Why the Kisses?

One common observation made by visitors and inquirers regarding Orthodoxy has to do with one of the main forms of respect and veneration that we practice: kissing. Whether it is an icon in the narthex, the feet of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the relics of the saints, or the hand of the priest, we tend to show our love, our veneration, and our respect towards holy things by kissing them. This is, indeed, an ancient practice.

In the Old Testament we read of kisses as a form of respect, as when Jacob kissed his father Isaac to secure his blessing (Gen 27:27). In the New Testament, the Lord’s feet were kissed by the penitent woman as a sign of devotion and worship (Lk 7:38); there was also the infamous kiss of Judas (Matt 26:49), an ultimate sign of betrayal and the perversion of a holy kiss for ill will. St. Paul tells us in his Epistle to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (2 Cor 13:12). In the Roman world, kissing was the most common form of salutation; one kissed on the lips family members and those of the same social rank (so common, in fact, that we find ordinances banning aristocrats from greeting one another with a kiss on the lips during times of plague), and kissed the hand, foot, or ground in front of those of a higher social standing. So then the practice of kissing as a greeting and of objects as a way to show respect is a major part of our tradition.

As time went on the practice of kissing as a greeting fell out of fashion due to the concerns of arousing inappropriate feelings, but to kiss is still how we show respect to holy things, an act of veneration and a showing of our love. We kiss the Cross on Good Friday to show our love to the Lord who sacrificed himself on that Holy Wood for our salvation. And through that act of veneration it passes through the Cross and to the Lord Himself. This is an important point: we do not worship the item or image itself, but rather He who made all things and who by His Incarnation, by His becoming flesh, sanctified all created matter. We kiss the relics of the saints because in their lives their bodies became conduits of the grace of God due to their closeness to the Lord, and after death they still retain that closeness and grant healing and strength through their relics.

So too, we kiss the priest’s hand not because he himself is worthy of it, but because the priest represents Christ to us, and acts in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, during the Mass. It is also for this reason that the priest disguises himself in vestments, so that the man may be obscured and we might see Christ the Priest and Victim instead. As Abbot Tryphon of Vashon Island Monastery eloquently wrote, “The kissing of the hand of the priest is not about the man, but rather about Christ. It is much like the kissing of an icon, which is not about the veneration of paint and wood, but about the archetype represented in the icon. When we kiss the hand of the bishop or priest, we are not showing respect to the person of the priest but to his sacred office. The priest as priest represents Christ, and is therefore a living icon of Christ. Though he be a sinner, and unworthy in and of himself of such respect, that he touches the Most Holy Things – the Precious Body and Blood of the Lord, the kiss is in actuality, extended to Christ. Through ordination he has received the Grace of God to impart spiritual gifts and blessings, so we should not deprive ourselves of blessings by refusing the priest’s blessing.”

This is why, during the Mass, the deacon, subdeacon, and servers all kiss the priest’s hand. And why, during the Kiss of Peace, the priest first receives the peace of Christ by kissing the altar, and then passing it on to the deacon, who passes it to the subdeacon, and so on. It is the peace of Christ we acquire through the priest. It is not Fr. John’s hand they are kissing, but that of our Lord Jesus. So, too, should we greet the priest by asking his blessing and upon receiving it, kiss the hand of Christ that mystically grants it through the mortal hand of His priest.

In this new year, let us then endeavor to be more aware of the ways in which God reaches out to us and provides us with his love and healing grace: through the hands of his priests, through the holy icons and statues, and through the relics of the saints.

by Sbdn. Ian Abodeely
Pastoral Assistant at St Michael’s Church

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O Blessed Day!

When Our Lord Jesus was eight days old, two things happened in succession. As he was circumcised, Our Lord was given the name Jesus (Luke 2.21).

His circumcision fulfilled a command by God in the Old Testament. That command was a visible sign of the covenant between God and His chosen people. It was also an indication that our mortality traces to our conception, and that our tendency to sin (known as concupiscence) is as inherited as our skin, hair, or eye color.

The holy fathers, however, see something else in St Luke’s mention that Christ is circumcised. This is the first day when Christ’s blood is shed, and so His circumcision both proves that He is truly human and also reveals that our redemption will occur in Christ’s bloodshed on the cross.

That Jesus is named on the day when He is circumcised is not required in the Old Testament; rather, it is in line with a long-standing tradition among the Jews. And, for Luke, the naming of Jesus is as important as His circumcision. For His name explains His purpose.

“His name was called Jesus” because that was the name the Angel Gabriel gave to both Mary (Luke 1.31) and Joseph (Matthew 1.18) on separate occasions. On the day of Our Lord’s conception, when Mary was told to call his name “Jesus” she was also informed that “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest” (Luke 1.32). Joseph heard the Angel’s command when he was dreaming, and was told that the name “Jesus” means, “He shall save.”

Most people give their children a particular name for a reason: to honor a relative or loved one or hero; to connect the child to a patron saints; in the hope that the child will have the qualities that the name describes or elicits; or simply because it sounds nice. However, very often in the Scriptures, names describe a particular human short-coming (like the name, Isaac) or an attribute or blessing from God.

Joseph and Mary obediently follow the Angel’s direction. Like Elizabeth and Zacharias, they don’t name the Holy Child after a relative, but submit their will to the Lord. For they understand that Jesus’ name describes what He will do: He will save His people from their sins.

Because this name is divinely given, and because it proclaims our salvation, the name of Jesus should not be used as an exclamation when something surprising happens. For this is the name by which we are saved, the name above all names, and the name which will cause every knee to bow. (Philippians 2.10) Therefore, this name should always be spoken with holy reverence, and as a prayer.

In fact, it is best to nod the head in prayerful submission whenever we hear or say the holy name of Jesus. By itself, this little action will remind us that Our Lord’s Name and His circumcision fit neatly together. For when Jesus bleeds at His circumcision, He already begins to live up to His name as the Savior who will sacrifice Himself for the sake of all creation.

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Keeping Track of Time

One of the themes for the First Sunday in Advent is to be ‘watchful.’ In the Epistle, St Paul urges us to ‘know the hour’ and in the Gospel Jesus tells us that ‘the kingdom of God is at hand.’ The reason for this watchfulness is aptly given in the prayer after communion: ‘that we may with worthy reverence approach the coming festival of our redemption.’

For the past 1000 years, the Catholic and Orthodox churches in Europe and North America have prepared for and approached the Feast of the Nativity with fasting and prayer. During these days, Friday abstinence is extended to the one-meal fast on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. And additional times for prayer – most especially the radiantly beautiful Rorate Mass – have been provided.

There is also another precious custom kept primarily in the home that helps us be watching and ‘know the hour.’ That custom is the Advent wreath.

The advent wreath consists of two things: candles and greens. The candles remind us that, as the days shorten and darkness increases, ‘the Light who enlightens all’ will soon be born. And the greens remind us that this Light who cannot be overwhelmed is also the Life of all.

The Advent wreath helps us keep track of time by the way the candles are used. Four candles (three purple and one rose) prepare to count down the Sundays before Christ Mass. Each week, another candle is lit increasing our anticipation until, in the last few days before the feast, all four colored candles are burning.

Of course, the candles are not lit merely to provide light. Like the candles we light in front of our icons and statues, they are symbols of faith while helping us center our prayers. So also with the Advent wreath. This outward act of counting down does us most good when it is coupled with the inward and spiritual action of reading Scripture, praying, and singing a hymn.

Here’s my suggestion, based on long-standing practice: In the evening, when the day has wound down, turn down or off all other lights, and light the appropriate number of Advent candles. As these candles shed their cheerful light with their warm glow, say the Our Father and Hail Mary and another fitting prayer. You may also wish to read a brief Scripture selection and sing an Advent hymn or a song in honor of the Holy Mother of God.

Dedicating yourself daily to this simple devotional practice will heighten your anticipation of Our Lord’s Nativity. It will also make you mindful of the time, and will assist you in being ‘watchful’ in your words and actions so that your ‘rough places’ may be made smoother.

This devotional may also bring to mind that Our Lord comes both to disperse the darkness that too often infects our souls, and to warm the coldness that we sometimes feel toward God and others.

But let me take this one step further: On Christ Mass Day, replace the colored candles with four white candles, and keep up the same practice during each of the Twelve Days until the Feast of the Epiphany. With this routine, you will enter the New Year with the daily habit of prayer, meditation, and song. Can there be a better way to chase way gloom from our homes, and to be ever mindful of Our Lord’s nearness?

Wishing you and yours a joyful preparation for the Feast of Our Lord’s Nativity, I remain your spiritual father in Christ,

Fr John

Postscript: The ‘Prayers for Advent and Christmas’ that I’ve prepared are designed to make easier Scripture, prayer, and hymn selections.

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Love Yourself?

The words that you heard Our Lord Jesus speak to the Pharisees in the Gospel (Mt 22.34-46) are both subtle and profound. They are subtle because they contain not simply the answer that He wishes to give to them, but also a little bit more that they need to hear. And they are profound because they draw us out of ourselves and deeper into the mystery of the love that God is.

Let’s first consider their subtlety. The Pharisees wish to trap Jesus and so they send someone who knows the law, someone who knows the answer to the question he is going to ask. So this is not a curious question. This is not someone saying, “Gee, Jesus, what do you think of this one?” Rather it is a very tricky, craftily devised question to see how Jesus will answer.

What is the first commandment? You all know the answer. You know that the first commandment is that you shall have no other gods. But that is not how Jesus chooses to answer the question, even though that’s what the Pharisees and especially that expert in the Torah expects to hear.

Jesus simply wishes to focus on something that they have forgotten, something that too often is misunderstood by us, something that escapes us because it lives in our emotions rather than living in who we are. And so the first word out of His mouth is “love.”  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

Love God above all else. If you love something else more than God, then you do not yet love God. And to love God is to love God above everything else, to fear nothing but losing God, and to trust in God more than you trust anyone, or anything else.

Love God with all that you are and with all that you have. That’s the first commandment.

The key word is “love.” A word that has escaped these men, for they were not interested in loving Jesus. They were envious of him. They wanted to trap him and trick him. They wanted to see how they could get him. And anytime you want to trip someone up, anytime you want to get at them, anytime you want to stab them with some word, you do not love.

This is why Jesus then continues with more than what they asked for. For they asked for the first commandment and he told them, “This is the first and greatest of all commandments. But the second commandment is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Notice the order. “To love God is to love our neighbor” (St John Chrysostom). It does not say that to love our neighbor is to love God. For if we put the neighbor first, then we can determine who our neighbor is and how we are going to treat them. And too often our neighbors are people we like, not the people that we think are smelly or dissatisfying to us. And too often the neighbor is the one that we think we can manipulate and bully or use.

Now if we put the neighbor first and say “to love the neighbor is to love God,” then we might be thinking we can get away with something with God. That we can manipulate God and bully Him; that we can say to Him, “See what I have done for you; now here is something you can do for me.”

That is often times how our prayers tend to go, even if we don’t say those exact words. For our prayers tend to be, “God I did my part, now you be fair and do your part. Do the help that I say I need from you because I did the thing that You said I should do.”

To put God first; to love God by loving your neighbor—that means that we must love our neighbor in the same way that we love God: with all that we are and with all that we have.

To love our neighbor then is not to try and manipulate him, or to use him, or to bully him, or to see what we can get from him, or to bargain with him. To love our neighbor is to realize that any person put in front of us —not just the ones we like, not just the ones that are agreeable to us, but anyone in front of us—that is the person we are to love. And we are to love with the same love that we have for God: without any fear of losing or being short changed ourselves, without any trust in what we do, without any love for ourselves. That is how we are to love our neighbor because that is how we are to love God.

This escaped the Pharisees. It too often escapes us as well. But it escaped them because, as I said, they were envious, they were jealous, they were trying to trap him, they were trying to use his words against him. Rather than hearing what he was saying, they wanted to just listen to the words. Jesus of course understands this and chooses his words better than we do. He’s very precise in his language and hits the bottom note just exactly where it needs to be: on the word love.

Now, when Jesus proceeds further He becomes profound. He draws us out of our self, and into the mystery who God is. For our Lord says that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Too often we hear that backwards too. Too often we think that in order to love my neighbor I must first love myself. And since I don’t yet love myself how can I love my neighbor? And so my neighbor will get no love whatsoever until I’ve learned to love, and forgive, and be at peace with myself.

That’s not what Jesus says. He says love your neighbor as yourself. Not love yourself and then love your neighbor. That is too often how we operate. Our Lord is urging to do is to think about how we are to love ourselves.

We all know that within us lurks some sort of darkness—some darkness of the soul, some darkness of the mind. We all know that within us lurks some sort of fear and anxiety so that we are unsettled with who we truly are. No doubt, this is why we are constantly trying to shift or shape our identity and say to ourselves: “Maybe I fit here, maybe I fit there, maybe I should do this instead. I’m unhappy with all sorts of things in life: work, friends, family: all these things that annoy me.”

How is it then with all this darkness lurking within us, when we’re not very sure about who we are, with all this unhappiness—even during the times when we’re peaceful and at rest—how is it then that we can even begin to love ourselves?

We love ourselves when we listen not to what our voice says, not to what we think about ourselves, but instead hear the identity that God has given to us: the statement of love He has spoken to us. For He spoke in the waters of baptism the same word to you that He said to his beloved Son: “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, in whom I am well pleased.”

Now we have a choice. Do we believe what God says about us, that He loves us even though He knows our darkness? Even though He knows our flaws? Even though He knows we are constantly veering off in the wrong direction and are making promises that we cannot keep, or will not keep? Even though he knows all of that, He still loves us.

Do we believe what God clearly says to us? Or do we believe the darkness within us; what today’s prayer [collect] calls the contagion of the devil. The contagion of the devil, among other things, wants us to believe that we really are unlovable people because we cannot really love ourselves.

But God’s word is very clear and precise to us: “You are my beloved son; You are my beloved daughter.”

Now when that sinks in, when we can begin to believe that, and trust that, and live from that, and push aside the darkness and bad feelings that are still there—when we say to them, “Nevertheless, God loves me”—when we’re able to do that, then we can begin to love our neighbor. Not because we’ve fallen in love with ourselves, but because we’ve learned to see our neighbor as the same sort of person that we are: the one to whom God says “This is my beloved son, my beloved daughter in whom I am well pleased.”

That is the profoundness of the words that Jesus speaks when He says “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He’s not saying, “First love yourself, and then love your neighbor.” He’s instead saying, “Love your neighbor with the same sort of love that God has declared to you; because that is the only love that you can be sure is true for you; that is the only love that really applies to you. And so love your neighbor as another human that has been loved by God.”

That is hard for us to do because we want to push people away; we want to make sure that we somehow manipulate them or use them.

But if we love them as God has loved us, and if we love God with everything that we are and everything that we have, then we have not simply fulfilled the first and the second commandments. Rather, we’ve been filled with the God whose love is within us. And we’ve not just kept the rules. We have kept the love of God that he gives to us, and that he is for us, and that he is within us.

To this Lord Jesus Christ, the Father’s beloved Son who lives His love in us, belongs all glory, honor, and worship; now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen

Homily on St. Matthew 22.34-46 by Fr John Fenton for Pentecost XVII (13 October 2019)

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Sacrificing Our Will

We have been led to believe that we can do whatever we want. So when someone tells us that we should do something, or that we must do something, or that we are expected to do something, almost immediately our hackles are raised, our pride rears its ugly head, and we insist to ourselves—if not also aloud to others—that we will do what we like, that no one will tell us what to do, that no one can make us do anything, and that we will make our own choices.

And this stubbornness is applauded by those around us. We congratulate each other for being resolute, for being our own person, for standing up for ourselves and our right to free choice. But in fact we’ve become the slave of our selfishness. We’ve succumbed to the deadly sin of pride.

Doing what we like, going our own way, insisting on our choices—that is not the mind of Christ that the Saint Paul speaks about in the Palm Sunday Epistle. What does the holy apostle say? “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” And what is this mind of Christ? He made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant … and humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death.

In other words, Our Lord did not do as He liked; He did not go His own way; He did not stubbornly say, “No one can tell me what to do.” Instead, thanks be to God, Our Blessed Lord Jesus willingly, freely, and gratefully submerged His thoughts and desires, and submitted Himself to His Father’s will, trusting that Our Father in heaven knows best.

In the Passion Narratives on Palm Sunday, Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday and Good Friday, you will hear this same theme when Our Lord Jesus prays, Not as I will, but as Thou wilt. Not My will, but Thine be done.

With those words, Our Lord not only determines to be our Savior; He also shows us the way of salvation. He not only demonstrates that He is holy; He also leads us in the path of holiness. And He not only conforms His will to the Father’s will; He also indicates that, if we truly desire to attain the kingdom of heaven, we must set aside our pride, we must put to death our stubbornness, we must refuse to go our own way, and instead follow in the Lord’s saving path of humility.

For in His tender love for us, Our Savior Jesus Christ both put on our flesh and suffered our death. In this way, He gained for us the salvation, the freedom from death, the forgiveness of sins, and the life in God that we desire and that Our Father has freely given. By His death, Our Lord opened heaven to us and obtained what we could never obtain on our own.

Yet we can stray from this saving way. And we can damage the holiness Our Lord gained for us if we let pride have its way by doing not what we must but what we please.

Let us, therefore, beg the prayers of the Holy Mother of God, of the Holy Archangel Michael, and of all the angels and saints that, aided and defended by their holy intercessions, we may follow the example of Our Lord’s great humility, and remain on the path of holiness by putting to death our self-will and by living solely in the Father’s will, who has loved us in His Son and by His Spirit with an everlastin g love. Fr John W Fenton

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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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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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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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