O Lord Thou shalt open my lips and my mouth shall declare Thy praise.

Monday, December 31, 2012

We Give You Thanks For All Your Blessings...

It is the last day of the year. Let us give thanks for all the blessings of this past year.

From the Byzantine Akathist Hymn of Thanksgiving:

"Kontakion 10
No one can put together what has crumbled into dust, but You can heal men whose conscience has become twisted; You give the soul its former beauty, which long ago it had lost without a hope of change. With You, nothing is hopeless. You are Love. You are the Creator and the Redeemer of all things. We praise You with this song: Alleluia!"

Give thanks for God's Power.
Give thanks for God's Mercy.
Give thanks for Divine Love.
Pray that sinners will repent.
They know not what beauty waits in store for them when they repent and return to the Love of God. Their purity will be restored to them; their sins shall be taken away, removed from their past; and they shall be renewed for the glory of God.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Our Lord's Extended Family

Christmas is a time for visiting extended family. Today in the Byzantine Rite we look at some of Our Lord's extended family. Today, the Sunday within the Post-feast of the Nativity, is the Feast of St. Joseph the Betrothed, St. James the Brother of the Lord, and St. David the Royal Prophet.

Icon of the Flight into Egypt, today's Gospel for the Feast of Sts. Joseph, David, & James. This icon seems to have St. James (or at least a St. James) behind the donkey.

Icon of St. James the Less, Brother of the Lord and First Bishop of Jerusalem. The Church's original ceremony for the Holy Eucharist was composed by him, the Divine Liturgy of St. James. It is still used in the Antiochean Rites. We know that he is for a fact Our Lord's cousin from a couple of different passages. Most notably, at the foot of the Cross, St. John, a complete non-relative (whose family is identified in the Gospels), gets custody of the Mother of God. By Jewish law, when a woman's husband died, she went into the custody of her children. If she had no children, she was destitute. The fact that Christ gave His mother to St. John tells us that a)St. Joseph was dead, so Our Lord already had already inherited custody of her; b)He had neither siblings nor step-siblings (who were identical to siblings in law), since they would have automatically inherited her from Him upon His death on the cross; and c)He didn't want her to be destitute, which is what would have happened otherwise. That also tells us that St. Joseph didn't have a previous marriage as those children would have been Our Lord's step children. So with Our Lord having neither siblings nor step-siblings as the conversation at the foot of the cross gives away, St. James could only be one of the other meanings of the word "brother": either a male cousin or a "bro". As he wasn't among the 3 favored apostles-that was the other St. James, the older brother of St. John-he couldn't have been "bro". Therefore St. James was a cousin-and probably a closer cousin than St. John the Forerunner.

Icon of St. David the Prophet and King, Composer of the Psalms and Ancestor of God.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sin is an Optical Illusion

A sin is not some object just sitting in your past. Rather, it is a hole; a void. Committing sin doesn't fill us (even though it might seem to satisfy us), rather it separates us from the Love of God, creating a void in our lives. The notion of sin filling and satisfying us is an "optical illusion" if you will. It seems to satisfy us, but in fact only makes a hole. The more we seek sinful pleasures, in order to fill that hole in our lives, the more we make the void bigger, for sin is a hole, not an object. It's like trying to repair a hole in some fabric by tearing the fabric even more.

When a sin is forgiven, nothing is destroyed, rather the hole is filled with Divine Love, the Love in which Christ the Bridegroom sacrificed Himself on the cross for the remission of sin. When we are forgiven and absolved of our sin, our past changes such that we never sinned. If someone were to look at our past and our whole life, they would not see a sin that was later destroyed, nor would they see a void where sin previously was, rather they would see that the void which previously existed in our past, which was our sin, has been filled with Divine Love. The hole, the sin, no longer exists in our past; it has been filled with the Love of God. It never happened. We are changed into a state of never having belonged to anyone but Christ, because that is what Christ deserves to receive, so that is what God's Mercy accomplishes.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

He whose Flesh is the Bread from Heaven was laid in a feeding trough in a town whose name means "House of Bread".

Sunday, December 23, 2012

In the Sin Bin...

Just like how a shot in hockey must have a follow-through, so too must confession. It defies the laws of physics for a hockey player to take a shot and it not have a follow-through. The stick does not stop all of a sudden when it hits the puck. Even the most perfect snap-shot, with almost no follow-through and thus all the more difficult for the net-minder to follow and stop the shot, has a follow-through, even though it is quite small. The stick always continues forward as it continues to propel the puck to the net. So to Confession must have a follow-through, with the soul not returning to its former sins, but controlling and subduing its passions, as the Confession continues to propel the soul to Heaven.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Stop Me If You've Heard This One...

A young Christian maiden was engaged to a pagan in an arranged marriage, out of fidelity to Christ she refused to marry him, she was killed for being a Christian, and is venerated as a virgin-martyr. This time the girl is St. Juliana, whose day it is in the Byzantine Rite. She was from Nicomedia and at a young age realized that paganism is a delusion and was secretly baptized. She was betrothed to a pagan named Elusius, whom she refused to marry because he wasn't a member of the Church. Her father ordered her to marry him, but she remained faithful to Christ, for which she was severely beaten by her father.

When that was of no avail, her father handed her over to the pagan Elusius, who pleaded with her to marry him, even promising that he would let her remain Christian. She was unmoved (and indeed such promises of respecting the Christian spouse's religion are rarely ever kept, even today). He had her arrested and beaten severely in front of large crowds for being faithful to the Church. She remained faithful and was beaten repeatedly, each time being miraculously healed of her wounds. Eventually, Elusius gave up and had her beheaded in 304. 500 men and 150 women that witnessed her passion were converted by it and likewise martyred, baptized in their own blood.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Another Penitent For You

Icon of St. Boniface of Rome

I've written about penitents before. They are my favorite saints. They are female saints who were neither virgins nor married, in other words, whores who converted. Those I've already covered are: St. Theodora of Alexandria, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Mary of Egypt, St. Pelagia of Antioch, and St. Margaret of Cortona.

Today in the Byzantine Rite we celebrate St. Boniface, martyr. The Latin Rite celebrates him on May 14. He was a slave who was also the lover of his mistress, Aglaida (Aglae for short). They lived in debauchery together (they were "cohabitating" to use a modern term) at Rome. They both got tired of their way of life (in modern terms, the "magic" ran out of their relationship). They looked to Christianity as a way to add meaning to their life. Aglae sent Boniface out to Tarsus to fetch the relics of martyrs. Upon seeing many Christians willingly dying for the Faith after his arrival, he openly declared himself to be a Christian and was martyred, being baptized in his own blood. Upon receiving the remains of St. Boniface as her requested relics, Aglae was promptly baptized and lived the rest of her life as a nun, a total of 18 years, having given her wealth to build a church in his honor, the Basilica dei Santi Bonifacio e Alessio, and the rest going to the poor. The Eastern Churches celebrate St. Aglaida of Rome together with St. Boniface, whereas the Latin Rite doesn't have her on the calendar at all.

Sts. Boniface and Aglaida bored of their life of sin.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

More To Be Desired Than Gold and Many Precious Stones

"Once when I held in my hand the cross which was at the end of my beads, He [Christ, in a vision] took it into His hand; and when He gave it to me again, it appeared to be of four great stones, incomparably more precious than diamonds.-A diamond is but a counterfeit in comparison to these. They had the five wounds of Our Lord engraved upon then after a most curious manner. He told me that I should always see this cross so, from that time forward, and so I did; for I no longer saw the matter of which the cross was made, but only those precious stones-though no other saw them but myself."-St. Teresa of Avila

*The title of this post is from Psalm 18, the Psalm of the Bridegroom, who gave the crucifix on the end of the rosary as a token of His love to His mystical bride, Our Holy Venerable Mother Teresa of Avila whose heart was transverberated by the Heavenly Bridegroom.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

If Only Sex Wasn't Pleasurable

Icon of the Maternity of St. Anne, also known as the Immaculate
Conception. Its elements are St. Joachim, St. Anne, and a
marriage bed. The Theotokos was conceived in the natural
manner, so how pious and holy must that act have been if it had
the capacity to beget the Immaculate Conception herself? How
much self-control over their passions must they have had?
Pray to them for chastity and the sanctification of marriage.
The worst part about sex, the part that is our greatest downfall as a species, is the fact that the conjugal act is physically pleasurable. So many of our problems are caused by that fact. From broken hearts, to broken relationships, to broken marriages, to broken families, all because people are after sexual pleasure and manipulate those around them to get it. Not to mention the worst result of seeking sexual pleasure: eternal damnation; because you are then not just abandoning God in favor of worldly pleasure, but the premier worldly pleasure on top of that (anyone who says you can have it both ways is delusional.)

Indeed the sexual act would be far superior if it was mundane and not physically stimulating. The same act, but not providing any physical pleasure. Now, I cannot say if the carnal pleasure that accompanies sex was always a part of our human nature or if it is a result of original sin, but we would be far better off as a species if sex was not physically stimulating and provided no pleasure. The sin of lust and the manipulation that comes with it would disappear. All the many forms of the sin of lust such as acts that cannot lead to conception (oral sex, masturbation, sodomy, etc.) as well as pornography, prostitution, and so on would disappear together with the sin of contraception and the sin of abortion, for at that point, with the sexual act being mundane and lacking pleasure, only those truly interested in bearing children would even perform it. The only reason why any of those sins exist is because of sexual pleasure. Those sins also constitute the majority of the sins committed in the world. Bl. Jacinta of Fatima said that souls fall into hell like snowflakes because of sins of the flesh and the Mother of God told her that more people go to hell for sins of the flesh than any other reason.

So why would the sexual act causing no stimulation be such an improvement? What are we trying to get at? What's the big idea? Consider the Carnal Intimacy between Christ and His Bride: the Holy Eucharist. It is a mundane physical act that provides very little stimulation of any kind. It is the consumption of a small piece of ritual bread soaked in ritual wine (in the Western Rites, only the bread). The senses are barely stimulated at all and sense only mundane food. Only the intellect knows that It is the Flesh of God. It is a great power and reality we have, the ability to be physically intimate with Christ Our Bridegroom in the Divine Mysteries. Thank God that it is a physically mundane act with no physical pleasure, or else people would be grabbing Holy Communion sacrilegiously and in large quantities, only for their own physical pleasure in extreme degrees, with no regard for God, in a manner not unlike...well...the pursuit of sexual pleasure. How glorious it is that the Carnal Intimacy between Christ and His Bride is physically mundane, so that it is left aside and not abused by those who are worldly and do not love God. (Sadly, the Divine Mysteries are abused by those with false theology about the Eucharist and liturgy, but that's a topic for another day.)

The sexual faculties are a great, magnificent, awe-inspiring power, too great to be trusted to us humans. They exist to beget new life and to make the couple an icon of Christ and His Bride the Church. They are degraded by the fact that the sexual act is physically pleasurable. That causes virtually all humans to abuse their sexual faculties, turn them against their purpose, and abuse them for pleasure. How much more glorious would conjugal love be if it was a mundane and non-stimulating physical act like the reception of Holy Communion! It would mirror the Conjugal Love of Christ and the Church by being mundane physically, and by not arousing the physical passions, leave the soul soul be free to seek its intimacy. How free for prayer in their self-giving would couples be! Sin exists to impede our union with God and lust is the sin par excellence for it impedes our sexual faculties, our natural ability to imitate Christ. Indeed lust causes more damnations than any other sin. If Satan is going to hate anything, it's our natural ability to imitate Christ's self-giving; not an acquired power, but a natural power that we are all born with.

Marriage is the sacrifice of yourself to God to bring your spouse to Heaven. You give your entire self to take care of your spouse, even your very body. The sexual act is the pinnacle and symbol of marriage. It symbolizes the entire giving of your life to your spouse and is the pinnacle of the giving of your entire life to your spouse. That's what makes marriage a sacrament. (A sacrament is a symbol that brings into reality that which it symbolizes. Baptism is a physical washing that symbolizes and causes a spiritual washing. Imagine a stop sign that physically causes you to stop.) Marriage is a verbal (in church) and physical (in the marriage bed) giving of yourself that symbolizes and effects the giving of your entire life. That's why divorce is impossible, you have given your entire life. It is a sacrifice of yourself to the Father to get your spouse to Heaven. It is an imitation of Christ sacrificing Himself to the Father to get His Bride to Heaven. That is why the Holy Cross is called the "Marriage Bed of the Church": it is where Christ sacrificed Himself and it is what is present in the Eucharist, the Physical Intimacy of Christ and His Bride. The physical intimacy of bridegroom and bride within this sacrifice is virtuous, since it is self-less and seeks the salvation of the other. All other sexual acts are sinful, regardless of gender, marital status, consent-without discrimination they are all sinful-for none of them seek the salvation of the other, but physical pleasure and are all degradations of marriage and the sexual faculties.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Make us Pure O Most Pure One!

Theotokos, help us to be like thy Son, that we may receive Him at Christmas, and receiving
Him, become a part of Him. Cleanse us of our sins and make us pure like thy immaculate self,
for thy Son deserves to receive us never having sinned and belonging only to Him.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

St. Nick Gives Arius A Lump of Coal

Icon of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia. At the Council of
Nicaea, St. Nicholas famously pulled the notorious heretic Arius by his beard and punched
him in the face. St. Nicholas was expelled from the council for this and stripped of his
Gospel book (which symbolizes his teaching authority) and his omophorion (which
symbolizes his sacramental authority). Later that night his Gospel and omophor were restored
by Christ and the Mother of God in a vision (shown in the icon), showing that he was right to
condemn the heretic, even though many in the Church found it "uncharitable" and wanted
"dialogue" on the issue of Arianism.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

An Interesting Juxtaposition

The soul of the bride before Confession:

She is soiled and bound by her sins.
In her pride, she won't speak to her bridegroom.

And the soul of the bride after Confession:

She has her purity restored, is free, and her dress is a bit more modest, too.
In her humility, she calls out for help.

It's Advent. That means it's time to go to Confession.