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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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Thursday, 19 January 2017

JANUARY 19th THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY or THEOPHANY.

The Feast of the Theophany
19. January 2017 - 7:12
my source: Serbian Orthodox Church

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we celebrate a day that is called by many names: the Baptism of our Lord, Theophany, and it is also called Illumining. We commemorate our Lord's baptism today in the Jordan. Theophany is the appearance of God, where indeed the Holy Trinity manifested Himself after Our Lord's baptism. Why would we call it Illumining? It is because through baptism we are indeed illuminated.

God had a plan for man. The primeval plan was for us to grow in knowledge and in wisdom, according to how we could bear it, in purity, without any knowledge of evil at all. But man didn't choose that plan. So God, in his wisdom knowing this, sent his only-begotten Son. Salvation is the knowledge of God, but only the pure can know the pure. We can even see this in our daily lives. There are people whom we just don't completely understand, and we know this because we understand that they're somehow more pure and more humble than us. And we think: "I don't understand how that person can take such abuse from her husband, or his son, or his co-worker, or some other person, and be so humble about it." We know people like that. Hopefully there are people that speak about us in those kind of tones, because we are supposed to be a light to the rest of the world, you know.

Only the pure can know the pure. But we're dirty, and we need purification. And what's more, we don't have any way to become pure. We don't have any way to clean ourselves. We're blackened, and we have no way to clean ourselves on our own. And our flesh, what is more, wars against us. Even if we wished to clean ourselves, (and we don't have the means, without God's help, mind you), we cannot. We don't have the strength, the ability, we don't have the knowledge, we don’t have the grace. W cannot t understand God without Him revealing himself to us. So, that is why our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came incarnate of a Virgin, into the midst of us - to invigorate us and make us able to live. But not only that; but also to give us an example.

His ministry was two-fold. Being God, He taught us all the things that were necessary for our salvation, by His example, by how He lived, by how He spoke, by His demeanor. And He transmitted this faithfully and carefully to his disciples. And this is only to be found - this mind of Christ is only to be found - in the Orthodox faith, and it has been transmitted carefully and perfectly, throughout the ages, by the Church.

He showed us no only by His teaching, but also by how He lived. And He was a man, as well as being God, so He was subject to the things we are subject to, even unto death. So therefore, when He told us to be baptized, later on, after His resurrection, his words certainly have weight, because He subjected himself to baptism. He was not the kind of leader, or the kind of king, who would tell his subjects to do something that He wasn’t willing to do. In fact, he said to James and John, that you cannot drink the cup that I will drink and be baptized with the baptism I will be baptized with. They could not bear what our Lord bore for us.

He will do more for us than He requires of us and expect more of himself. And indeed, that is a principle of leadership. A leader, whether he be a father, a mother, or a priest, or an employer, or someone who teaches children, such as many of the men in this church, must lead by example. All the men in this church, should be teachers of our boys, and all of the women, of our girls, and you teach them by being selfless, and emptying yourself as Christ emptied Himself. He taught us how to do it, and gave us the blueprint of how to do it.

Today we have an amazing thing before us. He who created the waters submits to being baptized in them. He who created the heavens and the earth and saw that it was good and not any whit evil, submits to cleansing in waters. He who regenerates our flesh, Who is the Regenerator, He descends in the flesh into regenerating waters. And he does this to show us how necessary it is for baptism.

To know Christ we must be like Him. You cannot know somebody unless you become like that person - it is not possible. So our Christian life in the flesh is to try to acquire the virtues, to be a good husbandman, to acquire the Holy Spirit, as my patron, St. Seraphim of Sarov, said, "By fasting, by diligence, by care, by prayers, by weeping, by repentance, by the whole Christian life." That is the whole reason for ascetical exercises. It's not because they're rules to be followed. It's because they are LIFE!

A man who sees a way of life that leads to eternal life, would be crazy, blind, not to follow such a life. So our Lord taught us many principles of how to life, but the most important aspect of His ministry is that He made us ABLE to live this way. I can tell you many things, and they might be, (I hope that they will be) true, about the teaching of the Church, but I cannot invigorate you or make you able to live this way. That is only possible through your submission to the God-man Jesus Christ and the All-Holy Holy Trinity, Who makes a man able to live. So the God-man, when He preached, preached with authority, because He was able to back up his words like nobody else can.

Baptism is an image; it's an image of death and of life. The church says it over and over and over again. When we descend into the waters, we die. Our old man, with its lusts, dies in the waters. When we ascend out of the waters, we are reborn a new creature. This is a hard thing to understand. We cannot fathom it. We do not know how a man is reborn of water and the Spirit, we just know how we are told to begin the Christian life. Baptism is the first mystery. Although perhaps one would say the first mystery is really the incarnation of the Son of God, which made everything else possible. In our life, our entrance into the Christian life is through baptism. Without it, we're not able to progress one wit in the knowledge of God. And the knowledge of God IS salvation, brothers and sisters. But remember, one cannot progress in the knowledge of God without progressing in purity at the same time.

We have no "armchair theologians" in the Orthodox Church. He who is a theologian - who studies God - lives as God wishes him to live, and is enlightened. We have had theologians that have not been able to read or write. Or even, and this is hard for us in our industrialized society to understand, they might not even have been intelligent, as we would think of intelligence. But they were intelligent in the ways of God, because they lived a life in accordance with His grace.

I hope you understand now why our Lord was baptized. There was no NEED for Him to be baptized. In fact, what does it say after He was baptized? "Straightway He came up out of the water." To the fathers this is crystal clear, and therefore to us it will be now, too. He came straightway out of the water because He has no sin. In those days St. John was baptizing for repentance, right? A baptism of repentance, but not for remission of sins, because he cannot remit sins. But people would, when they came out of the water - (and how would you like this, some of you have been baptized in streams that are cold!) - they were held in the water. They came up partway, (obviously their head was out of the water), and they confessed their sins right then and there. And then they were released out of the water. That's how it was done. But our Lord had no need to do so, He had no sins to confess. In fact, when He went into the water, the demons fled. You see the icon? You see the demons in there? The demons are fleeing from the water, because they could not bear to be in the same place as the God-man Jesus Christ.

How can anyone stand against this mystery when our Lord endorses it so emphatically?! And also, if we have an understanding of how water was treated, throughout the whole history of the Church - now I mean the history of the Church from Adam, you know, because God had a salvific plan from that time. There is a cute bumper sticker, but it's not true: "Founded AD 33, Christian Church." It was reborn, and recreated in AD 33, but the plan had been in place since Adam and Eve.

Let's take a look, a little bit, at these short scriptures we read today. "Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John to be baptized of him. But John forbade Him, saying "I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest thou to me?" And Jesus said unto him, "suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." It's a little bit of a riddle; what is He talking about, "all righteousness?" It was a tradition, a strong tradition, a God inspired tradition, of the Jewish people, that when a prophet said something, you did it! Jesus obeyed a prophet. John was the greatest of the prophets; our Lord Himself said so. So He obeyed a prophet, by being baptized. John did not mean for the God-man to be baptized, and he wanted to tell him, "no, I can't. I am unworthy. I want to be baptized of you." But our Lord showed obedience. That's how he fulfilled all righteousness. And also - I said this before - He gave us an example.

Our Lord does not tell us to do anything we are not capable of doing. He does not tell us to do anything in the flesh that we cannot do in the flesh, and that he did not already do in the flesh. He told us that our flesh should become pure. He purified His flesh. His flesh was always pure; he made his flesh completely invigorated with the Godhead. And indeed, that will happen to us, because He did it to Himself. He promises us that we will rise from the dead. Well, he did it to Himself, so we are capable. He commands us to be baptized; He did it himself. He turned the other cheek when he was slapped by the arrogant Pharisees and by their henchman, the Roman soldiers. And He commands us to turn our cheek when we are slapped. He commands us to forgive, and He forgave. There is nothing, there is no commandment that the Lord gave that He did not fulfill Himself in the flesh. And He even told us to be perfect, and He was perfect - in the flesh and as God. So all those things we are capable to doing because He did them for us and made us able to. He led by example, and He led by power and grace and mercy.

"Then He suffered him. And Jesus, when He was baptized went up straightway out of the waters and lo! The heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Him. And a voice from heaven saying "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased." We already said what it means that He went "straightway out of the water." John was in the water trembling, as a man before God. And God comes out of the water, and the Holy Spirit descends upon His shoulder, Jesus' shoulder, so as not to confuse the two. And the voice says, "This is my son, in whom I am well-pleased."

And the heavens are opened. Why? Because the heavens are opened to us through baptism. And also the heavens are opened to us through something else. Right away after the baptism, St. Mark barely catches his breath, I don't think he even has to dip his pen again in ink, and he starts to write, "and straightway He was led out by the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days." There is a reason why he writes with such haste, why he doesn't even finish talking about baptism and wham! He is talking about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness, because this happens to us. Right after our baptism we are tempted. During the whole of our life we're tempted, and sometimes we feel that we are in a barren place, a rocky dessert, with no water and no comfort, and we get despondent. Our Lord had the same things happen to Him; He became hungry as a man, tired as a man, He wept as a man. And right after His baptism He shows that we should expect that we are in a life or death struggle.

Immediately upon being baptized we are enlisted as soldiers. Not as conscripts, mind you, but as willing men, willing to put on the armor of faith and of righteousness. We are willing to fight the good fight, because we have stated so, whether it was as an infant when our sponsors stated for us and we grew to maturity and we learned of the church, or whether it is, in the case of most of us, where we spoke for ourselves and agreed to the tenets of the Christian faith before we were thrust down into the water and out of it three times.

The Church today, (and yesterday by the way), blesses water. This is called the great blessing, and in it we read amazing passages from the Old Testament about water and its salvific qualities. And then we take this water and we sanctify everything with it. And you should listen closely to the services - especially I can remember some things from last night - they talk about how our Lord cleanses the water, casting out demons from it, and making it pure and wholesome. It is good - to drink, to anoint ourselves with, good to bless and sanctify everything. And we indeed bless and sanctify water because our Lord blessed and sanctified water.  

I am always amazed - even after 18 years (the first 18 years I lived was not as an Orthodox Christian, actually the first 20), how our faith involves all of our life - everything! All of our senses - sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste - everything! And every aspect of our life - nothing is untouched by the holy church. In a pious Christian life, nothing is secular, but everything is sacred. So after we bless the water today, and bless the inside of the church, and go around and bless the outside precincts, you will take water home. You should drink this water in the morning, with the sign of the cross, and also eat a small piece of antidoron, before you eat or drink anything else. And you should also drink this water if there is a temptation or a difficulty in your life. You should anoint yourself with the water. You should sanctify things in your home. I have had the custom of going around all the rooms of my house with a senser, with all the rest of the family carrying candles and singing the Theophany Troparion, to bless everything with holy water on a regular basis. I do not do it as much anymore - I guess I am more distracted and busy than I should be - but this is an important task. Anyone can do this. The demons see the water, even after the water dries on the walls and you cannot see it, (except if you have sprinkled it on paper, the marks never go away then), the demons still see it, and you have marked your house as a dwelling of Christians.

But of course, if you do this, then you must live as a Christian. What happened to the man who had the demons taken out of him, and the demon went around deserts and rocky places, and desolate areas, and the found no place to dwell? What did the demon do? He got seven other demons worse than himself, and he went back to the man. They found his soul was all swept and garnished inside, but since the man had not lived a virtuous life since his deliverance from the one demon, and the demons were able to make their abode in him, and the last state of the man is worse than the first!  

There is responsibility placed upon you, brothers and sisters, because of the grace you have been given - because of your baptism. Also because of the All-Holy mysteries which all of you should desire to receive today, and the services of the church, and all tThe Feast of the Theophany
19. January 2017 - 7:12
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we celebrate a day that is called by many names: the Baptism of our Lord, Theophany, and it is also called Illumining. We commemorate our Lord's baptism today in the Jordan. Theophany is the appearance of God, where indeed the Holy Trinity manifested Himself after Our Lord's baptism. Why would we call it Illumining? It is because through baptism we are indeed illuminated.

God had a plan for man. The primeval plan was for us to grow in knowledge and in wisdom, according to how we could bear it, in purity, without any knowledge of evil at all. But man didn't choose that plan. So God, in his wisdom knowing this, sent his only-begotten Son. Salvation is the knowledge of God, but only the pure can know the pure. We can even see this in our daily lives. There are people whom we just don't completely understand, and we know this because we understand that they're somehow more pure and more humble than us. And we think: "I don't understand how that person can take such abuse from her husband, or his son, or his co-worker, or some other person, and be so humble about it." We know people like that. Hopefully there are people that speak about us in those kind of tones, because we are supposed to be a light to the rest of the world, you know.

Only the pure can know the pure. But we're dirty, and we need purification. And what's more, we don't have any way to become pure. We don't have any way to clean ourselves. We're blackened, and we have no way to clean ourselves on our own. And our flesh, what is more, wars against us. Even if we wished to clean ourselves, (and we don't have the means, without God's help, mind you), we cannot. We don't have the strength, the ability, we don't have the knowledge, we don’t have the grace. W cannot t understand God without Him revealing himself to us. So, that is why our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came incarnate of a Virgin, into the midst of us - to invigorate us and make us able to live. But not only that; but also to give us an example.

His ministry was two-fold. Being God, He taught us all the things that were necessary for our salvation, by His example, by how He lived, by how He spoke, by His demeanor. And He transmitted this faithfully and carefully to his disciples. And this is only to be found - this mind of Christ is only to be found - in the Orthodox faith, and it has been transmitted carefully and perfectly, throughout the ages, by the Church.

He showed us no only by His teaching, but also by how He lived. And He was a man, as well as being God, so He was subject to the things we are subject to, even unto death. So therefore, when He told us to be baptized, later on, after His resurrection, his words certainly have weight, because He subjected himself to baptism. He was not the kind of leader, or the kind of king, who would tell his subjects to do something that He wasn’t willing to do. In fact, he said to James and John, that you cannot drink the cup that I will drink and be baptized with the baptism I will be baptized with. They could not bear what our Lord bore for us.

He will do more for us than He requires of us and expect more of himself. And indeed, that is a principle of leadership. A leader, whether he be a father, a mother, or a priest, or an employer, or someone who teaches children, such as many of the men in this church, must lead by example. All the men in this church, should be teachers of our boys, and all of the women, of our girls, and you teach them by being selfless, and emptying yourself as Christ emptied Himself. He taught us how to do it, and gave us the blueprint of how to do it.

Today we have an amazing thing before us. He who created the waters submits to being baptized in them. He who created the heavens and the earth and saw that it was good and not any whit evil, submits to cleansing in waters. He who regenerates our flesh, Who is the Regenerator, He descends in the flesh into regenerating waters. And he does this to show us how necessary it is for baptism.

To know Christ we must be like Him. You cannot know somebody unless you become like that person - it is not possible. So our Christian life in the flesh is to try to acquire the virtues, to be a good husbandman, to acquire the Holy Spirit, as my patron, St. Seraphim of Sarov, said, "By fasting, by diligence, by care, by prayers, by weeping, by repentance, by the whole Christian life." That is the whole reason for ascetical exercises. It's not because they're rules to be followed. It's because they are LIFE!

A man who sees a way of life that leads to eternal life, would be crazy, blind, not to follow such a life. So our Lord taught us many principles of how to life, but the most important aspect of His ministry is that He made us ABLE to live this way. I can tell you many things, and they might be, (I hope that they will be) true, about the teaching of the Church, but I cannot invigorate you or make you able to live this way. That is only possible through your submission to the God-man Jesus Christ and the All-Holy Holy Trinity, Who makes a man able to live. So the God-man, when He preached, preached with authority, because He was able to back up his words like nobody else can.

Baptism is an image; it's an image of death and of life. The church says it over and over and over again. When we descend into the waters, we die. Our old man, with its lusts, dies in the waters. When we ascend out of the waters, we are reborn a new creature. This is a hard thing to understand. We cannot fathom it. We do not know how a man is reborn of water and the Spirit, we just know how we are told to begin the Christian life. Baptism is the first mystery. Although perhaps one would say the first mystery is really the incarnation of the Son of God, which made everything else possible. In our life, our entrance into the Christian life is through baptism. Without it, we're not able to progress one wit in the knowledge of God. And the knowledge of God IS salvation, brothers and sisters. But remember, one cannot progress in the knowledge of God without progressing in purity at the same time.

We have no "armchair theologians" in the Orthodox Church. He who is a theologian - who studies God - lives as God wishes him to live, and is enlightened. We have had theologians that have not been able to read or write. Or even, and this is hard for us in our industrialized society to understand, they might not even have been intelligent, as we would think of intelligence. But they were intelligent in the ways of God, because they lived a life in accordance with His grace.

I hope you understand now why our Lord was baptized. There was no NEED for Him to be baptized. In fact, what does it say after He was baptized? "Straightway He came up out of the water." To the fathers this is crystal clear, and therefore to us it will be now, too. He came straightway out of the water because He has no sin. In those days St. John was baptizing for repentance, right? A baptism of repentance, but not for remission of sins, because he cannot remit sins. But people would, when they came out of the water - (and how would you like this, some of you have been baptized in streams that are cold!) - they were held in the water. They came up partway, (obviously their head was out of the water), and they confessed their sins right then and there. And then they were released out of the water. That's how it was done. But our Lord had no need to do so, He had no sins to confess. In fact, when He went into the water, the demons fled. You see the icon? You see the demons in there? The demons are fleeing from the water, because they could not bear to be in the same place as the God-man Jesus Christ.

How can anyone stand against this mystery when our Lord endorses it so emphatically?! And also, if we have an understanding of how water was treated, throughout the whole history of the Church - now I mean the history of the Church from Adam, you know, because God had a salvific plan from that time. There is a cute bumper sticker, but it's not true: "Founded AD 33, Christian Church." It was reborn, and recreated in AD 33, but the plan had been in place since Adam and Eve.

Let's take a look, a little bit, at these short scriptures we read today. "Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John to be baptized of him. But John forbade Him, saying "I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest thou to me?" And Jesus said unto him, "suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." It's a little bit of a riddle; what is He talking about, "all righteousness?" It was a tradition, a strong tradition, a God inspired tradition, of the Jewish people, that when a prophet said something, you did it! Jesus obeyed a prophet. John was the greatest of the prophets; our Lord Himself said so. So He obeyed a prophet, by being baptized. John did not mean for the God-man to be baptized, and he wanted to tell him, "no, I can't. I am unworthy. I want to be baptized of you." But our Lord showed obedience. That's how he fulfilled all righteousness. And also - I said this before - He gave us an example.

Our Lord does not tell us to do anything we are not capable of doing. He does not tell us to do anything in the flesh that we cannot do in the flesh, and that he did not already do in the flesh. He told us that our flesh should become pure. He purified His flesh. His flesh was always pure; he made his flesh completely invigorated with the Godhead. And indeed, that will happen to us, because He did it to Himself. He promises us that we will rise from the dead. Well, he did it to Himself, so we are capable. He commands us to be baptized; He did it himself. He turned the other cheek when he was slapped by the arrogant Pharisees and by their henchman, the Roman soldiers. And He commands us to turn our cheek when we are slapped. He commands us to forgive, and He forgave. There is nothing, there is no commandment that the Lord gave that He did not fulfill Himself in the flesh. And He even told us to be perfect, and He was perfect - in the flesh and as God. So all those things we are capable to doing because He did them for us and made us able to. He led by example, and He led by power and grace and mercy.

"Then He suffered him. And Jesus, when He was baptized went up straightway out of the waters and lo! The heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Him. And a voice from heaven saying "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased." We already said what it means that He went "straightway out of the water." John was in the water trembling, as a man before God. And God comes out of the water, and the Holy Spirit descends upon His shoulder, Jesus' shoulder, so as not to confuse the two. And the voice says, "This is my son, in whom I am well-pleased."

And the heavens are opened. Why? Because the heavens are opened to us through baptism. And also the heavens are opened to us through something else. Right away after the baptism, St. Mark barely catches his breath, I don't think he even has to dip his pen again in ink, and he starts to write, "and straightway He was led out by the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days." There is a reason why he writes with such haste, why he doesn't even finish talking about baptism and wham! He is talking about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness, because this happens to us. Right after our baptism we are tempted. During the whole of our life we're tempted, and sometimes we feel that we are in a barren place, a rocky dessert, with no water and no comfort, and we get despondent. Our Lord had the same things happen to Him; He became hungry as a man, tired as a man, He wept as a man. And right after His baptism He shows that we should expect that we are in a life or death struggle.

Immediately upon being baptized we are enlisted as soldiers. Not as conscripts, mind you, but as willing men, willing to put on the armor of faith and of righteousness. We are willing to fight the good fight, because we have stated so, whether it was as an infant when our sponsors stated for us and we grew to maturity and we learned of the church, or whether it is, in the case of most of us, where we spoke for ourselves and agreed to the tenets of the Christian faith before we were thrust down into the water and out of it three times.

The Church today, (and yesterday by the way), blesses water. This is called the great blessing, and in it we read amazing passages from the Old Testament about water and its salvific qualities. And then we take this water and we sanctify everything with it. And you should listen closely to the services - especially I can remember some things from last night - they talk about how our Lord cleanses the water, casting out demons from it, and making it pure and wholesome. It is good - to drink, to anoint ourselves with, good to bless and sanctify everything. And we indeed bless and sanctify water because our Lord blessed and sanctified water.  

I am always amazed - even after 18 years (the first 18 years I lived was not as an Orthodox Christian, actually the first 20), how our faith involves all of our life - everything! All of our senses - sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste - everything! And every aspect of our life - nothing is untouched by the holy church. In a pious Christian life, nothing is secular, but everything is sacred. So after we bless the water today, and bless the inside of the church, and go around and bless the outside precincts, you will take water home. You should drink this water in the morning, with the sign of the cross, and also eat a small piece of antidoron, before you eat or drink anything else. And you should also drink this water if there is a temptation or a difficulty in your life. You should anoint yourself with the water. You should sanctify things in your home. I have had the custom of going around all the rooms of my house with a senser, with all the rest of the family carrying candles and singing the Theophany Troparion, to bless everything with holy water on a regular basis. I do not do it as much anymore - I guess I am more distracted and busy than I should be - but this is an important task. Anyone can do this. The demons see the water, even after the water dries on the walls and you cannot see it, (except if you have sprinkled it on paper, the marks never go away then), the demons still see it, and you have marked your house as a dwelling of Christians.

But of course, if you do this, then you must live as a Christian. What happened to the man who had the demons taken out of him, and the demon went around deserts and rocky places, and desolate areas, and the found no place to dwell? What did the demon do? He got seven other demons worse than himself, and he went back to the man. They found his soul was all swept and garnished inside, but since the man had not lived a virtuous life since his deliverance from the one demon, and the demons were able to make their abode in him, and the last state of the man is worse than the first!  

There is responsibility placed upon you, brothers and sisters, because of the grace you have been given - because of your baptism. Also because of the All-Holy mysteries which all of you should desire to receive today, and the services of the church, and all the mind of the church. Everything that you do is sacred, and it makes you responsible, for living according to how you have promised to live. The good news is that you are ABLE to do it, because the God-man made you able to do it!

God revealed Himself, and continues to reveal Himself to us, as we are able to understand Him. As we become more pure, He reveals more of His purity to us. And we ascend like eagles! That is the meaning of Theophany. That is the meaning of the illumining. May it be that all of are illumined and follow Him in all ways. Amen.

Fr. Seraphim Holland


Source: Pravoslavie.ru



Becoming Like Holy Water: A Homily for Theophany (Epiphany) in the Orthodox Church

       


          The focus of this great feast is the Lord’s baptism in the river Jordan by St. John the Forerunner.  Another name for the feast is Theophany, for it is shown—it is revealed at Jesus Christ’s baptism—that He is the Son of God.  Indeed, the Holy Trinity is revealed at His baptism, for the Father says, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove.  
            The meaning of the Feast of Christmas is fulfilled at Theophany, for now it is made clear that the One born in Bethlehem is truly God, come to restore our fallen nature and to renew the entire creation by uniting humanity with divinity in Himself.  And even as the Son of God entered our world at His birth, He now enters the flowing water of a river in order to make it holy, in order to bring His blessing and fulfillment upon the world that He created.  For the entire creation was subjected to futility because of the rebellion of our first parents.  As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” for it also “will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. “
            The good news of the gospel is that the Creator has become part of the creation in order to make it a new heaven and a new earth.   We see at Theophany that nothing is intrinsically profane or cut off from the blessing and holiness of God.  All things, physical and spiritual, visible and invisible, are called to participate in the divine glory that our Lord has brought to the world, to become part of the new heaven and earth of God’s kingdom.   Christ’s baptism demonstrates that we, too, are saved along with the rest of the creation, for it is through the water that we share in His life.  “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.”  In baptism, we receive the garment of light that Adam and Eve lost when they distorted themselves and the entire creation with sin and death.  The incarnate Son of God sanctified our flesh and blood at His birth, and at His baptism He sanctifies the water through which our calling as those created in the divine image and likeness is fulfilled.
            When we bless water at the conclusion of liturgy today, we will participate in our Lord’s healing of all reality, for holy water is a sign that every dimension of creation is to be sanctified, to become holy by the fulfillment of God’s original purposes for it.  Even though we pollute it and it is sometimes our enemy in storms and floods in the world as know it, God created water to sustain us and to bring life to the world.  Christ has restored water to its intended purpose by making it holy through His baptism, which is a sign of His intention for every dimension of the universe that He spoke into existence.
            When you have your Epiphany house blessing this year, I will sprinkle holy water in every room of your house, which is a sign of God’s blessing upon even the small details of our daily lives.  It is also a calling to sanctify every aspect of our life and to recognize that every dimension of who we are as human beings is to be baptized into Christ, dying to sin and rising with Him in holiness. True Christianity is not escape from the world or simply a matter of emotion or morality.  No, we are called to become like God, to participate in His infinite holiness to the depths of our souls in every thought, word, and deed.
            So this Theophany, we should become like the water that we will bless later in the service.  That means responding to Jesus Christ’s great blessing of the world such that we share in His life and become more fully who He created us to be in the first place in the image and likeness of God.  No, none of this is magic. If we do not cooperate with our Lord’s mercy by repentance and growth in holiness, holy water will do us no good.  But if in humility and faith we thirst for the fulfillment of our daily lives in Christ, then drinking and being sprinkled with holy water will nourish us spiritually just like water revives a shriveled plant on a hot, dry day.        
            Theophany makes it possible for us to quench our thirst for holiness, for the divine life for which for which we were made.  This is the joyful, blessed life of the Holy Trinity that Jesus Christ has brought to the world.  This Epiphany, let us all stop dying of thirst for God and instead be filled to overflowing by the mercy, presence, and power of the Lord.  And then, like well watered and nourished plants, we will flourish and bear good fruit for the Kingdom of God. 
Posted by Fr. Philip LeMasters at 2:14 PM 




Monday, 16 January 2017

POPE FRANCIS, CATHOLIC TRADITION AND THE NEW EVANGELISATION


Pope Francis is the 266th and current Pope of the Catholic Church, elected on 13 March 2013. In his over 40 years as a Catholic priest, he has drawn "high marks as an accomplished intellectual, having studied theology in Germany."[2] He is seen as someone who personally straddles the divide between the liberals and conservatives in the Catholic Church.[2] Francis has supported the social justice ethos of Latin American Catholicism, including a robust defense of the poor.[2] At the same time, he has generally tended to accent growth in personal holiness over efforts for structural reform.[2] He is seen as "unwaveringly orthodox" on matters of sexual morality, staunchly opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception.[2]

THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH

In 2008, Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, delivered the following catechesis at the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec:[3]
The Christian, when looking at the Church, sees her as holy, spotless and without blemish, as [he would] Mary, bride and Mother. The Christian sees the Church as the Body of Christ, as the vessel that guards with absolute integrity the deposit of faith, as the faithful Spouse who communicates without addition or subtraction all that Christ entrusted. In the Sacraments the Church communicates to us the fullness of life the Lord came to bring us. Although as sons we sometimes/often break our Covenant with the Lord at an individual level, the Church is the place where that Covenant – which we are given for ever in Baptism – remains intact and we might recover it with the [Sacrament of] Reconciliation....The Church as a fully “sanctified” reality and capable of receiving and of communicating – without error or defect, from its own poverty and even with its own sins –the full sanctity of God, is not a “complement” or an “institutional addition” to Jesus Christ, but a full participation of his Incarnation, of His Life, of His Passion, death and Resurrection. Without these “new wineskins” that are the Church and Mary – a concrete universality sin parallel, whose relation is paradigmatic of all else – the coming of the eternal Word into the world and assuming flesh, the Word in our ears and His life in our history, could not be received adequately....As the Church always defends its integrity – as always there have been and are those who take evil advantage of the strength of an institution (which is pathetic for how reductive it is to use something so beneficent as eternal life for the pleasures of transitory life), world has the impression the Church always defends its power and it is not so. In defending its purity, its indefectibility, its sanctity as the bride, the Church is defending the “place” through which the gift of the life of God passes on to the world and the gift of the life of the world to God.

[Identifying the Church with the Blessed Virgin, Pope Francis is using  Orthodox theology in which Mary, Mother of God, is personally what the church is collectively: it identifies the Church with Mary in her relationship to Christ, just as it identifies the Church with Christ in his relationship with the Father..  Mary is virgin and mother, (truths about her relationship with Christ), just as the Church is virgin and mother in its relationship with Christ and in its relationship with us: the Church and Mary are one. This is based on another truth, that the unity of the Church reflects the unity of the Blessed Trinity.  Just as one Person of the Trinity embraces each  the other Two in perfect unity, so each human person, to the extent that he loves Christ, embraces others in the same love, until he loves the whole creation, just as Christ loves the whole creation.  This love becomes a reflection of the presence of the Holy Spirit.  It becomes ecclesial love, because it holds the Church together as instrument of the Holy Spirit.  Just as St Benedict saw the whole of created reality in a ray of light because he loved all created reality in Christ, and by loving in Christ, he participated in the very love of the Father by which the Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and the Tri-une God loves the whole of creation.  Hence, we are all embraced in love by Mary, the Mother of God, according to her vocation as mother and virgin, as we are by all the angels and saints according to their vocations, as we reach out to love our fellow Christians in reciprocal love and to all human beings whether they love us or not, in a love that is destined to love the whole of creation.  That is the unity of the Church in Christ that our love makes visible to the world and which our lack of love obscures. - Fr David]
After his election to the Papacy, he noted that scripture "should be inserted within the current of the great tradition which, through the assistance of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Magisterium, recognized the canonical writings as the Word addressed by God to His people who have never ceased to meditate and discover its inexhaustible riches. The Second Vatican Council has reiterated this with great clarity in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum: 'For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgement of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God.'"[4] Citing the Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution, Lumen gentium, Pope Francis said: "The interpretation of the Holy Scriptures cannot be only an individual scientific effort, but must always confront itself with, be inserted within and authenticated by the living tradition of the Church…. The texts inspired by God were entrusted to the Community of believers…to nourish the faith …respect for this profound nature of Scripture conditions the very validity and effectiveness of biblical hermeneutics."[4]
He said the Church must, therefore, not make any doctrinal compromises because "faith cannot be negotiated."[5] Pope Francis asks, when the going gets tough "are we courageous like Peter or a bit lukewarm?"[5] "Throughout history, the people of God have always been tempted to chop a piece off faith."[5] More or less everyone is tempted "not to be too rigid."[5] "But when we start to cut down on faith, to negotiate faith, selling it to the highest bidder – he emphasised – we take the path of apostasy, we begin to lack faith, lack faith in the Lord."[5]
As an example of this "courageous testimony" of the faith, Francis lamented not only the material poverty of the early 21st century but also its "spiritual poverty," meaning a rejection of God and objective standards of morality.[6] Francis referenced Pope Benedict XVI's famous critique of a post-modern "dictatorship of relativism":[6]
There is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the “tyranny of relativism," which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples.And that brings me to a second reason for my name: Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace. But there is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.
John L. Allen noted in response that the speech "offered a clear reminder ... that [Pope Francis] may have a different style than Benedict XVI, but on substance, he's cut from much the same cloth.... References to universal human nature are often shorthand in Vatican discourse for defense of traditional teaching on matters such as sexuality, marriage and the family."[7]
The Aparecida Document, produced by an editorial committee chaired by Cardinal Bergoglio (later Pope Francis), reiterates this point:
Undoubtedly, [the family] is currently suffering a degree of adversity caused by secularism and by ethical relativism, by movements of population internally and externally, by poverty, by social instability and by civil legislation opposed to marriage which, by supporting contraception and abortion, is threatening the future of peoples.


 Encountering Jesus and rejecting worldliness

In both his first homily as pope and in his first address to the cardinals, Francis talked about walking in the presence of Jesus Christ and stressed the church's mission to announce him. In the audience with the cardinals, he emphasized the concept of "encounter with Jesus":
Stimulated by the Year of Faith, all together, pastors and faithful, we will make an effort to respond faithfully to the eternal mission: to bring Jesus Christ to humanity, and to lead humanity to an encounter with Jesus Christ: the Way, the Truth and the Life, truly present in the Church and, at the same time, in every person. This encounter makes us become new men in the mystery of Grace, provoking in our hearts the Christian joy that is a hundredfold that given us by Christ to those who welcome Him into their lives.[8]
In his homily, he stressed that "if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord." He went on to teach that "When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil... when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly".[9]

The theme of rejecting "spiritual worldliness" has been described as a leitmotif of his teachings even before he became pope.[10] Understanding this worldliness as "putting oneself at the center", he said that it is the "greatest danger for the Church, for us, who are in the Church".[11]

In addressing "spiritual worldliness" Pope Francis has said that it is "according to Henri De Lubac, the worst evil into which the Church can fall."[12] This is a reference to a passage from De Lubac's book The Splendor of the Church:[12]


The-Church-as-Mother is never at the end of her labor to deliver us to the life of the Spirit, and the greatest danger we are to the Church, the most subversive temptation, the one that is ever and insiduously reborn when all the rest are overcome, and even strengthened by those victories, is what Abbot Vonier called the temptation to "worldliness of the mind ... the practical relinquishing of other-worldliness, so that moral and even spiritual standards should be based, not on the glory of the Lord, but on what is the profit of man; an entirely anthropocentric outlook would be exactly what we mean by worldliness. Even if men were filled with every spiritual perfection, but if such perfections were not referred to God (suppose this hypothesis to be possible) it would be unredeemed worldliness."If this worldliness of the spirit were to invade the Church and set to work to corrupt her by attacking her very principle, it would be something infinitely more disastrous than any worldliness of the purely moral order.

 Morality as response to God's mercy

Francis preached on his first visit to a parish that "this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy."[13] His motto, Miserando atque eligendo, is about Jesus' mercy towards sinners. The phrase is taken from a homily of St. Bede, who commented that Jesus "saw the tax collector and, because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said to him: 'Follow me'" (italics added to refer to English translation of the Latin motto).[14]
The motto is a reference to the moment he changed his life when he was 17 years old and found his vocation to the priesthood. He started a day of student celebrations by going to confession. "A strange thing happened to me ... It was a surprise, the astonishment of an encounter ... This is the religious experience: the astonishment of encountering someone who was waiting for you ... God is the one who seeks us first."[15]
As cardinal he viewed morality in the context of an encounter with Christ that is "triggered by mercy": "the privileged locus of the encounter is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin." And thus, he says, a new morality—a correspondence to mercy—is born. He views this morality as a "revolution": it is "not a titanic effort of the will", but "simply a response" to a "surprising, unforeseeable, and 'unjust' mercy". Morality is "not a 'never falling down' but an 'always getting up again.'"[16]

The Gospel reading for the Sunday he was scheduled to give his first public address as pope was on Jesus' forgiveness of the adulteress woman. This allowed him to discuss ideas such as: God never wearies of forgiving us; hearing the word mercy, this word changes everything; mercy is beautiful; never tire in asking for forgiveness.[17]


Creative transformation in evangelization

Another theme Pope Francis emphasized in his first address to the cardinals is the new evangelization. He talked about "the certainty that the Holy Spirit gives His Church, with His powerful breath, the courage to persevere and to search for new ways to evangelise."[8]

It is a theme he has repeated in other occasions, specifically in his biography, where he spoke about "transforming pastoral modes" and "revising the internal life of the church so as to go out to the faithful people of God," with "great creativity." He observed that church cannot be passively waiting for clientele among people who are no longer evangelized and who "will not get near structures and old forms that do not respond to their expectations and sensibilities." He asked for pastoral conversion from a church that regulates the faith to a church that transmits and facilitates the faith:[15][18]

He said that the heart of the mission is summarized in this: "if one remains in the Lord one goes out of oneself... Fidelity is always a change, a blossoming, a growth." Key to evangelization is the role of the laity who should avoid the "problem" of being clericalized as their "baptism alone should suffice".[19]

Bergoglio has linked an unwillingness to evangelize with the problems of the Church. "When the church does not emerge from itself to evangelize, it becomes self-referential and therefore becomes sick".[20] "The evils that, over time, occur in ecclesiastical institutions have their root in self-referentiality, a kind of theological narcissism."[20]
In Buenos Aires, he called on his priests to evangelize in this way:[21][22]
Our sociologists of religion tell us that the influence of a parish has a radius of six hundred meters. In Buenos Aires there are about two thousand meters between one parish and the next. So I then told the priests: «If you can, rent a garage and, if you find some willing layman, let him go there! Let him be with those people a bit, do a little catechesis and even give communion if they ask him». A parish priest said to me: «But Father, if we do this the people then won’t come to church». «But why?» I asked him: «Do they come to mass now?» «No», he answered. And so! Coming out of oneself is also coming out from the fenced garden of one’s own convictions, considered irremovable, if they risk becoming an obstacle, if they close the horizon that is also of God.In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don’t baptize the children of single mothers because they weren’t conceived in the sanctity of marriage... These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it’s baptized!... Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit.
Criticising overemphasis on sexual morality

In a book-length interview by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti, entitled "El Jesuita," Bergoglio while a cardinal criticised those who reduce the faith to its precepts on sexual morality. He criticizes those homilies "which should be kerygmatic but end up speaking about everything that has a connection with sex. This can be done, this cannot be done. This is wrong, this is not. And so we end up forgetting the treasure of Jesus alive, the treasure of the Holy Spirit present in our hearts, the treasure of a project of Christian life that has many implications that go much further than mere sexual questions. We overlook a very rich catechesis, with the mysteries of the faith, the creed, and we end up concentrating on whether or not to participate in a demonstration against a draft law in favor of the use of condoms."[18] As an example, Bergoglio related a story of a young Priest giving preparing girls for their first communion (generally girls around the age of eight):[23]
What a wonderful opportunity to speak of the beauty of Jesus! But no: before Communion he recalled the conditions to receive: a fasting time, being in God's grace and ... not using birth control! The young girls were all dressed in white and he reproached them about contraception. That is the distortion that sometimes arrives. That's what I mean when I speak of the reduction of the beauty of kerygma to sexual morality.
He does not, however, argue that the Church's sexual precepts can or should be changed. Rather he emphasizes that moral catechesis is not the heart of evangelization:[18]
"I am sincerely convinced that, at the present time, the fundamental choice that the Church must make is not that of diminishing or taking away precepts, of making this or that easier, but of going into the street in search of the people, of knowing persons by name. And not only because going to proclaim the Gospel is its mission, but because if it does not do so it harms itself. It is obvious that if one goes into the street it can also happen that one has an accident, but I prefer a thousand times over an accident-ridden Church to a sick Church."
"After the encounter with Jesus Christ is the reflection, which is the work of catechesis."[24] This involves "reflection on God, Christ and the Church, from which can then be deduced the [Church's moral] principles, religious moral behaviors that are not in contradiction with the human, but give greater fullness."[24]

There is much more to this excellent wikipedia article on Pope Francis' theology, and I recommend it.  The numbers in brackets refer to the footnotes in the article.


POPE FRANCIS AND TRADITION

In order to understand Pope Francis, it is necessary to understand his theology of Tradition which follows in the footsteps of  St Vincent of Lerins:

Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly 'Catholic,' as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality [i.e. oecumenicity], antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.
(4) What then will the Catholic Christian do, if a small part of the Church has cut itself off from the communion of the universal Faith? The answer is sure. He will prefer the healthiness of the whole body to the morbid and corrupt limb. But what if some novel contagion try to infect the whole Church, and not merely a tiny part of it? Then he will take care to cleave to antiquity, which cannot now be led astray by any deceit of novelty. What if in antiquity itself two or three men, or it may be a city, or even a whole province be detected in error? Then he will take the greatest care to prefer the decrees of the ancient General Councils, if there are such, to the irresponsible ignorance of a few men. But what if some error arises regarding which nothing of this sort is to be found? Then he must do his best to compare the opinions of the Fathers and inquire their meaning, provided always that, though they belonged to diverse times and places, they yet continued in the faith and communion of the one Catholic Church; and let them be teachers approved and outstanding. And whatever he shall find to have been held, approved and taught, not by one or two only but by all equally and with one consent, openly, frequently, and persistently, let him take this as to be held by him without the slightest hesitation.
The Vincentian Canon of St. Vincent of Lerins

From Chapter 4 of The Commonitory (aka The Commitorium), AD 434


Eduardo Echeverria in "First Things" sums up some of Francis' ideas:



What does this mean for how Pope Francis understands theology and tradition? A few comments here must suffice.
First, the communion of the Church is the agent of Tradition, that is, of the transmission of revelation, of the normative sources (“origins”) of the faith.
 Secondly, this transmission is about the reality itself of, for example, the sacrament of the Eucharist rather than merely the meaning and judgement about the Eucharist expressed in propositions. Of course the gift of the reality of the Eucharist is inseparable from its intelligible mediation in intellectual propositions as well as fitting language about this reality.

Thirdly, the content of Tradition includes the Church. As Dei Verbum puts it:
The Church in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes. This tradition which comes from the apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities [of salvation history] and the words which have been handed down.
I continue from Eduardo Echeverria in First Things:

In the thought of Pope Francis the Christian life has two dimensions, Tradition and Encounter with Christ.  When they are authentic they are inseparable: a true participation in the life of the Church inevitably brings about an encounter with Christ; and an encounter with Christ, however individualistically interpreted, however even anti-Catholic the context in which such an encounter may happen, inevitably brings the convert into a relationship with the Catholic Church and into participating in the Tradition of the Church.  As Alexei Khomiakov wrote, 


"We know that when any one of us falls he falls alone; but no one is saved alone. He who is saved is saved in the Church, as a member of her, and in unity with all her other members. If any one believes, he is in the communion of faith; if he loves, he is in the communion of love; if he prays, he is in the communion of prayer." 

 This is true of anyone who has been embraced by Christ and who responds, however imperfectly; and Christ is the Good Shepherd who is willing to leave the ninety-nine sheep to look for the sheep that is lost, wherever he may be found. As we have already seen, the Church's essential mission is to bring Jesus Christ to humanity, and to lead humanity to an encounter with Jesus Christ: the Way, the Truth and the Life No one is more insistent than Pope Francis that we must break down any barriers, look in every corner, even those that are normally forgotten and use all our ingenuity to discover new ways of contacting people in order to present them with the Good News of God's Mercy in Christ.  If we come across a barrier - it doesn't matter what kind - then we must do all we can to remove it.


Thus, Tradition, which is handed down from apostolic preaching and includes the experience in Christ down the ages and across the world, is full of ancient wisdom and ever-new encounters.  

Hence a continual effort is necessary, Pope Francis believes, to reconcile the language expressing the eternal truths with the language and circumstances of the constantly new encounters.  It involves “seeking ways of expressing unchanging truths in a language which brings out their abiding newness.”  It involves re-telling the ancient truth of the Gospel in such a way as it sheds light on the new encounter.

Pope Francis, as an enthusiast for Vatican II, is a ressourcement theologian and looks to Tradition to find solutions to modern problems.  In the words of Charles Peguy, he is seeking a revolution by going back and digging deep to look for insights among the sources of grace in the Tradition of the Church:
a [true] revolution is a call from a less perfect tradition to a more perfect tradition, a call from a shallower tradition to a deeper tradition, a backing up of tradition, an overtaking of depth, an investigation into deeper sources; in the literal sense of the word, a “re-source.” 
Pope Francis is striving to so interpret Tradition that it will enlighten and not get in the way of our understanding the personal encounters with Christ that inseparably belong to Tradition.  Marcellino d'Ambrosio puts it succinctly:
It is important to note that the ressourcement advocated by these thinkers was not ultimately a work of scholarship but rather a work of religious revitalization. Indeed, in their writings the word “source” only secondarily refers to a historical document; the primary meaning they assign to the term is a fountain-head of dynamic spiritual life which never runs dry.{32} The events and words of Scripture, the rites of the liturgy, the creeds and decrees of the councils, the teaching of the Fathers, Doctors, and great spiritual masters , all of these organs of tradition are, for them, sources inasmuch as they are channels of the one, incomparable Source that is the Mystery of Christ. The ultimate goal of the renewal is not, then, a more accurate historical understanding of Christian origins, but rather, in Congar’s words, “a recentering in the person of Christ and in his paschal mystery.”
Pope Francis has this to say:

Whenever we make the effort to return to the sources [of faith] and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world. Every form of authentic evangelization is always ‘new.
To illustrate this let us imagine a typical new encounter in our time, living as we do in a secular world.  A young girl is brought up in a Catholic family, but by the time she is twenty she has adopted a basically secularist and consumerist attitude to life.  She may be quite moral and decent, but God plays little or no part in her life.  She falls in love with a young man and they marry in the Catholic Church to please her parents who always hope that she will return to the practice of her faith.  It is a happy marriage at first; but, little by little, they move apart and, finally, divorce. Both marry again and, as is often the case, these marriages stick.  They have children by their second marriages and the girl and her new man are very happy.  However, it comes to the time for her two kids to receive first communion.  Moreover, as she attends the preparatory talks for parents, her childhood faith returns with force, and she wants to receive communion with her children.   But she is divorced and has married her second husband in a registry office.

Let us call her parish priest Father Burke.   To him it is a clear case: her first marriage was valid and so, objectively, she is living in adultery.  She cannot receive communion until she and her new "husband" separate or decide to live "as brother and sister".

How does a priest who follows in the footsteps of the pope tackle this problem?  Let us call him Father Francis.  She is living through a moment of grace.  For the first time as an adult her relationship with Christ has become important and real.   How does this new fact of a lived relationship with Christ become "Good News" to her in her new situation, and how is it related to the constant teaching of the Church that Christian marriage is for life?

Father Burke and Father Francis agree wholeheartedly that Christian marriage is a life-long union between a man and a woman and that, while the marriage exists, neither spouse can marry again.

   In spite of Father Burke's understanding of the situation, neither he nor the other priest are calling into question the Church's teaching. However, Father Burke has an essentially legal view of marriage and believes that a change in the law means a change in the teaching, so he doesn't recognise the orthodoxy of Father Francis. On the other hand, Father Francis accepts the same teaching but puts it in a wider context and believes that other factors need to be taken into account before a conclusion is reached.

When Christ meets someone in a personal encounter, he is not holding out a rule book: he is offering mercy and is seeking a relationship with the person, a relationship that is salvation.  Just when this woman is in the process of being offered a relationship with Christ she is presented with Canon Law and is told that, in order to go to communion, she must give up her marital relationship with her husband and place the existence of her family in jeopardy.

Father Francis will seek help from Tradition.  He will know that the source of all the Church's powers is the liturgy celebrated by the local churches (Sacrosanctum Concilium 1, 10), especially in the celebration of the Eucharist.  He will know that, although as a reality, the Mystery of Christ is identical in all times and places, its formulation in words and ceremony differs according to the language, culture and history of each place.  However, he will also know that, in so far as the celebration of the liturgy is a genuine participation in the Mystery of Christ, the formulation and ideas elicited by life in Christ will be fruit of the synergy (harmony in action) between the church and the Holy Spirit.  Thus true Tradition is manifold with a diversity that manifests a unity of faith and a common sharing in the same Mystery of Christ.  This is the context for understanding the Vincentian Canon quoted above.

Father Francis will follow the example of the liturgists after Vatican II who wished to obey the wishes of the council fathers to introduce the epiclesis into the Roman Liturgy, and did so by borrowing texts and ideas from non-Roman traditions.  Remembering the adage, "Where the Eucharist is, there is the Church," he will hunt far and wide for something he can use, even from those apostolic churches which history has separated from us but which continue to have a living tradition based on participation in the Eucharist.  He will find the solution in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, in the distinction between "akribia" and "economia" which allows him to keep the law intact (akribia) while allowing Christ to by-pass the law (economia) to bring the woman and her family into a relationship with him.

When, in Vatican II, we gave up the "perfect society" paradigm as the main key to understanding the Church, and substituted the "Church as communion", we were enabled to recognise man-made societies of Christians like Methodists and Baptists are authentic Christian communities of grace even though they lack some basic requirements for being proper churches. There is a direct parallel between our understanding of the Church and of the family.  If we recognise the Church as a legal society held together by papal jurisdiction is a view that is neither deep enough nor wide enough, so, inevitably, seeing Christian marriage as primarily a legal contract underwitten by God shares the same limitations.   In Orthodox theology, marriage as a legal contract belongs to its secular reality, not to marriage as a sacrament.  Marriage becomes a sacrament when the human relationship is taken up by the Church into an eternal relationship that reflects the life of the Holy Trinity.   Once Christian marriage is seen in terms of communion and relationships, then the relationship between the partners, as well as with their children, in an invalid marriage can be recognised as having a certain Christian reality as well as a human reality which makes it worth preserving in spite of its illegality.

 The family in our example is bringing up its children in the faith, which implies the presence of the Holy Spirit.  If the woman has met Father Francis rather than Father Burke, she will be living an integral Catholic life, going to communion with her children, and nurturing her relationship with the Lord.  Perhaps one day, with the agreement of her partner, they will live as "brother and sister" because the teaching of the Church remains, but it will be in a way that doesn't threaten the stability of the present relationship.  It will be a response to God's mercy, a desire to please God who has done so much for her, rather than an imposition of God's law in the face of all that is good in the second "marriage".

Of course, Father Burke won't understand the situation because hhe believes the definition of marriage in Canon Law says all that is necessary and Father Francis has changed the rules and hence changed the teaching.   The newspapers won't understand the situation because they are they have their own liberal agenda and believe that Father Francis wants to permit divorce, and it isn't about divorce but about the Good News.

The New Evangelisation is dealing with lapsed Christians, people who possess the hardness of heart characteristic of those who have not yet encountered Christ but with all the legal consequences of being Christians.   It is meeting up with all kinds of legal complications and barriers, as well as cultural obstacles.  Another characteristic is that it is primarily concerned with the Good News and that nothing is more important than this, no obstacle too big or too complicated that it cannot be overcome.  Nothing will be allowed to hinder a relationship with Christ nor to obscure the sheer gratuity of God's grace.





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