Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lent II-Transfiguration of Jesus: Gen 15:5-12, 17-18; Phil 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28-36.

Last Sunday we had the reading: temptation of Jesus and the last temptation was Satan tempting Jesus to jump of the pinnacle of the temple and show his splendor as God’s son. Well, Jesus refused to prove that to Satan. But he did it before his chosen band of disciples on mount Tabor.

In the First Reading, God seals his promise of salvation by making a covenant with Abram. At God's prompting, Abram moved his considerable holdings from the ancient city of Ur in Mesopotamia to a land he knew not. As a reward for Abram’s trust and obedience, God promised him numerous descendants. He also promised Abram a land for himself and his family. When Abram asked for a sign that would seal this promise, God entered into a unilateral contract with him, using an ancient ritual of contract. The parties  who wanted to seal a contract would split the carcass of one or more animals, lay the halves on the ground, and walk between them, saying "May I be so split in half if I fail to keep the agreement we are sealing here." Abram fell into a trance and witnessed the procession of the fire pot and torch moving between the carcass halves. This symbolized God’s presence and action.   As this was a unilateral contract between God and Abraham, Abraham was not asked to walk between the carcass halves. 
(By the way, this incident of God’s covenant with Abraham is reported differently in the Quran- as when Abraham divided the birds and put them in two halves, the two halves came together and the birds flew back to him as a sign of God’s confirmation of his sacrifice being accepted. I am going to have a presentation of what Islam teaches about Biblical figures in their Quran this Monday from 7.00 -9.00 pm. If you like to know more about Islamic religion, just show up Monday). Now back to scripture..

God’s covenant shows that he wants to be close to us, but in fact he was still distant.  This is symbolized by the smoking pot and burning torch that God used to represent his walking through the sacrificial animals.
Jesus’ Transfiguration established his glorious identity as the beloved Son of God, and placed his divine Sonship in the context of Jewish expectations about the kingdom and the resurrection.  

As Christians, followers of Jesus what we all need now is transformation, not transfiguration which we will have at the resurrection. We need to transformation like the pagan Patriarch Abram had, from a worshipper of pagan gods into a worshipper of one true God and living in total obedience to Him.

An old farmer from the countryside who was visiting a big city for the first time with his son, stood speechless before the elevator of a big hotel, watching in wonder, as an old woman got into the elevator and, within minutes, a beautiful young woman came out. He called out to his son who was registering at the reception. “Son, put your mother into that miracle machine immediately. It will transform her into a beautiful young lady.”
Well, we have several of that kind of transforming “machines”. The church we are in is the primary one. After each Holy Mass we are expected to go back transformed and renewed. If we go back the same way, it did us no good.

In each Holy Mass, the bread and wine we offer on the altar become transformed into the living body and blood of the crucified, risen and glorified Jesus.  And when we receive that Jesus worthily we are also supposed to be transformed in our minds and hearts so that we may do more good by humble and selfless service to others.

Each time we receive one of the sacraments, we are transformed: For example, baptism transforms us into sons and daughters of God and heirs of heaven. Confirmation makes us temples of the Holy Spirit and warriors of God.  By the sacrament of reconciliation, God brings back the sinner to the path of holiness.

Spending quiet time before the blessed sacrament is the best way to transform us. Peter, John and James witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus when they were praying. If we need 'mountain-top experiences' as they had in our lives during this lent, find some extra time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. We don’t have enough people to fill in the slots on Tuesdays and first Fridays and Saturdays. When you are before the blessed sacrament you are not representing just yourself, you are representing the whole parish and the needs of the people of the parish before the Eucharistic Lord. And you should feel the feeling of Peter on mount Tabor: Lord, it is good to be here, let me stay here for ever. And you should listen to the Father’s voice as Peter and others heard, this is my beloved son, listen to Him. Actually, this is the message the Father tells us all the time: Listen to him. This is the same message Mary also had to tell at the miracle at Cana. She told the waiters, listen to him and do what he tells you. During this lent, let’s ask ourselves, do we fine time to listen to Jesus?

In this Mass, Jesus will come to be close to us again, to bridge the distance between us and God, just as he did with Peter, James, and John on the mountaintop. Let's listen to him, and promise to keep on listening, every day.

LENT 1 [C]: DEUT: 26: 4-10, ROM. 10:8-13, LK. 4: 1-13
You may have encountered people who say there are no Satan and hell. People who leave Satan with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, relegating "evil" to more manageable and explainable psychoses that can be named and catalogued within the human heart. There's nothing wrong with Hitler, Pol Pot, and Osama bin Laden.  I remember one of my classmates approaching our systematic theology professor in seminary asking, "Do I really have to say that line about the devil and all his empty promises?" The professor smiled at him and said, "Spend twenty years in parish ministry and come back and ask me that question again." Well, I have seen myself, Satan or evil spirits speaking through people and violent people becoming calm and quiet when the evil spirits leave them.
Malcolm Muggeridge, the late British journalist, converted to Christianity in mid-life after years of agnosticism once wrote: "Personally I have found the Devil easier to believe in than God; for one thing, alas, I have had more to do with him."
Satan is as real as God is real and Hell is as real as heaven is real. Redemption in Jesus makes sense only in the context of Satan, hell, and the great fall of humanity.
Most temptations strong enough to lead one away from God should have its origin in Satan. St.James 1:13 says: When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone. God can allow temptation happen to us as we see in the book of Job. It is to test and strengthen one’s faith and fidelity to God. But not all temptations are from Satan either. Some are conditioned by our own inordinate desires. The power of all temptation is the prospect that it will make one happier."
But temptation is not sin.  In fact, every temptation is a chance to exercise our trust in God, to reclaim territory for Christ's Kingdom, just as Jesus did when he was tempted.
The temptations of the saints were for them opportunities of self-discovery. They revealed the breaches in the fortress of their souls that needed to be fortified, until they became the strongest points.
Temptation is part and parcel of the human condition. Temptations become stronger and almost irresistible after each successive failure. Like it is very hard to stop itching just once when we start scratching the itching part of the body. We may need to continue until we get more satisfaction. Or temptation can be compared to like: if I like a particular kind of snack chips, if I open the packet it is almost impossible to stop eating after eating just one piece of chips. Almost an irresistible urge will push my hand down the chips packet. So is temptation too. Once we open the can…it will continue the flow or series for some time.
There is a story about a little boy named Bobby who desperately wanted a new bicycle. His plan was to save his nickels, dimes and quarters until he finally had enough to buy a new 10-speed. Each night he asked God to help him save his money. Kneeling beside his bed, he prayed, "Dear Lord, please help me save my money for a new bike, and please, Lord, don't let the ice cream man come down the street again tomorrow."
An overweight businessman decided it was time to shed some excess pounds. He took his new diet seriously, even changing his driving route to avoid his favorite bakery. One morning, however, he showed up at work with a gigantic coffee cake. Everyone in the office scolded him, but his smile remained nonetheless. "This is a special coffee cake," he explained. "I accidentally drove by the bakery this morning and there in the window was a host of goodies. I felt it was no accident, so I prayed, 'Lord, if you want me to have one of those delicious coffee cakes, let there be a parking spot open right in front.' And sure enough, the eighth time around the block, there it was!"
How do we overcome the temptations. The first step is to pray. Jesus taught us in the prayer our Father: lead us not into temptation. And he told his disciples in the garden of Gathsemene: pray that you may not fall into temptation.  The second step is to avoid the tempting occasions and circumstances and people.
Another way to overcome temptation is to keep reminding us of who we are, and whose we are. We belong to Jesus. He chose us. Martin Luther would cry out: "I am baptized. I am baptized, when he felt by temptation." He needed the assurance of his identity, that he belonged to Jesus. To remind us that we are baptized and we bear the stamp of Christ’s cross on our life will give us the courage to fight the temptation.
We need to confront and conquer temptations as Jesus did, using the means he employed: Even though Jesus refuses to turn stones into bread, later, he will miraculously feed others, but He refuses to let the devil manage His miracles! Knowing that His Mission is to win hearts through love and truth, Jesus refuses to engage in theatrical stunts to win popularity.
Jesus sets a model for conquering temptations through prayer, penance and the effective use of the ‘‘word of God.” Temptations make us true warriors of God by strengthening our minds and hearts. We are never tempted beyond our power. In his first letter, St. John assures us: "Greater is He who is in us, than the power of the world." Hence during Lent, let us confront our evil tendencies by prayer, by penance and by meditative reading of the Bible. Knowledge of the Bible prepares us for the moment of temptation by enabling us "to know Jesus more clearly, to love him more dearly and to follow him more nearly, day by day.”

Thursday, February 14, 2013

ASH WEDNESDAY. (Joel 2:12-18 ; 2 Cor 5:20 – 6:2 ; Mt 6:1-6,16-18)

 A well known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a $50 bill. In the room of 200, he asked, "Who would like this $50 bill?" Hands started going up. He proceeded to crumple up the dollar bill. He then asked, "Who still wants it?" The hands went up again. Then he dropped it on the ground and ground it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, crumpled and dirty, and said. "Now who still wants it?" The hands went up. He said, "You have all learned a valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it didn't decrease in value. It was still worth $50."

Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by our own decisions or those of other people. We feel as though we are worthless. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, we will never lose our value: dirty, clean, crumpled or finely creased, we are still priceless to the one who knows us through and through, and values us so much that he wants to live in friendship with us forever. If you still find it hard to believe, look closely at the crucifix. That is the real message of Lent. Christ wants us with him forever in heaven, so much that he was willing to be torn and crumpled and stomped on and humiliated just as much as we have been, to show each of us how much he loves us. Prophet Isaiah says when Jesus was on the cross no one would want to look at him; that much unattractive or so to say, filthy he was , though he was the Son of God.

Even though the 50 dollar bill does not lose its value by crumbling, if one receives that crumbled bill, he would first straighten it up and try to remove the crease and probably press it to get some stiffness back before he puts it in his wallet. This is what we do during the season of lent. Remove the crumbles from our soul, by prayer, fasting and abstinence and charity, so that God can use us for his glory.

Every religion practices fasting at some time during the year. Muslims fast during sun light hours, the whole month of Ramzan. The Hindus fast often, some people once a week. For us Catholics we are asked to fast twice during the year, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Catholics who are 18 and older up to 60 years are obligated to fast and those above 14 years are obligated to practice abstinence from meat on these days.

In the Old Testament we see a number of instances where God sent his prophets to the people to warn them of their evil ways and to remind them to return to God. The Jews expressed their sorrow by tearing cloth and putting ashes on them. One of the manifestations of inner repentance was pouring ashes on one's body and dressing in sack cloth.  "Having been rebuked by God Job confesses, "Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:6). Other examples of this practice are also found in the Book of Esther, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel and so on.

In the New Testament Jesus alludes to this practice, "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you Bethsida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon they would have repented long ago in sack cloth and ashes."

Yes, we are marked with ashes, because we are sinners, but the mark is given in the sign of Christ's cross, which won for us the grace of a fresh start and a new life. We are marked on our foreheads, because Christ wants us to go boldly into the world as his representatives, not shamefully as sinners, but boldly as forgiven sinners.

Through Prophet Joel, God invites us to “return to Him with our whole heart”. God does not want a half heart, he wants our full hearted dedication; he does not want a half cleansing, but a full cleansing by repentance, fasting and praying.

Today Jesus is calling us to himself in an ever-deeper way, inviting us into his endless forgiveness and asking us to return to his loving embrace.  With tears of joy, we can accept his outstretched arms.  As we get crosses marked on our foreheads with ashes, let us resolve to give our whole heart to God and ask him to cleanse us and purify us of our sins.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

OT IV [C] SUNDAY Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 12:31--13:13; Luke 4:21-30.
 It is amazing how quickly people can turn from praising someone or something to reviling them or rejecting their ideas. One little word that touches something that is close to us in our selfishness is all it takes. Jesus’ townspeople received him at first with amazement and praise: “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’” (Lk 4:22). He was our village boy, they thought. So they expected Jesus to use his powers and do some special favor for his own people. After all, they were his own people. When Jesus told them the truth that God has no favorites but relates to all humankind by the same standards, they turned against him in disappointment and ran him out of town.

Prophet Jeremiah preached a contrasting message. It was the tragic element of his life to constantly prophesy judgment, destruction and captivity. So he was contradicted by everyone: by his own family, by the religious leaders, by the king and the common people; he was accused of treason and put in jail. Such severe ill treatment forced him to say, I will not speak anymore in His name, but his faithfulness to God made him go ahead with his task.

When Jesus reminded his towns people of two historical events in Jewish history about Prophet Elijah and Elisha they suddenly changed. During the long years of famine and drought Prophet Elijah was sent to a non Jewish widow, in a Sidonian town. Though there were several lepers in Israel, prophet Elisha cured Naaman, a Syrian.

This was all terribly painful for the Jews of Jesus’ time, because they believed that they were God's chosen and that God's love and favor were manifest only in and among Jews. Jesus' words at Nazareth offended the Jews, because he was reminding them that their belief about God's exclusive favor was baseless.

There is always a temptation for us to think we are superior to others. This danger is very present when we feel blessed by God. When we feel that we possess God, things are beginning to go wrong. We can never possess God, rather he possesses us and that gives us our true dignity.

The people of Nazareth, like most of the “chosen” people of God in Jesus' time, had come to believe in a God made in their own image and likeness. Not the other way around. They believed in an either-or God -- “if God is for us, then he must be against them.” They believed in a God whose beneficence was limited to the “chosen” people. Jesus tells them that such a God does not exist. The true God is equally available to all humanity -- so long as they approach God with faith and trust.

Jesus lived on the margins and moved the margins to include all people, and hence invited hostile crowds to want to edge him out of existence. Today many churches want to edge Jesus out of their worship anytime the margins are made too wide and include many who are not like us.
When the Holy Spirit inspires the Church to broaden its margin to include humans at both ends of life -the unborn and the old and terminally ill, Jesus and Church are rejected as out fashioned. If the Church mitigates the truth, there would be thousands to join it. Do we need a more clearer message than what we get from the first reading that life is God’s and when it begins ? Even before I formed you in the womb I have known you; even before you were born I had set you apart, and appointed you a prophet to the nations!" Any Christian who reads this sentence can never disagree with what Church teaches on life issues.

There is a saying: your concept of God creates you. Our concept of God shapes our life. But on the contrary some people try to shape their God in the way they think and choose God in different churches where God is presented according to their taste. Catholic Church is the most orthodox. The reason is that it is the last church to dilute the divine revealed truths, revealed through the Scripture and tradition. 

We despise people who challenge our cherished myths and kick us out of our comfort zones. The truth is that when Jesus sets about the task of saving us, he has to heal us of any myth or prejudice that is contrary to the spirit of Christ. Billy Sunday was the Billy Graham of a previous generation. He was conducting a crusade in a particular city. In one of his sermons he said something critical of the labor conditions for workers in that area. After the service, several prominent businessmen sent a message to him by one of the local pastors. The message was this---Billy, leave labor matters alone. Concentrate on getting people saved. Stay away from political issues. You’re rubbing the fur the wrong way." Billy Sunday sent this message back to them: "If I’m rubbing the fur the wrong way, tell the cats to turn around."
Scripture warns us that "the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires" (2 Timothy 4:3).

The task of a prophet is to speak and to live out God’s truth. God tells Jeremiah: Do not be afraid of them, speak the truth with courage.  We must never be afraid of this call, for it is Jesus who will supply us with the courage, the words and the deeds we will need to oppose the many evils in our society.
We need to follow Christ, not political correctness, and to speak the truth of Christ without being hypocritical or disrespectful. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to give us the wisdom and courage to witness the truth even when the circumstances are not favorable, even when the people are ready to throw us over the cliff.