In remembering the style of our Fathers the Apostles in their service, we learn practical and ideal lessons in the spirit of service, of which we mention the following:
1. The Warmth of the Service:
How nice is the saying of the Apostle Paul in this respect "who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation." (2 Cor. 11:29). Also, his saying, "I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more. To the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." (1 Cor. 9:19-22). His zeal, in flaming love, encompassed all.
2. Visits of Service:
Our Fathers, the Apostles, did not neglect the service they began but used all means to follow it up: by sending epistles, or disciples--as Paul used to send Titus or Timothy. Frequently, they used to make special visits, as expressed by St. Paul in his saying, "Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are going.. " (Acts 15:36).
3. Service Filled with Spirit and Power:
The Apostles did not serve except after they received th Holy Spirit, as the Lord said to them, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me. " (Acts 1:8).
How beautiful are the words of the Bible in this respect "And with great power the Apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus And great grace was upon them all." (Acts 4:33).
Beautiful also is that which was said about St. Stephen that he was, "Full of faith and power. " (Acts 6:8). He stood against synagogues, "And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke." (Acts 6:10). The nature of the spiritual service is powerful as it is from the Spirit, "for the word of God is living and powerful." (Heb. 4:12).
4. Service filled with Love:
The Lord Jesus "Loved His own... to the end." (John 13:1), and with the same love He served the Apostles. It was not a mere official service.
Remember your weakness, then you will be more cautious and you will not submit to the thoughts of pride and false glory which may attack you.
Remember the loving kindness of the Lord bestowed on you, and you will always lead a life of thanksgiving. Faith will grow in your heart as well as the trust in God's love and work. Your past experiences with God would encourage you in the life of faith.
Remember people's love and their good past with you. Should you doubt their sincerity or find out they have done something wrong to you, their old love will make intercession for them and your anger will fade away.
Remember death, So all worldly temptations will disappear and you feel that, "all is vanity and grasping for the wind. " (Eccl. 1:14).
Remember that you are standing before God and He is looking at you, then you cannot sin because you see Him.
Remember God's promises, and you will be comforted in all your troubles. But, if you forget them, say with David the Prophet, "Remember Your word to Your servant, upon which You have caused me to hope. This is my comfort in my affliction. For Your word has given me life." (Ps. 119:49-50).
Remember the Blood of Jesus which was shed for your sake and you will definitely know the value of your life; it becomes dear in your eyes, so you will not waste it with prodigal living, "for you were bought at a price." (1 Cor. 6:20).
Remember the vows you made to God at the Baptistery which your parents undertook on your behalf: to renounce the devil, all his evil deeds, all his thoughts and wiles, al his forces and power.
Remember always that you are a stranger on the earth and that you will return to your heavenly home: then you will not put all your hopes in this world and its comforts.
Remember that the narrow gate leads to the kingdom of heaven. If you see the wide gate open before you, escape and keep away from it, as all those who went in by it, they all perished.
Remember your eternity and work for it at all times.
Remember that you are a child of God, and ought to have His image. You walk as fits the Children of God, for they are apparent.
Remember that you are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God in you. Be always a holy temple.
Remember all that I said to you on this page and if you have already forgotten, please read it over again.
St. Paul the Apostle says, "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves. " (2 Cor. 13:5).
The faith here is not that of the mind or just the name; it is the real faith, a life-style that one lives in God and shows in all his deeds and all his feelings.
The life of faith means complete submission to God an extreme trust in His work within you and within the Church.
Faith cuts a road in the sea and lets water flow from th rock. It is enough to see that the Bible says, "With God all things are possible. " (Matt. 19:26). Do you have the practical faith by which you can do everything in Christ? Or is your faith weak and cannot stand tribulations?
If it is so, what should you do? The Lord says, "According to your faith, let it be to you. " (Matt. 9:29). The only solution is to pour yourself before God and openly say to Him: Lord I believe, but my faith has not reached the practical level yet. My faith is like the bruised reed that You, due to Your love, wouldn't break; and like the smoking flax that, due to Your compassion, You would not quench. Accept me, O Lord, with my weaknesses.
Grant me this faith, a gift from You. Do not say, "I will give you according to your faith" and do not make faith a condition for the gift. Let faith be the gift itself.
Grant me to believe in You, submit my life to You and trust in Your dispensation. It is sufficient for me to believe that You will grant me faith. Isn't it also "a gift from above," from You, and nobody can believe without Your grace?
You say, "Only believe". Even this faith I want from You so I would not think that my humanity has done anything without You...
I am still waiting for this faith by which I could do everything through Your grace.
I believe that You'll give me, and I wish, after being in Your presence, to say, "I believe that You have given me."
My faith will then change from a desire and a request to a reality and a life.
Visiting is a kind of pastoral care. St. Paul said about it, "Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city, where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing. " (Acts 15:36).
Visiting a person or caring for him is essential for whoever is in a position of responsibility.
The Bishop and the Priest visit the flock, the servant visits and asks about his children and the father looks after his children. Even an ordinary believer should sit to himself and review his life, to see where he is going...
Visiting others means being concerned about them and wishing to make sure they are all right.
Therefore, visits create a deep feeling of mutual love. You visit or ask about the one you love, and the one whom you visit or ask about will love you for being concerned about him...
The opposite is also true; lack of care creates a feeling of loneliness and depression. How easy it is for one to say, "There is nobody to ask about me, not even the Church and the Priests!"
Many of our brothers were lost because nobody visited or cared for them, or when this took place it was too late: either because matters, by that time, had become complicated, or their hearts became void of responsive feelings, love of goodness and love of the one asking about them...
For this reason, the quick action, whether visits or care, solves problems before they become serious.
This applies especially to those who are young, weak, new in faith or those who are facing tribulations or temptations or suffering certain pressures and are unable to save themselves or find a solution...
There is a big difference between such a visit full of care and concern and a mere social visit...
You might visit a person but without being concerned about him!
You might visit him and talk about many things without referring to God and the extent of this person's relationship with Him. A pastoral visit means getting into one's life, finding out his problems and helping in solving them..., creating a deep relationship between him and God...
Pastoral care means to visit others, bringing God with you... And when you leave, you must have left God in their homes and in their hearts.
I wish in conclusion that you would ask yourself: who needs your visit or care? Whom have you visited but not actually cared for?!
How easy it is for one to start a spiritual life and live with God for days or weeks then relapses and regresses backward losing everything...!
It is important then for the one who starts, to continue, settle and become firm.
Therefore, the Lord said, "Abide in Me, and I in you." (John 15:4).
He explained to us the importance of the branch's firmness in the vine in order to bear fruit. He praised His saintly disciples not only because they stood by His side during trials ; but as He said, "But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. " (Luke 22:28). So He praised their firmness.
In the parable of the sower the Lord tells us about those who were not firm, "...and because they had no root, they withered away... and the thorns sprang up and choked them." (Matt. 13:6).
Therefore, St. Paul the apostle does not talk only about the importance of faith but more about being firm in faith.
He says, "...on those who fell, severity; but towards you goodness if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off." (Rom. 11:22).
He also says to the Colossians, "...to present you holy... if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast." (Col. 1:22-23). And he blames the Galatians who, "having begun in the spirit", but did not continue and, "...are now being made perfect by the flesh." (Gal. 3:3).
Many are those whom the Apostle tearfully mentioned, because they did not continue in firmness.
Some started serving actively, but did not continue...!
Others loved the idea of consecration, but did not abide!
And others started by loving God, then left their first love!
How grim it is for one to live the life of the tabernacle and altar with Abraham, then ends up in Sodom.
Or starts as one of the twelve, then betrays Jesus.
Or starts his life as a mighty victorious and a Nazirite to God and the Spirit of the Lord comes upon him then ends up shaving his hair and pulling the grinder...!
Abiding in the spirit is a test for our will in the midst of tribulations. Therefore, the Bible says, "Remember those... whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. " (Heb. 13:7). They were steadfast and were made perfect in faith.
People need one who makes them happy and alleviates their troubles. With the hope that he has, he can let in light to shine amidst their tribulations making them disappear and giving a new hope...
You too, be like that. If you have a joyful word, give it to people. If you have inconvenient word, postpone uttering it in order not to cause trouble to others.
Blessed are the words of the Bible, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things." (Rom. 10:15).
Be cheerful with everyone and do your utmost to spread happiness among people.
Meet people with a gentle smile and a sweet word, for people do not like frowning or angry looks that make them lose the peace of heart and quietness.
Make people happy to meet you, make them feel that you bring them joy and that your arrival is good news to them.
Look how people draw a good omen and rejoice in a happy word that they read in the horoscope or fortune-book. It could fill their heart with joy and boost their morale although nobody knows the future except God. What made them happy was nothing but a word...
Can't you see that the word Gospel means Good News?! Preaching the Gospel was the announcing of the Good News which the Angel gave to the shepherds, "I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people." (Luke 2:10).
Look how the Lord Jesus Christ said to the people, "Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28).
So, if you are unable to carry people's burdens, at least do not cause them troubles.
Look how the photographers ask people to smile before they take their photo. They want the picture to be a happy one. You too should be smiling so that your face might be a source of joy for people...
Some wrongly think that religion means a gloomy face and that gloominess indicates seriousness! Religion is in fact joy, and gentleness and joy are the fruits of the Spirit. (Gal. 5:22).
St. Paul the Apostle said, "...forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. I press towards the goal." (Phil. 3:13). By referring to what is behind St. Paul did not mean sins but righteousness; that he put his virtues behind and was pressing forward.
Therefore, it justifies the saying, "A good man forgets all the good deeds that he has done as he is too busy in the good deeds that he is still doing..."
The saints never put their good deeds in front of them, but behind. They forget such deeds and never talk about them. And if it happens that somebody mention their deeds in their presence, they change the subject so that this person would forget this too...
If they remember their good deeds, they might feel self-satisfaction about their present state and forget about the work of grace in them. But if they forget these deeds and remember nothing but God's grace that works in them, then they will reach forward, feeling that there are wide spheres ahead of them, leading to the desired perfection...
I wish you would forget the past completely, not only the righteousness you did in it but also all hardships and troubles you faced therein. Forget also the evil which spoils the purity of the heart when you remember... Instead of that, reach forward in positive steps towards the love of God... and towards eternity...
Poor are those who limit their thoughts to the past with all its troubles, mistakes or its sweet dreams. There would not be any time or strength left for them to do something for the future.
They talk about the beauty of the past, the greatness of the past, either boasting in it or grieving over it. As for the present, there is nothing about it, it does not exist, the same goes with the future... etc.
The beautiful past cannot satisfy you if the present is troublesome. Therefore, do not live on sweet memories but reach forward. Let your present always be better than your past...
Do not remember from the past except what could make your present better and gives you a push forward in repentance or in growth...
There are many characteristics that distinguish a spiritual prayer. One of these is to pray with faith and humility, with understanding, concentration, love, depth and warmth. It is a prayer from the heart, not only from the lips. We would like to talk now about prayer from a contrite heart.
"The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart." (Ps. 51:17).
God never rejects the contrite. The contrite prayer of the tax-collector was accepted by God.
So the tax-collector went out justified though his words were few... only one sentence.
The contrite prayer is a prayer of a person who confesses his sins and his unworthiness.
There is no self-justification in such a prayer, nor excuses but confession that one deserves judgement. In such a prayer, the tax-collector did not dare to lift up his eyes but stood afar in humility...
The contrite prayer might sometimes be accompanied with tears.
It is like the prayer of Hannah, the mother of Samuel and like Peter's tears after he denied the Lord. But these tears should not be artificial or fake nor be a matter of boasting that makes oneself great in one's own eyes or in the eyes of others.
The contrite prayer gives more thanks than demands. In such a prayer one feels unworthy to ask for anything or feels so ashamed of one's sins that one does not dare to ask for anything except God's mercy. In such a prayer one thanks for everything, feeling that one deserves nothing.
The contrite prayer is at the same time a solemn prayer.
In prostration, it is not only the head that clings to the dust, but one says with the psalmist, "My soul clings to the dust." (Ps. 119:25).
It is a prayer that stands in reverence before God, talks to Him with respect, understanding and humble words.
The contrite prayer is a prayer of dust and ashes. It is the prayer of one who sees himself as nothing more than dust and ashes. Like Job after the trials (Job 42:6) and our father Abraham (Gen. 10) and Nehemiah in his humility, tears and confession (Neh. 1).
"Who am I Lord to talk to You?! It is a great modesty from the Lord of Lords to listen to dust."
In the Sermon on the mountain, the Lord said, "But I tell you not to resist evil." (Matt. 5:39). That was said with regard to being subject to aggression, so one should not revenge for himself. In the same regard, St. Paul the Apostle said, "Repay no one evil for evil. do not avenge yourselves. " (Rom. 12:1719).
The Lord Jesus Christ stood silent before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate, without defending Himself; while if He had done, He would have convinced them all. But, "He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, so He opened not His mouth." (Isa. 53:7). His refusal to resist puzzled Pilate, so he said, "I have found no fault in this Man." (Luke 23:14).
Joseph the Righteous, was cast into a pit by his brothers and he did not resist. He was sold as a slave and did not resist. Even when Potiphar put him in prison, he did not resist. He had a strong heart that resisted not. But God in Heaven, saw and witnessed and it was all recorded...
The righteous Abel did not resist his brother Cain.
David the Prophet did not resist Saul.
In the act of non-resistance there is reliance on God the Almighty.
In most cases of resistance, there is self-reliance... The one who does not resist evil has the virtue of endurance within him. He also has the virtue of patience and the faith that God will act and interfere.
In silence, there is submission to God's will. Mostly, the one who resists could easily be agitated. He gets excited quickly, reacts quickly and answers back quickly. He also quickly loses his love to the one who offends him.
The non-resistance of evil needs souls that are strong: strong in faith and strong in endurance.
I wish you would train yourself to attain this virtue. This does not mean that you abstain from resisting and wait for God to revenge for you? but to remain silent and forget the offence.
Do not react on the outside but even inside train yourself to remain calm without being upset.
Lift up yourself above the offence and lift up your heart to God. Do not revenge for yourself because God alone is your defender.
God has sent you to the earth to spread goodness. As for the evil that is on the earth, leave it and do not resist it.
It is a wise policy that the Lord gave us in the parable of the tares in Matthew 13. His servants asked Him, "Do You want us to go and gather them up? But He said, "No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest." (Matt. 13:28-29).
So the tares remained on the earth and the Lord allowed it not only to stay but to grow and grow till the harvest. It is not for us to gather it...
As for you, have you fatigued yourself in pulling the tares while it is still on the earth. Have you lost your spirituality in doing this, but did not succeed nor win yourself...? Perhaps you have found out that your wheat was uprooted with the tares or became like it in anger and the loss of peace, and perhaps in losing some of the love you had!!
If you feel tired, come and let us both grow wheat together; sow the seeds of good everywhere. Let us plant new seeds and water them with the living water and pray that God may make them grow. Let us ask Him in our prayers and in the Holy Mass to bring them up according to their measure, according to His grace and to accord a cheerful touch to the face of the land, that its furrows may be watered and its fruits be plentiful...
Sow the seeds of good everywhere. Do not be troubled if some of them fall on stony places or among the thorns... Forget all that and rejoice in the few seeds that fell on good soil and grew... This is your portion from all your toil. It is also the portion of God.
Do not waste your time, your nerves or your spirituality in uprooting evil from the earth, but be positive in doing good.
How beautiful is the saying, "Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle."
Light does not struggle with darkness, but the mere presence of light is enough to disperse darkness.
You cannot reach at once what the saints attained in several years. Therefore, you need to follow these gradual steps:
Decide, for yourself, on a short prayer that suits you. You may repeat it several times, in depth, expressing your personal feelings.
Use this prayer at your leisure to keep yourself busy lest your thoughts should wander over trifles or sins. That is how you can gain a double profit: praying and also resisting evil thoughts. At the same time, you use your time in what helps you spiritually.
Keep your mind busy with prayer while you are among people whose talk has nothing to do with your salvation. You do not benefit from it, and, at the same time, you'll be embarrassed to withdraw from them. At least, be there physically, but, as for your heart, keep it busy with God in prayer without anybody noticing.
You may also busy yourself with these prayers during the time you spend in public transport or in waiting for it or while you are waiting for somebody. This could also save you from anxiety.
You may repeat these short prayers while you are having your meals. It feeds your spirit while your body is receiving its food. At the same time, you'll keep table etiquette.
If anyone talks to you during these prayers, do not ignore him by remaining silent thus getting yourself into trouble, but answer him briefly and quietly, then go back to your prayers...
You may also repeat these prayers while you are in bed before you go to sleep. This will keep your subconscious busy with spiritual things, besides the act of praying. By doing this, your bed will be sanctified and your dreams kept pure.
When you wake up, start also by repeating these prayers, even before washing your face. Thus your first thought becomes spiritual and the first one you talk to will be God.
Whenever you find a chance to pray, take advantage of it. That is how you overcome the problem of "wasting time" and get used to prayer.
All these prayers shall not prevent you from practising the Agpeya prayers (the Book of Hours) or your personal prayers, and standing in reverence before God...