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Father George Shalhoub Offers Homily at Ecumenical Vigil Service

Feast of St. Anne
Ecumenical Vigil Service
Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament
Monday, July 25, 2016
"Community in Communion": Homily offered by Fr. George H. Shalhoub 

Your Eminence Archbishop Vigneron, Your Graces, Brother Clergy and my beloved neighbors,

I wish to thank you on behalf of our Metropolitan Joseph and our local bishop, Bishop Anthony.

What an awesome moment as we come together at this Holy Cathedral, celebrating Vespers in honor of a special grandmother, wife, mother and aunt, St. Anne on the occasion when the Holy Church honors her memory. And, especially for me to be invited in the spirit of ecumenism and neighborly love to give the homily tonight on the occasion of the feast of our grandmother and on the anniversary of our two abducted Archbishops, Paul Yazigi and Youhanna Ibrahim and to all the suffering families throughout the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq and in America.

But, who am I to teach the teacher and give wisdom to the wise? Simply put, I will share the message of the good news that every family, under the sun, is in need of hearing.

St. Anne, according to church tradition, was a loving and faithful wife to Joachim. For whatever reason, she was not able to conceive until later in life. But if God wills it, even the power of nature is overcome. God can give a child, even to infertile couples.

Her parents had 3 daughters, Mary, Sophia and Anne (Hanneh). Mary married and gave birth to Salome, Sophia married and gave birth to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist and Anne married Joachim. She bore a daughter who was chosen and called the mother of our Lord, the Theotokos.

The hymns of the church speak of St. Anne:   

Be glad, O barren one; Be glad, O aged Anna. You will conceive and give birth to a wondrous child, a chosen one;
Yet, you will be more glorious than all, Sarah, Rachel and Elizabeth, for you will give birth, from the womb, to the wonderful Virgin, the only wonderful Mother of the Most High King.
When men hunger, the Lord makes the dry field fertile; and
Because of the spiritual hunger of the world, He makes the barren on fertile.
For the salvation of men, the Lord arranges all for the best.
That is why all the Church of the Saints cries out to Him: Glory! Glory!”

Who is St. Anne for us? St. Anne represents the human family in its struggles, heartaches and holiness.

“Every family is always a light, however faint, amid the darkness of the world.”  (1)

Throughout society, we see many families suffering from abdicating their calling to sow the seed of virtues into their children. It seems we have fallen into a trap of creating busyness by encouraging sports and extra-curricular activities, hoping to make our children stronger and productive. What good is success and strength without good virtues? It will only produce a lonely child that lives, eats and serves himself/herself.

Family responsibility and commitment is to invest time and energy into creating and sustaining healthy relationships that understand the meaning of commitment, to support each other and to believe that family matters and must come first.  “The family is the entity that gives real meaning to life and existence. The family is the cornerstone of our social system. The family is not a casual and spontaneous organization of people, but a divinely ordained group.”  (2)

“Modern families can learn, first of all, the coming of the Divine Person of the Holy Trinity; families rooted in communion of person, of God and the Holy Trinity.”  (3)

This is what it means to honor St. Anne and her husband Joachim; for the grace they received to become the parents of the Mother of the World, Mary, who taught the world and saved mankind by giving birth to Christ the Lord.

Today, we must remind ourselves, not only as Catholics and Orthodox, Protestant or others, but to remind the world: “We are not made for ourselves alone. We are made for good and for all fellow creatures.”   (4)  

It is not about religion anymore. It is about preserving humanity.

The call of parenting, as we reflect on the life or our Lord’s grandmother and mother of Mary, is to point out and demonstrate the virtues of self-giving, respect, courtesy and self-control.

“Virtue comes by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer surpasses anger. Prayer prevents emotion of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to heaven.”   (5)

“For love is not an option that we simply have and can disregard. It is an opportunity that comes to us and determines who we are and what contributions we make to God’s world.”  (6)

In my own life, I have come to know the beauty and the power of the Gospel. The Gospel is first, a personal story before it is a construction of ideas. In other words, every person God made and particularly every person God has significantly used in the story of salvation is precious to Him and to us.

So, we should always resist the temptation to misuse these Holy Christ-giving people by regarding them as impersonal, theological points of argument before we contemplate the beauty and light of their lives.

God has given us stories to above all, enlighten and sanctify our own souls.

St. Anne, the mother of our most Blessed Holy Theotokos is surely such a light on our path to holiness. Her story is the story of what the Holy Spirit is able to create from the Gospel. It is the story of our salvation. Therefore, her holiness, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, is part of this tradition which is bestowed upon the Theotokos and into which we enter upon our own union to Christ.

If our attitude is wrong, nothing will work in our relationships and not even in our spirituality. But, if our attitude reflects the Beatitudes and blessings taught by Christ, we are able to be formed, reformed and transformed into this image.

If the year of mercy means anything, it is a constant reminder that God is merciful. And we, in turn, can become merciful to our children and to each other. When we embody the meaning of God’s mercy and break it down, mercy means to listen, to encourage, to comfort, to forgive, to understand and to pray.

Mercy does not mean to justify falsehood and sin. It does not mean to tolerate foolishness and evil or to overlook injustice and iniquity. God is not this way and does not do this. The meaning of God’s mercy is compassion to evil-doers and sympathy to those who are caught in the bonds of sin.

I wish to share with you a story about a saint, Theophan the Confessor. While he was walking along the street, he saw a naked child freezing. He quickly removed his clothes, covered the child, warmed him and brought him back to life. Upon his return home, his parents asked him where his clothes were. And he replied, “I clothed Christ.”

Through St. Anne, Mary clothed Christ and Christ, in return, clothed all of us with mercy.

With the blessing of Bishop Anthony, and at the invitation of His Eminence Archbishop Allen Vigneron of the Archdiocese of Detroit, Fr. George Shalhoub gave the homily at the Ecumenical Vigil Service on July 25, 2016, at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit, MI. Read more about the life of St. Anna.

  1. Pope Francis
  2. A. M. – United Nations, New York
  3. Bishop Anthony
  4. Gregory of Nazianzus
  5. Ephraim the Syrian
  6. Bishop Anthony
Father George Shalhoub Homily at Ecumenical Vigil Service, 7.25.201668.62 KB