Friday, August 26, 2011

XXII-Sunday-Cycle A.


JEREMIAH 20: 7-9; ROM 12:1-2;Gospel: MT 16: 21-27

It is said that St. Augustine was accosted one day on the street by a former mistress some time after he had become a Christian. When he saw her he turned and walked the other way. Surprised, the woman called out, "Augustine, it is I". Augustine as he kept going the other way, answered her, "Yes, but it is not I."

It is an amusing story ,but when Christ calls a man to follow him, he calls him to die." Augustine was dead to his former self, and so he said, it is not I.

Today’s readings explain how we can truly follow Jesus. Jeremiah, in the first reading, is certainly a prototype of the suffering Christ. In the second reading, Paul advises the Romans and us (Rom 12:1-2):to ‘’offer our bodies as a living sacrifice” to God by explicitly rejecting the ungodly behavior of the world around us and by discerning and doing the will of God.
In today’s gospel, Jesus takes his disciples by surprise when, after Peter's great confession of faith, he 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.
Jesus realized that, although he had predicted his suffering and death three times, his disciples were still thinking in terms of a conquering Messiah, a warrior king, who would sweep the Romans from Palestine and lead Israel to power. That is why Peter could not tolerate the idea of a suffering messiah. It was then that Jesus rebuked him so sternly, "Get behind me, Satan,” in an attempt to nullify this temptation to shrink from the work for which He had come. It was the same kind of rebuke as those He had delivered to Satan in the wilderness. Origen suggests that Jesus was saying to Peter: "Peter, your place is behind me, not in front of me. It's your job to follow me in the way I choose, not to try to lead me in the way YOU would like me to go." Like Peter, the church is often tempted to judge the success or failure of her ministry by the world’s standards. But Jesus teaches that worldly success is not always the Christian way.

Suffering, when we bear it with faith and unite it to Christ's suffering, is like the oven that cooks saints, the fire that purifies our hearts of selfishness. Gold is purified in fire. The cross, when we carry it with Christ, is like a stopwatch in the hands of an expert coach: it pushes us out of our comfort zone so that we can develop our spiritual potential to the full. Adversity helps develop endurance. 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.

All the sufferings are not God given sufferings. Some we create for ourselves. Some come from Satan as he knows that some people renounce God when they meet with sufferings in their life and leave their faith in God.
Bob Hodges, a Presbyterian minister in Rogersville, Tennessee, tells about duck hunting with a friend of his on Cherokee Lake in East Tennessee. His friend, Riley, who had just recently given his life to Christ, began to ask some serious questions about his Christian pilgrimage. Riley's old friends were making it very difficult for him to remain consistent in his obedience and commitment to Christ. They seemed to delight in trying to get him to fall back into the old patterns of life. They ridiculed him for spending so much time with "the preacher." Riley asked, "Why is it that I'm having more trouble since I became a Christian than I ever did when I was lost? Everything seems to go wrong. I'm having such a struggle!"

Bob Hodges spoke up, "I'll tell you why, Riley. A couple of ducks fly over and you shoot. You kill one and injure the other. They both fall into the lake. What do you do? You have to get out of the boat and go pick up the ducks, but which one do you go after first?"

"Well," Riley drawled, "that's easy. I go after the injured one first. The dead one ain't goin' nowhere!"

Hodges said, "And that's the way it is with the devil. He goes after injured Christians. He's not going to bother with the man dead in his sin. But the minute you give your life to Christ, you'd better get ready; the devil is going to come after you. He is going to chase you; he's going to make it hard on you."

Sometimes, when life's crosses are especially heavy, it is hard for us to remember that God is with us in our sufferings. At times, like Job, we find ourselves rebelling against the suffering that God permits to come our way, instead of finding its hidden meaning. Those can be lonely, dark times, full of temptation and sadness. But God promises that he will be faithful. St Paul wrote: "God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians10:13). St Augustine says: "There is more courage in a man who faces rather than flees the storms of life, and who holds cheap the opinion of men.

The Church has decreed that above each of her altars there should be a crucifix. Whenever we enter a Catholic Church, therefore, the crucifix will be the focus of our field of vision. The crucifix is a depiction of humiliation, torture, pain, and death. Why such pride of place given for such a cruel reality? Why not put scenes of Christ's birth above every altar, or of his resurrection, or ascension? Because, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." Christ dying on the cross was the perfect sacrifice offered to God in loving atonement for our sins and the sins of all people (2 Cor. 5:15). Christ dying on the cross was the perfect, loving act of obedience that reversed the vile disobedience of Adam in the Garden of Eden.

To get any where in a mirror-image world, you must go in the opposite direction! If you walk in the forward direction you will reach only the mirror, not the destination. Christ's teaching is a bit like that: If you want to be a follower ... renounce yourself! And walk the opposite direction of where the world is walking. If you want to save your prepared to lose it! The Sermon on the Mount spells out the apparent contradictions.
Society tends to take the Peter approach: 'You can't do that!' To be a success, you must be strong, not weak; rich, not poor; aggressive, not meek.

We must follow the footsteps of our Lord: suffering, self-denial, opposition, humiliation, and difficulty. We may even have to lose the "whole world", like so many saints and martyrs, in order to gain the truly abundant "life."
Uninterrupted joy is reserved for heaven; the road to heaven is paved with crosses.

Jesus didn't let us suffer alone. He came and walked beside us through the incarnation, comforting, strengthening, and inspiring us with his example of self-sacrificial love.

Nothing stands in the way of our ultimate salvation as much as our own 'cosy' Christianity, the sort that wants to be a follower of Christ on our own terms, preferably without the 'nasty bits' of suffering, death and self-sacrifice.
Do I have enough faith to offer up a genuine sacrifice for Christ's sake? "Am I willing to sacrifice something for the kingdom?"

Friday, August 19, 2011

XXI-Sunday -Cycle A.

XXI: ISAIAH 22: 19-23; ROMANS 11: 33-36; MT 16: 13-20

The Gospel for our meditation today is very familiar passage. Jesus wanted to know what the disciples thought who he was. All of us want to know who we are or what people think about us. A wife one day, after reading this Gospel passage, asked her husband to describe her. He said: 'You are A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K'. She said, 'What does that mean?' He said, 'Adorable, Beautiful, Cute, Delightful, Elegant, Fabulous, Gorgeous, Humble'. She said, 'Oh that's so lovely. What about I, J, K?' He said, ' I'm Just Kidding.'

Jesus was with his disciples for nearly three years teaching, preaching , healing and casting out demons, raising the dead and he wanted to make sure they understood him well. So he asked them what others thought he was.
"Who do people say I am?" was only a preliminary question; the real question was "Who do you say I am?" The first question is easily answered; one has only to be a reporter. But the second question is a searching one; and only a disciple can come anywhere within range of an answer.
When we recite the Creed at Mass we give the Church's answer. "We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father…."
However, the mere repetition of a right answer is not the answer. We found out in primary school that the right answer given at the end of the arithmetic book was useless unless we reached it by valid steps ourselves. We don’t just repeat the Creed; we profess it. It is more than a set of theoretical statements; it is a commitment and a renewal of faith. This is more demanding. We cannot 'find' Jesus in the way you find some lost object, or a piece of information. In a sense, the seeking has to continue even when we have found him, and especially then.

When we Christians meet in his name we are responding to his question, "Who do you say that I am?" and sharing our experience of him with our brothers and sisters.
There's an old story about an innocent man fleeing soldiers. Some
villagers hid him. When the soldiers arrived, they threatened to destroy the village by noon, unless they turned the Innocent man over to them. Two villagers went to the cave of an old rabbi outside the village to seek his advice. When he opened his Bible for an answer, his eyes fell on the words, "It is better for one man to die than for all to perish." He told them to give the man to the soldiers. Later, an angel appeared to the rabbi and said, Why did you turn him in? He was the Messiah. The old rabbi wept, saying,"How was I to know?" The angel said, "You should have met with him and looked in to his eyes. Then you'd have known."
Only when we look into the eyes and seek to find who he is Jesus can be really known. Only by encountering Jesus we can know him, not just by hearing about him. When Peter gave the right answer to the question he was given power and authority over the church. He was given keys to the kingdom.
We might call this Sunday “Power Sunday” because the main theme is the handing over of the “keys” which open and shut, representing authority in the Church and in the kingdom. The first reading, from Isaiah, gives a detailed description of the investiture of a royal court official. The robe, the
sash, and the keys are insignia of this office. Isaiah tells of how the keys of authority were taken away from Shebna, the unfaithful and proud “master of the royal palace,” and given to the humble and faithful Eliakim.
Peter will receive the keys of the kingdom and be given the power to bind and to loose on earth that which will be ratified in heaven.
Keys can be a sign of “control” – especially car keys or house keys. Visiting dignitaries are often given an honorary "Key to the City" by the mayor.

Keys are meant for locking out or opening up. We are the Church, the called together. We have our structures based on tradition and Scripture with our Holy Father as chief key-holder.
We all need the keys to shut up whatever is destroying us. We need to turn the keys to open up "the floodgates of heaven" (see Mal 3:10) by opening up our hearts to God's love and truth. The Church is the only place where we can get the keys we need. So, if we're addicted, unforgiving, or guilt-ridden, we should go to Church. If we're looking for answers, hope, or peace, we should go to Church. Her preaching and praying are the keys we need. The Lord especially has made the Sacrament of Confession the key by which we are freed.

"Keys" refer to the divinely guaranteed guidance and authority that the papacy will steadily provide about what we should believe and how we should live - faith and morals. The Church teaches that Peter was given the keys which admit a man to heaven or exclude him from it, and that to Peter was given the power to absolve or not to absolve a man from his sins. In other words, Jesus gave to Peter the authority to determine what courses of action would be permitted or forbidden in the Church.

It is possible that God could take those Keys away from us, like He did to Shebna, and give them to others who would use them responsibly. So we need to be responsible Christians who hold the key faithfully for letting the grace of God flow into our lives and of others and locking out the power of evil and negative thoughts from our lives.

During this Mass, let's renew our commitment to him, confident that no matter what happens in this life, we will be victorious in the end, because, as he promised, the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against the rock and the keys.

Friday, August 12, 2011

XX-Sunday- Cycle A.

XX Sunday ISAIAH 56: 1, 6-7; ROM 11: 13-15;Gospel: MAT 15: 21-28

" Billy Graham once told of an incident that happened a long time ago when teachers could talk about religion in the classroom. A teacher was talking to her class of young boys, and she asked, "How many of you would like to go to heaven?" And all the hands shot into the air at once, except one. She was astounded. She asked, "Charlie, you mean you don't want to go to heaven?" He said, "Sure, I want to go to heaven, but not with that bunch." Unfortunately, that is how many religious groups feel about one another. Consider the Middle East, and, in parts of Lebanon, Christian militias fighting each other. All three great faiths in that part of the world trace their origins through the patriarch Abraham. All three embrace the Mosaic Law. All three are monotheistic. And yet as the political walls of this world come tumbling down, the religious walls seem to grow higher and higher. How tragic. Today’s gospel tells us how Jesus healed the daughter of a Gentile woman in spite of the religious prejudice of his fellow Jews for the Gentiles.

All three readings today speak of the expansive and universal nature of the “kingdom of God,” in contrast with the protocol of the day which demanded that salvation should come first to the Jews and then to all the people of the earth. Although God set the Hebrew people apart as His chosen race, He included all nations in His plan for salvation and blessed all families of the earth in Abraham (Gen 12:1-3). By declaring through the prophet Isaiah (the first reading), “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples,” God reveals the truth that in His eyes there is no distinction among human beings on the basis of race, caste or color. The long-expected messianic kingdom was intended, not only for the Jews, but for all nations as well. There is no place for discrimination among God’s children.
Today’s psalm rejects all types of religious exclusivity: "Let all the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. For you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon the earth, so that your saving power may be known among all the nations."
The gospels describe only two miraculous healings Jesus performed for Gentiles: the healing of the daughter of the Canaanite woman and the healing of the centurion’s servant (Mt. 8: 10-12). The encounter with the Canaanite woman was the only occasion on which Jesus was ever outside Jewish territory. The miracles foreshadow the extension of the gospel to the whole world.
By granting the persistent request of the pagan woman, Jesus demonstrates that his mission is to break down the barriers and to remove the walls of division and prejudice between the Jews and the Gentiles. God does not discriminate but welcome all who believe in Him, who asks for His mercy and try to do His will.

Jesus first ignores both the persistent cry of the woman and the impatience of his disciples to send the woman away. He then tries to awaken true faith in the heart of this woman by an indirect refusal, telling her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But the woman is persistent in her request. She kneels before him and begs, "Lord, help me." Now Jesus makes a seemingly harsh statement, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." The term "dogs" was a derogatory Jewish word for the Gentiles. Dogs were regarded by the Jews as unclean, because they would eat anything given to them, including pork. She also observed that Jesus had used the word for dogs in a joking way – a sort of test of the woman's faith. So she immediately matched wits with Jesus. Her argument runs like this: Pets are not outsiders but insiders. They not only belong to the family, but are part of the family. While they do not have a seat at the table, they enjoy intimacy at the family's feet. Hence the woman replied: "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table" (v. 27), expressing her faith that Jesus could and would heal her daughter. Jesus was completely won over by the depth of her faith, her confidence and her wit and hence responded exuberantly, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." We notice that the woman was refused three times by Jesus before he granted her request and finally, the fourth time, her persistence was rewarded and her plea was answered.

We need to pull down the walls of separation and share in the universality of God’s love: Very often we set up walls which separate us from God and from one another. Today's Gospel reminds us that God's love and mercy are extended to all who call on him in faith and trust, no matter who they are. In other words, God’s care extends beyond the boundaries of race and nation to the hearts of all who live, and God’s house should become a house of prayer for all peoples. It is therefore fitting that we should pray that the walls which our pride, intolerance and prejudice have raised, may crumble. Next, we have to be grateful to God for all the blessings we enjoy. As baptized members of the Christian community, we have been given special privileges and easy access to God's love. But we also have serious responsibilities arising from these gifts. One of these responsibilities is to make clear to others, with true humility and compassion, that God's love, mercy and healing are for them also because they too are the children of God.
Often when it is asked to the candidates in RCIA, what took them so long to decide to become Catholic, many times the response is, "No one ever invited me!" Wouldn't it be a good thing if, once in a while, we could say to a friend or relative, or a neighbor, "Have you ever thought of becoming a Catholic?" If they show interest, then say to them, "Well, I would like to invite you, right now! And I'll go with you to a special process that we call the RCIA. From September 6th we begin our RCIA in the parish. Let’s decide to invite at least one person gently to our program there by helping to fulfill the prayer of Jesus: "that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that the world may believe that you sent me." (John 17:21)
The Canaanite woman’s tough and unshakable determination to get her child healed points to her deep trust and confidence in the power of Jesus. It is faith that impels us to persevere, to struggle till we get what we want. In the story we notice that faith demands humility, courage and perseverance, and above all love. Love is the testing ground of faith. Jesus promised us to give us any thing that we need for our life whenever we ask him. Recognizing that what we need most are the peace and security that come from being in harmony with God's will for us, let us pray the Lord for a strong and persevering faith as that of the Canaanite woman.

Friday, August 5, 2011


XIX-Sunday:1 KGS 19: 9, 11-13; ROM 9: 1-5;Gospel: MATTHEW 14: 22-33

Three ministers were out fishing together in a small boat. One of them, suddenly realizing that he had left his tackle box in the cabin, stepped out of the boat, and walked on the water over to shore. Just then, the second one said he had forgotten his faithful fishing hat on the front seat of the car. He too stepped out of the boat and walked on the water over to shore. When they had both returned, the third minister who had watched this remarkable demonstration with mouth open and eyes wide, reasoned to himself "My faith is as strong as theirs. I can do that too."

So he stepped out of the boat and promptly sank to the bottom. His two companions dragged him out, but once they got him in the boat, he was determined not to be shown up. He stepped out once more, and immediately sank again. As his friends pulled him out, he sputtered, "My faith is as strong as yours. Why can't I walk on the water?"

The first two looked at each another and one finally said, "We'd better tell him where those rocks are before he drowns himself."
The gospel episode explains how Peter lost his trusting faith in Jesus for a few seconds and consequently failed during his attempt to walk on water. Peter ventures into this dangerous element, and makes his way while he keeps his attention on the Lord, but he sinks once he thinks about danger.
Jesus’ walking on the water follows the miraculous feeding in Matthew, Mark, and John. However, the account of Peter walking on the water is found only in Matthew. Thus Matthew expands the purpose of retelling this event to say something about Peter and his faith. While we might emphasize Peter’s fear, his sinking and his “little” faith, we need to look also at his leap of faith. Peter represents all who dare to believe that Jesus is Savior, take their first steps in confidence that he is able to sustain them, and then forget to keep their gaze fixed on him when they face storms of temptations. From the depth of crisis, however, they remember to call on the Savior, and they experience the total sufficiency of his grace to meet their needs. It is this type of “little faith” of Peter which Jesus later identifies as the rock on which He will build his Church. The only faith Jesus expects of his followers is a faith which concentrates solely on him. In other words, when we simply heed Our Lord, we can do great things. So, with His grace, we have to raise our awareness of God’s presence in our lives. As we become more aware, we will step out and proclaim that presence, even in surprising places.
For Elizabeth Blackwell “walking on water” meant something entirely different. Elizabeth wanted to become a doctor in the 1840s. At the time, medical schools were only for men. Elizabeth Blackwell had to fight just to get in. Finally, at one school, Geneva College of Medicine in New York, the students voted to let her in as a joke. But the head of the school didn't know it was supposed to be a joke, and he let her in. When she got there, the students made fun of her. They refused to share their notes with her. Some professors tried to keep her out of their classes. She refused to give up. In 1849, she graduated at the head of her class. When no hospital would allow her to practice, she opened her own hospital. Then she opened a medical school to train women. Elizabeth Blackwell got out of the boat and walked on the water.
Matthew recorded his Gospel after Peter was crucified, when the Christians were being persecuted. The two storm stories address issues of danger, fear and faith. In both stories, the boat seems to represent the Church, buffeted by temptations, trials and persecutions. In both, Jesus appears as the Church's champion, strong to save those who call on him in faith. The recounting of this episode probably brought great comfort to the early Christians, especially those of Matthew’s faith community. For, it offered them the assurance that Christ would save them even if they had to die for their faith in him, and that, even in the midst of persecution, they need not fear because Jesus was present with them. The episode offers the same reassurance to us in times of illness, death, persecution, or other troubles. It teaches us that adversity is not a sign of God's displeasure, nor prosperity a sign of His pleasure, that illness is not a sign of inadequate faith, nor health a sign of great faith. Paradoxically, the storms of life can be a means of blessing. When things are going badly, our hearts are more receptive to Jesus. A broken heart is often a door through which Christ can find entry.
Storms let us know that without him, we can do nothing, without him we are doomed to fail. Yet, when Jesus shows up, we gain the strength to join Paul, saying, “In Christ I can do all things.” But this demands a personal relationship with God, with Jesus, enhanced through prayer, meditative study of scripture and an active sacramental life.
Peter's cry for help is a pure expression of prayer. "Sinking times are praying times….Short prayers are long enough….There were but three words in the petition which Peter gasped out ("Lord, save me!"), but they were sufficient for his purpose….
A great deal of failure in the Christian life is due to acting on impulse and emotional fervor without counting the cost. Peter, fortunately in the moment of his failure clutched at Jesus and held him firmly. Every time Peter fell, he rose again. His failures only made him love the Lord more deeply and trust him more intently. The Lord keeps watch over us at all times, and especially in our moments of temptation and difficulty. Jesus assures us that we have no need of fear if we trust in Him and in his great love for us. When calamities or trials threaten to overwhelm us, how do us respond? Do I turn to the Lord and pray as Peter prayed “Lord, Save me”?