Watching Our Live-Stream Mass

Be assured of my prayers, and that each one of you is close to my heart while we adjust to our temporary living and work situation.

In his latest directive, Metropolitan Joseph has required all parishes in California (and other states like New York) to celebrate Mass (Divine Liturgy) on Sunday, together with Lauds (Orthros). However, only three persons may be present during these services: the priest, one server, and one chanter.

His Eminence also encourages all parishes to live-stream the liturgical services so that people may pray together, albeit imperfectly, in their homes while they follow the directives of the government.

We live-streamed last night’s prayers, and will do the same tomorrow morning from 9 a.m. until the end of Mass. (The Mass will begin at 10 a.m.).

Here is the link: https://stmichaelwhittier.org/parish-site/videos.

This link automatically takes you to our Facebook page. You don’t need a Facebook account to watch the services; however, you may need to expand the picture. We have learned that this will work much better on a computer than on a phone.

THIS NEXT PART IS IMPORTANT

It is really hard, and unreal, to participate in the Mass by watching it on a device in your home. It’s easy to get distracted, to get up and get something, or to do several things at once. I urge you to resist these temptations as you watch.

Here are practical tips to get the most out of the live-streamed Mass:

  • Before 9 a.m., place your device (phone, television, computer, tablet) on or near your icon corner; OR, surround your device with one or more icons.
  • Turn off all possible distractions (phone, notifications, oven, alarms, etc.)
  • Like you do before church, take care of all personal needs beforehand.
  • Dress like you would for a regular Sunday Mass. (Casual clothes may encourage a casual, non-prayerful attitude.)
  • Follow your regular pattern for maintaining the Eucharistic fast, refraining from food, coffee, etc. until after the Mass.
  • Print the attached service booklets and have them in hand.
  • Follow along during the services, and sing/speak along with us, in whatever way you normally would do during the Mass.
  • As you are able, stand, sit, and kneel as you normally would do during the Mass.
  • Finally, resist the urge to offer any comments online until after the Mass is over.

In short, I encourage you to make these few hours a time of sincere devotion and worship.

These are strange days, but they can be a blessing if we use them rightly:

  • By spending some of our “shelter time” in prayer and spiritual reading
  • By caring for each other and those in need in whatever way we can (even by simply making a phone call)
  • By entering more deeply into the fast itself

Again, please be assured of my prayers.

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Better At Prayer

We can do better at prayer. Myself included. Perhaps the reason our prayers lag, or why we find it a chore, or why it just doesn’t seem exciting, is because we expect an immediate payoff. Prayers, we think, should get some result. Either we should feel differently, or we should see some change (in us, in our situation, in others). And when we don’t, we think that prayer is a pointless exercise, something not worth continuing.

In our minds, we know that’s a wrong approach to prayer. But in our heart and, most importantly, in our will, we’re not convinced.

When I go down this path, and praying feels tedious, I go back to the basics. I ask myself, “Why do I pray”? Perhaps you also have asked the same question.

We pray because we want to maintain our relationship with God. That relationship is not based on what we can get from God. So praying is not like going to the doctor in order to get a prescription or to get better. And praying is not like going to the bank to get a loan, or withdraw money. We don’t pray to get things from God.

Neither do we pray to tell God what to do. Certainly, we want God to help our family and friends, especially when they have serious health or financial or employment concerns. But looking at God as the one who fixes our problems or tends to our needs does not help build a healthy relationship with Him.

Since prayer is about a relationship with God, we should not think about praying to ‘God.’ That’s too abstract, and too impersonal. We should, instead, remember that we are talking to our Father, and His Son whose personal name is ‘Jesus.’ When we realize we’re talking not to a Supreme Being but to a Person (a divine person, but still a real person), then our prayers will become more personal, and not just a to-do list.

With any relationship, the most important thing is communication. Not information, but conversation. Not relaying data, but expressing our hopes and fears. Our prayer to our Father should be the same way. We know that He knows us and what we need. But to talk with our Father, to converse with His Son Jesus, to speak with Him is to say both how we feel and what we think.

That’s how the prayers go in the Psalms—the prayerbook Jesus wrote and used. Those prayers are less about asking or telling God what to do, and more about talking to our Father and His Son about what angers or frustrates, what scares or worries, and what excites and encourages us.

That’s the kind of conversation that builds and maintains a relationship. And that’s what we want in prayer.

One important aspect to that conversation—so important that we too often overlook it—is the simple act of saying, ‘Thanks.’ Again, the Psalms are filled with many words of thanksgiving. And so should we.

Very simply, very practically speaking, our most common everyday prayer should be to give thanks to our Father every time we eat. Saying ‘Grace’ at every meal (before and after) is not simply polite; it’s the way friends speak to each other. And we speak that way both because it expresses our heartfelt feeling, and because we don’t want to take the other person for granted.

So this Lent, as a way to rebuild your relationship with God, begin by saying “Grace” (i.e., thanking your Father) before and after you eat your meals. As that becomes a habit, start saying thank you to Our Lord every time you receive some benefit (not matter how small or insignificant). And then, finally, add to these some words that express your fears and hopes. Using the Psalms, I’ve found, is very effective in doing this relationship-building, since it helps me identify thoughts and feelings that I often overlook.

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The Light of the World

Homily for Candlemas

Presentation of Christ in the Temple

Forty (40). The number of humanity’s struggle toward perfection. Our wrestling not with flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Forty. The number which denotes our purification, scraping off the rough edges, smoothing of the crooked places, scrubbing off our impurities and sins so that we might stand holy and without blemish before Our Lord God. 40 days. The waiting time. The time we wait for the Lord’s grace to guide us through, to make the way of escape, so that we may be rescued from the perils of our own sins. And so, 40 is the time of patience.

For 40 days, St Simeon has been patiently waiting. He has heard that the holy girl he and Anna once mentored has given birth to the Messiah. Simeon knows that, according to the custom of the Law, she will present the Holy Child in the Holy Temple. But he must wait. 40 days. The time of patience. The time when he enters deeply into prayer so that he is not distracted, but can be focused, fully present, when the Christ Child arrives.

And when the Child arrives, imagine the joy. Not just the joy of seeing the happiness on the face of these parents. And not just the joy of holding a newborn. Consider the joy of St Simeon, who has waited for the Consolation of Israel; who had waited patiently to see the Lord’s Christ; who had believed God’s promise, and now was eager not just to hear, but to see and hold the fulfillment.

Consider old St Simeon, both seeing and then getting to hold this Holy Infant. His joy and wonderment and awe exceed everything we feel when we get to hold a newborn. He is ecstatic; truly beside himself with delight. And not just because the old man holds new life, which gives hope for the future. But because this old man gets to carry the King of the universe. He gets to hold the Lord of heaven and earth. He beholds and nestles God Himself.

The blessed candles you held when I read the Gospel—those candles let you, for a moment, be Simeon. They let you, in a visual symbol, hold Christ Himself. For who is Jesus? He is the light of all humanity; the light which shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overwhelm it. And we don’t just say as if it’s a nice metaphor. Jesus calls Himself the Light of the world. He says: “I am the light of the world. He whofollows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life. If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.

What does this mean, that Jesus is the Light of the world? It means that Our Lord Jesus chases away the confusion the devil plants; that He scatters the dark fears and designs of our mind; that He helps us see what is good and holy and right, even when it conflicts with what we want. But most of all, this Light which is Jesus—by His Spirit He purifies, and burns away, and refines our vision of Truth and Good so that we may be enabled to discern whatever is pleasing to God and profitable for our salvation.

Think of the other time we carry candles. They are unlit as we walk into church. Only the large candle shines on that dark night—the large candle that we give thanks for when we hear the words, “Lumen Christi; The Light of Christ.” We walk together into the church led by the candle, from which all other candles are lit. And we do this precisely because Our Lord’s resurrection from the dead means that death has passed over us; that death no longer has a claim on us; that the grave is not the end but the hallway to our full and abundant life in God. That candle at the Paschal Vigil proclaims, without words, that our salvation has been won, and that the dark night of Good Friday has led us to the glorious light of Easter.

That’s what St Simeon sees when he holds the Infant Jesus. He sees not just a baby, but the Lord of Life. Not just another child, but his way—and our way—out of this world’s fakeness, this world’s empty promises, this world’s dreariness, and this world’s death. And so Simeon cries out, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation!” For he sees, lying in his arms, snuggled to his chest, the Savior Himself and his salvation.

The lighted candle you hold is very much like the 40-day old Baby which Simeon held. Both are vulnerable, a bit annoying to hold, needing our attention, and easily ignored on our way to other things. Yet if you are attentive, if you see what you really have, if you see beyond the candle to the reality that this little flame proclaims, then you can enter into the joy of St Simeon; then this day is as joyous for you as it was for Simeon and Anna.

Yet you have something much more than Simeon and Anna had. And you get to hold the Christ Child much closer than they did. For they could only carry Jesus in their arms. You get to carry Him in your heart. They could only make their arms and body a shelter. You get to make a soft and undefiled bed within the secret chamber of your mind and soul. They could only coo at the Blessed Child and see what would be. You get to have Him enter more deeply into you in the Eucharist, and you get to see what already is.

And as you do—as you enter more deeply into Christ, and as He scatters the dark night of your soul—then the words Simeon proclaims, and the words that Jesus says about Himself: these words now become true for you. For it is not only Christ Jesus who is the light of the nations, the light of the world. Jesus also says that those who hold Him dear, who feed on Him and carefully tend the light that He is and gives: these also are lights to the world. For listen to His words: You are the light of the world. So let light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

And for now, that happens during our 40 days. During our time of patience. During this day, this week, this year, this lifetime when we struggle toward perfection. During the days that God has graciously given us, now in this life, to scrape off the rough edges and scrub away our impurities so that we might stand holy and without blemish before Our Lord God; to whom, with His Son, the Lord of light, together with the Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

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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 everlasting love.

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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