Saturday, April 19, 2014

EASTER -2014: ACTS 10:34a, 37-43; COL 3:1-4; JOHN 20: 1-9

A few years ago, Random House published a book called Made to Stick. It is an interesting analysis of six characteristics that make ideas sticky. It was written to help communicators - from teachers to professional marketers - communicate better. One of these six characteristics is credibility. Credibility is the quality of an idea that makes people believe in it, it makes them buy into it. The authors give examples of how to make ideas credible.  They tell about ad campaigns that boosted sales by associating products with celebrities. They also mention something that marketers call The Sinatra Test. The "Sinatra Test" is precisely that - a single example or test case that proves credibility without any room for doubt. Christ's resurrection is what makes Christianity pass The Sinatra Test. The resurrection is the stamp that validates everything Jesus did and said.
Jesus Christ claimed to have the secret to eternal life, to a lastingly meaningful life, to the kind of happiness that we all yearn for with all our being. Others have made similar claims: Buddha, Confucius, Mohammad, Zoroaster, even modern gurus like Deepak Chopra .  And yet, have any of them passed the Sinatra Test? Even one?  Only Christ has won the irreversible victory and shown undeniable credibility, by rising from the dead, attesting what he said was true. The Resurrection makes Christianity absolutely unique.
 If Christ didn't rise from the dead, he has no more authority over our lives than Socrates or Confucius or Buddha or Mohammad. But he did rise from the dead. His victory over evil and falsehood and injustice and suffering is total and irreversible. Has anybody other than Jesus, Mary or Christian saints appeared to others even to people of their own religion? There are hundreds of instances where non-Christians have witnessed that they had the apparitions of Jesus or Mary and been the cause of their conversion to Christianity. But not a single case has been reported from any other religion similar to these ones.
St. Paul writes:  “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain; and your faith is in vain…  And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is a delusion and you are still lost in your sins…  
If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then the Church is a fraud, and faith is a sham. But if He really did rise from the dead, His message is true! The seventeenth-century philosopher, John Locke, wrote, "Our Savior’s Resurrection is truly of great importance in Christianity, so great that His being or not being the Messiah stands or falls with it." 
The facts that support Jesus’ resurrection are: (1) Jesus himself testified to His Resurrection from the dead (Mark 8:31; Matthew 17:22).
(2) The tomb was empty on Easter Sunday (Luke 24:3). Although the guards claimed (Matthew 28:13) that the disciples of Jesus had stolen the body, every sensible Jew knew that it was impossible for the terrified disciples of Jesus to steal the body of Jesus from a tomb guarded by an armed, 16-member Temple Guard detachment. If they stole the body why did they leave the burial clothes behind? The disciples wouldn’t dare to steal the body risking to face the same fate Jesus faced. The Jews and the Romans could not disprove Jesus’ Resurrection by presenting the dead body of Jesus. 
(3) The Apostles and early Christians would not have faced martyrdom if they were not absolutely sure of Jesus’ Resurrection. They wouldn’t dare to die for Jesus, if the resurrection was a lie made up by them.
(4)  The Apostle Paul’s conversion from a persecutor of Christians and his zealous preaching of Jesus support the truth of Jesus’ Resurrection (Galatians 1:11-17, Acts 9:1)
Only the reality of the Resurrection can explain the reality of the history of the Church:
A few weak, non-influential, and uneducated fishermen from Galilee, frightened out of their wits when Jesus was arrested and executed, suddenly become world travelers, phenomenally successful preachers, and valiant martyrs. And the Church they spread continues to spread after they die, holding fast to the exact same doctrine they preached, century after century, in nation after nation. Only the abiding presence of the Lord can explain this, and only the resurrection explains the abiding presence of the Lord. This is what makes us, as Christians, different. Christ's resurrection makes Christianity the only truly Supernatural religion.
Jesus did not just say He would spiritually rise from the dead. That was easy to tell. Even if his body remained in the tomb, his disciples could claim he is spiritually risen. No; Jesus predicted physical resurrection, not a spiritual resurrection. He was objectively alive. Proving to the disciples by eating food before them and allowing Thomas to touch his wounds and pierced heart. Spiritual things you can not empirically prove. But Jesus proved spiritual things with empirical evidences. When Jesus forgave a paralytic of his sins, the Pharisees contested that he had no power to do that. But then Jesus proved that what he told was true by physically healing him as well. So is his own resurrection too. He told he is the resurrection and life and he proved that by his own resurrection.

As Jesus could walk through stone walls, the removal of the stone from the face of the tomb was not a condition for his resurrection, but a sign of the resurrection. Bede the Venerable wrote, “The angel rolled back the stone not to throw open a way for our Lord to come forth, but to provide evidence to people that he had already come forth.” 

Easter, the feast of the Resurrection, gives us the joyful message that we are a “Resurrection people.”  This means that we are not supposed to lie buried in the tomb of our sins, evil habits and dangerous addictions.  It gives us the Good News that no tomb can hold us down anymore - not the tomb of despair, discouragement or doubt, nor that of death. Instead, we are expected to live a joyful and peaceful life, constantly experiencing the real presence of the Risen Lord in all the events of our lives.
Nothing can destroy us – not pain, sin, rejection nor death – because Christ has conquered all these, and we too can conquer them if we put our faith in Him. But before we can rise, we have to die, and no resurrection without death. Without dying to self no eternal life can be experienced.

Today’s responsorial psalm was:“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad” . We express our gladness by jubilantly exclaiming “Alleluiah”. The Hebrew word “Alleluiah” means praise the Lord. Christian tradition has not translated it, but uses it as it is in Hebrew. During the lent we have been holding this off from utter it. It is like a sound of cheering like the roar of a crowd at a football match when a goal is scored. Let’s joyfully and lavishly use this now, realizing that in his resurrection we have been justified. Alleluiah.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

One night in 1935, Fiorello  La Guardia, mayor of New York City, showed up at a night court in the poorest ward of the city. He dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench. One case involved an elderly woman who was caught stealing bread to feed her grandchildren.  La Guardia said, "I've got to punish you. Ten dollars or ten days in jail." As he spoke, he threw $10 into his hat.  He then fined everyone in the courtroom 50 cents for living in a city "where an old woman had to steal bread so that her grandchildren should not starve." The hat was passed around, and the woman left the courtroom with her fine paid and an additional $47.50. 
In justice the Judge had to punish the woman for stealing. But she had no means to pay the fine. So he himself paid the fine after convicting her. God said to Adam and Eve: do not eat the fruit of the tree and if you do, you shall die. God had to punish them for their violation. If he did not, he would not be trusted with his words, his words would mean nothing, he would not be meting out justice.  But they were not in a position to repair the dishonor done to God by themselves. So, God had to come and do the repairing himself and take death upon himself and free the human beings from death.
Let’s revisit some of the points of the first reading Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Through his punishment we were made whole, by his wounds we are healed… he was stricken for people’s sins. Unresisting and silent, he humbly submitted. He makes himself an offering for sin. Yet it was the will of Yahweh to crush him with grief; he will bear and take away their guilt. For he surrendered himself to death and was even counted among the wicked, bearing the sins of the multitude and interceding for sinners.  They put him in the graveyard of the oppressors.( Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were members of Sanhedrin-part of the oppressors). For the anguish he suffered, he will see the light and obtain perfect knowledge. My just servant will justify the multitude;(Paul says we are justified by his resurrection). Everything that Jesus went through the holy week were only the fulfillment of what was prophesied 700 years before him. So, it was no accident.
If sin was the source of suffering, and if Jesus took our suffering upon himself in order to save us from sin, then why do we still suffer? This is an important question, and it has an important answer. Jesus doesn't save us from suffering; he saves us through suffering. Jesus teaches us, by his example, how to find meaning and purpose in our sufferings: by using them as a spring board for trusting in God.
As St Ignatius of Loyola puts it, "There is no wood more useful for kindling and feeding the fire of divine love than the wood of the cross."
Christ's cross shows his limitless trust in his Father's will, which reveals his limitless and unconditional love for each one of us. This is why we kiss the cross today.
Our crosses are intersections of wills.  When our natural preferences contradict what God asks or permits, we are faced with a personal cross.
Every cross is a chance to exercise our trust in God and thereby to rebuild the relationship that sin has ruptured. This is why God sends and permits crosses in our lives. 
One mistake that we all tend to make in our Christian journey is the mistake of going it alone. Jesus allowed Simon the Cyrenian to share the burden of his cross. Sharing the burden of the cross helped Simeon to know Jesus intimately.  Later he became a great disciple of Jesus. That is why his name is clearly mentioned in the Bible, because he was a very well known early Christian. Let’s like Simon follow Jesus on his way of the Cross.
St Francis of Assisi said, "I exhort you brethren, have continually before your mind the blessed passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It will strengthen you, and encourage you to suffer more generously for the sake of his Love."

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Today we are in the middle of a paradox. On the one hand, we are filled with joy. As Jesus enters Jerusalem, throngs of people rejoice. The promised Savior has finally come! The Messiah is here! Redemption is at hand! But then, on the other hand, we turn towards the sorrowful narrative of our Lord's rejection, suffering, and death - with his passion.
Palm Sunday is also Passion Sunday. It is a solemn, silent moment. How can a day of triumph be filled with both joy and sorrow?
In every one of our lives we find this swing from joy to sorrow. In one hand we may carry the palm leaves shouting in joy: Hosana to the Son of David. But the other,  fisted hand may be thrown up in the air shouting: Crucify him, crucify him. As Paul mentions: I sometimes don’t do the things I want to do; I end up doing the very thing I don’t want to do.  Are we not facing this dichotomy within us once in a while ?
The source of our sorrow is sin, our sins, the cause of Christ's suffering. But the source of our joy is Christ's love, the victory of everlasting love, love that   conquers our sins. And so Christians can always live inside the paradox of Palm Sunday, can always find joy, the joy of Christ's limitless love, even amidst the profoundest sorrows.  During these days, the Holy Spirit wants to teach how to live this paradox more deeply.
He will do so as we spend more time with Christ in personal prayer and come together for the special liturgies during the week. Our holy week service begins on Holy Thursday at 7.30 commemorating the last supper of the Lord, which includes washing the foot. Good Friday we have the Passion reflection at 1.00 pm followed by veneration of the cross and stations of the Cross on the hill. Holy Saturday vigil service is at 8.30 pm with receiving in to church some 25 people coming into the church. And on Sunday the Easter services at the usual times on Sunday.
If we live this week well, seven days from now we will know Christ's love for us better, and so we will be better able to experience true Christian joy, even in the midst of life's trials.
Jesus wants to come into our hearts this Holy Week in the same way he came into Jerusalem, humbly and peacefully, riding on a donkey colt. Then, it was a literal donkey colt. Now, the donkey that brings Christ into our hearts is the Church. The liturgical celebrations of this coming week, as beautiful as they are, will only be a dim shadow of the true glory of Christ that they represent, a humble vehicle, like the donkey. But the liturgy is also a dependable vehicle, like the donkey, and Jesus will be truly present in them.

Let’s take time to join this family of believers for this week's liturgies, praying, worshiping, contemplating, receiving the sacraments, discovering what God has to say to us this Holy Week, helping us to find joy in the sorrows of our lives. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

V-Lent Ez 37:12-14; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45 

In Roman poet Virgil’s work Aeneid, there is an account of an ancient king, who was so unnaturally cruel in his punishments that he used to chain a dead man to a living criminal. It was impossible for the poor wretch to separate himself from his disgusting burden. The carcass was bound fast to his body - its hands to his hands; its face to his face; the entire dead body to his living body.  Then he was put into a dungeon to die suffocated by the foul emissions of the stinking dead body. Many suppose that it was in reference to this that Paul cried out: "O wretched man that I am!" (Rom.7:24).  
We all are condemned to a death penalty like this, by virtue of our rejection of God. We all are tied to a dead body for our punishment. But in baptism that body is switched to the body of Christ, which was dead on the cross, but since he rose from the dead, and lives forever, we are not tied to a dead body any more, but a living body that keeps breathing life and salvation into every cell of our being. That is why we are called Christians, breathing Christ and living Christ.
In today’s reading Paul says: if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, 
the one who raised Christ from the dead 
will give life to your mortal bodies also, 
through his Spirit dwelling in you.
Resurrection hope is the central theme of the Scripture readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent. For Ezekiel, in the first reading, it was always God’s intention to raise his people from their graves. We could take this to mean that it is simply God’s nature to raise the dead because God is the life-giver. Ezekiel speaks of the Lord putting his life giving spirit within us – echoing the book of Genesis, where God breathed into the nostrils of clay man. For John, in today’s Gospel, the raising of Lazarus is the final and greatest sign of Jesus, a symbolic narrative of His victory over death at the cost of His own life and a sign anticipating His Resurrection.
According to John, the raising of Lazarus is the sixth of seven signs ( the seventh is his own resurrection). It is also the last and greatest of the miracles worked by our Lord to prove that He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, and that through faith in Him believers will receive eternal life.  In other words, Jesus wanted to make this, His last recorded miracle, a convincing proof of His claim to be what He was-the Messiah, sent by God to give new life,  eternal life, to mankind.
While the miracle of raising Lazarus from grave shows Jesus’ divine power over death itself, it also shows Him as a wonderfully sensitive human being.  His love for Lazarus and his sisters is palpable.  Martha's and Mary's complaint that Jesus' presence would have averted Lazarus’ death shows us how real their friendship was.  So do Jesus' tears. He feels the pain of Mary and Martha. He feels the anguish that death brings. The two words “Jesus wept” shows that Jesus  was not only the Son of God, but also the Son of Man, fully human, sharing our grief and our sorrow and comforting us with His declaration, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”  
Today he weeps with each of us and feels the pain and anguish that we feel. He knows our needs and our struggles too. Without any need for a messenger, in his divine knowledge Jesus knew when Lazarus had died. So does he know ours too.
St John points out that "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." And yet, in spite of his love, Jesus doesn't rush back to Jerusalem to heal Lazarus. Nor does he heal him from a distance, as he did with the Centurion's servant. Jesus loves these friends, and yet he lets them suffer. He lets them experience their helplessness and weakness, the painful separation of death and the loss of a loved one.
Did he do it to punish them? Did he do it because he had no power to remedy the evil? 
No, he let them suffer precisely because he loved them. If God protected us from all suffering, we would make the mistake of thinking that earth is heaven, that we could make ourselves truly happy just by our own efforts. And God allows us to experience  suffering as a way to remind us that life on earth is a journey towards heaven - it's the path, not the goal. The goal is heaven, and the resurrection of Lazarus is an appetizer of heaven. Lazarus died again. The tradition says that the Jews put Lazarus and his sisters in a leaky boat and sailed them away, aiming to drown them. But they reached safe in Cyprus and Lazarus became the bishop there for 30 years and was martyred.
What matters in life is not being perfectly comfortable: what matters in life is knowing, loving, and following Jesus Christ. Our sufferings are therefore a proof that God never gives up on us - they are sometimes a last resort to get our attention.
The messengers from Martha and Mary arrive tired and breathless and deliver their one-sentence message, composed by Martha and Mary: "Lord, the man you love is ill." They could have said, "Lord, the one who loves you is ill," as if because Lazarus loved Jesus, he deserved to be healed. But who loved more, Lazarus or Jesus? Jesus loved him infinitely more than he could ever love Christ! They could have said, “ Lord, come and heal Lazarus, who is ill." But that would have dictated what Jesus should do. And they wanted to leave it up to Jesus to decide himself, knowing that his love would do much, much more than they could ever think of - and they were right. Christ's heart could not resist a prayer like that and he unleashed his power and procures the greatest miracle of his ministry.
When we go through struggle, how do we make our prayers to him ? Do we just dictate to him to come and help us; or do we have the courage and conviction to tell him, the one you love is in trouble ?
Jesus asked the people to “Roll away the stone, unbind him and let him go.”  There are so many dark areas in our private life that we often bind ourselves with. We bind ourselves with the chains of slander, gossip, envy, prejudices, hatred, anger; and bury ourselves in the tombs of despair. As he said to Lazarus to come out, he is calling us out of the tomb.
During the season of Lent we are called to bring ourselves to confessional where we can unbind our chains and be freed from the fetters and tombs.
    When we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus will call our name and command, "Come out!”  Am I ready to come out ?