"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

Wednesday, 6 December 2017


It came to me as a blow in the dark that, if my understanding of the Church is correct, if Orthodox churches and Catholic churches are identical, each  being the same body of Christ because all participate in the same Eucharist, then, where the two churches are most opposed, if we dig far enough, we will discover underneath the opposed theologies an identical faith which, till now, has only been inadequately expressed by the mutually exclusive theologies.   I came to this conclusion when studying and meditating on the Immaculate Conception.

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is a conclusion reached by theologians of the Franciscan school who accepted another doctrine much beloved by the Church Fathers of the East but accepted in a western context.  Anyone who studies and explores through prayer the wonders of the Incarnation will realise that so great a mystery cannot be plan B, devised simply to rescue us from sin.  The Incarnation and the consequent divinization of the universe through humankind are what creation is all about.  Adam and Eve are simply reverse images of Christ and his mother and, through their disobedience, simply set the scene for the obedience of Jesus and Mary.  Jesus, the new Adam, and Mary, the new Eve, have, through their obedience, brought about the new race of risen people who have chosen in Christ life over death and thus will share in the life of the resurrection in the new heaven and the new earth:  "The glory of God is man fully alive."

This is what St Irenaeus has to say about the new Adam and the new Eve:

The Lord, coming into his own creation in visible form, was sustained by his own creation which he himself sustains in being. His obedience on the tree of the cross reversed the disobedience at the tree in Eden; the good news of the truth announced by an angel to Mary, a virgin subject to a husband, undid the evil lie that seduced Eve, a virgin espoused to a husband.
As Eve was seduced by the word of an angel and so fled from God after disobeying his word, Mary in her turn was given the good news by the word of an angel, and bore God in obedience to his word. As Eve was seduced into disobedience to God, so Mary was persuaded into obedience to God; thus the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve.

Just as the disobedience of Eve was a prelude to the disobedience of Adam by which sin and death entered the world, so the obedience of Mary who said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord..." made possible the obedience of Christ "unto death" by which we were saved.  In the Church, the obedience of Christ who became our salvation through obedience meets the obedience of Mary who received the Lord into herself through obedience and the Church becomes one body, and, likewise,  Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin become the new Adam and the new Eve.

However, Duns Scotus who first formulated the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception sees Mary in an even wider context.  Here is a quotation:

   Scotus’ Lectura on the Third Book of Sentences of Peter Lombard deals with the mystery of the Incarnation. The Christological basis for Scotus’ theology on the Immaculate Conception is fundamental in order to understand this privilege of the Virgin Mary in its correct theological setting.  Scotus builds a theology centred upon Christ, who is eternally predestined by God the Father to assume human nature in the Incarnation.  According to the Subtle Doctor the Incarnation was not primarily intended to be the condition for the redemption of humanity from sin.  In God’s provident plan, the Incarnation of the Word in the person of Jesus Christ was, first and foremost, the apex of the act of creation by God the Father.  All creation has been fashioned according to the image of the Incarnate Word, and is the result of a pure and free act of love on the part of God.  Creation, in this way, enters in a mysterious but real way into a loving relationship with God as a Trinity of Persons.  Each and every creature, being complete in itself and unique in its essence, is a model of God the Son, who became Incarnate in order to glorify His Father for the beauty of creation.  This vision is a direct result of Franciscan spirituality at its best.  It is true that, in the history redemption, the Incarnation was then orientated toward the salvation of humankind from sin, but this aspect, important though it may be, could not be the only reason for the Incarnation.  Otherwise God would not be seen as the personification of the primacy of the free will, expressed in love which overflows from Him onto His creatures.
            It is in this Christological view of the world and of redemption that Scotus speaks about the Virgin Mary as Mother of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God.  She becomes the embodiment of all perfection in creation, freed from sin and from its effects through the saving power of Jesus Christ, the universal Mediator between God and humankind.  It was fitting that God would choose a Mother for His Son, who would be totally free form any stain of original and actual sin, in order to become a channel of grace to us all.  Having explained in a few words Scotus’ Christological vision of creation and redemption, we can now try to understand how he explains the privilege of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary within this theological context.  Scotus expresses his conclusion to all the arguments he brought forward to defend the privilege of the Immaculate Conception:
"I am the Immaculate Conception

“We can therefore say that it was possible that the Blessed Virgin was not conceived in original sin.  This assertion does not diminish in any way the universal redemption of her Son, as we have outlined above.  We can furthermore confirm this, since the passion of Christ was immediately and principally ordered to delete original guilt as well as actual guilt, in such a way that all the Trinity, since it had the foresight of the merits of the passion of Christ, applied them to the Virgin and preserved her from all actual sin, and also from all original sin.” [John Duns Scotus and his Defense of the Immaculate Conception]
Alma Redemptoris Mater 
Gethsemane Abbey
monastery of Thomas Merton

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is an Advent feast in that Mary is the perfect soil in which the most perfect flower of God's creation was planted, through which the whole of creation was to be divinized, the Incarnate Word.

 A very good sermon on the Immaculate Conception

Live promotion of Pope Francis on this feast

What is unique about Advent?

Living Advent in Catholic Tradition

2nd sunday of advent reflections

 Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,who will prepare your way;the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,make his paths straight,’”John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

my source: Vatican Radio
Is 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 Pt 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8
Homily starter anecdote: Conversion of an IRA bomber:  For 300 years the people in Ireland have lived in the past. For 350 years, really, all they have done is remember the past, taking revenge on one another.  But slowly, one by one, on both sides, people have begun to repent, to look, not to the past, but to the future. One of the first to do so was a man named Shane O'Doherty. He was the first former IRA member to come out publicly for peace. Twenty years ago, he was sent to jail for mailing letter bombs. At his trial as a terrorist for the IRA, he had to sit and listen to people tell what it was like to open those letters. Fourteen people testified against him, all innocent victims, many of them mutilated because of what he had done. He said it was sitting in that court, face to face with people who had been harmed by his actions that his conversion began. But it was completed in prison, in his cell, as he was reading Scripture. First, he experienced Jesus' love for him. Then he experienced Jesus' requirement of him. He knew he had to change. When he got out of prison, O'Doherty started to talk about building a new future in Ireland, instead of just repeating the past. He found that his life was now being threatened by his former colleagues. But he continued to do it, because, he said, "I believe that one person is able to make a difference just by talking about peace, just by making his witness. It begins in any nation, in any community, with one person, then another, and then another, saying, ‘I'm going to accept the future that God is giving to us, rather than simply repeating the past.’" Every year in Advent they are there, both John and Jesus, challenging us, "Repent; for the time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom is at hand." God is offering us a new future. Let us choose it, turn away from the past, and accept what God is offering us. 
Introduction:  Advent means coming. During the Advent season, we reflect on the past coming of Jesus into our world two thousand years ago as a little baby, the daily coming of Jesus through the Sacraments, through the Holy Bible and through the worshipping community and the future coming (Second Coming) of Jesus at the end of the world. Today’s readings remind us that the past, present and future comings of Jesus into the world are the fulfillment of the saving plan of God. Today’s Scripture readings deal with coming home – Babylonian exiles coming home, the shalom or perfect peace of coming home, our going home with Jesus at his Second Coming, and Jesus, the Savior, “coming home” into our lives during Advent. 
Scripture lessons summarized: All three readings for Advent II Sunday focus on the absolute necessity of our readying ourselves by repentance and reparation for Christ’s coming.  In the first reading, Isaiah assures his people that the Lord will restore their homeland to them and care for them as a shepherd cares for the sheep. Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 85) also speaks of the return of shalom (perfect peace), and pardon to the people.   The second reading gives an answer to those who scoff at the expectation of the Second Coming of Christ, explaining that God’s way of reckoning time is different from ours and that God has His own reasons for delaying Christ’s second coming. Peter gives us the assurance that Jesus is sure to come again although we do not know when.   Hence, while we wait, we should be leading lives of holiness and godliness. Finally, the Gospel tells us that the restoration of the fallen world has already begun, starting with the arrival of John the Baptist, the messenger and forerunner of the Messiah. John speaks of one, more powerful than he – Jesus Christ – who will baptize us with the Holy Spirit. Each of us has received the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and now we live in the Spirit each day, waiting for the return of our Lord. Thus, we become John the Baptist's successors, preparing for Christ's return which will bring a new and perfect world.
The first reading: Is 40:1-5, 9-11 explained: Isaiah consoles the Jews in exile in Babylon, giving them Yahweh’s assurance that their 60 years of Babylonian captivity will end soon and that they will be going home as free people. He assures them that they will be brought back to Israel by the power of God. Isaiah is not shy about saying that the Exile was a punishment for sin. But Israel’s sins are forgiven now, and the exile is over. Isaiah wants the people to consider their return journey as their second Exodus, with Yahweh once more their loving Father and faithful Shepherd. He describes God's marvelous love for the undeserving.  If Yahweh is now their Redeemer rather than their punisher, then their relationship with Yahweh also has to change.   Isaiah instructs the exiles that they are to return home in a   grand religious procession, with God leading them. To pave the way for this procession, valleys and mountains are to be leveled, and a highway is to be created in the wilderness. God will lead them to Judah and, within Judah, to the city of Jerusalem and, within Jerusalem, to Zion, the hill where their Temple had stood. Seeing the procession in his mind, the prophet exclaims with joy, “Here comes your God with power!" Then he presents the tender picture of God leading the exiles as a shepherd cradles lambs.
Isaiah originally spoke these words in the 6th century BC.  On one level they were fulfilled when Persia conquered Babylon, and those who had been exiled from Judah to Babylon were allowed to return home.  God first accomplished the salvation proclaimed by Isaiah by leading the exiles back from Babylon.  However, on a deeper level this word foretold the coming of Jesus.  The words of Isaiah about the "voice of one crying out in the desert: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths,'" were a prediction of John the Baptist.  He was calling upon people to prepare for the coming of the Lord.  And the Lord was Jesus who brought about true liberation from the bondage of sin for all mankind.  It is because of this deeper meaning of the prophet's words that this reading has been chosen for Advent.
Second Reading, 2 Peter 3:8-14 explained: Taken from the second letter of Peter, this reading makes it clear that the salvation promised by Isaiah was not completely accomplished even by the first coming of Jesus.  It is only when Jesus comes again at the end of time that Isaiah's words will be entirely fulfilled. Hence, Peter warns against false teachers who have given up any expectation of   Christ’s return because of its long delay. As the years rolled by, non-Christians began ridiculing those Christians who still expected Christ’s second coming. A few Christians, in fact, began to believe that it would never happen. They laughed at what they thought was error and delusion.  So Peter reminds them that even though the Second Coming seems to be delayed, Christ will indeed come as promised.   Peter also reminds them that God doesn't reckon time the way we do since, to Him “one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years are as a day” (Psalm 90). In other words, the risen Lord is eternal and infinite and so is not restricted or measured by time in fulfilling promises. Besides, God “is patient” with us, giving us more time to repent of our sins and renew our lives. The longer we are allowed to wait for Christ’s Second coming the more people will have an opportunity to be converted and take part in God’s glory. So Peter assures his people that Christ’s promise will be fulfilled. That is why we say in the Nicene Creed, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His Kingdom will have no end.” We, then, are expected to wait, leading lives of holiness and godliness. We should be holy in conduct and devotion, being "eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace." 
Gospel exegesis: The context:  While Matthew and Luke start their Gospels by giving us a brief account of the conception, birth, and early boyhood of Christ and John begins his Gospel by pointing to the eternal life of Christ as the Word of the Father, Mark opens his Gospel with the preparation for Christ's public life, in which the chief actor is John the Baptist. This wilderness prophet proclaims the "here-ness" of an event and person every Jew has been anticipating. "One more powerful than I," John announces, "is to come after me....I have baptized you in water; He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit."   The essence of the Baptizer’s message is “repent and return to the ways of the Lord.”  John preaches that the appropriate behaviour for those preparing "the way of the Lord" is to be baptized "as they confess their sins."
Malachi’s view of the mission of the Messiah: “I send my messenger before you and he will prepare your road for you” Mark cites Isaiah as his source for the whole of the quotation with which his Gospel opens. This first sentence appeared originally in the prophecy of Malachi (Malachi 3:1). In its original context, it was a threat and warning from God to the Temple priests.  In those days, the priests were living lazy lives and were failing in their duty by offering the blemished and the second-best as sacrifices to Yahweh. Hence, the messenger was to cleanse and purify the worship of the Temple before the Anointed One of God emerged upon the earth. Coupled with Isaiah’s “voice crying in the wilderness,” however, the prophecy becomes an invitation to all Israel to prepare for the coming of the Messiah whom John would announce. So Malachi anticipates the mission of John the Baptist as one of purification.  John gives the them some down-to-earth advice on changing their lives for the better. He wants them (and us as well), to fill in the valleys of prejudice, level the mountains of pride and straighten out the crooked paths of injustice. Preparing a way for God in our hearts is a time-consuming and costly business. It demands our listening to what God is saying to us and then making changes in our behavior. Welcoming God also involves removing all blockages and obstacles which keep Him from coming close to us. “Although Mark attributes the prophecy to Isaiah, the text is a combination of Malachi 3:1; Isaiah 40:3; and Exodus 23:20 … this prophecy of Deutero-Isaiah concerning the end of the Babylonian exile is here applied to the coming of Jesus; John the Baptist is to prepare the way for him” (New American Bible footnotes).
Repent and return to the Lord – the priorities set by John: There are two traditions from which John’s baptism could be derived:  One is the ritual washings by which people cleansed themselves of spiritual impurity. Ritual bathing was especially important in the Qumran community with which John may have had some connection.  The other tradition is proselyte baptism of Gentile converts to Judaism, an initiatory cleansing rite performed by immersion. It seems likely that John borrows from both traditions (ritual washings and proselyte baptism), but establishes his own baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  John recommended a baptism of repentance in the river Jordan to the Jews who were familiar with ritual and symbolic washings (Lev.11-15).  The Jews insisted that when a male Gentile became a Jew, he had to do three things: i) accept circumcision as the mark of the covenant people; ii) offer sacrifice because he stood in need of atonement, and iii) undergo baptism by immersion in water, which symbolized his cleansing from all pollution. The most amazing thing about John's baptism was that he, a Jew, was asking fellow-Jews to submit to that which only a Gentile was supposed to need. John was convinced of the truth that even the chosen people needed true repentance and renewal of life to receive their long-awaited Messiah. We tend to think of repentance as feeling guilty about our sins, but it is more—much more. The Greek word, metanoia, means a change of mind or direction. It is related to the Hebrew word tesubah, used by prophets to call Israel to abandon its sinful ways and to return to God. Both words (metanoia and tesubah) imply “a total change of spiritual direction.” The baptism of a Gentile was accompanied by a confession made to three different recipients as a sign of repentance for sin.  (i) A man must make confession to himself because the first step in repentance is to admit his sin to himself.   (ii) He must make confession to those whom he has wronged.  This involves humiliation and is a test of real repentance since there can be no forgiveness without humiliation.   (iii) He must make confession to God because it is when a man says, "I have sinned," that God gets the chance to say, "I forgive."  
John's message calls us also to confront and confess our sins; to turn away from them in sincere repentance; to receive God's forgiveness; and most importantly, to look to Jesus. Do we need to receive God's forgiveness? There are basically two reasons why we fail to receive forgiveness. The first is that we fail to repent, and the second is that we fail to forgive. Jesus was very explicit about this second failure in Matthew 6:14-15. He says, "For if you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." Is there someone we need to forgive today? Let us not allow what others have done destroy our life. We can't be forgiven unless we forgive. Let us let go of that bitterness and allow God to work healing in our life. Perhaps we need to draw closer to Him. Like the prodigal son’s father, God will run to meet us. He will throw His arms around us and He will forgive us and restore us. He will receive us as His sons and daughters. Let us draw close to Him today, and He will draw close to us.
The effectiveness of John’s ministry: John’s ministry was effective primarily because his life was his message:  he lived what he preached. He was a man from the desert. In its solitude, he had heard the voice of God, and, hence, he had the courage of his convictions. His camel’s hair garment and leather belt resembled those of Elijah and other great prophets of Israel. His food, too, was very simple:  wild locusts and honey. The Israelites had not had a prophet for four hundred years, and the people were waiting expectantly for one.  John’s message was effective also because he was completely humble.   His role was to serve Jesus and to serve the people. "He must increase, I must decrease," he says elsewhere (John 3:30). That is why he publicly confessed that he was not fit to be a slave before the Messiah. He frankly admitted that he was the Messiah’s humble and obedient messenger, preparing a straight way for the Messiah in the hearts and lives of the Jews. His message combined three Scriptural passages familiar to the Jews, namely, Exodus 23:20, Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. That is why John's influence continued to live on after his death.  When the apostle Paul went to Ephesus nearly 30 years later, he found a group of John's disciples (Acts 19:1-7).
Life messages: 1) We need to prepare for the rebirth of Jesus: We are invited by the Church to prepare for Christmas by repenting of our sins and renewing our lives so that Jesus may be reborn in us. Let us ask with Alexander Pope the challenging question, “What do I profit, if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world unless he is born in my heart and in my life?”
2) We need to allow Jesus to be reborn in our lives, radiating his presence all around us.  People around us should recognize Jesus’ rebirth in our lives by our sharing love, unconditional forgiveness, compassionate and merciful heart and spirit of humble and committed service. Let us accept Jesus as our personal Savior and Lord during this Christmas season and remain, or become, true Christians in our daily conduct.  Let us use these days of preparation for Christmas to ready ourselves for Christ’s daily coming and Second Coming, remembering that the Second Coming will occur for each one of us on the day of our death, or on the Day of the Lord, whichever comes first.

3) We need to accept the challenge of John the Baptist to turn this Advent season into a real spiritual “homecoming” by making the necessary preparations. John’s preaching reminds us also of our important task of announcing Christ to others through our lives at home and in the community. When we show real love, kindness, mercy and a spirit of forgiveness, we are announcing the truth that Christ is with us. Thus, our lives become a kind of Bible which others can read. John the Baptist invites us to turn this Advent season into a spiritual homecoming by making the necessary preparations. (Fr. Antony Kadavil).

Prophet Zachariah the father of St John the Baptist
Commemorated on September 5

Troparion & Kontakion:

The memory of Your prophets Zachariah and Elizabeth / We celebrate today, O Lord. / By their prayers, we beseech You, / O Christ God, save our souls!

Troparion — Tone 4

Robed in the vestments of the priesthood, / according to the Law of God you offered whole-burnt offerings in a sacred manner, wise Zachariah. / You became a luminary and a seer of the mysteries, / bearing within yourself the signs of grace, all-wise one. / Slain by the sword in the temple of God, O prophet of Christ, / intercede together with the Forerunner / that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion — Tone 3

Today the prophet Zachariah, priest of the Most High / and parent of the Forerunner, / has prepared a banquet to his memory to nourish the faithful, / mixing the drink of righteousness. / Therefore we praise him as a divine initiate of the grace of God.

The Holy Prophet Zachariah and the Righteous Elizabeth were the parents of the holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord, John. They were descended from the lineage of Aaron: Saint Zachariah, son of Barach, was a priest in the Jerusalem Temple, and Saint Elizabeth was the sister of Saint Anna, the mother of the Most Holy Theotokos. The righteous spouses, “walking in all the commandments of the Lord (Luke 1:6), suffered barrenness, which in those times was considered a punishment from God.

Once, during his turn of priestly service in the Temple, Saint Zachariah was told by an angel that his aged wife would bear him a son, who “will be great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:15) and “will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias” (Luke 1:17).

Zachariah doubted that this prediction would come true, and for his weakness of faith he was punished by becoming mute. When Elizabeth gave birth to a son, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit she announced that his name was John, although no one in their family had this name.

They asked Zachariah and he also wrote the name John down on a tablet. Immediately the gift of speech returned to him, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, he began to prophesy about his son as the Forerunner of the Lord.

When King Herod heard from the Magi about the birth of the Messiah, he decided to kill all the infants up to two years old at Bethlehem and the surrounding area, hoping that the new-born Messiah would be among them.

Herod knew about John’s unusual birth and he wanted to kill him, fearing that he was the foretold King of the Jews. But Elizabeth hid herself and the infant in the hills. The murderers searched everywhere for John. Elizabeth, when she saw her pursuers, began to implore God for their safety, and immediately the hill opened up and concealed her and the infant from their pursuers.

In these tragic days Saint Zachariah was taking his turn at the services in the Temple. Soldiers sent by Herod tried in vain to learn from him the whereabouts of his son. Then, by command of Herod, they murdered this holy prophet, having stabbed him between the temple and the altar (MT 23: 35). Elizabeth died forty days after her husband, and Saint John, preserved by the Lord, dwelt in the wilderness until the day of his appearance to the nation of Israel.

On the Greek calendar, Saints Zachariah and Elizabeth are also commemorated on June 24, the Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist.

St John the Baptist: from conception to beheading
National Gallery

The following video demonstrates that what matters is not the version of Mass, Tridentine or post-Vatican II, but the way we celebrate, whether in continuity with the past or in confining the past to the dustbin of history.  To be truly Catholic, the celebration must be as open to the past as it is to the contemporary or to the future, and must be, in the present moment, even more open to heaven.

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