All posts by Subdeacon Steve Crate

Raised in Trinitarian/Presbyterian/Quaker tradition, Steve converted to Maronite Catholic in 1978 when his first son was Baptised and Christened. Both faiths have a Trinitarian basis for explaining God and so fit with his lifetime faith. Steve also had developed a Contemplative Prayer practice which has monastic historical basis and is the foundation of the Maronite Church from St Maron forward. He was ordained a Lector, Cantor and Subdeacon in the Maronite Catholic Church on October 24, 2010. He continues to serve in a voluntary ministry at St Joseph Maronite Catholic Church in Waterville Maine. Steve is a retired Rehabilitation Counselor, teacher and writer. Steve recently was hired as part time Spiritual Care Coordinator at Northern Light Inland Hospital in Waterville.

Peace in these Times

I was reviewing some of the resources I have developed over the many years I have worked as a rehab counselor, and more recently a Spiritual Care Coordinator and Chaplain. After 30 years as a rehab counselor, I was ordained to the minor order of Subdeacon in the Maronite Church. There are two different paths with this ordination. The temporary path which leads to Deacon, Priest and Bishop (God willing) and the second status Permanent Subdeacon. This is a ministry in itself where the candidate is ordained at a church where he will serve for the foreseeable future. I was drawn to this because I did not have any intent to become a deacon. I was married.

My background in Eastern Christian theology stemmed from my study of Eastern philosophy and meditation in College in 1972. I learned Transcendental Meditation. Later after converting to Maronite Catholic, I changed the practice to be more in tune with Catholicism using FR. Thomas Keating’s Centering Prayer as a model. Since the Maronite Church was founded from the monastic tradition of St Maron it seemed to fit. I even wrote a letter to Fr. Thomas Keating concerned that my foundation of learning meditation being TM, that it might be heretical in the Catholic, He encouraged me, noting that if adoration of God, through and with the Most Holy Trinity was my intention as I meditated that it would not be a contrary practice. I confirmed this with my spiritual director and continued my ministry.

Patience in Serving God

The Maronite Church is the foundation of my life. My service as a Subdeacon has brought me back to my childhood awe of our Creator. When I let myself view God and Jesus as I did when I was a child, tears of joy rise in me that go beyond explanation to a unwavering faith in Jesus Christ as the bridge to both a joyful life on earth and everlasting life with God.

When I was a little boy I remember singing the song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children” in Sunday school. This song still comes to me often when I see a child playing or laughing, or when I hear of a miracle that clearly seems to be the work of the Holy Spirit. If I were a child, Jesus would surely love me. But does he love me as an adult? Most of the time I believe he does, but the daily challenges of living and working in the world sometimes diminish that belief. I lose hope for a moment here and there. But then I see a small child laugh or a baby in a mother’s arms and I am reminded of my faith. It then becomes much clearer to me what we all need to do to support our faith…become and stay like children in our unfailing wondrous belief in the salvation of Jesus Christ. That seems easy if we can remember the awe of belief and faith we had as children in all things wondrous; Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Superman, Mighty Mouse and the Lone Ranger. Heroes who made us happy children, bringing joy and saving people, just like Jesus who saved each of us who believe in Him. Now I am sure some will want to be a critic of my comparison of cartoon characters with Jesus. If you thought that, you’re missing my point. I am talking about the awe of belief in something, and when that something is the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we are transformed. The children’s song is a wonderful reminder of God’s love for each of us as adults who must be like innocent children in our worship. Here are the words again.

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red, brown, yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Seems to me this is a pretty solid and unambiguous message. Believe in God and his Kingdom as a child does and you will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Another example of this is the scripture passage from Matthew 18:2-3 “2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, 3and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

All of this and much more contributed to my discernment to answer God’s calling to serve the Maronite Church as a lector, cantor and subdeacon. My favorite part of this role is participating in silent prayer and adoration of the Eucharistic celebration and during the consecration which is said in Aramaic. I love chanting the Fetgomo, I love the prayers of the Syriac Antiochene Maronite Liturgy. When I participate with the mindset of a child, I am awed every time and filled with the Love of Jesus.

My biggest challenge in this ministry is keeping the balance between my love, dedication and need to provide financially for my family and staying humble and discerning in my role as a servant of God. I think the ego can promote pride and the false self which is contrary to the Divine plan for disciples of Jesus Christ. We are told the world has temptations; people will take advantage of you if they can. If you focus on this fear, it becomes your operating mindset. If I set up a competition between my work needs, my family’s needs and the Church’s needs, it will become a lose/lose situation. The challenge is to stay with the love of a child, but discern with the help of the Holy Spirit each meet and greet choice, the events and the people in your home and work life. When we welcome these challenges with the awe of a child, discern God’s will and give each one to the Holy Spirit with faith, daily life will be blessed and human connections will thrive and sustain with simplicity living in the Presence of the Lord . It is not always easy, but the path is clear.
Another challenge is maintaining the wisdom and simplicity of patience. The patience of waiting for the Coming of the LORD in our spiritual development, the patience of Job as we continue our daily work of earning a living, strengthening our family relationships and serving God; and, most important of all sustaining patience with our own imperfection as sinners. I find I am much harder on myself than almost anyone. I need to develop patience, surrendering my life to His will, while He creates that wonderful and beautiful sculpture from the block of my present self, knowing I will someday get to a place of peace and simplicity living God’s will. I wrote this poem many years ago and it seems appropriate for this article’s theme. It is called Patience.
Patience is a funny thing,
That’s not inside of me.
I wonder how, and why and when,
Patience will come to me.
I hope it’s soon for it’s getting late,
I really am afraid.
For if I don’t get it soon,
I just will have to wait.
When I was child, Jesus was my Hero. He still is. But as I grow in my spiritual strength and faith He has become so much more than that. Jesus Christ manifested in the Most Holy Trinity, is my Friend, my Lord and my Savior, and to quote a wonderful Maronite Priest; Fr. Joe Thomas, our Trinitarian God is “my sickle in the thicket” May God grant me the patience to live my life according to His will.

Consumer Power

This editorial touched my soul this morning as I read it.  The freedom this country gives us all is being blocked, challenged, criticized and in many cases the manipulated by writers and pundits who disagree with the age old wisdom of tradition. Certainly this is their right, but the publishers of mainstream media must be aware of the changing tide and that from a commercial perspective their liberal progressive perspective is slowly losing ground. More and more people want to see balanced objective reporting rather than radical extremism.  So if you disagree with what you hear in the mainstream media, do not support their sponsors. Boycott their products, vote with your spending.   The most powerful freedom in this country is the spending choice of consumers.  Remember that the next time you buy something.  Have a good day.

Sing Your Song

Every person is a song. Each person shares their song in body language, dress, behavior, spoken words and actions. Human songs are in different keys some in tune with many others, in contrast with major keys or minor keys. Standards in music are clear. We like this song don’t like that song. It is in tune with perfect pitch or not.  However when a song is terrible or we don’t like it the first thing we must do is turn it off, or, we try and understand the source of that song.  Additionally, the human singing that song must understand that their song may out of key then some may not understand them. And in fact may not want them around. We each must evaluate our own song and decide whether we wanted to be with people or be independent and an expression of our difference. If we take that particular stand then there will be people who don’t like our individual difference. If we worry about if people like us, or agree with us or are in tune with us then we will fail. If we focus on serving others and sharing our passion we will make a impact. If your song is wonderful, people will want to tune into you. If your source is the objective reality, people will be moved to sing with you. If not… that is the beauty of life.

Seeking God can be a vain glory trap!

I converted to Maronite Catholicism over 40 years ago. In my early years I was excited and enthusiastic about learning about Eastern Christianity, my prayer and learning. I transformed my faith and started thinking like an Eastern Catholic, rather then just following the Catholic teaching. When you see the truth of Jesus Christ and live the truth of Jesus Christ your every moment becomes a choice between consciously moving closer to the Divine Grace you have been granted or sliding toward death and destruction. There is no gray area. You may get stuck, frozen or confused and not make a conscious choice (or you fool yourself thinking you have) but eventually you move, make a choice and head in a direction.

But your knowledge can be a trap. You can begin to think very highly of yourself given your dedication to living a Christian life. You become so smart in your subjective rationalization that you ate flying high. My spiritual director calls it idiosyncratic intelligent curiosity. I think it may just be vain/glory. Vain/glory can draw you into complacency. Be wise. Avoid this spiritual danger.

Avoid this spiritual danger when pursuing knowledge of God

Know thyself .

This comment by Thomas Merton is so true.

“The reason why so many religious people believe they cannot meditate is that they think meditation consists in having religious emotions, thoughts, or affections of which one is, oneself, acutely aware. As soon as they start to meditate, they begin to look into the psychological conscience to find out if they are experiencing anything worthwhile. They find little or nothing. They either strain themselves to produce some interior experience, or else they give up in disgust.”

—Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

Sit, breath, release, Let Go Let God…Kyrie Elieson.

Guest Blog -Lebanese of Waterville Maine

By Larry Grard
WATERVILLE – Upwards of 75 people packed the Redington Museum parlor on the evening of Thursday, Jan. 10, for a presentation of Waterville’s vibrant Lebanese history, sponsored by the Waterville Historical Society.
Tom Nale and Joe Jabar, both of whom have deep roots in the city’s Lebanese history, provided informative and intriguing half-hour talks.
“What a great turnout on a lovely day,” Historical Society President said, a light-hearted remark considering the frigid temperatures outside. “We have two pillars of the community, both members of the bench, here for us.”
On Feb. 13 at 5:30 p.m., the cultural series will continue with a lecture on Franco-American Women in Waterville. There is no admission charge.
Nale spoke first on Jan. 10, detailing how his Sittoo (grandmother in Arabic) and Giddoo (grandfather), and many other Lebanese immigrants, endured the trip to the United States in the early part of the 20th century. The famine of 1918 had wiped out half the country’s 800,000 people.
“They were caged with chicken wire in the worst part of the ship with little food,” Nale said. “They sang songs.”
One group of Lebanese immigrants landed first in Canada, and traveled at night by foot to reach Waterville.
The great majority of Waterville Lebanese are Maronite (Eastern Rite) Catholics, and they were quick to organize a Maronite church of their own. The first family, that of Abraham Joseph, had come to Waterville in 1888. Two years laater, Lebanese families were attending Roman Catholic Masses at Sacred Heart and St. Francis. But by 1924, Father Awad came from the old country to establish the first Maronite church in the city. Today, the gorgeous St. Joseph Maronite Catholic C hurch on Front Street faces the Kennebec River, looking east.
The immigrants built tenements along the riverside, in an area known as “Head of Falls.” Those houses were torn down in the late 1960s.
“I can tell you where each and every house was on Head of Falls,” Nale said. “That was because I had a paper route. Me and Joe were altar boys, and we went to the church after our routes. When Joe and I were serving the church was absolutely full from front to back.”
The mills attracted most of the Lebanese, French, Polish and other immigrants to Waterville, but some Lebanese were Phoenicians, who were merchants. Al Corey had his famous music store on Main Street, and the Peter Joseph family only recently sold Joseph’s Market, which is still in business a stone’s throw from the church.
“We were all known as cousins,” Nale said. “To work on the railroad was a dream for those men. It was not hard work.”
Sen. George Mitchell became the city’s most celebrated Lebanese, although for a time his older brother, the late Johnny “Swisher” Mitchell, claimed that mantle. Swisher led undefeated Waterville High to the New England Basketball Championship in 1944.
Jabar referred to the Earl Smith “Water Village,” which explains some of the tenets of the Maronite religion. St. Maron was a monk in the hills of Lebanon.
Jabar’s father was born in Waterville in 1905, making him one of the early first-generation Lebanese. In 1922, George Jabar and Phillip Nagem became the first Lebanese boys to graduate Waterville High.
“He made $17 a week at the mill,” Jabar said of his father. “Then he got $20-$25 as a weaver. He became a union organizer in the 1930s. He was a natural.”
Those first-generation Waterville Lebanese instilled in their children the need for education.
“We had eight siblings in our family,” Jabar said. “Seven of them went to college.”
The Lebanese kids – including Swisher Mitchell – made the Boys Club their second home. Jabar said there is a 16 mm tape available of Waterville’s victory over Somerville, MA, in the New England final.
“Swisher would dribble, dribble, dribble,” said Jabar, who wasn’t a bad athlete himself in the mid-1960s. “He kept the basketball.”
The Redington Museum will be open to the public from Memorial Day week to Labor Day. Hours are 10-11 a.m. and 1-2 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Fasting Maronite Faithful

The Maronite Church was founded by a monk named StMaron and continues to be a tradition based on monastic practices. St Sharbel is our most recent model of a faithful servant. In the Cana Week Monday Safro the First Prayer shows the sacred focus of fasting

Lord, have mercy on us and save us.
O God, may we submit to this holy fast
and accept it with all our will, with joy and good cheer; do not make us strangers to the reward given to those who fast.
Walking in the way of penitence and mortification we shall arrive in the eternal kingdom where we shall praise your glory, for ever. Amen.”

So what is the expectation of the faithful during Lent?  The 1736 Synod of Mt. Lebanon states:

“Every weekday of Lent (Monday through Friday) is a day of fasting and abstinence from meat and dairy products (eggs, butter, milk, etc.) Fasting involves eating and drinking nothing at all (except water and medicine) from midnight until noon. The rest of the day normal meals can be taken, but without meat or dairy products. Dairy products are excluded because they are animal byproducts. Saturdays and Sundays are exempt from fasting and abstaining, as are the following four feast days: St. Maron – February 9, The 40 Martyrs – March 9, St. Joseph – March 19 and the Annunciation – March 25.” This is a wonderful goal but not a requirement. The requirement now is fasting on Ash Monday and Good Friday.

I like to use an analogy of tuning a musical instrument.  To be perfect one needs to use a tuning fork. But if you tune by ear it still may sound ok. This is not precise but acceptable with some. The same with these kinds of suggested practices. Following the original 1736 practices is like using a tuning fork to be precise and ultimately closer to the perfection of Creation. But the current practices are OK. Jesus does give us the freedom to choose. The consequences or rewards of those choices are subject to multiple interpretations of the Magesteruim and our prayerful reason, but in the end are a mystery. I would suggest the Magesterium has the wisdom of the ages for the most part. That is the subject of another blog.