How long have you been a practicing Catholic?
I am a cradle Catholic, baptized in the Melkite Catholic Church. I was raised in Lebanon, a country with a large Catholic population. While I practiced some aspects of the faith throughout my life, I consider myself to have truly reverted to the Catholic Church around 5 years ago. Due to poor catechesis, I didn’t know much of my faith before that!
Care to share your conversion/reversion story?
Talk about the work of the Holy Spirit! A few years ago, I met a family on facebook who attended the Traditional Latin Mass in the United States. They encouraged me to attend one near me in Montreal. I first found the Society of Saint Pius X, and fell in love immediately with the reverence and beauty I experienced (though now that I know better, my attitude towards the Society is that of the Church). A year later I found a Fraternity of Saint Peter parish to which I transferred. Through the influence of the wonderful people there, as well as the holiness and charity of the priests, my whole life started to change. I fell in love with Beauty, with Love Himself. When one truly encounters Divine Love, all else becomes a detail, a means to acquire the fullness of that Love, but also to be transformed and lost into it… or Him! Again, through facebook, I started encountering the Byzantine Churches and their traditions. With all the persecutions going on in the Middle East, I decided that I should perhaps re-explore my original Church, the Melkite Church, rather than turn my back on what others have shed their blood for. This newfound interest turned to love when I spent 6 months in Lebanon after my BA, during which I attended the church within the Melkite Patriarchal Complex. God indeed works in mysterious ways, and He doesn’t always take shortcuts. I had to leave Lebanon and the Melkite Church, go through the Latin SSPX in Canada, then the FSSP, to finally return to the Melkite Church in Lebanon. Here I have found the fullness of the faith rooted in tradition and the Church Fathers.
How does your faith inform your day-to-day life?
I’d like to quote one of my favorite poems for that, written by one of the nuns of Christ the Bridegroom Ruthenian Catholic monastery:
“I need not even think of where Your love is.
When I cry, it is in Gethsemane.
When I laugh, it is in Cana.
There is no part of my life outside of our love.”
What is your greatest challenge in practicing your faith?
The constant temptation to compromise and be unfaithful to the One we call Lover of Mankind. The West is very hostile to Catholicism, the Middle East full with brutal persecution, and every part of the life in the faith is constantly questioned. In fact, even back in Lebanon, Cultural Catholicism questions and mocks Living Catholicism, and these two are very different things. I think, however, the sacrifice that so many of our brothers and sisters have done and still do is a witness and an encouragement to persevere. In that sense, they literally die for the faith so that we may learn to live in and for it. We all fantasize about dying on that Libyan beach with the Copts, in some illusion of glory with “Even Unto Death” by Audrey Assad playing in the background. However, let us first learn to be faithful in the little sacrifices. In all those little chances of martyrdom, I have apostatized and denied Christ a thousand times.
Favorite Bible verse?
“Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you: Do not awaken Love until He so desires.” -Song of Songs 8:4.
I think this verse speaks deeply to the dark night of faith in which we all pass. When we are faltering under the burden of some physical, mental or spiritual pain, we often immediately ask for relief, for some consolation, for some proof that God is with us. Like the Apostles, we choose to awaken the Master when He seems to sleep during the storm. This verse however talks of a soul that chooses to let Him sleep and to take the path of complete, naked and soul-wrenching trust in His mercy. Let Him awaken when He wishes to. Let Him choose when to fill the soul with Uncreated Light, when to allow the action of Grace to finally be perceptible! It is my favorite verse precisely because the virtue of faithfulness is one of, if not THE greatest, of my spiritual struggles.
Favorite spiritual writing besides the Bible?
This is a very difficult choice to make. However, the following quote is particularly beautiful, especially in Arabic. It basically speaks of the encounter with Christ that happens once the darkness is lifted and His face is revealed to us. It is a soul that is not able to bear the glory of God, and like Elijah covers itself before the “gentle whisper” in which God’s presence is revealed:
“Hold back, my dear Jesus, the waves of Thy grace, for I am melting like wax.” –Elder Joseph the Hesychast
Favorite saint and why?
Right now Saint Maryam of Jesus Crucified (Melkite Carmelite mystic and stigmatist). I’m a fanatical fan of all things Carmelite and all things Melkite, so she’s the union of both. I just finished reading her biography, but she has been very visibly working in my life for the past year. On her feast day she obtained a great grace for me. It is a textbook case of a saint choosing you. She also chose my goddaughter who is named after her.
However, I think St. Therese of Lisieux will always have a special place in my heart. What a living school of the knowledge of God she is! No wonder the Church glorified her with the title of Doctor.
What is your ministry in the church?
I work with the youth at the Melkite Cathedral.
Favorite movie, book, music, and why?
And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini
A Thousand Splendid Suns, also Khaled Hosseini
>> His writing style is very similar to Tolkien’s, whose work I also admire. Hosseini speaks of very difficult topics and life experiences like abusive marriages, the Taliban’s rule, the jealousy of a sister, the absence of a father, etc… However, he writes so beautifully in style and content that his work always gently wounds the heart. Even the sorrows he speaks of are breathtakingly approached. The depth of human misery he embraces in his works seems often misunderstood by Western authors. He understands pain, he expresses pain very well, and in the end shows you the beauty and dignity of human life even through such sufferings.
Story of a Soul, by St. Therese of Lisieux
>>Does this really need an explanation? I can’t tell which is the truer case: that St. Therese’s simplicity hides the heights of spiritual knowledge she reached, or that her unrivaled holiness hides the raw realism of her worldview? Without leaving her Carmel, and most probably due to that Carmelite vocation, she encountered the magnificence of the Living Fire and Uncreated Light in the perceived “insignificance” of a “boring and wasted” life.
Everything based on anything by Tolkien: His work is magic.
Passion of the Christ, especially the “Mary Goes to Jesus” scene: Again, the topic of realistic yet unfathomable holiness is beautifully portrayed. Mary’s humanity is so perfectly depicted in Her running to pick a young Jesus. I have witnessed these very same hands pick me up time and time again. What breaks my heart the most though is the gaze that happens between Christ and Mary. They both, more than anyone else to have walked the Earth, truly saw the beauty of the person at whom they were gazing. Christ knew the extent of Our Lady’s immaculate soul, and Mary was so perfectly united with Her God and Son. At the end of the scene Christ tells Her, like a child proudly showing his work to his mother, “Behold, Mother! I make all things new.” He then rises and embraces the Cross with such love on His face. It is almost unclear in this scene who was carrying whom. Did Mary lift up Christ, or did He lift Her?
All the 20 film versions of “Story of a Soul”: because it is the movie of one of the most groundbreaking spiritual writings.
Music: a bit of everything, as long as isn’t sinful.
What languages are you fluent in? What language do you pray in outside of Church?
English, French and Arabic. I mostly use English for memorized or read prayers such as from the Byzantine Horologion (Book of the Hours). However, when I’m praying with my own words, I usually use Arabic. I try to include what little Greek I know as much as I can, because it is such a beautiful language of the Melkite Church.
Writing, reading, playing the piano, going to the movies, driving alone on beautiful roads with some good music.
If you had $20 and an hour, what would you do?
Go horseback riding at night far away from civilization. I’d love to have a chance to go away in solitude, and I’ve always loved sitting alone and looking up to the stars. As for the horses, they’re just magnificent creatures.