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Someone asked me the other day; “How are we supposed to pray and give thanks to God when our whole word is falling apart? I wish I had the perfect answer to that, but I do not. What came to mind was “Maybe the best prayers are the ones where we remember that God knows our sufferings, yet we still offer thanks to God, and then serve others as a response to all the blessings God has given us, even the unnoticed blessings that still exist during this most difficult year.” November being the month known for Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to reflect on the blessings God has given us and to then to take action with prayer and service, even during a pandemic.
It seems to me that the Thanksgiving holiday is the closest we come to a national holy day in the United States. Historically, it has been celebrated with everything from religious thankfulness, great food, football & festivities, and of course a bit of commercialism. Despite this, it is still a time for many Americans to count their blessings from God and get together with their family and friends. Of course, this year we will all have to limit our guests during the Thanksgiving celebration. And maybe we will have to zoom our other family members during the day. However, we should still gather in thanks to God, even if it’s just a few of us, and remember that God gives His blessing even during a national lockdown.
This past year, I have talked to so many of you via phone or zoom. And, I have also heard from many other good friends that I hadn’t talked to for a while, all looking for some perspective in our current situation and how we can deal with so many challenges, all within a one year period. Wow, what a year we’ve had! We have been stressed and have been pushed to the point of much worry. Yet, God tells us in Corinthians to be steadfast and kind and to continue to do the good works of Jesus Christ. I know I would like to see some more kindness out there. Wouldn’t you? It seems to me that our world needs more healing and more kindness and less illness, ungodliness, and hatred.
This year has been one of the hardest years for most of us. Dealing with the Wuhan Virus that spread into a global pandemic, watching the violence and peoples’ lives and livelihoods being destroyed. Dealing with the frustrations and hurdles making it difficult to keep our incomes, educate our children, and provide for our families’ physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. All this has been a difficult and tough situation for all of us.
And, then there is the politics that engaged so many people by reaching them through T.V., social media, e-mail, etc. Identity Politics seeks our allegiance, without detailed questions, by drawing us to issues and political parties using our emotions, fear and how they say we should see ourselves by the categories politicians place us into. The last time I checked, the faithful are in the Christian category, which is not offered to us in Identity politics. We are Christians first… period! This Identity politics has caused more separation than unity and has revealed to us, that politics will always seek its agenda first and foremost, which is the opposite of Christianity; where we are guided to seek God’s Kingdom and purpose first as a way of living our lives.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matt. 6:33Jesus Christ calls each of us to work in His earthly ministry, and that ministry doesn’t stop because of hard times. If fact, it’s just the opposite. It is during the hard times that even more people come to His Holy Church, seeking the peace of Jesus Christ that He sends upon us as the great physician and healer.
This past year our household, like all of yours, has been challenged with many of the same things you are all struggling with. Having 4 kids going to school in a small three-bedroom house, meant the whole house was a schoolhouse until 3:00 p.m. every day. And the garage was often used as my office. One of our four boys struggles with a rare type of epilepsy and another has a rare auto-immune condition. Yet, at times we could not get the necessary medical care for our children due to limitations at hospitals and doctors’ offices. I even got sick with Whooping Cough by visiting a patient in the ICU during the early days of the virus and was quarantined for three weeks. We stayed home, stocked up too much Ramen and toilet paper and then ate all the Ramen (Which my kids are now addicted to), watched lots of movies, played board games, went for walks at the closed golf course behind our house, taught our kids how to bake and got really sick of anything related to Zoom. At the same time, we also felt the impact of being isolated from others and taken away from the daily life we had become accustomed to. The isolation, worry, frustration, and losses takes a toll on all of us. You shouldn’t beat yourself up because all of this has worn you down! You are human, and that is ok, really it is! We all have had our moments during this situation. We were not made to live like this. Just know that your priest and his family have felt the same way you do many times during this past year. I hope knowing that and the notion we are all in this together will give you some comfort. While Mia and I could have used a sanity break every now and then from our four boys and the never-ending wrestling match, we realized that there were others living alone even more isolated than us. We often remembered those shut in alone and have called to check in, just as many of you have. Like so many of you, we lost people we know from complications of the Wuhan Virus, one was my Thea Helen, my mom’s sister who was in a nursing home in Chicago. We were not able to attend her funeral, but did watch it online. It just wasn’t the same. When these things happen, you need to be there with family and friends. It just seemed like no matter how hard we all tried to deal with everything, the hits just kept on coming.
While cleaning out my closet, which many of us have also done during these times, I found an old t-shirt from the time when I was the Director of St. Sophia Camp. Gary Kyriacou now Fr. Gary, who was on the staff, had asked me if we could put a Bible theme on the camp t-shirt that year. He had come up with the theme; “Run the Race” from Hebrews 12:1-2. Saint Paul teaches us in this verse;
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”Everyone, this is a race, it’s a marathon, and we are going to finish it because we are surrounded by the angels and martyrs who give us encouragement to focus on Christ. And it is Christ who gives us the strength and endurance we need to complete the race with victory over all these dark things that we are going through. Jesus endured the cross for our sake, He gives us great purpose during all times, He guides us when we are lost, He comforts us in our fears and frustrations, He lifts us up and allows us to lift others up out of depression and stress. Even though that t-shirt does not fit that well and is now way too tight, and my wife made me promise that I would never wear it out in public, I will not throw it out. I will keep it. It reminds me of the great message that I needed to hear to help me rise above all this craziness and lay aside all the weight that holds us all back.
If this year has taught me anything, then it has taught me this; my family and all of you are the blessings that God has given me and my family. The things that I am most thankful for is all of you. God put you in my life and I am forever grateful. People always ask me how I deal with so many people that come to the church and to the priest with so many needs. All I can tell you all is this; I need you all just as much as you need me. We need each other. I think God wanted it that way. I believe that very thing! And I miss all of you very much. I miss our church being full and the kids enjoying all the ministries. I miss greeting you after church and seeing all your beautiful faces. I miss our festival and our Good Friday services and retreats, and I pray that God will heal all of us in every way we need healing; physically, spiritually, and mentally. And I know, He has set a day for us to return to what we once called normal. Yet this time, I think we will see many more blessing than we did before while living in that so called normal.
I also do believe and have said so in my sermons lately; that God uses our sufferings to do His good works and to draw us to a greater faith in Him. And that gift of faith that God grants to us makes me feel like I am being healed by God. I hope it makes you feel the same way. I am clinging to the belief every day that God is working and acting for our benefit and our healing during this terrible struggle that has come upon us since beginning of the year. A good friend reminded me this month, that if the pandemic never happened, many people watching our services and hearing our sermons would have never known about us. God has taken one of the worst times and used it to reach even more people from our little Church in San Juan Capistrano. We have viewers from Boston, Indiana, Northern California, the Los Angeles area, etc. I receive messages every Sunday from people all over our country, many of whom I have never met in person. They tell me that they watch because our Church gives them comfort and hope and reminds them that God is not sitting this one out. He is with us always.
As I had said before, I was asked an important question; “How are we supposed to pray and give thanks to God when our whole word is falling apart?” Well, God knows what we are going through. He knows we are worried, anxious, depressed, and hurting. The Holy Bible is the best place to look for perspective;
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6 - 7)And this verse as well;
“Be very careful never to forget what you have seen the Lord do for you. Do not let these things escape from your mind for as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and your grandchildren.” (Duet. 4:9)
God is almighty and He makes us strong. God is compassionate and He shows us mercy. God calls us all and hears our prayers. God conquers all evil and protects us from harm. God became man through the incarnation of Jesus Christ and showed His great and sacrificial love for us. We are not alone and God is with us. The Church community of faithful is still unified and intact and we will return once again to worship together. Jesus is not sitting this one out and sends His peace upon us. He guards our hearts and our minds. Jesus Christ declared to us at the end of the Gospel of Matthew;
“Lo, I am with you always even to end of the age.”(Matt. 28:20)
I believe and I am counting on His words.
Rev. Fr. Bill Tragus