You better watch out – Santa Claus is coming.

This article (of the same name) is lifted directly from the Catholic World Report, not with permission but with love. Coming up to Christmas we celebrate the feast of St. Nicolas. Here is a great summary of his witness to Christ.

“There are hundreds of stories about St. Nicholas of Myra. He was born in Lycia on the southwest coast of modern Turkey. His wealthy, pious parents, Theophanes and Nonna, read to him the Holy Scriptures and faithfully taught him his prayers, but apparently died while he was still young. His uncle, Bishop Nicholas of Patara, ordained young Nicholas and made him his personal assistant. The zealous youth proved himself an inspiring catechist in the Christian community and an obedient servant to his uncle. During these dutiful years he showed great kind-heartedness and generosity by distributing his inheritance to the poor.

During this time, the three grown daughters of a formerly rich inhabitant were in danger of being sold into slavery because of their father’s pennilessness. Hearing of this, young Nicholas secretly visited the man’s house at night and threw gold in at the window to provide a dowry for one of the girls. The eldest daughter was soon married, and Nicholas again made clandestine donations for the other two daughters, with equally felicitous results. Modern children who awake to an orange or to gold-foiled chocolates in their stockings reenact this story because, by all accounts, one of Nicholas’ gifts landed in a sock that was hanging by the fire to dry.

The young Nicholas was blessed with a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During the voyage, a storm came up that terribly frightened the crew but, through the prayers of the saint, the waves of the sea were becalmed and the passengers saved. According to Palestinian Christians, Mar Nkoula (St. Nicholas) lived in a cave as a hermit for three years after visiting the holy places. In a vision Nicholas was told to return to Lycia. Years later an Orthodox Church was built over the hermit’s abandoned cave at Beit Jala, and Palestinians still commemorate this saint by giving gifts to children on December 19.

Not long after his return to Asia Minor, Nicholas was made archbishop of Myra. Difficult years followed for the archbishop and his flock, who were forced underground by the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s brutal, expansive persecution of Christians. During this time the good archbishop, who had the charism of bi-location, often appeared to imprisoned members of his flock as a model of gentleness, kindness, and love, until the day he too was discovered in hiding. In jail Nicholas continued to sustain and exhort his fellow believers to endure torture and death for the love of Christ. After Diocletian’s death, Nicholas was released and returned to his sacramental duties as a “confessor of the faith”—a titled given to Christians who were imprisoned and tortured for their faith during this period, but not executed. They were extremely revered and respected by their contemporaries.

Archbishop Nicholas attended the first Ecumenical Council at Nicaea (325), where he allegedly assailed the heretic Arius. In the middle of his hearing, Arius stood up on his seat in order to be better heard. Enraged by Arius’ denial that Jesus Christ is true God and true man, Archbishop Nicholas strode quickly over to Arius, pulled him down by his beard, and punched him in the face. The scandalized council fathers sprang upon Nicholas, stripped him of his pallium, and threw him in prison for his brutish behavior. That night Nicholas was visited by the Holy Family who loosed his bonds and vested him again in his apostolic garb. The bishops were astonished by this miracle and realized that Nicholas’ anger was righteous. He was honorably restored to his chair—where the aged prelate slept through much of the remaining proceedings.

During one of these naps, the holy confessor of orthodoxy bi-located again, this time to save more sailors at sea. When he awoke in Nicaea he was resentfully charged with sleeping through the entire council, whereupon the venerable Nicholas is said to have answered, “While you were talking, I was busy rescuing a disaster-driven ship at sea.” Some of the pious brethren took the ship to be an analogy of the Church. Others dismissed his words as the babblings of an old man. But not long after the council, the rescued sailors returned safely home and, traveling through Myra, recognized Nicholas as their deliverer. Not surprisingly, every Greek and Slavic Christian sailor for the past millennium and a half has sailed under the protection of St. Nicholas. In the midst of a storm, Greek sea captains still keep the ancient custom of promising St. Nicholas an effigy of their ship, called a tamata, if the holy wonderworker will save them from calamity.

Archbishop Nicholas peacefully fell asleep in the Lord on December 6, 343. He was immediately recognized as a saint and as the patron of travelers. He is called upon by Christians round the world for deliverance from flood, poverty, or any misfortune. He has especially promised to help those who remember his parents, Theophanes and Nonna.

St. Nicholas’ incorrupt relics were venerated for centuries in the local cathedral church of Myra. Like those of many other saints, his bones exude sweet-smelling myrrh. This holy myrrh has been used by Christian faithful to heal all manner of infirmities. During the Middle Ages the Turks conquered Byzantine Asia Minor and hitherto pose a constant threat to Christianity in that region. Because St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, his stories have spread to every Christian nation. In 1087, solicitous for the safety of St. Nicholas’ venerable remains, Italian sailors, who were devoted to this saint, plotted to steal the body and bring it back to their home village. St. Nicholas’ relics were thus taken from Myra and translated to the city of Bari, where the saint’s body continues to exude holy myrrh (in Italian, “sacra manna”) 17 centuries after his death.

A thousand years later, Italians are still hardcore devotees. It is difficult not to envy them sometimes. They’ve not only made St. Nicholas their “tooth fairy,” but once a year they commemorate the pirating of jolly ol’ San Nicola’s bones, sailing around the harbor at Bari with giant statues of the saint in their boats followed by a solemn harvesting of his tomb oils. Bari’s annual “Festival of the Translation of the Relics” is a three-day carnival with fireworks, processions, reenactments, fire-eaters, and Holy Mass, held every May 7-9. After High Mass on the 9th, the rector of the basilica crawls into a small opening in the crypt to drain the sacra manna out of St. Nicholas’ tomb into a glass vial. The manna is diluted with water and serves as an anointing sacramental and souvenir for pilgrims to Bari from across the globe.”

The truth of St. Nicolas points to the truth of Christ. Whatever you tell children, to me this story beats any other. But why let truth get in way of a good story.

See ya later

It was during our celebration of All Saints day and All Souls day that we farewell a visiting priest to our parish. Coming from India Father continues a series of sub-continental priests to fill in the shortage in our diocese. The next is already here and we anxiously await for his contribution to the parish life.

Nonetheless, during his final homily (his homilies are quite divisive; he uses scripture, like Hendrix uses a guitar, to call us to account which is confronting to some people) he spoke about the celebrations of All Saints / All Souls as a celebration of the Church Glorified (or Redeemed), the Church Suffering, and the Church Militant.

If these terms are new to you its basically a recognition of the three states of the people of God: those in Heaven are the Church Glorified (and is celebrated during All Saints), those in Purgatory are the Church Suffering (and is celebrated during All Souls), and those of us still working out our salvation with fear and trembling are the Church Militant, for we are still battling the evil one. (For scriptural support of purgatory I point you to 1 Cor 3:12-15).

It was, in his usual custom, both comforting and confronting to hear about the reality of Hell from the ambo. Where  much soothsaying is normally found the font runneth dry, at least for a time. But the point was clearly made that life is eternal and we end up in either Heaven or Hell which is determined by our choices. Life does not end here.

As Father was saying his goodbyes to parishioners during the week it was pointed out to him that in Australia we don’t say “good bye”, we say “see ya later.” So just as the words of scripture do not end on the page, just as the ministry of the priest does not end in the parish, life does not end on earth. In each of these cases we can truly say “See ya later.”

So while Father continues his ministry elsewhere we say a big thank you for your ministry in our parish. And we extend the prayer to include all priests in their ministry. Thank you all, and “See ya later!” Join me in prayerful thanks; Our Father…

Women: Excluded or exalted?

The mercy of God appears in all shapes and sizes. In the to and fro of our daily lives we often miss it. Sometimes we don’t understand it, sometimes it is not what we expect. This is more so, I think, in the long history of mankind, in particular the modern and popular understanding of the history of the chosen people of God; salvation history. Mercy, as is often the case, leads to so much more than itself as it is not an end itself but draws us into a deeper relationship with God, as does love, beauty, goodness, truth, and so on.

In the times of the Jews from not long after its inception men were considered dominant. They were the protectors and providers of their wives and their families. This was the case up until recent years, perhaps it still is in parts. When women were not protected or provided for they were vulnerable to a host of exploitations. Perhaps they still are in parts. Additionally authority, like anything else, can be abused which lead to the mercies of God being twisted for the benefit of the self and not for God. This lead to oppression and so forth.

Before the blessed self revelation of God in Jesus, God gave the Law. It is well known that some key figures in the history of the Hebrews had many wives; I think it was King Solomon who had the most. Nevertheless, this was a mercy extended by God to his people. Widows and other vulnerable women needed the protection and provisions of men. Allowing polygamy was a conciliatory mercy from God to women particularly for their protection.  The ideal would have been to create a society in which women, married or otherwise, were not vulnerable.

In comes Jesus: God’s mercy further extended. Jesus shows us the way in so many things and his example of his treatment of women, in particular widows, shows us the intrinsic dignity of all people and the protection required of the vulnerable, children included. By living the way of Jesus this ideal society is brought another step closer to reality.

Mary has a foundational and unequal role in the perception of women. The Mediatrix of mercy is uniquely exalted in the Catholic and Orthodox churches like no other human ever, male or female. Above all creation there is no one like her. Her preciousness extends to all humanity but is seen fully within the church.

Therefore, somewhat ironically, the patriarchal church Jesus left behind has in its view an example of perfect manhood in Jesus (not the lest by his treatment of those in need) and an example of perfect womanhood in Mary exalted. To uphold these examples in bringing about the ideal society the notion of an exalted person among many (or to put it another way to recognize the distinction within sameness) needs to be lived out loud and permeate through all we do. The ordinary made extraordinary: seen in Mary, through Jesus, by God.

The previous polygamous relationships now have a better example to live by. The chains, no matter how merciful their intent, have been broken and freedom reigns in fidelity to God and witnessed in monogamous marriage. The faithful example of Mary Queen of Heaven is the exaltation of womanhood par excellence. She was not given authority but is above all who have it, like a reversion of the protection and provision of the previous era.

This restored relationship – of Mary exalted, of the example of Jesus – brings together equally the prevailing faults of each of us. The reunions here on earth reflect faithfully (though not perfectly) the restored relationship in heaven. By having the exaltation of Mary, women are given an example to live by, and men are given the example of how to treat them. By having the example of a sacrificial Jesus men are given and example of manhood, and women are restored. United in Christ perfect union is more than possible, its achievable. Praise God!

Relationship and Rules: a view of Church

It was my son’s confirmation yesterday. A very proud moment in his sacramental life, and a time that I hope to write about soon, sacramentally speaking. But as soon as I returned home yesterday (after searching and thinking I had lost my son at the church when someone had already taken him home) the church’s view of women as a whole was challenged; that it was dominated my men who didn’t allow women to lead the church. This is a common accusation. But the timing was terrible and I tried to answer anyway, unsuccessfully.

I failed to address it with any coherence. After a feeble “that’s no the case” I was essentially dumbfounded after stammering some lame excuse. Quite insufficient on so many levels. I realize now what I should have said to someone quite distant from the church and someone with a genuine concern (in italics below).

The view that we get of the church on earth is not the complete picture of the church. We need to understand that in the church in heaven “the church triumphant” (triumphant because they ‘made it’) every person is equal except Jesus and Mary. (Angels I think aren’t persons they are beings but I may be wrong on that.) The saints, both male and female, stand out as giants because of their example in attaining eternal life. So what I should have said to the challenger is that their view of the church is limited to this world. But the purpose of the church is everlasting life.

The role women play in salvation is underestimated, perhaps even unrecognized. And it goes to how we are made and what we are made for. Typically women socially network better while men suffice with superficial talk. Typically men like to tinker with tools, or sport, or machinery, or some other physical / intellectual activity which grounds much of their conversation. And this is OK.

In their tinkering men come to an understanding of things. In their talk women come to understanding of people. Both of these are required for everlasting life. Let me give an example.

In understanding things men realize how things are. This can be from the natural world (environment, physics, etc.) or supernatural world (theology, philosophy, etc.) or both (sacraments, psychology etc.). These understandings become rules for a discipline, often starting out as a theory. Now, I must make it clear, this is not limited to men: women have been pioneers in many of these field. But this is the level on which men work, a level that contributes to a path to heaven. So what I should have said to the accuser was Yes. The church on earth is dominated by men. They work on the level of rules, and therefore authority. (Author; a writer of rules).

Women typically, working on a more personal level, encounter and witness Jesus at a deeper level than men. Their living testimony directs others to faith personally more than any words will. In scripture Jesus never rebuked a women because of her faith, quite the opposite: “your faith has saved you”. The apostles failed to understand yet the women had faith. Even today in the church most congregations are dominated by women. Many men attending are often disengaged. But again, this is not always the case and examples to the contrary abound, but it is typical. So what I should have said was But the women’s role is unrecognized by those inside and outside of the church. They work on relationship and witness a personal encounter with God.

 

 

Who is it?: a reflection on this weeks gospel (Mat 16:13-20)

A marque quote for papal apologetics (a topic which I have already addressed) this week’s gospel also poses the question, “Who do you say I am?”: a question frequently answered though not always asked.

I personally find this question challenging. Who do I say Jesus is? I know the right answers – Lord, Messiah, the Christ, Rabbi, Saviour, teacher, master, friend, and many more. But who do I say he his?

Jesus calls me to a deeper and more personal relationship. He is all these things and he can be all things for all men all the time. But for each of us at different times our relationship with him will have a different slant. By this I mean that as we grow our perception of things will change and in this way Jesus will be different things to us at different times.

Having thought about this deeper than I had in many years I still am unsure. I do not say this out of a wilful ignorance nor of a lack of personal relationship (for that though there is still plenty of room). But nonetheless, I was no closer to finding who I say Jesus is for me at this time.

Given that Jesus is the head of the Church, which is his body, I looked at the way I most profoundly experience Jesus in the context of the church. Surprisingly I most profoundly experience Jesus in the sacrament of Reconciliation. I say “surprisingly” because I have a love for the Eucharist. Yet there have been moments in my life where I have gone to confession in tears (quite literally) and walked out on an emotional high.

This has shown me that I experience Jesus most as merciful Redeemer.

Even with this self awakening, it is not to the level of Peter’s proclamation “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” But I don’t think it has to be. To Peter he is one thing, to me another: neither of these are wrong nor contradictory.

Who is he to you? It really is a challenging question, but with the answer comes clarity. So again, who is he to you? 

   

The Busy Life: a reflection on the last few weeks gospels

Is this cheating? Putting a few reflections in one? Some might say so but I’ll do it anyway! I’ve been busy.

Have you had some busyness in your life? I’m sure you can relate. You may have been more busy I. You may have been less. But there comes a time nonetheless where the ordinary life becomes a memory and the mundane a dream. I wont go into with what my days have been consumed, suffice to say they unfortunately have somewhat limited my alone time with God.

Just as Jesus and the apostles seek time alone to pray, away from the pursuing crowds so we must seek it too. I am reminded of its importance recently and while I try, I am unsuccessful. There have been many who have said things like, “If you’re too busy to pray, you’re too busy,” or “It is when you’re most busy that you need to pray the most.”

I find this sort of advise more of a shifting of focus more than anything else. Not quite as practical as I would hope. And I’m afraid I cannot help beyond that. I found that if I shave some time off in the mornings, getting up a little earlier, say, or likewise in the evening, then I only rob Peter to pay Paul. It feels as if it is not enough. 

I find it is easy to get disheartened, feel inadequate and give up for a bit. In the last few weeks Jesus has reminded me how much we can get from just a little. It was only five loaves and two fish that feed five thousand: it was the first step that got Peter walking on the water: it is the crumbs from the feast for the people of Israel that heals the daughter of the woman of Gennesaret. It takes courage and obedience to take that first step.

The familiar cycle of willingness, courage, success, trial, then failure is one that is shared by many. Through these last few busy weeks I am reminded to keep my eyes on Jesus. Peter called to be saved by keeping his eyes on Jesus, the crowd was fed through the obedience of the apostles, and the woman saved her daughter through an at of courage.

With each cycle we become a little more courageous and a little more obedient, if we only keep our eyes on Jesus. I know that even the little time I give – as inadequate as I feel it might be – is enough for Jesus to do his work in me. Jesus, I am sure, is not only after quantity of time. A minutes prayer said with sincerity is worth a thousand years of hollow devotion. While time is worthwhile he wants our hearts, if only we are courageous enough to give it.            

Mouth to Mouth: A reflection on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Understand that man does not live on bread alone but that man lives on everything that comes from the mouth of God

The famous words of Moses at the end of the first reading (Deut 2:2-3,14-16) become the anchor on which, John especially, develops a Eucharistic theology. From this I take a particular importance of life and bread but also of the mouth.

Living in a land obsessed with water and the beach life we often see at beaches flags between which we should swim. This is the patrolled area of the beach where if one is swimming is watched by the surf lifesavers: mostly volunteers who are well trained in many aspects of the beach conditions and first aid. We Aussies know that swimming in the safety areas we are watched and have a stronger likelihood of surviving any danger that comes our way (and there are few dangers in the waters of Australia!). It is not uncommon to see in times of need the often life-saving technique of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Returning to scripture John the Evangelist opens his gospel with “the word of God made flesh” prologue. This prologue is expounded throughout his gospel, and not more-so than in the 6th chapter from where we get this weeks gospel. Jesus equates himself as the bread come down from heaven – the manna given by God in the desert. Jesus becomes the Word made flesh, the word of God which comes from his mouth, that which we must eat to live.

We need everything that comes from the mouth of God to live: words come from the mouth: Jesus is the word of God made flesh: Jesus gives us his flesh to eat: it is his flesh which we must eat to gain eternal life: gaining eternal life he lives in us and we in him. This unifies us in Christ, a true communion.

Coming from the mouth of God and us receiving God in our mouths Jesus brings the gift of life to us. Through him we are revived in a deadly environment – and there are quite a few dangers in the water. He is the one who watches over us, who revives us, who volunteers himself for us. He freely gives us himself, yes, but we must freely receive him; mouth to mouth.