] and the granting of divine grace." Are we willing to be transformed, even if it is uncomfortable, because we trust or we believe that what God has promised us truly is the better thing, regardless of what it is compared to?

So today, on this feast of the paralytic—of the healing of the paralytic—let us believe that God will indeed heal those who desire to be healed. Let us have faith that he will give us what we need for our salvation, even if, sometimes, as hard as it may be, our illnesses and difficulties may be for our salvation. I don't know; I cannot see through everything. By God's grace, and glory be to him and thanks be to him, I'm not clairvoyant. But sometimes the difficulties and trials in our life are for our salvation. Let us trust that as we are struggling against sin, that God will give us the grace and the strength to continue that struggle until, again, by his grace, we can overcome it.

So as we take stock of that, let us marvel at his love and his grace and his patience and the fact that he comes and that he came and continues to come for our salvation, for the healing of souls and bodies. And for all the glimpses that he has given us of the kingdom in his mercy, for all the miracles that he has shown, and all these miracles that take place around us and maybe even in our own lives if we stop and look at how things came together and how things have changed—let us look at all those things. Let those strengthen us in our faith and in the glory and thanksgiving that we give to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.