Sunday, January 30, 2011


ZEPH 2:3, 3:12-13;I COR 1:26-31;Gosple: MT 5:1-12

“Happiness is that which all men seek.” says the great philosopher Aristotle. Aristotle also observes that everything people do twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, is what they believe will bring them happiness in one form or another. But the problem is that what people think will bring them happiness does not in fact always bring them true and lasting happiness. Think of the drunkard who believes that happiness is found in the beer bottle. One bottle too much and he is driving home, runs a red light, hits a car and wakes up the following morning in a hospital with plaster and stitches all over his body. Then it begins to dawn on him that the happiness promised by alcohol may be too short-lived. Or take the man who frequents the casino to deal excitement. By the end of the month he finds that his account is in the red and that he can no longer pay his house rent. Creditors go after him until he loses his house and his car. Then it dawns on him that the happiness promised by the casino is fake. So Aristotle says that the ethical person is the person who knows and does what can truly bring them not just excitement or pleasure but true and lasting happiness.

Another word for true and lasting happiness is “blessedness” or “beatitude.” In today’s gospel, Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount shows that he really wants his followers to have true and lasting happiness, the happiness that the world and everything in it cannot give. This state of blessedness is what Jesus calls being in the “kingdom of heaven”. The eight beatitudes we have in today’s gospel constitute a road map for anyone who seeks to attain this happiness of the kingdom. The Beatitudes are as fundamental for Christ's teaching as the Ten Commandments were for Moses' teaching. The Sermon on the Mount is the heart of the Gospel, and the Beatitudes are the heart of the Sermon on the Mount.
Why does Jesus deem it necessary to establish these guideposts to the kingdom right from the very first teaching that he gives to the disciples? It is because of the importance of this teaching. Everybody seeks happiness. But often we look for it in the wrong places. Ask people around you what makes people happy and compare the answers you get with the answers Jesus gives. The world has its own idea of happiness. If a committee were set up to draw up the beatitudes, we would most probably end up with a list very different from that which Jesus gives us today.
Where Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit” they would say “Blessed are the rich.” Where Jesus says “Blessed are those who mourn” they would say “Blessed are those having fun.” Where Jesus says “Blessed are the meek” they would say “Blessed are the smart.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” they would say “Blessed are those who wine and dine.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful” they would say “Blessed are the powerful.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart” they would say “Blessed are the slim in body.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers” they would say “Blessed are the news makers.” And where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” they would say “Blessed are those who can afford the best lawyers.”
We see that the values prescribed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are in fact counter-cultural. We cannot accept these teachings of Jesus and at the same time accept all the values of the society in which we live. Of course, Jesus does not demand that we abandon the world. But he does demand that we put God first in our lives because only God can guarantee the true happiness and peace that our hearts long for. Nothing in the world can give this peace, and nothing in the world can take it away.

The poor in spirit and those who suffer persecution gracefully realize that they are not the center of the universe - God is. The clean of heart realizes that other people don't exist just for the sake of his pleasure. The peace maker is concerned about the needs and problems of others. The merciful is concerned about the suffering of others. The mournful is concerned about the damage his sin does to the Church, the world, and other people. The meek cares more about getting things done than getting credit for doing things. Those who hunger for righteousness realize that their life has a higher purpose, that it's part of a bigger story. Underlying all the Beatitudes is this fundamental attitude that puts God and others ahead of self. It looks out at the world instead of staring in, fixated on self. This is humility,
the bedrock of basic human maturity. God loves this humility, because it opens the soul to receive his gifts. When we make the Beatitudes as a sort of checklist for us, we could see the areas we need to improve in.

“Blessed are the poor in Spirit, there is the kingdom of heaven”.William Barclay says this verse means, "Blessed is the man who has realized his own utter helplessness, and who has put his whole trust in God. If a man has realized his own utter helplessness, and has put his whole trust in God , he is blessed. And he will become completely detached from things, for he will know that things have not got in them happiness or security; and he will become completely attached to God, for he will know that God alone can bring him help, and hope, and strength.

The man who is poor in spirit is the man who has realized that things mean nothing, and that God means everything."
These beatitudes tell us that we find happiness in finding God. “Seek the Lord,” begins the first reading at today’s Mass. “Finding God” is not like finding a lost object. God is not lost. We are lost. So to find God is to find oneself. Or more correctly, it is to be found by God. The greatest seekers after God have known this. St Augustine (5th century) gave it one of its most famous expressions. “Late have I loved you, O beauty, so ancient and so new, late have I loved you! And behold, you were within me and I was outside, and there I sought for you, and in my deformity I fell upon those lovely things of your creation. You were with me but I was not with you….”

The Eight Beatitudes do not describe eight different people such that we need to ask which of the eight suits us personally. No, they are eight different snapshots taken from different angles of the same godly person. The question for us today, therefore, is this: “Do we live our lives following the values of the world as a way of attaining happiness or do we live by the teachings of Jesus. If you live by the teachings of Jesus, then rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

Friday, January 14, 2011

IInd Sunday in Ordinary Time- Cycle A

IS 49: 3, 5-6;: I COR 1: 1-3;Gosple: JN 1: 29-34

In the city of Werden, in Germany, there stands a Catholic Church with a lamb carved out of stone and placed on its roof. Centuries ago a worker was once up on the roof of that church in order to repair it. His safety belt snapped and he fell. The area below was filled with large-size rocks. As luck would have it, a lamb was having its lunch on grass growing between the rocks. The craftsman fell on the poor lamb. The lamb was slain… but the man lived. So the craftsman did the decent thing. He sculpted a lamb and, in gratitude, situated it on the roof.
Today we come together at this Liturgy to remember and salute another Lamb. Each of us owes Him much. As a matter of fact, we owe Him our spiritual lives because he saved us from the eternally fatal fall from grace.

John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the Jews as the “Lamb of God. Lamb of God is the most meaningful title given to Jesus in the Bible. It is used 29 times in the book of Revelation. It sums up the love, sacrifice and the triumph of Christ. John’s introduction probably brought five pictures of the “lamb” to the minds of his Jewish listeners.
1.The Lamb of Atonement (Lev. 16: 20-22). A lamb was brought to the Temple on the Day of Atonement, once a year. Placing his hands over its head, the high priest transferred all the sins of his people on it. It was then sent into the forest to be killed by some wild animal. 2) The Lamb of Daily Atonement (Ex. 29: 38-42; Numbers 28: 1-8). This was the lamb sacrificed on the “Black Altar” of the Temple every morning and evening to atone for the sins of the Jews. 3) The Paschal Lamb (Ex. 12: 11ss.). This was the lamb whose blood saved the first born of the Jewish families in Egypt from the ‘Angel of destruction.’ The Jews commemorated this event every year on the Passover Feast by eating the roasted flesh of the Paschal Lamb in each family. 4) The Lamb of the Prophets. The prophets portrayed one lamb who, by his sacrifice, would redeem his people: “The gentle lamb led to the slaughter house” (Jer. 11: 19), “like a lamb to the slaughter” (Is 53:7). Both refer to the sufferings and sacrifice of Christ. 5) The Lamb of the Conquerors. This was the image of the horned lamb on the Jewish flag at the time of Maccabean liberation war, used as a sign of conquering majesty and power. The great Jewish conquerors like Samuel, David and Solomon were described by the ancient Jewish historians as “horned lambs.”
Adam and Eve walked out on God, and the human race became lost and fell under the power of the devil. We couldn't save ourselves, so Jesus came to rescue us. As a true man and true God, he was able to end mankind's rebellion against God and reestablish our communion with God.
It is hard to understand, but it's true. There once was a boy who spent many hours building a model sail boat. When he put it in the local river, however, it moved away from him quickly. He chased it along the bank, but the strong wind and current carried the boat away. The heartbroken boy knew how hard he would have to work to build another sailboat. Downriver, a man found the beautiful boat, took it to town, and sold it to a toy store. Later, the boy was walking through town and noticed the boat in the store window. He explained the situation, but the shopkeeper didn't believe him and said that the only way to get the boat back was to buy it. The boy wanted it back so much that he did exactly that. Then he looked at the boat and said, "Little boat, now you're twice mine: I made you and I bought you." That's what God did for us - we are twice his. He created us and bought us back when we were lost, but instead of paying cash, he paid with his blood - the blood of the Lamb of God.

By shedding His blood on the cross, Jesus took the punishment we deserve and offered us His righteousness. When we trust Christ for our salvation, essentially we are making a trade. By faith, we trade our sin and its accompanying death penalty for His righteousness and life.
In theological terms, this is called "substitutionary atonement." Christ died on the cross as our substitute. Without Him, we would suffer the death penalty for our own sins.... The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way: "And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness"(Heb.9:22). For God to forgive our sins, His judgment had to be satisfied and that required the shedding of blood.
Some object, "Shedding blood seems so barbaric. Is it really necessary? Why doesn't God simply forgive us?" Because God is holy, He must judge sin. Would a just and righteous judge let evil go unpunished? At the cross, God poured out His judgment on His Son, satisfying His wrath and making it possible for Him to forgive us. That's why Jesus shed His blood for your sins, my sins, and the sins of the whole world....
God unleashed His wrath on His Son so that we might be spared that awful fate. This is the central message of the cross and the reason for our hope: God forsook His Son so that He might never forsake us. God assures us, "'I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you”. (Heb.13:5)
By offering ourselves on our crosses, we can do the same thing. When we offer our daily sufferings to God in prayer, they become channels of grace for the conversion and sanctification of the world. Pope Benedict XVI invited all Catholics to renew this ancient devotion of offering up our sufferings in union with Christ's. Many people in the world don't pray, don't believe, don't confess their sins, are continuing in their rebellion against God...We can be a bridge between them and God by offering up our sufferings through prayer, by being Lambs with the Lamb.

In the Eucharist, at "the breaking of the bread" we proclaim what the Baptist said in song or word. Our traditional fraction anthem is the Agnus Dei – “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us/grant us peace.” In this prayer we give expression to our deepest understanding of the identity and purpose of Jesus Christ as our Lamb and Lord. By his life of love and sacrifice we believe and affirm that he is the one who came and continues to come into a broken world to take our sins upon himself. Today, let's pray those words from the very depths of our hearts, appreciating in a fresh way all their beauty and meaning.

Saturday, January 8, 2011



Today's feast marks both an ending and a beginning. It is the final celebration of the Christmas period, and yet it is also the first Sunday of 'Ordinary Time'. It is appropriate that this transition from Christmas to Ordinary Time be marked by the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. That event, which we hear about in today's Gospel, was the beginning of Christ's active ministry in the world, and it culminates in the testimony of the Father to the identity of the Son. It is the occasion of the first public revelation of all the Three Persons in the Holy Trinity, and the official revelation of Jesus as the Son of God to the world by God the Father. It is also an event described by all the four gospels, and it marks the beginning of Jesus' public ministry.

Why did Jesus, the sinless Son of God, receive the 'baptism of repentance' meant for sinners? Why did Jesus wait for thirty years to begin his public ministry? The strange answer for the first question given by the apocryphal book, "The Gospel According to the Hebrews," is that Jesus received the baptism of John to please his mother and relatives. Jesus’ baptism by John was the acceptance and the beginning of his mission as God’s suffering Servant. He allowed himself to be numbered among sinners.
Mahatma Gandhi the father of nation of India is always pictured with a loin cloth and a pair of glasses and a walking stick. One of the reasons why Gandhi put on a loincloth and fasted from food, almost to the point of death, was to show solidarity with the Indian people, identifying with them in their physical sufferings. This finally brought independence to India. Jesus’ baptism was his identification with God’s chosen people who became aware of their sinful lives and need of God’s forgiveness.
The Fathers of the Church point out that the words the voice from the heavenly Father speaks are similar to Psalm 2:17, revealing Jesus’ identity ("This is my beloved Son") and of Isaiah 42:1 referring to the "suffering servant": "with whom I am well pleased," revealing Jesus’ mission of saving mankind by his suffering and death. His mission of saving mankind would be fulfilled, not by conquering the Romans, but by becoming the "suffering servant" of God, i.e., by the cross.

Jesus accepted baptism on purpose. He knows that since we live in a fallen world, a world ruled by selfishness, we too will have to die on our crosses in order to fulfill our vocation to love as Christ loved. And if we do our best to carry generously the crosses that the Lord allows to come our way, then we will be well-prepared for the final phase of Christian life.

There are two very different ways how people think about baptism. The first approach recognizes the time of baptism as a saving moment in which the person being baptized accepts the love and forgiveness of God. The person then considers himself "saved." He or she may grow in the faith through the years, but nothing which he will experience after his baptism will be as important as his baptism. He always will be able to recall his baptism as the time when his life changed. This is mostly the non catholic approach.

The second approach wouldn't disagree with any of that, but would add to it significantly. This idea affirms baptism as the time when God's love and forgiveness are experienced. It also recognizes baptism as a time of change. However, where the first approach isolates the act of baptism as the most important moment, the second approach understands baptism more as a beginning. While it is true that in the waters of baptism God laid claim on our lives, it is also true that we spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out what that means. The first understanding often overlooks the journey which follows baptism. We need to live the promises of Baptism only then we reach salvation. Just by receiving baptism and living a life contradictory to the promises made will not save us. This is primarily the Catholic approach. Baptism is not something we earn, nor is it a sign that we have found all the answers. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Baptism is a beginning. It is the desire to see the world differently, to see each other differently, and even to see ourselves differently. Baptism is a fresh start, not a destination. Baptism is not a trial-free membership, but a rite of initiation into a way of life in which Jesus promised there would be trials. Right after Baptism Jesus went into the wilderness to be tried by Satan. We too are not exempt from that. Our journey of faith continues to unfold long after our baptism as we try to discern what our baptism means in our daily living.

Our journey home too begins with baptism, when we are adopted as sons and daughters of God. This means that what the Father says to Christ in today's Gospel he also says to us: you are my beloved child. Today we hear from God the words that must transform our lives, because these words of love become the centre of our being now that we are a new creation in Christ.

Ted Williams, a homeless man of Ohio with a golden voice who had an interview on TV the other day says he found a transformation in his life after living 10 years in addictions and living on streets. His new-found faith brought joy to his struggling life. And all the surprising joy of his second chance, he offered up in thanks to God. The difference between my successes of years gone by is that I didn't acknowledge the Lord or thank him for anything before," he told. "This time around, I have God in my life, acknowledging him on a daily basis. I've found a new sense of spirituality now.
Baptism is an ordination. With baptism comes the Spirit, and with the Spirit come gifts to be used in the service of God. How much of the divine gifts do I use in service of God and others ? Do I acknowledge my own dignity as God’s child, and to appreciate the divine presence in others by honoring them, loving them and serving them in all humility ?

This is the day for us to remember the graces we have received in baptism and to renew our baptismal promises. Most of us dipped the fingers of our right hands into the holy water font and blessed ourselves when we came into church today. Why? This blessing is supposed to remind us of our baptism. And so when I bless myself with holy water, I should be thinking of the fact that I am a child of God; that I have been redeemed by the Cross of Christ; that I have been made a member of God’s family and that I have been washed, forgiven, cleansed and purified by the blood of the Lamb.
On the day of our baptism, as Pope John Paul II explains, "We were anointed with the oil of catechumens, the sign of Christ's gentle strength, to fight against evil. Blessed water was poured over us, an effective sign of interior purification through the gift of the Holy Spirit. We were then anointed with chrism to show that we were thus consecrated in the image of Jesus, the Father's Anointed One. The candle lighted from the paschal candle was a symbol of the light of faith which our parents and godparents must have continually safeguarded and nourished with the life-giving grace of the Spirit." This is also a day for us to renew our baptismal promises by consecrating ourselves to the Holy Trinity and by “rejecting Satan and all his empty promises," which our profane world is constantly offering us through its mass-media of communication. Let us ask Our Lord today to make us faithful to our Baptismal promises. Let us thank Him for the privilege of being joined to His mission of preaching the ‘Good News’ by our transparent Christian lives of love, mercy, service and forgiveness.