Friday, October 13, 2017


OT XXVIII [A]  Is 25:6-10a; Phil 4:12-14, 19-20; Mt 22:1-14

At the end of World War II, the Russian head-of-state gave an elaborate banquet to honor the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  The Russians arrived in their best formal wear -- military dress uniforms -- but their honored guest did not.  Churchill arrived wearing his famous zipper coveralls that he had worn during the German bomb attack in London.  He thought it would provide a nostalgic touch the Russians would appreciate.  They didn’t.  They were humiliated and insulted that their prominent guest-of-honor had not considered their banquet worthy of his best clothes.  Wearing the right clothing to a formal dinner honors the host and the occasion; neglecting to wear the right clothing is an insult.  Weddings were such an important occasion in Palestine in Christ’s days that people were expected to wear the proper clothing to show appreciation and respect for the invitation.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus demands and provides the wedding garment of righteousness from his followers.

Today’s Scripture gives us the strong warning that if we do not accept God’s love, if we reject His gift, we can have no place with Him. We have to stay prepared for the freely-offered Heavenly banquet and wearing the freely-given wedding garment of grace always. Our wedding garment is made of our grace-assisted works of justice, charity and holiness.  The parable warns us that membership in a Church alone does not guarantee our eternal salvation.

 This parable is obviously more than a story about a king and a banquet.  It is the story of Salvation History in which God sent prophets and Christian evangelists with Good News.  The first-invited are now rejected, but strangers are accepted.  In other words, the Gentiles have replaced the Jews who refused to respond to Yahweh's call.  This was the way that first-century Christians looked at the Jewish rejection of Jesus.

The “refusal of a king's invitation by the VIPs, without any valid reason suggested rebellion and insurrection” (The Interpreter’s Bible).  That is why the king sent soldiers to suppress the rebellion. The other invited guests challenge the king's honor directly by seizing his slaves who bring the invitation, beating, and killing them.  Clearly this action demands reprisal, and the King obliges.  Later, Christians tended to see the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as a similar judgment of God upon the people who had rejected the invitation by Christ to the eschatological banquet.


God’s invitation includes an offer of the correct dress for the feast, namely, the robe of Christ's righteousness. The invitation to the ordinary people from the byways tells us that God’s invitation to each one of us is purely an act of grace and not something that we deserve by our good works.  The parable also warns us that God will judge those who refuse His invitation.
In those days, participants in a banquet were expected to dress in clothes that were superior to those worn on ordinary days.  Guests who could afford it would wear white, but it was sufficient for ordinary people to wear garments as close to white as possible.  It was customary for the rich hosts to provide their guests with suitable apparel. For royal weddings, special outfits were given to any guests who could not afford to buy their own.  Hence, to appear in ordinary, soiled working clothes would show contempt for the occasion, a refusal to join in the King's rejoicing.

The Christian must be clothed in the spirit and teaching of Jesus.  Grace is a gift and a grave responsibility.  Hence, a Christian must be clothed in a new purity and a new holiness.  In other words, while God, through the Church, opens wide His arms to the sinner, the sinner can only accept His invitation to this relationship of mutual love by loving Him back, and so by making some effort to repent and change his life. It is not enough for one simply to continue unabated in one’s sinful ways.  Although Jesus accepted the tax collectors and prostitutes, he demanded that they abandon their evil ways. 

We need to be grateful to Christ for the invitation to the Heavenly banquet: From the moment of our Baptism, we have been invited to the Heavenly banquet and provided with the wedding garment of sanctifying grace.  These great privileges and blessings are freely given to us by a loving God.  But the same obstacles which prevented the Pharisees from entering the Kingdom –- pride, love of this world, its wealth and its pleasures –- can impede us too.  Hence, we must be prepared to do violence to our ordinary inclinations and offer ourselves in love and service to Jesus and to his people.  That is how we will make our wedding garment clean and bright every day.  Receiving these gifts of God fully also demands that, instead of remaining marginal members of our parish community, we bear visible witness to our beliefs.  
Let us pray that we may keep our wedding garments pure and spotless and that we may become disciples who really practice the teachings of Jesus, rather than remaining mere Sunday Catholics.  Let us pray for a deeper Faith and love and a better spirit of responsibility to our community.


Let us examine whether we have fully accepted God’s invitation to the Messianic banquet and remember that banqueting implies friendship and intimacy, trust and reconciliation. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

OT XXVII [A]  Is 5:1-7; Phil 4:6-9; Mt 21:33-43

Andrew Carnegie, a multimillionaire, left one million dollars to one of his relatives, who in return cursed Carnegie bitterly because he had left $365 million to public charities and had cut the relatives off with one million each. Samuel Leibowitz, criminal lawyer and judge, saved 78 men from the electric chair.  Not one of them ever bothered to thank him. Many years ago, as the story is told, a devout king was disturbed by the ingratitude of his royal court. He prepared a large banquet for them.  When the king and his royal guests were seated, a beggar shuffled into the hall, sat down at the king's table, and gorged himself with food. Without saying a word, the beggar then left the room.  The guests were furious and asked permission to seize the tramp and tear him limb from limb for his ingratitude.  The king replied, "That beggar has done only once to an earthly king what each of you does three times each day to God.  You sit there at the table and eat until you are satisfied.  Then you walk away without recognizing God, or expressing one word of thanks to Him."  The parable in today’s Gospel is about the gross ingratitude of God’s chosen people who persecuted and killed all the prophets sent to them by God to correct them and finally crucified their long-awaited Messiah.

The common theme of today’s readings is the necessity of bearing fruit in the Christian life and the consequent punishment for spiritual sterility, ingratitude and wickedness.   Its importance is shown by its appearance in all the three Synoptic gospels. In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us Christians that since we are the "new" Israel, enriched with additional blessings and provisions in the Church, we are expected to show our gratitude to God by bearing fruits of the Kingdom, that  is, the Fruits of the Holy Spirit, in our lives.  
The parable reflects the frictions in tenant-landlord relations in Palestine.  Most of the vineyards were owned by rich, absentee landlords living in Jerusalem, Damascus or Rome who leased their lands to tenants and were interested only in collecting rent.  The country was seething with economic unrest.  The working people were discontented and rebellious, and the tenant farmers had picked up the revolutionary slogan, “land for the farmer.”  Hence, they often refused to pay the rent previously agreed upon and in some cases assaulted the landowner’s representatives.  It is natural, then, that Jesus’ parable should reflect the popular hatred of foreign domination and the monopolizing of agricultural land by a rich minority who supported Roman rule.
The Lord’s vineyard at present is the Church, and we Christians are the tenants from whom God expects fruits of righteousness.  The parable warns us that if we refuse to reform our lives, to become productive, we, too, could be replaced as the old Israel was replaced by the "new" Israel.  We cease being either God's vineyard or the tenants of God's vineyard when we stop relating to others as loving servants. In the parable, the rent the tenants refuse to pay stands for the relationship with God and with all the people of Israel, which the religious leaders refuse to cultivate. This means that before anything else, God checks on how well we are fulfilling our responsibilities to each other as children of God.  The parable teaches that instead of glorying in our privileges and Christian heritage, we are called to deeds of love, including bearing personal and corporate witness that invites others into God's kingdom.

Are we good fruit-producers in the vineyard of the Church?  Jesus has given us the Church, and through her everything necessary to make Christians fruit-bearing: i) The Bible to know the will of God.   ii) The Sacrament of Reconciliation for the remission of sins.  iii) The Holy Eucharist as our spiritual food.  iv) The Sacrament of Confirmation for a dynamic life of Faith.  v) The Sacrament of Matrimony for the sharing of love in the family, the fundamental unit of the Church. vi) Role models in thousands of saints. We are expected to make use of these gifts and produce fruits for God.

What is our attitude toward everything God has given to us?  Are we grateful for everything God has given to us, or are we like the ungrateful tenants who acted as if they owned everything God had given them?  

Friday, September 22, 2017

OT XXV [A] Is 55:6-9; Phil 1:20c-24, 27a; Mt 20:1-16a

An old “Family Circus” comic strip shows the two boys Jeff and Billy squabbling over the size of the slices of pie their mom has placed before them. “They aren’t the same,” Jeff pouts. Mom tries again, evening-up the slices. Still Jeff is upset. “They still aren’t the same!” he whines. This time Mom uses a ruler and absolutely proves that both slices of pie are the exact same size. “But Mom,” Jeff complains, “I want mine to be just like Billy’s . . . only bigger!”
We all tend to think we deserve a bigger slice of the pie. From the time we are little children, we are taught that doing more is worth more. If a five year old gets a dollar for picking up their toys and clothes; If an eight year old gets five dollars for feeding the dog, emptying the garbage, and vacuuming the living room; Then a twelve year old should get considerably more for mowing the lawn, doing some laundry, watching younger siblings, and cleaning the garage.
Chores and allowances teach children that in this world’s economy we have to do work in order to receive our “rewards.” We want our kids to learn and to live the adage, “Hard work pays off.”
That is why the parable in today’s gospel text is so unsettling. It is easy to identify with the grumbling guys who worked sunup to sundown, through the heat of the day, and then watched in amazement as some slackers who worked for one measly hour, in the cool of the approaching evening no less, got paid a full day’s wage. Of course the full day worker EXPECTS more and SHOULD get more. It is only fair. More work should equal more wages. ”Hard work pays off.” But it doesn’t. Not in Jesus’ story of the kingdom… Because it is not about fair or just payments. It is about God’s mercy and grace in human life.

A story is told of the lady who had a stranger appear at her door and simply handed her a $100 bill. She was dumbfounded! Then the same thing happened the next day….and the next…and the next. For thirty straight days this stranger gave her $100 without explanation. On the 31st day the lady was waiting at the door when she saw the man coming down the street. But then he passed her house and walked up to her neighbor’s house, and gave her a $100 bill! The first lady was indignant and yelled at the guy, "Hey, where’s my $100 bill?"

It’s easy to think that when life is going our way that somehow we deserve it. We come to expect it. We even plan for it. This parable is not so much about the injustice of workers getting paid the same for different amounts of work. It is about God and God’s mercy and grace. Sometimes it appears that some people are receiving more of God’s grace than others. But as Christians we live, not in a world of justice, but of grace.

In the first reading Isaiah says: The thoughts of God are not the thoughts of man. The ways of God are not the ways of man. As the heavens are higher than the earth, the ways of God are higher than the ways of man and the thoughts of God are higher than the thoughts of man. The way of God is beyond the understanding of the world; the ways of men are limited.

In Israel there were many great veteran warriors to fight with Goliath. But, God chose a young boy who was not even able to put on the armor to subdue Goliath. When God chose a simple maiden, Mary, to be the mother of Jesus, there were many young women of respectable genealogy, who were hoping to be called by God.  When Jesus called the illiterate fisher man Peter, in Israel there were many learned men who wished to follow Jesus. All these show that God chooses who He wants, and when he wants. And this call is a sheer act of mercy on God’s part.

God rewards us, not in the measure of what we do, but according to His good will. A full wage is offered to each of us, whether one has served him for a whole lifetime, or has turned to Him only at the eleventh hour. The story shows us how God looks at us, sees our needs and meets those needs. 

All the people, no matter when they come, are equally precious to God. Similarly, long-time Church members should expect no special preference over recent members.  Jesus warns them that the Gentiles who put their Faith in God will have the same reward a good Jew may expect.  Matthew, by retelling this parable, may well desire to give the same warning to the members of his Judeo-Christian community who considered the Gentile Christians as second-class Christians.  Those who carry out the will of God with love and humility will be acceptable before the Lord. So, Jesus says, “The first will be the last and the last will be the first.”


Pope Francis says: “The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.” The parable suggests that we can't work our way into Heaven because by our own unaided strength we can never do enough good in this life to earn our everlasting reward.


To God, we are more than just numbers on a payroll. All our talents and blessings are freely given by God. Hence, we should express our gratitude to God by avoiding sins, by rendering loving service to others, by sharing our blessings with the needy, and by constant prayer, listening and talking to God at all times.



      

Saturday, September 16, 2017

OT XXIV [A]: Sir 27:30--28:7; Rom 14:7-9; Mt 18:21-35

Monday was September 11, a date that Americans consider one of the most significant in the nation’s history. It has become one of the epic historic events equivalent to the founding of the United States, the ending of the conflict between the North and the South, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the ending of World War II and the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.  September 11, 2001 is a date that challenged both the freedom of a free people and the grace of forgiveness that Americans are told by our Lord Jesus Christ to offer, even to their enemies. But forgiveness is not an easy gift to give. Our readings for this Twenty-Fourth Sunday concern forgiving our offenders and being reconciled with them.   

It was the Rabbinic teaching that a man must forgive his brother three times. The Biblical proof for this was taken from the first and second chapters of Amos where we find a series of condemnations on the various nations for three transgressions (Am.1:3, 6, 9; Am.1:11, 13; Am.2:1, 4, 6). From this it was deduced that God's forgiveness extends to three offenses, and that He visits the sinner with punishment at the fourth. Also, seven was a holy number to Jewish people, symbolizing perfection, fullness, abundance, rest, and completion. Peter expected to be warmly commended.  But Jesus’ answer was that the Christian must forgive “seventy times seven times.” In other words, there is no reckonable limit to forgiveness.

A certain married couple had many sharp disagreements. Yet somehow the wife always stayed calm and collected. One day her husband commented on his wife’s restraint. “When I get mad at you,” he said, “you never fight back. How do you control your anger?”
The wife said: “I work it off by cleaning the toilet.”
The husband asked: “How does that help?”
She said: “I use your toothbrush!”


We must forgive in order to be forgiven. Jesus explains this after teaching the prayer, Our Father, saying=, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Mt 6:14-15). The same theme is reflected in the first reading from Sirach today. James offers this warning in different words: "For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy" (Jas 2:13). This means that Divine and human forgiveness go hand in hand.
Francis of Assisi’s prayer is: “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.” Our failure to offer pardon means that we have forgotten God’s goodness or have not fully appreciated the unconditional forgiveness we have received from Him.

Forgiveness involves more than absolution of guilt. It involves the reconciliation of our past and the healing of our brokenness. It involves intentional work to heal and be reconciled with another.
Forgiveness does not mean condoning evil. Neither in God nor in the Christian community, do forgiveness and reconciliation mean the indefinite tolerance of evil and unjust behavior. The king was perfectly ready to forgive the senior official. But how could reconciliation take place when the official later behaved in such an abominable way to a brother? God and the Church can forgive the repentant sinner, but they cannot condone un-repented behavior that is a source of real evil and suffering. God cannot be reconciled with the sinner who chooses to stay in sin, nor can the Christian community fully incorporate a member who refuses reconciliation and the healing of the behaviors that offend against truth and love. With God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, forgiveness is easily available to the individual Christian, but along with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we must seek a mutual healing of wounds and a real change of mind and evil behavior.

We need to forgive the person who has wronged us before the hatred eats away at our ability to forgive. It will not be easy, but God is there to help us. We can do this by offering that individual to God, not sitting in judgment on him or her, but by simply saying, “Help so-and-so and me to mend our relationship.” Whatever the hurt, pain, disappointment, fear or anger that we may be feeling, we need to say, “God, I give this over to You. I can’t take care of it, but I know that You can. What would You have me to do?” And then listen. This isn’t merely being passive – or passing the buck to God. In fact it’s just the opposite. This kind of prayer and this kind of listening has to give birth to action, but it’s action that realistically acknowledges God’s Lordship, and trusts that, through God’s power, we can do all things, even the impossible . . . like forgiving. When we withhold forgiveness, we remain the victim. When we offer forgiveness, we are doing it also for our own well-being. Forgiveness allows us to move beyond the pain, the resentment, and the anger. We always have a choice: to forgive or not to forgive. When we forgive we make the choice that heals.
Let’s say with full awareness the Lords’ prayer: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.


Friday, September 8, 2017


The common theme of today’s readings is that we are all  “keepers” of our brothers and sisters, for each one of us is important to all the others in our Faith community. In the first reading, God tells Ezekiel that he is to be a "watchman for the house of Israel,” obliged to warn Israel of moral dangers.  If Ezekiel should refrain from speaking God’s word intended to convert the wicked, God will hold Ezekiel responsible for the death of the wicked. 

In the second reading, St. Paul points out that the love we should have for one another should be our only reason for admonishing the sinner.  Love seeks the good of the one who is loved. Therefore, we should admonish one another so that we all may repent and grow in holiness. In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that true Christian charity obliges a Christian with correction and counsel for an erring brother or sister who has damaged the community by his or her public sin. Matthew expands a saying of Jesus, originally concerned primarily with forgiveness into a four-step procedure of confrontation, negotiation, adjudication and excommunication, dealing to finally mend a broken relationship within the Christian fellowship.

1.Confrontation:  The worst thing that we can do about a wrong done to us is to brood about it. Brooding can poison our whole mind and life, until we can think of nothing else but our sense of personal injury. We mustn’t gossip either, but should go to meet the offender in person, and point out lovingly, in all seriousness, the harm he has done.  This is to solve the issue between them.

2.Negotiation:  Suppose the first step does not resolve the situation and the person refuses to admit wrong, and continue in a bad behavior, the second step is to take one or two other members of the Church along with the wronged person to speak to the wrongdoer and to act as confirming witnesses. The taking of the witnesses is not meant to be a way of proving to a man that he has committed an offence, but for emphasizing and explaining calmly the gravity of the situation. 

3.Adjudication: If the negotiation step does not resolve the situation either, the third step is to have the whole Church or community of believers confront the wrongdoer. The Church provides an atmosphere of Christian prayer, Christian love and Christian fellowship in which personal relationships may be righted in the light of love and of the Gospel. Finally, in matters of honor and shame, the community is the final arbiter, for the community as a whole suffers from the wrong.

4) Excommunication: If the offender chooses to disregard the believing community's judgment, the consequence is “excommunication.” That is, the wrongdoer should be put out of the Church with the hope that temporary alienation alone may bring the erring person to repentance and change. But the excommunication should be carried out with genuine grief (1 Cor 5:2), not vindictive glee over another's "fall" or self-righteous pride.

In one of the popular Chicken Soup volumes, Dennis E. Mannering tells about an assignment he once gave to a class he teaches for adults. He gave them the assignment, "Go to someone you love, and tell them that you love them." At the beginning of the next class, one of the students began by saying, "I was angry with you last week when you gave us this assignment. I didn't feel I had anyone to say those words to. But as I began driving home my conscience started talking. Then I knew exactly who I needed to say ‘I love you’ to. Five years ago, my father and I had a vicious disagreement and never really resolved it. We avoided seeing each other unless we absolutely had to at family gatherings. We hardly spoke. So by the time I got home, I had convinced myself I was going to tell my father I loved him. Just making that decision seemed to lift a heavy load off my chest. At 5:30, I was at my parents' house ringing the doorbell, praying that Dad would answer the door. I was afraid if Mom answered, I would chicken out and tell her instead. But as luck would have it, Dad did answer the door. I didn't waste any time. I took one step in the door and said, ‘Dad, I just came over to tell you that I love you.’ It was as if a transformation came over my dad. Before my eyes his face softened, the wrinkles seemed to disappear and he began to cry. He reached out. But that's not even my point. Two days after that visit, my dad had a heart attack. So my message to all of you is this: Don't wait to do the things you know need to be done. What if I had waited to tell my dad? Take the time to do what you need to do and do it now!"

People hurt us, sometimes intentionally, sometimes without meaning to. But sometimes who is in the right and who is in the wrong is not as important as finding a common ground where the relationship can be maintained. Sometimes that means that we have to take the first step, even though we know that the other person is in the wrong. And the best time to take that step is today.


Friday, September 1, 2017

OT XXII [A] Jer 20:7-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27  


Joseph Ton was pastor of a Baptist church in Rumania while that country was ruled by Communists. The authorities hated him because of his preaching. They arrested him, and threatened to kill him. Ton said to the arresting officer:
"Sir, your supreme weapon is killing. My supreme weapon is dying. Sir, you know my sermons are all over the country on tapes now. If you kill me, you will be sprinkling them with my blood. Whoever listens to them after that will say, 'You'd better listen. This man sealed it with his blood.' They will speak ten times louder than before. So, go on and kill me. Then I will win the supreme victory."
The officer sent him home. Ton then said, "For years I was a Christian who was cautious because I wanted to survive. I had accepted all the restrictions the authorities put on me because I wanted to live. Now I wanted to die, and they wouldn't oblige. Now I could do whatever I wanted in Rumania. For years I wanted to save my life, and I was losing it. Now that I wanted to lose it, I was winning it."


Today Jesus reveals a paradoxical truth. Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.


Last week Our Lord was praising Peter’s faith; this week he is condemning his worldly outlook, scolding him telling get behind me Satan.  Jesus announces that he “must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised." After correcting Peter’s protest, Jesus announces the three conditions of Christian discipleship: “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” Unless we constantly remind ourselves of the demands of this difficult vocation from God, we will fail to be the kind of disciples that Christ expects us to be.

Our Lord teaches us that the cross is a part of our life whether we want it or not, and what matters is how we face it and why we face it. He also encourages us to practice self-detachment and to remember that everything we have comes from God. The world tries to turn our minds away from the Cross, but the cross is the true path to life and fulfillment. When we accept and shoulder the crosses in our life, it renews our attitude toward the fleeting things of this world and what is truly important. No matter how often we try to accumulate things and ensure comfort, something prevents it from happening. Some people are wealthy, or healthy, or in charge of their lives, yet they feel something is missing.

Our Lord reminds us today that we can have the whole world, but not possess what is truly important: an enduring and fulfilled life. That enduring and fulfilled life doesn’t exist in this world, yet this world is the path to it. It depends on how we live in this world. The only way to achieve what we truly desire is to take up our cross for the sake of a higher cause: Jesus’ cause.


Remove the cross from our faith and it is a house of cards. It will crumble under the slightest weight.

When a bud goes through the pain of bursting, it is transformed into a beautiful flower.  When a pupa struggles out of a cocoon, it is transformed into a charming butterfly. When a chicken breaks the shell and comes out it becomes a lovely bird. A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It has to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain.  When a seed bursts the pod and falls to the ground it begins to grow as a plant. When we undergo the suffering and pain of life we get strengthened.  St Paul wrote:  “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Romans 5:3-4).”  Suffering is not the last thing in life. It leads us to something greater as long as we are ready to accept its challenges.  “A bend in the road is not the end of the road... unless you fail to make the turn.”  


Dear brothers and sisters, the Christian life is the sacrificial life. When we practice little acts of kindness we are writing our name in the history of time. We will be remembered by many even after our departure from this world.

A true disciple asks, "Am I willing to sacrifice something for the Kingdom?" 

Let’s ask Our Lord today to help us see our crosses not as burdens, but as opportunities to help construct a better world in his name. Through our crosses, in his service, we can achieve a better life for ourselves and others. Let us listen to the teaching of Jesus, “whoever wishes to keep his life safe, will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it.” 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


We are all familiar with the term identity crisis. It is a modern phenomenon that man tries to find his own identity. Many today ask the question who they are?
In today’s Gospel Jesus confronts his disciples with a very difficult question. The opinion of people about him, and their personal opinion about him.
When the people identified Jesus with Elijah and Jeremiah they were paying him a great compliment and setting him in a high place. Then came the most important question, “Who do you say I am?” With this question Jesus reminds us that our knowledge of Jesus must never be at second hand.  Christianity never consists in knowing about Jesus; it always consists in knowing Jesus. When this question was addressed to Peter, his answer was, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

It is evident that Jesus was well pleased with Peter’s answer. Jesus first pronounced a blessing upon Peter, the only disciple in the Gospels to receive a personal blessing. "Blessed are you, Simon son of John!" Next, Jesus confirmed Peter's insight as a special revelation from God. "No mere man has revealed this to you, but my Heavenly Father." Only those who have had received such a revelation from God can really live and die for Christ.

During the first three centuries, the Church boasts about eleven million martyrs who fertilized the tree of faith with their blood. The martyrs are the most intriguing and most beloved saints of Christianity. Our most popular and beloved saints, with innumerable churches dedicated to their names, are those who died for the faith, like St. George, St. Sebastian, St. Stephen, St. Catherine, St. Barbara, St.Polycarp and many more.

Neo-martyr Michael Paknanas was less than twenty years old, and he worked as a gardener in Athens in the 1800s. The Turks, who enslaved Greece at the time, were trying to convince him to give up his faith. When flattery and wealth failed to persuade him, they put to use some of their more convincing standard missionary work by torturing the teenager. When all the tortures proved to be futile, the executioner was preparing to behead the young man, but at the same time he was feeling some compassion for him. So he began cutting his neck slowly with the sword by administering very light blows, while asking the martyr to reconsider. The martyr's response? "I told you, I am a Christian. I refuse to give up my faith." The ax-man struck with another light blow to make some more blood flow, to possibly convince him. The martyr repeated, "I told you, I am a Christian. Strike with all your might, for the faith of Christ." This totally aggravated the executioner. He did exactly that, and St. Michael was sent to the heavenly mansions.

For the last 20 centuries this question: who do you say that I am, has been repeatedly addressed to a number of Christians; and their lives depended on the answer they found for this question. 
In his teens, C.S. Lewis was a professed agnostic. He was influenced in his conversion to Christianity by reading the book The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton and through the influence of two of his Christian friends. After his conversion, he wrote a number of books defending Christianity. During the Second World War, in his famous BBC radio talk, “Mere Christianity,” he said, “I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Jesus: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who is merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic, on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg, or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” If we accept Jesus as a moral teacher, then we must necessarily accept Him as God, for great moral teachers do not tell lies.

Today, Jesus challenges us to know him personally and to serve him and love him as Lord, and he wants from each one of us our total, single-hearted response. Who do you say I am?