Friday, January 25, 2013

OT III [C] Neh 8: 2-4, 5-6, 8-10; I Cor. 12:12-30; Luke 1: 1-4; 4: 14-21

We have two rather long readings for today's liturgy and the Gospel is lengthy as well. All combined they might take twelve minutes to read. Well, we must say, "That's nothing!" compared to how long the people of Jerusalem stood listening to the readings from morning till midday, may be even in the hot sun.

Those people had recently returned from exile and are rebuilding and repopulating their city and country. Ezra gathers the people for the liturgy of the Reading of the Law and then there is this experience of their weeping. They are told to stop crying and get to celebrating this feast of the New Year celebration. They felt confronted with the Law's demands which they had not obeyed and so had gone into Babylon's captivity as punishment. Their tears flow from regret and perhaps the remembering of their pains while being banished from their holy city.
Their weeping may have come from sensing the love that God has had for them in bringing them back and giving them a second chance and that they had responsibilities to being so loved.

The word of God demands an immediate response.
When the word of God reached King David through Prophet Nathan, he became aware of his sin and repented. When the prophets announced the word of God to the people, they became aware of their sinfulness and repented. When the Israelites listened to the reading of Ezra, they wept and expressed their repentance. Does the word of God challenge me every time I read it ? Does it challenge my attitudes and values ?

When Jesus announced "this text is fulfilled today even as you listen" it shocked the Jews. When Jesus taught them to follow a new law in the place of "eye for an eye", i.e., show the right cheek to the one who strikes on the left it shocked his hearers. When Jesus announced that the poor, the down trodden and sinners will be accepted into the Kingdom of God it shocked His listeners.

Jesus startles the gathered assembly by saying that He, Jesus of Nazareth is the one of whom the prophet foretold. As fulfillment of the prophecy, they were challenged to accept him or reject him.

The passage from Ezra reminds us of the importance of reading the word of God especially at home. Read the word of God to your children and grand children, let them be imbibed in the deep spiritual treasure that the religion gives them.

Today is the feast of St.Timothy our parish patron. St.Paul his spiritual master praises his grand mother Lois and mother Eunice for helping Timothy grow in faith. If the parents and grandparents stir into flame the faith of their children and grand children by reading to them the Word of God every day, and challenging them to live according to the Word of God, the Church would not be in want of saints for every generation. How many potential saints are there in our world today that will never be set on fire by the Holy Spirit because their grandparents, godparents, and parents are not open to God’s word.

The scripture illumines our hearts and removes the falsehood from our minds. It teaches us the truth.  The Scripture reveals who we are in God’s eyes: I am what It says I am. I have what It says I have. And I can do what It says I can do. I can become what It says I can become. So I will build myself upon this Word of God. It will satisfy the hunger of our souls. Jesus says one who listens to him will never be thirsty again. So drink from it.

Years ago a ship on the Atlantic was in distress because its supply of fresh water had run out. The crew faced a horrible death from the thirst, and that with water all around them.

When hope was almost gone, they sighted a ship approaching them. At once they hoisted distress signals. But the only answer they got was "dip it up."

"Dip it up?" What heartless mockery, they thought to
themselves. To dip up buckets of salt water!

They signaled again, but got the same answer. Finally in despair, they lowered a bucket. Imagine their amazement and joy when it turned out to be fresh, living water. They didn't know it, but they were at the mouth of the mighty Amazon river, whose fresh water flows far out to the sea.

God's fresh living water in his teaching and in his word are always there. Why do we despair? "Dip it up!"
Jesus says, I am the living water, one who comes to me will never thirst. Dip it up.

We can expect a sea of changes to our life if we treated our Bible like we treat our cell phones.

If we carried it around in our purses or pockets.
If we turned back to go get it if we forgot it.
If we flipped through it several times a day.
If we used it to receive messages.
If we treated it like we couldn't live without it.
If we gave it to kids as gifts.
If we used it as we traveled.
If we used it in case of an emergency.

If we upgraded to include 24/7 tech service from the Holy Spirit.

Oh, and one more thing. Unlike our cell phones, we don't ever have to worry about our Bible being disconnected because Jesus already paid the bill!
Now choose which one is more important for you..

Saturday, January 12, 2013

BAPTISM OF THE LORD: Is 40:1-5, 9-11; TITUS 2:11-14, 3:4-7, LUKE 3:15-16, 21-22

Today is the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. It is the event when God the Father revealed to the world that Jesus was his beloved Son. It was also a revelation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Baptism marks the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. Even though he had no need to be cleansed from sin himself, he receives baptism to take our place, so that we in turn, when baptized, take Jesus' place, and thus  become "sons in the Son". One who has Christ in him is called Christian.

In Baptism Jesus exchanges his divine life with us and he takes our mortal nature and makes it immortal by merging it with his nature and life. French writer Henri Barbusse (1874-1935) tells of a conversation overheard in a trench full of wounded men during the First World War. One of the men, who knew he only had minutes to live says to one other man, "Listen, Dominic, you've led a very bad life. Everywhere you are wanted by the police. But there are no convictions against me. My name is clear, so, here, take my wallet, take my papers, my identity, take my good name, my life and quickly, hand me your papers that I may carry all your crimes away with me in death."

In baptism God makes a similar offer. When we are baptized, we identify ourselves with Jesus. When one believes and receive baptism, one fully identifies with Jesus who died and went down in a tomb and rose from there.  Baptism enables and empowers us to do the things that Jesus wants us to do here and now. And we are able to love as he loved. Such identification is life changing in the power of God.

Years ago, there was a conference in England to discuss the question, “What makes Christianity different from all the other religions of the world?” At the conference, some suggested that Christianity is unique in its teaching that God became a human being. Then, it was pointed out that the Hindu religion has many instances of God coming to earth as human. Others suggested that it is the belief in the resurrection. Again it was pointed out that other faiths believe that the dead rise again. The debate grew loud and heated until C. S. Lewis, the great defender of Christianity, came in. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked. When he was told that it was a question of the uniqueness of Christianity, he said, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

The second reading from the Letter to Titus focuses on the grace of baptism. “For when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5). The salvation we have received is not in payment for any good works we might have done but a free and unconditional gift of God. In baptism God wipes away all our sins and no longer holds us accountable for them.
God forgives us our trespasses and treats us much better than we deserve. This is grace. This is unmerited favor. God’s grace brings us salvation, but it also requires us henceforth to renounce worldliness and embrace godliness. To receive God’s grace is free and unconditional. But to remain in God’s grace demands a response from us. This response is, on the one hand, that we say no the devil and to the temptation to run our own lives according to our selfish and worldly inclinations; and, on the other hand, that we submit to God and lead our lives in submission to God’s holy will.

We can identify three steps that can help us focus our ongoing efforts to become more and more united with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ: knowing him, loving him, and imitating him. When we were baptized, God’s own life was poured into our souls; it was planted like a seed in fertile soil. But every seed, in order to grow to maturity, needs three things: water, sunlight, and nutrients. The seed of divine life in our souls also needs three things in order to grow to maturity. The more fully we come to know Christ, especially through prayerful reading of the Gospels and time spent with him in the Eucharist, the more we will come to love him. And the more we love him, the more we will want to follow and imitate him, especially in his perfect fulfillment of the Father’s will and his tireless, active love for all people.

 Life is a continuous conversion, by constant effort to put on Christ, by subjugating out thought to Christ. Paul tells in 2 Cor.10:5 ..bring your every thought captive in Christ and make it obedient to him. Once we are able to do that, our spiritual growth in Christ becomes easy and successful.

As we celebrate today the baptism of our lord Jesus in the Jordan, let us thank God for the free gift of salvation through the grace of baptism. Let us also earnestly ask him for the grace to keep us faithful to our baptismal promises to say no to Satan and all his false promises and to say yes to God even unto death.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

EPIPHANY-Is 60:1-6;  Eph 2:2-3, 5-6;   Mt 2:1-12

Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany of our Lord. The Greek word epiphany means "Manifestation". It is an older feast even than the feast of Nativity. In the western Church on this feast we remember the Magi who came from faraway lands to worship the baby Jesus. They came guided by a star. Being nature worshippers who had no scriptures, God revealed Himself to them through the means available to them in their own religion. Through the stars they were able to learn of the birth of Jesus and find their way to him. They came as pagans, they worshipped Jesus as pagans, and they went back home as pagans. They did not convert either to Judaism or to Christianity. Their worship was acceptable to God and God directed them in their journey home through a dream. This shows that God does have a relationship with people of other religions who are neither Jews nor Christians.
There is only one God, and all who seek God with a sincere heart are led to Him, though they call Him by different names. One thing Christians have in common with members of other religions is that we all worship the same God. We all are children of the same Father. This truth is hard for religious people to appreciate because religious people all over the world tend to claim that they have exclusive access to God and the truth.
In the Old Testament, the Jewish people believed that they were the exclusive people of God. They divided the whole world into two: the Jews who were the people of God, and the Gentiles who were not. Some of their prophets and wise men tried to correct this belief by reminding them of the universal love of God for all humankind. But it was not until Jesus came that this idea began to sink in. As the letter to the Ephesians states, Christ made both groups, Jews and Gentiles, into one people and broke down the dividing wall of hostility separating them (Eph. 2:14).
In the past, Christians tended to make the same mistake as the Jews of old by claiming that there is no salvation outside the church. Then Vatican II came along, the church opened the windows to the Spirit of God, and came to recognize that God’s truth is available to people of other religions, although not to the same degree that it is available in the church. The difference between the Christian faith and other faiths, therefore, is not that we possess the truth of God and they do not, but that, thanks to God’s unique revelation in Christ, we can know and see God’s truth more clearly, love God more dearly, and follow God’s ways more closely in our daily lives. But again don’t mistake to believe that there is salvation “outside Christ”. No. There is only one mediator between God and man- Jesus Christ. If people of other faith are saved, they are saved only through Christ. Jesus is the only way to the Father. The Catholic Church has and holds all the treasures of the Church Jesus founded on the Apostles. So, it is the ordinary means of salvation offered to us. Believing the teachings of the Bible and holding fast to the traditions handed down to us through the centuries and receiving the sacraments we are promised heaven. But God who gave us this means, is not bound by his own laws. He keeps his promise but he is above the law he made for human beings. He is free to work outside the frame work he laid out for human beings. Therefore he can save people of other faiths, through extra ordinary means, but only through Christ. People who leave the Catholic faith and go to other faiths can be compared to people who leave a safe bridge (the Church) and choose to walk a tight rope to cross a flooding river. People leave Catholic faith primarily because it is more demanding than other faiths. But in fact they don’t realize that they are choosing even tougher path to their goal.
The magi needed not just their wisdom to seek the new born king; without the knowledge of the religious authorities, they would not have known where to find him. So it is with us in our own search for the meaning of our lives. First of all we Christians have the wisdom of our Scriptures, the Word of God. It is to this Word, who is ultimately the person of Jesus, that we owe our primary obedience. Here we hear the summons to take to the road. But if we just rely on our own interpretation of the Bible, then we may easily misunderstand what it says. So we listen to the scriptures as members of the Church, a community which stretches across two thousand years. We listen to the wise and holy men and women who have wrestled with the Word, and learn from them. God is always guiding us, but that doesn't mean that the journey is easy.  These three wise men had left their homelands far behind in order to follow their star, but right when they seemed to be arriving at their destination, the star disappeared.
If they had turned back at that point, they would never have found the light of Christ, the light they were thirsting to find, the meaning they longed for. We are often in the same situation.  We know God is faithful, and we want to trust him, but we lose sight of the star.  That's when we have to exercise our faith in God - to keep following his will no matter what.
There is someone in our life now who has lost sight of the star and thinking about turning back.  They are doubting God's faithfulness. Maybe they are finding it hard to accept one of the Church's teachings.  Maybe they are facing suffering and loss.  Maybe they are stuck in sin and are drifting further and further away from the light.
Whatever their specific situation, they need to be reminded that God is faithful, that even though a cloud has covered up the star, the star is still there, and if they keep following God's path, their journey will lead them to the light.
Today let’s promise him to do our best this week to remind those around us that God can be trusted, that it's worth it to follow the star.
The magi left their comfort and their routine in search of the prince of peace. They fell to their knees in homage, their learning made them humble, and their wisdom led them to recognize the Divine in the fragile flesh of a child.
Like the Magi let’s offer God- the gold- our talents and efforts, our incense- our prayers and worship, and the myrrh-  our sufferings and sorrows. After this Mass, let’s go back in a different way, not the way that would lead betraying the Lord, but glorifying the Lord and declaring the world that we have see the savior of the World.