Friday, January 31, 2014

IV.O.T. Mal 3: 1-4; Heb 2: 14-18; Lk 2: 22-40

The birth of Christ was revealed by three kinds of witnesses in three different ways -- first, by the shepherds, after the angel's announcement; second, by the Magi, who were guided by a star; third, by Simeon and Anna, who were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Today’s Gospel describes the Presentation of the Baby Jesus in the Temple.  The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus is a combined feast, commemorating the Jewish practice of the purification of the mother after childbirth and the presentation of the child in the Temple.

” According to Leviticus 12:2-8, a woman who bore a child was unclean  for forty days following the birth of a son or eighty days following the birth of a daughter.   Exodus 13:2, 12-13 prescribes that every first-born male belongs to God and must be set apart for the Lord, that is, dedicated to the service of God.   The Book of Numbers 18: 15 taught that since every Jewish firstborn male child belonged to Yahweh, the parents had to “buy back” (redeem), the child by offering a lamb or turtledoves as a sacrifice in the Temple.

These are the rituals that St. Luke describes in today's Gospel passage. One of the rituals consisted in a new mother offering a sacrifice to God, to symbolize her awareness that, by bringing new life into the world, she participated in a special way in God’s own holiness and power. Usually, this sacrifice consisted of offering a lamb and a pigeon.
But St. Luke explains that Mary offers two pigeons instead of the normal combination. This tells us something important about Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. A stipulation of the Jewish law allowed an offering of two pigeons for those families too poor to afford a lamb (pigeons cost much less than lambs). 
Jesus, became a member of a normal, humble, working class family. By this, God wants us to know that true, lasting happiness doesn't come from having a lot of money, or things, or achievements, or celebrity. If those things were the secret to meaning and happiness, then Jesus would have been born into luxury and comfort. Real happiness comes from a kind of wealth that no one sees, the wealth of a heart set on knowing and loving God.
This is why the Church has always spoken of the virtue of poverty: it is the virtue by which we recognize that our relationship with God is infinitely more valuable than anything else. When Jesus summarized his formula for happiness and spiritual maturity, he began by saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5:3).
The virtue of poverty is not misery; it is interior detachment from material things, which is why he says, "blessed are the poor in spirit." This is the formula for true meaning and happiness - not money, but love: loving God and loving our neighbor.
Today's memorial of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple doesn't usually fall on a Sunday.
But whatever day of the week it does usually fall on, it is associated with a long-standing tradition of celebrating the special vocation to the consecrated life. In fact, almost every year on February 2nd, the Pope celebrates a special liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, to which he invites all the members of religious orders and other consecrated men and women who are living in Rome. Usually, thousands of them come together for the celebration. The vocation to the consecrated life is associated with today's Gospel passage, because when men or women consecrate their lives entirely to the service of God and the Church, they are offering themselves in a way similar to how Mary and Joseph consecrated Jesus. They present themselves to God, in response to a call that they feel deep in their hearts, and surrender their lives entirely to him, promising to live in poverty, chastity, and obedience for their whole lives.

In the first reading Malachi said, suddenly the Lord will appear in the temple. And when he did, he did in  the form of a poor little baby. Simeon had the wisdom to recognize him as salvation prepared for the world and light for the gentiles.
We are also called to look for God’s presence not just in the Church, but all around us, God presenting himself in poverty and weakness. Am I able to recognize him as Simeon and Anna did ?
And as parents and grandparents we are called to raise our children and grandchildren every day to God and consecrate them for the service of God.

Every Holy Mass in which we participate is our presentation. Although we were officially presented to God on the day of our Baptism, we present ourselves and our dear ones on the altar before God our Father through our Savior Jesus Christ at every Holy Mass. Hence, we need to live our daily lives with the awareness both that we are dedicated people consecrated to God and that we are obliged to lead holy lives and facilitate others to become holy as well. Thus we may be able to exclaim like Simeon at the dusk of our life: Now master, let your servant go in peace, today my eyes have seen your salvation.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

II.O.T.(A)     Is 49. 3: 5-6; I Cor 1: 1-3; Jn 1: 29-34

A tourist visited a church in Germany and was surprised to see the carved figure of a lamb near the top of the church's tower. He asked why it was there and was told that when the church was being built, a workman fell from a high scaffold. His co-workers rushed down, expecting to find him dead. But to their surprise and joy, he was alive and only slightly injured. How did he survive? A flock of sheep was passing beneath the tower at the time, and he landed on top of a lamb. The lamb broke his fall and was crushed to death, but the man was saved. To commemorate that miraculous escape, someone carved a lamb on the tower at the exact height from which the workman had fallen.  That expresses a tiny bit of what John means when he says, "Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world". The same sense is indicated in Isaiah's Servant song in the first reading, which prophesies that God will make Messiah, his Servant a light to the nations, that God’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth."  There are four servant songs in Second Isaiah which connects the Messiah’s mission to die for the sins of the world. "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter" (53:5). 

The phrase 'Lamb of God' runs through John’s gospel from beginning to end.  John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the Jews as the “Lamb of God”. "Lamb of God" is the most meaningful title given to Jesus in the Bible.  It is used 29 times in the book of Revelation.  It sums up the love, the sacrifice and the triumph of Christ.  John’s introduction probably brought several pictures of the “lamb” in the mind of his Jewish listeners. 
1) The Paschal Lamb (Ex. 12: 11ff), whose blood saved the first born of the Jewish families in Egypt from the Angel of destruction."  This lamb reminded them also of the Paschal Lamb which they killed every year on the Passover Feast.  The Pasch dinner consists of eating a lamb.
2) The Lamb of Atonement (Lev. 16: 20-22).  A lamb was brought to the Temple on the Day of Atonement.  Placing his hands over its head, the high priest confessed over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task, to be killed by some wild animals.

3) The Lamb of Daily Atonement (Ex. 29: 38-42; Numbers 28: 1-8). This was the lamb sacrificed on the “Black Altar” of the Temple every morning and evening to atone for the sins of the Jews.

When Abraham was going to sacrifice his son Isaac on mount Moriah, Isaac asked him we have the fire and the wood, where is the lamb of sacrifice. Abraham responded, God will give us. And Jesus was that lamb of sacrifice God gave to take away our sins. The book of Hebrews says no sins will be forgiven without shedding blood. We don’t know why ? But it is. That is why Jesus had to become a lamb to save us from our sins.
In the Eucharist, at "the    breaking of the bread", which signifies the death of Jesus on the cross, we proclaim in word or song what the Baptist said, the Agnus Dei. He emptied every drop of his blood through the wounds in his body to save us. That is why at that very moment we sing the Lamb of God. Then after that the celebrant breaks a piece of bread and mingles in the sacred wine, signifying, the resurrection of Jesus- which is called co-mingling, blood joined with the body, getting life back. And we receive the resurrected Jesus as our companion to come with us and live with us the rest of the day.
Even in the beginning of the Mass, in the Gloria, the song of the angels, we sung: lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. So the Mass is all about celebrating Jesus as the Lamb of God.  It is said that shepherds used to rear special kind of lambs in Bethlehem to be offered in the temple. Because they had to be without faults. And it is said that Jesus was born in a manger that had this special faultless kind of lambs housed. He became like us in all things, except sin.
In John's gospel this theme is expertly woven into the story.  The ancient instructions for killing and eating the Passover lamb said, "You must not break any bone of it" (Exodus 12:46).  And so, John says, the soldiers did not break Jesus' legs as he hung on the Cross but pierced him instead with a lance. John also mentions that Jesus was hung on the cross exactly the same time the Pascal lamb was slain in the temple.  Later, near the end of the century, in John's apocalyptic vision he saw "between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered" (Rev. 5:6) -  that is, dead and raised up again.  
It is interesting to see Jesus through the eyes of these two men named John – the Baptist and the Evangelist. Both of them depict Jesus as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
When we say or sing, “Lamb of God” we are challenged by the Church to remember what Jesus did for us and what he has empowered us to do for others.  We are reminded that joining Jesus in sacrificial love is the only way we can be his followers. We are also challenged to die like a sacrificial lamb by sharing our blessings of health, wealth and talents with others in the family, parish and community. 
 Jesus Christ is the lamb who takes away the sin of the world, which has been immolated to give us Grace. Let us fight to always live by Grace, to fight against sin, and help the lamb to save the world of its sins.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

EPIPHANY OF THE LORD.  Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12
Today is the feast of Epiphany. The Greek word Epiphany means appearance or manifestation. This Feast of the Epiphany celebrates Jesus’ first appearance to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi. Who were these Magi ? The word ‘magi’ is translated here as “wise men.”  ‘Magus’ meant different things: a magus was a member of the Persian priestly caste; or one who possessed occult knowledge and power (this is the origin of our word ‘magic’).  They were, basically, the "scientists" of the ancient world. They were like the scholars and professors of ancient times. But instead of working in universities, they usually worked for kings. A king would finance his own group of scholars, using them as consultants and translators, and also to enhance his kingdom's reputation.  King Herod consulted the Jewish magi or scholars to tell him the place and time of the Savior’s birth.
The Orthodox Church holds that the Magi consisted of twelve Kings, corresponding in number to the twelve tribes of Israel.   Commentary on the Torah by Jewish rabbis suggested that a star appeared in the sky at the births of Abraham, Isaac and Moses.  Likewise, in the Book of Numbers, the prophet Balaam speaks of "a star that shall come out of Jacob."  Stars were believed to be signs from God, announcing important events.  
We know what their coming meant, theologically speaking - it shows that Jesus Christ was not just another Jewish prophet. The Magi were "from the east" - they were not Jews. And yet, they came to worship Jesus. This shows that Christ was the promised Savior of the entire world, of both the Jews and the Gentiles.
While Jesus’ mission was first to the lost sheep of Israel, it was not to be exclusively for them. Jesus would tell his Apostles: Go out into all the world and preach the good news. The good news of salvation is “catholic” – a word that comes from the Greek language which means universal. If Salvation is “catholic”, then the Church which Jesus founded to preach the good news of salvation must necessarily be Catholic as well. 
Our unity is not founded on race or language or nation of origin – rather it is founded on Christ. We acknowledge one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism as Paul tells.
The adoration of the Magi fulfills the oracle of Isaiah (first reading), prophesying that the nations of the world will travel to the Holy City following a brilliant light and will bring gold and incense to contribute to the worship of God.
The presence of the searchers of this new born king really startled king Herod. Herod was one of history’s great tyrants: he spared no one, not even his own family; to keep his grip on power he murdered his wife, three of his sons, his brother-in-law, an uncle, and even his mother-in-law.  He had been appointed “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate in 40 BC and he had already reigned for over thirty years.  He was in no mind to hear of a new king, especially one who was no son of his. “He was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.”  He was frightened to hear of a rival, and the people were frightened because they knew what he was capable of.  
The scribes, Pharisees and the Jewish priests knew that there were nearly 500 prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the promised Messiah.  They were able to tell Herod the exact time and place of Jesus’ birth.    Unfortunately, they were more interested in their own selfish gains than in discovering the truth. Hence, they refused to go and see the child Jesus -- even though Bethlehem was only 6 miles south of Jerusalem.  They were totally engrossed in their Temple rituals and legal discussions that they completely disregarded Jesus. He meant nothing to them. Even today there are many among us who disregard Jesus. He is considered as a noble person to be worshiped and adored. But he is not given any role in their personal lives. Today many Christians remind us of this group.   They practice their religion from selfish motives, such as to gain political power, prestige and recognition by society.  
The only group that came to worship the savior was the Shepherds and Magi. The shepherds offered the only gifts they had: love, tears of joy, and probably woolen clothes and milk from their sheep.  The Magi offered gold, in recognition of Jesus as the King of the Jews; frankincense, in acknowledgment that He was God, and myrrh as a symbol of His human nature. 
This feast invites us to see ourselves as images of the Magi, a people on a journey to Christ. In our journey to Christ, what he needs is not what we have, but what we are. Our total self, our sins and our virtues, our strength and our weaknesses, our sufferings and sorrows , Our talents and efforts.
Today, when we receive our Lord again in Holy Communion, let's lay at his feet whatever will please him most, whatever he is asking for, so that we may share the joy and peace of the magi who travelled long thirsting for the Savior of the world.