saints and sinners

Lives of the saints are valuable not only for the virtue they reveal but also
for the less admirable qualities that also appear.
Holiness is a gift of God to us as human beings.
Life is a process.
We respond to God’s gift, but sometimes with a lot of zigzagging.
If Cyril had been more patient and diplomatic,
the Nestorian church might not have risen and maintained power so long.
But even saints must grow out of immaturity, narrowness, and selfishness.
It is because they—and we—do grow, that we are truly saints,
persons who live the life of God.

(Franciscan Media)


(icon of St Cyril of Alexandria)

I will readily admit that there are many folks out there who ardently dismiss the notion
of saints, sainthood and what all that sort of thinking entails…
With the dismissal of thought coming from both sides of the aisle…the aisle of
Believers and non-believers alike.

Non-believers just love hitting up Believers with arguments around the whole concept of
saints and sainthood…

As in who merits being let into the special club of sainthood and who doesn’t?
Who sets the determining standards and factors?
Who gets the right to say yay or nay?
Can you de-saint someone if you determine they were more screwup than up and up?
With the kicker remark being…” and so, these saints of yours, are they suppose to have
some sort of superpowers which makes them saint worthy?”

And if anyone really studies much history then the actions of many of these so-called
“saints” comes flying into question.
As in…was this person more rouge or saint or both?

We go through life hearing phrases about living a saintly or Godly life.
We hear stories of those selfless good deeds matched often with some sort of
other-worldly gifts.

There are even various denominations which are more prone to recognize the lives of saints…
those being mainly both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faiths…along with
Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Anglicans…
Denominations that have long been looked at sideways for this saint fascination of theirs.

Yet there are many a Protestant who will refer to Peter and Paul,
as well as a handful of others, as “Saints”

And remember… many a denomination recognizes All Saints Day on the Christian calendar.

But this isn’t a post about whether or not Saints are real or not.
Meaning the person may have been real, but should they be classified in a particular
category of Godliness?

It’s not a post about miracles or the lack thereof.
It’s not a post about virtue or perfection.
And it’s not a post about what is or what isn’t the proper Chrisitan doctrine regarding
this whole to be or not to be saint business.

Far from it.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are well known “saints” and not so well known saints.
There are saints who are recognized by both the Latin West (think Catholic) and Eastern Orthodox
faiths… while some saints are not recognized hardly at all.

There are even saints which all denominations will claim while others are claimed by
a mere handful.

All of which can make this saint business even more confusing for a Believer…and let’s
not even go over to the nonbelieving side as there is simply not enough time nor energy…

Suffice it in knowing that things can be fuzzy at best when trying to figure out
who is whom and what is what.

Yesterday I caught a posting on “the saint of the day” by the Felician Sisters CSSF blog
that gave me considerable pause to ponder…
https://cssfinternational.wordpress.com

Being a lover of history and always fascinated by those who blazed the various trails of
long ago…
those scoundrels, scallywags, and glorified who each fought the good fight while
affording all of us more or less today the freedom to worship, or not, as we please…
I was most interested in learning about this early 4th century Patriarch of Alexandria
who was later known as “Saint and Doctor of the Chruch.”

However, we should note that it wasn’t until many centuries later that Cyril actually
made the cut in both the Latin West and Eastern branches of faith…
becoming recognized by the Chruch as a saint and Doctor of the faith in 1882.

I will confess that St Cyril of Alexandria, despite his deep roots in the early Church,
was not top on my radar.

And so it wasn’t so much his teachings, his biography, his fight against heresy or even his
rush to those knee-jerk responses to that said heresy of which has left some of his actions
somewhat questionable–actions and teachings best sorted out by historians…
rather it was what the Franciscan media noted in regard to Cyril and that of his slightly
off-putting and less than saintly ways, that made the greatest impression on my reading
of the day.

The idea that both Holiness is a gift from God and that life is a process.
And that it is our response to the gift, of which comes with a great deal of “zig-zagging,”
is what this is all really about.

Hindsight, time and clarity so often provides those of us more modern-day folks
with a better vision as to what once was…
But with that hindsight, time and clarity comes a certain level of smugness and arrogance.
A smugness and arrogance that falsely allows us to think we are better than,
smarter than and wiser than those who trod before us…and in that lies a danger.

A danger in thinking that we need no longer grow.
A false sense that we are above our own immaturity and flaws.
And in turn, we become narrow in our thinking.

May Cryil, along with the host of sinners now saints,
those who have all gone before us having seen the glory of both mercy and grace,
continue to teach us that God can take that which seems hopeless, broken and
lost and turn it all around…
as in a sinner to a saint…

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders
fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense,
which are the prayers of the saints.

Revelation 5:8

https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-cyril-of-alexandria/

a passing might just be moving on

“He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp.
Dostoevsky said once,
‘There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings’.”

― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

It was just little over a week ago that I shared the latest news on our
friend Nabeel Qureshi and his fight against the aggressive form of stomach
cancer that was gaining an upper hand.

Sadly Nabeel’s battle ended Saturday.

Nabeel was only 34 years old.
A loving husband and father, a Christian convert from Islam,
as well as an ardent Christian Apologist.

It was almost exactly a year ago that I first stumbled upon Nabeel and his no holds
barred, unapologetic, unwavering proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.

At the time I found Nabeel, I was writing a brief post about the Trinity, and during my gathering of information, I found a video clip of a presentation Nabeel had delivered at Wayne St. University about the Oneness, or Tawhid, of God.

Our friend the good Scottish pastor David Robertson offered this about Nabeel
in his Monday posting of the Wee Flea…

LED 9 – Nabeel Quershi – Death of the Church in UK? – Scottish Parliament ‘debates’ Christianity – Jacob Rees-Mogg – George Osbourne and the Death of Thersea May – The Other Side of the Rainbow – The McCain version of “Family”

Death of Nabeel Qureshi –

Possibly the most well known Muslim convert to Christianity, Nabeel Quershi has died aged 34 after a long battle with cancer. You can read his story here – with some wonderful interviews – https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2017/09/16/nabeel-qureshi-1983-2017/

“In the past few days my spirits have soared and sank as I pursue the Lord’s will and consider what the future might look like, but never once have I doubted this: that Jesus is Lord, His blood has paid my ransom, and by His wounds I am healed. I have firm faith that my soul is saved by the grace and mercy of the Triune God, and not by any accomplishment or merit of my own. I am so thankful that I am a child of the Father, redeemed by the Son, and sealed in the Spirit. No, in the midst of the storm, I do not have to worry about my salvation, and for that I praise you, God. . . .”

I have been nearly consumed these last few months with my own small world’s
battle with both passings and death…all up close and quite personal.
And I doubt that any of us ever grow immune to our own body’s and
spirit’s reactions to such traumatic events.
As countless numbers of books have long been written regarding the
stages and emotions associated with both loss and grief.

Even watching last night’s airing of America’s Got Talent (no football was on),
I was reminded of our constant living balance with grief.

The 13 year old singing contestant Evie Clair, from a tiny town in Arizona,
whose father had been battling stomach cancer throughout most the show’s season….
He was a dad who had been in attendance throughout his daughter’s performances and
was noticeably absent the past two weeks.
Her dad actually lost his battle about the same time Nabeel had lost his.

Yet this brave little girl continued on with her final performance Tuesday night,
as I’m certain her father had encouraged her to do no matter what his
outcome may be.

So when I saw Nabeel’s final video posting from his hospital bed, as he shared
that his doctors had finally called off all treatment as now palliative care
was being called in, Nabeel still spoke of healing and miracles.

Now the smug and jaded among us, those non believers,
those cynical ones who would see and hear a dying man
speaking of miracles and healing from his death bed…
or who would watch a grieving 13 year old young girl sing a song of hope while
standing in the face of death all in front of millions of viewers, would write such
off as merely being pitiful, misguided, lost or even foolish.

Yet as I mulled over Nabeel’s last video clip…
as I wrestled with the sorrow and sadness of his image in his hospital bed…
as I heard him wrestle with a battle now seemingly ending despite
his best efforts to battle on….
as I turned it and his words over and over in my mind—
those words of a continued and constant prayer and belief in healings and miracles…
I had a shift of thinking.

We earthbound pray for earthly miracles.
We long for these miracles.
We don’t want those we know and love to hurt, to suffer or to leave us here–alone.
We can’t bear imagining a life without those we love and cherish.
Our roles no longer being what they were.
Our earthly identities now shifted and skewed.
It is often more than any of us can bear….

And so we pray, we pray earnestly and fervently…
we implore, we plead, we cry and we beg….
Yet when all of that energy and hopefulness is still met by suffering and or Death,
we do one of two things…
we accept or we reject…

And if we opt for rejecting…we are most often consumed by anger and rage at
this unseen God who we have been imploring and pleading with…..

But what if, what if the prayers of the healing and of the miracles are actually
more than asking for a loved one to remain earth bound…
What if our prayers are really for the healing and the miracle of being Heaven bound?
That our prayers for miraculous healing are really not for remaining here but rather
for those we love to be prayed Homeward…..
in that the passing away on Earth is really the miracle of moving forward?

I think they call that a paradigm shift….

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 25:6-8

heads of serpents

“The final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about marriage
and the family.
Do not be afraid,
because anyone who works for the sanctity of marriage and the family will
always be fought and opposed in every way,
because this is the decisive issue.
However, Our Lady has already crushed his head.”

Sister Lucia


(Madonna and Child with St Anne / Caravaggio / 1605-1606 / Galleria Borghese, Rome)

Caravaggio was a masterful late Renaissance painter who seems to have been able to
capture the overwhelming importance of certain biblical moments with merely the tip
of a brush.
He mixed both arrangement, size, light and proportion to make both impressive,
as well as tremendous, visual impacts.

Yet for many art historians, this particular painting is not considered one of his better works.
However workmanship aside, the visual representation based on the verse from Genesis 3:15,

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

is indeed a powerful painted statement none the less.

A little history behind the painting, taken from the site Caravaggio.org

The Madonna and Child with Saint Anne was painted between 1605 and 8 April 1606,
when a final payment to Caravaggio was recorded,
for the Confraternity of Sant’ Anna dei Palafrenieri, or Grooms, of the Vatican Palace.
The composition depicts Christ and the Virgin treading simultaneously on the serpent of heresy,
watched by the Virgin’s mother, St. Anne, who was the patron saint of the Palafrenieri.
It was an unusual although topical theme based on an ambiguous biblical passage, Genesis 3:15,
which does not make it clear whether it was Eve, the antetype of Mary, the ‘New Eve’,
or her offspring who was meant to strike at the serpent’s head.
What started as a theological dispute became caught up in the wider debate between
Roman Catholicism and Protestantism,
with the Protestants not unnaturally arguing in favour of the offspring and, hence, Christ.
The issue was resolved on the Roman Catholic side, however, with commendable textual accuracy,
not to say religious tact,
by a Bull of Pius V which ruled that ‘the Virgin crushed the head of the serpent
with the aid of him to whom she had given birth.’
It is this interpretation which Caravaggio followed, possibly basing himself on a
slightly earlier picture by the Milanese artist Figino.

Yet Papal Bulls, Reformations and denominations aside…
Today’s faithful know that the head of the serpent was indeed crushed following that fateful
Friday afternoon outside of the walls of the old city of Jerusalem.
And if the truth be told, the vice hold on the head began that lone starry night
in Bethlehem 33 years prior.

The quote from above is offered by Sister Lucia, the oldest of the three shepherd children
who, while tending their sheep in Fatima, Portugal in 1917, were visited by a strange yet
lovely lady.

And yet it matters not where you are on your Christian journey as to whether you
take stock in the tale of the shepherd children or of the tale of the miraculous..
Just as it matters not as to whether you believe that there was indeed such a heavenly
encounter now 100 years passed…
The important thing here however is to understand that wisdom and warning both
come to us in a myriad of fashions.

There are many in today’s world, both believers and ardent non believers,
who wonder and even argue that those tales of miracles and those outspoken prophets of
the bible are found only there…
in between the pages of ancient texts…
and that our world has not been privy to such powerful and outspoken voices, with such
names as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Moses, John, Peter, Paul and that we have not witnessed such
miraculous examples as to partings of seas, or to the raising of dead bodies,
or to waters that turn either to blood or wine…
but if truth be told,
both believers and non believers, yearn for that very thing.

It is a yearning for the tangible being found in the miraculous of that of the intangible.

Our current time is precarious at best…
Where persecution of the faithful becomes seemingly more elusive yet more sinister….
as it is an intellectual and spiritual suffocation.

While that which was once overt is no longer clearly visible but rather is now veiled in
the gossamer shadows of confusion.
It is a place where the notions of acceptance and approval pervasively reign for that
which is upside down.

What was once accepted as Truth has now been twisted into something other than
as we are being spoon fed a most palatable mix of half truths and lies…
all the while we continue to clamor for bite after tasty bite.

Yet the time has come…
shall the faithful speak up and speak out?

A final battle will eventually ensue..
there have been preparations, when he left us, he made certain we were well equipped.
As he has provided ample opportunities, all of which have been freely offered..
all the while as a holy foot has held the head of the serpent at bay…

So the choice is now clear, either we opt to crush the head of the serpent or
we become his prey…

He who commits sin is of the devil;
for the devil has sinned from the beginning.
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him,
and he cannot sin because he is born of God.
By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil:
whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother.

1 John 3:8-10

Beauty in difficulty

Out of difficulties grow miracles.
Jean de la Bruyere

DSCN2953
(thistle / Julie Cook / 2016)

Throughout our lives we will each encounter thorns…
Moments and experiences that are laced with those more troubling struggles which are simply unavoidable.

These encounters will obviously be uncomfortable, earth shattering and more often than not,
unbearably painful…

Such encounters will range from mildly irritating and bothersome,
to excruciatingly sharp, piercing and even most torturous.

Yet within each of these uncomfortable and painful encounters…
resides a mystery…

A mystery of rare, unexplainable and even unimaginable beauty…
Moments of pain and sorrow,
suffering and agony…
which are actually honed by the miraculous…

For from these enigmatic encounters…
those irritatingly painful experiences caused by the thorns scattered within our lives,
emerges a hidden majesty and beauty.

It is the blacksmith who must anneal his metals…
making them stronger by the raging fires of the furnace…
following each pass into the furnace, the metal’s trial by fire, comes the process of tempering the steel..
The hammering and beating of the heated and softened metal into a strong composition ready to withstand the rigors of use….

Within these difficult encounters of suffering, heartache and frustration, resides the mystery of our beauty and of our strength…

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed;

2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Heady times

“God is over all things,
under all things; outside all;
within but not enclosed; without but not exclude;
above but not raised up; below but not depressed;
wholly above, presiding;
wholly beneath, sustaining;
wholly within, filling”

Hildebert of Lavardin

DSCN0830 (1)
(Timoleague Friary, County Cork, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

There had been a whirlwind of emotion
Exuberance road wildly as if on the back of a bronking bull…
Holding on for dear life…
Yet madly giddy within the rush and exhilaration of the ride.
Major changes raced across the winds…

Soaring endlessly upward, words and feelings rapidly flowed downward…
as if caught in a raging torrent…
There was so much that needed to be shared, expressed, re-lived.
Time was the enemy, this much we knew…
If put on hold or held back, it might all be too late…
or so we reasoned…

The depth of feeling was so raw yet so very real.
Clarity had been granted, but for how long was anyone’s guess.
There was a sense of power beyond self…
As if one was being guided and willed onward from some other different place and time.
This was bigger than all of us combined and it had to be shared…
It was truly a race between life and death…

All consuming is the best way to describe it.
Mad we were labeled…the activity deemed by the State…nefarious.
Hope and death mingled dangerously together…yet at the same time there existed a calm which surpassed understanding.
We had seen the results of being caught, accused, condemned….
Yet a resolute feeling of determination prevailed…we knew that all would be well…
With this feeling of hopefulness spurring on the momentum…
It was a heady time…

It was a time of grave danger with imminent death if discovered.
Yet there was no turning back…the die had been cast
Three years had laid the foundation, three days cemented our fate
A lifetime would be our legacy as thousands more would follow suit.

As it turned out, time would not be the deterrent…
We would weather the centuries of both denial and persecution…
We would work together across the oceans of the world, hand in hand…
allowing our words, our deeds, our actions to tell the story…
There were times when voices were silenced and many lives were lost…
But transformation had been found
Renewal had become a reality
Power was indeed found in the weak
The blind had seen and the lame had walked
As Salvation blanketed the land…

Yet now we wonder…
Where has the urgency gone?
Where has the importance of this story gone?
Has the truth been lost in complacency?
Where is the momentum…?
Do lives still not hang in the balance?
Is Hope not still viable…?

Miracles have not ceased…
Hearts are still turned…
Life has indeed conquered Death
Yet the headiness,
the acuteness,
the gravity…
seem all but lackluster…

The importance
The need
The urgency
are still very much necessary…
Yet those of us who have been left to further the cause, spread the word,
live the story…
have fallen into lethargy, compliance with the world and sadly indifference…

May we once again find the strength, the need, the urgency to continue to fight the good fight…
For it is Time who is no longer on our side….or so we have been warned.
The winds have shifted, the signs are real and the headiness of exuberance, need and necessity is all but waiting…for our time has come….
are we still willing to be the voice behind the story….
If not us, then who….


Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—
his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:1-9

I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.
1 Corinthians 4:14-17

with certainty I know

Hearing the word is the devout receiving of the will of God.
William Ames

DSCN1721
(the cliffs of Timoleague, Slieve League, County Donegal, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

I know you hear me.

The others aren’t so sure.

“I Keep praying because I know He hears me.”
Words repeated often to the skeptical.

Prayers asked
Prayers offered
Prayers given…

Yet no word in return.

I know you know the plight, the ordeal, the big picture.
I remind you…
everyday…
multiple times during the day…
despite knowing…you already know…

I know you know more than I do because I know you see what has been, what is and what will be.
You have the bigger picture in focus while I remain small in my vision and view.

The others aren’t so sure that I know what I’m talking about.
They hear in my voice a certain certainty in the face of great uncertainty…
with no change, no results, no “answered prayer”
yet I know
and I continue with my prayers
because I know you know…

They scoff, they walk away rolling their eyes, they grow irritated with my seemingly empty insistence.
I speak with a peculiar confidence…
that only I seem to have…
since there never seems to be the answers, the results, or the much needed miracles,
others want or need…they think that there is no need for my irrational words, hopes or invocations…

No matter…
I continue to press on,
pressing you with my prayers, my words, my tears, my urgings, my yearnings,
my hopes, my dreams, my desires, my needs…

Because I know…
Because I know you know
and because I know that what will be will be
as only you would will it….
because I know you hear….

“Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.”
1 Kings 18:37

Credo quia absurdum

Crucifixus est Dei Filius, non pudet, quia pudendum est;
et mortuus est Dei Filius, prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est;
et sepultus resurrexit, certum est, quia impossibile.

— (De Carne Christi V, 4)

“The Son of God was crucified: there is no shame, because it is shameful.
And the Son of God died: it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd.
And, buried, He rose again: it is certain, because impossible.”

Based on the writing of Tetullian

DSCN0264
(stain glass window Christ Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

“I believe that Christ died for me because it is incredible; I believe that He rose from the dead because it is impossible”
A.W. Tozer

“Let me seek Thee in longing…let me long for Thee in seeking; let me find Thee in love, and love Thee in finding”
St Anselm

It is indeed incredibly impossible, absurd and even implausible that we Christians believe what we believe—certainly in the eyes of the non believer but actually…even to ourselves.

Anyone who stops long enough to actually ponder Christianity, the faith, as well as the inception of that faith which actually began, not so much with the earthly three year ministry of Jesus, but rather on the day that his tomb was found empty.

It begins with us now, during this time of Advent.

We, the Christian faithful, now expectantly and vigilantly wait and watch….

We wait and watch along with three Wisemen, who came from all we know to be the East…
We also wait with a handful of desert shepherds…
All of whom had each seen signs and had visions of something miraculous, life changing and unbelievable that was soon to take place…
Taking place in the far flung regions of poverty on the outer reaches of the Roman Empire…in the middle of nowhere.

We anxiously wait with a simple an honest man named Joseph— the young nervous husband chosen by the Creator of the Universe to be the earthly father to a heavenly king.

We expectantly wait with a young Jewish woman who is pregnant with her first child, yet she has never had sex. Instead she was visited by an angel who told her that she had found favor in the sight of God…and now she is alone, only with her husband, as they are on the road traveling and she is ready to deliver in the middle of nowhere.

We look for the star, a sign, a seemingly tangible apparition in the heavens—a sign that something monumental is about to rock the very foundations of humankind.

Later in the story, we follow the words of a crazy zealot who lives in a desert, eating bugs and wearing next to nothing…who preaches to any and all who would give him ear. Preaching to the birds and animals when no people come to listen. He tells both man and beast that God will send a savior for all mankind. He tells those who listen that in order to be “saved” all must be baptized, first by water, than by the Spirit—being born once again.

We believe the words of a 33 year old man who preached, healed and taught to whomever would listen. We believe he walked on water, made the dead rise, made the blind see, the lame walk and the possessed free.

We choose to follow him along his journey… all the way to his death— brutal and barbaric as a death could be.
And we believe that when he says he will be back…from the gates of hell and death itself…he will indeed, be back.

And we believe when a woman finds an empty tomb…

2000 years pass and we are still believing.

Absurd, impossible, implausible, incredible…

All the better reason to believe…

I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that you have created your image in me, so that I may remember you, think of you, love you. But this image is so obliterated and worn away by wickedness, it is so obscured by the smoke of sins, that it cannot do what it was created to do, unless you renew and reform it. I am not attempting, O Lord, to penetrate your loftiness, for I cannot begin to match my understanding with it, but I desire in some measure to understand your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to undertand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this too I believe, that “unless I believe, I shall not understand.” (Isa. 7:9)
St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury 1093