Saturday, August 30, 2014

XXII. O.T. Jer. 20:7-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt. 16:21-28
A church wanted to improve attendance at their major worship services, so they hired a powerful advertising agency to come in, study their situation, and make recommendations. The ad agency did their research... and then suggested to the church that they should get rid of all the crosses in the church... because the crosses might send a negative message to prospective young worshippers! 
Well, there are several non-Catholic churches that have taken away the crucifixes in their churches. Some prosperity preachers never mention about the Cross. All they say is that God is going to bless you abundantly with riches and wealth; all you need to do for that is just give them donations, and God will return to them manifold.
The readings for this Sunday remind us that Christian discipleship demands three conditions: Deny oneself , “take up your cross”,  follow him . So, we cannot get rid of the cross, because it is the powerful reminder of God's sacrificial and redemptive love for us. And the cross is the constant signal to us of how God wants us to live and love today.
Jesus realized that, although he had predicted his suffering and death three times, his disciples were still thinking in terms of a conquering Messiah, a warrior king, who would sweep the Romans from Palestine and lead Israel to power. That is why Peter could not bear the idea of a suffering Messiah. Correcting Peter for dissuading him, Jesus calls Peter Satan remembering the temptation he had in the desert where Satan tried to persuade Jesus to an easy, comfortable way of life. Jesus tells: Get behind me Satan. Origen suggests that Jesus was saying to Peter: "Peter, your place is behind me, not in front of me. It's your job to follow me in the way I choose, not to try to lead me in the way YOU would like me to go."   Like Peter, the Church is often tempted to judge the success or failure of her ministry by the world’s standards. But Jesus teaches that worldly success is not always the Christian way. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote "When Christ calls a man to follow him, he calls him to die." In Baptism a Christian dies with Christ.
History is full of noble souls who risked their lives for the sake of others. If certain scientists had not been prepared to take risks, many a medical cure would not exist.  If mothers were not prepared to take risks, no child would ever be born.
When a bud goes through the pain of bursting, it is transformed into a beautiful flower.  When a pupa struggles out of a cocoon, it is transformed into a charming butterfly. When a chicken breaks the shell and comes out it becomes a lovely bird.  When a seed bursts the pod and falls to the ground it begins to grow as a plant. So, the nature itself calls us to understand that the way to perfection and greatness is through suffering.
The man who risks everything for Christ finds life.  On the other hand, the man who abandons his faith for safety or security may live, but he is actually dying. Think of all the Christians who were martyred or are being martyred because of their faith in Jesus in Syria and Iraq. Did they lose their lives? If we believe Jesus’ words, they are all living compared to those who compromised their faith for safeguarding their physical lives.
When we undergo the suffering and pain of life we get strengthened.  St Paul wrote:  “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Romans 5:3-4).”  A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It has to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain. Suffering is not the last thing in life. It leads us to something greater as long as we are ready to accept its challenges.  “A bend in the road is not the end of the road... unless you fail to make the turn.”  
So, how shall we be responding to the invitation of Jesus to take up the cross? Sacrifice a little time and pleasure to do something greater. Give up extravagant comfort of modern appliances which will help us strengthen the spirit of endurance. Ignore the pride of replacing the present decent TV with the latest available one.  Accept the pain of donating a little blood to save a life. Like this we can find hundreds of ways to make our life meaningful and worthwhile. Again God does not ordain but allows sufferings in our lives, so that we can glorify him by our becoming more identical with His Son. Let’s pray that the Father may help us to become more like His son Jesus who said: “whoever wishes to keep his life safe, will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it.” Amen

Saturday, August 23, 2014

XXI.O.T : Is 22: 19-23; Rom 11: 33-36; Mt 16: 13-20 

Our readings today are about keys. A key unlocks everything from bank vaults and jewelry boxes to buildings and car doors. Keys represent authority and power. When that power is abused, keys can be taken away by those in higher authority. Parents sometimes take away the keys to the car from a teenager who "messes up."
In today's first reading, God takes away the key from Shebna, the master of the palace of King Hezekiah, and gives that key to a worthier man, Eliakim.
In the Gospel, Jesus gives the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter. Through baptism, all Christians have received a share in the power of the keys to heaven. With that power goes responsibility to witness to the Gospel. We can witness to Jesus and his Kingdom only when we accept him as the Messiah the Son of God, our personal Savior.
When Jesus asked his disciples the question what do people say that I am they said the names of different prophets. The people saw Jesus as a prophet, a spokesperson for God, and no more than that. Each of these was an honorable status, so perhaps Jesus didn’t mind if the people thought of these identifications about him. 
But Jesus was more interested in what the disciples themselves had to say. So, second question, “But who do you say that I am?”It could have been an invitation to disclose their intimate thoughts, though perhaps it was a question about the way they spoke of Jesus to others, how they described him when they were away from the presence of Jesus.   Of course it is a personal question and it demands a personal answer too.  Then Peter, assuming his recognized leadership role in the group, replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That was an immediate identification with the Messiah, who would lead the people and overcome all nations. Jesus was very clear about his own identity and the fact that he was the Messiah. But he was not ready yet to let others know about it; so, he ordered his disciples to keep the secret, because their idea of a Messiah was different than the actual one and he might not be able to do what he needed to do with the wrong expectations about him.
After stating his intention to build his Church on Peter, Jesus promises that the gates of hell shall not prevail against his Church. Hell vanishes in the face of the power of the Cross.  But these days in Mosul, Iraq, it seems like the gates of the netherworld is prevailing against the Church there. Every day many Christians, including children and women are butchered by the ISIS the Islamic fanatics. What shall we do? Is the promise of Jesus false? Jesus gave us the power to fight the powers of the nether world but we need to use that power. That power can be drawn by prayer only; by praying together for the persecuted part of the Church. It is our duty to take the weapon of prayer and use it against the Satanic powers. We need to pray every day for those Christians living in Islamic countries, because we are not facing what they are facing. So, at the end of the mass for some weeks, we will pray the Prayer to St.Michael the Archangel to defeat the Satan.  
It is said that a Christian is like an elephant that has great power. But since it doesn’t realize its power it can be controlled by a single man, a Mahout, with a small hook. When the elephant realizes that it has so much power, it can no longer be controlled and managed by any single human being. Let’s us realize our power in Christ, and make use of the power of the blood of the lamb that defeated the kingdom of Satan. We need to wake up and be self-conscious Christians.
As we continue with this celebration of the Mass let’s ask the Father to help us acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God as Peter did when he was asked who Jesus was for him.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

XX.O.T.-A  Is. 56:1, 6-7; Rom. 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt. 15:21-28
M. K.  Gandhi is the father of the nation of India. In his autobiography he tells how, during his days in South Africa as a young Indian lawyer, he read the Gospels and saw in the teachings of Jesus the answer to the major problem facing the people of India, the caste system. There are 4 Castes in India and they don’t intermingle. Seriously considering embracing the Christian faith, Gandhi went to a white-only church one Sunday morning, intending to talk to the pastor about the idea. When he entered the church, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and told him to go and worship with his own colored people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.”
Some 25 years ago, while in the Seminary, I visited a very famous Hindu temple in North India. But as we were entering the temple, we found a sign outside written: Christians and dogs are not allowed. We had a few nuns with us and so fearing we would be identified, we stayed out; did not go in.
No Non-Muslim can go to anywhere near Mecca the holy city of the Muslims. If a non Muslim is found within the city limit of Mecca he or she can be executed. Allah doesn’t like non Muslims there.
So what do we understand from all these? Are there different gods for people of different religions? If different gods created this world all the human beings would not breath from the same airspace or would not occupy the same world. So, if everybody share the same nature, it is all created by one God and he doesn’t preclude anybody from entering into the place where he is believed to reside.
This is an extraordinary gospel story we have today. This Canaanite woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter; he objects that he has come only to the lost sheep of Israel. She persists and eventually he does as she asked.
What has happened? Did Jesus make just an exception for her? ‘I have come only to the lost sheep of Israel and for you.’
There is another way of understanding the story which is more convincing. This incident is part of a slow transformation in the mission of Jesus. He had sent his disciples only to the lost sheep of Israel, but here he is in Gentile land. This story comes between the feeding of the five thousand, which is usually taken to be symbolic of the mission to the Jews, and the feeding of the four thousand, which is seen as pointing to the mission to the Gentiles. Jesus had told the woman there was only enough bread was for the children of the household, and then suddenly there is more than enough bread for everyone, seven baskets full.
So what is happening in this conversation between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is not that he makes an exception. It is a moment in a gradual turning of Jesus to the Gentiles.
 All three readings today speak of the expansive and universal nature of the “Kingdom of God,” in contrast with the theory that salvation was offered first to the Jews and only then to the rest of the world.  Although God set the Hebrew people apart as His chosen race, He included all nations in His plan for salvation and blessed all families of the earth in Abraham (Gen 12:1-3). By declaring through the prophet Isaiah (the first reading), “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples,” God reveals the truth that in His eyes there is no distinction among human beings on the basis of race, caste or color.  The long-expected Messianic kingdom was intended not only for the Jews but for all nations as well. Today’s psalm rejects all types of religious exclusivity: "Let all the peoples praise You, O God; …For You judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon the earth, so that Your saving power may be known among all the nations."
We need to pull down our walls of separation and share in the universality of God’s love:  God’s care extends beyond the boundaries of race and nation to the hearts of all who live, and God’s house should become a house of prayer for all peoples. It is therefore fitting that we should pray that the walls which our pride, intolerance and prejudice have raised, may crumble. As baptized members of the Christian community, we have been given special privileges and easy access to God's love.  But we also have serious responsibilities arising from these gifts. One of these responsibilities is to make clear to others, the “outsiders”, with true humility and compassion, that God's love, mercy and healing are for them also because they too are the children of God, they too are “insiders”.
In most cases when we ask the converts what took them so long to decide to become Catholic, the reply would be, "No one ever invited me!" Wouldn't it be a good thing if once in a while, we could say to a friend or relative, or a neighbor, "Have you ever thought of becoming a Catholic?" If they show interest, then say to them, "Well, I would like to invite you now!" Sr.Lyn would be starting the RCIA program soon. It is our Catholic obligation to invite our non Catholic neighbor to come enjoy the full fellowship with the Lord by participating in the Wedding feast of the Lamb.
We must not let timidity or pride or even fear hold us back. To drag our feet is to risk going against Jesus' own prayer before He died on the Cross: "that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that the world may believe that you sent me."  (John 17:21)
Let’s pray that we may have an open heart and mind to accept the outsiders into the fold of Christ and make them insiders with us.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven was formally declared by Pope Pius XII in 1950, but the idea of it has been around for centuries.  It is one of those long-standing beliefs that has been codified into an essential teaching of the faith.
There is an ancient legend about today's feast, how it was found out that Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven. It seems that St. Thomas was not present at Mary's death. So when he finally arrived, possibly from far-off India, he asked to see her body one last time. But when her resting place was opened, there was nothing there - except beautiful, fresh flowers. One tradition tells that at the end of her earthly life, Mary was taken up body and soul into heaven, even before death.

Everything that the Church teaches us about Mary, the Mother of God, is intended to help us grow closer to her son Jesus Christ, and lead us into a deeper understanding of who he is and what he has done for us. It is important, then, that we understand the feast of the Assumption against the horizon of this salvation offered to us in Jesus Christ.
The Assumption of Mary can be adequately explained by only one word: love. Based on our experience, love is overpowering. It is a force that moves us towards the object of love and be united with it. People who love money are always running after money and grasping it so tightly. Those who love cars are always with their cars. And couples who are in love tend to be together all the time, longing for physical and spiritual intimacy. There is some irresistible force in love that pulls the person towards the beloved. In the case of Mary, her love of God was so great that her whole being pulled closer to God. It practically lifted her up to heaven, body and soul.  In Mary, the true meaning of love is clearly shown – love always leads to God. This is what St. John wrote: “No one has ever seen God. Yet if we love one another, God remains in us and his love is brought to perfection in us…” (1 Jn 4:12,16).
The story of the Fall is not only the story of Adam but the story of Adam and Eve. If Jesus is the new Adam, Mary is the new Eve. Just as the full story of our Fall cannot be told without Eve, so also the full story of our Redemption cannot be told without Mary, the new Eve. There are many revealing parallels between the old Adam and Eve on the one hand and the new Adam Jesus and new Eve, Mary, on the other.
In the old order, Eve came from the body of Adam, but in the new order Jesus comes from the body of Mary. In the old order, Eve first disobeyed God and led Adam to do the same, in the new order Mary first said "Yes" to God (Luke 1:38) and raised her son Jesus to do likewise.
Adam and Eve had a good time together disobeying God, Jesus and Mary suffered together doing God's will. The sword of sorrow pierced their hearts equally (John 19:34; Luke 2:35b).
In the old order Adam and Eve shared immediately in the resulting consequences and punishments of the Fall. In the new order, similarly, both Jesus and Mary share immediately in the resulting consequences and blessings of the Redemption, the fullness of life with God; Jesus through the Ascension and Mary through the Assumption.
There is a perfect harmony of wills and hearts between Mary and Jesus which we see most clearly in the Wedding Feast at Cana where Mary commands us: "Do whatever he (Jesus) tells you" (John 2:5).
This is a great feast of hope. Mary entering triumphantly into heaven gives all of us hope in our eventual entry as well.
It is entirely appropriate that our Mother Mary, she who was without sin and the means through which salvation entered the world, should be the first to be taken body and soul into the presence of God. Let us ask her to pray for us, that we too might share that destiny through her son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

As we celebrate Mary’s assumption let’s live our lives magnifying the Lord and rejoicing in the Lord our Savior as Mary did all her life.