Walking with Jesus — Lenten Retreat

The theme “Walking with Jesus: Reflections on the Via Dolorosa” will be the basis for the annual Lenten Retreat on April 13 at St Michael Orthodox Church. The Very Reverend Father John W. Fenton, Pastor of St Michael’s and Faculty at the Antiochian House of Studies, will offer three meditations on this theme.

Since 1991, the Society of St Benedict (Oblates) has hosted the Lenten Retreat. Surrounded by the Liturgy of Hours and Mass, this silent retreat offers time for reflection, prayer, and meditation prompted by Fr. John’s presentations.

The retreat is designed to prepare the soul during mid-Lent for the final days before Holy Week. It begins with Prime (First Hour) and concluding with None (Ninth Hour) and Benediction at 3 p.m.

Fast friendly meals and collations will be provided; however, childcare is not offered.

If you wish to attend, please RSVP by clicking this link or by sending an email to StMichaelWhittier@gmail.com. The retreat is open to all, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox.

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Why “To Shepherds”?

A Christmas Homily

You’ve just heard that there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Don’t let this mystery pass by unconsidered. The announcement of Our Lord’s birth doesn’t go first to the elites, the academics, the media, or the political class. Even the socially conscious, those working to aid the oppressed, and those striving for peace and justice—these folks may be wise and prudent in worldly affairs. But they often consider the wisdom of God to be foolish. If we possessed true wisdom, we would not be easily undone; nor would we think that Christmas is simply a children’s tale. True wisdom is from God and is God Himself. And with that wisdom, we can

understand that it was possible for flesh to be taken on by God without his being changed into flesh; … that he took to himself what he was not, while remaining what he was; and that he came to us [as a human] without ever departing from the Father; and that he continued to be what he is, while appearing to us as what we are; and that his divine power was confined in the body of an infant without being withdrawn from the whole mass of the universe. (St Augustine)

But this wisdom is too much for the elites, the educated, the philosophers, the talking heads, and the influencers. So, when word goes out, when the birth is made public, those who treated the royal family dishonorably are not alerted. They are not visited by angels.

For “the Son of God did not choose for his mother a rich or wealthy woman, but that blessed Virgin, whose soul was adorned with virtues…[who] had observed chastity in a way that was above all human nature. [S]he conceived Christ the Lord in her womb.” (St John Chrysostom) And so the woman who lived the discipline, the routine, of prayer and fasting; the woman who did not give into her impulses, and who did not think it her right to do as she wanted—this woman whom most overlooked and many despised and some ridiculed—she gave birth in the shabbiest place; in a stable, surrounded by farm animals.

And so “the Lord searched not for colleges filled with crowds of the wise, but a simple people who will not embellish or distort what they hear.” (St Ambrose) The angels do not desire the ambitious but humility; not the sophisticated but simplicity.

Why? Because anyone can marvel at the birth of a child. But God in our flesh is much more easily grasped by simple women and men—people of the earth that marvel in God’s creation and who prefer to take God at His Word. For faith invites us to see lying in the manger God’s material and embodied compassion. And so, we are invited to set aside our smarts and self-proclaimed wisdom, and instead to embrace “this Word that is come to pass” in the stable of Bethlehem.

Later, the elites will hear the Christmas news. And if we are willing to set aside our agenda of how we think Jesus ought to be and act, we will see Jesus for who He truly is—the Savior of the cosmos, God’s peace on earth, His goodwill toward all, and “the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in.” So the first announcement goes to others.

Who hears the news first? Not the downtrodden, the homeless, the forgotten, and the ignored. These folks live simply by necessity. And they can certainly identify with Mary and Joseph since they are also marginalized. But no angels visit them. Instead, the news first goes to “shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

Why shepherds? Why leave the little town of Bethlehem and go into the country to night-workers? Why do angels single out these men and boys?

Because these night-watching shepherds point to those apostles and disciples who will be instructed by Christ, transformed by His Father, and given true wisdom by the Spirit. Exercising this spiritual wisdom, true shepherds proclaim not their truth, not a truth, but Truth Himself. And not just proclaim, but bestow. And not just bestow, but even plant Truth into our hearts so that we might believe against our notions of how the world ought to be, against our construct of how God ought to act, and against our impulse of how we ought to live.

So Christ reveals Himself to shepherds to show us that He is the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost, accompanies the weary, and comforts the lonely.

Christ reveals Himself to night-shepherds to urge us to be vigilant and diligent in seeking and follow Our Lord’s Word.

Christ reveals Himself to shepherds to teach us that the preaching of the illiterate and unschooled does us more good that the platitudes of the privileged.

And Christ reveals Himself to shepherds to demonstrate that He will appoint pastors and bishops—spiritual shepherds—who will oversee the flock and feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20.28)

And yet, when these shepherds hear the angels, they hesitate. Why? Perhaps we should say this to these shepherds, “Now listen, shepherds: You have heard what the angel said—the Lord Jesus Christ is born in your flesh and mine. He comes as a vulnerable Baby so that you can embrace Him. He comes as a Child so that you might mature into the full image and likeness of God. He comes wrapped in swaddling cloths so that your burial shroud might be unwound. He comes in a manger so that you might feed on Him at the altar. He comes on earth so that you might lift up your hearts to heaven. He comes in a stable, so that you might gain entrance into the heavenly mansions.

“So why do you delay? Why do you falter? Why do you dither and vacillate? You have been treated like VIPs – you are invited to worship Christ the King. You are permitted to see what only Mary and Joseph and some animals have seen. Angels have given you a golden invitation. The best song—a song repeated every week for thousands of years—that song has been first sung into your ears.

“Yet you stand still. Are you afraid that the Good Shepherd will not protect your sheep? Are you unsure of the way to the Way of Life? Do you fear that this might be some dream? In this way, you remind us of the Apostles 30 years later. Do you need to hear the angel say, “Why do you stand here gazing up into heaven?”

“Do not delay. Do not hesitate. Do not prevaricate. Do not overthink. Instead, do what we cannot do. Make haste to see the Child whom the angels proclaim. For then we will be told and reminded by other shepherds that Christ, the living Bread from heaven, has been laid not in a feedbox so that we, this night, might consume and be consumed by Love Himself.”

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this Word which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

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Getting Comfortable with Silence

Everyone in black. Precise movements. Dignity by both clergy and the people present. All the women in hats (of one sort or another). No one looking at a phone. Everyone dressed ready to meet the monarch. No one entering in a rush. Attentive listening to the sung words. No whispered small-talk and no fidgeting.

Those are my impressions from watching the funeral services for Queen Elizabeth II. It formed, in my mind, a decorous reception of and means toward worship. No doubt, this resonates with the culture of my Midwestern childhood—when folks ‘dressed’ for church and ‘dignified’ worship had a certain look. Those looks can be different in other cultures and generations. But that was, for me, how church was done back there, back then.

However, what really struck me was the silence. The silence in transition moments (from singing to speaking, or vice versa), the silence during some of the movements, the silence in the midst of reverential speaking, singing, and movement. And most of all, the two minutes of silence observed not only in Westminster Abbey, but also by those viewing outside the Abbey—and even in other countries. Reuters News headlined the “deafening sound of silence to honour Queen Elizabeth.”

The power and necessity of silence is not cultural or generational. It is especially biblical. “Be still,” says the Lord God. “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 45.11). Only when we are still and silent, then, can we truly begin to know God, to pray, and to consider the Lord’s mercy. Especially in the midst of death. For, truly, what can we say when a person has died. We can only remain still and wait the Lord’s kindness in the midst of tears, His loving embrace, and His comforting word (even if it is a “still small voice” [1 Kng 19.12]).

Perhaps that’s why silence—specifically, a moment of silence—is associated with respect for the dead. It’s not so much about honoring the dead person. This practice lets us “both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam 3.26).

Silence is an increasing challenge for generation and our culture. We are addicted to distraction. Which explains why we have a hard time being still; and why silence—even during Mass—disturbs us.

Most pointedly, “we’re addicted to disturbance. We love to be disturbed. And if we haven’t been disturbed for the last 20 seconds, we find something to disturb us. Part of the soul pain and frustration, and even aggression, that that experience can release in people is an indication that, fundamentally, we’re constructed for a different mode of interacting with the world” (Bp Erik Varden).

The mode of interacting that we’re constructed for is not constant, non-stop interacting. We’re constructed and designed, by Our Lord God, to listen, think, contemplate, ponder, meditate, pray—all of which requires silence. Not total silence all the time, but at least some times of silence that are deliberate, unplugged, with no music (even church music) or sounds.

The Queen’s funeral gave millions a taste of elongated silence. A silence which we should cultivate, perhaps little by little, so that we might actually begin to hear God. Remember: we get to know God, and rejoice in His uplifting love, when we are still.

– Fr John W. Fenton

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Celebrating the Ascension 2022

The Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ will be celebrated at St Michael’s this Thursday, June 2, with Mass at 7 p.m. Rosary will precede the Mass at 6:30 p.m.

The Ascension is one of the four major feasts in the liturgical year, behind Easter, Christmas, and Epiphany. With this feast we celebrate not only the close of Christ’s earthly ministry, but also that with the Ascension God the Father has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2.6).

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St Michael to Host Western Rite Conference

St Michael Orthodox Church in Whittier California was honored and excited to host the 2022 Western Rite Conference on behalf of the Western Rite Vicariate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

Early Registration was $200. This price is good only until May 15, 2022. After that, the Regular Registration was $250.

The theme is “The Spirituality of the Transfiguration.” Speakers include Fr Patrick O’Grady, Fr Chad Hatfield, Fr John Mangels, and Fr Edward Hughes. Bishop JOHN will be with us, and Metropolitan JOSEPH has indicated that he will attend.

Details about flights and hotels are listed on the conference website.

St Michael is looking forward to seeing you!

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Dinner with Bishop John

His Grace Bishop John, the bishop of the Western Rite Vicariate, will visit St Michael’s on the weekend of September 25-26. During His Grace’s visit, he will ordain a new subdeacon and bless the icons which will complete the icon project for the Sanctuary and Nave.

Following the Sunday Mass (September 26), a dinner honoring Bishop John will be offered. A Taco Truck will provide and safely serve several different street tacos, together with various accompaniments. Tickets for the dinner are $15 per person or $40 per family. In addition, those with means may sponsor guests and those with limited resources by donating additional tickets.

Purchase or sponsor tickets

The schedule for His Grace’s visit is as follows:

  • SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 25
    • 9 a.m. – Solemn Reception of the Bishop
    • 9:10 a.m. – Mass with ordination of a subdeacon
    • 10:30 a.m. – Parish Council meeting
    • 4:00 p.m. – Holy Hour of Adoration
    • 5:00 p.m. – Vespers with Benediction
  • SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 26
    • 9:15 a.m. – Lauds
    • 10:00 a.m. – Mass with blessing of new icons
    • 11:30 p.m. – Dinner with Bishop John as Guest of Honor

The icons that will be installed and blessed include 10 females saints and an icon of the Last Judgment. These icons will be visible on the west end of the church temple.

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Holy Week in the Western Tradition

A Brief Synopsis

Holy Week consists of two parts: the first four days, beginning with Palm Sunday; and the Triduum Sacrum (“holy three days”), which celebrate with particular solemnity Our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

During the first half, the words of St Thomas should fill our hearts and minds: “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” (Jn 11.16) Through the liturgical rites, we follow Our Lord and, in heart and mind, follow Him by participating in His sufferings and death. Yet our focus is not to pity Our Lord, nor effect a somber mood. Rather, we participate by being immersed in His self-sacrifice, understanding that we must also put to death the deeds of the flesh, so that we might rejoice fully and full-throatedly as we are raised and glorified in Him.

During the second half of Holy Week, the Eucharistic liturgy, together with the Divine Offices (most especially the three Tenebrae services), draw us into more profound participation while, at the same time, inculcating in us the depth of joy that is located in Our Lord’s Passion. During these days, the words “Behold how He love[s] [them]” (Jn 11.36) should capture our meditations.

Briefly, these days may be summarized as follows.


PALM SUNDAY

Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week, when we remember Our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Immediately after Lauds, the blessing and distribution of the palms take place. Each person receives a palm, and the clergy lead the faithful in procession around the Church, while joyful chants are sung culminating in the hymn “All Glory, Laud and Honor.” 

When the worshippers return, the Mass commences. During the Mass, the faithful hear the First of the Passion Narratives, from the Gospel according to St. Matthew. This Passion Narrative depicts Our Lord as the fulfillment of the promised King Messiah. “Christ our King, intercede for us!”


HOLY MONDAY

At the Mass, we will hear of Our Lord’s preparation for burial by the Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. While she anoints Him with fragrant oil, we also are reminded of Judas’ betrayal and, more sadly, his impending impenitence. May the Lord’s Spirit soften our hearts to be more like Mary!


HOLY TUESDAY

During the Mass, the Second of the Passion Narratives, from the Gospel according to St. Mark, is read. This Passion Narrative depicts Our Lord as the Suffering Servant, who willingly and freely bares the weakness, brokenness, and sin of all humanity. “Behold the Lamb of God! Behold Him who takes away the sin of the world!”


HOLY WEDNESDAY

During the Mass, the Third of the Passion Narratives, from the Gospel according to St. Luke, is read. This Passion Narrative depicts Our Lord as the merciful Physician who readily sacrifices Himself to heal our souls. Nowhere is this more poignantly presented than in the exchange between Christ and Dismas (the “good” thief on the cross). Lord, grant us this same mercy!

Following Vespers, the first of three Tenebrae services is prayed. Tenebrae is a service of prayer conducted in near-darkness. This service includes a candle ceremony, where candles are extinguished at the end of each psalm and the Benedictus. The central feature of this service is the mystical application of the Lamentations of Jeremiah to our participation in Our Lord’s Passion, and a glorious explanation of the Psalm 54 (55) by St Augustine.


HOLY THURSDAY

The Institution of the Mystical Supper is the focus for the Holy Thursday Mass. The Gloria in Excelsis is restored with joyful bells, and the Readings recall the events when Our Lord gathered with His disciples on the eve of His crucifixion. We hear that Our Lord loves us to the end, and calls us to love one another in the same way. In an interesting juxtaposition from Holy Monday’s Gospel, we see Our Lord washing the feet which will carry the Gospel throughout the world. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the Gospel of peace!” (In imitation of Our Lord sending His apostles, in both Eastern and Western Rite cathedrals the Bishop, as the icon of Christ surrounded by his disciples, enacts the mandatum by washing the feet of thirteen males.)

After all have received Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament is processed to the Altar of Repose where it remains for adoration until the Pre-sanctified Liturgy on Good Friday.

After Mass, toward the end of Vespers, the Altar is stripped while Our Lord’s prayer on the cross (Psalm 21 [22]) is solemnly chanted. Following Vespers, the second Tenebrae service is prayed. Once again, the Lamentations of Jeremiah are mystically applied to our participation in Our Lord’s Passion, and St Augustine instructs us on Psalm 63 (64).


GOOD FRIDAY

Our Lord’s Death on the Cross is commemorated with the Solemn Liturgy for Good Friday. The service is moving in its starkness and consists of four parts: hearing the Lord’s Word, the Solemn Prayers for all persons, the Veneration of the Holy Cross with its “reproaches” (improperia), and the reception of Holy Communion from the Pre-Sanctified. During the first part, the faithful hear the fourth Passion Narrative from the Gospel according to St. John. This Passion Narrative depicts Our Lord ascending His throne in glory as the triumphant King, as the sign declares.

Following the Liturgy, the third Tenebrae service is prayed. The ceremony is nearly identical to the previous two Tenebrae services. After completing the Lamentations of Jeremiah, St Augustine reminds us of the significance of Our Lord’s two natures as they relate to His Passion.


PASCHAL VIGIL

The Western rite knows two celebrations of Our Lord’s Resurrection. The first and most ancient is the Great Vigil which, in the first seven centuries, was kept throughout the night and climaxed with the celebration of Holy Communion at dawn on Easter Day. In the past 13 centuries, the Great Vigil has been assigned, in both Eastern and Western churches, to Holy Saturday afternoon or morning. (In recent decades, not a few Western churches have begun celebrating the Paschal Vigil later in the afternoon or evening, while also retaining the Easter Sunday Mass.) 

During the Paschal Vigil, worshippers gather quietly in the entrance for the blessing of fire. Then the Deacon leads the faithful into the Nave. While the worshippers are taking their places, the ancient Easter hymn of praise (Praeconium) is sung and the candles of the faithful and throughout the church are lit. Following this candlelight ceremony, Old Testament prophecies are read. This Service of Readings is followed by the blessing of the Baptismal font. The Litany of the Saints leads the faithful to a joy-filled celebration of Holy Mass. The service concludes with an abbreviated form of Vespers.


EASTER SUNDAY

The Resurrexi Mass (“Mass of the Resurrection”) is the chief celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection. It commences with the blessing of the faithful with the holy water that was blessed at the Great Vigil. Then the Mass proceeds, with the Gloria in Excelsis sung once more with great joy! While the usual order of the Divine Liturgy is maintained, it is augmented with the acclamation of “alleluia” numerous times, and with the beautiful Easter sequence (Victimae paschali laudes) as well as many familiar Easter Scripture readings and hymns. In addition, flowers once more decorate our altars, and joy pervades our hearts and minds as we proclaim, “Christ is risen: He is risen indeed, alleluia!”

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Holy Hour

Every Saturday in Lent we will have a Holy Hour beginning at 4:00 p.m. followed by Vespers and Benediction at 5:00 p.m. Holy Hour is a time of meditation and prayer in silence before the Blessed Sacrament.

Additionally during Lent, Private Confession will be available from 4-5 on Saturdays.

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Easy It Is Not

Matthew 8.1-13
A homily for Epiphany III

Being Christian isn’t easy. It isn’t comfortable or convenient. And, for millions throughout history, being Christian has not been safe.

That’s what St Paul told St Timothy, whom we commemorate today. When Timothy was a teen, in his hometown St Paul was nearly stoned to death and then dragged from the city. Yet at that time the holy Apostle strengthened the shocked and frightened disciples and urged them to continue in the faith with these words: “Through many tribulations, we enter the kingdom of God.”

Let’s not go too quickly past those words. Paul says that the only way into the kingdom of heaven is through tribulation. But like St Paul, we shouldn’t focus on what others do to us, but on what Our Lord does for us; not with what we have to put up with, but what Our Lord gives us; and not zeroing in on the adversity but on the deliverance. St Paul sums up our life when he says: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”

All means all. As St Ambrose reminds us: “All suffer persecution. There is no exception. Who can claim an exemption if the Lord Himself endured the testing of persecution” for our good? “There are many today who are secret martyrs for Christ,” who suffer persecution without protest or resistance because they know they model Christ and witness to faith by enduring injustice without complaint.

But visible persecution is not the only kind. Whenever we are tempted to give in to our ungodly desires, whenever our minds tell us to give up, whenever we avoid the hard path of prayer and holy living, of forgiveness and kind-speaking—then we are being persecuted invisibly. By the devil, and by our own flesh. For “the devil directs his many servants in their work of persecution…in the souls of individuals.” (St Ambrose)

Christianity isn’t easy. But we can see Our Lord’s glory while staring at the gory; and want Our Lord’s body and blood while seeing what it cost to bring it to this altar; and know that the Lord comes through when you can’t feel it. Because we understand that Christians walk in the path Jesus walked, following the Way He is—through suffering into glory, through death into life, through hell into heaven.

To be a Christian we need look at now through the lens of later; at what threatens by seeing what awaits us; at how much it asks by receiving how much Christ gives.

That takes faith. A faith that doesn’t lie down when things get tough. A faith that doesn’t give up when it feels defeated. And a faith that can swallow pride, and sacrifice what we are sure is necessary and right and good—even a faith that sacrifices our own carefully crafted identity.

But above all, being Christian means we look to Christ. Knowing that He alone can get us through. He alone can undo what’s been done to us, and untangle what we’ve done to ourselves. He alone is our help and our salvation.

That kind of faith requires humility. The humility that says, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” The humility that says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” And the humility that says, “Lord, I am not worthy.”

Some may see that not as humility, but as humiliation. Not as faith, but as groveling. Not as strength but as weakness.

Humility makes sense to a man suffering a debilitating disease, a man who has no hope, a man who is desperate; a man who is ostracized because he is a leper in Judaea. Yet even this man must humble himself to cry out to Christ. For pride says, “No one can help. All is hopeless. I’m cursed. Nothing will work.” Pride believes those words because pride makes us look only at ourselves—how much I hurt, what I can’t do, why no one meets my fears.

But humility says, “Lord, if you are willing.” Humility places everything in the Lord’s hand, knowing that He hears the cry of the poor and needy. And so, when life is hardest, we can say in true humility: “Despite my comforts, I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinks upon me. Thou art my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God. Make haste to me, O God!” (Ps 39, 69)

How quickly Our Lord comes to our aid! For “He delivers the needy when he cries, the poor also, and him who has no helper.” (Ps 71) And so, without fear of contagion, Our Lord touches the leper and says, “I am willing. Be cleansed.”

We can understand the desperation of the poor and needy, the helpless and bed ridden. But a commander; a man who can run roughshod over people; a man who has servants; a man who is certainly privileged and among the elite—can he truly humble himself? Can he honestly say, “I am not worthy”?

Yet that is exactly what we must say. Not ordering God by our prayers, as if He is our servant who waits on us. Instead, we ought to pray this prayer: “Lord, I am not worthy. Have mercy on me. Help me because I cannot help myself, or anyone else. You know far better what is best for me—even if it is best that we stay as we are for many days, weeks, or months. I am not worthy to tell you how things should go. So only speak a word, and I shall trust that what you say is truth, what you give is health.”

That is the humility of the centurion. Yet it’s not easy to deny and put to death our instinct and passion, to control, to be impatient, to whine, and to protest and insist. And it’s not easy to refuse ourselves the pleasures we are sure we deserve, and the rights we know we’ve earned.

Yet being a Christian isn’t easy. It isn’t about comfort or convenience. And, it’s not about having no more rough times, no more worries, no more problems.

Being Christian means we need to confess our pride, repent of our complaining, and see that in every kind of ordeal, temporary or permanent, God hides His grace and calls us to a “new normal of greater piety, increased participation in the sacraments, and more love and service to our neighbor.” (Metropolitan Joseph)

But above all, being Christian means humbly accepting Our Lord’s will, trusting that He is arranging things—even pandemics and politics—for our salvation. And there’s the joy—that He is always there, always pulling us through, always doing what is best, and always leading us deeper into His love.

To this Lord Jesus Christ, by the prayers of St Timothy and of all the saints, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: world without end.

This way was blazed first by Our Lord, not just when He died, but even as He put up with the traps and restrictions of His own people. Let me be clear: Christ’s suffering does not mean that we won’t suffer, any more than His death and burial means we won’t die and be buried. What His passion does mean is that dealing with hard times is inseparable from the Christian life; and tribulation is our path to true intimacy with Our Lord God. Like any love story, real relationships grow and strengthen only when we work together through trying times.

24 January 2021

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Looking Past the Herods

Matthew 2.42-52

On Wednesday night we were likely distracted by a leader obsessed with power trying desperately to ward off the chosen and rightful ruler. Like many after him, even to the present day, this monarch refused to believe the truth. He consulted with advisors who either supported his distorted views, or lost courage and would not stand up to him. In either case, King Herod twisted their reports for his own purpose, and, in the end, he orchestrated violence to get his way.

The rapid flow of events caused great anxiety. The news reports stated that all were troubled. And the unrest and apprehension were deliberately fueled by the panic of a narcissistic Machiavelli in order to divert our attention away from Truth.

Where were we when we heard about this? Were we wringing our hands in fear, or kneeling in prayer? Were we focused on the fighting, or asking for God’s mercy? Were we huddled in our homes, or standing with the Magi?

The Magi did not deny reality or hide their heads in the sand when Herod became unglued and tried to wipe out our King. Neither did the Magi get caught up in the country’s anxiety, and resort simply to more talk. Instead, they did what they came to do, what we are designed to do, and what is undoubtedly the best course of action when everything is in chaos. “They fell down and worshipped” the Lord Jesus. For these wise men knew two things for certain:

  • First, Herods, both old and new, succeed only when they ramp up our fear and distract us from gathering where Christ is laid out for us; and
  • Second, worshipping Christ by prayer and receiving His gifts actually resists evil better than anything else.

So, the Magi were not uncaring cowards. In their wisdom, they firmly believed that no human resources—no legal actions, no might, not better leaders—none of these could stem men bent on riding out their selfish ambitions. What is needed—what is always needed—is for us to tear ourselves away from Satan’s only weapon—fear of the end—and flee for refuge to the hope—the only true and real hope—which is set before us in Christ on the altar.

Wise women and wise men look past what we can’t control and what is used to distance us from the person and gifts the Lord has placed in front of us. Wise women and wise men fix their hearts and minds on the truth

  • that our Lord God has already taken our flesh through the worst;
  • that in our flesh He has overcome every evil past, present, and to come; and
  • that by His Sacraments He places in our mouths and ears true courage, sure hope, and real strength.

Twelve years after the violence incited by Herod, panic and anxiety arise once again. This time in the hearts of a married Holy Couple. They are distressed and suffering acutely because they cannot locate their only Son. Some years earlier the Holy Mother of God had heard from Simeon that the Christ Child would cause sorrow that would pierce her own soul. Now, she plainly tells her Son that they have sought Him sorrowing. Blessed Joseph and Mary were afraid that they had lost their most precious Child. And they fear that they have negligently guarded Him as they noticed that He was no longer with them.

Without a doubt, they must wonder if they have lost God. Or if He has abandoned them. Perhaps they think that God has taken back His promise, His pledge to be with them, His vow to save them from themselves, and to deliver all people from their self-pleasing, self-chosen worship.

From our vantage point, the scene may look comical. An old man and a young mother scurrying around the city, looking in taverns and hotels, searching diligently for a twelve-year old whom they have somehow misplaced because they assumed He was where they thought He should be. In their frantic questions among relatives and acquaintances, in their frenetic search for the Son of God, they are convinced that this Child has purposefully grieved them. Certainly, from their perspective, the Christ has sorrowed them, piercing their souls.

They find the Holy Child on the third day. Of course it is the third day—the day when life is restored, when hope is renewed, when faith is strengthened, when love chases away all sorrow and grief. The third day is also the day when all the evil schemes, all the alternate truths of power-hungry leaders, all the devilish tricks, all the delusions of my narrative—the third day is the day all of that is exposed and undone. Because on the third day Truth reveals Himself fully.

So on the third day, Mary and Joseph find the boy Jesus where they should have looked in the first place—in the place of sacrifice surrounded by the sacrificers and perhaps even some of the very men who would clamor for His death twenty years later.

No doubt, this is why Mary and Joseph are amazed and astonished. It was not merely that they finally found Him, but also where they found Him—and what the Spirit helped them see. For in that tableau of Christ in the temple, the Blessed Virgin and her Holy Spouse saw more than a precocious Child. They saw His passion and the means of His death. But they also saw where this would lead—to our redemption which flows from His Sacred Heart into the Chalice sitting on our altar.

Mary and Joseph are astonished and amazed. Not in shock but in joy; not in disbelief but in faith; not in relief that they have found Him, but in beholding how He will help them find their way to His Father.

When we don’t recall where Christ is leading us; when we are convinced that everything rests on our choices; when we invest time and energy in proud and scheming leaders; when we forget to find Christ where He always is—in His temple at His altar; and when we can’t remember or see that the Lord’s will is always done, usually in the most surprising ways—then it’s easy for us to let our anxiety take over; easy for us to ride our frenzied emotions in a frantic quest, as Mary and Joseph did for three days.

But now we have reached the third day: the day when we get to participate with the Holy Parents in their astonishment at seeing the benefits of their Son’s impending sacrifice. And this is the Father’s business.

So instead of getting caught up in the machinations of feckless leaders, let us surrender our anxiety to the God-Man who has always been about His Father’s business. And let us marvel and take to heart that Our Lord, even as a little boy, urges us to look up, to lift up our hearts, and to look ahead and to contemplate not the business of others, or our own busy-ness, but His Father’s business. Even if His words are hard to understand and even harder to live, let us trust Our Lord enough to subject our desires, deeds, and words to His wisdom and care. For He truly cares for us: to whom, with His Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: world without end.

The First Sunday after the Epiphany
10 January 2021

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