'Religion belongs to God. It is faith in God' by Patriarch Michel Sabbah

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Sunday 26.5.2019

From the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ:

"Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. Everyone who asks receives; everyone who searches finds; everyone who knocks will have the door opened"" (Matthew 7: 7-8).

We read this verse in light of other similar verses that make its meaning clearer. Yes, God our Father loves us and gives us everything we ask Him to live and to be in the truth. What do we normally ask for? We ask God to have mercy on us in our daily lives, in our joys and in our sorrows, and in every difficulty we pass through.

Prayer is not only this. It may seem that the verse is not true when we look, for example, at the many prayers that we say to God asking for peace and for the end of our political sufferings. We, and many people in the world with us, pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. However, we do not see a peace close by. Why?

Let us read this verse from prophet Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways” (Isaiah 55: 8). God sees in His ways, different from ours’. He sees more than we see. He listens according to what He sees, in His great compassion and mercy. Prayer is not only petitions, God knows what we need. Prayer is also an effort to understand the ways of God. Prayer is asking what is essential: “Thy will be done”, and give us, o Lord, light to see your ways in our lives.

Another example about peace is when Jesus Christ said: “Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace which the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid”. (John 14:27). I give you my peace not like the peace that the world gives. Peace is not necessarily the end of wars. It is inner peace of the soul, and the ability to live in peace in the midst of wars and adversities which man made a normal component of human life and history. God lets people make their human history. He gives His peace to those who ask for it. He gives also light and strength to resist evil and any kind of war. With this peace and strength, one can contribute to the elimination of war everywhere.

How do we know the ways of God? God is the one who teaches us, if we abandon ourselves in His hands, and listen to Him in silence.

Monday 27.5.2019

More about prayer

Lord Jesus Christ also said: “In your prayers do not babble as the gentiles do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6: 8). If God knows already what we need, then why do we pray? Prayer is not just a request to meet our needs.

Prayer is our being present before God, to contemplate His goodness, His love and light. It is trying to imitate God (cf Ephesians 5: 1). Prayer is asking God to fill us with His goodness, His love and His light. That is why we devote time to prayer in our lives: to have more of God’s life in ourselves. We pray to keep in us the image of God and to be filled with His love and the love of all His creation. And the rest shall be given to us as Jesus Christ said: "Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God's saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well. (Matthew 6:33). He said this after He assured us that God cares for us more than His care of the lilies of the field and the birds of the sky (Matthew 6: 25-34).

Therefore, our prayer is standing or kneeling before God, looking at Him and asking for the true life, the life of the spirit which is truth and love. With this spirit, we will be able to share in the building of our society and to resist all kinds of evil in it.

It is for this purpose that Jesus said: "Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Everyone who asks receives; everyone who searches finds; everyone who knocks will have the door opened." (Matthew 7: 7-8).

Tuesday 28.5.2019

From the teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ:

”It is not anyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. When the day comes many will say to me: ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?’ Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, all evil doers!” (Mt 7: 21-23).

Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," and not everyone who fasts and prays will enter the kingdom of heaven. What does that mean? If he who fasts and prays will not be saved nor is he accepted by God, who will be saved? Who will be accepted before God?

The words of Jesus Christ are not strange to us. We also say: Not everyone who fasts and prays is a true believer or a good person. Even in our human consideration, one who fasts and prays and does harm to relatives, neighbors and family, his fast has no value or merit, and his prayers are senseless. The one who loves his neighbor is the one whose fasting and prayer are accepted by God.

Jesus Christ says: Prayer and fasting are accepted from the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven. God's will is to love God and all God’s children, all our brothers and sisters in humanity.

The words of the Gospel are harsh. On the one hand, people think they are good people and say: 'Lord, in your name, we have made miracles," but God who is the just judge and who loves all humanity tells those who think they are good and have done miracles, fasted and prayed, and were faithful to external religious manifestations but they did not love their neighbors, insulted them, attacked them, did not care for them when they were hungry and when they faced difficulties, or to those who declare wars on peoples or make any of the many evils that man can do, God tells those : go away from me, evil doers, I do not know you.

These words of the Gospel invite us to stop and think about our prayers and fasting, as well as about our general behavior in our society. How do we pray? What do we pray for? How can our prayer be acceptable? How do we complete our prayer and fast with love to God and to all our brothers and sisters?

Wednesday 29.5.2019

Prayer, fasting and charity, and all religious rites are not purely external acts that we do to show ourselves or to follow human customs and traditions. Religious traditions are a way to reach God. Religion cannot become social customs and traditions. Religion and religious rituals are the worship of God. They are acts that help us see God and love our brothers and sisters. The one who finds love and works through it has found everything and one's worship is complete.

Jesus Christ also said to those who cling to external rituals to be seen by others: “Be careful not to parade your uprightness in public to attract attention… So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win human admiration. … But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing… And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them.” (Mt 6: 1-5)

Prayer is standing in the presence of God. It is not a show before people. Religious rites are a source of spiritual strength, a source of goodness, of love, brotherhood and forgiveness towards every human being without discrimination. When the outer rituals are emptied of their essence, that is, the love of God and the love of the children of God--all people--they are meaningless.

Yes, religious traditions in society provide individuals with an environment which help adherence to and knowledge of religion, but their power and value is in their being linked to God. The meaning and soul of all external rituals is seeing the face of God and love of all people.

Thursday 30.5.2019
From the teachings of Our Lord, Jesus Christ!

“I tell you that many will come from east and west and sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of Heaven; but the children of the kingdom will be thrown out into the darkness outside, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth” (Mt 8: 11-12).

We already saw a verse similar to this: It is not anyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, who will enter the kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 7: 21).

About these verses, we can offer the following reflection:

Religion is belonging to God. It is faith in God. It is not only belonging to a human group having the same faith or to a human civilization inspired by the religion to which I belong. Religion is not, before God, a question of numbers of believers. For God, one true believer “in spirit and truth” is better than a multitude of believers whose faith is a social belonging to a human community without being committed to the love of God and the neighbor.

Another reflection: If God granted you to believe in your religion, thank Him for what He gave you. Do not count yourself better than others. Faith is a free gift from God, and you have no merit at all; the whole credit is to God. Your sincere acceptance of the gift of God consists in coming nearer to God, and in more love to your brothers and sisters.

God does not need you but you need Him to come out of your human limits and go beyond, and have more strength and dignity by knowing Him.

These verses apply to believers who boast of their faith and see themselves better than others; some even despise others of other religions. To those Jesus says: "Many people will come from East and West" and enter the kingdom of heaven, while perhaps you will not enter. Even people of no faith may enter the kingdom of heaven. Belonging only humanly to a religion will not save you. You will be saved by your faith, that is, by your humility before God and people, and by your love of God and your neighbor.

Friday 31.5.2019

Social affiliation to religion is not the kind of belief accepted by God; it is faith in "spirit and truth" which leads to repentance and good deeds to others.

In another place in the Gospel, we find the same warning, in the preaching of John the Baptist warning the Jews who also thought they would be saved only because they belonged to the Jewish religion, while neglecting repentance, good deeds, and love for the neighbor. John the Baptist said to them: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance and do not presume to tell yourselves, "We have Abraham as our father," because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones.” (Mt 3: 8-9)

God is able to replace you if you do not repent and produce good fruits. God does not need numbers and statistics for he is able to raise the children of Abraham from the "stones", that is, from those who do not know “your” religion as well.

This is a teaching first to one who sees himself better than others because of his faith. God can raise children of the kingdom from all races and religions. Second, let not one think that he will be saved only because one belongs socially to a religion while one does not come nearer to God, and does not love one's brothers and sisters in all the society and not only in one's same religious community. Salvation is the result of repentance, i.e. the continual return to God and the constant return to the love of the brethren and the sisters.

Saturday 1.6.2019

The link between religion and death!

”It is not anyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, who will enter the kingdom of Heaven.” (Mt 7: 21)

Religion is the worship of God and the love of all God's creation, every human being in any religion. At the same time, however, we see that in every religion, or rather in the believers in all religions, there is a power of death instead of the power of love, and sometimes both are present together.
We know that Christianity is the religion of love. If we look at Christianity in the Middle Ages, we find in it much love and charity; a great civilization was built which included universities and schools, and all kinds of good actions. At that time, Christian thinking, theology and philosophy flourished. It was the period of great saints and theologians. Besides all these wonderful manifestations of charity and religion, there were also many wars and much death among the Christian states themselves within the confines of Europe, and between the Christian West and the Muslim East.

If we look at Islam, we find the same phenomenon. Islam is said to be a religion of war but it is first a religion of mercy, a religion in which every human action begins and ends in the name of God the Merciful. There also in the same period of history a great civilization was built. Science, philosophy and theology flourished, and expressions of mercy were evident. In Islam, man also combined the mercy of God with many wars and death. Wars were for the expansion of Islam in order to make God better known; wars were in the name of God. In Islam too, along with mercy and humanity, the power of death also worked in many wars.

What I would like to draw attention to in this idea is the ability of man to combine the worship of God with death, i.e. wars and the killing of man, in the name of God. Apart from wars, the same inclination for the power of death inherent in man works today in daily life between individuals or groups. Today, too, we have come back to see and live this phenomenon, albeit inhumanly with ISIS in scenes of beheading or other images.

This idea reminds each believer that the power of death is latent in the heart of every believer, in all religions, and we must always be wary of it. The believer must always be conscious in order to separate between religion which is worship of God and love of man, and the power of death carried in his soul with his religious attitude.

The measure to know where you stand as a believer is easy and simple: the closer you are to harm your brother in humanity who belongs to your religion or to any other, you must know that you have begun to violate the truth of your religion and you move away from God. In whatever form, every death against your brother or sister means that you are moving away from God and religion.

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