Preparation and Thanksgiving for the Eucharist

By Sr. Natalie Sayde Salameh, Maronite Servant of Christ the Light

The greatest privilege and gift in our lives as Maronite Catholics is to receive the Lord of lords and King of kings, Jesus Christ, into our souls in the Eucharist.

Reflect on this just briefly, that He who made the stars, the oceans, the sky, the sun, the moon, and the entire universe comes down ever so lovingly at the words of His priests, and becomes our food and drink to nourish and sustain our souls. He is the One who loves us beyond all telling and measure, and longs to dwell within us and become one with us. 

This amazing gift of God becoming our food and drink requires from us some preparation before receiving Him and thanksgiving after. Many of us would come to a dinner invitation with an important dignitary prepared with something in hand, and looking respectable, and I am certain that we would not come late either. In a similar way, the Liturgy is the ultimate invitation for us to dine at the supper of the Lamb, which requires important preparation.  

Before Receiving the Eucharist

The Catholic Church sets out specific guidelines regarding how we should prepare ourselves to receive our Lord’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist. First, you must be in a state of grace, which means that you must be free of all mortal sin. To receive the Eucharist without being in a state of grace profanes the Holy Mysteries in the most grievous manner. If you are in mortal sin, the Church requires that you go to Confession before approaching to receive the Eucharist.

Also, you must believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. According to the most recent 2019 Pew Poll, only one third of Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the Real Body and Blood of Christ. We must remember that at the Last Supper, Jesus held what appeared to be bread and wine, yet said: “This is my body. . . . This is my blood” (Mark 14:22-24, cf. Luke 22:14-20).

Also, we must observe a Eucharistic fast. Canon law states, “One who is to receive the most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception only of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion” (CIC 919 §1). 

All of the above are minimum requirements established by the Church in preparing to receive the Eucharist. Here are a few tips to help you ready yourself before Divine Liturgy, and place yourself within a prayerful and reverent mindset for your awesome encounter with God.

·      Before Divine Liturgy, read the Sunday’s Epistle and Gospel readings in order to sharpen your focus on the feast that is about to be celebrated.  
·      Come a little early before Divine Liturgy begins. 
·      Bring your intentions before the Lord in prayer, He wants to hear them all. The most powerful time to offer these intentions is before Divine Liturgy begins, and this will keep you focused on the prayers, as you participate with purpose and meaning.

Thanksgiving After Receiving the Eucharist

There is nothing that delights the Lord more than a grateful heart. In all relationships, especially in marriages, one of the greatest dangers is to start to take the other for granted. In a similar way, we can become accustomed or used to the Liturgy and the Eucharist that we start to take the Lord for granted, and forget to thank Him for the gift of Himself.

On Sunday many are busy, rushing to get lunch prepared, gathering family and friends, greeting one another, and so forth, but I encourage you to spend a little time after Liturgy to offer intentional prayers of thanksgiving, which can be found in our Maronite Book of Offering, or online, or in any Catholic devotional.  


The Announcement to Zechariah Compared to the Announcement to Mary

A homily by Fr. Herbert Nicholls at the Mother of Light Convent, Saturday, November 23, 2019.

Today we end the week of reflection on the Announcement to Zechariah, but today I want to site the text in comparison to the Announcement to Mary, and her reaction to the message. 

 A 16th century writer, John of Silence, suggests that we are so familiar with this story of Mary that we imagine that we are able to make sense of it. But sometimes we are blinded by what lies right before our eyes. Aristotle said: Our eyes are like those of an owl. The eyes of the owl are blinded by the brilliance of daylight, so too the intelligence of the soul is blind to what in itself, is most evident.

John calls attention to the response of Mary when she is asked to effectively abandon the future that she has planned for herself. She had never contemplated becoming a mother, but remaining a virgin, consecrated to God. But God’s mysterious plan calls for a leap of faith. She is being asked to believe something which is humanely impossible.

She will conceive without the presence of a man, that it will be the work of God, and why is it that God had chosen her as His humble handmaid? Yet, as extraordinary as the message is, Mary does not wrestle to understand it, but she believes it.

There is a similarity in the way the angel asks Zechariah and Mary, but the way in which they respond clarify the difference. Mary responds, “how can this be?” Zechariah responds, “how can I know this?” Mary’s thoughts are about this! She pondered and reflected upon it. Zechariah’s thoughts were about himself. Mary goes to the heart of the matter, concretely and soberly wondering: How shall I conduct myself in relationship to Joseph? Would he be willing to stand by her side when her reputation was tarnished? Would he be able to endure scornful remarks and disparaging glances? And if he did not stand by her, would she be stoned to death? Despite all these terrifying prospects, Mary had the strength to say, Be it done into me, according to your word (Lk 1:38).

Moreover, Mary put aside her day to day activity to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who was with child in her advanced years. It is there in the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth that the work of the Holy Spirit is manifest, in the womb of Mary, recognized by the child of Elizabeth, and by the burst of singing by the two women.

It is the two women who take center stage, there is no male voice to be heard. Zechariah is in no position to speak, much less to sing. Because he could not understand, he would not believe. His heart was not in it.

When Mary spoke her decisive word, Be it done into me, according to your word (Lk 1:38).
God’s word and Mary’s word became one for the first time since the Fall in the Garden. At that moment total agreement between God and man reigned in harmony. 

When God said, Let there be light and there was light, when God said through the angel, Let my Son be born in you, Mary answered, Let it be! And the word became flesh and dwelt among us. The greatest word that a human being has ever uttered is so simple.

Yet some will question: is that all? Yes, that is all. She said, “yes”, and she allowed God to be God! God cannot enter into a heart that is only half-way full. How much more blessed our life would be if we learned from Mary to be whole-hearted. If we learned like Mary to say, Be it done into me, according to your word (Lk 1:38). But too often we stand defiantly before God and say, I will not serve! And perhaps God will respond as He did to Zechariah, Be still and know that I AM God (Ps 46). 


Pro-Life Witness – Assonet, MA

On Saturday, November 9, Sr. Natalie Sayde attended the “Come and See” Ladies meeting at St. Bernard Roman Catholic Church in Assonet, MA. Sister presented a pro-life witness of the personal story of her conception, and how her parents felt pressured to abort by medical personnel.   Sr. Natalie Sayde only recently learned the full truth about her conception story and shared it with all the ladies as a testament to the power of life, love and prayer. 

Saturday of Consecration Week

A homily by Fr. Herbert Nichols

During this week we have focused on John 17; the prayer of Consecration by Jesus of His Church and of His children as a “temple of Christ.” Today we backtrack a bit to John 15, where Jesus instructs us how to live this consecration in a new covenant

“No longer do I call you my servants; but my friends.” Friends are invited into a deeper intimacy than employees. Though you are not my servants but my friends I have a commandment for you--

New, yet ever old—Love one another as I have loved you.” It is not you who have chosen Me-- It is I who have chosen you.” My children if you make every effort to get to know God well, you will share in the joy of His friendship.
Perhaps this message is no more ironically portrayed than in Charles Dickens’ character: Ebenezer Scrooge, who is such a curmudgeonly gruff and cruel person; that he is friendly to no one. He pushes away his pain; and takes it out on everyone around him.

Scrooge is a Victorian-era accountant who lived a miserly and solitary life; but he is capable of some emotional breaks… After the death of his business partner, Jacob Marley, introduces Ebenezer to a walk with three ghosts who will forever change his life; and make it whole again…
Focused on these messages brought by spectral visitors, Marley (Dickens) sees the opportunity to sew back together the health and welfare of an entire community.
These “spirits/ghosts/angels” certainly messengers read back to Scrooge some awful things that he has said and done. Not loving things of family or employees.

As you sit there for a moment, imagine someone reading back to you the things that you have said or done in a moment of anger. Perhaps the ties that you were short with a MYO teen or perhaps one of your own community members… you might begin to wonder about what you said or didn’t say or perhaps you chose to walk away and ignore someone. 
The character of Scrooge is based on the propositions of what if—what if I reacted cruelly? What if I let my anger get the best of me? All the characters in this play work together to help Scrooge to open his heart.
You and I can use this painful resume as a beginning move from the week of consecration to the week of repentance/ renewal. What a wonderful, opportune time that Mr. Dickens offers us to grow like Ebenezer—to grow through this glorious season of preparation for the birth of our Savior.
To come to the realization: God loves us, everyone.  


Healing from Abortion: Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat – Stockbridge, MA

By Sr. Natalie Sayde Salameh, MSCL

I attended and participated in a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat at the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, MA on Friday, November 1st through the 3rd.  Rachel’s Vineyard was founded by Dr. Theresa Burke, co-author of Forbidden Grief,[1] to provide a safe place for women and men to express, release, and reconcile painful post-abortive emotions and to begin the process of restoration, renewal and healing.[2]

I, personally, am not post-abortive, however, God stirred my heart to attend one of these retreats to understand the pain of abortion and its devastating effects on the human person, in order to be better formed to help our Maronite women and men suffering from the pain of abortion.  I can honestly say, after having attended this retreat with six other women and one gentleman, that the pain of abortion goes so much deeper than anyone can ever imagine, and touches some horrendous traumas and painful memories.

We are ever so good in our society at brushing aside abortion as simply “another medical procedure” or an “emptying of the contents of the uterus”, or “no big deal, just get on with your life”, but I can assure you, after attending this weekend and attentively listening to each retreat participant and their deep post-abortive grief, that this is simply not the truth. 

The shroud of darkness and silence that penetrates our culture regarding abortion is overwhelming. Very few open up about their painful trauma with abortion and are content to sweep it under the carpet. However, the undealt-with trauma of abortion, has many negative effects on one’s spiritual, emotional and psychological well-being. Dr. Burke’s book helps in understanding this, and I personally understood this first-hand during my retreat experience.

All of us retreat participants, including the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat facilitators and team, started on Friday night as complete strangers, but by Sunday afternoon, we were a beautiful family. Most of the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat team are post-abortive women themselves who completed their weekends in years past and now want to help others heal from post-abortive grief, as they themselves did. They were a beautiful, attentive and caring team, working alongside a professional therapist, and a Priest from the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.    

During the course of the weekend, I witnessed powerful miraculous transformations. Women who had once been engulfed and plagued by shame, guilt, self-loathing and unforgiveness, tasted and experienced the healing mercy of God and were transfigured by it. I was humbled by the experience and what I was able to witness. All I could do was praise God for the ocean of His great mercy and the power of His grace which transforms all darkness into light.

Not only were the retreat participants able to reconcile with God over the course of the weekend, they were able to reconcile inwardly with themselves and with their unborn children in Heaven, and were given countless opportunities to honor the dignity and memory of their unborn children. 

On a personal note, this retreat was life-changing for me and I am not even post-abortive. Imagine what a retreat like this can do for those women and men in our communities who are struggling with post-abortive grief, but are too ashamed to come forward and break their silence. A Rachel’s Vineyard retreat is a safe, confidential space to process and heal from grief. Jesus came to liberate us, to set us free from the sins that torment us, and Rachel’s Vineyard is an opportunity to be liberated from what many falsely call “the unforgiveable sin”.[3] There is, of course, no sin that God cannot forgive, on the contrary, He longs to forgive us and set us free.    

To find a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat near you, please see their website https://rachelsvineyard.org this is how I found the retreat I attended in Stockbridge, MA or call the national line on 877-467-3463.

[1] Dr. Theresa Burke with Dr. David Reardon, 2002, “Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion”, Acorn Press. 
[2] Rachel’s Vineyard website: https://rachelsvineyard.org


Syriac Translation from the Liturgy of the Glorious Birth

Maronite Seminarian 
Alejandro Landin, Translator 

Today a child was born, and His name was called Wonder [Is 9:5]. Indeed, God is Wonder because he has shown Himself as a baby. ܝܰܘܡܳܢ ܐܶܬܺܝܠܶܕ ܝܰܠܕܳܐ ܆ ܘܰܫܡܶܗ ܐܶܬܩܪܺܝ ܕܘܽܡܳܪܳܐ ܆ ܕܘܽܡܳܪܰܐ ܗ̱ܘ ܓܶܝܪ ܐܰܠܳܗܳܐ ܆ ܕܰܐܝܟ ܥܘܽܠܳܐ ܚܰܘܺܝ ܢܰܦܫܶܗ ܀ 
Behold! The Virgin conceived and gave birth to the […]


The Rosary in the Month of October

A reflection by Sr. Natalie Sayde Salameh, MSCL

This month we celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on October 6. The whole month of October is dedicated in a special way to the prayer of the Rosary. After the Divine Liturgy, the Rosary is my favorite prayer.

Over the centuries, the Rosary has come to be known as the greatest Marian devotion of our times. We can think of countless saints, among them our own Maronite saints like St. Sharbel and Nimatallah El-Hardini, who loved praying the Rosary.

We’re very blessed as sisters in the Convent to have prayer time each day where we can offer a Rosary. 

So what is it about the Rosary that makes it the special and powerful prayer that it is? Many people have often got the wrong idea about the Rosary. I’ve heard it countless times, Sister, how can you sit there and just say Hail Mary, after Hail Mary, don’t you get bored? Shouldn’t you just go straight to Jesus, why do you need to pray the Rosary, it’s a waste of time?

Unfortunately, misconceptions over time have tainted the true meaning and power of the Rosary. The Rosary is fundamentally a Christ-centred prayer. As St. John Paul II in his Letter on the Rosary, “one thing is clear although the repeated Hail Mary is addressed directly to Mary, it is to Jesus that this act of love is ultimately directed, with Mary and through Mary.” 

Mary lived with her eyes fixed on Christ, not on herself, treasuring his every word. Pope John Paul II says again, “Mary’s contemplation is above all a remembering. In the recitation of the Rosary we enter into contact with the memories of Mary.”

The rosary is a contemplative prayer. What do I mean by that? I mean that we are using our imaginative and mental powers to reflect on the various scenes of Jesus’ life. Without this contemplative dimension the Rosary loses its meaning and runs the risk of becoming mechanical, repetitive, and yes, boring. 

A little about how we recite the Rosary, there are 4 main prayers that comprise the Rosary (the Apostles Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be). A Decade is one Father and 10 Hail Mary’s. There are 5 decades in each Rosary and we are focusing on the scenes of each mystery. Briefly, there are 4 sets of mysteries, the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and Glorious. Each mystery captures different scenes in Jesus’ life. 

The Rosary is both contemplation and petition, where we are asking Our Lady to intercede for those intentions we bring to her. Mary can obtain all things from the heart of her Son. To pray the Rosary is to hand over our burdens to the merciful hearts of Christ and his mother.

For me, there is no way I could live without the Rosary. I pray the Rosary every day and I can’t tell you how profoundly I have experienced the presence of the Blessed Mother each time I recite a Rosary. There is nothing that I have ever, ever handed over to her by means of the Rosary where I haven’t received a response. When you ask of the Blessed Mother, don’t be afraid to ask too much, because she is very generous. 

The Rosary is the means not only of contemplating the beauty of the face of Christ, but the greatest weapon against the assaults of the evil one. The evil one hates the Rosary, he shudders with fear with each ‘Hail Mary’ and after the name of Jesus, there is no other name he fears more than the name of ‘Mary’.

So let us go to our mother, by means of the Rosary, she is waiting for us with open arms, and is only to eager to embrace us to herself and lead us to her Son.

For how to pray the Rosary visit: Rosarycenter.org


MYA National Workshop 2019 – San Antonio, Texas

By Sr. Natalie Sayde Salameh, MSCL

Sr. Therese Maria and myself returned this week from the National MYA Workshop, which was held in San Antonio, Texas from October 4-6, and gathered over 80 young adults from across the country. This year’s Workshop took place at an excellent retreat center, T Bar M, surrounded by the beauty and serenity of nature. 

We were blessed with the presence of both Bishops, Bishop Gregory Mansour from the Eparchy of St. Maron and Bishop Elias Zaidan from the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, Los Angeles. 

The theme for this year’s Workshop was “Leading by Example” and all the speakers touched upon the importance of having a servant-leadership heart following the example of Christ. 

We were honored to have a guest speaker, Mr. Joe Farris, a vibrant and authentic national Catholic speaker, from Cincinnati, Ohio. Joe’s message was a powerful one of how he encountered Christ in his life, and how we can encounter Christ in our lives. 

By the end of Joe’s first talk in the morning, he had me in tears, and many of the young adults were moved by his powerful personal testimony; his radical love for Christ; and how he was able to faithfully proclaim that Christ had never failed him in his life.

With the presence of both bishops among us for the whole weekend, including a number of clergy, we experienced the wonderful power of prayer and grace in the Divine Liturgies celebrated, in Eucharistic adoration and prayer, and in confession.

On a personal note, I have been to many MYA Workshops, but this one was the very best that I have attended. I truly felt that Jesus was so powerfully present among us, and that the young adults were serious about encountering the Lord, and they did. They came with open hearts and Christ did not disappoint.

During our small group sessions, the young adults opened up beautifully about their worries, doubts, fears, restlessness and yearnings. I was deeply moved by this. 

I heard great feedback from a number of young adults who said that they greatly appreciated the new format of the Workshop, that is, of having it in a retreat setting rather than a hotel as in times past. They said they appreciated the down time and getting away from the constant busyness of their everyday lives to be with the Lord and with one another. Great friendships were established and strong bonds were forged. Praise God!

A big thankyou to Fr. Tony Massad, Sr. Therese Maria and the entire MYA Board for putting together this truly wonderful event.        


Fall News from the Sisters

CLICK HERE to read our Fall Newsletter and pass it on to your friends.  We are happy to share with you God's blessings in our mission.  


Our Postulant, Emily Lattouf

Emily Sharbela Lattouf  entered the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light on September 19th at the Convent Chapel of St. Maron.  At the end of the Ramsho prayer, Monsignor James Root gave a blessing to Emily and Mother Marla Marie presented her with a medal of Our Lady of Lebanon and a formal welcome into the community.  Emily enters religious life from St. Theresa Maronite Church in Brockton.
I am so happy to be starting my new life as a Maronite Servant of Christ the Light postulant. Our greatest calling in any vocation is to love, as Saint Teresa of Calcutta says “the fruit of love is service.” It is with great joy and honor that I start this incredible journey of serving God through serving you.

Growing up in the United States I have seen a need for Maronite religious sisters. I have been attracted to this congregation for quit some time (around seven years). I have enjoyed going on spiritual retreats hosted by the sisters, and volunteering in their various ministries such the summer Bible camp, visiting the elderly, attending wedding and funeral services and much more. The sisters are involved in the lives of the parishioners and they accompany them in their journey of faith. We laugh, cry and grow with you and with one another. I look forward to serving you and living a life of prayer and service along side such wonderful sisters.”


Reflection on my Trip to the Holy Land

By Sr. Therese Maria, MSCL

The week of September 8th, I along with twenty others from diverse backgrounds were given the unique opportunity to visit the Holy Land on the Philos Catholic Tour. A gift that I am grateful for and will always treasure, especially the meaningful encounters, and interactions we had with the local residents and each other.

There are so many layers to unpack from this trip as we met with Christians, Jews, Muslims, government officials, Church leaders and journalists who are working on the local ground with the Philos Project to help promote dialogue, positive engagement and peace in the Middle East. One of the things I observed first hand was the pluralistic landscape of Israel and the intricate and complex situation, and dialogue that is occurring between Christians, Muslims, Jews, Palestinians and Israelis as they “strive” to peacefully co-exist.

In addition to visiting the holy sites of Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Magdala to name a few, our focus for this trip was to learn more about the Christians and their role in the Middle East. Unfortunately, due to the lack of political stability, persecution, ongoing discrimination, and poor job opportunities thousands of Christians are leaving Israel and other places in the Middle East to seek security and stability. Today, Christians are a minority of less than 2% of the population in Israel, and after hearing from Christians in their own villages about their daily struggles, I have come to see even more why we need to materially and spiritually support Christian families. Their impact and presence in the Middle East is a much needed witness, especially in the areas of education and healthcare.

Each day, I found myself switching gears as a tourist visiting the holy sites to a pastoral/service mode in visiting various places such as the Saint Rachel’s center for undocumented refugee children. Also, being present in attentively listening to the difficulties of Christians who seek to be free, to be seen, to be healed, to be accepted and to have their human dignity and rights recognized and respected. In these vulnerable and raw moments, the group bonded, as various people expressed their heart-breaking stories. I assisted to translate from Arabic to English so that the group could better understand their narrative and enter into their plight. 

During the trip, I felt that I was truly living out my spiritual motherhood as a Maronite Servant of Christ the Light, leading prayer, answering questions on the faith, and letting those sharing their stories know that they are being heard, seen and loved. Let us continue to intensify our prayers for peace in the Middle East and for our fellow brothers and sisters, and those whose voices need to be heard.

On a final note, it was such a blessing to take your prayer intentions with me as we remembered each of you and your loved ones in our Liturgies and prayer times. 


At the IDC Conference – Washington D.C.

The Maronite Servants participated in the 6thannual In Defense of Christians (IDC) Conference in Washington, D.C. on September 10-11.  IDC was founded in 2014 in response to the tidal wave of violence towards Christians in the Middle East. One of the main goals of IDC is to advocate for policies that preserve Christianity in its ancient homeland.

The IDC Leadership Conference commenced on the evening of September 10thwith the Solidarity Dinner featuring a number of congressmen, ambassadors, dignitaries and religious leaders, among them our own Bishop, His Excellency Gregory Mansour. We heard from Mr. Samuel Brownback, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. Mr. Brownback encouraged all participants to keep up the fight for religious freedom, predominantly through constant prayer, as God is the source of all freedom and unity. 

Towards the close of the evening, we heard a moving and poignant testimonial by Mrs. Mona Rizk Rowan who shared her harrowing story of surviving the Damour Massacre in Lebanon 1976. 

The next day on September 11, the sisters joined Mr. Steven Howard from IDC and the Massachusetts constituents, among them were Mrs. Rowan and her family, to advocate for the Coptic Christians in Egypt and recognition of the Armenian Genocide.  We visited the offices of Congressmen William Keating, and Joseph Kennedy, as well as, the office of Senator Elizabeth Warren.  

These were two very grace-filled days for us, as we witnessed to the importance of religious freedom in the Middle East and provided a voice for the voiceless. We are grateful to the President of IDC, Mr. Toufic Baaklini and his dedicated Board of Directors for their ongoing efforts of fighting for equality, freedom and security for religious minorities in the Middle East. 


Ultimate BBQ Fundraiser a Success

On Saturday, September 7, the parish of St. Anthony of the Desert in Fall River hosted a BBQ fundraiser for the Maronite Servants in the Maronite Center.

With over 150 people in attendance from different Maronite and Roman Catholic parishes in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the evening’s program was filled with gratitude for God’s blessings, a delicious BBQ buffet, and live entertainment.

We were blessed with the presence of both Maronite and Roman Catholic clergy, including the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation, who were a great means of support for the Maronite Servants in beginning this foundation.
We are most grateful to Msgr. James Root, Pastor of St. Anthony of the Desert, and his devoted parishioners for graciously hosting this event.  This BBQ fundraiser could not have taken place without the help of many donors and benefactors, too many to be named here, who have overwhelmed us with their generosity in giving of their time, talents and treasures. We are most grateful to all who supported us. 


The Spirituality of St Isaac the Syrian (Isaac of Nineveh)

"A little endurance in the face of small matters will hold back danger when serious ones come." 
St Isaac the Syrian (Feast Day August 23rd, Maronite Calendar)

St Isaac sought to find and teach the way to God through a Christian life in which worship, the sacraments and prayer, transform and uplift the whole person: body, heart and soul. This saint truly exemplifies the Syrian emphasis on including the body in the process of sanctification, so that matter is not disdained, but is lifted to the divine. 
Although he was a religious solitary, writing for religious hermits, he was full of wisdom and common sense: e.g. the proverb above about the importance of watching the small steps which make up our journey. 
The Maronite Synaxarion notes that the feast of St Isaac the Syrian is celebrated, in our Church, on 23 August, and states: “Saint Isaac was born (about 613) in the region of Qatar, on the Persian Gulf. In his time, the seventh century, Qatar was an important Christian centre, and gave the Church a number of distinguished writers, many of whom were mystics. Isaac adopted the monastic life, but was chosen by Patriarch George I to be bishop of Nineveh (today Mosul), in Mesopotamia, in the year 676. But after five months was (somehow) obliged to resign his See, and removed to Khuzistan, in Jabal Mattuth, and then to the nearby monastery of Rabban Sabour.” It is not known when he died, but it was, perhaps, around 700. In some of the Orthodox Churches, his feast is celebrated on 28 January, with that of St Ephrem. 

Body, Heart and Mind 
“Every prayer over which the body (fagro) does not share the toil, and over which the heart (lebo) does not feel suffering, you should consider to be stillborn (yaHTo).” St Isaac means that if our prayer is purely intellectual, passing through the mind but making no impact on our feeling of ourselves and our hearts, it is without the possibility of progress in the spiritual life. That is why he describes it as being “still-born,” it had potential but that potential will not lead anywhere. St Isaac understood that the mind may see a need for change, and may direct it, but the power to change comes from the body and the heart. 
In another place, St Isaac observes that it is crucial to take a good reverent posture of the body when praying: a person’s posture tells us much about their state and their attitude. St Isaac advises us to stand, to raise one’s arms, or to even lie prostrate on the ground in order to prepare the body for prayer. It is not that God needs us to take humble and beseeching positions: rather, it is we who benefit from them. The point is to take a posture which is a sign of good intention and where we can best hold our attention: this is very difficult indeed when lying down on our backs, or hunched up. 
St Isaac here bases himself on two facts: the Incarnation of the Lord as a human being, and the fact that we are still in our bodies. The Lord did not despise the human body – neither should we. We are not disembodied spirits, and so we should not pretend that “prayer of the heart suffices by itself …” (Sebastian Brock, The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life, 276). It is true that what is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of the spirit is spirit, as the Lord said (John 3:6). St Isaac’s point is that the spirit can infuse the body, lift and transform it.

The Syriac Approach to the Divine 
It is no surprise to anyone acquainted with Syriac thought that St Isaac’s approach to God is typological, that is only the divine world is true and real; this world is an image of the divine. We can move towards God because He appears to us as an image, a “true icon of the world beyond” (yiqoneh šariro d.3olmo dal.hal) (see Mary Hansbury, Isaac the Syrian’s Spiritual Works, 8), and prayer is the best way of bringing the mind to “fellowship” (neštawtaf, from the same root as the word for Eucharistic Communion). 
A premium is placed on work, stillness and meditation. There is no contradiction here, for if one can work with interior stillness, there is pure action, and we can then be busy in the world while maintaining purity of intention. The word used for “meditation” is often renyo, “thinking, paying attention”, a thought which is a quiet gazing upon pure reality, without illusion. Another word for meditation is hergo (to let the mind dwell on God’s plan for salvation, from the creation through to the Second Coming). 
The cleansing of our thought and our seeing begins, says St Isaac, with a sense of wonder, tehro, in Syriac. What is wonder? In the Syriac tradition, it is not just seeing something as if for the first time, and with an emotion of surprise, it is also the emotion of joy or ecstasy which comes with that sight. In the solitary tradition, wonder is the divine energy which transforms our sight of the world and allows us to see that the miraculous is the real. Wonder takes us to the mystery behind the universe, and to the divine essence, and by lifting our spirits even improves our ordinary lives (Hansbury, 14-16). 
By conforming our earthly life to the divine, we use the higher as a pattern for the lower; and so the body changes from being a servant of carnal and material intention to becoming a vessel of the divine. St Isaac writes: “By stillness of the body and ceasing from this world, solitaries imagine the true stillness and the withdrawal from nature which will occur at the end of the corporeal world. By means of the mind, they are united with the world of the spirit. By means of meditation they are involved in the expanse above. Thus, symbolically, they remain continually in the future reality” (Hansbury, 18-20). 
There is an issue with Hansbury’s translation here: the word which she has rendered as “symbolically” is no such thing – it is dab.Tuf.so, meaning “according to the type”, or “the archetype”. What St Isaac is saying is that when we begin to see with the eyes of the heart that the earth is modelled on the archetype of heaven, then by looking to that eternal reality we share in it.
But for the world to more truly reflect the divine model on which it has been created, we must cleanse it of what is evil and build up what is good: this is our labour, our work. 
External order is therefore central to the holy life, since: “For thoughts to be at peace, it is necessary to show great care also for exterior things … neglect (and) disorderliness of the body can stir up very vicious struggles” (Hansbury, 26). In keeping with the understanding of the significance of the Incarnation of the divine in the human, the lower must be put in order so that it can receive the divine. The human must be respected on its level, and not for its own sake, but for that of God who made and makes use of us and our bodies. 
When St Isaac speaks of disciplining and mortifying the body, as he so often does, he does not mean to do so with some stern attitude of punishing the body for being flesh. He means, of course, not to identify with the body, not to worship it. For example, physical health is good, it is a great advantage to be physically healthy when seeking spiritual, intellectual and emotional health: then, when they have been achieved, at least to some degree, one can withstand illness, even severe suffering, because one is now balanced in a higher state. If I seek physical health for the sake of my spiritual health, and never confuse one for the other, I shall walk safely. But if I start to pride myself on my appearance, my clear skin, or my physique, I am bowing before an idol. 

One last thought from St Isaac: Love is sweeter than life; but even sweeter than honey and a honeycomb is an insight concerning God out of which love is born. 
This was written by a Maronite priest. Of your mercy, please pray for those souls in Purgatory who have no one else to pray for them, and also pray for that priest.


Sister, you don’t know how to pray!
Prayer and the Holy Spirit 

A Reflection by Sr. Natalie Sayde Salameh, MSCL

As many would now be aware, we, the Maronite Servants, have a new Postulant joining us next month, on September 19. Praise God!  The young lady’s name is Emily Lattouf, from St. Theresa’s Church in Brockton, MA. Emily’s family came to visit the sisters here at our Convent in Dartmouth recently. 

Emily has a four old little sister, whose name is Angelina. She is quite the character! During the course of our conversation, I discovered that little Angie prays a decade of the Chaplet of the Sacred Heart every day. I was intrigued, and I asked her to teach me how to pray the Chaplet. I took out my Rosary so that she could tell me what prayers are said on which beads. Well, we fumbled our way through, and Angie was giving me a lot of repetition, so I finally said, “Ok, so after the Our Father and the Hail Mary, what comes next?” She replied, “You do not know how to pray!” Well, I laughed so hard and so did everybody else. I responded to Angie by saying, “You are absolutely right, I do not know how to pray”. Kids say the darndest (and yet most truthful) things, right?

Angie’s response had reminded me of what St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans, Chapter 8, verse 26:

        In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
Angie’s response had reminded me that it’s not me who prays, but the Holy Spirit who prays in me. Her response prompted me afresh to implore the Holy Spirit to “teach me to pray, to pray in me”. 

In a couple of short weeks in the Maronite Church, the Season of Pentecost, often known as the Season of the Holy Spirit, will come to an end. In fact, the Season of Pentecost ends with the beginning of the next (and final) Liturgical Season of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14.

The Season of Pentecost is the longest season in the Maronite Church, sometimes lasting as long as three to four months, depending on where Easter falls in the year. After about the 4thor 5thSunday of Pentecost, the repetition of the same Liturgies and prayers can become somewhat tedious and monotonous. 

Angie reminded me through her candor and simplicity, that only a pure child possesses, that we are still in this powerful Season of the Holy Spirit. Let’s finish this Season strong. Let us implore the Holy Spirit to come and help us, and teach us weak human beings how to praise God, and how to love God as He desires to be loved. Only the presence of the Holy Spirit in us can do that!