Friday, February 18, 2011


LEV 19:1-2,17-18;1 COR 3:16-23;Gospel:MT 5:38-48

One of the easiest things in the world to do is to become a Christian. It is ridiculously easy. All you have to do is confess you are a sinner, repent of your sin, believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sin and was raised from the dead, and surrender your life to Him as your Lord and Savior; and you become a Christian immediately and instantaneously. There is not an easier thing in the world than to become a Christian. But at the same time, one of the most difficult things in the world is to be a Christian.

We live in the country of "I want." I want my rights; I want my happiness; I want my way; I want my money. Rights are considered as American as apple pie. The best known part of the Constitution is the Bill of rights. Today rights don't so much protect the innocent as they promote the guilty. If you're going to be a real Christian you're going to have to give up some rights. Eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth.. this is what you have been permitted or allowed; may be your right to get even with. But Jesus says you have to give up this right and forgive unconditionally.
Today’s readings explain the basis of Jewish and Christian morality, the holiness of the loving, merciful and compassionate God. God’s chosen people are expected to be holy people sharing God’s holiness by embodying His love, mercy and forgiveness. Hence the first reading from the book of Leviticus gives the holiness code: “Be holy, for I the Lord, your God, am holy.” It also gives us the way to share God’s holiness: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In the second reading St. Paul gives us an additional reason to be holy. We are to keep our bodies holy because we are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit lives in us. In the gospel passages taken from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus condemns even the mild form of the “Law of the Talion,” the tribal law of retaliation. For Jesus, retaliation, or even limited vengeance, has no place in the Christian life.
If someone strikes you on your right cheek show him the other as well. Striking someone on the right cheek requires striking with the back of one’s hand, and according to Jewish concept it inflicts more insult than pain. Jesus instructs his followers to forgive the insult gracefully and convert the offender. It may not be an easy thing to do, but a Christian has to do it.
In Bill Adler's popular book of letters from kids, an 8 year-old boy from Nashville, Tennessee makes this contribution: "Dear Pastor, I know God wants us to love everybody, but He surely never met my sister." Sincerely, Arnold. We can all love people who are at a safe distance, but it is very hard to love people who are close to. I can love the world, it is people I cannot stand.
Roman law permitted its soldiers and other officials to require people to carry a burden for a mile. Service of this sort could be quite oppressive. Here Jesus tells us that a Christian has the duty of responding, even to seemingly unjust demands by helping or serving gracefully, not grudgingly. The principle is this: When we respond to an onerous duty with cheerfulness rather than resentment, we may win over the one who gave us the duty.

Cardinal Francis Xavier Van Thuan spent 14 years in prison in Communist Viet Nam. They arrested and even tortured him, trying to get him to give up his Catholic faith. But instead, he chose to live his faith passionately, even in prison, work camps, and solitary confinement. Here is how he describes what happened. In the beginning, the guards did not talk to me. I was terribly sad. I wanted to be kind and polite with them, but it was impossible. They avoided speaking with me.
One night a thought came to me: “Francis, you are still very rich. You have the love of Christ in your heart; love them as Jesus has loved you.” The next day I started to love them even more, to love Jesus in them, smiling and exchanging kind words with them.
I began to tell them stories of my trips abroad, of how people live in America, in Canada, in Japan, in the Philippines… about economics, about freedom, about technology. This stimulated their curiosity and they began asking me many questions.
Little by little we became friends. They wanted to learn foreign languages, French, English… And my guards became my students! Cardinal Van Thuan’s truly Christ-like approach to his relationship with his atheist, Communist guards, led to some remarkable experiences. The Cardinal describes how one guard agreed to let him make a wooden cross for himself even though it was severely forbidden to have any religious signs at all. When the guard at first objected, the Cardinal answered, “I know, but we are friends, and I promise to keep it hidden.”
So the guard walked away and let the Cardinal make his cross. In another prison, Cardinal Van Thuan asked another guard, who had also become his friend, for some electrical wire.
Here is how the conversation went:
The guard, frightened, answered: “I learned at the Police Academy that when someone asks for electrical wire it means they want to kill themselves!”
“Catholic priests don’t commit suicide.” Said the Cardinal.
“But what do you want to do with electrical wire?”
“I would like to make a chain to carry my cross.”
“How can you make a chain with electrical wire? It’s impossible.”
“If you bring me two small pincers, I’ll show you.”
“It’s too dangerous!”
“But we’re friends!”
Three days later the guard brought the wire and the pincers, and together they made a chain for his cross – the atheist Communist police officer helping the imprisoned bishop with his vestments.
That’s the power of Christ-like love, the love we are all called to live.

Some people criticize Christianity for this teaching in particular.
They say that followers of Jesus are just wimps. They say that instead of fighting for what’s right, Christians passively allow themselves to be taken advantage of. But this is actually a very superficial criticism.
The most powerful force for change in this world full of conflict and sin is not vengeance or violence, but forgiveness.
The Roman Empire was built by force and violence, but it passed away a long time ago. Christ’s Kingdom, the Church, is built on the deeper power of forgiveness and unconditional love, and it has not only outlasted the Roman Empire, but it is still growing today. And in the first centuries of Christianity, when the Roman Empire tried to destroy the Church by force, by persecution, it was precisely the Christian’s power to forgive and endure that made the Church grow. Pagan Romans would watch the trials, tortures, and executions of the Christians. And no matter how unjustly the Christians were condemned, no matter how cruelly they were tortured, they never condemned their enemies in return. That example produced a steady stream of converts to the Christian faith, because the pagans had never witnessed such self-sacrificing nobility and courage. When we give in to bitterness, hatred, and the desire for vengeance, we lose the power of God’s grace at work in our hearts. And that power is the only power capable of conquering evil, of ending the cycle of destructive violence, of bringing resurrections out of crucifixions. A Chinese Proverb says, "Whoever pursues revenge should dig two graves; one for the avenged and one for himself."
Jesus demands that we should forgive, pardon and be generous whether or not our offenders deserve it, and even if we are not loved in return. He also tells us to pray for those who willfully cause us suffering, hardship and unhappiness. Only in Jesus we are able to love those who hate us. Let’s ask the Lord to help us to love those who hurt us and are hard to love.

Let me conclude with an example of Christian forgiveness.
Toward the end of the Revolutionary War, a turncoat traitor, named Michael Whitman, was captured. At his trial it was proven that he had given the British army invaluable assistance on numerous occasions. He was found guilty of spying and sentenced to death by hanging. Michael Whitman was from a town called Ephrata. Word got back to that town of his imprisonment and impending execution. There was a Baptist preacher who also lived in that town whose name was Peter Miller. He heard about Michael Whitman's plight and walked 70 miles in the cold and the snow to Philadelphia to see George Washington. George Washington and Peter Miller were very close friends. Miller had done a great many favors for the army; he had given them spiritual nourishment and emotional strength during difficult times. When he came in to see George Washington he said, "General, I have a favor to ask of you." Washington said, "What is it?" He said, "I have come to ask you to pardon Michael Whitman." George Washington was stunned. He said, "Pastor Miller, that's impossible. Whitman has done everything in his power to betray us, even offering to join the British and help destroy us. I cannot be lenient with traitors, and for that reason I cannot pardon your friend." Peter Miller said, "Friend! He's no friend of mine. He's the bitterest enemy I've ever had in my life. For years he persecuted me and harassed me. He did everything he could to hurt my church and to hinder the preaching of the gospel. He even waited for me one time after church and beat me almost senseless, spitting in my face, knowing full well I would not strike him back." He said, "General, let's get this straight—Michael Whitman is no friend of mine." George Washington was puzzled. He said, "But you asked me to pardon him." He said, "I have, and I ask you to do it to me as a personal favor." He said, "Why?" He said, "Because that's exactly what Jesus has done for you and for me." With tears in his eyes, George Washington walked into the next room and soon returned with a paper on which was written the pardon of Michael Whitman. Peter Miller went personally with him to the stockade, saved Michael Whitman from the hangman's noose, and personally took him back to his own home where he led him to faith in Jesus Christ. Peter Miller was right. What he did for Michael Whitman Jesus Christ has done for us, and on the cross He spoke to us as we should speak to others: "With malice toward none; with charity toward all."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Vth Sunday in Ordinary Time- Cycle A.

Is.58:7-10;Icor.2:1-5; Mt.5:13-16

The Psalm 27:1 says: The Lord is my light and my salvation. Saints and mystics of all times have played on the image of God as light. The word ‘divine’ comes from a Sanskrit root, ‘div’, which means ‘to shine’. Light is from beyond our world; it is from the sun. Without sun or moonlight this planet would be a dark place. There would be no life, because every living thing owes its existence to light and is a form of light. We can never be self-sufficient. We are part of the whole physical system and we could never exist on our own. The same is true of our spiritual reality too. It would be as strange to think oneself spiritually self-sufficient as physically so. “Now in the Lord we are light.”

The ancient philosopher Aristotle wrote somewhere that of all the five senses we possess, sight is the most valued. By the sense of sight, we understand most about the world. By their nature, human beings are creatures who, above all, want to see and understand. That is why phrases like 'I see' can refer to both physical sight and to understanding something. Other phrases like, 'it finally dawned on me' use the imagery of light to indicate understanding something. Last Sunday we heard Christ's teaching that the pure of heart will see God. Faith will one day give way to vision, the beatific vision of eternal life with God and all the saints and angels. So faith connects us to God, the eternal light.

In today’s gospel Jesus says to his disciples, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). But elsewhere in John 8:12 Jesus says of himself, “I am the light of the world.” Who then is the light of the world, Jesus or his followers? This apparent contradiction is resolved by another passage in John 9:5 where Jesus modifies the statement about himself: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” This shows that Jesus is talking about the flesh and blood embodiment of the light. As long as he is physically present in the world he is the light of the world, but when he is no longer physically present his followers now assume the role of being the light of the world.

The followers of Jesus are like the reflectors on road. The reflectors are useful at night only when light shines on them. Without head light shining on them they won’t be visible and useful. So the light they give depended on the light from another source. Otherwise they could not help one to see them. So when Jesus told his disciples they were the "light of the world," he meant they were to be reflectors of the light of God. God is the illuminating source. God provides the light that is reflected from us. And God needs us to be reflectors of God's light to a world of darkness. That is what the responsorial psalm also says today: The just man is a light in darkness to the upright. “Once you were darkness,” wrote St Paul, “but now in the Lord you are light” (Eph 5:8).

The role of the Christian in the world is defined by two words in today’s gospel: salt and light. Now what do these mean? In ancient times salt was the ultimate seasoning that gave taste to food. Without salt food would be tasteless. Jesus is saying that as salt is to food, so are Christians to the world. Christians are in the world to give it flavor, and protect it from corruption, like salt prevents corruption of meat and fish; or to become agents of healing, like saline gargling heals your sore throat. How can we make the world a sweeter place? We find the answer in the parallel passage in Mark: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50).
As salt we are called to be sweet disciples, friendly and kind, living at peace with everybody. As light we are called to show the way. Without light we bump into each another and fall into the ditch. But light says: “Here is the road, take it; here is danger, avoid it.” Without light and salt the world would be in a very bad shape, uninteresting and impossible to live in. With light and salt the world becomes a safer and better place. It is our duty as Christians to make the world a better place. In the rite of Baptism there is use of salt and light. Salt is used in blessing holy water and candle is lighted from the Easter candle.

Jesus tells His disciples that there is a difference between showing-off and showing-up. Showing-off is a play of pretense. Showing-up is a display of truth. Each of us is in a constant process of revealing our selves, even if we are not aware of it or really sure of the self we are revealing. Every gesture speaks volumes and others can read the signs and hear the wordless statements.

Salt and light apparently, may look contradictory. The salt, as is the case with yeast, cannot be seen once mixed but can be perceived; it can be tasted, relished. There are many persons that “can hardly be perceived”, as they are like “little ants” working and doing good all the time. Light, instead, cannot be hidden. There are persons that “can be seen from afar”: Mother Therese of Calcutta, the Pope, Mother Angelica. When we avow our own faith in difficult moments, we are light to others. And in certain environments, today, the mere fact of attending Mass may be the subject of jokes and general mockery. Going to Mass then is already to be “light”. And light is always detected and seen, no matter how small it may be. A little light may change the night.

If there is so much darkness and bitterness in the world today it is because we as Christians have failed in our job to be salt and light in the world.
A missionary had the occasion to put this question to the great Mahatma Gandhi, “What is the greatest hindrance to Christianity in India?” His answer was swift and decisive: “Christians.” It is said that the world would be a more Christian place today were it not for the Christians. The Christians that constitute a hindrance to Christianity are not the real and committed ones, of course, but those who bear the name Christian but, judging from the way they talk and behave, no one would suspect they have anything to do with Christ.
If I see growing dishonesty, corruption, immorality, violence, the diminishing respect for human life, and the increase in abortion in the world, whose fault is it? Let us put it like this: if the house is dark at night, there is no sense in blaming the house. That's what happens when the sun goes down. The question to ask is, "Where is the light?"

If meat goes bad, there is no sense in blaming the meat. That is what happens when the bacteria are allowed to breed unchecked. The question to ask is, "Where is the salt?"

If society becomes corrupt like a dark night or stinking fish, there's no sense in blaming society. That's what happens when fallen human society is left to itself and human evil is unrestrained and unchecked. The question to ask is "Where is the church?"

The story of Rose Hawthorne, daughter of the famous nineteenth century American author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, illustrates the influence of example. Rose’s family of origin was not even Christian, but Unitarian. The family traveled to Italy when Rose was just a girl, and the beauty of the art, architecture, and Catholic culture there impressed them. But at the same time, the mediocre lives of the Catholic Christians they met there turned them off. Nathaniel Hawthorne actually wrote about this, commenting on how little effect this beauty seemed to have on the people: "I really wonder that Catholics are not better men and women."
But if the bad example of some Catholics turned off Nathaniel Hawthorne, it was the good example of some other Catholics that led his daughter Rose to discover her calling. She and her husband became Catholic soon after their marriage, and Rose found herself deeply impressed by the visible presence of women consecrated entirely to God and the Church: Catholic nuns. After her husband passed away, she became a nun herself, actually founding the Hawthorne Dominicans for the Care of Incurable Cancer - a congregation still going strong today. One rule of this congregation is that they do not accept any money from a patient's family, as that could end up prejudicing them towards wealthier patients. That example of totally unselfish service made an impression on another famous American writer from the nineteenth century - Mark Twain. He was so impressed by Rose's work, in fact, that even though he was not a Catholic himself and had inherited a strong prejudice against Catholicism, he became one of Rose's first and steadiest benefactors.
As Catholics, the example of what we do and how we do it can either draw people closer to God, or push them further away.
As Christians and as salt and light in the world, let’s recognize that we Have a responsibility for the World. We have something the world desperately needs. And we are not the Source of Our Light, but we reflect a much Greater Light.

Let us pray to the Lord for one another that we always know how to be salt. And how to be light, if need be. That our daily chores are carried out in such a way that through our good deeds people may praise our Father who is in Heaven (cf. Mt 5:12).