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God’s will vs Social Norms

Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This week we arrive at a very important station in our preparations for the Birth of our Lord. John whom we know as the forerunner to Jesus is born. In this passage we find the joy that the new born brings to the old and frail couple Zechariah and Elizabeth and we also see the calamity that society brings with it to override this joy. Zechariah and Elizabeth who had come to understand the will of God in their life, however their neighbours and relatives were still infused with the social precepts and laws. Elizabeth wanted to name her son John, which means God is compassionate, yet everyone around her thought that she was crazy because she was going against the norms of her society which dictated that he should be named Zechariah, after his father.  

Of course Zechariah who after many months of silence and full of the knowledge of God’s will for his family took action and in his muteness, spoke and broke all the barriers that society was choking him with. Although a priest and a man of great faith, society had been choking him with its expectations. Through his silence, he came to realise that following social norms was not so important. What was important was activating the will of God in his life. This activation of God’s will empowered him to speak up and break his silence.  

The question for us today is very important. Are we activating the will of God in our life or are we enslaving               ourselves to the social norms that our society demands of us? There is a constant pull in two opposing directions. Society pulls us in one direction while God pulls us in another. It is up to us to be strong enough to be able to pull harder in the direction that God leads us as this is the ultimate source of truth and life.  

On a parish note, last Sunday the Family Committee organised a beautiful one day retreat for families. Eighteen families attended the retreat and over half of them were new families who had not regularly attended such spiritual days. The theme of the day was “a family who prays together stays together.” The day was rich with spiritual and social activities and it truly emphasised the importance of the family in our society. Thank you to all who took part in the organisation of this day. A special thanks to the members of the Family, Fersen and Teens committees who have been working very hard to prepare the day. Also, our Christmas program has been finalised by the Pastoral Council who met this week. Please be sure to take a copy home so that you can fully participate in all the spiritual and social events and truly bring the spirit of Christmas into your lives this year. Our theme this year is: Emmanuel, The Light that the Darkness could not overcome. I will be speaking more about this in the weeks to come.

Father Tony Sarkis

Prayerful Silence

Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We continue this week with the second announcement in this joyous season, the Announcement to Mary. Mary was greeted by an angel and told, ‘The Lord is with you . . . do not be afraid’. Mary was fully present to God, silently waiting for Him to act in her life. She was not afraid, and entirely opened her heart to him and to his will for her. However, as trusting as she was, Mary took the time to ponder on Gabriel’s words, question and then finally accept. In her silence, Mary didn’t just blindly accept! In contrast to Zechariah, Mary’s silence up until her encounter with Gabriel gave her the time and space to allow God to work in her life so that she could fully accept what he had planned for her. Zechariah only discovered this after he was forced to be silent. We have so much to learn from Mary whose prayerful silence allowed her to discern the will of God in her life. Are we able to discern the will of God in our lives with all the noise and calamity that engulfs us?

Today we conclude our journey in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. This year has truly allowed us to ponder on Mercy in our personal lives and in our parish community. Mercy is not just a concept or a value, it is a way of life. Mercy is more than feelings or emotions that are expressed in tangible ways. Mercy is a definition of the relationship that God wants to have with us and that we must have with one-another. In our parish, it was not a coincidence that we established our Merciful Committee Heaven on Earth in this Jubilee Year. The team from Heaven on Earth led by Subdeacon Robert Albayeh travelled to Fiji on Thursday to activate this Mercy in the lives of the poor and marginalised of this country. Pope Francis teaches us that “we need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy”. As we close the Door of Mercy in this Jubilee Year, let us pray that we will continue to be open to the door of God’s mercy in our lives and truly activate it. In this way, we will truly be Merciful as the Father is Merciful.

On a parish note 35 children and leaders last Sunday consecrated themselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary as Fersen Al Adra or Knights of Mary. Over 50 others renewed this vow also. A knight is honoured by a King or a Queen because they have been a good and trustworthy soldier. They are given this honour because they have promised to be upright and virtuous citizens who will defend their beliefs. Our parish is very blessed to have so many people who are willing to devote their lives to our heavenly Mother. On behalf of my brother priests and our parishioners, I would like to congratulate you all. Congratulations also to Father Youhanna Khalife and to the Fersen leaders who are doing a remarkable job. May the prayers of the Immaculate Heart of Mary be with you.

Father Tony Sarkis

A Profound Resonating Silence

Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Today we begin our journey to Christmas. The birth of our Lord is certainly one of the most joyful Seasons in the life of the Church. Today’s Gospel speaks to us about the visit of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah and next week’s Gospel speaks to us about the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary.  It is in these two announcements that we are faced with the Theology of contradictions. Even though Zechariah was a priest who believed, he was weak in faith. He symbolises the Old Testament. Mary on the other hand was young but strong in faith. She represents and symbolises the New Testament, the new beginning. Mary responded with great joy and enthusiasm and her “Yes” continues to resonate today.  On the other hand Zechariah’s doubt brought him into a deep silence which also resonated and continues to resonate till this day.  

This profound resonating silence allowed Zechariah to contemplate the great mystery of God and think more carefully about God’s will for his life. Through his silence he was able to discover God, so much so that when John was born he cried out with joy and enthusiasm (in the same way that Mary did) “God is compassionate”. If we contemplate on this for a moment, we realise how important silence is in our lives. If we make an effort to be silent and listen, we give ourselves the opportunity to discover many beautiful things. We start listening to what others have to say, we start listening to our own internal thoughts and emotions but most importantly through all of this we listen to what God has to say.  Silence allows us to sift through our thoughts and discern what is  important and what is superfluous.  Silence allows us to make the right decisions so that when we do speak, our words resonate the voice of God.

On Saturday four men who have been discerning and listening to God’s voice were ordained to the Subdiaconate. Three of them are from our parish, Ron Hassarati, Robert Albayeh and Charbel Dib. All of them, like Zechariah are married. It is wonderful that we can continue this beautiful tradition in our Church and it is truly a blessing. Ron is a father of three and has been serving with Monsignor Shora in the Hills Parochial District. Ron has been a teacher for many years at the Maronite College of the Holy Family. Robert is a father of three and is very passionate about helping and showing mercy to all those in need. He has been working with the homeless for many years and is the coordinator of our parish charity group, Heaven on Earth. Charbel is a father of two and has served many committees in this parish including Fersen. He is currently working as Resource Coordinator at the Institute of Mission for the Catholic Diocese of Parrmatta. Robert Albayeh and Charbel Dib will be serving here at Our Lady of Lebanon. On behalf of all the priests and parishioners, I would like to congratulate them and I ask you all to pray for them as they begin this new phase of their journey.

Father Tony Sarkis

Consecrating & Renewing ourselves in Christ

Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Happy New Liturgical Year! Welcome to the new liturgical year in our Maronite Church. As with all Traditions, the Maronite Church organises its Liturgical and Biblical life around the life and teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. The aim of this is to enable us to cultivate a life which is centred on Christ so that we can in turn think and act like him so that we can enter one day into his glory. Each day brings with it a different Epistle and Gospel Reading and each Season brings with it a Liturgical dimension that allows us to discover the reality of our Lord in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. This Liturgical dimension is beautifully represented with the change in colours of that Season. This colour change allows us to transition from one Season to another and emphasises the beauty and symbolic significance of that particular Season.  

This prayerful journey towards the Kingdom of God is two-fold. It is individual and it is communal. Through our individual reflection on the scriptures and the lives of the saints we grow in our individual Christian knowledge and depth. Through our communal participation we grow together as a Church. Do you ever notice how each time you listen to a particular passage from the Gospel or the Epistles you discover and learn something new? It is the same with the different seasons. Although they are repeated through the liturgy, each time we participate in them we experience something new in our relationship with each person of the Holy Trinity. This means that each year that both the Church and the faithful live and experience deeper faith which elevates us towards the Holy Trinity so that we can be united with it and with each other.  

This year we will celebrate the Consecration and Renewal on one Sunday (being this Sunday). It is fitting that we start the year off with the Sunday of the Consecration and Renewal of the Church by actually focussing on the Church. The Gospels focus on the Jewish temple and Jesus as the New Temple. We are asked to renew our lives and reconsecrate ourselves to Christ and his life of redemption.  Each year this helps us to refocus and put our lives back on the path to holiness. Let us all try this new year to make a resolution that allows us to do this.

On a parish note, we are now entering into the joyful time of the year where we celebrate the birth of our Lord. The Pastoral Council met this week to start planning for Christmas. Some dates that you need to start putting in your diaries include: Christmas Novena starts on Thursday 15 December and Carols by Candlelight will be held on Friday 16 December.  On Wednesday, His Excellency Bishop Antoine-Charbel celebrated the 7pm Mass to                   commemorate the souls of the deceased Bishop, priests and sisters who have served our Eparchy in Australia. On Thursday night our Stewardship Committee met to discuss important matters relating to the maintenance of the church and its facilities. Finally, as we begin this Liturgical year and to celebrate the conclusion of the year of Mercy, His Excellency will ordain four new subdeacons next Saturday 12 November in a private ceremony. These are Robert Albayeh, Charbel Dib, Ron Hassarati and Wade Ayoub. Three of these men are sons of this blessed parish. Please join me in praying for them and their families as they begin their journey of consecrating their lives to Christ.

Father Tony Sarkis

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