Standing Firm: St. Stephen the Martyr ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

Reading 1: ACTS 6:8-10; 7:54-59

PS 31:3CD-4, 6 AND 8AB, 16BC AND 17

Gospel: MT 10:17-22

Liturgical colour: Red.

Today, the day after we have celebrated the joyous birth of Our Lord and Saviour, and after all the enjoyment of festive food and the giving of gifts which we traditionally do at Christmas, and with this being the first time many of us have been able to have any joyous type of occasion this year amid all the covid19 pandemic situation, we now come in total contrast to that of the celebrations of Christmas day, to the Feast of St. Stephen who was the first Martyr to die for his faith in Our Lord.

Throughout the Old Testament we see time and time again, of the faithful being persecuted and often even killed by those without faith.  But it’s not just an Old Testament phenomenon.  This is what humans can do in their natural and unredeemed state.  We as humans  don’t like our sins to be pointed out to us.  We manage to make ourselves believe that we’re really not all that bad.  We work hard to justify our sins and failings.  We find the really, really sinful people in history—men such as Nero or Stalin—and we tend to compare ourselves to them and actually start to feel pretty good about where we stand before God because we don’t believe our sins are as bad as those of such people.  And that’s when one of God’s faithful workers comes along—someone who, while by no means perfect, is living a life renewed by grace and who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit—and suddenly all the illusions we’ve built up about our own goodness are shattered and we get angry.  Like Cain, instead of acknowledging our sins and instead of repenting, we torment, persecute, and sometimes even kill God’s people when they show us up.

Jesus weeps over Jews, knowing that they will continue to kill those whom he sends as his messengers. They won’t stop at only Jesus’s messengers, but they will indeed kill our Lord and Saviour himself soon also  They won’t heed the warnings.  But brothers and sisters, Jesus warns us—the faithful—too.  To his disciples he says:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you dear brothers and sisters when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on the Lord’s account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus prepares us for the fact that as we joyfully follow him, and  joyfully do the work of his kingdom, and as we witness the great Christmas joy we’ve found in the manger and at the cross—as we live a life of joy before our King—we will face persecution from the world.  To submit ourselves to that seems nonsensical.  How can we find joy in persecution?  We find it there, because when we make Christ our Lord, he gives us that eternal perspective we’ve been hearing about all throughout Advent.  Suddenly the things of this world are so much less important.  Our focus is on Jesus and on building his kingdom.  Our focus is on being witnesses of his new life and taking his Good News to the world.  And that change in perspective means that if we can effectively communicate the Gospel to others whilst being tormented or with the risk of even being killed, well then, so be it.  Our joy in living in and sharing Christ is greater than our joy in the things of this world—even in life itself, because we know that our share in eternal life is so much greater than anything this world could ever possibly give. But it’s not just about joy.  It’s about love too.  That’s another theme that is carried throughout the season of Advent.  We saw Love Incarnate in the manger yesterday.  And now because God has so changed our perspective by loving us, we start loving as he did— if we are indeed true children of God and his faithful  servants, we simply can’t help it!  And it’s not just that we love God’s Church or that we love our brothers and sisters in Christ, but that we even love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us.  That’s the hardest command of all for us to obey, but the reason it’s so hard is because we haven’t been perfect in love ourselves.  The closer we grow to Christ, the better able we’ll be to live it.  But it’s also true that the better we live it, the closer we will be to Christ! It is a never ending circle.

However, we fully know that Living that way is hard.  We so often get bogged down in matters of this world.  We focus more on life here than we do on life in the Kingdom of Heaven. .  We fall back into living in fear instead of living in faith.  The witness of St. Stephen should focus our eyes on our Lord and Saviour and on living the life he has given us.  No one knows for sure why this feast falls on the day after Christmas, but one thing I’ve realised is that it’s easy to be excited about grace and to live as Christmas people on Christmas Day.  But dear brothers and sisters, as humans we’re incredibly fickle, and the next day many forget about being Christmas people and go back to living in fear and in faithlessness.  We forget our witness.  How often do you come to worship God on a Sunday morning, getting excited about grace, and yet even as you drive home someone on the road does something that makes you angry and you forget all about grace; or you get bad service while you’re out having lunch, and you forget all about grace; or you get a bad news the next morning about your job, and you forget all about grace.  The Church reminds us today that being Christmas people requires real commitment on our part and that as much as it’s joyful work, it’s extremely hard work and work that requires truth and devout faith in the promises of God.

The story of Stephen actually begins in Acts Chapter 6.  He was among the group of seven men appointed the first deacons by the apostles.  They were the servant-ministers of the Church in Jerusalem.  Stephen was excited about his work.  Acts 6:8 tells us:

Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.

He was doing what he was supposed to do as a Christmas person and he attracted attention.  The problem was that he attracted the attention of Jews who didn’t like what he was doing.  Now, I say “the problem”.  That just shows how our perspective isn’t fully where it should be.  We see it as a “problem” when we face persecution.  We forget that God is sovereign and that he’s working everything out for the good of his people and the spread of his kingdom.  Persecution is hard and painful, but it’s still “good”.  Remember, Jesus tells us that we find blessing in it.  So it was a “problem” that the Jews were upset by what Stephen was doing, but it wasn’t really a problem.  God was still in control.  We need to keep that in mind in our own lives: Christians don’t have “problems”, we have “opportunities” to exercise our faith.

And Stephen knew that, even as these angry men dragged him before the Sanhedrin and produced all sorts of false witnesses who attested that he was as a blasphemer.  He was on trial and it wasn’t going in his favour.  And yet even as these men told lies about him, St. Luke tells us that Stephen sat there with the face of an angel—he was peaceful even in the face of condemnation.  The one other place in Scripture we hear a description like this is of the face of Moses after he had been with God.  Stephen was close to his Saviour and was experiencing the “peace of the Lord”.

In fact, when the high priest gave Stephen a chance to defend himself, what did Stephen do?  He didn’t try to explain away the things he had said and done that he got him into trouble in the first place.  No.  He took the opportunity to preach the Gospel to the whole Sanhedrin!  He addressed them and started with Abraham and told the story of redemption down through Joseph and Moses.  He told them the stories of their fathers who were rescued from slavery in Egypt and then again how God cared for them in the wilderness and drove out their enemies in Canaan to give them a home—and he stressed how all these things were made possible by God and were his gifts.  And as he told the story, he noted how over and over the people rejected God—gladly claiming the great things he gave them, but never truly receiving God himself.  And with that Stephen brings them right down to Jesus and he says:

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.  As your fathers did, so do you.  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.  (Acts 7:51-53)

He doesn’t pull any punches.  He tells them that in rejecting Christ, they’re doing the same things that their fathers had done before them in rejecting the grace of God and in being disobedient.  We don’t have time this morning to read Stephen’s full sermon, but I urge you to read through it—Acts 7—sometime this next week.  This was a man who was full of passion for his Lord.  He was full of passion to share the Good News, even when he was in the lion’s den.  What strikes me is how what Stephen does here runs counter to so much of what the Church today tells us to do in terms of evangelism.  We’re told today not to be confrontational; we’re told not to talk too much about sin—or not to talk about it all—because that might turn people off; we’re told to focus on the positive; we’re told to witness the Gospel with our lives and that we might get into trouble sharing it with our mouths.  Look at what Stephen does!  Not only does he live the Gospel, but he speaks it out loud and clear!  He confronts these men right for being the religious hypocrites they are.  Stephen didn’t just sit there, quietly and say to himself: “I’m not going to bother with these guys.  I’d just be casting my pearls before swine.”  No, he shared the Good News with them and he did it peacefully and joyfully.  And he did it because he was living in the grace and love of Christmas.  He knew that these men might never come to know the Saviour but for his witness, but he also knew that if they were truly reprobate, their rejection of his Gospel sermon would simply confirm to them and to the world their rejection of the Saviour, and God would have greater glory in their condemnation.  God’s Word never returns void.  Stephen knew that.

St. Luke continues the story and tells us their response:

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.  But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.  Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.  And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice,  “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:54-60)

We might read that story and think, “Wow.  Stephen certainly had a bad day!”  Our eyes are blind to God at his work.  Stephen took a faithful stand for his Lord, and even as they got ready to drag him out to be stoned, God granted him a vision of his own glory and of Jesus enthroned beside him.  Stephen’s “bad day” was a good day for the Church, because on that day God set Stephen before the rest of us as a witness—a lesson as to what it means to be Christmas people—people of his grace and his love and his power.  He showed himself to Stephen so that Stephen could show himself and his faith in Christ to the rest of us.

But Stephen’s story does more than just encourage us to share the Good News and to stand firm in our faith.  He reminds us what it means to witness the Gospel in our deeds.  Stephen had that vision of the Lord Jesus before his eyes, and so even as these evil men started hurling stones at him, he responded with Christlike love.  When Jesus was hanging on the cross, do you remember what he prayed?  He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know now what they do.”  To the last Jesus was concerned with the souls and with the eternal state of the people around him—even his enemies.  He was an evangelist to the end, even when there were no more words to say to his persecutors and murderers, he was praying for them.  And Stephen, with his eyes on Jesus, does the same.  There was nothing left to say to these men and there was nothing left for him to do, and so he prayed for them: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Luke tells us that St. Paul was there that day.  He was holding coats so that people could do a better job throwing rocks at Stephen.  Of course, this is when he was known as Saul—before he met Jesus on the Damascus Road and had his life changed forever.  The next verse, 8:1, tells us that Paul approved of Stephen’s execution.  What we don’t know is what impact Stephen’s loving and gracious response had on Paul’s future conversion.  But Luke certainly included this detail for a reason.

Brothers and sisters, Stephen reminds us that we need to be living as Christmas people, not just on Christmas, but each and every day.  But he also shows us very dramatically what it means to live in the life and grace of Christmas—especially in light of St. Luke’s note that Paul was there that day.  We never know who is witnessing us and how those around us may, or may not, be impacted for the Gospel by what we say and what we do and by how we deal with the circumstances of life.  Who would have thought on that day that Saul of Tarsus—Hebrew of Hebrews and member of the Sanhedrin, the man who hunted down Christians and brought them to trial before the Jewish authorities—who would have thought that Stephen’s witness of love and grace that day might change the whole course of Church history as Saul later became Paul, the apostle to the gentiles.

And lastly, Stephen teaches us something about the extreme nature of grace and love and forgiveness.  These men were more than just run-of-the-mill enemies.  These weren’t just men who didn’t like him or were just angry with him.  These were men who saw him as a threat to their existence and wanted to kill him—who did kill him.  Stephen didn’t reciprocate their anger.  No, he saw them as Jesus saw them: sinful men whom he loved and who would face eternal damnation without the Gospel of love and grace.  Stephen knew the love that overcomes a multitude of sins and he knew it because he had experienced it himself through Jesus Christ.  St. John reminds us that anyone who claims to love God, but hates his brother is a liar—that you can’t have experienced the redeeming love of God and still hold grudges and hate in your heart against those who have wronged you.  Friends, to hold a grudge, to resent the sins of others, to fail to show a forgiving spirit, is to be self-righteous—it’s to ignore what God had done for you! Stephen could look on these angry men with love, precisely because he had himself experienced the love of Christ and God’s forgiveness—and he knew that there was nothing these men could do to him that was as bad as even his own smallest offences against God.  God had forgiven him so much—and he realise that so well—that it was a “small” thing for him to forgive these men and to show them love.  Lest we think that Jesus and John are just speaking in hyperbole when they tell us to love our enemies, St. Stephen shows us how the love of Christ really does work out in our lives—or at least how it should, if we truly claim to love God and to have experienced his grace and forgiveness.

So remember today: We are a Christmas people, living in the grace and love of God.  But remember too that God calls us to be Christmas people every day of our lives and not just in the Christmas season..  The joy of Christmas is something that should permeate every aspect of our lives that we might be witnesses, even to our enemies and even to those who would kill us, of the love and grace that God has shown us through his Son.  And so we pray, “Grant, O Lord, that in all our sufferings for the testimony of your truth we may look up steadfastly to heaven and see by faith the glory that is to be revealed and, filled with the Holy Spirit, may learn to love and pray for our persecutors as St. Stephen your first martyr prayed for his murderers to you, blessed Jesus, where you stand at the right hand of God to help all who suffer for you, our only mediator and advocate.  Amen.”

He Is Born!

Luke 2

 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

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

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Did Mary Know? ~ The Rev. Dcn. Scott Brown, OPI

Did Mary Know?

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.

Isn’t this one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible? I think so. Think about it for a second; before Jesus was born his entire life was planned out and God knew what was going to happen with his Son, son of Mary. This brings to my mind one of the most beautiful Christmas songs ever written. Mary Did You Know? A lot of groups sing it. It gives me chills every time I hear it.

 And it makes me stop and think what must have been going through Mary’s mind when the angel appeared to her. She was a virgin – how was Joseph going to react to the news that she was with child? What would her parents think? What would everybody think? In that day and age being pregnant out of wedlock was a huge no-no. A woman could be stoned to death for such an infraction of what was a moral code in that time. She had to be scared out of her mind.  Her mind must have been racing with thousands of thoughts and concerns. Not only was she going to give birth to a child that for all purposes to all who looked upon her was conceived out of wedlock.

But the child is actually the son of God. Who would believe that story? Joseph didn’t believe it at first, but he came around soon enough. I can not imagine having to deal with what this woman was about to go through.

Can you imagine her thoughts?

Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has come to make you new?

This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would calm the storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy
Has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby
You kiss the face of God
Mary, did you know?
Mary, did you know?

Mary, did you know? Did you know?
Mary, did you know? Mary, did you know?
Mary, did you know? Mary, did you know?
Mary, did you know? Mary, did you know?

The blind will see, the deaf will hear
The dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak
The praises of the Lamb
Mary, did you know that your baby boy

Is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy
Is heaven’s perfect Lamb?

That sleeping child you’re
Holding is the great, I Am
Mary, did you know? (Mary, did you know?)
Mary, did you know? (Mary, did you know?)
Mary, did you know? Oh

What a beautiful group of words! WOW! Did Mary know any of this? She certainly knew that the baby she was carrying was very special, but could she have any idea of all the miracles He would perform? The blind would be given sight, the deaf would regain their hearing and the lame would leap. He would calm storms, feed thousands and best of all he will give up his life for all of us. I don’t think she hand any idea that her little baby would do all that and more. It just gives me chills and brings a tear to my eye when I hear this song.

We have a local radio station here in Albuquerque that play nothing but Christmas music beginning the day after Thanksgiving. I leave the house every morning at the same time and I pull into my parking place the same time every morning. I sit in my car for a few minutes and wait because every morning at 7:23 they play Mary Did You Know, the Pentatonix acapella version. It’s a great way to start the day because it reminds me every morning what our Lord and Savior went through and also what Mary went through.

When we pray the Hail Mary we should be mindful of what she experienced: Blessed art thou among women and blessed was the fruit of her womb, for without the fruit of her womb there would be no hope for us. We should think of Mary and Jesus when we pray the rosary, and pray the rosary every day.

Happy Holidays, God Bless us all, and thank you Mary for what you gave us.

Hail Mary, 
Full of Grace, 
The Lord is with thee. 
Blessed art thou among women, 
and blessed is the fruit
of thy womb, Jesus. 
Holy Mary, 
Mother of God, 
pray for us sinners now, 
and at the hour of our death.

Amen

Here is a link to one of my favorite versions of Mary Did You Know just in case you want to listen. Enjoy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifCWN5pJGIE

Gaudete! The Rev Dcn Igor Kalinski, OPI

Dominican Hermitage & Oratory of St’s. Peregrine & Sebastian, GEVGELIJA~MACEDONIA

Dear brothers and sisters, preparing  ourselves in this special season of grace, in awaiting for the incarnation of our Lord Jesus, that took flesh to save us and redeem us.

This Sunday Gaudete announce to us the joyfulness of this great event in human history of salvation. Ornaments, and glittering objects are now more decorated and the third candle of the advent crown is beautiful light rose color, as those two before of violet purple symbolizing the penitential preparation for Christ, to be reborn in us, in or hearts, and us preparing with good confession, penitential rite, actions of merciful volunteering for those in need, the vulnerable is good way to approach for help.

For Jesus was not place in the motel, how illustrated revelation of this very big announcement, it’s not about the palace, it’s about the manger. Blessed are those who don’t have their heart in the material possessions.

So my brothers and sisters, lets strive with that simplicity to free ourselves of all distractions that stop us to pray and deepen our relationship with our God, and above all where are those forgotten, I know every village , every town and every city have those marginalized people, make this Sunday in this advent Gaudete, Gaudete for all of you, bring the joy to those people, cook something and offer to them, listen to their needs, they also want to talk and express their needs , and problems, communicate more.

Difficult times, many things are in from of us such as the tribulations that start to spread to every corner of the globe. And in all of this trials, Jesus is the one who give us peace, and provide our needs, we will never be forgotten, and as God so loved this world and send his Son for our salvation, now is the season to witness that he really was born, still many deny, we witness that this special season of grace is the preparation of His first coming in flesh and reminding of the Advent of his second return too. His promises are always fulfilled.

Stay faithful, burn your light daily, and prepare like the wise virgins to expect the Bridegroom, who is Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.

The Feast of St. Andrew ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

Reading 1: ROM 10:9-18

Responsorial Psalm: PS 19:8, 9, 10, 11

Gospel: MT 4:18-22

Liturgical colour: Red.

Today we come together to celebrate the feast day  of St. Andrew the Apostle.   Andrew was Jesus’ very first disciple.

Let us reflect on one of the qualities of Andrew:  that quality being his of∙his readiness to respond to our Lord Jesus Christ’s call to follow him.

We hear Andrew’s call story today in today’s Holy Gospel reading of MT 4:18=22. As Jesus walks along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he notices two brothers, Simon Peter & Andrew, who were engrossed in their daily work of fishing. As Andrew & Peter cast their nets into the sea, Jesus calls to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!”

This call must have caught the brothers’ attention. – They must’ve wondered what Jesus could possibly have meant by saying, to be fishers of men. However, Andrew responded wholeheartedly to Jesus’ call.

Andrew followed Jesus – without any reservations or any hesitation – Most likely with a lot of curiosity, but never the less, with total devotion – Andrew immediately left his fishing nets, perhaps letting them sink into the water. 

Andrew had a heart which was prepared to hear & to heed Jesus’ call, with all that he had & all that he was. Because Andrew’s heart was prepared for Jesus, he did not have to be in a holy place like in a Church to hear his call, neither did he need to have been going about particularly holy work to perceive Jesus’ call to him. Andrew heard Jesus call in the midst of his ordinary daily  life’s work,  during his usual  routine day, at a moment when he was casting his fishing net out into the waters of the sea.

Andrew was held near to the word as summarized in the 10 Commandments.

The word as condensed by Jesus into the two great commandments,

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And love your neighbour as yourself.

This word – this instruction for living in a way that brings both self & neighbours closer to God – was alive within Andrew’s life – it was on his lips & in his heart.

Jewish people living in Andrew’s time & for centuries before had studied God’s word – they had engaged God’s Holy Scripture – in very active, dynamic, & relational ways:

by reciting it out loud to one another & in groups;

by soaking up the spoken words & paying close attention;

by the struggle that is teaching & learning;

by discussing what this word meant for them in lively, curious, creative, & probing ways.

This encounter with God through the Word — through the living of Scripture in everyday life— enabled Andrew to perceive so much more than the written word which had come to life in him.

Andrew was able to perceive the Word made Flesh, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the midst of an ordinary, routine day.

The word is very near to all of us as Christians and followers of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The word should be in our mouths and on our lips, & in our heart, our soul, and  in our minds for us to observe.

The Word made Flesh, Jesus the Christ, is very near us.. calling us through our sacred scripture…through the bread & the wine of The Holy Eucharist … through the our which share the Peace…through our voices lifted in song, prayer, and praise…through our faces & our personalities in church and in our everyday lives.

 May each of us together… learn from Andrew how near these words of God are…how they seek unceasingly to engage & to dwell with us…that we may respond wholeheartedly to Jesus when he calls us…that we may participate together, in community, in the life everlasting.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Advent ~ The Rt. Rev. Michael Beckett, OPI

Within the calendar year, there is another year:  the  great cycle of the liturgical year, revolving around the life and ministry Christ.  Each season of the liturgical year has its own particular focus, feasts, words, and colors, giving us an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the coming of Jesus, his life, and his commission to His people to be a light to the world.

Since the 900s, Advent has marked the beginning of the church year, and is a season of great anticipation, preparation, and excitement, traditionally focusing on the Nativity of the Christ Child, when Jesus came as our Savior.  During Advent, we as Christians also direct our thoughts to His second coming as judge.

The word Advent is from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming,” and is celebrated during the four weeks of preparation for Christmas. Advent always contains four Sundays, beginning on the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, (November 30) and continuing until December 24. It blends together a penitential spirit, very similar to Lent, a liturgical theme of preparation for the Second and Final Coming of the Lord, called the Parousia, and a joyful theme of getting ready for the Bethlehem event.

Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. That is a process in which we  participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. Scripture reading for Advent  reflect this emphasis on the Second Advent, including themes of accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment of sin, and the hope of eternal life.

In this double focus on past and future, Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. That acknowledgment provides a basis for holy living, arising from a profound sense that we live “between the times” and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. As the church celebrates God’s Incarnation in the physical presence of Jesus Christ, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which “all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption,” it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

We celebrate with gladness the great promise of Advent, yet knowing that there is also a somber tone as the theme of final judgment is added to the theme of promise. This is reflected in some of the Scripture readings for Advent, in which there is a strong prophetic tone of accountability and judgment of sin. This is also faithful to the role of the Coming King who comes to rule, save, and judge the world.

Because of the dual themes of judgment and promise, Advent is a time of preparation that is marked by prayer. While Lent is characterized by fasting and a spirit of penitence, Advent’s prayers are prayers of humble devotion and commitment, prayers of submission, prayers for deliverance, prayers from those walking in darkness who are awaiting and anticipating a great light (Isaiah 9).

Historically, the primary color of Advent is Purple. This is the color of penitence and fasting as well as the color of royalty to welcome the Advent of the King. The purple of Advent is also the color of suffering used during Lent and Holy Week. This points to an important connection between Jesus’ birth and death. The nativity, the Incarnation, cannot be separated from the crucifixion. The purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world, of the “Word made flesh” and dwelling among us, is to reveal God and His grace to the world through Jesus’ life and teaching, but also through his suffering, death, and resurrection. To reflect this emphasis, originally Advent was a time of penitence and fasting, much as the Season of Lent and so shared the color of Lent.

In the four weeks of Advent the third Sunday came to be a time of rejoicing that the fasting was almost over (in some traditions it is called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice”). The shift from the purple of the Season to pink or rose for the third Sunday Advent candles reflected this lessening emphasis on penitence as attention turned more to celebration of the season.

In recent times, however, Advent has undergone a shift in emphasis, reflected in a change of colors used in many non-Catholic churches. The penitential aspect of the Season has been almost totally replaced by an emphasis on hope and anticipation.  Many Protestant churches now use blue to distinguish the Season of Advent from Lent. Royal Blue is sometimes used as a symbol of royalty. Some churches use Bright Blue to symbolize the night sky, the anticipation of the impending announcement of the King’s coming, or to symbolize the waters of Genesis 1, the beginning of a new creation. Some churches, including some Catholic churches, use bluish violet to preserve the traditional use of purple while providing a visual distinction between the purple or red violet of Lent.  However, it must be remembered that blue is not an approved liturgical color, for Advent or any other season, and it should not be the primary color in any Catholic liturgical celebration.

This does not eliminate any sense of penitence from the Season. With the focus on the Advent or Coming of Jesus, especially in anticipating His Second Advent, there remains a need for preparation for that coming. Most liturgical churches incorporate confessional prayers into the services of Advent that relate to a sense of unworthiness as we anticipate His Coming. It is appropriate even in more traditional services of worship to incorporate confessional prayers as part of the anticipation and preparation of the Season.

Even with the shift to blue for Advent in many non-Catholic churches, the vast majority of churches retain pink or rose among the Advent colors, and use it on the last Sunday of Advent. In the four weeks of Advent the third Sunday came to be a time of rejoicing that the fasting was almost over (in some traditions it is called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice”), and it remains associated with Joy.

The Advent wreath is a popular symbol of the beginning of the Church year in many churches. It is a circular evergreen wreath with five candles, four around the wreath and one in the center. The circle of the wreath itself reminds us of God, His eternal being and endless mercy, which has no beginning or end. The green of the wreath speaks of the hope that we have in God, the hope of newness, of renewal, of eternal life.

The four outer candles represent the period of waiting during the four Sundays of Advent, which themselves symbolize the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ.

The center candle is white and is called the Christ Candle. It is traditionally lighted on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The central location of the Christ Candle reminds us that the incarnation is the heart of the season, giving light to the world.

The light of the candles becomes an important symbol of the season. The light reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world that comes into the darkness of our lives to bring newness, life, and hope. It also reminds us that we are called to be a light to the world as we reflect the light of God’s grace to others (Isa 42:6). The progression in the lighting of the candles symbolizes the various aspects of our waiting experience. As the candles are lighted over the four week period, it also symbolizes the darkness of fear and hopelessness receding and the shadows of sin falling away as more and more light is shed into the world. The flame of each new candle reminds the worshippers that something is happening, and that more is yet to come. Finally, the light that has come into the world is plainly visible as the Christ candle is lighted at Christmas, and worshippers rejoice over the fact that the promise of long ago has been realized.

~ The Rev. Dcn. Scott Brown, OPI

What’s that noise? Huh? Oh, that’s my alarm. It’s time to get up and start this day. I roll over and press the snooze button. Nine more minutes. I just get back to sleep and then that horrible noise starts again. OK OK Ill get up and get this day started. Its going to be a very busy day; a holiday; the one holiday every year that I look forward to with just a hint of dread and disdain. Thanksgiving: that wonderful family holiday where we eat delicious foods, catch up with family, listen to Uncle Bob’s horrible jokes and regret eating too many desserts. I head down to the kitchen while still trying to get my senses about me and anticipating that first cup of coffee. Looking over the day’s headlines on the local newspaper’s website, it seems that every time I scroll a little bit, there is another ad for a department store Black Friday Sale, TVs on sale, winter clothing on sale, cars and trucks on sale; anything you could imagine, desire, or ever want, could be had tomorrow for up to 70% off. Wow, I guess I will be staying home tomorrow and ordering Christmas gifts from Amazon and other online retailers because I have no desire to deal with the mayhem and carnage that is Black Friday.

Second cup of coffee and its time to start getting ready for the day’s adventures. I start getting ingredients our of the fridge and pantry to make the gastronomic delights that I am known for at these family gatherings. An apple pie, a pumpkin cheesecake, green bean casserole, and cranberry salad. My sister usually makes the deviled eggs, ambrosia, and a pumpkin roll, and my brother usually brings the macaroni salad and something that nobody can identify but it has whipped cream on top and is made of chocolate. Mom bakes the ham and the dinner rolls, and dad makes the mashed potatoes. I have about 4 hours to get everything done before my husband, the kids, and I head out on the 2-hour journey to mom and dad’s house halfway across the state. We need to leave by 10 am, 10:30 at the latest if we are going to get there by noonish.

As I am busy cooking and cleaning up as I go, my husband peeks his head around the corner and wishes me a good morning. He thanks me for letting him sleep in and asks me if I need any help. I tell him good morning, blow him a kiss, and tell him to go to the living room and I will bring him a cup of coffee and some toast. Things are progressing well in the kitchen and I am super pleased that I had picked up everything I needed at the store on Monday; I wasn’t running out of any ingredients, and it looked like all of my gastronomic delights are going to turn out beautifully.

Everything was finished, everything was packed in boxes for the journey to the parents’ house. I let the kids sleep until just about a half hour before it was time to leave. I woke them, got them a light breakfast, gathered up their stuff (things to keep them occupied on the trip to and from), loaded the car and we are right on time. As we drive out of our development I notice that many of the houses have more cars parked in front of them than usual, and some of the front yards have children playing in them where there usually are none. As we leave our town and get on the freeway, I notice the amount of traffic is much heavier than normal and traffic began to slow. A few minutes later we are moving so slowly that the speedometer isn’t even registering our speed. Soon we pass the cause of the slow traffic; it was a car wreck involving a tractor trailer and a car. My husband and I look at each other and I said how I hoped everyone were OK and we went on our way over the hills and through the woods. The remainder of the journey was without incident.

We arrived at my parents’ house just a few minutes after noon and were the first ones there. I immediately went to the kitchen with all the goodies I had created and began helping Mom with various kitchen things while my husband settled down in the living room with my dad in front of the television. The kids were on the couch with their cell phones and video games going full blast. Siblings and spouses began to arrive, and greetings were exchanged, and everyone just settled into their normal routines for these family gatherings. All the women in the kitchen fussing and flittering around the table making sure everything is as close to perfect as possible, all the men in the living room glued to the television watching the big game and arguing with each other who has the best quarterback and which team needs a better coach. Our kids and the nieces and nephews are all scattered around the house, some in the living room, some in the kitchen, and some have found quiet places to be alone in other rooms away from everyone so they could surf Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or whatever new app they used to socialize in relative peace.

The kitchen staff made the decision that it was time to get this affair started so we sounded the dinner bell and gathered everyone in the kitchen and dining room. The table was beautiful, the smells were amazing. We bowed our heads, and my father gave the blessing of the meal. He thanked the Lord for the bountiful meal before us and asked for His blessing on each one of the family members. Amen.

We ate, chatted, laughed, and reminisced about Thanksgivings past. Afterwards the men folk returned to the living room, kids back to where they had come from and the women folk cleaned up the mess and set the desserts out. Conversations resumed in the kitchen and arguments about football resumed in the living room.

 As the afternoon went on and early evening set in, family began heading home with little care packages of turkey, dressing, ham, desserts, and side dishes. Our two-hour drive began around 5:00 o’clock pm, which would put us home around 7:00 p.m. if traffic cooperated. Before we got back on the freeway we stopped for gas. At the gas station I was just looking around and out of the corner of my eye I spotted a young man sitting on the curb just staring down at the ground. Behind him was a backpack that was bulging and looked like it was about to burst. It probably contained everything he owned. Was this young man homeless? Had he been rejected by his family? Where was he from? Was he local? Was he passing through? Was he hungry? Did he even have family?

Right then I realized how lucky I am, how lucky my family is, and how blessed we are. We have everything we have simply because of God’s love for us.  But did we show our gratitude and thanks to The Lord today? No. We totally missed every opportunity. Each one of us could have said Thank You Lord for the roof over our heads, Thank You Lord for the food on our table, Thank You Lord for the family gathered around us today, Thank You Lord for keeping us safe in our travels today. We could even thank The Lord for the amazing technology that keeps us connected to each other. Did we? No, again we failed to realize that we are blessed daily.

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life we get so caught up in life that we forget to take a few seconds to look around us and see all The Lord has provided for us. We have a home, food, clothing, friends, education, family, and most of all we have love. Love of our Lord and Savior. With all He has provided for us isn’t it only fitting that we should have taken time from our busy Thanksgiving meal to thank Him for all he has provided. How selfish of us to just keep taking and taking and taking and never giving Him thanks. So, this Thanksgiving Day take just a few moments and give thanks for all He has done for you.

The act of Thanksgiving isn’t only thanking The Lord for all we have, it can also be the act of giving back. We could have stopped at the accident scene this morning and offered prayers or assistance to the injured. We could have offered our take home goodies to the young man at the gas station. We passed by two nursing homes on the way to the parents’ house. We could have stopped and offered a few minutes of our time to someone who has no family and won’t be visited today. The Lord has blessed us with so much and there are so many with so little, shouldn’t we share our blessing with those who are less blessed than us? First Corinthians Chapter 1 tells us to give thanks to God, for he has enriched us in many ways. Most of all we should give thanks for God for giving us His only son to die for us and take away our sins. God has bestowed His grace upon us, the least we can do is give him thanks.   In the words of St. Paul:

Brothers and sisters:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always on your account
for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,
that in him you were enriched in every way,
with all discourse and all knowledge,
as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you,
so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift
as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He will keep you firm to the end,
irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is faithful,
and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, thank you for all you have given us and allowed us to have and experience in this beautiful world of Yours. We ask that you continue to bless us with your grace and as we continue to do your bidding, we ask that you show us your mercy in our lives.   Amen.

Christ Is King! ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

Reading 1: EZ 34:11-12, 15-17

Responsorial Psalm: PS 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6

Reading 2: 1 COR 15:20-26, 28

Gospel: MT 25:31-46

Liturgical colour: White.

Brothers  and sisters in Christ,  may you be blessed on this Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe!  This is the last Sunday of the Church year. This is the time when we focus on the final and glorious things to come!  It also means that next Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent.

When we are saying that Jesus is the king, we are meaning several things. First, Jesus is our Shepherd. As our Shepherd He desires to lead us personally as a loving father would with his children. He wants to enter our lives personally, intimately and carefully. He never wants to impose Himself upon us,  rather, He is constantly offering Himself to us as our guide. The difficulty with this is that it’s very easy for us to reject this kind of kingship. As King, Jesus desires to lead every aspect of our lives and lead us in all things. He desires to become the absolute ruler and monarch of our lives and of our very hearts and souls. He wants us to come to Him for everything and to become dependent upon Him always. But He will not impose this sort of kingship upon us. Our Lord  Jesus wants us accept him freely and without reservation. Jesus will only govern our lives if we are freely willing to surrender ourselves over completely to him.. When we allow this to happen,  His Kingdom begins to become established firmly within us! And also through us in this worldly realm.

 Jesus wishes for His Kingdom to be established in our world. First and foremost this takes place when we become His sheep and thus become His instruments to help convert the world. However, as King, He also calls us to establish His Kingdom by seeing to it that His truth and law is respected within all of our society. It’s Christ’s authority as King that gives us the authority and duty as Christians to do all we can to fight worldly injustices and to bring about a respect and a love for every human person. All shall ultimately gain its authority from Christ alone since He is the one and only Universal King.

But many still within our world do not recognize Him as the King, so what should we do about these people? Should we “impose” God’s law upon those who do not believe? The answer is both yes and no. First, there are some things we cannot impose. For example, we cannot force people to go to Mass each Sunday. This would hinder a person’s freedom to enter into this precious gift willingly. We know Jesus requires it of us for the good of our souls, but it must still be embraced freely. However, there are some things that we must “impose” upon others. The protection of the, poor and vulnerable must be “imposed.” The freedom of conscience must be written into our laws. The freedom to practice our faith openly (religious liberty) within any institution must be “imposed” also. And there are many other things which could be  listed here. What’s vital to point out is that, at the end of all time, Jesus will be returning to Earth in all His glory and He will then establish His permanent and unending Kingdom. At that time, all peoples will see God as He is. And His law will become one with our worldly law. Every knee will bend before our great King and all will know His truth.  At that time, true justice will reign and every evil will be corrected.  What a glorious day that will be!

We should reflect, today, upon our own embrace of Christ as our King.  Does He truly govern our lives in every way?  Do we allow Him to have complete control over our  lives?  When this is done freely and completely, the Kingdom of God is established in our lives.  Let Him reign so that we can be converted and, through us, others can come to know Him as Lord of all also!

Lord, You are the sovereign King of the Universe.  You are Lord of all.  Come reign in our lives and make our souls Your holy dwelling place.  Lord, come transform our world and make it a place of true peace and justice.  May Your Kingdom come!  Jesus, we ttrust in You.

Reflectons ~ The Rev. Dcn. Igor Kalinski, OPI

Dominican Hermitage & Oratory of St’s Sebastian and Peregrine in Gevgelija~Republic of Macedonia

Thirty Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, 15 November 2020

Wow, 33th Sunday in Ordinary Time, and this year is soon going to be over, but before saying good bye to ending year, and preparing for the blessings and grace and strength of endurance for the next year, in hope that God will be merciful to give us more days for reflection, repentant heart and contrition from our daily failures to prepare in a spiritual lent for the blessed season that soon will come the Advent season.

Yesterday was my birthday, and I am grateful to God that gave me all that is not in past, all what I have achieved, and I have missed. We don’t know what is in front of us, but we have the Hope for better tomorrow, for peaceful future, that today we are in a middle of great turbulence, adultery, and blasphemy. We must strive daily and to remind daily ourselves that we fight the dark forces under the sky, that daily tempted people to live a life of sin and corruption. We must remind ourselves daily that we want to be in Heaven, and that we must bring more people to the Truth, that soon or later our lives will end. So, we must be vigilant and to be in unending prayer in our spirit, in any time.

We are each one of us unique as God’s creation, so God gave skills, abilities and talents to each of us, so we are each and every one of us important in building God’s building even here on earth, which as each parts are the construction of the Body of Christ.

We need to practice those gifts, to study them, and to work on them, to get experience and to blossom the work in the crafting in any kind that each and every one has. Those who think that they don’t have any talents, so those are probably those who have buried in the soil.

Let’s stand up and start working on our skills, and God will bless the effort, and will bring in the proper time the harvest, depends how much we have been involving to work on Gods fields. Harvest is big, workers few, it’s the same like today’s Gospel reading, if we think that without working on ourselves to become better and growing from spiritual babies into growing mature man, it’s the same with growing in our gifts and talents, just we have to wake up, spiritual laziness and sleepiness is a dead man walking , and will not achieve the purpose of the calling and the eternal glory for Christ who redeemed us with His Passion, if we think it’s just enough to be saved, well you have to be born again, so awake up, find your talents, no matter how much they are, God will bless the work. Look the example of Saint Joseph the worker, there are so many examples.

In the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Set A Reminder? ~ The Rev. Dcn. Scott Brown, OPI

You can’t set a reminder in your phone, you can’t mark the date on your calendar, and you can’t ask your spouse to remind you when its going to happen. I have to have Michael remind me of things because I have my mother’s memory (or lack of it), and without fail if I forget to ask him to remind me of something, the date passes and I realize that I screwed up and missed an appointment, or some special show I wanted to watch on TV.

You won’t know the time or the day or the minute or the second, there will be no warning, CNN, FOX, or MSNBC wont have live coverage. The USA Today, or your local paper won’t have a full page add letting you know the details of the event. You say: “in this day and age how could a world event happen without planning? How come we didn’t get an invite on Facebook?” Well you did get an invite, you were warned, you were told to be prepared! Where? How? Well read Matthew 25:1-13. The Lord tells us to be prepared but only the Father knows the time.

The Gospel for today:

MT 25:1-13

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins
who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 
Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 
The foolish ones, when taking their lamps,
brought no oil with them,
but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. 
Since the bridegroom was long delayed,
they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
At midnight, there was a cry,
‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 
The foolish ones said to the wise,
‘Give us some of your oil,
for our lamps are going out.’
But the wise ones replied,
‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you.
Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’
While they went off to buy it,
the bridegroom came
and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. 
Then the door was locked.
Afterwards the other virgins came and said,
‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’
But he said in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’
Therefore, stay awake,
for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The Gospel tells you to be prepared and bring oil with you. Have faith, trust in the Lord, and do as Jesus commanded us; Love one another as He Loved us. Simple instructions, easy as pie, can’t misunderstand these instructions.  Or can we?   Well, with everything that has been going on in the World and especially our country lately, are we really prepared for the second coming of our Lord and Savior? I don’t think so. I personally am ashamed of the state of the World and most especially the condition of the United States right now. Our homeless population is increasing every day, our prisons are overflowing, our widows and orphans are starving, children are going hungry, and our veterans are homeless and hungry. I don’t think this is what Jesus intended and I firmly believe that He is ashamed of us, His children. The parable that Jesus told warns us to be prepared. Be prepared by taking care of those who are unable to take care of themselves, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and protecting those in harms way.

From the Hebrew Bible today we read from the Book of Wisdom about the Key to Leadership:

Wisdom 6:12-16

Resplendent and unfading is wisdom,
and she is readily perceived by those who love her,
and found by those who seek her.
She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire;
Whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed,
for he shall find her sitting by his gate.
For taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence,
and whoever for her sake keeps vigil
shall quickly be free from care;
because she makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her,
and graciously appears to them in the ways,
and meets them with all solicitude.

Every national leader exercises authority with an eye to history. Vanity demands leaders make their mark on the world and leave a legacy. Many kings and presidents have pondered the question: how will future generations judge me?

What is the key to a favorable legacy, as well as a peaceful and profitable rule? The author of the Wisdom of Solomon had his favorite answer: wisdom! In fact, he was so enamored with the virtue that he personified it in his writing. The image of wisdom the author painted was that of a young lover, a woman who waited eagerly by the gate to a man’s house (so the virtue was easily available), yet aloof enough to only be available to those who sought her. “Lady Wisdom” was no commoner; she was “resplendent and unfading..” Like a classy lover, the virtue was intimate and reliable, a confidant in need. This was a virtue of those groomed for position and power.

The Wisdom of Solomon was written in the so-called “inter-Testamental” period (200 B.C. to 150 A.D.). Composed by a Greek-speaking Jew (most likely in Alexandria, Egypt), the book was used to instruct young Jewish males in the ways of leadership.

Like the young Jews who heard these words, we, too, should seek wisdom as our guide to leadership. The comfort it brings far outweighs gains from turf battles or displays of ego. When we act wisely, we act for the good of all, not for the self.

Look upon the leadership in your community and church. How is that leadership exercised? With wisdom? How have you exercised leadership? How wise have you been in your dealings with others?

Lord in your mercy guide us into the coming days with love and wisdom and truth. Look upon our leaders with favor and guide their paths with your loving hand. Give them the wisdom and knowledge to lead us into a greater future. Amen