Our Lord’s Desire

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 8.1-9

Our Lord’s desire for the crowd drew them to Him. His compassion moved them to stay put for three days. They forgot to eat; they lost track of time; they were caught up in being with Him as much as hearing His voice and chewing on His words – because of His love, His empathy, His desire for them.

Our Lord’s desire leads to His compassion for the crowd primarily because they have not eaten. They have entered a three day fast, and may faint on the way home. But the fast and the fainting that concerns Our Lord—that makes plain His desire—is not simply about lack of food for the body, but also being deprived of food for the soul. Not only have they not eaten. They have not sat down and banqueted with God, as He designed them to do. And so, just as they are drawn to Him, He desires them to eat with Him.

Seven loaves and a few small fishes—that’s more than enough. For the point is not what and how much. The point is that they dine with their saving Lord – with the Jesus who will give His all for them. Making little more than enough, then, is easy when compared with laying His life down. A broken body and shed blood—that is the all that Christ gives, and not just for them, but for the life of the cosmos. And so, for the moment, in a deserted place, Jesus provides more than enough. Yet He is anticipating the time when His desire will be to feed with Himself as many as desire Him.

Our Lord desires that the crowd—and that we all—truly encounter Him. Not just see His miracles and hear His words. Not just be soothed by His teaching or find truth in His way of life. And not just be uplifted with His stories or inspired by His example.

A true encounter with the Lord Jesus means that everything Our Lord is and does is not all used up in that past time. A true encounter means that the newness of the Word made flesh never grows old. God in our flesh is always new, always enlivening and revitalizing our flesh.

So what you’ve heard happens then is not just about then. Our Lord still desires us to eat with Him.

‘We may not even be aware of it, but every time we go to Mass’ we are there first of all because ‘we are drawn there by his desire for us.’ We are drawn by His desire for us to be with Him, inseparable from His body. We are drawn by His desire for us to be in the always now and never ending present – in Him and the life-saving event that He does and is.

Our Lord desires us. Each one of us. Regardless of our struggles, or fears, or disordered passions. He desires us even if no one else does, even if we don’t really desire our own selves. He desires us, most especially when we are hurting and broken, or feel unseen and place-less, or are overwhelmed with sadness or apathy.

Our Lord desires us. He desires you as an individual, and me as another, so that with all His own we may be all be ‘us’ in Him. Jesus desires you, so that He might embrace you in an ‘us’; and by embracing us, let us intimately commune with and in Him; and by communing, transform us to be, all together, the version, the image, the person, the likeness, the humans He designed us to be in Him.

Our Lord’s desire for us draws us to this Mass. And when are truly present in this Divine and sacred work—then we are aligning our desire with His desire; our will with His holy will. And then we are making the most of our love, since our love is authentic and real only when it is tied to His love for us.

This desire for Our Lord, drawn by His desire for us; this alignment of our will with His will—this is the foundation of true asceticism, and demands more than any self-restrain or fast or discipline or habit. For His love moves us to give up what we love, and what others say is most important. And Our Lord’s care for us leads us to a true self-care which is located, not in how we improve ourselves, but in what Our Lord offers in order to convert and better us. When we surrender to this love, this compassion and care and desire of God for us, then we are in line and participating in His Spirit and His desire.

From the very beginning, the Spirit has enlightened the Church to perceive and believe that Our Lord’s desire is fully realized not in a mental construct or an emotional experience. Rather, Our Lord’s desire centers around food. In fact, you can say that God created the world as a fruitful garden so that we would eat with Him. For eating with the Holy Trinity is both Our Lord’s desire for us, and the way He honors and nourishes our dual nature of body and soul.

This ‘eating with God’ reaches its highpoint in the Eucharist. ‘That which was visible in Jesus, that which could be seen with the eyes and touched with the hands, his words and his gestures, the concreteness of the incarnate Word — everything of Him had passed into the celebration of the sacraments’—and most specifically, into the Eucharist.

Let us come to see, then, that the Mass guarantees an unparalleled encounter with Christ.

In the Eucharist, Our Lord’s entire being enters into our entire being—both our being as individuals who consume Christ, and our being as those tied together into His one body, the Church. In this way, He bears our burdens as He becomes literally one with us; and we bear one another’s burdens since we all partake together of the one bread and one cup of His body.

The Mass, then, is not some vague memory or commemoration or reminder of the Last Supper all those millennia ago. That kind of historical remembering does us no good. We need the remembrance that draws us into Christ; that places us at the foot of the cross; that immerses us in the full effects of His resurrection.

The remembrance that does us good, then, is His remembrance – where Our Lord sees us and truly desires us, and brings us into His mind and His ever-now, so that we join the Holy Apostles at the Lord’s table.

‘We need to be present at that Supper, to be able to hear his voice, to eat his Body and to drink his Blood. We need Him. In the Eucharist and in all the sacraments we are guaranteed the possibility of encountering the Lord Jesus and of having the power of his Paschal Mystery reach us. The salvific power of the sacrifice of Jesus, his every word, his every gesture, glance, and feeling reaches us through the celebration of the sacraments.’

Then we can say, ‘I am Nicodemus; I am the Samaritan woman at the well; I am the man possessed by demons at Capernaum; I am the sinful woman pardoned; I am the woman healed of hemorrhages; I am the daughter of Jairus raised from the dead; I am Zacchaeus with Christ entering my house; I am Lazarus called from death to life; and I am Peter.’ For like them, I am healed, raised from my dying body, pardoned, renewed, and given boldness, confidence, and fearlessness in the face of death.

Here, then, is the whole reason God became human—He fervently wants us eat with Him. The Lord prepares us to sit with Him by washing and purifying us in the blood which flows from His most sacred heart. And that same blood, together with His life-giving flesh, continues to pardon, to heal, and to save as we consume Him while His love consumes us.

So His desire is more than a heart-felt longing. He invites us to receive the offering of Himself which He Himself offers. This is now Our Lord love us concretely. This is the way He satisfies his own thirst for us, which existed from the moment we were conceived, and which took Him all the way through the cross.

Through the prayers of His saints, may we desire Our Lord as His desire draws us into Him and to each other in Him; to whom belongs all glory, honor, and worship: world without end.

Read More

Celebrating the Ascension 2022

The Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ will be celebrated at St Michael’s this Thursday, June 2, with Mass at 7 p.m. Rosary will precede the Mass at 6:30 p.m.

The Ascension is one of the four major feasts in the liturgical year, behind Easter, Christmas, and Epiphany. With this feast we celebrate not only the close of Christ’s earthly ministry, but also that with the Ascension God the Father has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2.6).

Read More

St Michael to Host Western Rite Conference

St Michael Orthodox Church in Whittier California was honored and excited to host the 2022 Western Rite Conference on behalf of the Western Rite Vicariate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

Early Registration was $200. This price is good only until May 15, 2022. After that, the Regular Registration was $250.

The theme is “The Spirituality of the Transfiguration.” Speakers include Fr Patrick O’Grady, Fr Chad Hatfield, Fr John Mangels, and Fr Edward Hughes. Bishop JOHN will be with us, and Metropolitan JOSEPH has indicated that he will attend.

Details about flights and hotels are listed on the conference website.

St Michael is looking forward to seeing you!

Read More

Holy Flesh

This homily is based on two paragraphs in St Cyril of Alexandria’s commentary on Luke 4.

John 6.1-15

Dearly Beloved:

Observe the efficacy of Our Lord’s holy flesh. Notice how revitalizing and restorative is His blood. For It drives away diseases and a crowd of demons. Christ’s flesh overthrows the power of devils and is capable of healing a great multitude in one instance.

This is why the crowd followed Christ Jesus into the wilderness. And why they camped out at the bottom of the hill.

They followed Him because they had seen His miracles which He did on the diseased;

  • how He had healed the sick,
  • restored sight to the blind,
  • opened the ears of the deaf, and
  • chased away those whose addictions had made an opening for demon possession.

The crowd followed Jesus because they sought relief. For themselves and for their loved ones.

The crowd was camped out because they were desperate. They wanted help. Not a show, but real healing.

Since He is God, Jesus might have said to the crowd, “Fly away, every disease. Be gone, every affliction. Depart and leave, every sorrow.” But he adopted a different approach.

  • To show that His flesh possessed the power of healing,
  • to demonstrate that Our Lord’s human hand is actually the hand of God Himself,
  • to let us know without a shadow of doubt that His skin and bones are infused and interpenetrated with His Godhead so that it is impossible to separate, mentally or actually, His humanity from His divinity—

this is why Our Lord Jesus often reaches out His hand and touches those who are sick, even sometimes without words.

And so when He saw the great company of people, Jesus had compassion. Not just on their bodies destined for the grave. He saw their yearning for God, their desire to believe in Him, and most of all their soul-sickness.

So Jesus comes down to restore. And not just humans, but all creation—the entire universe. His mission is grand. And so it is not limited to human bodies. But it begins there—in a body like ours. A body that He does not put on as a persona, or some identity. But a body which He completely deifies—even as He desires to deify our bodies and souls but His touch, by His word, by His own flesh and blood.

By coming down to meet the crowd, to feed the crowd, to feed us—our Lord shows that His mercy is not just for the body, but also for the soul. His desire is not merely to relieve slight momentary afflictions, but also to seat us together at the table with His Father and the Holy Spirit, and in their fellowship, to also banquet with the saints and angels.

And so, in a precursor of His Supper, Our Lord took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them to His disciples, who then ministered this miraculous life-sustaining bread to those who desired it.

Yet the crowd, like us, have a hard time believing that God is in their midst; that the Son of God is feeding them. They simply thought that a godly human was helping them; and they saw God as a quick fix to their troubles. And because of this, the crowd sees Jesus as a politician, a lottery ticket, one of the superrich who could lower their prices and make easier this temporary life. And so they chased. They did not give thanks. They wanted to force Him to be their king. They did not receive the Lord and His gifts as the Eucharist that He is.

But consider this: If Jesus’ hand can heal the sick and multiply bread and fishes, think of what happens when we receive our Blessed Lord’s flesh and blood, His humanity and divinity, His body and soul, into our own flesh in the Holy Mystery of Communion. For when He enters us and we receive Him with a sincere and true heart, confident that the bread and wine have been changed and transubstantiated by the Holy Spirit into His life-saving body and blood—then He will quench the fever of unbefitting and distorted pleasures; He will raise us up to newness of life; and He will strengthen our minds and hearts, as well as our bodies, to see us through life’s hardness and sorrows.

Just as that human hand by which Christ heals the sick is, in truth, the hand of God—in the same way, by His Spirit, the bread which we consume and the cup from which we drink, is now the body and blood of that same Jesus whose hand absorbed diseases, whose feet walked on water, whose touch soothed the anxious and disturbed, whose mouth spoke mercy deep into the hearts of the troubled.

His same flesh and blood is the Living Bread which came down from heaven. His flesh is actually what fulfilling food is. His blood is actually what refreshing drink is. For when we receive it, we receive God Himself.

Let us then take hold not of this rite. Let us take hold of Christ in the way He gives Himself to us. Let us take Him at His word, firmly and devoutly believing that the Son of God, in His human flesh inseparable from His divine self, is being placed into our mouths.

And then let us live from this food. For that is why we limit how much we eat during Lent; and why we deny ourselves certain pleasures; and why we spend more time in church and in prayer; and why we give away what we have and work for. We do these things because we see that the Holy Communion is the food of all foods. And that we will never go hungry, if we have nothing else to eat except the bread with His Christ’s flesh and the wine which is His blood.

Let Christ’s hand, then, hold us. And let us take hold of Him in this place by means of the mystical Eucharist, giving thanks to God for this holy food. For it can free us from sickness of the soul, from the despair of the mind, from heartache and sorrow, and from the assaults of demons. The flesh and blood of Christ can free us—just as His touch helped the diseased. And, more than that, Christ’s flesh in the Eucharist will raise us up on the last day. For this is His promise: “Everyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life; and I will raise them up at the last day.”

To whom, with His Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Read More

Into the Temple

A Candlemas Homily

Dearly Beloved:

The holy prophet Malachi urges us to be ready when “the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple.” But that day is not today. That day will come, but not today. Today Our Lord comes into His temple quietly, without fanfare, as an infant. To fulfill a law that does not apply to Him. And it does not apply to the Virgin Mother. Because Our Lord’s birth was not a cursed birth where the womb was opened with bloodshed. And so, both boy and mother do not need to be purified and sanctified. Our Lord with His holy mother enter the temple, then, not because they must, but because He wants to be seen as the light of God living in all humanity; that is, the salvation prepared for all peoples, languages, ethnicities, and nations.

So today, exactly forty days after His birth, the Blessed Virgin and Joseph bring the baby Jesus to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord. It is a joyful day, a day of thanksgiving. For Mary especially, the joy and thanksgiving exceeds the joy and thanksgiving of any other mother. For she holds in her arms God Himself in the flesh. She carries the One who will carry and bear and take away the sin of the world.

Yet notice how they celebrate—by killing animals, by sacrificing pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. What a strange way to show joy and give thanks! Yet the sacrifice is not just some ancient custom they mindlessly do. These sacrifices point forward to the way the Lord’s mercy, help, and salvation comes. By His later sacrifice and death, coupled with the putting to death and sacrificing of our ungodly desires, our fears and self-serving ambitions, everything that we think matters more than this tiny Christ Child—that is the path of our salvation; the way we will gain what we lost.

Into the temple, then, the Holy Family goes to perform a duty that is not required for them; a sacrifice that does not purify but that anticipates the purification of the entire world; a sacrifice that makes holy everyone washed in this Child’s blood. Truly, then, this is for us a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

And who is there waiting for Jesus and His parents? It is Simeon, a just and devout man. He was waiting for the Consolation of Israel, the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Simeon is there because it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Notice the juxtaposition of the old man and the divine Child. Just as Our Lord Jesus comes to the temple, Simeon comes by the Spirit into the temple. God comes to the old man, and the old man goes to greet God. The old man will cradle God in His arms, just as God will embrace and hold fast the old man.

As Simeon enters, he is full of anticipation and expectation. For He eagerly looks forward to beholding not simply the fulfillment of some ancient promise, but the actual salvation and mercy of God embodied in this nursing infant.

Learn from old St. Simeon. He not only knows that the Lord sticks to His Word. Simeon also knows where that promise is kept, where his heart’s desire is given, where his longings and expectations come true, and where he can latch onto and cling to the God and Savior that he so desperately desires.

But don’t just learn from Simeon. Imitate his faith and confidence. For what Simeon hopes for and sees comes true today, right in front of your eyes. By entering His temple in this place, the same Christ Jesus stands before your eyes. Here, in this place, you also Behold the Lamb of God, you also behold Him that takest away the sins of the world. And so also, if you can believe it, if your mind’s eyes are opened to see this Light of the world—you also get to cradle here, in this place, that same Christ Child, that same God and Savior, not only mentally or emotionally, but really and truly as He speaks through His ministers, and even more so as His flesh and blood are placed in your mouth.

Imitate the eagerness, the longing and the joy of Simeon. He is moved to take the baby Jesus in his arms and bless God. Yet what a strange blessing Simeon speaks to God. He says, “Lord, now I can die in peace. For just as You said, my eyes now see Your salvation.” What does this mean? It is as Simeon is saying this:

“O Lord, no longer do I pin my hopes to a promise I cannot see or a wish I hope for. Salvation is now alive and real, before my eyes, in my arms, ready for me to partake. For salvation is this Child who is the only-begotten Son of God. And just as the priests prepare the Lamb for sacrifice, in this way Thou hast prepared Him before the face of all people. For He comes to the temple, the place of Holy Sacrifice, to be, for our salvation, ‘a pure victim, a holy victim, a spotless victim, the holy Bread of eternal life, and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.’ So now I can rejoice that our Lord is here and that His sacrifice is eminent. And in His sacrifice, this Jesus is the light that reveals Thy grace and kindness to all nations. And in His blood, He shows that is the glory of Thy Israel, Thy Church. In Him, then, I greatly rejoice. For He is everything I hoped He would be, the salvation I have desired.”

What a blessing Simeon speaks. And in it, we see true worship. For Simeon takes the Lord at His Word. The old man does not know how it will all play out, but he is confident that this Child is the Father’s sacrifice prepared for the salvation of all mankind. And with that he is content—to the extent that he now longs for death. Not just because he has seen it all, but because he now holds in his arms the Life of the world. And when you hold to Christ the Life of all the living, death no longer has a hold on you.

Imitate, then, the worship of St. Simeon. Take to heart the Word Our Lord speaks and gives to you. Take in the Christ Child as He places His own flesh and blood within your flesh and blood. Receive Him as He comes to you, as He makes good on His promise, as He keeps His Word. And then relax, knowing that the Lord has made known to you also His salvation, and revealed to you the glory which is His sacrificed Son; to whom with the Father in the Holy Spirit belongs all glory, honor and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Read More

The Gift for God

An Epiphany Day homily
Matthew 2.1-12

The day when God pulled off the greatest wonder of all time by interweaving and interlocking and interpenetrating our flesh with His divinity;

the day when a virgin—think of that, a virgin—became the Mother of God and, at the same time, retained her virginity forever;

the day when the God the Word became a speechless infant;

the day when the Creator made Himself a creature;

the day when the Messiah promised for centuries finally arrived in our world;

the day when the Governor and Monarch of the entire cosmos was found lying in a manger;

the day when the Almighty became a vulnerable baby capable of suffering and death;

the day when the Mediator between God and human beings bridged the unbridgeable gap by becoming completely human while not laying aside an ounce of His divinity—

that day; that glorious day; that day that exceeds all days in joy and gladness—

that day is so revered that its celebration cannot be confined to just one day; or eight days; or twelve days.

Our celebration must now be extended another week so that we can both ponder and rejoice in this mystery that not only brings our redemption, but also lets us be the humans we were designed to be—women and men capable of receiving God, containing God in our soul, and approaching God with boldness and confidence.

And so, the Feast of the Epiphany prolongs our joy of Christmas, even as it reveals to us another aspect of Our Lord’s extraordinary incarnation.

What gift is suitable, appropriate, and right for the one who holds all life in the hollow of His hand? And if God has all, why offer Him anything?

Part of that aspect is that experts who point out where God in the flesh is to be found—in Bethlehem of Judaea as written by the prophets—these experts refuse to believe their own truthful testimony, and the prophets who told them; and so they stay put while the Magi venture forth to find the One revealed by a miraculous star.

Yet not just these experts, but also a king—who is so afraid of his own demise, afraid that someone might take away all that he has, a fool whose soul will be required after he had a chance to prepare—this king will also lie about wanting to following the Magi, not to adore Life Himself, the Living Bread come down to heaven, the King of the Angels; but rather to murder and destroy Him—incredibly believing that he alone can do what no Satan could do—that he, as a puppet king of the Romans, can somehow kill God.

But the Magi—they are unmindful of inconvenience or threats or evil machinations. They are single minded in both reaching the star’s destination, and in adoring the baby who was promised to other people, yet prophesied as savior of all nations.

And what do these Magi wish to do? Treat a stable as if it were a king’s palace. Approach a manger as if it were a throne. Kneel before, and adore, and worship a cooing infant as if he had issued life-altering proclamations. And then present the King of heaven and earth with a few precious gifts—precious and costly and dignifying to them, but meager and inconsequential to the Lord they adored.

Remember what the Lord says: the whole world is mine, and all that is therein. Thinkest thou that I will eat bulls’ flesh, and drink the blood of goats?

So, what do you give to the almighty who holds all things in His hands, and who has no need for anything, and who can create from nothing everything He wants? What gift is suitable, appropriate, and right for the one who holds all life in the hollow of His hand? And if that is the case, why offer God anything?

And the Magi know this. You can see it in their relentless pursuit of the star. You can see it in their belief in the Scripture prophecies from the scribes. And you can see it in the gifts they offer—especially the frankincense. For the Magi know and believe that they are bowing not before the up-and-coming King of the Jews. They know and believe that they are genuflecting in the stable-temple, toward the manger-tabernacle, before God Himself.

The Magi believe that they are genuflecting in the stable-temple, toward the manger-tabernacle, before God Himself.

Yet they still offer Him meaningful gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh—all for the Child that they are proclaiming, by their gifts, is God the King come in the flesh in order to die for the redemption and salvation of not just people, but particularly for those three.

The greatest present, however, is their presence. For they know that God has all that exists, and that an infant can do nothing with what they give. But their kneeling, their adoration, they determined faith, their trust in the star’s preaching—that is their truest, most authentic, and best offering, sacrifice, and gift.

And this should be a relief to us. For God has given us all we have, even our life itself, not to take it back; but so that we might know that He is the giver, and thereby adore Him with the gift of ourselves—in His church-temple, kneeling before His Eucharist-tabernacle, adoring the Word made flesh made the Bread of Heaven into to transform us into His own dear brothers and sisters.

What shall we give, then, to the Lord for all that He has given to us? Shall we not imitate the Magi? We should. We must. And so, like them, we should offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the Most High. And we should receive the cup of salvation. And we should call upon the name of the Lord.

And as we revere the mysteries devoted to our salvation—the mystery of the Incarnation, and the mystery of Christ before you in the Mass and placed in you in the Eucharist—as we reverse these holy mysteries, let us not be content merely with showing up and giving thanks with our lips.

For the Magi did not simply offer themselves, their worship, and their gifts. They also “went home by another way.” Spiritually, that other way was a changed heart, a mind set on the things of God, a fearless desire, and a faith, hope, and love aimed not at what benefited them here and now, but at what aided others and assisted their salvation.

The worship of the mysteries, the adoration of Christ in His sacraments—that also should urge us to “go home by another way.” As the Magi turned away from Herod and the selfishness he shows, we can heed St Paul and abstain from carnal desires—pride, wrath, greed, lust, envy, despondency, gluttony—which wage war against the soul. Yet it is not enough to turn aside. Like the Magi, our hearts should be filled with love for the chaste life, since Christ is the Son of a Virgin. And we should be as little children with respect to wickedness, because the Lord of glory conformed himself to the infancy of mortals. And we should earnestly pursue true humility—the humility we see both in the Christ Child and in the Magi. And finally, like the persistent and unwavering Magi, we should clothe ourselves in patience—as well as fearlessness, not letting anxiety overwhelm us, but praying that the Lord increase in us faithful perseverance and godliness. (from St Leo the Great Epiphany sermon, paraphrased)

In this way, we offer such sacrifices to God as are well-pleasing. And, above all else, we will increase our joy on this glorious feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ; to whom, with His Faither, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: world without end.

Read More

Who Has Heard Such Things?

Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord
Midnight Mass Homily

Something strange has happened.

A virgin gives birth yet retains her virginity.
A mother bears a child before she is in labor.
A woman delivers a son but suffers no birth pangs.
A child is born, but no blood is shed.
A son begins his life yet has no earthly father.

Who has heard such a thing?
Who has seen such things?

God, who has no beginning, is born of a human mother.
Him, whom the whole cosmos cannot contain, comes forth from his mother’s womb.
The Word through whom all things were made make Himself one of His own creatures.

God becomes one of us.
To suffer our pains
To be tempted like we are
To experience our sorrows
To feel our hurts
To endure our weakness
To die our death.

He takes on our every weakness, He is vulnerable like we are
In order to exchange our death for His life
In order to swap our sickness for His healing
In order to trade our apathy for His love.

So, the holy child is born—something strange indeed.
The Son of God is human—remarkable, earth-shattering, and strange.

And this is all for you. For your good.
To relieve you in your distress
To comfort you in your anxiety
To aid you in your hardship
To console you in your fear
To gladden you in your misery
To encourage you in your time of need
To forgive your secret sins; and
To save you from yourself and everything that threatens you.

For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, the grace of God—God Himself—in flesh like yours, like mine.

The grace that is God appears as a child to rescue us from ourselves by being the rescue we don’t even think we need.

This God of all grace settles down and lives not just among us, but in skin and bones like ours, so that He might both experience what we go through and, even better, bring us closer, into a most intimate union, with Himself and His Father in the Holy Spirit.

And so the God of all grace—the Ideal Man, the Human we were designed to be—He is born to invite you to sit with Him in heavenly places.

Imagine that—
material beings sitting in the immaterial heaven
souls encased in flesh sitting with, and above, the bodiless spirits
lives that can choose to love now being chosen to reside in Love Himself.

Christ is born so that you can share in His eternal glory.
Christ is born so that you may live as God.

For even though we die, because of His birth we get to be sons of the Most Highest
Born as He was—by an act of love and grace
Born as He was—by the will of the Father
Born as He was—into life everlasting.

And so, Christ is born, in order to restore, establish, perfect, strengthen and settle you.
And Christ is born, so that you might live for higher things
For the blessed hope
To see, with your eyes, God Himself
And to live in a love that exceeds your imagination

And so, God is born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem us who are slaves to the law of sin and death.

This is a strange thing indeed.

And it is a miracle greater than medicines, or even resuscitation from the dead, or anything else that we think is so great.

This is the miracle of God breaking into our world,
Not to break us, but to restore us
Not to punish us, but to shower us with His kindness
Not to threaten us or guilt us, but to love us into Himself.

Rejoice, then. For Christ is born!
Not just then, but also now.
Not just for them, but for you.
Not just in that place, but here on this altar, so that He might be born also in your heart.

So let us all rejoice with the angels, glorifying God.
For God has done what we could never have thought to do.

And with the birth of His Son, He has bent the laws of nature to our advantage.

Rejoice then, all who have been justified freely by grace.
It is the birthday of the just one!
Rejoice, all who were weak and sick.
It is the birthday of the Savior, the Healer!
Rejoice, all who are captive to their own ungodly desires.
It is the birthday of the Redeemer who makes your way of escape!
Rejoice, all who are enslaved to fear and anxiety.
It is he birthday of the One who comforts and settles you!
Rejoice, all who are freed from sin and fear.
It is the birthday of the One who set you free!
Rejoice, all who are weighed down.
It is the birthday of the One who bears and carries and takes away your burdens.
Rejoice, all who are confused about your place in life.
It is the birthday of the Beloved Son who invites you to live in and through Him!
Rejoice, all who feel worthless and unloved.
It is the birthday of the One who, in baptism, sets you as the Beloved of the Father who takes pleasure in you as you are.
Rejoice, all who suffer in hardship or distress.
It is the birthday of the One who born to relieve and revive you!
Rejoice, every Christian.
It is the birthday of Christ!

Read More

Waiting for the Savior

A homily for the First Sunday in Advent

Luke 21.25-33

We are waiting for the Savior. These words from St Paul to the Philippians perfectly fit the Advent mood the Church wishes to inculcate in us. So these are words we should do more than simply hear and then nod our heads. We are waiting for the Savior should be a motto to live by, a simple sentence that shapes every decision, every desire.

We are waiting for our Savior, Christ Jesus. So let us wait not down hearted, not in dread. And certainly not nonchalantly, unconcerned, with detachment, without forethought, and not as an agreeable thought that never affects our daily routine. But we get to wait with uplifted hearts, uplifted heads, with eager expectation, with joyful anticipation. And with the excitement, the confidence, the belief that our Lord is coming, and that his advent will usher us into a better world.

So, let us wait with hope, believing that our Lord’s arrival will bring us good things. That is what hope is: believing that good things await us in the life to come.

Our weakness, and so our challenge, is that we don’t really wait. At least not for the Lord. And not for his imminent return or arrival. Most days it’s the furthest thing from our mind, a barely noticed twinge in our hearts. And when the Lord’s advent comes into our minds, when someone or some event reminds us of this possibility, then as quickly as it enters, we push the thought out. Why? On the one hand, we’d rather not be reminded of our mortality, that our days are numbered and will end. On the other hand, we don’t want to face the truth that we’re living our life in the wrong direction – head down, focused by the things that break, fade, mold; and diverted from the things that truly matter most.

And so, we impatiently seek happiness in the affairs of this present life. Instead of looking up, setting our eyes on Jesus, we make every effort to snatch the prizes this world offers: prizes that really do us no lasting good. We gladly receive the goods this life offers while rarely acknowledging and thanking the Giver. We do not truly look for the good and perfect gift that comes from the Father of lights, but instead we think we’ve stumbled upon the good life because of what our hands have worked for and our minds have done.

Blessed are the women and men who take no notice of the spurious and empty foolishness that this world falsely promises. Blessed are those who are able to live beyond the things that distract, beyond the misspent desires, beyond the misdirected loves. These are blessed because they know it is better to become humble with the meek than to share in the vain promises of the proud, the greedy, and the powerful.

Those are truly blessed who say not just with their lips but deeply within themselves, “The Lord is my portion so I will wait for him. The Lord is good to everyone that trusts in him and longs for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good to sit quietly readying the soul to greet the Lord.”

The first step in waiting for the Lord is to deny yourself, to deny your flesh by fasting and prayer. There are other steps. But this first step of fasting coupled with prayer cannot be skipped or done halfheartedly if you truly wish to await the Lord’s advent. For this first step gives you the strength and courage to lift up your head above all the things in this life.

Lift up your head means, live not for the peace and contentment this world can never give. To lift up your head means to live for the best life, the life in God, where everything we have is a gift—not something we have to dwell on, or strive for. But all is a gift given to always directs our heart and mind and whole being in thanksgiving towards God.

We are waiting, St Paul says, because our citizenship is not here but in heaven. We are waiting because we believe that this life is a prelude that trains and sets our way for the life to come. And so, we wait with the confidence that our abiding place is in heaven, from where our Savior will come in order to bring us into himself. And then we will be able to say with Isaiah: “Behold, this is our God; We have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord; We have waited for Him; We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”

That was the hope of the Old Testament church. They waited with joy and gladness for the salvation that the Christ child would come to bring. Certainly they wavered, oftentimes they got lost. But when they leaned into the Lord’s promises, they were eager for his advent. His first advent. In the manger. In our flesh. On our earth.

His second advent will not be all that different. In our flesh, on our earth, our Lord will come to let us see and understand fully and without hesitation what he has already accomplished in his first advent. He will come not so much to complete, but to help us see what has always been. He will come to give the fullness of the gifts he has already given, a fullness that we have if only we believe. Rare saints have been blessed with seeing this Lord’s coming, saints like John the Evangelist when he saw what the Lord’s coming looks like, and described it in the book of the Revelation. The record of John’s vision is this: everything we think that matters here and now will fall away and be displaced with the unending glorious Mass where nothing can harm or threaten or frighten.

When will this day occur? When you and I, individually, have been given a time for true repentance. For that is what the Lord awaits. He waits, he delays—not to toy with us, not to build character within us, but so that we might be truly ready when he comes. Time for true repentance for many of us, for myself especially, takes a long time. For true repentance is not about feeling guilty or constantly apologizing. True repentance is living in gratitude for the Lord coming into this place, this church, where his kingdom comes, so that we together might receive his flesh and blood in order to give courage and faith to our weakened body and soul.

So, the day of the Lord’s second advent begins with the reception of his body – the body he assumed from us in his first advent, in the manger, in Bethlehem.

Waiting for Christ, then, begins here at the altar. Where we practice for heaven. Where we learn to lay aside all earthly cares—all tweets and buzzes and notifications and messages and ring tones—that force our head down. The more we can disengage, the more we will be living toward the end, and for the end—in the time of true repentance, with heads and hearts uplifted.

May Christ our true God, by his Holy Spirit, grant us time, and the godly desire to desire his advent. To whom, by the prayers of the saints, belongs all glory, honor, and worship, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Read More

Dinner with Bishop John

His Grace Bishop John, the bishop of the Western Rite Vicariate, will visit St Michael’s on the weekend of September 25-26. During His Grace’s visit, he will ordain a new subdeacon and bless the icons which will complete the icon project for the Sanctuary and Nave.

Following the Sunday Mass (September 26), a dinner honoring Bishop John will be offered. A Taco Truck will provide and safely serve several different street tacos, together with various accompaniments. Tickets for the dinner are $15 per person or $40 per family. In addition, those with means may sponsor guests and those with limited resources by donating additional tickets.

Purchase or sponsor tickets

The schedule for His Grace’s visit is as follows:

    • 9 a.m. – Solemn Reception of the Bishop
    • 9:10 a.m. – Mass with ordination of a subdeacon
    • 10:30 a.m. – Parish Council meeting
    • 4:00 p.m. – Holy Hour of Adoration
    • 5:00 p.m. – Vespers with Benediction
    • 9:15 a.m. – Lauds
    • 10:00 a.m. – Mass with blessing of new icons
    • 11:30 p.m. – Dinner with Bishop John as Guest of Honor

The icons that will be installed and blessed include 10 females saints and an icon of the Last Judgment. These icons will be visible on the west end of the church temple.

Read More

Why Celebrate Mary?

Bernadine, an Italian priest and holy man, reminds us that Holy Church is entirely indebted to the Blessed Virgin Mary; because through her we have been judged worthy to receive Christ.

This means, first of all, that Mary is not a minor character in the story of Christ. In her womb, our Lord knits our human nature to His divine nature. From her, He receives all the tenderness that the best of humanity can lavish upon God. By her, He sees what we can truly be if we only give ourselves utterly and completely to the Lord’s will, trusting that He truly wants the best for us—even when Life is threatened, even when Life suffers, even when Life looks defeated, even when Life Himself dies. Mary still says, “Let it be to me according to thy Word”—confident that her Son and His Father have everything necessary in hand.

So, Mary is an integral part of Christ’s story—of Christ Himself. Without her, He has no humanity. And without her, we have nothing holy, nothing pure, nothing worthy to offer the Father as a token—a small but necessary token—of repairing the evil we endure and the evil we participate in.

Holy Church is entirely indebted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. We are in her debt, because when the Father chose her, among all women; when He blessed her to be His Son’s Mother; when He determined that, of the billions, she was the one—this Holy Mother did not resist, or lose heart, or go her own way, or waver. She said, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” And in living that, she taught Son to do the same.

Mary is vital to Christ’s life. And so vital to our life in Christ. Not just because she is His mother, but also as His human role model; and a model for us as well. And not just because she nursed Him, but also because she shaped His human character—and shapes our life in Christ.

Yet who shaped Mary? Certainly, her parents, Joachim and Anna. Their faith is legendary, and worth our attention. For like their ancestors before them—like Sarah and Rebecca, like Hannah and Rachel—the parents of the Virgin Mary trusted in God even when all looked lost.

So, Mary’s generation, her ancestors whom you heard recounted in the Gospel reading—these generations are also worthy of our admiration. Sometimes despite their sin and lack of faith. Sometimes because of their courage and faith when it was most needed. Abraham, David, Bathsheba, and Ruth—just to name a few—they are also judged worthy by God because of Mary’s holy and humble assent.

And with them, we are judged worthy. A people worthy of reclamation. A creation worthy of restoration. A society of men and women worthy of being incorporated in Christ. A humanity worthy of being divinized, able to sit with Christ Jesus in heavenly places.

Who knew, then, that when Adam gave that snarky reply; when the first man tried to blame both God and Eve in one sentence; when he refused to own up to his role as protector and tried to fob everything off on the so-called ‘weakness of women’—who knew that his words were prophetic. For what did Adam say? “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.

This statement intended for accusation, now in Mary points to our salvation. And her holiness. And our debt to her. For, blessed above all women, Mary is the woman whom God has given to be with us. She gives us the fruit of the Tree of Life. For blessed is the fruit of her womb, Jesus. And from her hand we get to taste and see that the Lord is good. From her and through her and with her, we partake of the same God who grew in her womb, and nursed at her breasts. From her we learn to carry Christ in our hearts by faith. And from her, to whom the Son of God Himself was subject and obedient—from her we learn true faith and obedience, and above all true humanity.

Since we owe her so much, it is fitting, then, that we celebrate the birthday of Our Lady, the Queen of heaven—the woman who delivers Joy to the whole world. And the best celebration is not merely to speak of her, but even more so to imitate her now by ascribing all glory, honor, and worship to her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ: who is adored and glorified with His Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost: ever one God, world without end.

Read More