There were three birds sitting on the side of a lake. One bird decided to fly away. How many birds were left?
The most common answer is that if one decided to fly away there would obviously be only two left. This is not the correct answer.
The other common answer is that if one decided to fly away, the other two would also fly away because birds often fly together. Therefore, some say that if one bird decided to fly away, there would not be any birds left on the side of the lake. Although this is a possibility, it is also not the correct answer.
I will repeat the question and emphasize the key word.
There were three birds sitting on the side of a lake. One bird d-e-c-i-d-e-d to fly away. How many birds were left?
That one bird o-n-l-y d-e-c-i-d-e-d to fly away, but did not a-c-t-u-a-l-l-y fly away, so the correct answer is that if one bird d-e-c-i-d-e-d to fly away there would still be three birds on the side of the lake, until at least one bird a-c-t-u-a-l-l-y flew away.
Today is the first Sunday of the new year. We are also celebrating the Baptism of our Lord, which we call the feast of the Theophany.
Around this time of year there is a big increase in health club memberships because many people d-e-c-i-d-e that they should be exercising more often. There are also many people who d-e-c-i-d-e to start a diet. These and other new year resolutions will not get us anywhere if we only d-e-c-i-d-e to fly in a new direction but do not pick up our feet.
In addition to any resolutions we have made, it is also important for us to set some spiritual goals for this year.
There are four important areas that we all need to keep working on in our spiritual life:
2) Reading of Scripture.
Last week, I spoke about how prayer is about talking and listening to God. We most often think about prayer when we come to church. Therefore, it is important to see this time in Church as being very precious. Sometimes we develop a very lax attitude of coming late, taking a break during, or leaving early. The Divine Liturgy is the most important thing we do during our life because we are bringing to God all the activities of our week and preparing for the week to come by reflecting on Scripture and receiving His body and blood. I will focus more on the importance of the Divine Liturgy this year. One thing we can also do immediately to improve our prayer-life is to turn to God for guidance or thank Him at least once a day. However we pray, a little more prayer will bring us closer to God and help us discover something more about ourselves.
The second important point for us is to read Scripture a little more frequently. Saint Jerome said: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Although it is not always easy to understand everything in the Bible, the more we read, the easier it becomes to understand how all the parts are related to each other. All it takes is a few minutes a day. To help us, Bishop Nicholas Samra and Deacon Sabatino Carnazzo (our director of Religious education) will be coming on Saturday, February 15 for an all-day seminar starting from 9:00 am.
The third important point is fasting. More than ever we need to fast; especially since we are surrounded with such abundance. We are very privileged to be able to buy as much of we want, of almost anything, at almost any time of year. Setting some of these things aside helps us to better appreciate what we have and not take these things for granted. Also, there is an almost universal Christian custom of not eating meat on Friday in order to remember the crucifixion of Christ. This little gesture better helps us to incorporate our faith into our daily actions.
The fourth important element is forgiveness. Forgiveness enables us to move on. It helps us to lesson our burdens by overlooking the things that are not that important while focusing on the things that are. We cannot forgive if we are not strongly convinced that we are capable of making mistakes. When we realize our own weaknesses and shortcomings then it becomes much easier to forgive.
To demonstrate this point, I will ask you another question. A ball and a bat cost $1.10. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
Most people will either not answer because they are afraid to get the wrong answer, or they will be certain that the ball costs 10 cents. Neither will get you the right answer. It is difficult to get the right answer if you are not willing to be wrong at least once. You will also not get the right answer if don’t understand why 10 cents is the wrong answer despite how confident you are that it is not 10 cents.
This and the first question about the three birds help us to realize how limited we are. When we answered both we were absolutely certain that we had the right answer. However, the high level of our certainty frequently in this and other matters does not necessarily correspond to reality. Despite our best intentions, we are sometimes wrong. When we realize this, we will also appreciate that despite the best intentions of our family and friends sometimes they are unknowingly wrong. That is precisely when we need to learn to forgive them in their weaknesses.
Forgiveness helps us move on from our own shortcomings, helps us to move on from the shortcomings of others, and allows those around us to also move on from their own shortcomings.
Theophany is the feast of Christ’s baptism but it is also the feast of our own baptism. It is the celebration of cleansing and new life. We grow in our spiritual life when Prayer, Reading Scripture, Fasting, and Forgiveness are part of our daily resolutions.
Let us grow in our decisions to grow spiritually, but also in very practical and real actions so that we are not left on the side of the lake observing life from a distance.
By Father François Beyrouti
Holy Cross Melkite Catholic Church
451 West Madison Avenue
Placentia, CA 92870-4537
Church web page: www.holycrossmelkite.org