Thursday, January 27, 2011

John Chrysostom: A Practical Preacher

Today is the Feast of St. John Chrysostom, one of the greatest Early Church Fathers of the 5th Century, born around 347 AD. St. John became a monk and was ordained a priest to serve the Church in Antioch where his eloquent preaching on the Sacred Scriptures earned him the title of "Chrysostom," meaning golden-mouthed." In 398, Chrysostom was called upon to assume the responsibilities of the Patriarch Archbishop of Constantinople,much to his chagrin. This reluctant patriarch nevertheless fulfilled his duty with extraordinary energy and courage. St. John Chrysostom's call to repentance and moral reform won him the opposition of the nominally Christian Empress who had him deposed and exiled on trumped-up charges. But his preaching and boldness inspired the hearts of the people of Constantinople who had great affection for him. His devotion to the written Word of God was matched by a love of the Eucharist and of divine worship. To this day, the principal "Byzantine" liturgy celebrated by most Slavic, Greek, and middle-eastern Christians is known as the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. St. John Chysostom, who died under the harsh conditions of his exile in 407, will always be remembered as one of the greatest of the Early Church Fathers and one of the greatest preachers of all time. His beautiful but always practical bible teaching has earned St. John Chrysostom the title "Doctor of the Church."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Below the Winter Snow

When I was in seminary in Western New York (yes, Buffalo) we called this time of the year "tunnel months" because it seemed as if the winter cold had always been with us and would never leave -- there was only one gray day after another -- like walking through an interminable tunnel.  This is the cold, dark time of the year, the time of early evening darkness, of ice and snow and bitter cold. Even though, in reality, the days were shorter a few weeks ago, we no longer have the warmth and glitter of Christmas music and decorations to to distract us. We are quickly tiring of the cold and dark.

Interesting how retailers know of our frustrations at this time of the year. Direct mail and e-mails come flooding our real and virtual mailboxes with the promises of spring and warmer weather. Flower and seed catalogues have started to arrive. Spring and summer clothes are making their debut -- all perfectly timed to exploit the tunnel months.

Even as I look out of the window of the parish office, I am struck by the fact that some of the plants never lost their green. I know that the shrubs will flower and bloom. The holly bush still has bright red berries to remind us that the cold and dark of winter will give way to new life.

Anyone who gardens knows that winter is a time of dormancy. Dormancy, however, is not lifeless. The seed that lies beneath the winter snow bears the promise of new life that will emerge when the sun (which rises daily even when we can't see it) finally warms the spring air.

Has the life of God grown dormant in you? If so, there is no need for despair. Like the winter flora, that life waits only for the warmth of the sun and the gentle spring rain to bring it forth. While we wait, we are not lifeless. God's grace warms us as we seek to break through. As the days lengthen, hope for the sun. As the storms pass, recognize that the snow stays not as long -- spring warmth is on its way.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

January 25th - The Conversion of St. Paul

Carravaio's "Conversion of St. Paul"

The Conversion of St Paul, which all Christendom celebrates today, serves as inspiration to us. It was on the Damascus Road as he sought to continue persecuting the Church that Saul of Tarsus experienced his conversion and became Paul the Apostle.

"Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him.
And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him,
"Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
And he said, "Who are you, Lord?"

And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting;
but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." (Acts 9.3-6)

Ever since, "The Road to Damascus" has become a symbol for a conversion or a change in the direction for one’s life.

We have freedom to be sinners, or to be saints. God hopes we will be the latter. He hopes we will take the road to Damascus -- to be changed. But change is never easy.

We may despair at the prospect of living a saintly life. However, we can rely on grace to transform sinners into saints. We need not do extraordinary things like many saints did, nor do we need to shed our blood like the martyrs. Grace transforms ordinary things – whether at work, in our relationships with others – into occasions of holiness.

In our work, we can practice dedication and humility in the service of others. Government and elected officials can discharge the duties of their respective positions with honesty, promoting justice, peace, progress and happiness. Magistrates and law enforcement officers can uphold justice and the rule of law moving us towards equality, peace and unity. Health workers and institutions can practice compassion in providing health care. Laborers can avoid backbiting nor stepping on others just to “climb the ladder." We can all refrain from speaking negatively of others, instead providing a word of comfort and forgiveness. Rather than sowing discord, groups can work together for the common good, not their personal interests. We can learn to value integrity, efficiency, compassion, simplicity, humility and honesty can be their own reward.

We may not experience the same dramatic transformation as St Paul did. We may journey on our own "road to Damascus" slowly, gradually. Most importantly, we must begin. We must decide to take those first few steps to experience a change of life, a whole new direction, with a sense of repentance and a sincere determination to right the wrongs we discover.