Saturday, April 24, 2010

St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen - Anniversary Pope Benedict's Installation 2005 - Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East

Today's liturgy permits an optional memorial in honour of St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen (born Mark Rey in Hohenzollern, Germany 1577; murdered April 24, 1622 at Grusch, Grisons, Switzerland).

Lawyer and philosophy teacher. Disgusted by the greed, corruption, and lack of interest in justice by his fellow lawyers, Mark Rey abandoned the law, became a priest, became a Franciscan friar with his brother George, changed his name to Fidelis, and gave away his wordly wealth to poor people in general and poor seminarians in particular.

Fidelis served his friary as guardian, and laboured during epidemics, especially healing soldiers. He led a group of Capuchins to preach to Calvinists and Zwinglians in Switzerland. The success of this work, and lack of violence suffered by mission was attributed to Fidelis spending his nights in prayer. Eventually, however, he was martyred for his preaching.

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Fifth Anniversary of the Inauguration of the Holy Father's Ministry

Five years ago today, Pope Benedict XVI began his Petrine ministry of uniting the brethren despite any personal weakness. His ministry's strength has been in teaching, interpreting the Scriptures and this present moment. A homily he gave (without preparation) to the Pontifical Biblical Commission shows the depths of his thought about our world--worth meditating for its breadth of vision. Let us pray for the Holy Father that he may continue to lead us with God's grace for many years to come:

For Pope Benedict XVI, All Is Grace, Even "The World's Attacks on Our Sins"

[Complete transcription of the homily given by the pope early in the morning of Thursday, April 15, 2010, during a Mass in the Pauline Chapel with the members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. Texts: Acts 5:27-33; John 3:31-36]

Dear brothers and sisters, I couldn't find the time to prepare a true homily. I would simply like to invite each one to personal meditation, presenting and emphasizing a few of the phrases from today's liturgy, which lend themselves to the prayerful dialogue between ourselves and the Word of God. The word, the phrase that I would like to propose for shared meditation is this great statement by Saint Peter: "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Saint Peter is standing in front of the supreme religious institution, which normally one must obey, but God is above this institution, and God has given another "order": one must obey God. Obedience to God is freedom, obedience to God gives him the freedom to oppose the institution.

And here the exegetes draw our attention to the fact that Saint Peter's reply to the Sanhedrin is almost identical, word for word, to Socrates' response to his sentence in the tribunal of Athens. The tribunal offers him freedom, liberation, but on the condition that he not continue to seek God. But seeking God, the search for God is for him a superior mandate, it comes from God himself. And a freedom purchased with the renunciation of the journey to God would no longer be freedom. So it is not these judges that he must obey - he must not buy his life by losing himself - but he must obey God. Obedience to God has the primacy.

Here it is important to emphasize that this is a matter of obedience, and that it is precisely obedience that gives freedom. The modern age has spoken of the liberation of man, of his full autonomy, and therefore also of liberation from obedience to God. It is said that obedience should no longer exist, man is free, he is autonomous: nothing else. But this autonomy is a lie: it is an ontological lie, because man does not exist on his own and for himself, and it is also a political and practical lie, because collaboration, the sharing of freedom, is necessary. And if God does not exist, if God is not an imperative accessible to man, what remains as the supreme imperative is only the consensus of the majority. As a result, the consensus of the majority becomes the last word, which we must obey. And this consensus - we know this from the history of the last century - can also be a "consensus in evil."

So we see that so-called autonomy does not truly liberate man. Obedience to God is freedom, because it is the truth, it is the imperative that stands before all human imperatives. In the history of humanity, these words of Peter and of Socrates are the true beacon of liberation for man, who is able to see God and, in the name of God, can and must obey not so much men, but Him, and thus free himself from the positivism of human obedience. The dictatorships have always been against this obedience to God. The Nazi dictatorship, like that of Marxism, cannot accept a God who stands above ideological power; and the freedom of the martyrs, who recognize God precisely in obedience to divine power, is always the act of liberation by which the freedom of Christ comes to us.

Today, thank God, we do not live under dictatorships, but there exist subtle forms of dictatorship: a conformism that becomes obligatory, to think the way everyone else thinks, to act the way everyone else acts, and the subtle forms of aggression against the Church, or even the less subtle ones, demonstrate how this conformism can really be a true dictatorship. What matters to us is this: we must obey God rather than men. But that supposes that we truly know God, and that we truly want to obey Him. God is not a pretext for one's own will, but it is really He who calls and invites us, if it is necessary, even to martyrdom. Therefore, confronted by this word that begins a new history of freedom in the world, let us pray above all to know God, to know God humbly and truly, and, knowing God, to learn the true obedience that is the foundation of human freedom.

Let's take a second passage from the first reading: Saint Peter says that God has raised Christ to his right hand as leader and saviour (cf. v. 31). "Leader" is a translation of the Greek term "archegos," which implies a much more dynamic vision: the archegos is the one who shows the way, who goes before, it is a movement, a movement upward. God has raised him to his right hand - therefore speaking of Christ as archegos means that Christ walks before us, precedes us, shows us the way. And being in communion with Christ means being on a journey, ascending with Christ, it is following Christ, it is this upward ascent, it is following the archegos, the one who has already gone before us, who precedes us and shows us the way.

Here, obviously, it is important that we be told where Christ arrives, and where we must also arrive: hypsosen - on high - ascending to the right hand of the Father. Following Christ is not only an imitation of his virtues, it is not only living in this world, as much as we are able, as Christ did, according to his word, but it is a journey that has a destination. And the destination is the right hand of the Father. There is this journey of Jesus, this following of Jesus that ends at the right hand of the Father. It is to the horizon of this following that the entire journey of Jesus belongs, including his arrival at the right hand of the Father.

In this sense, the destination of this journey is eternal life at the right hand of the Father in communion with Christ. Often today we are afraid of talking about eternal life. We talk about things that are useful for the world, we show that Christianity also helps to improve the world, but we do not dare to say that its true destination is eternal life, and that it is from this destination that the criteria of life come. We must again come to understand that Christianity remains a "fragment" if we do not think about this destination, that we want to follow the archegos to the height where God is, to the glory of the Son who makes us sons in the Son, and we must again come to recognize that only in the grand perspective of eternal life does Christianity reveal all of its meaning. We must have the courage, the joy, the great hope that eternal life exists, it is true life and from this true life comes the light that also illuminates this world.

If it can be said that, even apart from eternal life, from the promised Heaven, it is better to live according to Christian criteria, because living according to truth and love, even if it is under many persecutions, is in itself a good and is better than all the rest, it is precisely this will to live according to the truth and according to love that must also open to all the breadth of God's plan for us, to the courage to have already the joy in anticipation of eternal life, of the ascent following our archegos. And Soter is the Saviour, who saves us from ignorance about the last things. The Saviour saves us from solitude, he saves us from a void that remains in life without eternity, he saves us by giving us love in its fullness. He is the guide. Christ, the archegos, saves us by giving us the light, giving us the truth, giving us the love of God.

Let's look at another verse: Christ, the Saviour, has given Israel conversion and forgiveness of sins (v. 31) - in the Greek text the term is metanoia - he has given penance and forgiveness of sins. This for me is a very important observation: penance is a grace. There is a tendency in exegesis that says: Jesus in Galilee had announced a grace without condition, absolutely unconditional, therefore also without penance, grace as such, without human preconditions. But this is a false interpretation of grace. Penance is grace; it is a grace that we recognize our sin, it is a grace that we know we need renewal, change, a transformation of our being. Penance, being able to do penance, is the gift of grace. And I must say that we Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word penance, it has seemed too harsh to us. Now, under the attacks of the world that speak to us of our sins, we see that being able to do penance is grace. And we see that it is necessary to do penance, that is, to recognize what is wrong in our life, open ourselves to forgiveness, prepare ourselves for forgiveness, allow ourselves to be transformed. The suffering of penance, of purification, of transformation, this suffering is grace, because it is renewal, it is the work of divine mercy. And so these two things that Saint Peter says - penance and forgiveness - correspond to the beginning of the preaching of Jesus: metanoeite, which means be converted (cf. Mk. 1:15). So this is the fundamental point: metanoia is not a private thing, which would seem to be replaced by grace, but metanoia is the arrival of the grace that transforms us.

And finally a word from the Gospel, where we are told that those who believe will have eternal life (cf. Jn. 3:36). In faith, in this "transformation" that penance gives, in this conversion, in this new way of life, we find life, true life. And here I am reminded of two other texts. In the "Priestly Prayer," the Lord says: this is life, to know you and the one you have consecrated (cf. Jn. 17:3). Knowing the essential, knowing the decisive Person, knowing God and the One he has sent is life, life and knowledge, knowledge of realities that are life. And the other text is the Lord's reply to the Sadducees about the Resurrection, where from the books of Moses the Lord proves the fact of the Resurrection, saying: God is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob (cf. Mt. 22:31-32; Mk. 12:26-27; Lk. 20:37-38). God is not the God of the dead. If God is God of these, they are alive. Those who are written in the name of God participate in the life of God, they live. And so to believe is to be inscribed in the name of God. And so we are alive. Those who belong to the name of God are not dead, they belong to the living God. In this sense we must understand the dynamism of the faith, which is a writing of our name in the name of God, and so an entry into life.

Let us pray to the Lord that this may happen and that, with our life, we may really know God, so that our names may enter into the name of God, and our existence become true life: eternal life, love and truth.

(From:, the blog of Sandro Magister, English translation by Matthew Sherry)

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Visit to Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir in Bkerke, Beirut

The role of the head of the Maronite Church is a key one in Lebanon and so the Patriarch's influence includes not only his own faithful but the nation as a whole. His Eminence received us warmly on Monday, April 12. A backgrounder on the Patriarchate and a couple of photos:

The Maronite Catholic Church By Fr. Ronald G. Roberson

The Maronites of Lebanon traditionally trace their origin back to the late 4th century when a group of disciples gathered around the charismatic figure of the monk St. Maron. They later founded a monastery located midway between Aleppo and Antioch and evangelized the surrounding population. In the 5th century the monastery vigorously supported the Christological doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon.

By the 8th century, the monks had moved with their band of followers into the remote mountains of Lebanon, where they existed in relative isolation for centuries. It was also during this period that they began to develop a distinct identity as a church and to elect a bishop as their head, who took the title of Patriarch of Antioch and All the East.

The Maronites came into contact with the Latin Church in the 12th century, when the Latin crusader principality of Antioch was founded. In 1182 the entire Maronite nation formally confirmed its union with Rome. There is a strong tradition among the Maronites that their church never lacked communion with the Holy See.

Patriarch Jeremias II Al-Amshitti (1199-1230) became the first Maronite Patriarch to visit Rome when he attended the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. This marked the beginning of close relations with the Holy See and a continuing Latinizing tendency. The 16th century saw the conquest of the Maronite homeland by the Turks and the beginning of long centuries of Ottoman domination.

A major reforming synod took place at Mount Lebanon in 1736. It drafted an almost complete Code of Canons for the Maronite Church, created a regular diocesan structure for the first time, and established the main lines of Maronite ecclesial life that endure to this day.

By the 19th century the western powers, especially France, began to offer protection to the Maronites within the Ottoman Empire. A massacre of thousands of Maronites in 1860 provoked the French to intervene with military forces. After World War I both Lebanon and Syria came under French control.

When France granted Lebanon full independence in 1943, it attempted to guarantee the safety of the Maronite community by drawing boundaries that would ensure a permanent Maronite majority, and leaving behind a constitution guaranteeing, among other things, that the president would always be a Maronite. This arrangement was threatened by the 15-year long civil war that erupted in Lebanon in 1975. Soon Christians were no longer a majority in the country since many thousands of Maronites left the country to make new lives for themselves in the West, and the very existence of Lebanon seemed uncertain.

On September 7, 1989, Pope John Paul II issued an Apostolic Letter on the Situation in Lebanon to all the bishops of the Catholic Church. In the text he warned that “without doubt, the disappearance of Lebanon would be one of the world’s greatest sorrows,” and said that saving Lebanon is “one of the most urgent and most noble tasks that the contemporary world must take upon itself.”

The civil war ended in 1990, but much of the country was left in ruins. The Pope later called for a Special Assembly for Lebanon of the Synod of Bishops, which took place in Vatican City from November 26 to December 14, 1995. It recommended that the various Catholic churches in Lebanon work together more effectively, develop closer ecumenical relations with other churches not in full communion with Rome, and foster a spirit cooperation and mutual respect with Lebanese of other religions. Pope John Paul II visited Lebanon, in May 1997.

In view of the new situation in Lebanon, a three-year Maronite Patriarchal Assembly began in June 2003. The first session was attended by 433 people, including the patriarch, the bishops, other prominent clergy and 255 laymen. The goals of the Assembly were to rediscover the Maronite heritage and traditions, to consolidate Maronite identity, to promote the renewal of ecclesial life, and to confirm the unity of the Maronite Church both within Lebanon and abroad. The results of the Assembly were gathered into an 853-page book that was presented at the Assembly's conclusion on June 11, 2006.

The Maronite Patriarchs have resided at Bkerke, about 25 miles from Beirut, since 1790. Today there are ten dioceses in Lebanon with over 800 parishes, and seven other jurisdictions in the Middle East. No national census has been taken in Lebanon since 1932. But it is clear that over the past sixty years, there has been a steady decline in the number of Christians as compared to Muslims, mostly through emigration of large numbers of Maronites. Christians now make up about one third of the total population of four million. Official Vatican statistics indicate that there were 1, 413,652 Maronites in Lebanon at the end of 2006.

There is a Maronite Patriarchal Seminary at Ghazir and a diocesan seminary at Karm Sadde, near Tripoli. Advanced theological education is provided at the University of the Holy Spirit at Kaslik. A Maronite College was founded in Rome in 1584. The college moved to a new building in 1893, but was closed during the Second World War. It did not reopen until February 2000.

The Maronite liturgy is of West Syrian origin, but it has been influenced by the East Syrian and Latin traditions. The Eucharist is essentially a variation of the Syriac liturgy of St. James. Originally celebrated in Syriac, the liturgy has been for the most part in Arabic since the Arab invasions.

The steady emigration of Maronites from Lebanon in recent years has produced flourishing communities abroad. In the United States, there are two dioceses with a total of 60 parishes and 99 priests serving about 75,000 faithful. The diocese of St. Maron of Brooklyn is presided over by Bishop Gregory J. Mansour (Pastoral Center, 109 Remsen Street, Brooklyn, New York, 11201), and Bishop Robert J. Shaheen heads the diocese of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles (1021 South Tenth St., St. Louis, Missouri 63104), founded in 1994.

In Canada, the diocese of St. Maron of Montreal, headed by Bishop Joseph Khoury (12475 Grenet Street, Montreal, Quebec H4J 2K4) has 14 parishes for about 80,000 faithful. Bishop Ad Abikaram oversees the diocese of St. Maron of Sydney (105 The Boulevard, PO Box 385, Strathfield, NSW 2135 Australia), which has ten parishes for an estimated 150,000 Maronites in Australia.
There is also a very large Maronite presence in Latin America. Three Maronite dioceses are based in Buenos Aires with an estimated 700,000 faithful, in Sao Paolo, Brazil, with 468,000 members, and in Mexico City with about 150,000 faithful. But for these estimated 1,318,000 Maronites there are only 17 parishes served by 48 priests.
Location: Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, Egypt, Brazil, USA, Canada, Australia; Head: Patriarch Nasrallah Cardinal Sfeir (born 1920, elected 1986, cardinal 1994) ; Title: Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites; Residence: Bkerke, Lebanon; Membership: 3,106,000

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There are TRUE Believers...

"Go, Sens, Go!"

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