Vice & Virtue: A Men’s Retreat

On Saturday, April 13, St Michael will host “Vice & Virtue: A Men’s Retreat.” Participants will be challenged to reflect on the examples of St David the King and St Joseph the Spouse of the Virgin Mary in their personal battle to be victorious against various vices.

The retreat begins at 9 a.m. with prayer and Mass (Divine Liturgy) and concludes with prayer at 4 p.m. In addition to the main presentations, time will be aloted for silent reflection, conversation, and confession.

The retreat will be led by David Paddison, Fr John Fenton, and Dn Nicholas Mamey. Various resources will also be available.

The cost to cover meals is $12.50 online, or $15 in person. Registration is not required, but is requested. See the link below.

For more information or details, contact Fr John Fenton at stmichaelwhittier@gmail.com

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Lenten Retreat March 16

To aid your Lenten Fast with prayer and meditation, the Society of St Benedict of St Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church will host the V Rev John Finley on Saturday, March 16, for a day-long Lenten Retreat.

Fr John will present three meditations on the theme “The Inner Heaven of Man” which will focus our attention on the healing of Mind, Heart, and Will.

Fr John is the chairman of the Department of Missions & Evangelism for the Antiochian Archdiocese. His meditations will be will surrounded by prayer and Liturgy, silence for reflection and private prayer, and opportunities for confession.

The retreat begins with First Hour (Prime) prayers at 9 a.m. and concludes by 3 p.m. with Ninth Hour (None) prayers. Fast friendly meals will be provided; however, child care is not offered.

St Michael Church is located at 3333 Workman Mill Road, Whittier CA 90601. Please RSVP by sending an email to Fr John Fenton (frjohnfenton@gmail.com) or by telephoning the parish office (562.692.6121).

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When The Lord Give Us Opportunities

Before this parish, in recent months, the Lord has placed several marvelous opportunities. These opportunities take various forms: persons, donations, talents, etc. The question that ought to consume us is whether, and how, we might take advantage of these opportunities.

Putting before us opportunities is oftentimes how Our Lord works with us. He does not foist Himself upon us or lead us by the nose. And rarely, if ever, does He answer our most common prayer; that is, to show us which path we are to take (considering, of course, that our options are all morally upright).

That can be frustrating, especially if we are expecting or demanding some “clear word.” As if God is our Magic 8 Ball who reveals our fortune and future, especially when things have aligned to present us with intriguing or important decisions. That understanding of God reduces both Him and us: Him to a shaman we consult only we are at loggerheads, and us to people who are ultimately governed by fate.

Yet, as we know, Our Lord God desires to be more than an impersonal consultant. And He has designed us with free will; in fact, such free will that He even permits us to ignore Him, revolt against Him, and disown Him. For without this free will, we could not truly and freely love Him.

However, this does not mean that Our Lord doesn’t suggest to us possibilities. In fact, He often opens doors or pathways, points out viable alternatives, and may even give hardly preceptive nudges. Yet whenever Our Lord presents us with opportunities, He then honors our free will by letting us choose our own path—even if that path is not what He would think is the best.

Even this thought raises another bothersome question: Why does Our Lord present opportunities? And why, when He does, doesn’t He make the choices plain.

Well, sometimes the choices are plain; particularly when they involve a moral good or evil. But most often, Our Lord presents us with opportunities to give us the chance to stretch our wings of faith. If I may be so colloquial, it’s as if Our Lord is saying, “Here. Let’s see what you’ll do with this!”

Our Lord presents us with opportunities to give us the chance to stretch our wings of faith.

Mind you, it’s not a test. The Lord rarely treats us like Abraham and Job, seeing how far we’ll go for Him or whether we’re as strong as He thinks. Rather, most often, the opportunities Our Lord presents are just that: opportunities. Chances to explore certain avenues; openings to expand our vision; attempts to help us see things from another angle.

That is how I see the opportunities that the Lord has recently set before us as a parish: chances, openings, attempts, and challenges to think about who we are and how we might proceed differently, perhaps even more remarkably, as a community.

Perhaps we can see these opportunities—and every opportunity the Lord gives us—as a means of remembering that

[L]ove never rests. Love never says, “We’re there.” Love is a long-term project. An undying process. A constant moving forward. Not just to improve, but more importantly, to deepen, to mature, and to grow.

By the prayers of St Michael, and by your prayers, may Our Lord help us see His love in everyone and everything.

Fr John W Fenton

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Lessons & Carols

Featuring a guest conductor, a string quartet, a selection from Handel’s Messiah, and favorite Christmas carols, this year’s Lessons & Carols service will be held at St Michael’s Church on Saturday, December 22, beginning at 6 p.m.

Join us, and invite family and friends. This is a community event, intended for all we know and love!

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Preparing for Christ Mass

The Church and the world prepare for the Lord’s Nativity in two very different ways. And these opposing preparations reveal what each really believes.

The world prepares by putting up trees, lights and other decorations. It also offers “holiday” (or “seasonal”) parties, and thinks nothing of prematurely anticipating christmas day. The world simply can’t wait; in fact, it won’t wait. And so it barges ahead and “celebrates” christmas during the month after Thanksgiving.

The world’s excuse for barging ahead is that “christmas is for the children.” Yet it doesn’t let the children wait for chirstmas. Instead, the world indulges the children. But who are we kidding? The adults are really indulging themselves using children as an excuse; and too often, at the children’s expense.

In doing this, the world shows both its immaturity and its lack of understanding for any celebration. The world shows its immaturity by focusing on itself—its parties, its ideas of how christmas should be celebrated, and its inability to wait. And the world shows its lack of understanding because it believes that the real reason for christmas revolves around the joy it can manufacture for itself.

The Church, by contrast, celebrates not christmas but Christ’s Mass—the day we did not deserve or merit to have Our Lord God come into our flesh to bear our sin, assume our death, and be our Savior. In other words, the Church understands that the reason for Christ Mass revolves around the great and wondrous mystery of Our Lord’s coming down from heaven for us men and for our salvation.

Because of this focus, the Church fixes our attention not on self-serving joy or decorations or parties, but rather on our need to repent, fast and pray so that we might be duly prepared, in heart and mind, to welcome and receive this great gift of God’s Love. Therefore, the Church prepares her members for Christ Mass by urging them to slow down, to focus not on this world, and to meditate on the Lord and world to come.

How can we quietly pray and meditate if we are caught up in going from party to party, or in decorating the house and yard? That is a question the Church urges us to consider. But more importantly, the Church urges us to remember that the month between Thanksgiving and Christ Mass is best spent utilizing the ancient Advent discipline of fasting, prayer and confession.

This discipline helps us reset our focus so that we see that christmas is not “for the children.” Rather, Christ Mass is about the Christ Child whom we are unworthy to receive, but who gives Himself to us nevertheless so that we might leave this world and its allurements behind and be joined everlastingly to God our Father in true and holy joy.

I encourage you, then, during this Advent not to be caught up in the world and its fabricated christmas, but to prepare yourself humbly and meekly so that, with godly intensity, you may celebrate the holy Twelve Day feast of Our Lord’s Nativity.

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Advent Retreat on December 8

The Society of St Benedict will host the annual Advent Retreat on December 8.

The Very Reverend Patrick O’Grady from St Peter the Apostle Church in Pomona will present the three Advent meditations on “Obedience, Repentance, & Pure Prayer.”

This retreat is open to all persons. It is designed primarily to give, for at least a few hours, a respite from the many distractions in December so that one can focus on the gift of Our Lord in our flesh.

The retreat begins with Prime at 9 a.m. and concludes by 3 p.m. with None. Please RSVP by email (frjohnfenton@gmail.com) or telephone (562.692.6121).

(Note: Child care is not provided.)

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Imitating the Saints

On All Saints Day, the Church does not celebrate all those who were baptized, particularly the faithful who are still living. For the Church does not use the word “saint” lightly. Therefore, she does not refer to any or every Christian as a “saint.” Rather, the word “saint” is reserved for those who have led exemplary lives of holiness. And as a mark of their holiness, these men and women would not see themselves as saints. Rather, they would see themselves as unworthy of this honor.

It is not a mark of pride, then, but a recognition of godly humility when a person is canonized (officially recognized) as a “saint.” And it is a witness to all the faithful that we should strive not to be saints, but to live humbly, “soberly, and justly, and godly in this world, looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” (Ti 2.12-13)

The greatest honor bestowed upon a saint, then, is to imitate that person’s life. And there are two things in particular that we should strive to imitate so that we might worthily commemorate the saints.

First, all saints—whether known or unknown—freely confessed Christ and His unending mercy by willingly sacrificing their life. Many of the saints made this confession by spilling their blood as martyrs. Others, however, did not receive the crown of martyrdom, but nevertheless made a great confession by sacrificing all that they had and all that they were for the love of God and the love of all men.

To commemorate the saints by imitation, then, means that we adopt this same attitude of self-sacrifice; that we become willing to give up all our possessions, all our ambitions, all our desires, even our own life if necessary, in order to attain the kingdom of heaven. That is how the saints lived and died; and we honor them by living as they did.

Secondly, all saints strove not for fame, but for humility. All of them desired to be known not for their deeds or writings. Rather, they desired simply to gain true life by losing their lives in a life dedicated to repentance. For they saw themselves as unworthy of even the least of Christ’s mercies, and so lived St. Paul’s creed: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (1 Tim 1.15)

To commemorate the saints rightly, then, means that we adopt their spirit of repentance and humility; that we strive not to impress others, but instead strive to divest ourselves of all pride and self-serving desires. To live knowing that no one is worse than we are, that all are more deserving, and that the Lord should first save everyone else, even the worst sinner—that is the saints’ spirit of humility and repentance that we should strive to imitate. And whenever we do, we truly honor them.

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Learning Compassion From the Least of These

THE MARGINALIZED, THE OUTCAST, the different, the diseased, the stranger, the warehoused—these are the people Our Lord frequently ministers to in and holds before us as examples of living faith. And so, if we wish to be Christians (i.e., those who have Christ living through us), then we should also show intentional compassion to these same folks.

But who are they? The marginalized are the people whom we—in our mind, in our society, in our attitude—shove to the sidelines and think little of. The outcasts are the people who are dismissed and about whom we say (perhaps not with words) that they don’t deserve our time or our rights. The different are the people that we think don’t measure up to our standards of what is normal or acceptable or good. The diseased are the people whom we’re afraid to approach for fear of catching their physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual ailment. The strangers are those who come from places or cultures that we can’t or won’t understand. The warehoused are the people we shut away in care facilities or detention centers or anywhere else so that we can relieve our guilt of having to face them.

In every instance, these folks are the ignored and the invisible.

Too often, however, we not only ignore but also think that the “others” are higher maintenance and so need more of Our Lord’s time. But when we think this way, we are saying that we are the “normal people.” And that’s a mark of pride, no different from the Pharisees and others who wondered why Jesus ate and reached out and spent time with ostracized.

Yet these are precisely the folks Our Lord reaches out to. On purpose. And with compassion. In the Gospels, these folks are the publicans, the sinners, the lepers, the Samaritans. They include St Photina (the Samaritan woman at the well), St Matthew, Zacchaeus, St Mary Magdalen, the 10 lepers, the “yapping” woman who begged from crumbs from the Master’s table, and St Dismas (the “good thief” to whom Jesus promised Paradise).

No doubt, Our Lord feels for and identifies with the marginalized. Because He Himself was marginalized, outcast, and ignored. By His own people. “He came to His own and His own received Him not.” In fact, they often attacked His origin (suggesting He was a bastard), His ethnicity (saying He was from Samaria, and so not a real Jew), His education (questioning His credentials to teach), His authority (who is He to forgive sins).

Yet I think the primary reason Christ identifies and aids the marginalized is because He sees that we need them more than they need us. For in the sidelined Our Lord sees in them both a greater appreciation for His ministry and help, and therefore a greater empathy to those in a like position. And in this way, they become our teachers.

In a way that challenges our pride, it works like this. For my salvation, I must not only see the marginalized. Even more so, I must see not that they need me but that I need them! This is best expressed by the beggar who once asked why passersby were denying their way to salvation by refusing to help him.

The path to salvation, then, is a path which humbly says these words to all those whom society shoves aside: ‘I take your suffering and burden so much that it becomes my own. In taking on your travails, I become marginalized myself and then can see things differently and with more compassion, just like you do.’ That’s the real stuff that takes courage: humility to admit we need them and their suffering and perspective more than they need us and what we can offer.

That’s why Our Lord frequently ministers to folks that I tend to ignore or push aside. It’s not just because Our Lord is compassionate, nor even to show us what mercy looks like. And it is certainly not so that I can thank God for my blessings and the times of been so close to being “one of them.”

Rather, the marginalized are God’s gift to me so that I might work on my own salvation while learning from them how true compassion works.

V Rev John W Fenton

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