Saturday, May 31, 2014

ASCENSION (ACTS 1: 1-11; EPH 1: 17-23; MAT 28: 16-20)

Today is the feast of Ascension. Jesus ascended to heaven, body and soul, assuring us that heaven is a real place, not just a nice idea, a myth, or wishful thinking.
One of Aesop's Fables shows just how new this Christian revelation really was. Aesop was a Greek slave who lived before the time of Christ. He was renowned for his natural wisdom, which was recorded in his famous fables, or short stories with deep lessons. One day he was ordered by his master to go to the public baths and get things ready (in ancient times public baths were like country clubs). On his way, he was stopped by one of the official judges of the city. The judge asked him where he was going. Aesop, thinking that it was none of the judge's business, answered, "I don't know." The judge was offended by this reply, which he considered disrespectful, and marched him off to prison for punishment (disrespectful slaves could be punished without a trial). When they arrived at the prison, Aesop turned to his captor and said, "Judge, when I told you, 'I don't know where I am going,' I was speaking the truth. Little did I think that I was on my way to prison! You see, it is true indeed that we never really know just where we are going." Faced with this explanation, the judge had no choice but to let Aesop go free.
This ironic story illustrates the absolute uncertainty of pre-Christian humanity about what happens after death – they just didn't know. Neither science, nor philosophy, nor pagan religion could pull back the curtain on the afterlife. Only Jesus Christ has shined a light on this mystery, by his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
The Ascension is the establishment of his Kingship and his Kingdom on absolutely unshakable ground. Earthly kings and emperors always remain vulnerable; if their enemies don't usurp them, death surely will. But Christ's reign will never come to an end. He is no longer vulnerable. Because he has ascended into heaven, his Kingdom is firm; his Church will never be destroyed.  As St Paul put it in the Second Reading, God made Christ the everlasting King, "raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named".
Ascension is a crucial part of Christ's mission and message. It is the culminating moment, the finale, the final whistle, the moment in which his victory will be enshrined in heaven for ever. Jesus ascends into heaven as the living sacrifice that will continue to be the bridge between God and humanity until the end of time. His words at this moment, therefore, are critical. And what does he say? Two things. First, he sums up the message of salvation.
He reminds his Apostles that he had come to earth in order to preach salvation, and then to make it into a reality by his suffering, death, and resurrection. Only because of Christ's preaching and passion is it possible for mankind to experience the salvation from sin and ignorance that they desire, the peace of soul that they yearn for.
Second, he gives his followers a job. He calls upon them to be witness of these things. They will not be able to carry out their witness all by themselves, they will need the Holy Spirit, and so he promises that at Pentecost they will be "clothed with power from on high." But then they are to go to "all the nations" as Christ's witnesses. So, in the Ascension of our Lord, we come face to face with the core of the entire Gospel: Christ's saving message being transmitted to all people through the witness of the Church. 
Jesus tells us right before he ascends into heaven: "that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name." It is a mandate to every Christian who believes in him.
There is the funny story of the raw army recruit standing at attention on the drill field. The drill instructor yells, "Forward, march!" And the entire ranks begin to move, all except this one raw recruit. He's still standing there at attention. So the drill instructor strolls over to him and yells in his right ear, "Is this thing working?" "Sir, yes, sir!" The recruit yells. Then the drill instructor walks around to the other ear and yells, "Is this thing working?" "Sir, yes, sir!" The soldier says. "Then why didn't you march when I gave the order?" "Sir, I didn't hear you call my name."
Some of us are like that soldier, standing around waiting for God to call our names. But the great commission given by Jesus on the day of his Ascension is a blanket order. It has everyone's name on it. And you can be sure that the man in charge says, "Go! Make disciples! Teach!” It is your mission and my mission.

To be a Christian is to be a proclaimer and an evangelizer.  There is a difference between preaching and proclaiming.  We preach with words, but we proclaim with our lives. St.Francis says proclaim gospel at all times, use words when necessary. Jesus may have ascended, but his ties with us did not end. He continues to rely on us to share his concern, love, and mercy with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. May we sustain his mission with utmost generosity and enthusiasm. Next Sunday is the feast of Pentecost. Let us ask the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help us bear witness to Jesus by our transparent Christian lives.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

V- Easter : Acts 6: 1-7, I Pt 2: 4-9, Jn 14: 1-12            
When St. John Chrysostom was summoned before the Roman Emperor Arcadius and threatened with banishment, Chrysostom replied, “You cannot banish me, for the world is my Father’s house.”  “Then I will kill you,” exclaimed the Emperor angrily.  “No, you cannot,” retorted Chrysostom, “because my life is hidden with Christ in God.”  “Your treasures shall be confiscated,” the Emperor replied grimly. “Sir, you can’t do that because my treasures are in heaven as my heart is there.”  “I will drive you from your people and you shall have no friends left,” threatened the Emperor.  “That you cannot do either, Sir, for I have a Friend in heaven who has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’”
We all inevitably encounter troubles, difficulties and abandonments. Jesus knew his disciples would have to face trials and persecution after he left them to return to his Father in heaven. Adversity can make them lose hope and become discouraged. So, Jesus told them in advance, do not be afraid, I will never leave you or forsake you. I will be with you as your Way, Truth and life.
How do we deal with our troubles ? Do we handle it alone or ask Jesus to be part of it ?
J. Arthur Rank was one of the early pio­neers of the film industry in Great Britain, and he also happened to be a devout Christian. He had a good system of dealing with problems. 
Rank found he could not push his worries out of his mind completely; they were always slipping back in. So he finally made a pact with God to limit his worrying to Wednesday. He even made himself a little Wednesday Worry Box and he placed it on his desk. Whenever a worry cropped up, Rank wrote it out and dropped it into the Wednesday Worry Box.

When Wednesday rolled around, he would open that box to find that only a third of the items he had written down were still worth worrying about. The rest had managed to resolve themselves. 

If you have a troubled heart, ask God to give you a new perspective. Also ask him to give you patience so that you do not jump ahead and worry about a problem that may never come. But most important of all, ask God for more faith. Faith in God is the best remedy for all our problems. Jesus put it plainly, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me."
Believing in Jesus will help us to walk in the Way of Jesus. Early Christians called themselves the people of the Way. The central message of John’s gospel is that Jesus is the Way to the Father, he is both the revealer and the revelation of God. If we wish to know who God is, what God thinks and what God wants of us, we must attend to Jesus the Word of God. Jesus is the "Way" because he is the visible manifestation in human form of all that his Father is. To those who teach that all religions lead us to God or that religion is immaterial provided man lead a good life, Jesus has the answer that he is the safest and surest way to God because he came from God and he can lead us to his heavenly Father.  The founders of other religions had either wrong ideas about the way to God or they were not sure guides.  Lao-Tse (604-531 BC), the founder of Taoism said: “Get rid of all desires, you will have a contented life on earth, but I am not sure about the next life.” Buddha taught people to reach self-realization through total detachment and “nirvana”, but he was not sure if these would lead one to God.  Confucius confessed that he did not know of an eternal life or the way to attain it.  The founder of Islam, Mohammed Nabi, admitted that he himself had no hope of the future unless Allah should put His mantle of mercy on him.  However, Jesus claims that he is the only way to God.
Christianity is not a theology or philosophy, but it is about a life of faith centered on Jesus as the Way, the truth and the life.
When a Person is a Way for us to get to the Father and everlasting life, that Way is found only in our relationship with Him, that is, in our union with Him in mind and heart, in will and action. To follow the Way of Jesus is to become a special kind of person, a person whose whole being reflects the Truth and the Life that Jesus reveals to us.  It is to be a person of Truth and Life who is totally identified with the vision and the values of Jesus.
He personally is the way to the Father's kingdom, and we cannot miss it if we follow him. He accompanies us on our daily journey and watches over us as the good shepherd who leads and sustains us each and every step of the way.
Jesus is the truth, the word of God. To seek the truth elsewhere is to stumble and fall, to deal in falsehood and lies. Jesus promised his disciples that if they continued in his word, they would learn the truth and the truth would set them free" (John 8:31). The truth which Jesus proclaims has power to set us free from ignorance, deception, and sin. Moral truth requires more than mere words or ideas because the person who speaks them must be true - true in thought, speech, deed, example, and action. Jesus claims to be one with the Father and to speak the truth which proceeds from the Father.
Jesus is the Life and he allows us to share in God’s Life through the sacraments. Christ rose from the dead for two reasons: first, to give us eternal life; second, to make us fully alive now. His Spirit animates every moment of our lives. To be fully alive is to be in God.
When we're confused about decisions we should make, Jesus Himself will show us the Way. When we don't know what is true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong, the Holy Spirit through the Church will enlighten us. And when we are drawn into false pleasures that promise us life, Jesus will bring us back to real living and the joy of that life through the power of His love. As we continue with this Eucharist, let’s ask Jesus to help us always remain in him who is our way, the truth and the Life.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

IV-Sunday of Easter: Acts 2: 14a, 36-41; 1Pt 2: 20b-25; Jn 10: 1-10  

Do you remember playing "Follow The Leader" when you were a kid? The "leader" called the shots. Whatever way the leader went, whatever the leader did, the "followers" were supposed to imitate. It was a fun game until some "leader" decided to do something, not very smart. Jumping over a ditch was an adventure until someone didn't quite make it and tumbled down and got hurt. "Following the leader" goes bad when the leader goes bad, when the "leader" doesn't consider the welfare of the led.

The genuine shepherd "goes ahead of the sheep and they follow him."  He does not stand back, indicating the gate; he “goes ahead.” The shepherd goes before the sheep into the crises and the mysteries, and he tells what to do. The good shepherd would suffer for you;  would lay down his life.  If he is reluctant to do this, then beware of him, Jesus says, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Jesus uses two metaphors to teach His listeners how He sees His role in the world. He calls Himself both the "good shepherd" and "the gate to the sheepfold." When Jesus called Himself the "gate," it brought up the image of a shepherd stretching his own body over the entrance to the sheepfold. No beast could harm the sheep before attacking the shepherd first.

This is Good Shepherd Sunday.  Today, the Church calls us to reflect on the meaning of God's call and to pray for vocations to the priesthood, the diaconate and the consecrated life, reminding us that the entire Christian community shares the responsibility for fostering vocations. Both the Old and New Testaments use the image of a Shepherd and His flock to describe the unique relation of God to Israel and Christ to Christians.
The Responsorial Psalm introduces Yahweh as the Good Shepherd of Israel and describes all of the things the Lord does for us, His sheep, providing for our needs.
For a long time, the Jewish people had used the Good Shepherd image for God. Such imagery was used by Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Zechariah, and of course by David in his Psalms. The psalmist addresses Yahweh as his Shepherd.
 Ezekiel foretells what the Messiah will do as Good Shepherd.  “I myself will tend My sheep …I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.  I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak” (Ezekiel 34: 15-16).  In short, God is the ultimate Shepherd of the people, providing guidance, sustenance and protection (Psalm 23), and He intended their Kings and other leaders to be their shepherds as well.
In this parable Jesus compares himself to the Shepherd and to the Gate. The first title represents His ownership because Shepherd is the true owner of the sheep. The second title represents His leadership. Jesus is the Gate, the only Way. He is the One Mediator between God and mankind. All must go through Him, through His Church, in order to arrive in Heaven. By identifying Himself with the sheep-gate, Jesus gives the assurance that whoever enters the pen through Him will be safe and well cared-for.  Jesus is the living Door to His Father’s house and Father’s family, the Door into the Father’s safety and to the fullness of life. It is through Jesus, the Door, that we come into the sheepfold where we are protected from the wolves of life. There is safety and security in being a Christian. There is a spiritual, emotional and psychological security and safety when we live within Jesus and his Church, within the protectiveness of Christ, Christian friends and a Christian family.
Shepherds always want their sheep to be healthy and happy. They want them to have the best grass, fresh water, and safety, so that they can grow and multiply as much as possible. A sheep has no greater friend than a good shepherd, and we have no greater friend than Christ.  He does not claim to be one good shepherd among many good shepherds, but the only one: "All others who have come are thieves and robbers." 
 Everyone who is entrusted with the care of others is a shepherd.  Hence, pastors, parents, teachers, doctors, nurses, government officials, caregivers, among others, are all shepherds.  We become good shepherds by loving those entrusted to us, praying for them, spending our time, talents and blessings for their welfare, and guarding them from physical and spiritual dangers.  
Today is mother’s day. Self sacrificing Mothers truly reflect Jesus the good shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. Mothers wear many hats. Typically, mothers are in charge of taking care of the home, raising and disciplining the children, and teaching them how to live a God honoring life. There is no greater responsibility for mothers than the responsibility to make certain their children arrive safely in heaven. God is our true mother who cares for his children like a mother hen protects her young ones under its wings. It is said that, for a mother, the children are pieces of her heart moving outside her body. Let’s pray that all mothers may impart the protective love of God the Father to their children.  In the month of May we honor Mary our heavenly mother.  Let’s pray to her that all women may value the vocation to motherhood and carry it out as Mary did with her son.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

III- Easter :  Acts 2:14, 22-33 1 Pt 1:17-21, Lk 24:13-35    

Karl Barth, one of the twentieth century's most famous theologians, was on a streetcar one day in Basel, Switzerland, where he lived and lectured. A tourist to the city climbed on the streetcar and sat down next to Barth. The two men started chatting with each other. "Are you new to the city?" Barth inquired.

"Yes," said the tourist.
"Is there anything you would particularly like to see in this city?" asked Barth.
"Yes," he said, "I'd love to meet the famous theologian Karl Barth. Do you know him?"
Barth replied, "Well as a matter of fact, I do. I give him a shave every morning."
The tourist got off the streetcar quite delighted. He went back to his hotel saying to himself, "I met Karl Barth's barber today."

Doesn’t that amuse us ?. That tourist was in the presence of the very person he most wanted to meet, but even with the most obvious clue, he never realized that the man with whom he was talking was the great man himself.

It reminds me of Mary Magdalen’s  reaction on Easter morning. In her grief, she thinks the man she is speaking to is the gardener.  Two of the disciples walk 7 miles with the resurrected Jesus, and they, too, had no idea with whom they were conversing.
They began to speak to Him about all that had occurred in the Holy City during the previous week. Most probably, Cleopas and his companion were husband and wife, residents of Emmaus and disciples of Jesus who had witnessed His crucifixion and burial.  The two disciples chose to leave Jerusalem on the third day after the death of Jesus – the very day they had received news that the tomb was empty.  They were “prevented” from recognizing the Stranger, Jesus, perhaps partly by preoccupation with their own disappointment and problems. As they journeyed on, Jesus showed them how the Scriptures had foretold all that He had done and suffered, including his death and its purpose.  
We have not heard of Cleopas before this (or will again, in fact). These two disciples’ knowledge of Jesus breaking the bread was learnt, not experienced. They were not part of the 12 Apostles. This means that they did not recognize him because they saw Jesus take, bless and break bread before, but rather, because the risen Jesus is made present in this Eucharist. And, as he breaks bread for them in their turn, their journey through the scriptures is complete and all comes together when they saw the Lord.
The Church continues this pattern to the present day. The Emmaus story explains the Catholic Mass completely. The first part is about Jesus explaining the scriptures to them from Moses through the Prophets showing them how the Messiah was to be their foretold savior. This takes place on this ambo in the Church. The purpose of this service is to burn our hearts with love and passion for the Lord to recognize him in the breaking of the bread. The Churches that do not have a real Mass are the people who let Jesus go when he pretends to go farther. We should urge the Lord to stay with us so that he will break the bread for us. And in listening to the Word of God we get only the appetizer, not the main course. Our hunger is whipped up; as the disciples said: weren’t our hearts burning as he explained the word to us. But only in the breaking of the bread that we fully encounter the Lord. In the breaking of the break Jesus disappeared from their physical sight but was spiritually and really present in the broken bread to satisfy the longing of their hearts. And as the disciples left at night to share the good news of encountering the Lord, we are told at the end of the Mass to go and announce the gospel of the Lord.

So, this episode tells us that we should listen to the word of God and attend the Mass as far as possible if we really want to encounter the Lord. Attending the Mass every day is not a convenient thing always for working people. But reading this Scripture is a thing which we can always do. 

The word of God should burn the heart of everyone who reads it. Abraham Lincoln said: “The greatest gift that God gave to human beings is the Bible.”  We should make use of this gift.  St Jerome, the great biblical scholar, warns that ‘ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ’ and this is exactly what Jesus thinks on the road to Emmaus. Goethe, the great German philosopher, said that the beauty of the Bible grows as we grow in our understanding of it.  
Vatican II (Dei Verbum 21), tells us that Jesus is to be equally venerated in the Eucharist and in the Bible.  Therefore, we need to study the Bible, learn the Bible, memorize the Bible and meditate on the word of God.   We need to read the Scriptures daily to meet and converse with Jesus Christ.  It should be a daily habit because people either read the Bible daily or almost never.   So, we must continue always to listen to the scriptures – for in them we shall find Jesus and ourselves too.

Study the Bible, learn the Bible, memorize the Bible and meditate on the word of God. It will burn our hearts. In that fire we will remember his promises in our mind, to be with us always. Let’s pray that we may recognize him as he breaks the bread today with us.