Saturday, March 10, 2018

LENT IV B: II Chr 36:14-16, 19-23; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21

During the years when slavery was legal in the United States, a gentleman happened upon a slave-bidding in a crowded street. As he watched from the edge of the crowd, he saw one slave after another led to a platform, their arms and legs shackled with ropes as if they were animals. Displayed before the jeering crowd, they were auctioned off, one by one. The gentleman studied the group of slaves waiting nearby. He paused when he saw a young girl standing at the back. Her eyes were filled with fear. She looked so frightened. As the auctioneer opened the bidding for the girl, the gentleman shouted out a bid that was twice the amount of any other selling price offered that day. There was silence for an instance, and then the gavel fell as, "sold to the gentleman" was heard. The rope, which bound her, was handed to the man. The young girl stared at the ground. Suddenly she looked up and spat in his face. Silently, he reached for a handkerchief and wiped the spittle from his face. He smiled gently at the young girl and said, "Follow me". She followed him reluctantly. When a slave was set free, legal documents were necessary. The gentleman paid the purchase price and signed the documents. When the transaction was complete, he turned to the young girl and presented the documents to her. Startled, she looked at him with uncertainty. Her narrowed eyes asked, what are you doing? The gentlemen responded to her questioning look. He said, "Here, take these papers. I bought you to make you free. As long as you have these papers in your possession, no man can ever make you a slave again. The girl looked into his face. What was happening? Slowly, she said, "You bought me, to make me free? You bought me, to make me free?" She fell to her knees and wept at the gentleman's feet. Through her tears of joy and gratitude, she said, "You bought me, to make me free....I'll serve you forever!"
You and I were once bound in slavery to sin. But the Lord Jesus paid the price, to make us free, when He shed His Blood at Calvary. How often have we spat in our Master's face - He who paid His all, for our freedom?

The central theme of today’s readings stress God’s mercy and compassion and remind us of the great love, kindness and grace extended to us in Christ. 
The Fourth Sunday of Lent is called Lætare (Rejoice) Sunday. Lætare Sunday reminds us of the Church's joy in anticipation of the Resurrection, a joy which cannot be contained even in Lent, though we still refrain from Alleluias and the singing of the Gloria until the magnificence of the Easter Vigil.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” This is the summary of the Gospel message of salvation through Christ Jesus.  This text is the very essence of the Gospel.  It tells us that the God takes the initiative in all salvation because of His love for man.  As St. Augustine puts it: "God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love."  It also explains to us the universality of the love of God.  God's motive is love and God's objective is salvation.  Those who actually receive eternal life must believe in the Son. “Such depth of God's love this Gospel reveals: God gave the only Son, allowed the only Son to be “lifted up” on a cross, and now remains patient with us while we struggle with choosing between darkness and light, evil and truth. Moreover, in the very midst of our ongoing struggle, it is God who brings us to greater belief and leads us to eternal life. Such is the depth of love God has for us!”

There is a story that comes out of the Bedouin culture. "Bedouin" is the Aramaic name for "desert dwellers." These people live much as the characters of the Old Testament did. During a heated argument, according to this story, a young Bedouin struck and killed a friend of his. Knowing the ancient, inflexible customs of his people, the young man fled, running across the desert under the cover of darkness, seeking safety.
He went to the black tent of the tribal chief in order to seek his protection. The old chief took the young Arab in. The chief assured him that he would be safe until the matter could be settled legally.
The next day, the young man's pursuers arrived, demanding the murderer be turned over to them. They would see that justice would prevail in their own way. "But I have given my word," protested the chief.
"But you don't know whom he killed!" they countered.
"I have given my word," the chief repeated.
"He killed your son!" one of them blurted out. The chief was deeply and visibly shaken with his news. He stood speechless with his head bowed for a long time. The accused and the accusers as well as curious onlookers waited breathlessly. What would happen to the young man? Finally the old man raised his head. "Then he shall become my son," he informed them, "and everything I have will one day be his."
The young man certainly didn't deserve such generosity. And that, of course, is the point. Love in its purest form is beyond comprehension. No one can merit it. It is freely given. It is agape, the love of God. Look to the cross. At the cross we encounter love in its purest form.
 We need to reciprocate God’s love by loving others. God’s love is unconditional, universal, forgiving and merciful.  Let us try, with His help, to make an earnest attempt to include these qualities as we share our love with others during Lent.  

Saturday, February 17, 2018

LENT I SUNDAY Gn 9:8-15; I Pt 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15

The primary purpose of Lent is spiritual preparation for the celebration recalling Jesus’ death on Good Friday and his Resurrection on Easter Sunday.  The Church tries to achieve this goal by leading her children to “repentance.” It is a type of conversion – the reordering of our priorities and the changing of our values, ideals and ambitions - through fasting, prayer and mortification.  Lenten observances are also intended to lead us to our annual solemn renewal of Baptismal vows on Holy Saturday.  The three readings of today refer to Baptism directly or indirectly.  The first reading describes how Noah’s family was saved from the waters of the Flood by God’s special providence and how God made His first “friendship covenant’” with mankind. Noah’s rescue from the flood waters symbolizes how we are saved through the waters of Baptism which cleanses us of sin and makes us one with Christ. In the second reading, Peter shows us how the waters of Baptism are the cleansing agent that saves all.

All the synoptic Gospels agree that Jesus experienced a period of temptation.  The desert was the place where ancient Israel in Moses’ time was tested for 40 years. The 40 days of Jesus’ fasting may also recall the 40-day fasts undertaken by Moses (Dt 9:18) and Elijah (1 Kgs 19:8). The temptations described by Matthew and Luke and hinted at by Mark refer probably to the main temptation Jesus faced during his public life, namely, the temptation to become a political messiah of power and fame (according to the Jewish expectation), to use his Divine power for personal comfort, and to avoid suffering and death.  The temptations Jesus faced and defeated, help us to understand the conflicts that were in Jesus' own life and which will be found in ours too.  Instead of yielding to the temptations, Jesus said a firm “Yes” to his Father's plan, even when it came to give over his life.    

A husband was struggling to make ends meet at home on one salary. Then one day he had to confront his wife with a receipt for a $ 250.00 dress she had bought. “How could you do this?” I was outside the store looking at the dress in the window, and then I found myself trying it on, “she explained. “It was like Satan whispering in my ear, “You look fabulous in that dress. Buy it!” “Well,” the husband replied, “You know how I deal with that kind of temptation. I say, “Get behind me Satan!” His wife replied, “I did that, but then he said, “It looks fabulous from the back too!”

The Fathers of the Church explain that Jesus’ temptations are described after his baptism to teach us why we are tempted and show us how we should conquer temptations.  Baptism and Confirmation give us the weapons we need to do battle with Satan.  God never tempts people, and never permits them to be tempted beyond their strength. But He does allow them to be tempted. Why?  Here are the five reasons given by the Fathers: i) so that we can learn by experience that [with God] we are indeed stronger than the tempter; ii) to prevent us from becoming conceited over having God’s gifts; iii) that the devil may receive proof that we have completely renounced him; iv) that by the struggle we may become even stronger; and v) that we may realize how precious is the grace we have received.

As the Union Pacific Railroad was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon in the West.  Wanting to test the bridge, the builder loaded a train with enough extra cars and equipment to double its normal payload. The train was then driven to the middle of the bridge, where it stayed an entire day. One worker asked, "Are you trying to break this bridge?" "No," the builder replied, "I'm trying to prove that the bridge won't break." In the same way, the temptations we face aren't designed to see if we would sin, but to prove that we can win over them. 

 Lent is a time of renewal of life by penance and prayer:  Formerly the six weeks of Lent meant a time of severe penance as a way of purifying ourselves from our sinful habits and getting ready to celebrate the Paschal Mystery (the passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ), with a renewed commitment to follow Christ.  Now the Church leaves the Lenten practice of penance to the good will and generosity of individual Christians. However, Lent should be a time for personal reflection on where we stand as Christians in accepting the Gospel challenges in thought, word and deed.  It is also a time to assess our relationships with our family, friends, working colleagues and other people we come in contact with, especially those of our parish. 

We can convert Lent into a time for spiritual growth and Christian maturity by:  a) participating in the Mass each day or at least a few days in the week;  b) setting aside some part of our day for personal prayer; c) reading some Scripture, alone or, better still, with others;  d) setting aside some money that we might spend on ourselves for meals, entertainment or clothes and giving it to an organization which takes care of the less fortunate in our society;  e) abstaining from smoking or alcohol;  f) receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation in Lent and participating in the “Stations of the Cross”;  g) visiting the sick and those in nursing homes and doing some acts of charity, kindness and mercy every day in the Lent.
Lent reminds us that we have to take up the fight each day against the evil within us and around us, and never give up. Jesus has given the assurance that the Holy Spirit is with us, empowering us so that final victory will be ours through Jesus Christ. Let’s renew our baptismal promises to fight Satan every day and live a life conforming to the life of Christ who defeated Satan.

Friday, February 9, 2018

OT VI [B] Lv 13:1-2, 44-46; I Cor 10:31--11:1; Mk 1:40-45  

Michael Wayne Hunter was put on death row in California in 1983, in San Quentin Prison. After his third year on death row something happened. One day he was getting ready to spend time exercising when the guard said, "You're going to miss Mother Teresa. She's coming today to see you guys." “Yea, sure,” he said, "one more of those designs they have on us." A little later he heard more commotion about it and thought it might be true, that Mother Teresa was actually coming to see them. Another guard said, "Don't go into your cells and lock up. Mother Teresa stayed to see you guys." So Michael jogged up to the front in gym shorts and a tattered basketball shirt with the arms ripped out, and on the other side of the security screen was this tiny woman who looked 100 years old. Yes, it was Mother Teresa. This hardened prisoner wrote about his experience, he said, "You have to understand that, basically, I'm a dead man. I don't have to observe any sort of social convention; and as a result, I can break all the rules, say what I want. But one look at this Nobel Prize winner, this woman so many people view as a living saint, and I was speechless." Michael said an incredible vitality and warmth came from her wizened, piercing eyes. She smiled at him, blessed a religious medal, and put it in his hands. This murderer who wouldn't have walked voluntarily down the hall to see the Warden, the Governor, the President, or the Pope, stood before this woman, and all he could say was, "Thank you, Mother Teresa." Now listen to what happens: At one point Mother Teresa turned and pointed her hand at the sergeant, "What you do to these men," she told him, "you do to God." The sergeant almost fainted away in surprise and wonder. He couldn't believe Mother Teresa had just said that to him. That day was
a turning point in the life of Michael Wayne Hunter. This San Quentin Death Row prisoner was cleansed by that experience. Life changed. Suddenly there was meaning to it. So drastic was the change, a new trial was set and the death penalty was not sought. The verdict was guilty on two counts of first-degree murder but a new sentence was given: Life. Life, without the possibility of parole. Prosecution did not seek the death penalty because Mr. Hunter was now a model prisoner and an award-winning writer. He is one other thing: A testimony that Christ still is willing to heal, still willing to touch the untouchable, and to make us whole.  

Today’s Scripture lessons teach us that the sick and the maimed are not to be objects of scorn, but potential reservoirs of God's mercy for us.  All three readings today contain the Christian teaching on the need for social acceptance even when people are different from us.  The first reading shows the ancient Jewish attitude toward leprosy and the rules for segregating lepers.  This provides a background for Jesus' healing of a leper.

By touching the leper, Jesus was defiled in the eyes of Levitical law.  The leper broke the Law in approaching Jesus, and Jesus in turn broke through the Law to reach and touch the afflicted man.  
Jesus could have been angered by the blasphemous religious explanation of the day that all leprosy was God’s punishment for grave sins. Jesus was also angry at the way lepers were treated as cursed creatures by the Jewish religion which sanctioned such inhuman treatment for lepers.  Lepers were not only considered physically loathsome but were looked upon as persistent sinners. Even if the lepers were cured, they had to submit to a ritual cleansing and purging of sin before they would be re-admitted to society.  By instructing the healed leper to go and show himself to the priest, Jesus may have been challenging the religious authorities to see that God’s healing grace is available to anyone who asks. 

Jesus risked becoming “unclean” Himself in order to make the leper clean.  Just as he stretched out his hand to the leper and touched him and made him whole, Jesus stretched out his hands on the cross to make us whole.  He touched the leper thus bridging the gap between what is clean and what is unclean, identifying himself with all lepers, with all who are ritually or socially unclean and isolated and with all of us sinners who are spiritually unclean and have no way to change our condition except through His sacrifice and mercy.  Thus, He became “unclean” in the eyes of the law that we might be made clean. He allowed himself to be rejected by his family and people so that those who are separated from God might return to him and be healed.

Jesus could have behaved as a severe moral judge, condemning the sinful; in fact that was what was expected of a prophet.  Instead he reached out in mercy to failures and outcasts.  He could have invented any kind of parable to say what the Father was like; he invented the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15).  Jesus reaches out and welcomes sinners while they are still in their sin.

We need to trust in the mercy of a forgiving God who assures us that our sins are forgiven and that we are clean.  We are forgiven and made spiritually clean from the spiritual leprosy of sins when we repent of our sins.  This is because God is a God of love who waits patiently for us.  No matter how many sins we have committed or how badly we have behaved, we know God forgives us.  The only condition required of us is that we ask for forgiveness with a repentant heart.  We need only kneel before him and ask him, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean"

Jesus calls every one of us to demolish the walls that separate us from each other and to welcome the outcasts and the untouchables of society.   These include homosexuals, AIDS victims, alcoholics, drug-addicts and marginalized groups such as the divorced, the unmarried, single mothers, migrant workers and the mentally ill.  God's loving hand must reach out to them through us.   Jesus wants us to touch their lives.  Let us pass beyond the narrow circles of our friends and peers and try to relate to those who may be outside the bounds of propriety.   Let us breakdown the barriers we have created and approach God with a heart that is ready to welcome the outcasts in our society.  We all need God’s mercy to be healed, let’s ask the merciful Lord the same petition the leper petitioned: Lord, if you choose you can make me clean.

Friday, February 2, 2018

There is an old and funny little anecdote that goes something like this. An elderly man who was quite ill said to his wife, "You know, Sarah, you’ve always been with me – through the good and the bad.  Like the time I lost my job – you were right there by my side.  And when the war came, and I enlisted – you became a nurse so that you could be with me.  Then I was wounded, and you were there, Sarah, right by my side.  Then the Depression hit, and we had nothing – but you were there with me.  And now here I am, sick as a dog, and, as always, you’re right beside me.  You know something, Sarah -- you’re a jinx! You always bring me bad luck!” There is a part of us that is tempted to look for somebody to blame for all the things that go wrong in our lives.  More often than not, we blame the very people we once looked up to for an answer.  Today’s first reading from the book of Job is a futile attempt to answer the perennial question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The Gospel shows us how Jesus spent himself in alleviating the pain and suffering around Galilee by his preaching and healing ministry rather than by pondering on universal solutions for the problem of worldwide evil.  

Jesus’ first day of public ministry at Capernaum was a Sabbath day.  During the day, he had taken part in the synagogue worship, taught with authority, exorcised a demon and healed Simon’s mother-in-law.  After all that, when the sun had set, he “cured many who were sick with various diseases, and drove out many demons.” Thus, Jesus spent himself and most of his time ministering to the needs of others, bringing healing, forgiveness and a new beginning to many. He was touched by the suffering of others.
The book of Job is a long didactic poem intended to refute the ancient Jewish belief that God rewards the good and punishes the wicked in this life. The book describes God’s permitting Satan to test the commitment of His servant Job.  A prosperous and God-fearing man, Job suddenly experienced the successive, catastrophic losses of wealth, family and health. The only explanation the author offers for God’s permitting the innocent Job to suffer these losses is that He had allowed Satan to test Job’s trusting commitment and fidelity to God, even under extreme pressure. Only in the light of Christ's sufferings and cruel execution, can we see the value of suffering in this life.   In Job’s account, he claims that the entire human condition is sad and hopeless, and he compares himself to a farm laborer who is forced to do degrading work for wages that barely keep him alive and who yearns for relief from the scorching sun.  There is no peace, Job says, even in sleep!  Instead, there is only a restless expectation of a return to toil at dawn.  But continued suffering, monotony and isolation make Job aware of the emptiness of life without God and the hope of ultimate union with God.  We learn from this reading that God listens to every human cry, even to the anger and dismay of the lament. We also learn that there is no struggle so great, no suffering so intense that it cannot be surrendered with confidence into God’s capable, powerful hands.

We are reassured by Faith that God gives life a purpose.  He permits pain in order to serve His saving will and to teach us appreciate His gift of Life to the full.  The Good News we proclaim is that, through the death and Resurrection of Jesus, God has joined us to Himself, now and forever.  Job eventually realizes that those who choose to give themselves to God will find that life has meaning.  Jesus shows us that we can reach perfection only by allowing the risk of suffering into our lives, and submitting ourselves to God’ Wisdom and His loving Will in all things.

We live in a hi-tech, fast pace, workaholic world where no one rests. We are constantly on the road, running errands, going places. We stuff ourselves with "fast food," overbook our lives with a myriad of things to do, and at the end of the day we are totally exhausted. We live (and die) by the clock. We are controlled by the need to produce. Time is money, time is how we keep in control of our lives. We resist quiet time by keeping the radios, televisions and computers on. The very thought of being alone, praying, scares us to death. We want professionals to do that for us. We haven’t learned that relaxation and mediation breaks will empower us to do even greater things. Thus, we continue to be busy. Consequently we are on a path to self-destruction, unable to help others, let alone help ourselves.

Jesus was convinced that if he were going to spend himself for others by his preaching and healing ministry, he would repeatedly have to summon spiritual reinforcements.  He knew that he could not live without prayer, because his teaching and healing ministry drained him of power. For example, after describing how the woman who had touched Jesus’ garment was instantly healed, Mark remarks: “Jesus knew that power had gone out of him” (5:30).  The “deserted place” to which Jesus went to pray was not actually a desert. Rather, it was a place where he could be free from distractions -- a place where he could give himself unreservedly to prayer.  He went there, not so much to escape the pressures of life, as to refresh himself for further service. Jesus' prayer is a prayer of perfect praise and thanksgiving to the Father; it is a prayer of petition for himself and for us; and it is also a model for the prayer of His disciples. Our daily activities also drain us of our spiritual power and vitality.  Our mission of bearing witness to God requires spiritual energy which comes to us through daily anointing by the Holy Spirit.  Hence, we, too, need to be recharged spiritually and rejuvenated every day by prayer – listening to God and talking to Him. How much time do I find everyday for recharging my spiritual and biological batteries after I am drained out.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

OT IV [B] Dt 18:15-20; I Cor 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28

Antiochus IV, King of Syria, had a great interest in Egypt. He amassed an army and invaded that country in 168 B.C. To his deep humiliation the Romans ordered him home. They did not send an army to oppose him; such was the might of Rome that they did not need to. They sent a senator called Popilius Laena with a small and quite unarmed suite. Popilius and Antiochus met on the boundaries of Egypt. They talked; they both knew Rome and they had been friendly. Then very gently Popilius told Antiochus that Rome did not wish him to proceed with the campaign and wished him to go home. Antiochus said he would consider it. Popilius took the staff he was carrying and drew a circle in the sand round about Antiochus. Quietly he said, "Consider it now; you will give me your decision before you leave that circle." Antiochus thought for a moment and realized that to defy Rome was impossible. "I will go home," he said. It was a shattering humiliation for a king. But that was the power and the authority of the Roman Caesars. (See Daniel 11:29 and following, with the notes).

Authority is a strange thing. A fourteen year-old boy argues about the curfew imposed by his parents. Then the next day in the freshman baseball game, he dutifully lays down a good bunt, forgoing a mighty swing at the fence, because the coach flashed a signal from the bench. Instant obedience to the coach; reluctant submission to mum and dad! On an airliner the captain flashes the seat-belt sign and everybody complies. Four hours later in a rented car, the passenger disregards the seat belt. The irony: for the same distance travelled, the airliner is three times safer.

The common theme of today’s readings is Divine authority exercised by the prophets of the Old Testament in their messages, by the apostles (including St. Paul), in their writings and teaching in the New Testament, and by Jesus in his teaching and healing ministry.
In today’s Gospel, Mark describes one sample Sabbath day of Jesus’ public life.  He joins in public worship in the synagogue as a practicing Jew, he heals the sick, he drives out evil spirits -- and he prays privately.  Since anyone could be invited to explain the Holy Scripture in synagogue worship, Jesus was invited.  People immediately noticed that Jesus spoke with authority and healed with Divine power. The Old Testament prophets had taught using God’s delegated authority, and the scribes and Pharisees taught quoting Moses, the prophets and the great rabbis. But Jesus taught using his own authority and knowledge as God to teach, empower, liberate, and heal others.

A Lutheran professor named David Rhoads points out that in Mark "Jesus wields authority over demons, illnesses (when people have faith), and natural forces (seas, deserts, trees) - nonhuman forces that oppress people. Jesus wields no authority, however, over people. He cannot heal people without faith, make them keep quiet if they wish to speak, or force his disciples to understand his teachings." Jesus has dominion over all aspects of life but not authority to "lord it over" humans - plenty of other religious figures, ancient and contemporary, can do that. Jesus has divine authority to serve people.

There was a local synagogue in every Jewish settlement of more than ten families.  The synagogue was a place of instruction and Sabbath prayers.  The synagogue service consisted of three parts –  prayer, the reading of God's word, and the exposition of it made by anyone who wished to do so. In this chapter Mark tells us that in the local synagogue Jesus taught with authority.  This means that Jesus explained the Scriptures with complete confidence, and when questioned by people he answered with authority.  Jesus spoke relying on no one beyond himself; he cited no supporting human authorities or experts.  Mark also records the impact Jesus had on those who heard him.  We are told how amazed people were at the authority with which he preached.  Jesus also showed his power and authority by curing the sick and granting forgiveness to people.

Jesus shows that He is the Messiah, the Savior, more powerful than the demons. Jesus came to destroy the unclean spirits living inside of us.  That is one of the reasons why Jesus came to earth in the first place and one of the reasons why he continues his presence in our lives.  Jesus came to drive out those unclean spirits within us, to wash them away, to cleanse our lives of them.  Let us put ourselves under his authority and he will liberate us.  The evil spirit in today’s Gospel recognized Jesus as the Messiah and acknowledged him as such.  Jesus commanded the evil spirit harshly, using strong words and tones: "Be quiet! Come out of him!"  This was one of the reasons why Jesus developed a reputation for speaking with authority. Today, we are challenged to believe that Jesus continues to exercise the power to rout evil in all of its ugly disguises and manifestations, viz., in poverty, sickness, greed, hatred, indifference, over-indulgence, etc., using us and our ministry.

Through Word and Sacrament, Jesus brings that power to us and says the same words to the demons in our life, "Be gone!"  -- not just once but as often as we need to hear them, until finally, we are free from these demons entirely. Christ has power over any demon, so whether those demons be addictions, heartaches, secret sins --whatever our chains may be-- Christ can set us free and longs to do so. Let’s ask him to exercise his authority over us today in this sacrament and help us free from the bondages that enslave us.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

OT III [B] Jon 3:1-5, 10; I Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1: 14-20

One of the many amazing things about Christianity is where it starts. There are many religions in the world, and most of them express mankind's search for God. But Christianity is all about God's search for mankind: it starts with God, not with us. That's what happens in today's First Reading, for example.

The people of Nineveh, a metropolis in the ancient Middle East, are living sinful lives: lives full of pleasures and noise, and maybe even full of popularity and great achievements, but empty of meaning and lasting happiness. That’s what always happens when people rebel against God’s plans and the moral law that he built into human nature. And God's heart is moved with pity for those sinful people.
So he sends a prophet, Jonah, to wake them up, to put them back on the path of God's plan for human happiness - the only plan that will truly work. Through Jonah, God went in search of the Ninevites, because he cared so deeply about their happiness. And the same thing happens in today's Gospel passage.
In this passage, St. Mark shows Jesus doing what he came to earth to do: calling people into a personal relationship with God. That’s really the core of what Christianity is all about.
Notice how he calls his first Apostles by name - Peter, Andrew, James, John... He had met all these men before, as we read in John's Gospel, but now he calls them to follow him more closely. He calls them, because he wants to give them more meaning, purpose, and, ultimately, happiness. He wants to bring them into his Kingdom. No matter to what life, work or ministry God calls us, He first calls us to conversion, to reform, to repentance -- to continually becoming new people. 

Real repentance means that a man has come, not only to be sorry for the consequences of his sin, but to hate sin itself.  We often think of repentance as feeling guilty, but it is really a change of mind or direction -- seeing things from a different perspective.  Once we begin to see things rightly, it might follow that we will feel bad about having seen them wrongly for so long.  But repentance starts with the new vision rather than the guilt feelings.  By true repentance we are giving up control of our lives and throwing our sinful lives on the mercy of God.  We are inviting God to do what we can't do ourselves -- namely to raise the dead -- to change and recreate us.  This means that repentance must be the ongoing life of the people in the Kingdom. 

Sometimes God calls us to make big changes in our lives, as he did with his first disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. This is what happened not too long ago to a man named Marcus Grodi [GROW-die]. He started out his professional life as an engineer. He was a strong Christian, but not a Catholic, and he soon decided to go into the ministry - to become a Presbyterian minister. For years he served various churches, but he kept running into a problem.
Whenever there were different opinions about how to interpret a particular passage of the Bible, or about how to arrange the worship service, or about what stand to take on a particular moral issue, he found that he and his other minister friends would often disagree. Then each one of them would teach his congregation their personal opinion, as if it were the Gospel truth.

For Marcus, that was a strange situation - it seemed as if he was supposed to constantly reinvent the Christian faith instead of actually passing it on. In fact, the different protestant Churches have no single catechism, and no single authority, like we have in the papacy, to preserve the original teachings of Christ and apply them accurately to the changing challenges of history.
Eventually, the anxiety of not knowing whether he was really teaching Christian doctrine forced him to change careers. So he began to pursue a doctorate degree in biology, with an eye towards working in the field of pro-life bio-ethics. This required a long daily commute, which gave him a lot of time to reflect and to pray. Gently, and sometimes surprisingly, God's Providence guided him step by step along a path on which his questions about the Christian faith were finally answered.

God continued calling him, and eventually he not only entered the Catholic Church, but also started a national ministry to help other non-Catholic pastors and ministers who find themselves facing the same difficulty he faced. It’s called The Coming Home Network.
He now has one of EWTN's most popular televisions shows, The Journey Home, and he has helped hundreds, if not thousands, of searching souls to find and follow God's call in their lives. God really is still calling; he has something to say to each one of us, every single day.
The mission of preaching, teaching and healing which Jesus began in Galilee is now the responsibility of the Church.  Our own unique vocation and our relationship with the risen Lord are the same as that of the universal Church.  Be we religious, priests, married or single people, we are all called, and in this call we become what God wants us to be.  The call, of course, begins with our Baptism and the other Sacraments of Initiation. It is strengthened throughout the years with the Eucharist and Reconciliation, healed and consoled by Anointing and made manifest in Matrimony, or Holy Orders.  God is relentless in calling us back to Himself, even when we stray away from Him. 

Let us be shining lights in the world as Christ was and make a personal effort to bring others to the truth and the light, so that they may rejoice with us in the mystical Body of Christ, the invisible Kingdom of God. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

OT II [B]: I Sam 3:3b-10, 19; I Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20; Jn 1:35-42

A stranger once asked a teacher, “What’s your profession?” The teacher replied, “Christian,” The stranger continued, “No, that’s not what I mean. What’s your job?” The teacher asserted, once again, “I’m a Christian!” Puzzled, the stranger clarified, “Perhaps I should ask, what you do for a living?” The teacher replied, “Well, I’ve a full-time job as a Christian. But, to support my sick husband and children, I teach in a school.” That teacher had certainly understood the meaning of discipleship summarized by today’s Responsorial Psalm (40): “Here I am, Lord, I come to do Your will.”

Today’s readings remind us of our personal and corporate call to become witnesses for the Lamb of God and to lead lives of holiness and purity.  We are told that each of us, as a Christian, is personally called to discipleship, which demands an ongoing response of commitment.  The first reading describes how Yahweh called Samuel to His service. The boy Samuel responded to God promptly, as instructed by his master and mentor, Eli, saying, “Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening.” Hence, God blessed him in the mission entrusted to him, and Samuel became an illustrious figure, ranking with Moses and David as a man of God. 

In the opening verses of today’s Gospel, John points out to his disciples that the One who is passing by is the “Lamb of God.”  Two of John’s disciples follow Jesus who turns and asks them what they are seeking.  Somewhat confused, they ask Jesus where he is staying.  Jesus does not tell them. Instead, he invites them to “come and see.”  For each of us, belief in Jesus develops in stages, which John appears to be describing.  First, we respond to testimony given by others.  Then, having "seen" where Jesus dwells - within believers, as individuals and as community - we move to commitment based on our own experience of the risen Lord.  Finally, our conversion is completed when we become witnesses for Jesus.  In Andrew's case, his conversion reveals his belief in Jesus as the Messiah.  He then brings his brother Peter to Christ.  Like the missionary call of Samuel and the apostles, we too are called.  Our call is to rebuild broken lives, reconciling them to God's love and justice through Christ Jesus, our Lamb and Lord. 

Being a disciple of Jesus means that we are to grow in faith and become witnesses for him.  Bearing witness to Christ is an active rather than a passive enterprise.  Knowing Jesus is a matter of experience.  One could know the Catechism of the Catholic Church, all 700 pages of it, by heart, and still not know Jesus.  Bearing witness to Christ, then, demands that we should have personal and first-hand experience of Jesus.  1. We get this personal experience of Jesus in our daily lives – through the meditative reading and study of the Bible, through personal and family prayers and through the Sacraments, especially by participation in the Eucharistic celebration. 2. Once we have experienced the personal presence of Jesus in our daily lives, we will start sharing with others the Good News of love, peace, justice, tolerance, mercy and forgiveness preached and lived by Jesus.  The essence of our witness-bearing is to state what we have seen, heard, experienced and believed, and then to invite others to "come and see."  Other people will see Jesus in our lives when we love, forgive and spend time doing good.  A dynamic and living experience of Jesus will also enable us to invite and encourage people to come and participate in our Church activities.  

Two men, who had been business partners for over twenty years, met one Sunday morning as they were leaving a restaurant. One of them asked, "Where are you going this morning?" "I'm going to play golf. What about you?" The first man responded rather apologetically, "I'm going to Church." The other man said, "Why don't you give up that Church stuff?" The first man asked, "What do you mean?" His partner said: "Well, we have been partners for twenty years. We have worked together, attended board meetings together, and had lunch together, and all of these twenty years you have never asked me about going to Church. You have never invited me to go with you. Obviously, it doesn't mean that much to you."
Don't get yourself in that fix. Don't let others think your Faith doesn't matter that much to you.

George Barna, in his book Marketing the Church, writes: "The most effective means of getting people to experience what a Church has to offer is having someone they know who belongs to the Church simply invite them to try it. Call it whatever you wish - word-of-mouth, personal invitation, friendship evangelism - this is indisputably the most effective means of increasing the church rolls." [George Barna, Marketing the Church (NavPress, Colorado Springs, 1988), p. 109.] There are 160 million Americans who are unchurched. If invited to attend Church, 31% said they would be very likely to come - 51% said they would be somewhat likely to come. That means 82% of the people who do not go to Church in America are likely to attend if they are invited - Only 21% of active Church goers ever invite anyone to Church. Only 2% of active Church-goers invite the unchurched.

If we really appreciate our faith, we cannot just keep it to ourselves, we will be forced from within to share it with others. Let this Sunday give us a challenge to examine our faith and urge us to share it with others.