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February 8, 2016  

(Joh 17:20-23) And not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me. That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them: that, they may be one, as we also are one. I in them, and thou in me: that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them, as thou hast also loved me.

POPE FRANCIS: “I ask you to support with a prayer my trip to Mexico, which begins in a few days, and my meeting in Havana with dear brother Kirill".

NEWS.VA: Pope and Patriarch's encounter is 'sign of hope' for all Christians

The Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church announced on Friday that Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill will hold a historic first encounter in Cuba on February 12th. A statement released jointly in Moscow and in Rome said the meeting will mark “an important stage in relations” between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and a “sign of hope for all people of good will”.

Pope Francis announced at the start of the Jubilee  year of mercy that he himself intended to make some practical gestures showing God’s mercy to the world on one Friday of each month. Friday February 12th may prove to be the most significant of all those gestures, as the leader of the Catholic world and the head of the largest Orthodox Church meet together to show that, despite the issues still dividing them, they are determined to pursue the path of mercy, forgiveness and the restoration of full Christian unity.

The historic encounter has been years in the making, at least since the fall of the Soviet Union, when Pope John Paul II first expressed his desire to visit Russia and further the reconciliation of East and Western Christianity which officially divided in 1054. Since then there have been several behind-the-scenes attempts to orchestrate a meeting between popes and patriarchs, but political and religious tensions continued to stand in the way.

Following a significant warming of relations – Cardinal Koch of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity travelled to Moscow and Metropolitan Hilarion came to Rome four times last year – the opportunity arose for a meeting on neutral territory in Cuba. The island nation was a key ally of Moscow during the Cold War and more recently Pope Francis played an important role in the rapprochement between Washington and Havana.

The Pope will stop over at Havana airport en route to Mexico City, while Patriarch Kirill will arrive the previous day at the start of a visit to three Latin American nations. They will have a two hour private conversation, in Spanish and Russian, with just their interpreters and closest advisers present in the airport salon. They will exchange gifts and sign a joint declaration before speaking briefly with journalists to share their impressions and expectation. Both leaders have asked Christians everywhere to pray for this encounter, a practical sign of healing, forgiveness and great hope for the future.


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Ladder of Divine Ascent excerpt: Step 3- "On Exile or Pilgrimage"

7. Have you become an exile from the world? Do not touch the world any more; because the passions desire nothing better than to return.

February 4, 2016

(1Ti 6:11-12) But thou, O man of God, fly these things: and pursue justice, godliness, faith, charity, patience, mildness. Fight the good fight of faith. Lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art called and be it confessed a good confession before many witnesses.

BROTHER JOHN. M. SAMAHA, SM: A Paradigm of Christian Living


There is a story told about Francis of Assisi, perhaps more mythical than factual, which illustrates how touching the poor is the cure for a mediocre and dying faith:

One night prior to his conversion, Francis, then a rich and pampered young man, donned his flashiest clothes, mounted his horse, and set off for a night of drinking and carousing. God, social justice and the poor were not on his mind.

Riding down a narrow road, he found his path blocked by a leper. He was particularly repulsed by lepers, their deformities and smell revolted him, and so he tried to steer his horse around the leper, but the path was too narrow.

Frustrated, angry, but with his path clearly blocked before him, Francis eventually had no other choice but to get down off his horse and try to move the leper out of his path. When he put out his hand to take the leper’s arm, as he touched the leper, something inside of him snapped. Suddenly irrational, unashamed and undeterred by the smell of rotting flesh, he kissed that leper.

His life was never the same again. In that kiss, Francis found the reality of God and of love in a way that would change his life forever.

Today many of us struggle with the same issues as did the pre-converted Francis—a pampered life and a mediocre and dying faith. We know that our faith calls us to work for social justice and that this demand is non-negotiable.

We know too, as somebody once put it with a succinctness that is praiseworthy, that strength without compassion is violence; that compassion without justice is weakness; that justice without love is Marxism; and that love without justice is baloney!

What we often don’t know is that the preferential option of the poor is the cure for our mediocre and dying faith. We must kiss the leper.

Simply put, if we touch the poor, we will touch Christ. In this way, touching the poor can be a functional substitute for prayer . . . and given the power of Western culture today, we often need this substitute. Let me try to explain: Western culture today is so powerful and alluring that it often swallows us whole. Its beauty, power and promise generally takes away both our breath and our perspective. The lure of present salvation—money, sex, creativity, the good life—has, for the most part, entertained, amused, distracted and numbed us into a state where we no longer have a perspective beyond that of our culture and its short-range soteriology.

One way out of this, of course, is through prayer. A life of prayer can cure a dying faith. The problem here, however, is that what our culture erodes in us is, precisely, our life of prayer. The hardest thing to sustain within our lives today is prayer. Everything militates against it.

Given this, perhaps the only way we have of not letting ourselves be swallowed whole by our culture is to kiss the leper, to place our lot with those who have no place within the culture, namely, the poor with their many faces: the aged, the sick, the dying, the unborn, the handicapped, the unattractive, the displaced and all those others who are not valued by the culture.

To touch those who have no place within our culture is give ourselves a perspective beyond our culture.

Daniel Berrigan, who writes eloquently on this, describes in his memoirs how much his perspective changed when he began to work full­time in a cancer ward, ministering to the terminally ill.

When you walk home from work after a day of being with those who are dying, he says, your vision clears pretty well and what your culture offers to you no longer seems so overpowering and irresistible. Concrete contact with the poor is Christian contemplation. It knocks the scales off one’s eyes!

“Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto to me,” Christ assures us. In the poor, God is ever-present in our world, waiting to be met. In the powerless, one can find the power of God; in the voiceless, one can hear the voice of God; in the economically poor, one can find God’s treasures; in the weak, one can find God’s strength; and in the unattractive, one can find God’s beauty.

The glory of God might indeed be humanity fully alive, but the privileged presence of God lies especially in and with the poor.

Thus, like Francis, we need to get off our horses and kiss the leper. If we do, something will snap, we will see our pampered lives for what they are, and God and love will break into our lives in such a way that we will never be the same again.


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Ladder of Divine Ascent excerpt: Step 3- "On Exile or Pilgrimage"

6. Detachment is excellent; but her mother is exile. Having become an exile for the Lord's sake, we should have no ties at all lest we seem to be roving in order to gratify our passions.

February 1, 2016  

(Gal 5:1) Stand fast and be not held again under the yoke of bondage.

ALETEIA: The Catholic Priest Who Found Jesus Christ While Among the Muslims

CRUX: Syrian Catholic leader demands the West step up against ISIS

According to one of Syria’s most prominent Catholic leaders, if the West doesn’t commit to fighting extremism in the region, violence will escalate until there are no Christians left in the Middle East.

“We have to say that the morale of the Christians in Syria and Iraq is getting lower, because we see how the world powers don’t care about the survival of minority communities, but [only] about their own geopolitical interests,” Syriac Catholic Patriarch Youssef III Younan said Thursday.

“Our nightmare, our greatest fear, is that in Iraq and Syria will happen what happened in Turkey, where we can hardly speak of a Christian presence,” he said.

In centuries past, he said, major Church councils were held in Turkey because it was a thriving center of Christianity. Today, however, there are barely 150,000 Christians left, he said, in country with a population of 75 million.

“By now, not even the media is talking about us anymore,” he said to journalists. “This indifference toward the fate of so many innocent people hurts me deeply.”

Younan’s complaints came a day after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution condemning the actions of ISIS in the Middle East as genocide, and a day before the third Geneva peace talks regarding Syria were set to begin, although they’re now being postponed due to disputes over which opposition parties should attend.

Speaking in Rome, Younan also said that the Christian community in the Middle East is grateful to Russia, which has been bombing ISIS targets since mid-November 2015. This intervention, he said, done in coordination with the local army, has “changed the situation on the ground.”

He also offered a grudging defense of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Western media speak about the ‘monstrosities’ of Assad, saying he’s killed 100,000 Syrians,” Younan said. “But they don’t speak about the 1 million people who died in Iraq as a result of the allied military intervention in 2003. It’s all been forgotten.”

He acknowledged that Assad has committed atrocities, but said the West “went there to murder and bomb, because you wanted to bring down the government of Saddam Hussein, and people died because of the bombings, of starvation, of illnesses.”

Younan also said he is thankful to the Russian Orthodox Church and its Patriarch Kirill, who visited the country in 2012, promising to defend religious freedom for all the Middle East.

“Regrettably, we haven’t heard these declarations from the West,” he said.

He acknowledged the concerns many have regarding Russia’s own geopolitical interests in the region, saying that the help could very well be a political maneuver.

“But the fact is that it’s possible that we’re going to disappear from the region,” Younan said. “Russia’s intervention gives us hope.”


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Ladder of Divine Ascent excerpt: Step 3- "On Exile or Pilgrimage"

5. In going into exile, beware of the demon of drifting and of sensual desire; because exile gives him his opportunity.
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