Young. Old. Rich. Poor.

The rich man and the poor man meet with one another,
But the Lord made both. (Proverbs 22:2)
 
A true story.
 
When I was a young man in my early twenties, I used to go to one of the larger malls in the city. It had three or four floors, and a long escalator. At a nearby coffee shop—not a Tim Hortons as they were not yet a thing—I would order my coffee hot and with cream and sugar. I’d find a table at the edge of the shop and sat at it in such a way that I could observe all the people going up and down the escalator. It truly was a kaleidoscope of humanity.
 
Different colours of skin, different heights, different body builds, different choices of clothing, shoes, hairstyles (this was the 80s – some were shocking!). Some looked happy, some sad, some angry and disturbed, some seemed in a far-off land. Couples held hands, hugged, even kissed occasionally. Friends playfully went up and down the moving stairs almost like they were dancing. Little tykes apprehensively followed their mothers and fathers onto the escalator clutching their hand so as not to be taken away or eaten by this seemingly monstrous machine.
 
The mall was downtown. It was gathering place for many of the homeless in the city, for the dealers and addicts, for the lost, and for those chasing authority. The clothes tended to be worn and unclean. The energy in their eyes seemed to be a little darker, the way they stood on the moving ladder seemed a little less dignified. When they entered the mover-machine, others tended to take a step up or wait a little more before taking a step in.
 
One day, at the bottom, a scraggly bearded trench-coated elderly little man put his hand out to a trimmed short-haired double-breast-suited forty-something-year-old as he entered the people mover. The younger started to pull something out of his pocket and the elder hopped on the stair behind, smiley and chatty. The younger pulled a bill from the side-tucked wallet and just gave it to the elder. Both were talking it up with the other as the elder received from the younger. By the end of the ride, the younger shook the hand of the elder, placing his other hand on his shoulder, and spoke, I assume, words of encouragement. The elder, placing the bill in his pocket, didn’t stop smiling or remove his eyes from the younger for some time.
 
I had a tear. The kaleidoscope gave a full scope of humanity. Younger. Older. Rich. Poor. The Lord made them both.
 
St. Augustine writes: “The rich and the poor meet together. In what way, except in this present life? The rich and the poor are born alike. You meet one another as you walk along the way together. The poor must not defraud the rich; the rich must not oppress the poor. The one has need, the other has plenty, but “the Lord is the maker of them both.” The Lord helps the one in need by the one who has; by the one who has not the Lord tests the one who has (Sermon, 35).

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Simply Receive

It used to be in magazines and newspapers. And then it appeared on late-night and through-the-night television. Today, it is everywhere on the internet. What is it? The multitudinous and manifold mountains of methods to manage and maintain a portfolio of wealth, property, and prestige. While some say it is truly easy to achieve this goal, it tends to be quite difficult and may even be painful. Put in the effort, run the race, and achieve the finish line, and bask in money, wealth, riches, glory, and prestige.

Well, there is another race we run, as St. Paul puts it. And it is all about glory – but it is not my own glory, and it is not about a goal in this life. It is about actually sharing in the divine glory – forever! And the wonderful thing about THIS goal is that we don’t do anything to obtain it. That’s right – it is given to us – all we need to do is receive it – life in the Kingdom of God.

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

It is for God to give. we cannot earn it; we cannot make myself worthy to get it.

What I can do is become like a child and receive it – at baptism, when I get up in the morning, when I greet my family and bless them for the day, when I work with my superiors and colleagues, when I am caught in late-day traffic, when I witness the defeats and achievements of my children, when I sit before the icons in prayer, when I brush my teeth… simply receive as a pure and unmerited gift.

It is a good thing that Lord came as an innocent Babe—in the very act of the saving Incarnation, He, too, shows the way to receive this Gift!

A blessed Feast of the Nativity of our Lord to you and yours.

Photo by Hanneke Laaning on Unsplash

Isaiah: The Fifth Gospel

In Winter of 2004, I followed a graduate course on Eastern Christian Hermeneutics and Exegesis in the Prophecy of Isaiah. It was taught by an excellent man and professor, Fr. Andrew Onuferko. At the time he was also the Acting Director of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at Saint Paul University, Ottawa. One section of the course highlighted the early Church and their use of the only Scriptures they knew of at the time what we Christians now call the Old Testament. The author, John Sawyer in his excellent book, The Fifth Gospel: Isaiah in the History of Christianity, notes that the early Christians used Isaiah extensively in their evangelizing efforts, even informally creating a ‘Gospel narrative’ something very much akin to what we now know as the Four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Sawyer proposes such a Gospel narrative in a collection of verses of Isaiah woven together. I have reproduced it below for your marvelling!

Behold a virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son (7:14 LXX, Vg), a rod out of the stem of Jesse (11:1). His name shall be called ‘Immanuel’ (7:14), ‘Wonderful counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace’ (9:6), Key of David (22:22), the Christ (45:1 LXX, Vg). To us a child is born (9:6). The ox knows its owner and the ass its master’s crib (1:3). The gentiles will come to your light and the kings to your rising … they shall bring gold and incense (60:6). The idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence (19:1). Behold my servant … in whom my soul delights (42:1). The spirit of the Lord will rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding … (11:2). By the way of the sea, beyond Jordan and Galilee of the nations (9:1), the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor… (61:1). Surely he has taken our infirmities and borne our sicknesses (53:4). Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened … then shall the lame man leap like a hart (35:5-6). The glory of the Lord is risen upon you (60:1). He shall be a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation (28:16), but also a stone of offence and a rock of stumbling to both the houses of Israel (8:14). He said, ‘Go and tell this people, Hear indeed, but understand not …’ (6:9).

I will weep bitterly … because of the destruction of the daughter of my people (that is, Jerusalem 22:4). Say to the daughter of Zion, Your saviour comes (62:11 LXX, Vg). My house will be called a house of prayer for all people (56:7). My servants shall eat but you shall be hungry, my servants shall drink but you shall be thirsty … (65:13). Ho everyone that thirsts, come to the waters … (55:1). He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter (53:7). The government (that is, the cross bearing the inscription ‘King of the Jews’ on it) shall be upon his shoulder (9:6), and there shall come up briars and thorns (5:6). I gave my back to the smiters and my cheeks to those that pluck out the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting (50:6). He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities (53:5). From the sole of the foot even to the head there is no soundness, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds (1:6). He was numbered between the transgressors … and made intercession for the transgressors (53:12). They made his grave … with a rich man (53:9). His tomb will be glorious (11:10 Vg). Now I will arise, says the Lord, now I will lift myself up, now I will be exalted (33:10). Then shall your light break forth like the dawn (58:8). Seek the Lord while he may be found (55:6). Behold my servant shall understand, he shall be exalted and lifted up (52:13 LXX, Vg); he shall be high and lifted up (6:1). I will set a sign among them … I will send survivors to the nations, to the sea, to Africa and Lydia, to Italy and Greece, to islands afar off, to those who have not heard about me and have not seen my glory; and they will proclaim my glory to the nations (66:19).

John F. A. Sawyer. The Fifth Gospel: Isaiah in the History of Christianity. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 49-50.

The Jesus Prayer for Beginners

This presentation is for those who are beginning the Jesus Prayer. Fr. Maxym Lysack is the pastor of Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in Ottawa. He gives 12 suggestions for beginners.

  1. Be modest.
    Practice the Jesus Prayer for five minutes or less. This a prayer that is repeated slowly and taken up by the heart, becomes part of who we are. It is not the same type of prayer as one recited from a prayer book.
  2. Don’t rush.
    Do not count how many times you have prayed the prayer. Of course, if you happen to use a prayer rope, you will become aware. But this is not necessary. What is important is to pray the prayer well.
  3. Be careful with your breathing.
    Some of you have read that one can unite your breath with the prayer. It can be a help, and it can be a hindrance as well. If you concentrate on your breathing, you can hyperventilate, a disadvantage. This in turn will change the way you feel. Do not be compelled to unite your breath to the prayer.
  4. You are praying to the Person.
    The Jesus Prayer is addressed to Christ. It is not a way to relax, not a mantra. The purpose of the Jesus Prayer is to pray personally to Christ.
  5. Consider beginning with liturgical prayer and psalms before you begin the Jesus Prayer.
    Instead of just starting the Jesus Prayer five seconds after standing up from your computer, pray for a few minutes from a prayer book, a psalm – this helps the heart to get ready.
  6. Don’t imagine things as you pray the Jesus Prayer.
    It is important not to visualize during the Jesus Prayer. As surprising as this may sound, don’t even imagine Christ. Visualization is not part of prayer. That’s not to say that we don’t visualize during prayer. Don’t plan or intend to visualize. Christ is beyond any image you can bring up. He is still a Person.
  7. Don’t expect instant quiet.
    People often experience more noise than expected. It is wonderful to enter into the heart. We must recognize, though, that while the heart is an inner paradise, it is an injured and damaged inner paradise, and it is full of noise. To take note of this noise is not a bad thing. We need to confront this noise without discouragement. Keep praying, the noise level will come down over time.
  8. Understand that the heart is competent to pray and wounded.
    This is hard for us to grasp. We have sins and passions that come out of the heart; it is not fully functional, and we feel this when we pray. At the same time, the heart was made by God to have direct, unmediated communion with Him. We need to keep in mind that while our hearts are wounded, they are created for prayer.
  9. Know that prayer is a grace and also a work.
    We need to ask the Holy Spirit for help when we pray. Since our baptism, we are trying to draw our prayer towards His prayer within us. It is hard work to pray, to fight distraction, the thoughts and energies that appear not only instantly but even multiplied when we begin to pray. And God gives us grace so that it is balanced with our work. We realise that any sweetness we experience in prayer is all due to His grace.
  10. If you are praying the Jesus Prayer, and you have a strange or odd experience, consult your spiritual father.
    Sometimes we are tempted when we are praying. It is a reality when you are a wounded human being loved by God. Speak to your spiritual father, don’t just leave it. He will help to diagnose the problem, if a problem, and how to address it.
  11. If you practice the Jesus Prayer, you also need to participate in the liturgical life and the Sacraments of the Church.
    It is important to confess your sins, to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. While the Jesus Prayer is a powerful prayer and can bring us into the heavenly places with Him, we need Him in the Sacraments.
  12. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you to silence.
    If after some time with the Jesus Prayer you believe that the Holy Spirit is leading you to a deeper place where the prayer seems to disappear, then go. The deeper place has no words. St. Isaac the Syrian wrote that silence is the language of the world to come. It is a loaded silence. It is fruitful, full of communication, but it is non-verbal, non-discursive. The Fathers of the Church call it pure prayer, no word, no image. If you are drawn to that type of prayer by Christ, then go with Him. We ought not to be disappointed if pure prayer does not come often. We pray out of obedience and out of love because we need to.

Even if it becomes necessary for you to give your life for her

And even if it becomes necessary for you to give your life for her, yes, and even to endure and undergo suffering of any kind, do not refuse. Even though you undergo all this, you will never have done anything equal to what Christ has done. You are sacrificing yourself for someone to whom you are already joined, but He offered Himself up for one who turned her back on Him and hated Him. In the same way, then, as He honoured her by putting at His feet one who turned her back on Him, who hated rejected, and disdained Him, as He accomplished this not with threats, or violence, or terror, or anything else like that, but through His untiring love; so also you should behave toward your wife.

… So the Church was not pure. She had blemishes, she was ugly and cheap. Whatever kind of wife you marry, you will never take a bride like Christ did when He married the Church; you will never marry anyone estranged from you as the Church was from Christ. Despite all this, He did not abhor or hate her for her extraordinary corruption …

John Chrysostom. Homily 20, On Ephesians 5:22-33.
(Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997), 46.

Photo credit: Homini:)

It Smells Like Love

The five bells began to ring. Their sweet notes grew in size as they floated over the snow-covered neighbourhood. A squirrel, more interested in gathering food than hibernating, stopped in its tracks to listen. The voice of the bells seemed to call for the neighbourhood to awaken from its mid-winter slumber.

The morning sunlight struck their eyes with a sharp intensity as they left the church. Shading his eyes with his hand on his brow, Roman searched for his children finding them playing in the freshly-fallen snow. Taking the hand of his wife, Olenka, they began to walk slowly to the family car parked a few blocks away. Roman found it hard to believe that ten years had passed since they first walked out of St. Vladimir’s Church as husband and wife. The time had gone by so quickly. Olenka squeezed his hand telling him that she wanted to look at him. Roman gazed upon her and thought how beautiful she was, even more beautiful than on their wedding day. How can that be, thought Roman. Olenka’s smiling eyes of blue spoke again to Roman of her love for him.

Their children’s laughter broke the embrace of their eyes. Roman called out, “Children, it’s time to go! Baba will be waiting for us!” Hurriedly, they ran to the car. Olenka was busy brushing the snow off little Ivan’s coat and leggings as Roman cleared the snow off the car’s windshield. Andrew, their 9-year-old-boy, got into the car and claimed the seat behind his father. Helena, 7, decided to sit in the middle of the back seat so she could look after little Ivan, something she loved to do. As Olenka closed her door, Andrew asked his father, “Daddy, will Baba have some fresh bread for us?”

“I certainly hope so,” replied Roman.

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The Lady of Combermere

 

Under her outstretched arms do I stand,
Nestled in her reach, I place my head,
her touch, motherly and gentle.
I begin to speak of some friends, in various places,
bound and wounded.
Other’s knotted hard knocks give way to my own bounded bindings.
Everything gets told because she has the gift of easy listening.
One simple word,
Rejoice!
and that she echoes
from the store of treasures in her heart.

July 1, 2018
Michael Winn


Photo by Eunice and Becca at the faith and peanut butter blog.

The Adventure of Washing Dishes

 

by Catherine Doherty

What can a person do who tries to love God tremendously?

Everything, from turning the lights off to save electricity to refraining from getting new clothes all the time, to not being picky about food, to going where God calls you.

Once I know God’s will, I am going to try to do it perfectly. My heart swells and I say, “This also, Lord, for love of you.” I know very well its redemptive value.

Here’s another way of putting it: I have empty hands. I consider that I have to bring something to the altar to offer at my next Mass.

What can I bring? I can bring clothing washed with great love, understanding full well that because of my attention, these clothes have redemptive value. I can bring hours of conversation or letters written with attention to details.

It never occurs to me that I can possibly separate anything from love. For example, I will speak of washing dishes. If I have the attitude that this is a beautiful little thing that I can give God, then washing a cup becomes an adventure. Do you get the picture?

Every little thing should be done perfectly, completely connected with God. Otherwise, it ceases to be interesting. It has no sense and no being.

No matter what their job, everyone has to do little things. But for us at Madonna House, doing them with our whole hearts is of the essence of our vocation.


Adapted from Grace in Every Season, (2001), January 10, pp.26-27, available from MH Publications.

Years Ago

 

Years ago, beyond my memory,
my father stood with his arms outstretched.
With his words of encouragement,
I reached for him,
and, with exhilaration in eyes and breath,
I took my first steps —
from infancy to childhood.

Years ago, faded in my memory,
my father stood with his arms outstretched.
With his words of encouragement,
I looked to him,
and, with exhilaration in eyes and breath,
I caught my first fish by myself —
from childhood to adolescence.

Years ago, recent in my memory,
my father stood with his arms outstretched.
With his words of encouragement,
I embraced him,
and, with exhilaration in eyes and breath,
I departed on my own journey —
from adolescence to adulthood.

Years ago, still fresh in my memory,
my father stood with his arms outstretched.
With his words of encouragement,
I imitated him,
and, with exhilaration in eyes and breath,
I trusted and submitted to the One-Who-Is —
from adulthood to sonship.

Love… love… love, never counting the cost.

Present now, no need for my memory,
my Father stands with His arms outstretched.
With His words of encouragement,
I bow before Him,
and, with exhilaration in eyes and breath,
I desire and ask for the enlarging of my heart —
now and forevermore.

July 19, 2015
Michael Winn