Coming to lent is drawing near to the fountain of salvation which we have received from God the Father, in Christ’s public ministry, deeds, words, and in His Passion, death and Resurrection.
Lent is the door to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ, How can I begin telling you about the importance, the beauty and the joy of living an effective Lent, when most of the time you may not get to read this article until late, or never? Or when Faith in your heart is turned off by the noise of this world filled with sadness and anger at God and his Holy Church. Or when the love in the hearts of people has dimmed and turned into hypocrisy, into love with benefits or into sexual passions and desires of the flesh?
There is a great difficulty preaching the Christian Message today in the world, no question.
Nations are teaching and indoctrinating people in today’s world that the Church, in its foundation, was either a lie, an escape from real heroism, or a parasite that always made the rich feel guilty, and the poor, who are regarded as lazy, an obstacle to personal earning and the right
to grow and possess. In fact, we hear the word entitlement a lot in order to protect one’s personal right to reject or to refuse and deny help for others.
Let me first tell you this: I am not for false sympathy, nor for a free meal. I am not preaching to take away from the personal earning, nor to make anyone feel guilty. This is meant to educate you in order to act in full accordance with the will of God and in full Christian Conscience.
Giving money is not always the answer to people’s needs. Sometimes, even lots of times, propaganda and people try to take advantage of our personal money. Many times people come to us with false needs, and with vicious intention in order to alienate our emotions and make us feel guilty to give, but not for the right reasons. These people are partly evil. We, as faithful, need to avoid them. However, the help we offer, is food, is refuge, is compassion and most of all is Christ who we offer to people in need.
It happens a lot that someone will be sent with false pretense to seek our help. In these circumstances, I practically always say: I may not have money but I have food. If you need a lodge, I can put you in hotel. I can call an ambulance or the police for you if you need assistance.
Money is a subject that is very hard to discern. We see false people ask for money saying they are hungry, but turn down food and only want money and nothing else. We do have the right to discern their needs and we do not need to feel obligated to answer them on the spot.
This being now out of the way, I have in my church an entire closet filled with bags of stored and non-perishable food cans that the local community and the Church of Saint Bernadette in Lakewood have helped me to keep in order not to turn anyone away who needs food and assistance. On a weekly basis, at the Church of Saint Rafka, we have someone who comes to the door and says: Father can I do something and in return earn my day and eat. In fact with these people we have developed the kindest relationship and a way to enlighten these people and to heal them from many hidden diseases of the soul and mind. This is a source of joy for me and my community that we are able to do this.
Last night, I received a call from the Chaldean Bishop of Beirut about a middle aged only provider father of an Iraqi refugee Chaldean Catholic Refugee who is in need of an open heart surgery in Lebanon. The bishop told me many Christian association like Red Cross and Caritas are trying to help but they are still short of money and they found out that the Apostolate of Our Lady of Hope, known as the St. Rafka Mission of Hope and Mercy can help with the medical expense. (In last year alone we helped 29 Iraqi and Syrian refugees, some with major medical needs like cancer.) Of course, our Mission will help. Of course, we don't have enough money but money will come because many good people will help.
Let us now go deeper with our matter about Lent, poor and rich, and the Kingdom of God. I feel that today, as we enter the Season of Great Lent, we need to face ourselves and ask God help us move past our perception of his silence. We need to ask him to open our eyes to see his face and open our ears to hear his voice. Will God come to defend the weak and the poor? Will God come to the rescue of the needy and the oppressed? Will there ever be a Good Year pleasing to the Lord? Will God ever dry the tears of the broken hearted, of the widow, of the orphan, of the sick, and of the rejected and unjustly imprisoned? Will God ever make Good overcome evil in every day’s life?
This is the challenge of Christianity in the world: Through fasting and prayer, through mortification and acts of true charity, through repentance and going to Mass, though devotions and obedience to God and his Holy commandments, through unity and the love of spiritual poverty, Christians will bring God to all the world in Glory, in Joy, in full blessing and in full grace.
Is God somehow absent because Christians are not acting right? Or because evil is so strong?
According to the Book of Ecclesiastes, (8: 5- 9:10), evil seems to win the fight over what is good in the daily experiment of life. The Author of the Ecclesiastes states clearly the following when speaking about vanity by means of “injustice”: “Meanwhile I saw wicked men approach and enter, and as they left the sacred place, they were praised in the city for what they had done. This also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 8:10). My brothers and sisters, on earth there is no exemption from struggle as the Holy Book of Ecclesiastes teaches us. However, in the perception of what is just and fair in life, it seems that the poor get more poor and that the rich earns more richness and that fairness and balance are lacking and relatively absent.
As we are entering the Season of Lent, I want you to know that it is up to you and to your conscience to consider the matter of social justice and equality. It is also up to you and your conscience to realize God’s kingdom on earth through your acts of goodness and charity. This is why the church recommends alms giving during Lent. This is why the Church teaches us to fast as a mean to sympathize with the poor, feel their needs, help with their need, and remind ourselves that everything under the sun is Vanity except love is not. Love is the seed that we take from this life into eternal Life.
Something happened to me this week which has caused me to write to you about this matter of the Christian conscience of the poor and the rich, as the tool that will lead the world through the turmoil of death and evil into the Divine Justice and the fullness of Joy and Peace.
A couple of days ago, a rich man called me and as we were addressing an argument of hypocrisy and manipulation on his end he answered laughing: “Father remember, I’ve got the money, I've got the Power”. I felt speechless and deeply disturbed. How do I respond to false words? I could have said, “You may have power and money here on earth, the final saying is mine for as Jesus says to Peter and his successors in the priesthood in the Gospel of Matthew 16:19: “To You I will give the keys of the Kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”. I didn’t. As a priest, I could have kept this man, this friend of mine, out of the Kingdom of God. I did not.
Instead, I felt compassion for him. I knew the right way. Sending him to the fires of Hell is not my job even though it is my authority
My job as a priest is to pray for sinners, to discern between the evil power that wrestles inside the hearts of my children, both rich and poor, and to carry them into the sacrifice of Christ at Mass for the salvation of their souls, the peace in their hearts and their everlasting life.
God spoke to me immediately telling me: “Do not be angry, do not use your power, do not use your authority over him in a negative way. Remember, all authority in Heaven and on earth have been given to me. You are my steward not the judge. Save his soul and do not condemn it.” So, I laughed in my heart and I knew that my rich friend is foolish and stupid.
I also knew this is beside the point because he also is a son of mine in Christ. It is my love for him to save him and save his soul. I referred to my conscience and not to my desire of aggression. So my real outspoken answer to him was: “God bless you enjoy your power and your money and learn to do what is right.”
My brothers and sisters, this the difference between the children of the world and us, the children of the Kingdom of Heaven: We know the Kingdom of Heaven is, and it will come and there will be justice and green pasture and no pain and Peace and eternal life and full love for all. The children of this world do not know. For they are ignorant for once, and they are foolish and selfish for second and third. But it is our power to redeem them not to condemn them.
We work for the real Boss: God of life and of death. It is up to Him to judge, to save and to condemn. We cannot and must not starve the rich people and the powerful and the children of the world from the grace of God. We shall educate their conscience and not condemn them. We shall lead and beg for their resources and goodness of heart in order for them to wake up and realize that the Keys of the Kingdom will not open by money and power but by the ministry of the priest, the apostle of Christ, the tears of the poor and the oppressed, the persecuted ones for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, the blood of the martyrs and the prayers, sacrifices, penance and acts of mortifications of the holy ones on this earth. This is why I invite us all in this Lent to be joyful and happy. To deepen our faith in God and our love for one another.
Do not lack in showing care and manifest kindness toward one another and toward the church.
In our church, there will be many poor in need for your help. The church itself needs your support and resources. Remember to actively use your talent, your time and your treasure as means that will enable God to be present in the midst of his People. The more you act in accordance with the Christian conscience in the full obedience to the Holy Church, the more you will be called the children of the kingdom of my Father, the Blessed and Holy ones of God, the Holy Nation of the Almighty, the Redeemed people and the priestly nation. The Nation of prophets and kings and queens. The free children of God.
However, it all will start here and now. Fast, repent, carry your cross, love God and your neighbor, love even your enemy, forgive people’s sins, sell your things if you can and give it to the poor and come and follow Christ. For His is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory with His Father and his Holy Spirit forever. Amen.
May we all have a blessed and joyful Lent. Let us walk to the Resurrection of the Lord by embracing the pain of the Holy and Redeeming Passion and death on the Cross.