January 7, 2018
The Roman Rite and the Byzantine Rite each celebrate the Epiphany, but with a different emphasis. The Byzantine Church commemorates the Baptism of Our Lord and further qualifies the Feast with the name “Theophany,” For the Trinity was made manifest at the Jordan. The Father spoke, the Son was present and the Spirit hovered as dove. The Roman Church marks the visit of the Three Kings to the stable—maintaining that this made manifest that the infant Jesus was destined for greatness. Whichever tradition you uphold, we know the Incarnation was the start of something special, indicated at his birth by the West and at His baptism by the East. Let us make certain that He—Our Savior, is made manifest in our daily walk of life.
December 12, 2017
At this time of year we find ourselves in a bit of a quandary. Allow me to explain. Liturgically we are supposed to be preparing spiritually for the commemoration of the Birth of Christ. We call it Phillip’s Fast or Advent. The reality is that the time before the celebration of Christmas is spent attending festive gatherings at work, school, with friends and even at church. The time before Easter (Lent) is almost total opposite—we fast, pray and give alms in a very disciplined manner. It’s pretty hard to quell the tide of merriment prior to Christmas. I think if we just make sure we have the “meaning of the season” as central to our celebrating and that we do some additional spiritual exercises (whatever they may be), the two approaches (what the church asks from us and the societal norms) can co-exist in our lives without making us feel like Mr. Scrooge!
November 20, 2017
I heard something on Catholic radio recently that didn’t sit well with me. The hosts of the show were talking about the “feeling of being taken advantage of.” They encouraged callers to respond if they’ve experienced this. A lot of people did call in complaining about instances that fit the bill—especially citing examples of a lack of reciprocation. The hosts brought up “boundaries” and other “mechanisms” that would help prevent a person from feeling like they are being taken. In my mind the virtue of generosity kept popping up and how we should “give” (be it time, talent or treasure) without expecting anything in return (a “thank you” of course would be nice). When invited to one of the leading Pharisee’s homes for dinner Jesus said, “when you hold a lunch or dinner, do not invite your friends, relatives or wealthy neighbors, lest they may invite you back. He continued, “instead, invite the poor, the blind, the crippled and the lame who cannot repay you.” Isn’t that what pure generosity is? The pan scales don’t get pulled out. Jesus ended that particular passage by saying “for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” In the end isn’t that our only concern? During this time of “giving” let’s be motivated in ways which reflect these principles.
October 23, 2017
Our nation has seen a recent rash of disasters and tragedies. People have died. Homes have been destroyed. Lives have been changed forever. It’s during times like this that the question often arises, “Where is God in the mix?” In other words, folks are questioning why God allows these things to happen. In the case of hurricanes we can call it weather patterns. The wildfires in California can be blamed on high winds toppling electrical towers. The Vegas murders are the result of a deranged man. Did God tell folks where to inhabit? Did He push those concert-goers to attend? The answer of course is “no.” Knowing that doesn’t minimize the pain victims are going through. Some may be angry at God. In the end, everything does come from God. Maybe that’s why questioning persists—even at times among believers. So let’s look closer at the word “everything.” Whenever there is a disaster or tragedy, no matter how large or small, there’s always an accompanying response of love and human kindness. Even the media acknowledges this! Isn’t that where God is in the mix? Research any major disaster and tragedy. You’ll see this is true. God is moving folks—even atheists, to be Good Samaritans. If there is no response, then we can question. In the meantime, I think God is off the hook.
September 19, 2017
I recently attended a screening of the documentary “Faithkeepers.” The film provided information as well as testimony from Christians persecuted in the Middle East. The challenge for government (and church) leaders is how to respond to this injustice. There is a spirit of “tolerance” afloat that correctly notes that there are many wonderful Muslim people and paints only the radical Islamic State for the carnage (never of course condoning the persecution). Another camp insists that the only way to stop the killing and the terrorist attacks around the world is to go after the perpetrators (easier said than done I might add). I feel before a proper course of action is determined the world will be at war—right or wrong, over this important issue. This will mean more loss of lives—including innocent civilians. In every liturgy we pray for “peace in the whole world” and for many years I have added “especially in the Middle East.” I think for our part it’s time to pray it with ever more fervency and urgency.
August 29, 2017
Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc in Southeast Texas. Thousands of individuals were impacted. In the midst of heartache, once again human nature shined! People were helping people. Grant it, many of those helping were getting paid to do so (policemen, firemen, etc), but there were countless others who simply put the “Golden Rule” into practice, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you (Mt. 7:12). This picture seems to get replayed each time a disaster strikes. The second part of the Great Commandment, “love of neighbor,” is portrayed in vibrant colors. Our nation has clearly been divided since Trump won the election. At times things have been vicious and quite un-Christian. In a way it’s sad that it takes something tragic to unite the human spirit. But at least the response is still there.
July 24, 2017
All four of my grandparents immigrated from the Carpathian Mountain Region of Eastern Europe. They were part of the huge wave of foreigners who crossed the Atlantic to seek a better way of life. These people settled in the coal mining regions of Pennsylvania and the steel producing areas of Cleveland, Youngstown, Detroit and Chicago. Since religion was a big part of their lives in the “Old Country” they of course desired to be part of faith communities celebrating the liturgy in ways they were accustomed to. Priests came from Europe and parishes were established. That marks the roots of St. Joseph Church as well as many other Byzantine Catholic parishes throughout the country. How unique and interesting it is that over one hundred years later priests from Eastern Slovakia are once again traveling to the U.S. in service to the Church. Going one step further, the Diocese of Parma is now under the administration of Bishop Milan Lach from the Eparchy of Presov! It seems we have come full circle! Jesus’ words to the Apostles was to spread the Good News of Salvation to all corners of the earth. It still is the “Good News” no matter how it is pronounced!
June 12, 2017
If you pay close attention to the “Horizons” you’ll know that a specially written icon of Our Lady of Mariapoch was scheduled to be brought to the United States by a couple of Hungarian Byzantine Catholic priests. The icon was ordered by the Shrine of Mariapoch in Burton. In the flight to the U.S. the icon was lost! Yes, just like lost baggage. After a long stretch of time with no clue as to its whereabouts, a lot of sentiments were expressed saying “maybe someone against Christianity did something to it.” Our thoughts sometimes jump to conclusions like this in our day and age because of the fact that Christianity is truly under assault. This should speak to us to be even more fervent in our belief as disciples. We should never cave in to pressures from the outside. We live in an ever-changing world, but the Gospel values never change. Let us stand strong in our Faith in Jesus Christ!
May 18, 2017
The Byzantine Church is famous for utilizing externals to enhance one’s worship experience. I can speak of the empty tomb remaining in place for the forty days after Easter. The Shroud of Christ resting on the altar until Ascension. A posture of standing until Pentecost for all prayers, symbolic of the Resurrection. Singing “Christ is Risen” over and over again. So then what? The symbols must translate to the Spirit, as in the Holy Spirit. It’s continued “movement” in the church is the sustainable force. Always was and always will be. That “Spirit” is found in the hearts of believers who go forth as passionate disciples to live the Word of God and ideally reel in the lost. This is the “calling” of all baptized Christians. Let us be reminded that we are all in this together.
April 16, 2017
The movie “Risen” came out last year prior to Easter. It centers on a Roman soldier who is called to “investigate” the rumor that Jesus Christ rose from His grave. Although inspiring in its own way, since the man eventually turns into a believer, the film still represents fiction. We have all that we need to know from the Bible to inspire us. The culminating event is His Glorious Resurrection. We are many centuries removed from the occurrence, but “faith” in this miraculous deed has far outlasted any doubters. The “fact” of His Resurrection provides everlasting hope for the human race, even in times of despair.
Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!
March 28, 2017
We are well past the halfway mark of Lent. The Byzantine “counting” ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday. (Check it out yourself…go backwards forty days and you’ll arrive at the Monday it all began!) The Vesper hymns that day even mention arriving at the end of the forty days of the fast. So what does that mean? Do we go back on everything we started—the sacrifices as well as the positive growth items? Absolutely not! Holy Week serves as an “extra” sacred time, where, if anything, we intensify our efforts especially by attending the services offered. So make sure you keep the pedal on the metal or if you’ve been a slacker, kick it into high gear. The Feast of the Resurrection will be all the more extraordinary!
March 8, 2017
It seems lately I hear a lot of “I don’t give up anything for Lent, I try to do something.” As noble as that is, self-denial and sacrifice are a lot of what this time of the liturgical year is about. We liken it in a small way to the sufferings of Jesus on the cross. Yes, we are “Easter people” (living as beneficiaries of the Resurrection), but the value of self-denial is priceless. We all tend to get a little “sloppy” in our spiritual lives (lazy would be another good word). The discipline of fasting and self-denial help to re-direct our efforts. In addition to that, daily “fasting” serves as a reminder of whatever we’re trying to “do” in a positive way during the Lenten season. Bottom line, do both! You’ll emerge from the forty days in a little better shape than when you started.
February 18, 2017
Midwesterners get to enjoy four distinct seasons of the year. However, two of them seem very brief (spring and fall) while the other two (winter and summer) can seem to drag on (the “dog days of summer” and the harshness of winter). The church also has its “seasons.” Lent can be categorized as one of them. Does it seem to be long and drawn out or something to anticipate? It probably varies from person to person. I myself look forward to it. The disciplines it calls for tend to reel me back in, resulting in improved order in the spiritual realm.
February 7, 2017
The Super Bowl was great. First ever overtime outcome. The “Souper Bowl” was even better! It’s fantastic how churches of all denominations band together to assist in the fight against hunger. At St. Joseph we raised almost six hundred dollars. It annually goes to the parish outreach program feeding the homeless at the Men’s Shelter in Downtown Cleveland on Sunday mornings for eighteen years. It would be terrific if churches could just as easily come together on other issues that currently result in discord.
January 25, 2017
Whether you like him, hate him or are indifferent, since taking office President Trump has certainly given pro-life efforts a shot in the arm. There have been so many people battling for so long since the infamous Roe V. Wade decision legalizing abortion in this country. To their credit, most never stopped fighting. To that end they have finally seen the light of day. The ironic thing about this issue, is that “victory” doesn’t benefit the proponent one iota. It’s all about the defenseless life in the womb. Contrast that with other “issues” that dominate political platforms. Most of them deal with how they affect “me” and that’s where sentiments tend to lie. God bless the selfless individuals who have given their energy and resources for the cause of the unborn—and will not rest until the law is repealed.
January 10, 2017
It was an especially rough year for our country. It seemed like divisiveness overtook cohesiveness—if indeed it ever were in the lead. I’m not sure a cure will happen any time soon. Is it possible to insulate ourselves as Christians from this pervasive climate? I don’t think so because we are part of the society we live in. I do know that a “house divided cannot stand” (Mt 12:25). What is crucial, as Christians, is to make certain that our own “house” is in order. Everything that happens beyond that is outside of our control. Satan loves when division exists and we can be assured he has a hand in it. For this new year let’s resolve to live with a charitable spirit where love prevails and bitterness is minimal. In that way our little neck of the woods will potentially be together in good shape.
December 25, 2016
December 6, 2016
I just completed writing a letter that I annually send out at Christmas. You know the drill—updating friends/families on the events of the past year without boring them to death! This year I actually started out with “death,” the death of my father last January. It’ll be my first Christmas without a parent. Many of you have already experienced this—possibly twice over. My Dad was a faith-filled individual. I am confident he has gained the eternal reward that waits those who believe. The meaning of the Christmas Season truly becomes fully illumined when reflecting on someone passing away. There is finality in regard to earthly existence, but so much hope for that which is immortal. The Salvation of the human race started with the Incarnation, the Son of God taking flesh. It ended, of course, with His saving death and resurrection that took the sting out of death. May we all be reminded of this as we once again commemorate the Birth of Christ—especially if we have mourned the loss of someone close.
November 9, 2016
“A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Lk. 11:17).
Such “division” was inevitable no matter the result in the 2017 presidential election. The race was heated. The candidates continually bashed one another. The supporters were passionate, albeit for many people choosing the lesser of two evils. And now the ashes. The words “one nation under God” jump out at me, as do “the United States of America.” If our country is able to “unite” it must come as a result of how God wants us to live as individuals. This is characterized by things such as mercy, forgiveness, compassion, charity, understanding and love. These spiritual riches are what will make our country great again! This would happen regardless of who is in the oval office, because they are things of God! Division comes from the contrary vices that are prompted by Satan. Much prayer is needed at this time, but these times are also filled with much hope!
Long suffering fans of one major league baseball team will be filled with euphoria soon. For Chicago Cub fans, they’ve never even seen their squad in the World Series. For Cleveland Indian backers, many have experienced the thrill of the series, but not quite as many can recall a championship (68 years ago). To live through a championship like I did in 2005 with the Chicago White Sox is something that is memorable. It’s something that will be re-lived time and time again. It will be the similar this year for those who root for the Indians or Cubs. They will tell their children and grandchildren about it. There’s something about “being there” that inspires passion. Imagine then, being present when Jesus walked the earth. At some juncture you probably would’ve become a “fan.” Then at the crucifixion there would’ve been agony. When he rose you would’ve claimed victory! That’s what the apostles did after Pentecost. They went forth filled with the passion that moved them to tell others about Him. They lived through it and it was memorable. If it wasn’t for their passion we wouldn’t be where we are in our relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s been over two thousand years for us. How do we get excited over something we haven’t “lived through?” The answer is by immersing ourselves in the pages of scripture where God is revealed. By attending liturgy in order to receive Christ in the Eucharist and to be fed from what is preached from the pulpit. In a way, the apostles had it easier than us. If we were present during that time, I’m sure we would’ve been filled with the same passion and excitement as the apostles and all of His followers. Just as Tribe fans or Cub fans will be able to give “witness” for the rest of their lives if their team wins.
“Debate” seems to be the buzzword these days. Of course I’m referring to the political type. This has also spurred debate among Catholics regarding the two candidates. Even though there is a constitutional separation between church and state, the two often intertwine, most notably in the realm of morality and social justice. With that in mind, it’s important to be reminded, during “Respect Life Month” that the child in the womb has no voice but ours. He or she cannot “campaign” in order to live a life with which we have been privileged to have on this earth. I recognize there are many issues, but it makes sense to me that a party with a platform that supports the voiceless needs to be given high priority when it comes to our vote. St. Teresa of Calcutta made a direct appeal to the American people in her 1979 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech when she said “I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another.” May her words end the “debate.”
A person who gets canonized is not all that unusual in the church. Saint John Paul II did it in abundance during his pontificate. The canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta however is extremely noteworthy because of her worldwide notoriety. “Fame” would not be the correct adjective because anyone who sets out to do the work of the Gospel seeks anything but that. For St. Teresa of Calcutta it came with the territory. In serving the poorest of the poor she was admired, along with her sisters, around the globe. Who would do what she and the other nuns did? We need examples of Christ in the flesh and she was just that for many people. I’m certain she inspired countless other acts of charity and continues to do so. In spite of her holiness she encountered what has been referred to as “dark nights of the soul.” Times when she questioned who she was and what she was about. These moments have been documented by her spiritual director and published in books. This doesn’t diminish her saintliness, rather, makes her even easier to relate to. She experienced the “humanness” that we all feel at times when considering our “walk” in life and our relationship with God. Let us be inspired by who she was and ask for her heavenly intercession.
August is a “transitional” month in many ways. Kids start back to school. Collegians return to campus. Vacations come to a close. The weather is usually still quite warm, but by the end of the month the nights at least give a hint of fall. It all reminds me that life is cyclical. There are rhythms that seem to pattern the seasons and the holidays. There should always be one constant. It’s our relationship with God—or at least the role He plays in our daily lives. Allow me to suggest that if that relationship is “strained” at the moment or needs strengthening that you try something while the weather is still good. Take a walk in nature or find a spot where you can sit and reflect or meditate. I am confident you’ll receive insights into how to kindle that relationship.
I have been active in sports all of my life. Not only do I love the competition, it also serves as an outlet. I try to schedule a couple of games/matches into every week. That being said, it irks me when games for our youth are scheduled for Sunday mornings. When I grew up that wasn’t the case. My parents weren’t placed in that awkward position—which hopefully isn’t “church or the game,” as there are numerous Catholic churches offering Sunday night liturgies. (But I’m afraid in many instances that “is” the “awkward” part.) Rather, for churches that don’t offer Sunday liturgies (ours being one of them), it removes that boy/girl and his/her family from their parish community, and in cases like ourselves (a smaller church in comparison to the Roman rite) it’s a noticeable absence. I wish I had a solution. Actually I do….NO SPORTING ACTIVITIES SCHEDULED ON SUNDAY MORNING!!!
We tend to get very patriotic around this time of the year, largely due remembering our war dead. It should evoke sadness—that so many men and women had to exit this earth a bit sooner than should’ve been. Although our patriotism usually limits our thoughts to Americans who have died in battle, let’s also remember that an equal amount or more of other human beings from the “other side,” as well as allies, have also been casualties. Far, far too many lives have been lost. Even as you read this, there are individuals being killed by gunfire or explosives, especially in the Middle East. When will it all end? Possibly not until the end of time. Warfare has been with us since the early ages—just read the pages of the Old Testament. The only inroads that can possibly be made is when minds and hearts unite themselves to the message that Christ brought to the world. In fact, if that happened—with every person, peace would reign supreme. History proves though, that the devil still has an influence and there always will be names to add to our Memorial Day remembrances.
The Eucharist is at the summit of Catholic spirituality. If this was fully realized there wouldn’t be a single soul leaving the church for another. How could anyone distance themselves from the true body and blood of Christ? Or, for that matter, how could anyone not want to be present each and every Sunday in order to receive the Resurrected Lord in Holy Communion? Once a person has this realization of the importance of the Eucharist the two aforementioned items would be a rarity. Hopefully, this message is being preached to the “choir.” Sadly, I fear in many cases it’s not. There are far too many instances of folks leaving the Catholic Church and of a casual approach to liturgy attendance. Take a look at the sixth chapter of John (Jesus’s discourse on the bread of life) in order to be bolstered in appreciation of the Eucharist.
“This is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it!” This is one of the verses we sing prior to entering the church from outside during the Resurrection Matins. In dissecting this passage it is clear that God has intended this outcome. Indeed the curse had to be undone and it took Jesus dying on the cross and subsequently rising from the grave to set the world aright. What a magnificent outcome—for the human race. Now we bask in the joy of the Risen Lord as Easter people. It has to mean something for us, or His saving deed was for naught. That “something” is living as disciples, awaiting His Glorious second coming. Let us go about our daily lives knowing that we have a God who loved us enough to send His Son to this earth for the redemption of sin. We are called to live likewise as a reflection of that love.
The Cleveland area has experienced a winter that few of us can ever remember in terms of snowfall. The words from the prophet Isaiah state that “just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth…it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” His “word” in the Gospel is none other than the “Our Father”, the words He wants us to use when we pray. Included in the prayer are the words “forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us.” On Good Friday we will hear the words from Pontious Pilate to Jesus–“Do you not know I have the power to release you and the power to crucify you?” Let’s take that a step further, applying it to the words about forgiveness in the Gospel. True strength (power) comes in being able to arrive at Forgiveness. Even on the cross Jesus said “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” A beautiful component of this Jubilee Year of Mercy is not only asking for God’s mercy when we need it, but extending that mercy (forgiveness) to others who may have hurt us. What a beautiful Lenten goal! We have not been blanketed with snow this winter, but let’s blanket with mercy those who have hurt us in any way, be it big or small.
Pope Francis declaring a Jubilee Year of Mercy seems like a great starting point for anyone’s Lenten Journey. Mercy entails asking God for it (our need) in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Mercy entails extending it—to those in need (the hungry, thirsty, homeless, sick, imprisoned), along the lines of the Corporal Works of Mercy. Mercy entails extending it in a different manner—to those who need it from us in the form of forgiveness. The epitome of mercy is God sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to this earth out of love to die for our sins. Be “merciful” and seek “mercy” this Lenten season and I can assure that on Easter Sunday morning you will more fully experience the glory of the Resurrection! May this walk through the Great Fast be our most fulfilling ever!
The start of a new year marks fresh beginnings. There’s something about the clean slate of twelve new months that gets us in the “improvement mode.” A lot of people call this a resolution. There’s a “resolve” to go after weaknesses we find within ourselves. Maybe somewhere along the line we are inspired by the words of Scripture “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We know that never will happen, but as disciples it should always remain a goal—to rid ourselves of vices and live lives of virtue.
I would like everyone to promise themselves one thing during this time of preparation for the celebration of the Birth of Our Savior. In the midst of the merriment, keep Christ the focal point. It can be done. Let me suggest that when opening Christmas cards “really” read what is contained in the message (and unless it’s “happy holidays” or something to that affect there should be something edifying). Most folks get at least one card a day. What a simple way to maintain focus. When searching for something to watch on television, try EWTN (if you have cable or satellite). The programming will help center you on things that are Godly. There are numerous radio stations playing all Christmas music (in the Cleveland area 102.1 and 95.5). “Skip” the secular songs. Try and tune in to the hymns that bring out the meaning of the season. If you’re planning a movie night at your house, either rent or seek a release that is meaningful. If you’re a grandparent, invite your grandchildren over—you know the type of movie that would be memorable for them. In short, we don’t have to lock ourselves up in a room and pray constantly during this time of “waiting.” That would be pretty unrealistic. In the course of our daily lives there are opportunities to make this season special.
When things seem to be going our way, it’s very easy to give thanks to God. However, let there be some trying times and all of a sudden that simplicity becomes a struggle. Why is that so? Could it be that we expect God to reward our faithfulness and good behavior? God isn’t a vengeful God and bad things do happen to good people. In other words, He is not there to punish us when we do wrong, nor does He promise a smooth life in return for our charity. Those sorts of things will be sorted out when we pass from this life. If this impulse—finding it more difficult to give gratitude to God when our life is a mess, is a pattern for you, I have a more concrete suggestion. Look back on your life—your entire life, and take account of all of the “goods” (blessings) versus the bad things that have happened. Two things should emerge. The positives should far out-weigh the negatives and most of the troubling issues were probably fleeting. Hopefully this, combined with what was mentioned earlier, will provide a perspective that allows us to give thanks in season and out.
What I admire or what impresses me most about Pope Francis is his ability to witness to the Gospel message, even in the midst of a high profile position. He reaches out to the poor, to the marginalized and the oppressed. He is mindful of their plight in life and urges Christians to respond in charity. Recall that Jesus told the parable about the farmer who was going to build extra grain bins to store his crop. “This night your life shall be required of you. To whom shall all of this piled up wealth of yours go? That is how it is for the man who grows rich for himself instead of growing rich in the eyes of God.” (Lk 12:20) It is spiritual treasures that endure. The Holy Father is saying get back to the bare bones of Jesus’ teachings. This is a mark of true discipleship. In his recent trip to the U.S. he chose to eat at Catholic Charities with the homeless rather than take up an offer of a costly meal. He leads by example. Let’s try our hardest to follow it, because it is also the example of Christ!