Some more words about St. Gregory’s approach to Christian Cross Living

As I mentioned in a blog of July 20, and in two recent homilies, I have been drawn to know more about St. Gregory of Narek, the Church’s newest Doctor of the Church, her newest official teacher to all of us. I would hope to have you drawn more to Gregory of Narek. He wrote about how to live in a Dying-to-Rising Transformation of Life in an inspiring work a millennia ago of how to co-suffer with the world, as our joining with Christ on The Cross. It is an approach to Cross Living which he called the Way of Lamentations, which included 75 poetic prayers in the style of Jeremiah’s prophet lamentations for Israel. In Gregory’s work, he tells that we can find hope and meaning even though our suffering in this world, because with faith, it can lead to a Christic fulfillment for the soul. He says that if we can lament like Jesus for the world, and see how our Holy Mass presents the saving Offering in Him, then God can help us to rejoice in what we truly have in Jesus Christ, that He IS the Real Presence of God in The Church. He IS Life for our individual souls. All of us have been made with souls for God’s inhabitation. Let us tell the world that we have given God His rightful place in us, of surrendering the throne of our own lives. Let us show them that this life liberates! Let us mercifully invite them to be joiners in the Living Christ.

Let us not give the world the message: “I am saved, you’re not.” Let us say: ‘Let US be saved, brother and sister!’

What does Gregory teach? He teaches people to see that Jesus’ Cross is not just a past symbol or a past event, but instead the present means for people’s lives to begin again and grow and mature to a deliverance into the Kingdom of God, whose power and glory are ever more. The Cross is the starting place.

We can learn something from this newest Doctor of the Church. Pope Francis has. He has learned from Gregory of Narek that he needs to act in a way as pontiff that doesn’t make “pontificating” a bad word. The modern dictionary uses the word in a negative fashion as to act in an exalted spirit(!), but Francis wants to imitative his recent predecessors as showing that a pope is not just ruler of a religion, but also a servant who wants to relate to “the everyman” and to serve him.
(Recall Saint and Pope John Paul II’s self-title as “Servant of the servants of God… or Saint and Pope John XXIII’s self-title as “Simple Peace-on-Earth worker,” based on his famous encyclical.)

Pope Francis (and his saint buddy in Gregory of Narek) says to people, that we are all in the same boat here. Can we care for one another in any surprising way? Christians: can you be in the Joy of the Gospel, please?!

The Lamentations Way of Spirituality of St. Gregory asks people to have an attitude of deep compassion for others. In my homily last Sunday, I asked you to relate it to how the athletes in Special Olympics act among one another. (I know something personally of this, with a godson who is a Special Olympian.) As with the Special Olympics competitions, the Human Race isn’t so much a competition to finish first, but one for as many to finish together, if we would just care deeply enough to do so.

Gregory’s Way of Lamentations includes 75 poetic prayers in the style of Jeremiah’s prophet lamentations for Israel, but it is an updated versiongoing further into a Christic fulfillment for the soul. This spirituality (or theology) says: Jesus’ Lament and Offering is saving. Come into it! Join in as we all cry with Christ for His world. Join in as we learn in Christ and let the Holy Spirit teach us all how to overcome sin and see through all its follies and foolishness of being arrogantly distant from God. Let us depend on Jesus. He is a Real Presence in The Church. He is Life for our individual souls. All of us have been made with souls for God’s inhabitation. Let us tell the world that we have given God His rightful place in us, of surrendering the throne of our own lives. Let us show them that this life liberates!

St. Gregory of Narek learned this way of praying and living as He met Christ in his heart and mind and joined Jesus’ weeping for the world. As I said in the homily, Gregory learned that the Cross is not just a past symbol or a past event, but that the Cross presently saves people, and that the Lamb of God is present in Heaven and ministering also on earth to deliver us from evil and in bringing us about into a kingdom of God whose power and glory are ever more. This approach touches me!!
I like it as it shows a mature Christian path. We are taught to be as praying as one with the world, and not in some arrogant “I’m-better-than-others-in-the-world” attitude. In this Way of Lamentations, we don’t show an arrogant “I’m saved, you’re not” message. We show humility. We show that we still are a brother and sister to others in the world.

There is way too much in this new Doctor of the Church to cover in a few blogs or homilies. I hope I have introduced him well to you. I will leave my last comment on all of this to be about the New Evangelism of the Church.
In our New Evangelism, we should help the world to see the painfully obvious… that “something” IS seriously flawed in humanity. We should THEN witness to others that this flaw is SIN and that there is SomeOne Very Real Who is the REMEDY for it: Jesus Christ. Will the non-believing, non-converted world believe this message? Well, the key is that we Catholics need to show the rejoicing spirit that we ARE freed in Christ Jesus, and that HIS REIGN LIVES IN US, revealed in an Alleluia spirit. The Church needs to be a place where people are being healed and re-created so to become holy in The Lord.
We can show that we are making the good journey from the Cross to the Resurrection: A Living Reality of Jesus Christ’ Spirit.

I love how St. Gregory of Narek could take the prophet Jeremiah’s lamentations for Israel, and write of how Christ Jesus did fulfill God’s promises to redeem and lead His people, and how we now can live in this Dying-to-Rising Transformation with Jesus in our hearts and in the Church. The saint says that meeting Christ and joining Him in a co-suffering with the world, will then join us to Christ in His co-reigning, too, as the Christic Fulfillment takes place. “Christ in you, the Hope of Glory (Col. 1:27)” is a Bible verse of such fulfillment. If we can lament like Jesus for the world, and see how our Holy Mass presents the saving Offering in Him, then God can help us to rejoice in what we truly have in Jesus Christ. He is the Real Presence of God in The Church. He is Life for our individual souls. He is reigning in us.

Let us tell the world that we have given God His rightful place in us, of surrendering the throne of our own lives. Let us show them that this life liberates! Let us mercifully invite them to be joiners in the Living Christ. Let us not give the world the message: I am saved, you’re not. Let us say: ‘Let us be saved, brother and sister!’

What Kind of Cross Homily Aug. 2

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HOMILY AUG. 2 WHAT KIND OF CROSS BY FR. JOHN BARRY

Opening story/
It happened at a Special Olympics race. The special Olympian runners were competing with tremendous dedication and enthusiasm. While no world records would ever be broken here, the runners had hearts of champions. One event was a 220-yard dash; it was here where this touching moment took place. Around the track they were going, the runners going as fast as they could. One boy named Andrew had a big lead coming towards the final line, but it was then that he looked back to see how the other runners were doing, and he saw that his pal in the race had just fallen and hurt himself on the track. Andrew stopped and looked back to the finish line ahead of him. Then he looked back at his friend. He decided the important thing was to go run back to his hurting friend, and to help him up, and to assist him to finish the race. And hand in hand, the pair crossed the finish line in last place. But as they did, the people in the stands cheered, because there are some things more important than winning. Most of the special Olympians know this truth. They also seem to act with much more concern and respect for others.

This is the very spirit that a saint named St. Gregory of Narek wrote about for the Church to practice. He used deep spiritual prayers and poems to communicate about this way of life. Yet it can be lived by any Christian and innocent soul. A Special Olympian knows it basically as the attitude of “when we care for each other then we all wing. We all need each other to reach the good finish.”

This opening story will make the best sense when we get to this homily’s ending.

I began explaining last weekend to you about St. Gregory of Narek’s “Way of Lamentations.” This Lamentations practice is the ancient saint’s way of Cross Living– by an entering into a deep, caring spirit for the world, as in union with Jesus’ Compassion for us on Calvary. Gregory’s writings give wise advice for today’s believer, which Pope Francis saud when he elevated Gregory of Narek to become the 36th Doctor of the Church. (It happened last February.)

Let’s preface our study of Gregory’s Cross Living though a review of today’s text of Ephesians chapter 4: verse 17,and verses 20-24. Paul emphasized the Cross in his early chapters of Ephesians, but here in today’s text in chapter 4 he appeals to the church to have maturity and to grow in their shared faith in Christ. He expects these believers to practice a strikingly-different lifestyle then that which the worldly people are living. He asks them to “no longer live in the futility of their minds; that is not how you learned Christ.” This message tells us modern folk, too, that WE not chase after the latest, passing things. Paul adds on: “(The) truth is in Jesus, (so) you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted by those deceitful desires, which tempt you, but rather be renewed in the spirit of your minds.”

Now– how do we put away the old self, if our sinful sin keeps trying to take control of our Christian life?! A good place to go for more self-dying (or for more selfishness-dying) is The Cross of Christ. It promises more freedom in our lives. It helps us change more within ourselves from a life of any slavery to carnal desires out there. It helps us to start thinking differently, and to start willing differently (that is, changing of what we fundamentally want or pursue). We learn to become surrendered to the power of The Cross of Christ so to get to the renewal and new life of the Risen side of Christ. We all want the new life, and the heavenly blessings, but we must bear the Cross to get there.

When a person unites to Christ’s Cross passionately, then they more easily discover the Risen Christ’s power of The Faith. Paul wants this church to make a Paschal Mystery movement to the new life, concluding: “Put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” (Eph.4:24) Indeed! The surrendered life to Christ Cross does result in the way to a new life and a re-creation of a person into right living and holiness! Amen. Amen.

St. Gregory of Narek’s Way of Lamentations’ teaches members of Christ’ Church to enter into the Mystery of the Cross by telling us that we need to bear responsibility for the sins of the world and for all the world’s pain, division and hurt. This is not just a claim of responsibility for our OWN personal sins, which we must honestly do, but for a wider group and global responsibility for all sins. As to better understand ourselves in the Mystery of the Cross, we lump ourselves into the whole guilty world of sinners. As Scripture says: “We all fall short of the glory of God…” but all find remedy in the “redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by His Blood (Romans 3:23, 25a).”

So this is where St. Gregory asks us to pray from. He says (like St. Paul did in Romans 3:27): “What becomes of our boasting (of being holy)?” In being believers, we still are simply just forgiven sinners, who STILL need to live by faith and into a whole new life and attitude of mercy. Christians know (or they should know) that our difference on earth among people is that we have the power to be free in The Christ Who is now within us. It’s not self effort only that saves; it is our union (or communion) with Christ’ Heart that saves us.

St. Gregory says that we need to claim more responsibility with the sin in the world and our own effect on the world as sinners. If we don’t use Reconciliation to the Cross in our spirituality, then Gregory says that we probably don’t get it that our sins affect others and that they truly hurt the body of Christ’ believers. We are called to become holy and do so together as one. St. Gregory says that Christians are wrong if they do all their pointing at the world in saying: ‘The problem with everything messed up with it is due to OTHER people.’ He says that the admission of things wrong still falls on “me.”

It starts with each person. Or, it starts with us, the collection of believers, the Church. We need to self-acknowledge, as well as confess to the world, that ‘I am a sinner in a world of sinners… and I am part of the problem in the world; but that, since Christ is in me now, I pray that I open up to His abundant mercy to me, a poor sinner, SO THAT I can be part of the solution for the world. I pray to be a beacon and vessel for Christ and His embodiment to humankind.’

Do you note the difference in this approach of religion? It is the same attitude our present Pope Francis is preaching and trying to live out. Whether it is in his latest encyclical Laudato Si (Be Praised) on caring for the world or whether it’s in his first identity statements as becoming Vicar of Christ, Pope Francis has spoken in agreement with St. Gregory of Narek. He says that our Christian faith is not one that is first judgmental and arrogant and so self-assured! It is not a practice of religion or faith that holds one’s self as distant from those “not like us” or “not enlightened like ourselves.” It is not a practice of Christianity that looks to not get involved in others’ problems or in the fallen condition of the world. Rather, it seeks to get so ‘messy’ so as to reveal Christ as work in His love and mercy through us, and to know our brothers and sisters in the world.

Pope Francis’ newest encyclical looks to join believers and non-believers into a common cause: the respect and care for the planet and all the natural wonder around us. We can all have that concern in mind, and see our shared fault in it, and look for ways to work out our problems. Doctor Gregory would like that message.

The 10th century Armenian Saint Gregory of Narek watched the Church suffer in East/West conflicts and splits, and Christians versus Muslim versus Jew divisions, and Christians’ own normal struggle with living for God or not in sin.

Christians, Catholics particularly, will need a commitment ahead for sacrificial love and to oractice a co-suffering spirituality with the world if we are to reach the John 17 Gospel dream of Unity in Christ and an earthly bride ready for eternal bliss with The Glorious Christ.

Christians will need to have Christ’ Love coming forth from them. Let us be uncomfortable, then, should we ever fall into the trap of trying to separate ourselves into an “us-versus-them” view of life in the Christian faith, but now see ourselves as challenged to live by the unconditional love of Jesus’ Heartedness.

We believers should look to becoming holy so that we can serve as messengers to all people, announcing that God calls them in love to Himself, and calls them into His Truth. We should not be about the business of putting all others not like ourselves down. Yes, it is a sensitive line here! We ARE to take note of the sin and evil going on rampantly around us, and we ARE to be wary of it, lest we become swept up in it; yet we ARE NOT to take up the role of condemning and hating and dividing. We are to lead by truthful, Christ-like love. Christ does hate the sin, but not the sinner. He looks to save the sinner, and do so through us, if we give Him way.

Thus, learning of the Compassion of Christ and the Self-Donation of Christ on the Cross, for us, is important–so that we can best get to the Resurrection, Risen Witness side of Christ in us. We can grow through the Cross to the Blessed New Life of Christ in us. Like the Special Olympian who knew that he would not be a winner but just crossing the line without his hurting brother in need, we need to find this compassionate love of God more for our own journey for Glory.

Homily Transformative, Lamentive Suffering unites you to Christ & His Cross (July 26th)

HOMILY JULY 26TH BY FR. JOHN BARRY
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Intro/ In the last two weekends I have preached on The Cross of Jesus, as more than just a symbol of our Christian Faith, but rather as a deep and meaningful sign and mystery to us and to the world. This weekend I touch upon a way of honoring the Cross as the way of “suffering remembrance” or “redemptive or transformative suffering.” Then, next, I share of an even deeper way of honoring the Cross, which is to live St. Gregory of Narek’s “Way of Lamentations.”

In today’s Mass and its epistle, we are studying Ephesians again (as like the past two weekends) but now Paul moves from an emphasis on the Cross (in chapter 2) to how the believer is bid by God to live a life ‘worthy of their calling’ and to become “one body” of believers, following “one Lord… one baptism …(and) one God and Father of all (as chapter 4 of Ephesians proclaims).”

One sure way to live life worthily to your Christian calling is to pray and act with Christ’ Cross.

The first way I encourage you to live out your calling is for you to act and pray with Christ’ Cross by the way of a suffering remembrance in your life, so as to foster a transformative suffering.

Transformative Suffering: Catholics have learned of transformative suffering through the ages. We know that we are to always learn and grow from suffering, lest it just be ONLY a pain and hurt for us and likely something we’ll get pain and hurt from again. We’d rather, as believers, to at least get a lesson from the brokenness of life, to get gain from our pain. Suffering is not something that what we go looking for–but if it finds us, we are to learn from it, and have conversion. Right, Catholics?!

We have learned some of this from the Jewish foundations of our faith. Today is the Jewish holy day of Tisha B’Av. (Yes, it’s on a Sunday in 2015!) It is an annual major feast of sorrow each year, falling on the ninth of the Jewish calendar month: thus simply called Tisha B’Av. According to Rabbinic tradition, it was begun as a holy day long ago to recall the Sin of the 10 Spies in the Exodus journey back home to Caanan, which had brought on discouragement to the whole throng, and brought to a screeching halt, their once-brave homecoming march. What came to pass in this fear and timidity were 40 years of suffering for the Jews in the desert and aimless wandering around lost there. Tisha B’Av was a day to mourn their past suffering that was brought on due to that lack of faith. It was a day of fasting and tears. It was a day to remember the past suffering, as so to recall its lesson. Trust God next time! This holy day of a suffering remembrance encouraged weeping for such past faults. As the Jewish story did move forward, the feast of Tisha B’Av would also be a day to recall the Jews’ innocent suffering, too (as when they suffered for doing good and being persecuted by the ungodly).

As Jewish history went on, more suffering came to this Covenant People because of their lack of faith and the consequences were devastating, such as the destruction of the great Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (and then its second destruction later). In observing today’s Tisha B’Av, traditional Jews include all the Jewish suffering in history, such as from the modern Holocaust, and also for the Jews’ failures in faith today. On today’s day of mourning (July 25th sundown to July 26th sundown) they are supposed to read Lamentation Scriptures, such as Jeremiah the prophet’s advice to a suffering people, or the Psalmist’s lament prayers. Observant Jews are called to fast and pray and refrain from all pleasurable activity for 24 hours, even the marital act for couples, in keeping Tisha B’Av.
IMG_20150725_130637_065 the Jews remember at Tisha B’Av the felled rocks of the once mighty Temple of Jerusalem

Catholics have our own applied ways of recalling our sufferings, and of remembering our own folly of falling away in our New Covenant faith in God and His Christ Jesus. We recall the consequential suffering that comes with our sin and our fear or timidity. When we think of suffering, it is not just to our own Catholic fault and commission, either, but we also remember as to when we have been persecuted, as to be on the end of receiving suffering simply due to the Name of Christ and the Gospel we have proclaimed and lived. (That is our living the 8th beatitude.) In all of this–we try to live in “transformative suffering,” learning from the Mystery of Christ’ Cross. We try to learn from the mistakes and hurts of the past. We ask for God’s healing and strength. The Church does have its own observances, as we have martyrs’ remembrance days, as July 25th is the martyr St. James Day, and the feast of the Holy Innocents, too, in the Christmas Octave. We have our dedicated days and times for turning attention to our sinfulness and praying for our change of heart towards God’s grace and reign. We have our annual Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday, and Fridays in Lent of fasting and meditation on Christ’ Cross, and there are our First Fridays, and there are our Penance Services in parishes, and the regular use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation for us, so as to have a suffering remembrance and a change in us by our prayers and cries for healing and strength and renewal.

As I said the past two weekends, we Christians have penances and physical reminders like crosses and crucifixes to remind us that life is to be lived by faith and not by fear or not by any succumbing to act with sinfulness in the world and with its idols and following its poor offensive behavior to God, even under the very watch of The Almighty. We need to recall Christ’ Passion and His Sacrifice as a regular part of our Faith, as to live in the shadow of the Almighty. Today’s Psalm 145 prays: “The hand of the Lord feeds us, He answers all our needs.” Knowing what Jesus’ hand looks like, it has the pierce hole marks of where the nails went as He suffered in love and redemption for us. This is the hand of God that gives you Communion today. This Eucharist comes to us via a Suffering Christ.

My second point is about praying with the Cross of Christ, by it, and through it– is to speak about the Lamentations spirituality that St. Gregory of Narek has made known to the Church. This spirituality of suffering differs from the subjective aspect of Tisha B’Av, where the emphasis on ourselves in our own suffering. A Lamentations spirituality is a further and deeper way of redemptive suffering; it is a holy way of bearing the sins of the world and all its pain and division and hurt as being in group or global responsibility for it.

“I am a sinner in the world of sinners”: this is the starting point of prayer in a Lamentations spirituality. This theology or spirituality was taught by 10th century Armenian Saint Gregory of Narek, the man who was made as the 36th Doctor of the Church this year, as done by Pope Francis. Gregory of Narek is added to the distinguished list of teachers of the Christian Faith who have taken us deeper in knowing Christ and His Saving Way. Gregory of Narek taught on how our suffering or others’ suffering is all part of a whole. We said that we need to mature as believers to have a co-suffering spirituality with the world. We should not separate into us versus them views of life, even if we have enemies to our own ways of being. We should love one another, even towards our opponents to following Christ, because but “there for the grace of God go I” –we all our people in a world that had turned away from God and all our responsible for the Cross of Jesus by our sins. St. Gregory teaches that we all have something in common in this world, believer or non-believer, in that we suffer from the effects of our Fall from Grace and our separation from God. Something is seriously flawed in humanity. We Catholics call it sin, but all call its effects as pain and loss and hurt and division.

Gregory wrote a fantastic work of how to co-suffer with the world, as with Christ on The Cross. The work is called Lamentations. It is 75 poetic prayers that all our in the style of Jeremiah’s prophet lamentations for Israel, but it goes further into a Christic fulfillment. The saint says that Jesus’ Lament and Offering through us is salvific. We grow deeper in our mystery of faith as we cry with Christ for His world, the one which still goes on in such folly of sin and proud independence from God. The thing is: St. Gregory asks us not to prayer for sinners as in “for them” but as “one of them.” This is the aspect of this saint that has so moved Pope Francis. He started his papacy by answering a question of “how do you basically define yourself?” The new pope answered: I am a sinner.

When one can reach that place of regular understanding that one is a sinner in great daily need of the Bread of Grace from God, then they are “getting it” about themselves. When they see themselves as part of our world in need, then they change and really become a Christian– an “other Christ.”
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In today’s gospel in John 6 (which we will hear further on next Sunday), Jesus shows compassion on the multitude before Him on a Galilean hillside. When we get compassion for others like that, then we know the eyes of Christ are looking out with us from our souls.

Next week we shall continue with more on this Lamentations theology or spirituality of new Doctor of the Church, Gregory of Narek.

As we think of the Cross, as our call to know better the Merciful Christ and His offering on it, then the way of transformative suffering or lamentation for the world becomes clearer as how we can “live a life worthy of our calling… in our one faith and in our one Lord and as His one body.

New Doctor Gregory

Do you know St. Gregory of Narek?

In the past here at St. Edward the Confessor, we did a study of all the 35 Doctors of the Church. These special persons are recognized for their renowned holiness and the key contributions made to the teachings of The Faith. A new “Doctor” was added this year by Pope Francis. He is Gregory of Narek. He is Doctor #36. Gregory of Narek was a surprise choice.
(My guess last year of Duns Scotus being #36 was off, he has been scooped by Gregory! But you will see in this blog how and why Gregory was chosen.)

A drawing depicting Gregory of Narek
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Saint Gregory of Narek lived in the 10th century and was a famed poet, astronomer, priest, mystic, composer, and theologian. He is quite the wide-ranged saint. Plus, he was an Armenian and from Eastern Christianity. These days, with all the trouble in Armenia and the Middle East from Islamic extremism, it is good for the pope to have recognized the great blessings that have come from these places of the ancient Church, even while we know Christianity has been mostly forced out of this area. 100 years ago there was a persecution and massacre of over a million and a half Christian Armenians (and Christian Assyro-Chaldeans) in Ottoman Turkey. The anniversary of it (called “Metz Yeghern”) took place earlier this year and Pope Francis wanted to recognize it, through this honor to a Armenian saint who gave extraordinary messages about mercy and suffering, and one who wrote acute and deeply-ascetical acknowledgements of our sad and fallen condition of humanity.

This elevation to Doctor and Saint Gregory of Narek was meant to send some messages. First, it affirmed the wisdom of St. Gregory’s course of handling human conflicts that so pose threats to the global community (as well as to the Church). Gregory’s message still cries out to us today, in how to handle all the adversity to God and then the ungodliness in man. Secondly, the pope gave the message of how much Armenians have contributed to the Church, even if they’re scattered right now and in low numbers where the Saint once live as a mystic. Thirdly, the pope also indirectly communicated, through this attention to the Armenian mystic, that the Islamic peoples and the local governments had yet to acknowledge and apologize for the Metz Yeghern massacre. No official apology has ever given to the Christians. Fourthly, the pope sent a message of how important east-west relationships are in Christianity today. This newly-chosen Doctor crossed boundaries in a loving solidarity.

But what of this new Doctor of the Church?

He is a great poetic voice. He is called “illuminator of the Armenians” and their “angel in human form.” He is a voice in the crossroads of the world, between Byzantium and the West and Byzantium and the East. Gregory’s monastic community continued his work for a whole millennium. They also passed on his Christian piety of lamentation.

St. Gregory wrote 95 mystical poems and prayers of Lamentation. They are deeply touching. In the context of suffering, they turn things around in the one in trial. Rather than live in blame of others and attack upon other’s views, the saint’s approach is to bear suffering as one co-responsible for it in the world. It is to pray for a redeemed humanity, from the place of the hurting person pleading for others (like Jesus on the Cross, or Jeremiah crying for Israel). In a modern phrase, it is to say “we have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.” In the imitation of Doctor Gregory, the Christian accepts co-responsibility for all the wrong in the world, as one who is praying to be the change needed for God to find an open and humbled heart to work with to effect His will and plan.

Heard in the modern context of early 21st Century suffering, Gregory’s words bring a profound Christian teaching on how to live with suffering for God’s greater good of it. Suffering at the hands of evil is an awful thing but faith in Christ does a tranformative effect in Christ’ body of believers: we may end up lamenting the whole human condition and begin praying for enemies of God to turn their hearts/souls back to Him. We can find the love of God in our hearts, of which Jesus has for all sinners and all rebels to the Kingdom of the Father. It’s an amazing challenge.

Prayers from Gregory of Narek can prepare us for the upcoming Year of Mercy (starting in Autumn 2015), such as this one: “Hear the prayers of my embattled heart for mercy, when I cry out to you, ‘Lord,’ in my time of need.” It’s definitely a challenge to pray for enlarged mercy in one’s self, especially if one is feeling oppressed by others, or one is blind in any way to their own pride!

It’s the kind of challenge that Pope Francis relishes in giving to the Church and to the world. And so, he presents us with the teachings and example of Doctor and Saint Gregory of Narek.

Quotes from Gregory of Narek: From Book of Lamentations LXXXIII “Remember, [Lord]… those of the human race who are our enemies as well, and for their benefit accord them pardon and mercy…Do not destroy those who persecute me, but reform them, root out the vile ways of this world, and plant the good in me and them.”
From Lamentations LXXII “I willingly blame myself with myriad accounts of all the incurable sins, from our first forefather through the end of his generations in all eternity, I charge myself with all these voluntarily.”
An amazing prayer, isn’t it?

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The Cross of Christ Poem

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There is a poem someone wrote out how the believer values Christ’ Cross. Here it is…

Can anything be worth such pain? What on the Earth is worth this cost?
For these God’s spotless Lamb was slain, How greatly He loves the lost

Gethsemane’s prayer, it echoes still No other way but Calvary’s hill
The blackest day this earth has seen Dark as the night before the dawn;
So dark this world had never been E’er since the day that it was born.

When on the cross of Calvary The Lamb was slain to set us free.
Beyond the power of finite mind To plumb its ocean depths and see,
Why Christ died to save humankind Why did He Himself need come and be(?!)
Made sin for us and to help us find, Sacrificial love for a sin-sick family

Double-dyed millenniums of sin
Woe upon woe and deepest pain
The whole foul debt was paid by Him Our freely-given love to gain.
Here in Him we can make amends, Our sin, His blood alone will cleanse.
His Sacrifice offers from Heaven, The Way of the Lamb to be forgiven

True Presence at Mass He sends down to us, To enact the Gift of Justice
Just as we were unable to self-save, God is able in the Mass He gave
to pour out Gifts all from His Cross

and sets a table where Peace is food
we pray and partake in Eucharist
To live as His Body for God is good He unites to His Head, the Christ

I see lifted up a Cross in the Sky It speaks: Here’s your Key to Eternity.

July 19 Homily More Reflections on The Cross of Christ

What’s the greatest Cross sign you know of in America? Are you glad that it is up for people to see?
And, what of yourself–do you know, that as a Christian, you are a living Cross sign?

For our second straight week, the Ephesians’ epistle at Sunday Mass refers to the great worth of Christ’ offering on The Cross. Thus so, I will preach again on the Cross, emphasizing it as a symbol of our Christian Faith. Jeremiah’s reading precedes Paul and speaks of the new covenant of God to come in the future from a “root” or branch that grows into a Person called “The Lord of Justice.” We believe that to be a prophecy about Jesus and His Cross. Jeremiah says that people would rest in the shadow of the Lord of Justice. This prophecy is fulfilled, as it has come to mean now to be the shade of the Almighty and Jesus’ Cross, who is saving us in His Justice.

The Cross has become a public symbol around Maryland, and in other places in America. It tells of the presence of Christianity in our land and in hearts. While people’s faith is THE greatest witness of faith, these crossbeams testify something in their physical presence, too.

I think of the wonderful witness of St. Agnes Catholic Hospital in Baltimore. It has a bright seven-story cross of LED lights and aluminum that can be seen prominently over Southwest Baltimore. That cross has a message, which has said for years and years: “Come here if you need help when you’re sick or in emergency physical need. We live the compassion of Jesus’ Cross here.” The hospital has lived the works of mercy for a longtime there, caring for the sick.

St. Clement’s Island in the Potomac River off St. Mary’s County has a very large cross on it that you can see afar on the river and from both shores of the Maryland and Virginia side. It marks the landing site of the founding of Maryland, where and when the English Jesuit Fr. Andrew White celebrated a Mass to officially begin Maryland. The Cross there says: Here’s where Religious Freedom in Mary’s Land Colony started, folks!

Down several miles south on Rt. 301, you probably have noticed the three wooden crosses, blue and gold in color, that are put up on the roadside. It is on a church property, on the north-bound side, but the symbols of Calvary are obviously meant for all to see as they drive by on 301. It is one of 1,800 such crosses put up by a man named Bernard Coffindaffer and His Cross Project. Bernard was a Christian who wanted to thank God for his survival at Iwo Jima in the 40’s and from a heart attack in 1982. So in 1984 he began erecting his first trio of crosses across America, a set in South Carolina which stood 25 feet high. For the next decade until his 1993 death, he financed and supervised the 3 Cross project to spread to 28 states in the USA. He wanted the three crosses to say: America, do not forget Calvary nor of God’s great Mercy.

The public view of The Cross is a strong sign to the world; if it were not so, then you wouldn’t have the growing number of atheists and secular humanists and others who complain and argue and sue that this symbol is “offensive” and “a separation of church and state issue that (they say) demands an action by the government to outlaw the Christian cross from public eyes.” They say that the Constitution defends their anti-Cross campaign, but we know that what the Constitution and its First Amendment and its author Thomas Jefferson really meant to establish for America, which was to keep one religion from controlling government or for any religious litmus test to be applied for defining any American. Yet, by this recognition, instead, one would be free to practice religion in this nation, so just as long they didn’t have it forced on others. We have mostly enjoyed it up to recent times, but things are changing.

As I preached last Sunday, we are living in times where movements exists to try to keep ANY religion and its religious signs or words or prayers from being seen or heard in public. I think I’ll nickname it the GITM: the Greatly Intolerant Tolerance Movement. Falling for the removal of the cross tolerance, even numbers of “new” Christian churches have gone to a cross-less Christianity, as I mournfully preached about last weekend. That homily is on the web site blog. By the way, I believe that there is no such real church in Jesus’ Name that can sidestep The Cross.

Today our epistle of Paul speaks about the Glory of the Cross. It asks us to draw near the Cross. “Brothers and sisters: In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. (Rejoice in this) For He is our peace, He who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through His flesh, …establishing peace, as He might reconcile us…with God, in one body, through the CROSS.” Paul is saying ‘celebrate the Cross and embrace it.’

We Catholics need to be Cross Christians. We should glory in the Cross. We should be glad for our large Crosses put up across America, from the east to the west coast, like the one at St. Augustine’s Florida, a few hundred feet tall, marking an early place of Catholicism in our country… to The Cross at Ventura, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and in the memory of soon-to-be Saint Junipero Serra of California–that’s a nice outdoor, physical cross for people to see. And it proclaims that Jesus is our Peace. There is no forced following of the Cross in America, either. The Cross is just a reminder of Jesus and His Mercy. And it is a sign of saving lives and of good lives laid down to rest.
In the middle of America, too, we celebrate Jesus and His Cross is our Peace. We can be happy for the 60-foot one in Bardstown Kentucky, near Louisville, where the oldest mid-west diocese was formed 200 years ago…. We are glad that there is a Cross in the Woods at Indian River, Michigan, made from a tree, and that it has a large corpus on it, because Jesus is our Peace….. we can be also happy that there is “Christ of the Ozarks,” a 67-foot Cross at Eureka Springs, and we are glad that there is the “Cross at the Crossroads” in Effingham, Illinois at highways 57 and 70, that towers at 198 feet tall, weighing 180 tons. IMG_20150611_154156_864

We look ahead and see that it will probably be a post-Christian USA in these decades to come, and how true disciples of Jesus will likely have to face lots of hostility for allegiance to the Cross of Christ and of any public affirmation of Jesus Christ.

Are you willing to bear witness to Jesus and The Cross?

You and I are also public crosses or Christ’ signs for people to see. We wear Calvary on our shoulders, as we bear the cost of truly following Jesus in faithful witness to God. The last beatitude of The Sermon on the Mount speaks that any true follower will be able to suffer for the sake of the Gospel and Jesus’ Name, and their reward is the Kingdom of Heaven. (Mt. 5:12-14).

I hope you can leave Mass today thinking some more of The Cross as a symbol of our highest love and of the mystery you carry in yourself as Jesus’ follower.

Peter Kreeft says: ” We sinned for no reason but of an incomprehensible lack of love; and He saved us (via the Cross) for no reason but an incomprehensible excess of love.”

We have Redemption by Christ’ blood, Shed on The Cross July 12 Homily

Intro
Last September I gave a reflection of the Meaning of the Cross, speaking of it as a public symbol here around Maryland, and in other places in America. I said that it is a strong representation of the presence of Christianity in our land and/or at a place. While people’s faith is THE greatest witness of faith, these crossbeams testify something in their physical presence, too. It’s evidence that the Christian Faith is lived or practiced there. In this Sunday and next Sunday I’d like to speak to this topic.

You know that the secular culture is growing around us, as they are increasingly demands that Cross Signs in public to be removed. For example, the Peace Cross in Bladensburg in Prince George’s County keeps getting challenges to its presence there on Rt. 450; it has been there since the American Legion put it up over ninety years ago. Humanists challenge that ‘we aren’t Christian anymore as a nation.’ They say, ‘The cross is anti-American because it’s a religious symbol of Christ…And he’s not the president here!’ It’s clear. Opponents to the Peace Cross want all displays of Christianity removed, or hidden away privately. Even to the discredit of that memorial.

There’s the Bald Knob Cross in Alto Pass, Illinois which stands 111 ft. tall. When illuminated at night, it can be seen over an area of 7,500 square miles of Southern Illinois in the Shawnee National Forest. It was put up in 1963, made of Illinois marble and reinforced steel porcelain panels. On most Summer weekends, for instance, it gets a lot of visitors. Yet, it has been the target of lawsuits, saying that it forcefully promotes Christianity in America. When they went to court at last time over it, the defense decided to argue that it was a tourist and sightseeing place. They won the right to keep it up. Yet it’s sad how the defense had to duck the religious side of the Bald Knob Cross. I went through another midwest city this past week that had a large cross displayed by a company that all could see while driving on the main road. I’m sure the company has been sued for that.

Homily

The Epistle today tells of the meaning behind a Cross or Crucifix. Jesus saved us by His Body and Blood Sacrifice on The Cross. Ephesians 1:7 proclaims it: “In Him we have redemption by His blood, the forgiveness of (our) transgressions.” Redemption is what happened on a Cross to the body of the God/man Jesus Christ. We were purchased by the Blood of the Lamb. Salvation came to us in the brokenness there at The Cross. And, when the priest breaks a piece off the large Host in Mass and puts it into the chalice to start the Lamb of God prayer, salvation is re-presented there, shown in the brokenness, or the breaking of the bread by Jesus. Jesus already committed to ‘His breaking’ and “sharing out’ at the Last Supper Gathering. At Calvary on Good Friday, He was nailed there by the world to the wood, all the while when He had a plan and meaning for allowing that kind of suffering to be freely endured by Him. He died for our sin, to release us from its hold, and of death’s hold. Then, He put the choice out to us, that, if He died for us and our sins, we could now take that gift of mercy, and die-to-our-self and live for Him, rather than live for our sins and our pride. The Cross says let go of the world, and cling to Christ. Jesus had a formula for being His disciple. “If they but deny their self, take up their cross, and follow Me.”

There are growing numbers of critics of this symbol of the Cross, who don’t like its Jesus’ Message of dying-to-self.
First, within Christianity, there is a growing distancing from it, which surprises me, since The Cross is meant to be central for us. I was in a city in Michigan just this past week that had a big Christian church that just went through a major change there–to distance themselves from being a church of The Cross. They said that they wanted to un-church and take down the cross symbols and put up happier symbols, like a heart, a globe, the word “exchange,” and perhaps add the phrase “One Love” onto the wall. As I was looking online for what was going on in this community, I read what their pastor had said back in March, in explaining the change going on there: ‘Jesus on the Cross is like looking at a picture of an assassinated president–and people don’t want that image of their hero.’ He also said that the church has gone so far as to remove the steel cross from their bell tower, too, because ‘the Cross has become a negative symbol for a lot of people.’ They needed a large crane to take it down.

I was so sad to hear his comments and to see yet another Christian church lose its way in America, all in the name of popular appeal and so called inclusiveness and toleration. This pastor and congregation essentially removed the Cross from his Christianity, and his congregation. And he literally did it, too. I was there in the town on Sunday and I found all this out. Their church also had made a recent name change. They were not to be called Christ Community Church either, anymore, but were going ahead as C3. ” We are de-churching…and we want to make the whole experience from the moment people walk in the church … to match our inclusive identity,” he said. “We’re not trying to change anyone, because we say, ‘Come as you are.’ We don’t want to be a threat to anybody (like a Cross could imply) but trying to provide an alternative.” Our community has been a really open-minded community for some years now,” he said, not being called a church anymore. “We’ve had a number of Muslim people, Jewish people, Buddhists, atheists. … We’re catching up (to) ourselves…. but nothing’s going to be expected of anyone” who attends…It should be a good, lively (time) at C3 Exchange: “(a) community is a place where people can come to exchange ideas.”

This all made me sick. Yet I am glad to be part of a worldwide network of churches, the Catholic ones, that won’t tolerate this kind of dumbing-down or watering-down the Faith. Here in Michigan was just another defection from the Fold, and a break of unity. These new churches will not mention Jesus or His Authority and Lordship and Uniqueness as the Savior. They won’t mention sin or the Cross. They justify themselves as “good people” not in need of Calvary. Not in need of Jesus’ Last Supper and Mass. They want to welcome everybody, so it means that they don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, either. To each his/her own. That is the methodology of the “new” church or un-church. It doesn’t work. Not in the long run. I hope none of you here will ever turn to this easy-going defection from the Cross. There is this movement for un-churching America. You’ll be able to notice it with the elimination of crucifixes or crosses in the worship space… or with their criticism of the Mass as being pointless.

Now, in another case, I was watching someone famous give a sermon in a Christian church, watched by many tv viewers in June. I noticed something. The sermon also avoided mentioning Jesus or anything about His Cross. It put all the attention on the people’s needs, but not really on Jesus. Typical again. Watch out for this kind of thing.

In the Catholic contrast, we hold to the Scriptures and Doctrines tht say that Jesus gave His blood, and that’s how we got our salvation. We were sinners and slaves to it and caught in our transgressions, but forgiveness came through the Blood of Jesus. Is it so uncomfortable to remember that? That Christ died for us? Well, it should make us uncomfortable. Our sins were the reason for a Cross of The Lord, and the ongoing extension of Mercy in the Mass that unites us to the Cross and Christ’ Cup of Suffering.

Today, in our opening Scripture, we heard about a prophet that made people uncomfortable too. The lay prophet Amos made some officials and lapsed priests uncomfortable. In the text a priest official named Amaziah is bent out of shape by Amos. He says ‘We don’t want to hear it, Amos, or be bothered by this religious message of yours. Off with you, visionary, and flee over to the land of Judah! (In extra words, ‘Go there, because then it surely will be a place other than here. But your words are not welcome with us, as you offend the king and his temple with such holy ramblings.’)

And yet, as you and I know from Old Testament study, Amos was a sincere prophet called by the Lord. (And Amaziah was a joke for a priest.) Amos was a layman who spoke up to Israel saying: ‘Why aren’t we practicing our Hebrew Religion faithfully? What has happened to us? Why have we compromised our hearts with God?’ Thus, Amos is a model to the average faithful Catholic today to hold on to faith, and also to speak it and live it well. Our nation depends on it. We need to build up faith, not be relaxed or compromised in it. Thank you Amos! You were willing to calling the Jewish people back to the high moral and religious demands of the Lord’s revelation given to them. In Amos 3:10, you summed it up: “Oracle of the Lord! The people do not know how to do what is right anymore!” You asked: Where is the fear of sin and respect to God?

Amos, your message applies to our time and society here today. I am a little surprised at your frankness, too, dear Amos. I read your comments in Amos chapter 4:4: ‘It’s as if Bethel had a sign at its gates: Come to Bethel* and sin, or a sign over Gilgal Come sin all the more! This is Sin Town!” Amos 4:4. And your warning is that judgment from God eventually comes upon such pompous fools. Who else warned of such judgment? Oh yeah, it is Jesus, in speaking in today’s Gospel, asking the apostles to shake the dust and dirt off of the places that rejected the Gospel, for the judgment comes ultimately there (so you don’t want any connection to that!).

With that Michigan church getting away even from Christ’ Name, I think they are heading in the wrong direction. Listen to today’s epistle: “Blessed be God the Father and Our Lord Jesus Christ… we are blessed in Him…chosen in Him… He destined us and chose us according to His good will (not our goodness or our choices).” Listen to the attention on Jesus here in Ephesians 1. A/to His glorious grace v6 B/we have redemption through His Blood vs 7 C/ from the riches of His grace, that He lavished on us vs7-8 D/ in the Mystery of His will… His good pleasure… vs. 9
E/ Listen next to how many references come to Jesus in the next five verses In Him.,.In Christ…In Him…His will…on Christ…His glory… In Him…In Him…His Spirit… His Glory. That’s a lot of attention to Jesus and back to His Blood and Grace. It’s as if St. Paul was trying to hit us over the head with a two by four with that point (or with the theology of the Cross)! And that poor church in Michigan has taken His name off the church, His crosses off the wall and steeple, His Name off their lips, and moved the attention to a good times, inter-religious exchange. Bad move, brothers and sisters!

Our critiques call us Catholics now as even idolaters, for our insistent love of our crucifixes and crosses. Here’s what one said of the Crucifix, coming from their fundamentalist viewpoint. ‘No symbol can be that special, or else its value is just idolatry.’ Wow. Harsh words! Folks–I am not making these charges up. They are public and they are real. We Catholics say of The Cross and Crucifixes: “We know it’s a symbol, but it is the One left to us by a God Who truly expresses His love for us and our need to be saved by Him. This symbol, too, is even represented more by a Living Sign, which is The Eucharist in the Mass, Christ’ True Body and Blood. This Living Sign is our center of worship, and it’s a good reason we come to Mass–to be there with Christ, as like those who died at Calvary or the Last Supper. We unite to the Sign, Who is the Person of Jesus. He is the Lamb of Sacrifice in the Heavens, as told in the near end of the book of Book of Revelations, as well as John’s Gospel start in the mouth of John the Baptist. The Lamb of God is real. We love Him Who went to the Cross, and we want “to be crucified with Christ, so therefore the “I” in me no longer lives , but instead Christ who lives in Me, that I can live by faith.” This plan was first put forth by St. Paul.

We come to Mass to encounter Christ’ in His Sacrifice for our sins. He is worthy before the Father for us, and we are not worthy on our own. It is much about our acknowledging of our sins, and not being bothered by a Big Cross of Jesus announcing to the world that we couldn’t save ourselves. We’ll take Jesus as our Savior! “In Him we have redemption by His blood, the forgiveness of (our) transgressions.” So says today’s Ephesians 1:7.
We started there at that verse and we’ll end there. Ephesians 1:7. “In Him we have redemption by His blood, the forgiveness of (our) transgressions.”