The year of 2014 has been a great year for Team Orthodoxy, with lots of changes in our ministry and lives and with more changes to come. Our ministry with Team Orthodoxy is something we do extra, on top of our daily life duties and jobs. As a team, we need time to reconnect with each other and recharge from time to time, in order to be able to continue this ministry and be able to write, what we hope are inspiring and practical blogs that lead others closer to Christ and His Church.
For the month of January, we are taking the month off to pray about what God wants to do with this ministry. we hope to go on retreat as a team and to produce something for you that is exciting. We plan in February to be able to announce some great things to you and be able to take this ministry to the next level. We hope that you will stick with us in 2015, because we believe it is going to be a great year. Be assured of our prayers for you. Please pray for us as well.
Christmas was so magical for me growing up. My family would all pile into our toaster van on Christmas Eve and head out to the 5:30 PM Mass, oriented to the kids with the children’s nativity play. All through Mass, my mind would be preoccupied with the thought that Santa would hopefully have brought us pajamas while we were out, as he usually did. I couldn’t wait to get home to see! We would arrive home, to find that Santa had already been there, with the (icing sugar) boot marks to prove it, as well as pajamas for all of us kids and a note saying that he would be back later while we were in bed. It was always so exciting to wake in the morning to find that Santa had been there, and I was always so eager to find out what he had brought for me from my list. It was wonderful.
As time went on, I figured it out that the fat bellied, jolly Santa I had come to know did not actually exist as I had thought. Mom’s handwriting, anyone? A sure giveaway. I was disappointed, but it was not like it was a shock. I knew that I would never experience Christmas in the same way, though I wished I could have. I wanted to experience the magic of Christmas that I had known – I did not know how else Christmas could be special again. Yet, I wanted to experience something real, and for Christmas to become magical for me, yet the right reasons. I knew that somehow, Christmas would now only be about the Nativity of Christ, and not about Santa, and that somehow, that would have to be enough for me.
As I kneeled in the pew at Midnight Mass this year before Mass, listening to the Christmas hymns, as well as singing them with the congregation throughout the Mass, I realized how the magic of Christmas is there for me, more than it ever has been, and in a far superior way than Santa could ever offer. All week, I could not wait to go to Midnight Mass as well as the Traditional Latin Mass the next day, and experience the real magic of Christmas. This real magic of Christmas is the glory of the coming of Christ in the flesh. Christmas Mass, especially the Mass in the Extraordinary Form with its breathtaking beauty and reverence, makes Christmas complete for me. It’s my favorite part of Christmas and what I look forward to the most and am the most excited for. Presents are great, and family time is wonderful, but what I want the most is to soak in the beauty and awesomeness of the incarnation through the Mass, and receive our Blessed Lord in the Holy Eucharist.
What really had made this possible, and in a deeper way year over year, is an increasingly deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. The Christmas season always concludes on January 6 with Epiphany, the arrival of the Kings of the Orient, the Wise Men, to worship the Lord. We learn through the readings that those who went to worship Christ did so with haste. They traveled as quickly as they could, as they did not want to miss out on Christ as they could not be assured that they would still be there when they arrived; that it would not be too late, as they arrived months after his birth. To travel with haste is to travel with “excessive speed or urgency of movement or action.” There is an urgency in our finding Jesus. The time is now for we do not know the day nor the hour when we will die or when the Lord will come again in glory. One of the Priests who celebrates the Latin Mass for the Latin Mass community where I attend is Fr. John Johnson. One of the things he said during a recent homily which has stuck with me was that we need to “find Jesus and stay there.”
In the English translation of the traditional Latin Christmas hymn, Adeste Fideles, it reads:
O come, all ye faithful, Triumphantly sing! Come, see in the manger, The Angels’ dread King! To Bethlehem hasten, With joyful accord, Oh, hasten! oh, hasten! To worship the Lord.
Every year I want to remember the glory of Christmas more in my daily life, throughout the year to come. I desire this because the reality of the Incarnation plays such an important part in really investing in the Mass and prayer when meditating on what Christ has done for me. Yet, this does not happen as I wish that it would. I always find myself connecting the most and being the most grateful for the Incarnation of Christ at Christmas, when this great feast is celebrated with such glory. I believe, however, that we can all learn to better keep the “spirit of Christmas” alive throughout the year with a constantly deepening relationship with Christ, through prayer and the Sacraments.
In the Ordinary Form of the Roman rite, we recognize the Incarnation when we pray “He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary”. In the Extraordinary form of the Roman rite, we recognize the Incarnation twice in a very particular way. The first is during the Creed when we say in Latin that “He was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man”, and during the Last Gospel when it says “and the Word became flesh”. Each time, we are asked to genuflect in honor of such a great gift. A great way to remember and keep the glory and importance of the Incarnation alive in our hearts is at those times, we can say in our hearts, “for me.” I am going to try to do to really enter into this mystery by breaking the routine and reminding myself of the reality that Jesus took on flesh for me personally at those times in the Mass. With such a great gift, I have come to realize that we need to take great care in not letting it become so familiar that we lose touch with it. Another way that I am going to try to enter into the Mystery of the Incarnation is spending more time in personal prayer or at Mass reflecting on the necessity for the Incarnation for our Salvation, on God taking on human flesh for us. Without the Incarnation, we would have no Mass and no Sacraments, and the Gates of Heaven would remain closed. Even if you cannot spend a long time in prayer, I encourage you try to think on this great gift and thank God for it every day, if only for a moment.
I will do everything I can this year to truly hasten to Jesus and stay there and to remember the Incarnation daily. It is my prayer for you all this year that you would do the same. Perhaps you have other practical ways of remembering the Incarnation. Share them in the comments below.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!
In recent weeks, there has been a lot of reporting about what Pope Francis said about Islam. Many articles, even from supposedly respectable establishments, blatantly misquoted him (as has become almost the norm), to pretend that he claimed the Koran is “prophetic”.
Obviously, these misquotations are ridiculous and frustrating, but what our pope actually did say is actually, in my opinion, far more concerning.
Let me be clear before I go any further. I am going to criticise Pope Francis. Pope Francis is the legitimate pope, the successor of St. Peter, and he has my respect and loyalty as a Catholic. But all popes can be, and are, wrong about some things when they are not speaking ex-cathedra, on behalf of the Church.
For the sake of the truth, and those who would be harmed by falsehood, it must be said: Pope Francis is very wrong in some of his statements on Islam.
One particular quote, from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, illustrates the essence of some of his recent comments:
“Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.”
What is Authentic Islam?
It’s a little odd to think about, isn’t it? The pope is entrusted with divine authority over Catholic doctrine, but since when can he declare the authentic version of a false religion?
Now, I don’t believe that the pope used the word ‘authentic’ in this quote to mean what is actually true about Islam. In that sense, we know that the Koran contains many false teachings, Muhammad is not a prophet, and Islam is a heresy. That is obvious enough in the many fundamental contradictions between Islam and Christianity (for example, Islam denies Jesus’ divinity, and His death and resurrection). Pope Francis would certainly not disagree with this, even though he might not use the word heresy.
What Pope Francis most likely meant is that one who reads the Koran and the authoritative Muslim writings, and honestly believes them, should be opposed to every form of violence, or that what Muhammad intended to teach was opposed to every form of violence.
This, however, is also completely false.
First of all, not even Christianity is opposed to all forms of violence. The Church not only largely supports just war theory, but also understands the obligation to defend the innocent, especially for those in positions of care over others. This applies very widely, from national governments to parents who must protect their children.
But the error in this statement goes further than a technicality. The evidence is abundant and clear – from Islam’s own authorities – that Muhammad was a violent man, taught and commanded his followers to do violence, and that both he and his companions were violent in the same ways that modern Islamic terrorists are.
According to the Koran and hadith (Muslims’ approved histories of Muhammad’s life), Muhammad personally beheaded the men of a Jewish village. He ordered attacks on peaceful caravans. He led military invasions of cities and nations. He tortured a man for money. He kept slaves, and on at least one occasion raped one of them. He even delivered a revelation to his followers (claiming it was from God), telling them they were allowed to rape their female captives (Koran 4:24).
All these things come, not from “islamophobic” sources, but from Islam’s own most authoritative writings. And all these things were done by the man who for Islam is the highest example of human conduct (Koran 33:21).
Witness of the Saints
Further, the various saints who wrote about Islam throughout the centuries were well aware of its violent teachings, and not afraid to point it out. For example, in Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas Aquinas delivered a crushing rebuke against Muhammad:
“He did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration; for a visible action that can be only divine reveals an invisibly inspired teacher of truth. On the contrary, Mohammed said that he was sent in the power of his arms – which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants.”
Similarly, St. Juan de Ribera said of Muhammad:
“…he introduced and promulgated his message with robberies, murders, and blood-shedding, destroying those who did not want to receive it, and with the same means his ministers conserve this today…”
Obviously not all Muslims act like this. Here in Canada, we all have friends and neighbors who are Muslims and are perfectly peaceful, good people. I certainly do. I can only assume Pope Francis is looking at people like this to judge Islam, and getting a favourable impression. It’s quite natural to get that impression, living in the western world.
But, the question must be asked, do the values of those ‘nice’ Muslims sound like the authentic values of Muhammad? Or, do they sound more like the values of the modern, western world, a mix of Christian and secular moral influences?
On the other hand, when we look at ISIS, we can look at almost any atrocity they committed, and see that Muhammad acted in a similar way.
Why this Needs to be Corrected
One of the reasons I respect Pope Francis is that I truly believe he tries to always act with great love. In this way he tries to be Christ-like. His statements about Islam are certainly a manifestation of that. He doesn’t want Muslims to be offended or hurt. He wants us to come together and work out our differences with dialog, and to live in peace.
However, what I think is missing in his statements is our Lord’s radical and fearless honesty. He certainly did not seek to harm anyone, nor offend anyone unnecessarily. But neither did he shy away from naming the Pharisees a brood of vipers (Matthew 12:34), and publicly humiliating them, along with the Sadducees.
Why did Jesus do this? Certainly not for the sake of attacking them or their followers, but to warn them to turn away from false teachings and follow him. And in the same way in this day and age, the vicar of Christ should not be afraid to forcefully warn people away from heresy, that they may follow him.
This is why I believe Pope Francis should not have said what he did, and why I feel the duty to speak out. Because people are being drawn into the fold of Islam, away from the true faith of Jesus Christ. And statements like this play into their hands.
As Catholics, we must continue to pray for our pope, and in particular that he would learn about the reality of Islam, and speak out about it. We also need to pray for the defeat of violent Islamist supremacists around the world, and the conversion of all Muslims (even the peaceful ones). May God give His Church the grace to prevail.
“Are you done your shopping yet?” Do you get asked this a lot every Christmas season? I do, even by random strangers. It is weird. Yet, it seems almost everyone is wrapped up (no pun intended), in the busyness of the season. It may seem cliche, but I have been asking myself the question, “how am I going to grow closer to Jesus this Advent.” Of course there is the standard and very important things like going to Mass, prayer, and Confession, but really, what is going to differentiate this Advent from all other Advents? I am personally tired of going through these Liturgical Seasons that God gives us through His Church and come out seemingly the same. Do you ever feel the same way?
I think we have all become accustomed to is the story of Christmas. We see manger scenes everywhere, yet, I think we’ve lost touch with the sheer magnitude that this cutesy little creche represents. Though there is much to say about the beauty of the Incarnation of Christ in the Womb of Mary, I want to take a moment and focus on the difference between a few key players in the story of Christmas and why they matter today.
“No room in the inn.” This saying was coined by the good ol’ innkeeper in Bethlehem. St. Joseph and Mary had just travelled approximately 80 miles (130 km approx.) by foot and most likely a donkey to carry Mary. The average person walks at a pace of 5.0 kilometres per hour (km/h), or about 3.1 miles per hour (mph). With this in mind, it most likely would have been at least a four day’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The divine bun in the oven was just about ready and the innkeeper, stone-faced, told the holy family to go sleep with the cows. He missed his chance. Life got in the way of him being able to see the very thing in front of him that could change his life forever. He was too worried about money, his business, and his reputation to allow God into all of those things. The very Person who gave those things to the innkeeper was rejected, and He wasn’t even born yet. One of the greatest cosmic events in recent history was literally happening over-top of that inn and he was too busy looking at his own personal interests to pay attention.
While everybody else was worrying about their own interests there were some people looking: Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar. The three kings or Magi who travelled from afar to find Jesus. These three men recognized the star rising in the east and came prepared, knowing that the star would lead to the King. So, they travelled what would have most likely been a four-month journey to find Jesus. They left everything just to pay him homage. They had their priorities straight because they looked up from their temporal affairs to seek the King of Kings. Tradition holds that these three magi later converted to Christianity and were martyred and their relics are now housed in the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.
Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. – Isaiah 55:6-7
The season of Advent is given to us as a reminder of two things: the coming of Jesus at His nativity and the second coming of Jesus at the end of time. Advent is meant to remind us that Jesus came in mercy in the manger, but is also coming with wrath and justice at the end. There will come a time when Jesus will bring fire to the earth and our prayers for mercy will go unheard. Scary business, indeed, but true. The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay won’t be the cutesy plastic figurine that we’ve made Him out to be. He is King with justice and mercy in His hand and right now, we are in a time of great mercy. Advent is a summons for us to stop and look up, and seek the Lord anew. We are called by Christ this Advent to seek Him in new and fresh ways.
Look up from your cellphone and speak to that family member you have been struggling with talking to.
Look up from the things you have to do and spend quality time with the people you love and get to know their heart better.
Look up and see the needs of others, the poor and less fortunate. Learn to give the gift of being present to someone you do not know. Don’t just give money, give your heart.
Look up and outside of those things you are comfortable with. Listen to that band you’ve never heard of, listen to a talk about something you’re not familiar with. Take a risk and see how the Lord guides you and speaks to you.
Look up from your religious ‘duties’ and spend quality time with Jesus and get to know His heart. Don’t just do the formatted prayers you’ve committed to do. Try to enter more deeply into personal prayer with the Lord. Go into Mass or into Confession with the firm intent to be changed and to change afterwards.
Yet, this call can go unheard, just like it was for the innkeeper. We can get so wrapped up in the stuff we have to do and get done, to look seek Him in the midst of it. The three magi are called wise for a reason. Who will you be this Christmas: a wise person or just a busy innkeeper who let another Christmas go by?
The Virgin, weighed
with the Word of God,
comes down the road:
If only you’ll shelter her.
-St. John of the Cross