Friday, June 28, 2013

XIII.O.T. 1 Kgs. 19:16,19-21; Gal. 5:1, 13-18; Lk.9:51-62

A guard in charge of a lighthouse along a dangerous coast was given enough oil for one month and told to keep the light burning every night. One day a woman asked for oil so that her children could stay warm. Then a farmer came. His son needed oil for a lamp so he could read. Another needed some for an engine. The guard saw each as a worthy request and gave some oil to satisfy all. By the end of the month, the tank in the lighthouse was dry. That night the beacon was dark and three ships crashed on the rocks. More than one hundred lives were lost. The lighthouse attendant explained what he had done and why. But the prosecutor replied, “You were given only one task: to keep the light burning. Every other thing was secondary. You have no excuse.”

Temptation is a choice between good and evil. But perhaps more insidious than temptation is conflict where one must choose between two good options. The lighthouse keeper in our story found himself in such a conflict situation. So also are the would-be disciples in today’s gospel story. In such cases the good easily becomes the enemy of the best.  One must then say no to a good thing in order to say yes to the ONE thing necessary. Today’s gospel is a sequence of four incidents and encounters with people who could have become followers of Jesus but who were held back by ulterior concerns and motives. Each encounter highlights a different concern.

The first incident is the encounter between the messengers of Jesus and the Samaritan villagers. The concern that holds the Samaritans back from accepting and following Jesus is patriotism. Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies. The Samaritan villagers had probably heard about Jesus and what he was doing and were interested. But as soon as they learnt that Jesus and his disciples were Jews and were heading for Jerusalem, their admiration turned into opposition. Patriotism and devotion to the national cause is, of course, a good thing. But when national interest becomes the spectacle through which one sees all reality, including spiritual and eternal reality, then one is in danger of losing perspective. Some times people see things only in the light of political affiliations. Whatever wrong the party of my affiliation does, I blindly see them as good even if they stand in direct opposition to biblical and moral values. Which is happening in our country these days a lot.

The second incident involves a man who says to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replies, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke (9:57-58). Why did Jesus say that? Probably because he perceived that here was a man who valued financial independence and security. It is a good thing to have high economic goals so that one could provide adequately for oneself and for those under one’s care. Yet when this stands in the way of wholehearted following and service of God, then something is wrong. You cannot follow God without a  single hearted devotion.

The third incident is that of the man who wanted first to go bury his father before following Jesus. Burying one’s parents is part of the command to “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex:20:12). So here is a man with high moral principles, a man who keeps the law and is highly concerned for his religious duties. Again this is a very good virtue. Yet Jesus is saying that we should not allow religious observance to immobilize us and keep us from following Christ who is always on the move into new territories and new challenges.
Finally there is the man who wants to go and say farewell to his family before following Jesus. He wants to follow the example of Elisha who bid his family farewell before becoming Elijah’s disciple. Elijah threw his cloak over Elisha. The prophetic garment was a symbol of property rights. Elisha receives his state as both servant and possessor of Elijah’s powers of miracles. Elisha goes back home and takes a final fare well from all. He kills his oxen and breaks the yoke he used to plow, to cook the oxen, symbolically telling he is no more going to go back to resume this work any more but will be in God’s service ever after.
This man who wants to go back and say good bye to his family has high social and family values. One could only wish that all men could be this sensitive to let their families know their whereabouts at all times! Yet before the urgent call of the kingdom of God, social and family concerns take a back seat. 

These stories of extreme loyalty to one’s country or party, economic security, or even religious observance, or social and family concerns becoming hurdles to our loyalty to God are cases what Jesus disapproves. The call of Jesus to discipleship is characterized by complete self renunciation.  The response has to be   immediate and unconditional. We simply don't know where God will lead us or what he may ask us to do. When we join Christ's army, we have to hand him a blank check.

These stories show that to follow Christ is to follow him unconditionally. Do we have a clause “if’ in our following of Jesus ?  “I will follow Christ on the condition that …” If we can complete the sentence then we are in the same situation as any of these well-meaning but mistaken disciples. Jesus will not accept a second place in our lives. He will be first or nothing. It is all for Jesus or nothing at all. The discipleship of Jesus is unique in the magnitude of its reward.  And the journey is not that easy. Let’s seek his grace that we may learn to rely wholly upon God, plugging all our efforts in life into his grace. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

XIIth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Zech 12:10-11; Gal 3:26-29; Luke 9:18-24

Among the fables of Aesop is one entitled The Hunter and the Woodman. A Hunter was searching for the tracks of a Lion. He asked a man felling oaks in the forest if he had seen any marks of the lion’s footsteps or knew where his lair was. “Oh yes,” said the Woodman, “I will take you to the Lion himself.” The Hunter turned pale from fear and stuttered, “No, thanks. I did not ask that; it is only his track that I am looking for, not the Lion himself.” In our dealings with God and with one another we are often like this hunter. We profess that we stand for something but when the full implication of what we profess stare us in the face we draw back.
This is what we see in today’s gospel story. Peter, speaking for himself and for the disciples, rightly confesses his faith in Jesus as the long-expected Messiah. When Jesus reveals to him and the disciples the implications of his being the Messiah they begin to draw back. By confessing Jesus as the Messiah the disciples show that they have gone above the level of the “people” who take Jesus to be nothing more than a prophet. Jesus then proceeds to tell them the implications of what they had just said: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22).
Now, the disciples are not ready for this. They are looking for the footprints of the lion and Jesus offers to take them face to face with the lion. They begin to withdraw. This withdrawing is more dramatic in the gospel of Matthew where Peter takes Jesus aside and tries to talk him out of the suffering and death he was destined to undergo. But Jesus would shun him and dub him Satan for seeing things from the purely human rather than from God’s point of view.
For the truth of Jesus' identity as Christ can only really be understood in the light of the cross.
The joy of following Christ necessarily involves the pain of self-denial and self-sacrifice; this is the paradox of the gospel. But crosses, when borne together with Christ, always lead to resurrections.

Christ teaches this lesson in the context of his own passion and death, which he has just predicted to his band of followers. He affirms,
explicitly and uncompromisingly, that all his followers must “take up the cross. Jesus goes so far as to say that those who refuse to accept the sacrifices and sufferings that God sends or allows will “lose their lives.”

Suffering, when we bear it with faith and unite it to Christ's suffering, is like the oven that cooks saints, the fire that purifies our hearts of selfishness.
We all really want to be followers of Jesus, but many refuse to pay the price of discipleship. There is no consolation at all in being a half-hearted disciple. There is no freedom in that. Even though we all desire a pain- and trouble-free existence, we will never grow by running away from God's purifying action.

Our suffering is an opportunity to come to better know who Jesus is. This means that every human life is sacred and every moment of human life is an opportunity to recognize Christ's presence among us.
From June 21st to July 4th the Catholic Church in US is observing Fortnight for Freedom. There are mainly two reasons for this. On August 1st the government mandate will take effect which would compel religious organizations to include coverage for abortion inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception in their employee health care plans. And if the potential Supreme Court rulings legally redefine marriage, that could also cause serious religious freedom issues for adoption agencies run by the Church and other religious groups.

If Jesus said he came to give life in fullness, then he defends life from conception to natural death. As followers of Jesus it is our duty to defend and safeguard the weak ones in our society who can not stand up for their own rights to life.

In union with the whole Catholic Church in United States let’s pray earnestly that the culture of death may not prevail over the weak frail human existence.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

XI-OT. (C) II Sm 12: 7-10, 13; Gal 2:16, 19-21; LK 7: 36-8:
A woman at the airport waiting to catch her flight bought herself a bag of cookies, settled in a chair in the airport lounge and began to read her book. Suddenly she noticed the man beside her, helping himself with cookies from the cookie bag she bought. Not wanting to make a scene, she read on, ate cookies, and watched the clock. As the daring “cookie thief” kept on eating the cookies, she got more irritated and said to herself, “If I wasn’t so nice, I’d blacken his eye!” With each cookie she took, he took one too. When only one was left, she wondered what he would do. Then with a smile on his face and a nervous laugh, he took the last cookie and broke it in half. He offered her half, and he ate the other. She snatched it from him and thought, “Oh brother, this guy has some nerve, and he’s also so rude, why, he didn’t even show any gratitude!” She sighed with relief when her flight was called. She gathered her belongings and headed for the gate, refusing to look at the ungrateful “thief.” She boarded the plane and sank in her seat, then reached in her baggage to fetch her book, and what she saw made her gasp with surprise. For there in front of her eyes was her bag of cookies. Then it dawned on her that the cookies she ate in the lounge was the man’s and not hers, that the man was not a thief but a friend who tried to share, that she was the rude one, the ungrateful one, the thief.

Often it happens that the one pointing the accusing finger turns out to be the guilty one - the complainant sometimes turns out to be the offending party. In the gospel the Pharisee thinks he is the righteous one who is worthy to be in the company of Jesus and that the woman was the sinful one, unworthy to be seen with Jesus. In the end Jesus showed each of them where they really belonged and the woman was seen as the one who was righteous and more deserving the company of Jesus than the self-righteous Pharisee.

The celebrated American, twentieth century evangelist Billy Sunday once said ‘I am against sin. I’ll kick it as long as I’ve got a foot. I’ll fight it as long as I’ve got a fist.’ King David and Simon the Pharisee agreed with this approach. Like many of us, they were against other people’s sin. At Simon’s dinner Jesus tells a story in response to Simon’s scandalized shock that Jesus should offer forgiveness to the penitent woman. The story is about two debtors. Simon sees only one at his table. He failed to see the other, who is himself. Nathan the prophet tells a story to David to uncover the king’s adultery. It is about a rich man who robs a poor man of his prized ewe lamb. Simon and David condemn themselves in the response they make. David confesses his sin as the woman acknowledges hers but Simon’s guests are left questioning: ‘who is this who forgives sins?’ We are not told if they ask for forgiveness for themselves. They do not show faith but it is the woman’s faith, not her dramatic gesture that has saved her.

It is easy to notice the fault of other people while being blind to our own faults. It is easier to hear the other person than it is to hear yourself snoring.  Great men and women of God have been, all without exception, people who are so aware of their own inadequacies that they are hardly surprised at other people’s shortcomings. People who delight in criticizing others betray their lack of self-awareness. In the end they discover that they themselves are indeed the cookie thieves that they accuse others to be.

The problem of the Pharisee was his notion of sin and holiness. For him the woman was an “occasion of sin” to be avoided by godly people. Jesus corrects him: it is not what you avoid that counts, it is what you do. The Pharisee might indeed have avoided occasions of sin, but he did nothing for Jesus’ need or love him. He opened his house for Jesus, but he did not open his heart for him. The woman, on the other hand, attended to the practical needs of Jesus. Jesus accepts the woman’s external show of love as a clear manifestation of inner faith and love. And Jesus concludes the story saying she loved much, so she is forgiven much.  

Simon has been so successful in life that he has come to think he doesn't need God. Sure, he still goes to the synagogue. After all, he is a Pharisee, one of the religious leaders. But he goes to show how upright he is, not to beg for God's grace. Is my coming to church an effort to show how religious I am ? The woman who knew she was a sinner and needed a Savior, is able to see glory of Christ and experience his love.
But Simon is blinded by his arrogance and self-sufficiency, and so he sees nothing special in this rabbi from Nazareth. We often share Simon’s mentality, displaying an attitude of love-less-ness and harshness.   Let us remember that Simon’s self-sufficiency prevented him from acknowledging his need for the grace of God.  
There is Simon in each one of us. It's the part of us that keeps us from asking forgiveness and going to confession.

Today at this Eucharist, when we have Jesus as our guest of honor, let’s us open our hearts to him and pour perfumes of repentance at his feet so that we may be able to leave this house of God, hearing his consoling words, your sins are forgiven, go in peace.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Xth Sunday. O.T.

1 Kgs 17:17-21, 22-24; Gal. 1:11-19; Lk. 7:11-17

The central theme for this Sunday is that, in a world of broken hearts, God sees and cares for us in our grief. He has compassion on our miseries and gives us His healing touch. Widows were particularly vulnerable. They could easily starve to death without a son to support them. Both Elijah the prophet and Jesus know this, and show how merciful God is to widows.

Elijah’s miracle invites comparison with the miracle performed by Jesus in today’s gospel. There are obvious similarities. St Luke is aware that the widow of Nain reminds us of the widow of Zarephath.
In touching the bier, Jesus deliberately ignores the ritual uncleanness of the dead body, which required ritual purification by Jewish law. St Luke also wants us to see the significant differences between the power of Elijah and that of Jesus. In the case of the widow of Zarephath it is not altogether clear that the child is dead. But there is no such uncertainty in the case of the son of the widow of Nain. Evidently, Jesus is much greater than Elijah; he has raised a dead man and he has done this merely by speaking a few words to the corpse. Jesus will again resuscitate a dead body, Lazarus, on the fourth day, even after decay sets in.
The raising of the widow’s son is not only proof that Jesus has direct access to divine authority; it also gives us an extraordinary insight into divine compassion. There is no indication that Jesus is concerned about the dead man himself. This is a miracle performed not for the sake of the son but for the sake of his mother. What matters to Jesus is her well-being. Without her son she would have been left with no means of support and no one to comfort her in her old age. So the raising of her son tells us that God is not only concerned with our ultimate destiny but also with our present needs in our life on earth. Jesus reveals the concern of a God who knows our needs better than we do.
The raising of the widow’s son also casts light on something less obvious – the love that Jesus has for his own mother. It is in-conceivable that the man who showed such compassion to a complete stranger would not have been anxious about the fate of his own mother. And so this miracle helps us to understand that moment before his death when Jesus entrusted his own mother to the beloved disciple. The image of the widow of Nain mourning her son must surely make us think of Golgotha and another mother’s grief; a grief that at this point in the gospel still lies ahead.
The son of the widow of Zarephath brought back to life by Elijah died again.  The son of the widow of Nain brought back to life by Jesus died again. Lazarus raised by Jesus died again. Because, our life here on earth is not meant to go on for ever. Those miracles were signs to show the power of men of God over death, the only phenomenon over which men stand powerless. Death remained as a fearful entity till Jesus won the decisive battle over death and rose from death. This miracle shows Jesus holds the key to death. He was sent by the Father to bring life to a dead humanity.  He raised the widow’s son to life, because he is himself the resurrection: “I am the resurrection and the life: those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25). 

Starting with baptism, our life is a struggle against death. The moment we surrender to God, a new, vigorous, indescribable life will flow into our body transforming it into a glorious and powerful one. No one dies twice but only once. We Christians die with Christ at Baptism and so we live with him for ever.
The lesson of this encounter between Jesus and the widow of Nain is so simple: God cares about us.
No one asked him to perform this miracle; he took the initiative to intervene. The helplessness is ours, not His. With God everything is possible. And apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5) 

 He cares too much about us, in spite of our sinfulness, weakness, and brokenness. No one has ever suffered more than what Jesus suffered. No one had so much compassion on people as Jesus had. We never have to suffer alone. He has taken on all our afflictions, even death itself.  Even more: he has taken on the thing that is farthest from God, sin.  “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

For Christ's faithful friends, all suffering is temporary. We will hear Jesus say to us exactly what he said to the widow: "Do not weep."

On this tenth Sunday, God wants all of us baptized, to be channels of His mercy to the helpless ones of our parishes, cities and villages.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ 
Gen 14:18-20; I Cor 11:23-26; Lk 9:11-17

Today, we celebrate the greatest gift Jesus left to us--the precious treasure of His Divine Presence. He left us His own Body and Blood as daily nourishment for our souls, love to warm our hearts, courage to share our daily crosses. Today is the feast of Corpus Christi. We believe in the “Real Presence” of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist because 1) Jesus promised it after miraculously feeding the 5000. 2) Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist during his Last Supper. (Both with the same kind of action. Jesus "took, blessed, broke, and gave" the food on that hillside, just as He would later do in the Upper Room. Jesus commanded his disciples to repeat it at the last supper. 4) This is real because “Nothing is impossible for God.”

We explain the real presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist by: “transubstantiation” which means that the substance of the consecrated bread and wine is changed to the risen Jesus’ glorified Body and Blood by the action of the Holy Spirit, and its accidents (like color, shape, taste etc.), remain the same. 
Substance is not in what we can always see. What we can see and taste and smell are accidents of a thing. We see changes taking place by changes in the accidents. Take for instance our own human growth. See your changes from a baby to this day. What did really change in you ? Is this your substance or accidents ? Only your accidents. Your nature, your genes, blood group or your finger prints all remain the same, but your cells multiplied and your size grew and color changed…which are all really accidental changes. In some cases God did some miracles by changing even the accidents. Two weeks ago I, along with 5 others from here visited a place called Santarem in Portugal where a Eucharistic miracle took place in the 12th century.

Today’s first reading describes how the priest-king Melchizedek offered a thanksgiving-sacrifice of bread and wine to God for the welfare of the patriarch Abraham, and shows how the event prefigured the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Priest-King Jesus. Melchizedek was not a Jewish priest. He is the first priest mentioned in the bible. Bible does not say anything about his genealogy. He just appeared and disappeared. That is why he is called eternal priest. But he offered sacrifice of Bread and wine for Abraham and Abraham gave him ten percent of what he had in return. And thus the gifts brought by Melchizedek became Abraham’s, by right.  (History of our tithing, I think, goes back to this). We do offer the same here at the Mass too. The priest offers bread and wine and you offer your gifts and thus the bread and wine become yours to offer on your behalf. When the priest offers the bread he says this prayer: Blessed are you…We have this….fruit of the earth and work of human hands. (Fruit of the earth is what you did not labor, what you got as a gift… and work of your hands…what you labored.)
Whatever we offer the Holy Spirit transforms them into divine presence. The offering to become ours we need to offer ourselves along with the bread, in the bread. If we feel nothing has changed in us after the Mass, that is primarily because we did not really offer ourselves at the Mass.

Jesus took the five bread and two fish from the boy, rather than taking bread out of thin air. God wants our everything and multiply that as he did at the multiplication of the bread.  If we hold back anything, that is just ours, God will not take a share in that.  Think a moment, what does he want us to put into his hands so he can bless and transform it?

Ordinarily, when we eat some food that is absorbed by us and becomes part of our bodies. But when we receive the Eucharist, it absorbs us; it makes us into more and more mature, living members of Christ's body. In the holy communion, we do not eat Jesus, rather he eats us. As St.Augustine says: Always the superior principle eats the lesser principle. A lion eats a deer, a deer does not eat a lion. A deer eats grass, grass does not eat a deer. Grass absorbs minerals, minerals don’t absorb grass. God is the superior principle and not the human beings. If God is superior then he should eat us and not we Him. Though in physical reality it does not look so. When Jesus eats us we become part of him and we grow in Him. We become more and more like him not vice versa. As John the Baptist said: we become less and less and he becomes greater and greater in us. So the more you receive the Holy Communion worthily it is going to transform us.

St Francis de Sales preached to the people, “When you have received Him, stir up your heart to do Him homage, welcome Him as warmly as possible, and behave outwardly in such a way that your actions may give proof to all of His Presence.” Leaving the church without even giving a thanksgiving to the Eucharistic presence that just came to us, is a dishonor to him. Would we dare to leave a wedding party as soon as we eat the food, without even saying a thanks to the host ? How dare we do that dishonor to the Lord.
I can understand people coming late to the Mass, but what I can’t understand is people habitually leaving soon after the communion, as if what is done here after the communion is of no importance. They are not dishonoring the priest or the people staying till the end, they are dishonoring the host. Who is the host here…Jesus.

We need to develop a devotion to the self emptying presence of the Lord in the Eucharist. The Missionaries of charity spend four hours a day praying with Jesus in the Eucharist. That is where Mother Teresa got her strength.
She used to say: "The Mass is the spiritual food that sustains me - without which I could not get through one single day or hour in my life."
"Spend as much time as possible in front of the Blessed Sacrament and He will fill you with His strength and His power."

There are several opportunities at this parish for spending time with the Lord before the Eucharist. Every Tuesday from 8.30 till 10.00 pm we have opportunities for that. Every first Friday from 10.30 till Saturday 4.00 pm we have Eucharistic exposition. Eucharistic chapel is open till 5.00 pm every day. Make your appointment with the Lord on a regular basis. Tomorrow at 2.00 pm. there is Eucharistic Procession at Cathedral meant for the whole diocese. Join if you can. Our Choir is privileged to sing at this function too.
Today, as Jesus comes to us again in Holy Communion, let's thank him for the great gift of his presence, renew our commitment to be faithful to him and honor him.