Friday, March 30, 2012


Isaiah 50: 4-7; Philippians 2: 6-11 ; Mark11: 1-10; 14: 1-15:47

Today begins the holiest week of the year for Christians. This is the week in which the divine Jesus empties Himself of His nature as God, in order that He may experience to the full His weakness and helplessness as a human being. This is the week when Jesus identifies Himself with us to show us how Love acts when attacked by Evil. Today's liturgy is unsparing in its irony concerning human fickleness and betrayal.

The Church celebrates today as both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. This is also the time we remember and relive the events which brought about our redemption and salvation.

Many who witnessed Jesus riding into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday probably thought they were witnessing an April Fools’ prank. The fact that the Roman officials did not interfere with this demonstration, not taking it as an insurrection against Romans shows that they just saw the whole thing as utterly contemptible, and a laughing stock.

Many had come out to see what they thought was the leader of a new religious movement, and quite possibly the long-awaited Messiah. They had heard amazing stories about this man about his feeding thousands of people with two fish and five small loaves, about his ability to heal, and even about his raising of Lazarus from the dead. Could this be, they wondered hopefully, the One they had long been awaiting?

When Jesus rides into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey, why does some of the crowd rush out to greet Him? The answer is found in Jewish culture and history. In Old Testament times, one of the ways a king was inaugurated was to get on a donkey and have a large retinue of people walk along behind him shouting, "Long live the King!"
The crowd in the temple wants to make Jesus king. When they see Him riding toward them on a donkey, they use it as an opportunity to precipitate a coronation. That he was crucified shortly afterward indicates that they were looking only for a national leader rather than a personal Savior.
We have two readings from Mark's gospel, and each describes a crowd. There is the enthusiastic crowd of people who cheer Jesus when he enters Jerusalem on the back of the donkey, and there is the mob that jeers at him on the cross.
Crowds are notoriously unstable. A group of football fans that is at one moment enjoying a match with relaxed cheerfulness can easily become a threatening mob. To be in a big group of people can feel like belonging to a community, and may be so. But you can be sucked up into a gang in which one loses one's individuality and consents to terrible deeds.
Today we begin Holy Week, and we are invited to become holy. Holy people grow into an independence of mind and heart which protect them from the seductions of the mob. A saint is someone who, by the grace of God, is becoming the person whom God created them to be. The saints take the risk of being themselves, the unique friend of God that they are. They are non-conformist.
The crowd that cheers Jesus as he enters Jerusalem is drawn by his power. He comes as the promised King, the descendant of their father David. They sing 'Hosanna', which means 'Save us'. They gather around him and escort him into the city. But the crowd that mocks him, many of whom were probably the same people, taunting him with his powerlessness. When they saw him not behaving like a powerful king after their demonstration, they turn against him. Don’t we at times behave the way this crowd behaved when we try to ally and associate with only powerful people, inviting them for parties or joining them in parties, may be wishing to share in their power and prestige, where as on the other side, we don’t like to associate willingly with the powerless and the poor ?

What is Palm Sunday? Maybe another way to approach that question is to ask another question: what if the gospel story ended with Palm Sunday? Like the disciples, we would like it if the gospel could conclude right here. After all that the disciples had been through, and with their own secret hope that Jesus would be a political success on whose coattails they would ride to prominence, the disciples looked at the Triumphal Entry and thought, "Now this is more like it!" They probably wanted to capture and bottle that festive atmosphere. It was rather like Peter's reaction to Jesus' transfiguration when Moses and Elijah also appeared with Jesus on the mountaintop. Peter piped up and said, "Let's build some tabernacles right here so we can keep this great thing going forever!" So also on Palm Sunday: if they could have hit the pause button on the remote control of life, this would have been a wonderful image to freeze frame.

The problem is that there is no salvation for anyone on Palm Sunday. The people cried "Hosanna," which means "Save us!" Have we thought about what we would really want God to save us from? Save me from anger, bitterness, depression, strife in the family, from debt, from humiliation, loneliness, from all type of fears. But given the world we are in, there could be no salvation from that kind of happy parade. It doesn't address the problems that need solving. We are saved not on Palm Sunday, but on Good Friday.

M. Kaeler described the gospels as "accounts of the death of Jesus, preceded by long introductions." One third of the gospels is about the passion and death of Jesus. The essential Christian proclamation is, "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." The primary interest was the manner of his death, and that God raised him from death, giving us hope of rising with him.
The Cross of Christ has been a potent symbol throughout the ages. Its vertical axis, it was said, joins heaven and earth, and its horizontal axis joins all ages and races of humankind; everything meets in the broken body of Christ.
The Christian faith without the Cross is nothing. The Cross tells us that our goodness is not good enough. We cannot 'achieve' God by our own efforts: that would be to try to possess God as a sort of ornament on a life of achievement. Our ego would indeed love to do this, and is always ready to imagine that it has done so in fact.
The grave is a narrow place, and to suffer is distressing. But this is the narrow road that leads to life. First of all the Scriptures, and then the saints and mystics, vouch for this. First the narrow way, then the opening out. A Christianity without the Cross has never worked, and it is never likely to do so. It takes a crucified Church to bring a crucified Christ before the eyes of the world.

Martin Luther says that God thrusts us into death and permits the devil to pounce on us. But it is not his purpose to devour us; he wants to test us, to purify us, and to manifest himself ever more to us, that we may recognize his love. Such trials and strife are to let us experience something that preaching alone is not able to do, namely, how powerful Christ is and how sincerely the Father loves us.

This week sums up the whole meaning of our theology and daily lives as followers of Christ. Let us realize that true glory cannot be separated from some measure of suffering –Easter cannot be divorced from Good Friday. Let us go to die with Jesus, that we may rise with Him anew.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lent IV-B

LENT IV.: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23;: Ephesians 2: 4-10;Gospel: John 3: 14-21

The Hound of Heaven, written by Francis Thompson, is one of the best known religious poems in the English language. It describes the pursuit of the human soul by God. It is the story of a human soul who tries to flee from God as it thinks that it will lose its freedom in the company of God. It is the story of Thompson’s own life. As a boy, he intended to become a priest. But the laziness of his brilliant son prompted Thompson’s father to enroll young Francis in a medical school. There he became addicted to the opium that almost wrecked his body and mind. He fled to a slum and started earning a living by shining shoes, selling matches, and holding horses. In 1887 Francis sent some poems and an essay to Mr. Wilfrid Meynell, the editor of a Catholic literary magazine called Merry England. The editor recognized the genius behind these works and published them in April 1888. Then Meynell went in search of the poet. He arranged accommodation for Francis, introduced him to other poets and helped him to realize God’s love. How Francis tried to run away from God, how God “hunted” him, how divine love caught up with him – these are the themes of his stirring poem, The Hound of Heaven. Today’s gospel tells us about the breadth and depth and height of the divine love of the Hound of heaven for each one of us.

As an act of love and gratitude to God who is “rich in mercy” and as an expression of our faith, we are invited to share his sufferings by doing penance during Lent so that we may inherit our eternal salvation and the glory of his resurrection in heaven. In the first reading, from the Second Book of Chronicles, we learn the compassion and patience of God. God allowed Cyrus the Great, a pagan conqueror, to become the instrument of His mercy and salvation for His chosen people who were in exile in Babylon. In the second reading, Paul tells us that God is so rich in mercy that He has granted us eternal salvation as a free gift through Christ Jesus. Today’s gospel has a parallel theme but on a much higher level. Jesus, the Son of God, became the agent of God's salvation, not just for one sinful nation but for the sinfulness of the whole world. Through John 3:16, the gospel teaches us that God expressed His love, mercy and compassion for us by giving His only Son for our salvation.
Nicodemus came during the dark of night, to hear from Jesus about eternal life and even more about Jesus himself. But Jesus instructs him, stating that rebirth by water and the Spirit is an essential condition for entering the Kingdom of God. And he explains to him that he must believe His words because he is the Son of God. And he then asks Nicodemus to recall how Moses, the great Jewish leader saved his people by raising the image of a serpent and all who looked upon it were healed. Using this historical reference, Jesus indicates that He, too, will be lifted up, (on the cross) to heal all those who look upon Him with the eyes of faith. This seeing/believing in Him Who has been sent, will lead to eternal life.
A strong theme of John’s Gospel is that of Jesus’ being the “light”. Bad things happen in this Gospel at night or in the “darkness”. Remember, Nicodemus has come to visit with Jesus by night. John uses this symbol to present Jesus as the One Who has come into the darkness of the world to illumine the world. There are those who choose darkness and so remain unaware of their being so loved. These choose the works appropriate to darkness. The real evil is that those who choose darkness choose the evil of not knowing, accepting, and living their truth as loved and saved in Christ.
There are many dark corners in our world. Addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling and pornography, sexual immorality, environmental irresponsibility, and a lack of purpose, are a few of these dark corners. It is very easy to pretend that these dark corners don't exist. We act like the desert nomad in the story who woke up hungry in the middle of the night. He lit a candle and began eating dates from a bowl beside his bed. He took a bite from one and saw a worm in it; so he threw it out of the tent. He bit into the second date, found another worm, and threw it away also. Reasoning that he wouldn't have any dates left to eat if he continued to look for worms, he blew out the candle and quickly ate the rest of the dates!
Our lives matter to God, and He knows all about the dark corners in our lives. He wants us to stop hiding our sin in the dark and demands that we expose every dark corner to His Light of life. He is giving to us the Light that not only shows up the dirt in our lives but cleans it away. He died so that we could be made new and clean. Freely, the light of His forgiveness shines into our lives, brightening up every corner, forgiving every sin, restoring our relationship with God, renewing our lives.

Whoever follows Jesus will not walk in darkness. We will experience the joy and peace of sins forgiven, of new attitudes and of new relationships with family and friends.

This fourth Sunday of Lent is known as 'Laetare Sunday'. In Latin laetare means rejoice. Since it occurs in the middle of Lent, as Gaudete Sunday is celebrated midway through Advent, Lætare Sunday reminds us of the Event we look forward to at the end of the penitential season, viz. the Resurrection, 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.
Joy is a fruit of God's Spirit, not a feeling that can be turned on and off. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22). Notice that St Paul places it directly after love, so close is it to the heart of the Faith. It is a gift, not a purchase.
We are the lucky ones: we know that God loves us, that we are infinitely valuable in his eyes, no matter what, in spite of our sins, failings, and weaknesses.

His love has no hidden agenda, no selfish undertones - pure generosity .This is the heart of God, of the Lord who longs for our friendship. Only when we internalize this fundamental motive of God does our Christian adventure really begin.

This is why every year, right in the middle of this penitential season, on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, the Church invites us to rejoice. We have had four weeks to meditate on our weaknesses and sinful tendencies. And so now we are able to appreciate more deeply just how full and unconditional God's love is - that while we were "dead in our transgressions" as St Paul put it, God reached down and rescued us. That's how we are in his eyes – that’s the unquenchable source of the Christian's unquenchable joy.

God loves us: this is the source of our joy, whether we actually experience it or not at the moment. Quite often we see the Christian faith diminished to a morality, an account of what we should do: how we should love God and our neighbour…. But St John wrote, "In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us" (1 John 4:10). "We love because God first loved us" (1John 4:19). This is the source of our joy. He loves all of us the way we are. Despite all our sins, God is always ready to restore our relationship with him. He is faithful even when we are unfaithful. He loves us unconditionally and freely. God never gives up on any one of his beloved children. He never withholds his love from the undeserving. We are loved consistently, constantly, completely.

Happiness is conditional: it depends on good fortune, pleasant surroundings, congenial friends, a good digestion…. But joy is unconditional. It depends on nothing. You can even experience joy in times of unhappiness. It is like a ray of sunshine that suddenly penetrates the clouds, a reminder that it is always there, whether you see it or not. Such is God's love. Even when we are at our worst, God still loves us. "God loved us when we were not, and when we were His foes," said Meister Eckhart. "Whether we go near or far, God never goes far away but always stands nearby; and even if He cannot remain within, He never goes further than outside the door." There is an Irish proverb, "God's help is nearer than the door."

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. 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.

Friday, March 9, 2012



Exodus 20: 1-17;: 1 Corinthians 1: 22-25;Gospel: John 2: 13-25

Like the desert on the first Sunday of Lent and the mountain last Sunday, the Temple is a place of special encounter with God this Sunday. But today we do not see the glorious face of Jesus; we see his angry face. Jesus is not happy with what he sees precisely because the way the Temple worship has been organized no longer reflects God’s original idea of a worshipping community.

This cleansing of the temple was a prophetic act. The authorities knew this instinctively. They did not get Jesus arrested, or arrange for Jesus to get beaten up by the security. The authorities asked 'What sign can you show us?' As St.Paul said in the second reading today “the Jews look for signs” and the Greeks for wisdom to verify whether it is from God.

The buying, selling, and money changing that went on in the Temple area had long been happening there, and for good reason. According to Old Testament law, pilgrims to the Temple had to make animal offerings to the priests, who would sacrifice them on the pilgrims' behalf. Strict rules governed the qualifications of these animal victims - not just any animal would do. Therefore, businesses cropped up that specialized in making the right beasts easily available. Likewise, pilgrims came from all over the civilized world, and brought money of different currencies. These had to be weighed, valued, and exchanged in order to be used for purchasing the sacrificial victims. But through the years, gradually, greed and corruption had infiltrated even these sacred services. By the time of Christ, the moneychangers were demanding excessive fees, and the animal vendors were wildly overcharging. In this way, what was meant to be heartfelt service to God had become a path to worldly success.

If they took all that trouble to please God in worship, why couldn’t they take the trouble to investigate the claims of Jesus rather than condemn him so readily? For them pleasing God had become something you do in the rituals of the Temple and not in your relationship with people. This kind of religiosity makes Jesus really angry.
A story is told of a priest who was coming back to his parish house one evening in the dark only to be accosted by a robber who pulled a gun at him and demanded, “Your money or your life!” As the priest reached his hand into his coat pocket the robber saw his Roman collar and said, “So you are a priest? Then you can go.” The priest was rather surprised at this unexpected show of piety and so tried to reciprocate by offering the robber his packet of cigarettes, to which the robber replied, “No, Father, I don’t smoke during Lent.” You can see how this robber is trying to keep the pious observance of not smoking during Lent while forgetting the more fundamental commandment of God, “Thou shalt not steal.”

The second reason why Jesus was mad with the Temple priests was their practice of religious particularity over against universality, of exclusiveness over inclusiveness. Some knowledge of the design of the Temple will help us here. The Temple had five sections or courts: (1) holy of holies (2) court of priests (3) court of Israel (4) court of women (5) court of Gentiles. The court of Gentiles was no longer regarded as part and parcel of the house of God, it had become a market place. Now it was this court of Gentiles that Jesus cleansed. In so doing he was making the point that the Gentile section was just as holy as the Jewish sections. God is God of all and not God of a select group. Like the Jews of the time of Jesus, some Christians today still think that God belongs to them alone and not to others as well. So this cleansing of the temple is about allowing non-Jews to worship along with Jews. The psalms in particular express the great hope that the temple would be for all the peoples. This was one of the great expectations of the coming of the Messiah, the Saviour of God's people, so that all the peoples would worship the one true God.

Throughout the Gospels, there are only a few times when Jesus acts out in righteous anger. Each of those times, he does so to condemn hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy is what Jesus hates: appearing to be one thing on the outside, but actually being something else entirely on the inside. That's exactly what the Temple officials were doing. Not truthful in their heart to God.

We easily find ways to make other people think that we are exemplary Catholics, that we have it all together, while on the inside we still seek the kingdom of "me" rather than the Kingdom of Christ.

St John of Kanty, the great Polish professor and priest who died on Christmas Eve in 1473, was another saint who loved the truth. Once he was making a pilgrimage to Rome, on foot, carrying all of his provisions in a shoulder sack. While passing through a forest, he was surrounded by robbers who took all his possessions. Before they left, they asked him if he had anything else they could take, and he said no, they had already taken everything. So the robbers let him go. But before too long, he remembered that he had a few gold coins sewed into his clothes, for emergencies. So he turned around and rushed back to find the robbers. When he found them, he explained that he had not told them the truth - he still had some gold coins that they could take. They were so shocked, and shamed, by this extraordinary sincerity that they not only refused to accept the gold coins, but they restored to him everything they had stolen. He felt to be truthful even to those who violently took what belonged to him.

If God is truth, and if we want to stay close to God and live in the peace and wisdom that God brings, we also have to live in the truth. Only that can bring communion with God.

Jesus wants our friendship, because the only place we can find the fulfillment and satisfaction we yearn for is in communion with God. And he wants this for us so much, that sometimes he goes to extreme measures in order to cleanse the temple of our hearts. Many times, this is why he permits suffering in our lives. When we suffer, we are forced out of our comfort zone; we learn our limitations; we discover that the promises of this world's politicians, advertisers, and self-help gurus just don't hold up under pressure. When that happens, we can become more open to hearing God's voice, to stop pretending that we don't really need God and start leaning more completely on God.

But Jesus doesn't want to have to resort to extreme measures all the time. And so, he gives us another option, an ongoing opportunity for us to work with him in cleansing out the temple of our hearts. It's called confession. The sacrament of reconciliation is a voluntary cleansing of the temple. As Christians, our hearts are the real temple of God - the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Trinity dwell within us. But our sins and selfish actions and habits can turn that temple into a place of confusion, noise, and tension, instead of one where we encounter God and discover his love. Whenever we make a good confession, we give Jesus free entrance into our hearts, so that he can cleanse them, and fill them up again with the light and strength of his friendship.

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will restore it, said Jesus. "This temple," said Meister Eckhart, "is the human soul, which God has made exactly like Himself, just as we read that the Lord said: 'Let us make humankind in our image and likeness' (Genesis 1:26)…. So like Himself has God made the human soul that nothing else in heaven or on earth, of all the splendid creatures that God has so joyously created, resembles God so much as the human soul." Everything unworthy of God has to be cast out from the temple of our soul. This is for all seasons, but it has a special resonance in the season of Lent. Let’s abstain from anything that goes against the holiness of the place of God.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Genesis 22: 1-18; Romans 8: 31-34;Gospel: Mark 9: 2-10

A man and a woman had a little daughter. They lived for her. They were shocked when they discovered that she became chronically ill and her illness resisted the efforts of the best doctors, they became totally discouraged and inconsolable. Soon she passed away. The parents were completely distressed, and they shut themselves off from their family and friends. But, one night the woman had a dream that she was in heaven. There she saw a long procession of little children processing like little angels before the throne of God. Every child was dressed in a dazzling white robe and they each held a lit candle. However, when the woman saw her daughter, she noticed that her candle was not lit. The mother ran up to her, embraced her, and then asked her how it was that her candle was the only one that was not lit. She said, "Mother, they often relight it, but your tears always put it out." Just at that moment the woman woke from her dream. They decided to embrace their loss with Christian hope and that they would no longer extinguish their daughter's little candle with their useless tears.

The gospel account of the transfiguration of Jesus tells us that our sufferings will lead to the transformation of our lives.

Transfiguration established Jesus' glorious identity as the beloved Son of God, and placed his divine Son-ship in the context of Jewish expectations about the kingdom and the resurrection. While praying, Jesus was transfigured into a shining figure, full of heavenly glory. This reminds us of Moses and Elijah who also experienced the Lord in all His glory. Moses had met the Lord in the burning bush at Mount Horeb (Ex. 3:1-4). After his encounter with God, Moses' face shone so brightly that the people were frightened, and Moses had to wear a veil over his face (Ex. 34:29-35). The Jews believed that Moses was taken up in a cloud at end of his earthly life. Elijah traveled for forty days to Mt. Horeb on the strength of the food brought by an angel (1 Kings 19:8). At Mt. Horeb, Elijah sought refuge in a cave as the glory of the Lord passed over him (1 Kings 19:9-18).Moses and Elijah had met the Lord in all his glory, because they were champions of suffering for the Lord.

Moses showed courageous faith in God by his willingness to forsake his life in Egypt and suffer affliction with the people of God instead. Moses began to take a personal interest in the suffering of his brethren. Moses had to escape and flee to the land of Cush, after slaying the Egyptian taskmaster. There he stayed for many years. A conspiracy and upheaval in the government of Cush forced Moses to flee again, and he went to Midian. Then Moses was sent back to the Land of Egypt. Moses voluntarily accepted the suffering in the desert. All these led him to great glory.

The same was the case with prophet Elijah. Ahab, the king of Israel, and Jezebel become Elijah's enemies. So, Jezebel wanted him dead and Baal worship established in Israel. God calls the prophet to speak against Ahab and Jezebel's idolatry insisting the nation repent and return to Yahweh the true God of Israel. And he prophesied famine for Israel for which he had to flee the country. As Elijah and Moses accepted their sufferings God assured them of his complete assistance and glorified them.

At transfiguration, Jesus was reassured of his Father's love. Mark tells us that Moses and Elijah were seen on the mountain talking with Jesus. Luke mentions the topic of their conversation: they talked about the suffering Jesus was about to undergo in Jerusalem.

Like Jesus, we are also assured of the Father's love in our sufferings. Our sufferings are designed to strengthen us. "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved." says Helen Keller.

Jesus' real transfiguration took place on His resurrection after his passion and death. When we suffer by standing with the underprivileged; when we accept suffering for the sake of justice; when we accept suffering for the sake of a co-worker who is not able to defend himself; or when we accept suffering to build a strong family, we are preparing our way for our final glorification.
With Christ, the pains and sorrows of life become valuable opportunities, springboards for ascending the heights of spiritual maturity. God chose to save us through life's sorrows, not from them - and so, there is no reason to fear them.

Unfortunately, the disciples misunderstood the transfiguration
experience. The disciples were thrilled with the transfiguration's
triumphant mood. Peter even said, "Let us make tents here!" They just wanted to stay on the mountain in the company of Moses and Elijah. They did not want to go to Jerusalem. They were reluctant to carry their daily crosses as Jesus commanded them.

Pope Benedict explains in his encyclical letter on hope:
We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.

During Lent, we love praying the Way of the Cross, but we don't want
to live it. Sometimes we are tempted to say, "Lord, can we skip the
Good Friday and go straight to Easter?" But life is not like that.
There's no genuine Easter celebration without faithfully undergoing
our Good Fridays. Reality bites. We can't run away from our daily
trials. The more we run away from our cross, it becomes heavier. But
when we embrace it, it becomes lighter! That's the irony of the cross.
Stand up for Jesus. Carry your cross. It's your "grace-filled"
opportunity to share in Jesus' Paschal mystery.

Transfiguration is a glimpse of what's ahead of us to encourage us to
hold on and faithfully carry our daily trials and crosses in life.
The transfiguration of Jesus gives us the message of encouragement and hope. In moments of doubt, despair and hopelessness, the thought of our transfiguration will help us to reach out to God and to listen to His consoling words: "This is my beloved son, listen to Him"

Let us offer our Lenten sacrifices to our Lord, that through these practices of Lent and through the acceptance of our daily crosses we may become closer to him in his suffering and may share in the carrying of his cross so that we may finally share the glory of his second “transfiguration,” his Resurrection. Amen.