Saturday, November 17, 2012

XXXIII [B]DN:12:1-3; HEB:10:11-14,18;MK13:24-32

Some so called prophets are predicting the end of the word these days basing their prediction on the ancient Mayan long-count calendar. This is a calendar which correctly predicted an astonishing number of other astrological and mathematical events. Unfortunately for the Mayans, even the best math couldn’t factor in and figure out some highly unexpected variables – like their own demise. This ancient and powerful Mayan culture didn’t foresee the arrival and ultimate invasion of a bunch of Spanish soldiers of fortune — soldiers bearing weapons the Mayans had never seen and bringing diseases their bodies had never encountered. The advanced Mayan technology that had carefully calculated “the end of the world” on 21 December 2012, was unable to perceive that “the end of THEIR world” was only a few decades away.
History teaches us that when times are bad, eschatology thrives. But when times are good, apocalyptic talk subsides. More than ever before, now, with all the horrors of war, uprisings in several Islamic countries, now war waging between Israel and the Hamas Muslims, terrorism from Al-Qaida, and sins against the dignity of human life, we almost think the end times are near.
Even though there have been several predictions of the end of the world, the world still stands. Because the world is not an automatic mechanism which runs by itself. It is created and controlled by the will of a powerful God. Therefore as Jesus tells in today’s gospel nobody knows the end except the Father. Those who make predictions will turn out to be fools in the end.

William Barclay wrote in his book The Mind of St. Paul, “The great value of the doctrine of the Second Coming is that it guarantees that history is going somewhere. We cannot tell how it will happen. We cannot take as literal truth the Jewish pictures of it which Paul used. We need not think of a physical coming of Christ in the clouds, or a physical trumpet blast. But what the doctrine of the Second Coming conserves is the tremendous fact that there is one divine, far-off event to which the whole creation is moving; there is a consummation; there is a final triumph of God.”

Exactly when that will happen at the end is shrouded in mystery, no one but the Father knows. What Jesus wants to make sure his Apostles understand is that it will occur, and he wants them to be ready for it at all times. He actually finishes the discourse by saying: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” We do not know, because we do not need to know.

We profess our belief in these truths every Sunday, when we say “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his Kingdom will have no end.”  Jesus doesn’t speak about these events in order to scare us, but in order to motivate us.  Telling us about it gives us a chance to organize our lives accordingly, to build our lives on the everlasting rock of Christ our Savior:

But such ignorance should not immobilize us or leave us complacent and postpone things indefinitely for the future.
A mother was taking her little kindergartner to bed and as they were approaching bed the girl asked her mom:
Mommy if the world ended right now, would I have to take my library book back, or would it be okay to leave it home ?
The thought of the end times should prompt us to do our daily spiritual exercises dutifully rather than postponing them.
It is so easy to fall into a purely natural outlook on life, getting so wrapped up in our daily to-do lists that we forget the big picture, and we neglect our friendship with Christ.
Let us recognize the “second coming” of Jesus in our daily lives through everyday occurrences, always remembering that Jesus comes without warning. But let us not get frightened at the thought of Christ’s Second Coming because he is with us every day in the Holy Eucharist, in the Holy Bible and in our worshipping communities. We will be able to welcome him in his Second Coming as long as we faithfully do the will of God daily by serving our brothers and sisters, recognizing Christ’s presence in them, and by being reconciled with God and with our brothers and sisters every day.  

Today, let us ask the Lord to give us the grace of sight, so that we will be able to relate every event of our lives with His light and make ourselves ready for his second coming.

Friday, November 9, 2012

XXXII-B.1 Kgs 17:10-16 ; Heb 9:24-28 ; Mk 12:38-44

One man called at the church and asked if he could speak to the Head Hog at the trough. The secretary said, “Who?” Then she gathered herself and said “Sir, if you mean our pastor you will have to treat him with a little more respect than that and ask for the ‘Reverend’ or ‘The Pastor.' But certainly you cannot refer to him as the Head Hog at the Trough.” The man said, “I understand. I was calling because I have $10,000 I was thinking about donating to the building fund.” She said, “Hold on for just a moment — I think the big pig just walked in the door.”

Well, the secretary at St.Tim’s wouldn’t treat Fr.Bolte like that. But we all are subject to changing our tune when money is suddenly involved. That is why this passage of Scripture has been an enduring image throughout the ages. We play favorites. We treat those who give more as if they are the pillars on which the church is erected. In today’s gospel many Pharisees were putting large sums of money in the offertory box. But Jesus did not commend them, instead he commended the widow who contributed the least amount in the treasury. It is not about how much one gives but how sacrificial one’s giving is.

This Gospel passage shows that there are two ways of being generous: the way of the scribes, and the way of the widow. The scribes were the experts in interpreting the Law of Moses, and the Law of Moses was the core of Jewish culture. And so the people of ancient Israel respected and reverenced the scribes. But Jesus was unhappy with them. Without a doubt, they worked long, hard hours; they were always busy with worthy projects.  But, unfortunately, their natural intellectual gifts and elevated social function had gone to their heads. Instead of exercising their leadership as a service to the nation and to their neighbors, they were flaunting it to stoke their vanity, increase their comfort, and enhance their reputation. The higher they climbed, the more they looked down on everyone else. They considered themselves superior because they gave more time, talent, and treasure to the Temple than anyone else. But this was a one-dimensional view of generosity. The scribes were forgetting that all those external things were actually gifts God had given them in the first place. What God truly wants from us is something more, something deeper: he wants our love; he wants us to trust in him.

This is what the poor widow gave to him. She didn’t just share some of her abundance; she handed over to God all of her wealth, saying to him: “Lord, you are my good shepherd, and I will follow wherever you lead.” That was a prayer the scribes never prayed. They considered that they were doing God a favor by serving him; the widow understood that God was the one doing the favors. That’s the kind of generosity God wants to see flourish in each one of us: the generosity by which we give to God not just our stuff, but our heart.

Real giving is reckless, and symbolic of love. The woman could have given one coin and kept the other for herself. She could have kept both for herself. But she decided to give everything she had, and she did so. She did not want to come away from the house of the lord without offering anything.

Unless we gradually transform our self-centered, scribe-like tendencies into a Christ-centered, humble generosity like that of the widow, we will never be able to attain true Christian wisdom or experience true Christian joy. We can do two things to foster this transformation. First, we can ask God, every day, to purify our hearts, because without his grace we can do nothing (John 15:5). Second, we can practice. True, life-transforming virtue can only be developed by conscious effort. It doesn't come from pills or feelings; it comes from exercise.
Virtues, in this sense, are like muscles: the more we use them, the stronger they get. And the best place to exercise heart-felt, selfless generosity is at home. In fact, family life is designed by God to be a gymnasium for all Christian virtues. It is easy to put on the appearance of generosity, like the scribes, when we are interacting with people outside our family circle, because they only see us every once in a while. At home, our family members see us all the time, and so they know the good, the bad, and the ugly. And so, finding creative ways to serve our family members is a sure path to purify our hearts of selfish motives; they simply won't be impressed with our efforts – they know us too well. There is little chance of family members praising us too much for helping with someone else's chores even when they didn't ask us, or for being the first to forgive after an argument or a fight, regardless of who was at fault, or for leaving the last cookie for someone else without expecting any reward for ourselves. God wants to give us the freedom and joy of a truly generous heart. And he will, if we ask for his help, and if we do our part by practicing at home.

A short prayer composed by St Ignatius of Loyola is particularly suited for growth in this type of heart-felt generosity. It goes like this:
Dear Lord, teach me to be generous; Teach me to serve you as you deserve; To give and not to count the cost; To fight and not to heed the wounds; To toil, and not to seek for rest; To labor, and not to ask for any reward - except that of knowing that I am doing your holy will. Amen.

As we continue with this Mass, let's live it from our hearts, exercising our trust in his goodness and power, and offering our lives to him in thanksgiving for all he has given us, just like the poor widow.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Rv 7:2-4, 9-14 / 1 Jn 3:1-3 / Mt 5:1-12a 

Today, we celebrate the reality of the Mystery of Salvation. All Saints’ Day is celebrated in honor of innumerable living and luminous witnesses of Christ. “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity” (C.C.C §2013). But how can we experience this “intimate union with Christ”?
In the “Creed” we confess: I believe in the communion of saints. Since the saints already enjoy the eternal vision of God, they cannot be united to us through faith and hope; but, they can, instead, be united to us through charity. “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1Cor 13:13). Therefore, it is not that we venerate the saints only because of their exemplarity. There is a stronger reason than that: to be united in Spirit with the whole Church invigorated by the practice of the fraternal charity.
God wills that the saints communicate grace to each other through prayer with great love, with a love much greater than that of a family, and even the most perfect family on earth. How often have I thought that I may owe all the graces I've received to the prayers of a person who begged them from God for me, and whom I shall know only in heaven. In heaven, we shall not meet with indifferent glances, because all the elect will discover that they owe to each other the graces that merited the crown for them.

The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle.
We do not accept our Salvation passively. Action and involvement are crucial for salvation. In John’s vision one of elders in his vision says that those who survived great distress “have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb." In other words, they not simply accepted their salvation through “the Blood of the Lamb,” through Christ’s sacrifice. They “washed their robes,” they became actively involved in their salvation. Or, as the second reading of today says, God’s children are what they are because they made themselves pure.
Today is our feast day, since we don't have to be dead to be a saint — but  be baptized. However, if we want this day to remain a day of celebration for us, we must not only be baptized but also live our Baptism.
To live our Baptisms means to be so immersed in Jesus' death and Resurrection that:
We choose to be poor as He did (Mt 5:3).
Learn to be lowly (Mt 5:5) and humble of heart (Mt 11:29).
We hunger and thirst for Jesus' righteousness and not our selfishness (Mt 5:6).
We forgive others and give them mercy as Jesus did even on the cross (Mt 5:7).
We prefer to be persecuted with and for Jesus rather than to be popular and comfortable (Mt 5:10).

The Beatitudes are a summary of the Sermon on the Mount and the essence of the Gospel.  We were never told what was commanded or forbidden or even recommended by the eight Beatitudes. the Ten Commandments are basic rules of morality, but the Beatitudes are a measure of how far beyond this the Gospel calls us.  
The morality of the Ten Commandments is a morality that can be measured: it is possible to say exactly where you are with them, ticking the ones you broke and the degree of the breach.  Christians may come to believe that they have no sin just because they haven't been in breach of the Commandments.  The morality of the Beatitudes is harder to quantify: how poor in spirit am I ?  How meek, gentle, merciful…?  You can never say “I’ve reached it!”  We can never even begin to think that we are better than another – because we can't compare.
They are not the virtues of a person saturated with a sense of his or her own importance, but of a person saturated with the consciousness of God. 

So, the beatitudes sum up pretty well the kind of people God wants us to be—the kind of people the saints were in their lives on earth.

Saints are not extraordinary exceptions of humanity. Rather, saints are those people who are most fully human. They know the joys and pains of the human heart; they wrestle with doubts and fears; they know that they are sinners, and yet still called to serve the lord in his Vineyard. They do not run from reality, but plunge into the mess- be it interior darkness or exterior persecution. Saints live first for God, which strengthens them to let go of their egos and plans.

Lets try to answer the call of holiness in our own unique way. God does not expect perfection, but generosity and dedication in our service of His kingdom. As Blessed Teresa poetically put it, We can do no great things, only small things with great love”.