The central theme of James 4:1-10 and Mark 9:30-37 is discord. In the Gospel, we read that the Apostles were arguing about “who was the greatest”. The reason for this dispute probably arose because Jesus only brought Peter, James and John up onto the mountain where he was transfigured.
The others might have wondered if Jesus showed favoritism by passing a secret to only these three. Moreover, only Peter was promised the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven according to Matthew’s Gospel.
These snippets of the Gospel show us just how human the Apostles really were. Their behavior isn’t so different from ours if you think about the times when we too, fall so easily to the sin of envy.
A friend told me yesterday, ”We listen to the voices of angels and devils every day. Which of the two we obey though, is up to us.” So how do we discern which is the voice of God?
Indeed most of the time, God’s voice is drowned out by the world. It is not that God cannot speak loudly and clearly, but he usually prefers to speak quietly and gently because he wants to INVITE us to listen, not command us. When it comes to God, it is always ‘requests’. A loud, terrifying voice would be a mandate, not an invitation, causing a person to respond out of Servile Fear.
God does not want this. He wants us to know His soft voice and obey Him out of our own free will. This is why Jesus did not come down from the cross when challenged to do so. If Jesus had come down, the Jewish people would have been compelled to believe in Him. It would not be true Faith.
Noise is a great obstacle to hearing Jesus, who is meek and humble of heart. Finding time every day for silent prayer and listening is critical. Let us remember that when we pray, we are conversing with a LIVING GOD, not a dead god.
Tomorrow in the Byzantine rite is the feast day of Moses, God-seer and prophet. The Gospel is Jesus parable about the talents. In this parable the man who does nothing is cast out into utter darkness. At the end there is a proclamation that to whoever has more will be given. The man who buries his talent does not trust his master but fears him.
Moses is constantly thinking and doubting. The people Moses is leading get angry. Moses’s whole life has been dedicated to bringing them out of Egypt. They almost kill him, and he is frustrated. God commands Moses to speak to a rock and make water come out of it, but Moses strikes it. Because of this Moses is not allowed to see the promised land.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people the law before they go into the promised land. In the middle of giving the law, he tells a story about a time he asked God if he could go into the promised land. God cut him off in mid-sentence and said no. This is a private conversation between Moses and God, and it is rather embarrassing for Moses, but he chooses to share it with the entire people of Israel.
Moses digs down deep into his own heart from that experience. He shares with the people that he is not afraid of God. He speaks to God as one might speak to a friend. He knows they are about to go into the promised land and likely will not keep the law. Even when they make mistakes, they will still be able to stand before God and to speak. A relationship with God is not easy because God is not easy. He is a hard master who reaps where he does not sow and gathers where he does not scatter.
Moses asked to see the face of God, and God said no. Moses asked to see the promised land, and God said no. The icon for tomorrow is the Transfiguration, where Moses sees both these things in a way he did not expect. When the Master came, he found a great interest of souls from his servant Moses. Moses stands on the mountain as a reminder that it is always worth it to stand before the face of God.
These reflections are taken from a homily by Father Daniel Forsythe of St. Basil’s Byzantine Catholic Church.
Happy Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord. This feast brings to our attention the prophet Elijah, who was one of the two prophets to perform the miracle of resurrection. He raises the son of the widow of Zarephath.
The book of Jonah names him the son of Amittai, who is not mentioned elsewhere. Who is he? Who is his family? He prays in the belly of the whale, “I cried to the Lord, and he heard me in my distress.” The ancient rabbis believed Jonah was the son of the widow of Zarephath. that Elijah raised from the dead. He describes being freed from the nether world before the Lord speaks to the fish and it vomits him upon the dry land.
If any city deserved just punishment from God, it was Nineveh, capital of Assyria. The Ninevites perform an amazing fast which includes their animals and infants. Jonah is angry that God forgives them. The book ends with God asking Jonah, “Shouldn’t I save this people and also much cattle?”
Jonah, if he is the widow’s son as the rabbis believed, died in the course of a great famine. God sent Elijah to a Sidonian (Zarephath belongs to Sidon), not a Jew. What happens when you survive a terrible tragedy? What is your purpose? God gives Jonah a job, and he can’t bring himself to do it. Why did Elijah bring Jonah back to life? To live a life that bears witness to great mercy. God is the only lover of mankind even in great trial. Jonah was brought back from the dead so he could show great mercy and compassion.
The Eucharist is our resurrection, the widow’s little bit of meal and oil. Elijah has been sent to us unexpectedly, not because we were clever enough to find the true faith.
On the other side of resurrection, we have to find a way to show mercy without begrudging it like Jonah.
Resurrection is traumatic. The disciples are often full of fear, confusion, repentance, and tears after the Resurrection. Some even doubt at the Ascension.
The Resurrection is not just a victory for our side against everyone else. Jesus tells the Nazarenes, “There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.” When he says this, everyone wants to throw Him off a cliff.
We encounter the resurrected Lord in the Eucharist. He gives it to you freely—rejoice! And tremble. You must forgive others and bear witness to His mercy and compassion.
These thoughts are taken from a homily by Father Daniel at St. Basil’s Byzantine Catholic Church in Irving, Texas, on July 20, 2016, Feast Day of Saint Elijah the Prophet.
In keeping with my recent posts about the fruits of the mysteries of the rosary in our daily lives, today I want to tackle the Luminous Mysteries and their fruits.
The first Luminous mystery is the Baptism of Our Lord in the Jordan, the fruit of which is “Openness to the Holy Spirit.” At first this seems pretty obvious; when we are baptized we are brought into the family of God, children of His by adoption, we become members of the Body of Christ, the Church. However, I think this mystery goes beyond simply meditating on our own baptism (which is a good and worthwhile thing to do). If we consider the number of times we renew out baptismal promises each week, every time we enter and exit the Church for example, we suddenly become aware of the number of opportunities we have to crack the door of our soul open just a bit more to the workings of the Holy Spirit.
Even more than just renewing our baptismal promises, think of all the times the Lord desires to shower us with His grace – “baptize us in the Holy Spirit,” as it were. Our Lady of Guadalupe once said that the fingers in the painting of her that do not have rays coming out of them signify all of the graces that are available to us that no one asks for. Perhaps if we come to love our baptism and the promises that come with it, we will develop a new openness to the Holy Spirit, thus allowing ourselves to be spiritually “baptized” in His abundant graces each day!
Indeed, opening our souls to the Holy Spirit then allows us to turn for even greater help to those in Heaven. Which, coincidentally, is the second mystery and fruit – the Wedding Feast at Cana and the fruit “To Jesus through Mary.” When we open ourselves to the workings of the Holy Spirit, we become more malleable to the ways the Lord longs to bring us to Him. For those who are cautious about getting to know Mary, opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit may be the first step in trusting her to get us to her son. After all, she didn’t receive her son until she opened herself (in every possible way, mind you!) to the Holy Spirit. Maybe she knows a thing or two about the workings of Our Lord in The Spirit and the two of them, spirit and Mother of God, can work together to bring about wonders in our soul!
Which brings us to the third mystery, The Proclamation of the Kingdom and its fruit: “Trust in God.” Only when we become a true instrument of the Lord through His Spirit can we begin to evangelize the world. Yet, evangelization only works if we place all of our trust in Him: that He is the one evangelizing, not us, that His work will be done if we remain humble. Yet we need the Holy Spirit and Our Blessed Mother to help us reach those who have yet to be reached. Who better to ask for help than the Spirit, who gave the apostles tongues to evangelize, and Mary, who brought Jesus to the world for the first time?
In the fourth mystery, we see how the act of opening ourselves to the graces of the spirit, asking Mary for guidance, and bringing the gospel to others begins to have a profound effect on us. For, just as the mystery reflects on the Transfiguration we too are transfigured into a true reflection of Christ in the world. As we grow in this holiness and radiate the Lord to others, we find that our “Desire for God and Holiness” deepens.
Finally, our spiritual life culminates in the fifth mystery: the Institution of the Eucharist and the fruit of “Eucharistic Adoration.” As the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church, so too is it the source and summit of our life as Christians. As our desire for holiness grows in response to the workings of the Holy Spirit within us, we are necessarily drawn to the One who can make us Holy: Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. In adoring Him, we are given the Holy Spirit and a new openness to His workings in our life, and the whole circle begins again.
Indeed, the spiritual life, it seems, is not linear, but rather a series of overlapping circles that build on one another to make a beautiful pathway to holiness. As we again grow in openness to the Holy Spirit, our desire for Mary’s intercession awakens and we are transformed by our desire for holiness, which again brings us to the Eucharist.
People like to say that running in circles in pointless. Well, maybe, it’s not as pointless as it seems!
Recently, I attended a talk about beauty. After asking his listeners about various things that they found beautiful (stars, music, the ocean), the speaker—a priest—presented us with online images of two works of art: an abstract composition by Piet Mondrian and the Transfiguration by Raphael. “Tell me which you think is more beautiful,” he said.
Although geometry and order are wonderful things, we all agreed that we didn’t find Mondrian’s work particularly pleasing. “All right, let’s change this up,” our speaker said, replacing Mondrian’s collection of rectangles and squares with an Afremovian splash of color. Comparing Leonid Afremov’s modern-impressionist rain scene with Raphael’s Renaissance work, he asked us again, “Now which do you think is more beautiful?
After a moment of scrutiny, a girl in front of me pointed to the Afremov. “I like this one,” she declared.
“Why?” the priest asked her.
“Well,” considered the girl, “It deals with the subject more originally. I feel like there are a lot of other paintings that look like Raphael’s.”
Her friend sitting next to her agreed. “I love rain,” she said, “and I love color. So looking at this painting makes me happy.”
“I still think Raphael’s is more beautiful,” another listener quickly pointed out. “It shows a much deeper meaning than the other painting.”
Both parts of the argument had legitimate points. Beauty can be a difficult thing to discuss. During our comparison of the two paintings, we made several observations about beauty in art.
One of our more confusing questions was that if beauty comes from God, how can one thing be more beautiful to some people than others? There were people who enjoyed Afremov’s painting, but others couldn’t stand it. Can beauty be subjective?
It’s true that everyone has different personalities, preferences, and even memories that will influence how they see things. For example, though my personality may make me apt to grumble about rainy days, the girl’s friend in the discussion above may have happy memories of playing outside when it rained. Or she might make some connections, such as that between rainfall and God’s grace, which I might fail to make. As a result, she may have liked Afremov’s painting more than I did. Each of us is created to be wonderfully unique, and thus we might see different elements of beauty in different things.
That having been said, beauty is not just a personal preference. The concept of beauty should be kept separate from that of simply attractiveness. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that how truly beautiful something is depends in part on how well it expresses its essence, the truth of what it is. Our speaker also observed that truth, which comes from the indivisible God, is interconnected with beauty, which comes from the same indivisible God. So there is a certain objectivity about beauty, which we can take into consideration when looking at art. In the context of our art comparison, the Transfiguration’s style and subject matter bring our thoughts more directly to God than does Afremov’s portrayal of creation.
A brief note on medium. As implied above, how the subject matter is portrayed is significant to artwork’s beauty. Raphael’s exquisite rendering of nature and the human body add to his work’s loveliness and makes it easier to appreciate his subject. In fact, if art with a beautiful subject matter isn’t very pleasing, it’s probably because of the artist’s own failure to express its beauty and point viewers to God.
Finally, it’s very important to consider the effect of novelty. Many times I’ve highly enjoyed a film after watching it for the first time. But after a few run-throughs, I can see deficiencies in plot and acting, and find that the jokes I thought were funny are actually somewhat flat. This can be applied to art as well—don’t rely too much on first impressions. While we might not get particularly tired of looking at Afremov’s composition, someday we will probably run out of meaning to extract from it. On the other hand, Raphael’s Transfiguration skillfully depicts a sublime scene with connections to several stories and truths. The Transfiguration of Christ is a divine mystery, and so there is an indefinite amount of understanding to glean from it. The girl who found Raphael’s painting unoriginal at first may find that the more thoughtfully she looks at it, the more it will lead her to contemplate its divine subject, God, who is Beauty itself.
So which work did we decide to call more beautiful? For many reasons we generally came to agree that this title belonged to Raphael’s painting. But if you didn’t want to commit, you could always take the side of the religious sister in Father’s audience who, on being asked which painting was more beautiful, always said, “Both.”
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