Friday, May 25, 2012

Acts 2: 1-11;: 1 Corinthians 12: 3-7;Gospel: John 20: 19-23

Come Holy Spirit and fill the heart of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Today is Pentecost Sunday. The sending of His Spirit was the final element of Christ's salvific work on earth. Between Christ's Ascension and the day that He will come again in glory, the Holy Spirit guides the Church and each of us as Christians.  

For the past seven weeks we have kept the Easter Candle here in the sanctuary, lighting it every time we have celebrated Mass. The living flame of the Easter Candle reminded us that Christ is alive, that he rose from the dead just as the sun rises each morning to put an end to the darkness of the night. The tall, white candle with a burning flame on top reminded us of God's faithfulness throughout all of history. It symbolized the two miraculous pillars - smoke by day and fire by night - that had guided the ancient Israelites out of Egypt, through the desert to the Promised Land. Now it is Christ, the Risen Lord, who is our pillar of smoke and pillar of fire, our sure guide out of slavery to sin, through this world of trials and temptations into the Promised Land of Heaven. But today we remove the Easter Candle from our sanctuary. Until next Easter,
we will only use it during baptism ceremonies, when Christ's risen life is given for the first time to new members of the Church. Does the removal of the Easter Candle mean that Christ is no longer among us? No.  The sanctuary lamp beside the Tabernacle (in the Bl.Sacrament Chapel) reminds us that Christ hasn't' gone on vacation. Rather it is the day when Christ's risen life was entrusted to the Church by the gift of the Holy Spirit, who descended like tongues of fire on the Apostles after Christ has ascended into heaven. That new season in the life of the Church is paralleled by our new liturgical season, Ordinary Time, when we take the Easter Candle out of the sanctuary, because we ourselves become living Easter Candles, burning flames of wisdom, pillars of Christian faith and love, spreading Christ’s hope in the world.

Why did the apostles receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost but not on the day Jesus rose from the dead? Possibly at the first Easter the apostles were not honest with themselves about their sins and fears. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth (Jn 16:13). We must be consecrated by truth to receive the Spirit (Jn 17:17). If we are honest with ourselves we will be subservient to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, being God, will not take orders from us. Rather, He will command us to do His will. We, naturally don't want anyone, even God, to tell us what to do. We must honestly face this resistance to the Spirit, repent of our selfishness, and make a decision to do God's will instead of ours. Then we will be filled with the Spirit.

Jesus was aware that sins create rupture in man and destroys the peace in him. So when he wished them "peace"  he also granted  them the power to  destroy sin. To destroy a powerful enemy we need a powerful weapon. Jesus put this weapon in the hands of the church when communicating to his Apostles the power to forgive sins through the sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus said to the apostles: "Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven: Those whose sins you retain, they are retained."
He also gave them power to become new people through the Spirit, by breathing on them.  As God breathed into Adam the breath of life, so Jesus now breathed the Spirit into these disciples, making them a new people.  In the power of the Spirit they left their narrow dungeon and preached the news of Jesus to the whole world.  The religious culture of their time led them to fear and despise foreigners, seeing them as a source of contamination.  But the Spirit they received was not a spirit of timidity and flight.

Inside every believer dwells an intimate, all-sufficient Helper with one goal: to ensure we grow in Christ-likeness. Saint Paul reminds the Corinthian community of this fact when he asks, "Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?" (I Corinthians 3:16). It is the Holy Spirit who develops our intimacy with God.  "God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal 4:6). "God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:5). "No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit" (I Corinthians 12:3). Moreover, we know that it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us to pray (Romans 8:26). Holy Spirit, God's transforming presence in our lives, helps us to obey his will out of love.
The Holy Spirit reminds us, that we have a mission. Our mission is to tell everybody the Good News that God is their Father, that God is the Father of us all, that in spite of all the visible difference of language and culture and social status, we are all one family and should therefore live as brothers and sisters. Our mission is to break the barriers between "us" and "them," between male and female, between Jew and Gentile, between rich and poor, between Black and White, between First World and Third World, and to bring all humankind to speak the one universal language of brotherly/sisterly love. This is possible only through the working of the Holy Spirit.

At the trial scene Peter   disowned Jesus and swore that he did not know him. But after receiving the spirit the same Peter proclaimed aloud the message of Jesus and   called the people to repentance. The Spirit blesses us too with courage. When we accept it we too will be able to make our contribution to better the world. Don’t ever think that what we are able to do is mighty little; what ever we are able to do that will have great impact on the world.

A black squirrel once asked a wise old owl what was the weight of a single snowflake. "Why, nothing more than nothing," the owl answered. The squirrel then went on to tell the owl about a time when he was resting on a branch of a maple tree, counting each snowflake that came to rest on the branch until he reached the number 1,973,864. Then with the settling of the very next flake -- crack! The branch suddenly snapped, throwing the squirrel and the snow to the ground. "That was surely a whole lot of nothing," said the squirrel.

Our daily personal efforts to spread the reign of love and justice may be as lightweight as snowflakes. But by heaping our snowflakes together we shall eventually be able to break the heavy branch of sin, evil and injustice growing in our world today.

St.Paul says: To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit." It may be the homeless, or the injustice of abortion, or the lack of solid religious education. Maybe God has given us a special sensitivity in that area because he is calling us to shine his light there. If each of us made the commitment to brighten up just one dark corner of the world with Christ's light this year, think how much brighter the world would be twelve months from now! Today, let's pray for a new Pentecost in our lives, our parish, and our world, and let's promise to do our part to make that come true.
May the Spirit of the Lord rest on us with wisdom and understanding, with counsel and might, with knowledge and the fear of the Lord. Amen.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

VIth Sunday of Easter

VI-SUNDAY OF EASTER. Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1 John 4: 7-10; Gospel: John 15: 9-17 Dr. Tony Campolo is a well-known and highly-respected, inspirational speaker. Over the last several years, Tony Campolo has spent much of his time traveling around the world on speaking tours. Meanwhile, his wife, Peggy, has chosen to stay home and give herself and all that she has to the "Bringing Up" of their two children, Bart and Lisa. On those rare occasions when Peggy does travel with Tony, she finds herself engaged in conversations with some of the most accomplished, impressive, influential, sophisticated people in the world. After one such trip, Peggy told Tony that sometimes as she visits with these powerful people... she finds herself feeling intimidated and sometimes even questioning her own self-worth. Tony said to her: "Well, honey, why don't you come up with something you could say when you meet people that will let them know that you strongly value what you do and you feel that it is dramatically, urgent and crucial and important. Well, not long after that, Tony and Peggy Campolo were at a party... when a woman said to Peggy in a rather condescending tone, "Well, my dear, what do you do?" Tony Campolo heard his wife say: "I am nurturing two Homo Sapiens into the dominant values of the Judaeo-Christian tradition in order that they might become instruments for the transformation of the social order into the kind of eschatological utopia God envisioned from the beginning of time." And the other woman said: "O, my, I'm just a lawyer." There are a lot of important jobs in the world today but not one of them is more important than the job of being a mother. This Sunday, the second Sunday in May, has been officially designated as "Mother's Day" since May 9, 1914. But in England as far back as the 1600's there has been a tradition of a "Mothering Sunday." Originally it was born out of the Catholic celebrations of Mary, the Mother of Christ. Birth of a child makes a woman a mother, and even if she had been mother to other children, she becomes mother to this new one too. On this Mother’s day let’s gratefully remember our own mothers who sacrificed their comforts for their children, sacrificed sleepless nights for the health of their babies. Let’s pray for women who refuse to give birth to children for selfish reasons, that they may come to appreciate and embrace the dignity of motherhood. Let’s also remember women who wished they had their own biological children, but could not due to biological or health reasons, but choose to be spiritual mothers to many by their actions. Today's Gospel fits right in, since it's all about Jesus' command that we love one another as He loves us. The parallel between God's love and our mothers' love seems to fit so perfectly. Jesus says that those who believe in him and obey his commandment of love “remain in, God and God in them. We can have two kinds of relationships with God. 1) A servant – master relationship. 2) A friend to friend relationship. In the Bible, doulos, the slave, the servant of God was no title of shame; it was a title of the highest honor. Moses was the servant of God (Deut. 34: 5); so was Joshua (Joshua 24: 29); so was David (Psalm 89: 20). It is a title which Paul counted it an honor to use (Titus 1: 1); and so did James (James 1: 1). The greatest men in the past had been proud to be called the douli, the slaves of God. With the exception of mystics, traditional lay spirituality in the church has usually followed the master-servant model. But Jesus says: "I have something greater for you yet. You are no longer slaves; you are friends." This seems to indicate that he called them servants until then. Christ offers an intimacy with God which not even the greatest men knew before Jesus came into the world. The idea of being the friend of God also has a biblical background. Abraham was the friend of God (Isaiah 4 1: 8). In Wisdom 7: 27, Wisdom is said to make us the friends of God. Jesus has called us to be his friends and the friends of God. Jesus has given us this intimacy with God, so that he is no longer a distant stranger, but our close friend. The primary reason Jesus calls us his friends is that he shared with us the secrets from the Father. A master doesn’t share his secrets with servants, but with friends. Our relationship with Christ goes through different stages. First it starts off as a master-servant relationship when we are new to the faith, but then as our relationship with Christ deepens it changes into a less formal friend-friend type of relationship. Today's gospel is a call for us to move beyond the infant stage, the servant-master relationship, and go over to the adult stage, the friend-friend way of relating to Christ. This will change the way we pray and the way we live. We shall begin to pray better (John 15:7) and to experience more peace and joy in our lives, as people do who are in love. The key to remain in his love is to keep his commandments. A servant obeys commands out of fear and a friend obeys commands out of love for the friend. All God's commandments come from love and from the goodness of His nature,” said Meister Eckhart, “for if they did not come from love they would not be God's commandments. For God's commandment is the goodness of His nature, and His nature is His goodness in His commandment.” Some of the interpretations of the Sabbath laws were not born out of love. That is why Jesus broke the Sabbath laws often to teach them the true meaning of the Sabbath. God is love (1 John 4:8; 4:16), so God’s commandments must be acts of love. Yes, God loves and accepts us as we are, but God loves us too much to leave us as we are. We love babies as they are, yet we want them to grow up. God expects us, similarly, to grow in His love. The Lord's offer to us of friendship and intimacy with him should not be an excuse for callousness and indifference. When I choose to vote for a candidate who is against the freedom to practice God’s commandments, I am indifferent towards God’s commandment and don’t choose to remain in him. Because Jesus said if you keep my commandments you will remain in my love. So it becomes a Catholic obligation to learn about each candidate what they choose to stand for. Do they stand to defend justice and religious freedom, do they stand to respect life in all its stages, do they stand to defend family values ? You may not find a candidate who is best in all of these. But when it is difficult to choose you need to weigh in according to the priorities of values. Choose the lesser evil. Let’s not shirk of the duty in this. Remember, Hitler won by just one margin of vote. And how that changed the history of the world we know. So, each vote counts for the future of the country. Our Bishop will soon issue a circular guideline on the HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization and abortion inducing drugs. In an unprecedented way, the federal government will force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching and will purport to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty. Failing to comply with these regulations will incur a very heavy fine on the religious institutions. These features of the “preventive services” mandate, amount to an unjust law. If this mandate takes effect, religious liberty in this country will not be any better than the religious liberty in Iran. So, let us pray that may not happen. Let’s develop a genuine love for the commandments of the lord so that we may remain and dwell in his love.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Vth SUNDAY IN EASTER SEASON. Acts 9: 26-31; 1 John 3: 18-24;Gospel: John 15: 1-8 In last Sunday's gospel reading Jesus was the good shepherd and we the sheep. Today's image expresses an even closer relationship: a vine and its branches. This is so close a relationship that you could say it is beyond relationship; it expresses identification. "I am the vine…you the branches." But a vine is all branches! It is not like a tree or a big shrub where you have a substantial trunk and a profusion of branches. The vine is just branches. He has identified himself with us. Jesus lives in us and we live in Jesus. This is also the teaching of St Paul. Christ, he said, is the head and we are the body. "We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another" (Rom:12:4); "Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ"(1Cor:12:12). A favorite word in John's gospel and letters is 'abide' (or 'remain'): abiding in God, abiding in Christ, abiding in his word. To abide is not to be a visitor, it is even more than being a friend, it is to be at home. It seems that no image can go far enough in expressing our union with Christ and God. Meister Eckhart said, "If anyone puts water in a barrel, the barrel would surround the water, but the water would not be in the barrel [i.e., it would not occupy the same space as the wood of the barrel], nor would the barrel be in the water: but the soul is wholly one with God….In spiritual things there is no separating of one from another." Just as the Father is in the Son, and the Son in the Father, so a Christian is in the trinity. C.S. Lewis wrote, "God has designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy without bothering about religion. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing." Take a fish and place him on a beach. Watch his gills gasp and scales dry. Is he happy? No! How do you make him happy? Do you cover him with a mountain of cash? Do you get him a beach chair and sunglasses? Do you bring him a Play fish magazine and a martini? Of course not! So, how do you make him happy? You put him back in his element. That’s what you do. You put him back in the water. He will never be happy on the beach because he was not made for the beach. Indeed so, and the same is true for you and me. We will never be happy living apart from the One who made us and saved us. Just like a fish was made to live in water… we were made to live in close fellowship with our Lord… and nothing can take the place of that.” We have been grafted into the true vine of Jesus and are called to bear fruit by being in communion with him. A little five-year-old boy who fell out of bed. His cry awakened the entire household. After his mother had safely tucked him back under the covers, she said, "Why did you fall out of bed?" Between tears and sobs, he said, "Well, I guess I went to sleep too close to where I got in." Far too many Christians make the same mistake. They fall out of the bed of life and go to heaven; yet they slept too close to where they got in. They never learned the difference between union and communion. When you trust Christ, you become a branch in His vine. That is union. But Jesus goes on to say in v.5, "He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit." Now that is communion. Union is the basis of communion. When a branch does not abide in the vine it will dry of. To abide in Christ is a twenty-four hour a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year intimate fellowship with Him, so that you become a fruit-bearing branch. We need to be aware that vines may come in many shapes and colors each soliciting our primary allegiance. Materialism, pleasure and power are among the most popular vines of our times. Once we identify ourselves with a false vine, it immediately conditions and determines how we see ourselves and what we do with our lives. So we need to make sure we are connected with the true vine, not just any kind of non-nourishing vine. By baptism we became a branch of the Vine-Jesus. But to remain in him and to draw sap or life blood form him we need to be with him in communion of prayer and nourishing ourselves with the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. That is why Jesus said if you do not eat my body and drink my blood you cannot have life in you. Do I realize fully that apart from Jesus I can do nothing ? Do I try to produce fruits away from him ?As we continue with this nourishing sacrament let us examine :Am I a branch belonging to the vine that is Christ. Do I give glory to the Father by bearing much fruit ?