Friday, September 26, 2014

XXVI.O.T. Ezek. 18:25-8; Phil. 2:1-11; Mt. 21:28-32
Once there were two couples. Couple A -were married in a large, beautiful church ceremony. They pledge life-long faithfulness and love to each other in the moving words of their vows. However, their life together has been one of abuse -- both physical and verbal. They both have been unfaithful to each other.

Couple B- live together. They had no public ceremony. They signed no marriage license. They spoke no vows in the presence of witnesses. However, their life together is a loving and affirming relationship. They have remained faithful to each other.
Which couple would you say is doing the will of God?

Both need change of hearts -- couple A in the way they act towards each other and couple B in their attitudes about the importance of the words in a public ceremony.
This passage sets before us a picture of two very imperfect sets of people, of whom one set were none the less better than the other. Neither son in the story was the kind of son to bring full joy to his father. Both were unsatisfactory; but the one who in the end obeyed was incalculably better than the other.
In the parable of the two sons, Jesus’ listeners would immediately identify who the son was who said Yes and then did not go: it was most of themselves!  -  particularly the Pharisees.  They were the people of the Covenant who had said Yes to God.  The son who said No stood for the Gentiles, and also for outcasts such as tax-collectors and prostitutes.  But the point of the parable was to blow away that clear distinction.  What counts, he said, is not whether you say Yes or No, but what you do.  It was Jesus’ consistent teaching. 
This parable teaches that promises can never take the place of performance, and fine words are not substitute for fine deeds. Yes and No are not words we say but things we do.  A Yes that is said but not done is only an evasion.  This Faith was made for walking, not just for professing. 
Obedience is not an end, but a means-a means to express our love to God, and a means to increase our love for God. It is a catalyst in the process of loving God and becoming more like Jesus."
Ideal sons and daughters are those who say yes to their parents and then go on to do what is commanded. The real good man is the man in whom profession and practice meet and match.
There are people who think that the sole requirements are the recitation of a creed and attendance at a local church where there is no community and little fellowship. People who come to church every Sunday and say to God "Amen! We believe." They wear badges and medals as ways of professing their faith. But sometimes when it comes to proving their faith, they fall short.
We need to lead a responsible Christian life, saying “yes” to God. Each one of us is responsible to God for every one of our actions, and the just God will punish or reward each individual according to his or her actions.  As we do not know the moment death will strike us, our only guarantee of dying in God's friendship is to live in that friendship always, saying “Yes” to God in our deeds. We should become men and women who profess our faith in word and deed - knowing that, "Not all those who say to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Mat. 7:21). God is ever with us to strengthen us, and to pardon and lift us up again, if through human weakness we stumble on the road. God is calling us right now, inviting us to work in His vineyard, inviting us to say “Yes” to Him with our words and actions. Let us accept God’s invitation by resolving to put words into actions each morning before stepping out of bed; and by declaring interiorly that people will be able to identify us as followers of Christ simply by our Christian actions and not by empty words or pious gestures.

As we continue with this Mass where Jesus strengthens us in our resolve, let us ask for the grace not to say flimsy yes to what our faith demands but set out with a firm resolve on a path of Christian life that will witness to the real message of Christ through actions. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

XXV. O.T. Is 55: 6-9; Phil 1: 20c-24, 27a; Mt 20:1-16a 
A Jewish "farmer lived in Poland whose family had been very poor for generations. One night he was awakened by an angel of the Lord, who said: "You have found favor in the eyes of your Maker. He wants to do for you what he did for your ancestor Abraham. He wants to bless you. Therefore, make any three requests to God, and he will be pleased to give them to you. There is only one condition: your neighbor will get a double portion of everything that is bequeathed to you."
The farmer was startled by this revelation and woke up his wife to tell her all about it. She suggested that they put the whole thing to a test. So they prayed. "Oh, God, if we could just have a herd of a thousand cattle, that would enable us to break out of the poverty in which we have lived for generations." No sooner had they said these words than they heard the sound of animal noises outside. Lo and behold, all around the house were a thousand magnificent animals!
During the next two days, the farmer's feet hardly touched the ground. He divided his time between praising God for such great generosity and beginning to make practical provisions for his newly acquired affluence. On the third afternoon, he was up on a hill behind his house trying to decide where to build a new barn when he looked across at his neighbor's field, and there standing on the green hillside were two thousand magnificent cattle. For the first time since the angel of the Lord had appeared, the joy within him evaporated and a scowl of envy took its place. He went home that evening in a foul mood, refused to eat supper, and went to bed in an absolute rage. He could not fall asleep because every time he closed his eyes, all he could see were his neighbor's two thousand cattle.
Deep in the night, however, he remembered that the angel had said he could make three wishes. With that, he shifted his focus away from his neighbor and back to his own situation, and the old joy quickly returned. Digging deep into his own heart to find out what else he really wanted, he began to realize that in addition to some kind of material security, he always wanted descendants to carry his name into the future. So he prayed a second time: "Gracious God, if it pleases thee, give me a child that I may have descendants." With that, he and his wife made love, and because of his experience with the cattle, he was not too surprised shortly thereafter to learn that she was expecting.
The next months were passed in unbroken joy. The farmer was busy assimilating his newly acquired affluence and looking forward to the great grace of becoming a parent. On the night his first child was born, he was absolutely overjoyed. The next day was the Sabbath. He went to the synagogue, and at the time of the prayers of the people, he stood up and shared with the gathered community his great good fortune: now at last a child had been born into their home. He had hardly sat down, however, when his neighbor got up and said, "God has indeed been gracious to our little community. I had twin sons born last night. Thanks be to God." On hearing that, the farmer went home in an utterly different mood than the one in which he came. Instead of being joyful once again he was filled with the canker of jealousy.
This time, however, his envy did not abate. Late that evening, he made his third request of God: "Please, gouge out my right eye."
No sooner had he said these words than the angel who had initiated the whole process appeared again and asked, "Why, son of Abraham, have you turned to such vengeful desirings?" With pent-up rage, the farmer replied, "I cannot stand to see my neighbor prosper. I'll gladly sacrifice half of my vision for the satisfaction of knowing that he will never be able to look on what he has."
Those words were followed by a long silence, and as the farmer looked, he saw tears forming in the eyes of the angel. "Why, O son of Abraham, have you turned an occasion for blessing into a time of hurting? Your third request will not be granted, not because the Lord lacks integrity, but because God is full of mercy. However, know this, O foolish one, you have brought sadness not only to yourself, but to the very heart of God."
St Thomas Aquinas described envy as “sorrow at another’s good fortune”. It has been described as the only one of the seven deadly sins that gives the sinner no pleasure - however illusory or transitory - at all. It only eats away at us and destroys relationships.
The parable of the vineyard workers offends our sense of fairness. Why should everyone get equal pay for unequal work? This parable goes against the business mentality that dominates our lives. We have always been taught: You get out of something directly in proportion to that which you put in it. Yet, that is not what happened in Jesus’ story. In our way of thinking, the laborers who came to the field late got something for nothing. This parable challenges us not to look upon the Kingdom of God, or the church, as a business community. We live in a world of tenure and seniority and it goes against our grain when we hear Jesus say: The first shall be last and the last shall be first. God's grace is not based upon what is fair, but rather what helps. His love is unique that he loves us evenly even if he gives more or less graces different people.
One time a Sunday school superintendent was registering two new sisters in Sunday School. When she asked them how old they were one replied, “We’re both seven. My birthday is April 8th and my sister’s is April 20th.” That superintendent replied, "That’s impossible girls." The other sister then spoke up and said, "No it’s true, one of us is adopted."

"Oh," the superintendent said, "Which one?" The two sisters looked at each other and one said, "We asked Dad that question a while ago, but he just looked at us and said that he loved us both equally, so much so that he couldn’t remember which one of us was adopted."
That is a wonderful analogy of the love of God. God loves us all, equally. We are loved, not because we have earned God’s love or deserve it, but because of God’s grace.
We all tend to think that love is like a pie. The more people that came to share it, the smaller the slices had to be. But love is not that way. If you had two children, you are not taking your love for one child and sharing it with the second. No, you may be sharing the first one’s things with the second, but not the love. Your love for the second one generates completely new. Your love for the second may not sometimes be as much as the first one, but it is not because you have one child already before. But it is because certain things prompt you to hold some from the second one due to some reason.  
St Augustine once pointed out that whereas material things diminish when they are shared out - if I share out my food there is less for me - this is not true in the case of spiritual goods. If I love my neighbour and can rejoice in his good fortune, I do not lessen the charity within me, but, in fact, only increase it.

God wants all his children to enjoy the complete fullness of eternal life. No true child of God wants it any other way. Jesus Christ is extraordinarily generous; the history of salvation is the story of his boundless giving.  Just as the landowner gave the laborers real work to do in his vineyard, even if the reward far outweighed the work, Christ too allows us to make a real contribution to the eternal happiness of ourselves through prayer, self-sacrifice, and service. But the salvation itself is his pure gracious gift. As we continue with this sacrifice where Jesus completely and generously gives himself to us, let us ask him for the grace to be generous as He is generous and not to be ever jealous of others blessings.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

(Numbers 21: 4-9; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17)
We celebrate this feast of the Exaltation of the Cross for two reasons: (1) to understand the history of the discovery of the True Cross and (2) to appreciate better the importance of the symbol and reality of Christ’s sacrificial love, namely, the cross in the daily life of every Christian.
According to a reliable legend, when the Body of Jesus and those of the two thieves were removed from their crosses, the disciples buried the body of Jesus in the tomb donated by Nicodemus. As it was customary, the crosses of Jesus and the two thieves were buried in a pit dug close to the tomb. They remained there unnoticed till the fourth century. In AD 312, while the pagan commander Constantine the Great was in combat with Maxentius for the throne of the Roman Empire, some of his Christian soldiers suggested that he pray to the God of the Christians to help him in his battle. In answer to his prayer, the sign of a luminous cross appeared in the sky with the words “IN THIS SIGN YOU WILL CONQUER" inscribed on it. Following this, Constantine won the battle over Maxentius. Indebted to the God of Christians for his victory, Constantine became a Christian catechumen. The Emperor issued the Edict of Milan (in 313), guaranteeing Christians religious tolerance throughout the Roman Empire. He declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and commanded that the sign of the cross be placed on all the Roman standards and on the shields of all the soldiers. On September 14, AD 327, a team of excavators, led by Constantine’s mother St. Helena, found below the temple of Venus at Calvary the True Cross on which Jesus had been crucified. The cross of Christ was identified by the miraculous healing given to a terminally sick lady when touched by the cross of Jesus. In 355, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was established in Jerusalem to commemorate St. Helena’s discovery of the true cross of Jesus.
A cross is a symbol of suffering and shame. Yet God turned that cross into the means by which you and I may find our salvation.  Jesus did not die as a hero or a martyr. His death was a total failure on the cross. His executioners rejoiced and they celebrated his death.  Yet Christianity had, and still has, at its center this most awful symbol of death and disgrace. The feast of Exaltation of the Holy Cross, then is an invitation to us to learn to appreciate the real message of the cross in our Christian life. 
The cross in itself was a total failure for Jesus. But we honor the cross because on the cross he saved us. It is through the cross of Calvary that God is fully revealed. It is through the cross of Calvary that we come to know of God's love.
 The cross of Jesus Christ is the place where atonement happened; where Jesus became a substitute for man. Christ died where man should have been, so that man may be where God is.
The cross is the work of God for salvation. Jesus disclosed this as being necessary because the disciples needed to understand the place of the cross in the economy of God's redemptive purposes. "The Son of Man must suffer” Jesus said: It is the key to the self-disclosure of Jesus and to the plan of God for salvation for sinners.
A pattern of self denial should be present in the life of the believer to be part of Jesus’ salvation. The cross can be the pain we undergo in our lives or the pain we suffer for others. It is the sanctifying pain involved in sharing our blessings sacrificially with others. It is the pain involved in controlling our evil tendencies in an attempt to attain a higher degree of holiness.  It is also the pain involved in standing with Jesus and gladly following him even if that means scorn and humiliation from the rest of the world. St.Paul identified himself fully with the cross of Christ and so he said: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal.2:20).When we have fully identified ourselves with the cross of Christ, we should remind ourselves of its implications by signing ourselves with the cross. As soon as we wake up in the morning the first thing we should do, be signing ourselves with cross and ensuring that the rest of the day is going to be sanctified. Before we start driving to work or cooking food, do that again and remind ourselves that we are redeemed by Christ’s cross and so nothing is going to work against me. Of course sometimes we may be ashamed to do it before others. But then remember the message of Paul again: For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor.1:18). For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength (1 Cor.1:25).

As we continue with the celebration of this Mass, let us ask for the grace to be reminded of the price Jesus paid for our salvation on the cross and our call to share in the sufferings of Christ when we wear or sign ourselves with the cross. And may the cross of Christ always be our protection from all the evil influence and evil thoughts and habits in our everyday life. Amen.

Friday, September 5, 2014

XXIII.O.T. Ez 33: 7-9; Rom 13: 8-10; Mt 18: 15-20 
The common theme of today’s readings is our responsibility towards the salvation of others in our community because they are God’s children and our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are, therefore, the “keepers” of our brothers and sisters, for each one of us is important to all others in our Faith community. In the first reading, God tells Ezekiel that he is a "watchman for the house of Israel,” obliged to warn Israel of moral dangers.  If Ezekiel should refrain from speaking God’s word intended to convert the wicked, God will hold Ezekiel responsible for the death of the wicked.  Prophet Jonah was sent to preach conversion to the Ninevehites and he refused to go to Nineveh and went to the opposite direction. We know what happened to him. God stirred a storm in the sea and he was cast into the sea and was swallowed by a large fish. This may be a lesson for those who refuse to preach repentance to sinners. In the second reading, St. Paul points out that the love we should have for one another should be our only reason for admonishing the sinner.  Love seeks the good of the one who is loved. Therefore, we should admonish one another so that we all may repent and grow in holiness.
We are afraid to discipline sin in the church because of popular verses that are taken out of context and improperly interpreted. "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." "Judge not that you may not be judged." Indeed, we surmise, how can a sinner correct a sinner? The result is, there is precious little discipline in the typical church today. People do as they please. Folks can get away with anything, and we have an unholy anarchy of gossip, sexual immorality, inattendance, false teaching, and lies. None of this glorifies Jesus Christ!
The Gospel lays down 4 steps to correction.
 1) Confrontation:  The worst thing that we can do about a wrong done to us is to brood about it. Brooding can poison our whole mind and life, until we can think of nothing else but our sense of personal injury. We mustn’t gossip either.  Hence, the first step proposed by Jesus to the one who has been wronged is that he should go to meet the offender in person, and point out lovingly, but in all seriousness, the harm he has done.  This first stage is designed to let the two people concerned solve the issue between them. If it works out at that level, that is the ideal situation. "You have won back your brother." 
2) Negotiation:  Suppose the first step does not resolve the situation and the person refuses to admit wrong, continuing in a behavior bad for him or her as well as for the one he has injured. This creates a problem; for example, among the young where a friend steals or shoplifts, uses drugs or drinks excessively, hangs around with a bad crowd, plans to run away, contemplates suicide or abortion, or just "goofs off" in school. Here, the second step is to take one or two other members of the Church along with the wronged person to speak to the wrongdoer and to act as confirming witnesses. The taking of the witnesses is not meant to be a way of proving to a man that he has committed an offence. It is meant to assist the process of reconciliation by emphasizing and explaining calmly the gravity of the situation. Nowadays, we call that an “intervention” and the group may also include a qualified third party - counselor, teacher, priest or physician.
3) Adjudication: If the negotiation step does not resolve the situation either, the third step is to have the whole Church or community of believers confront the wrongdoer. The case is brought to the Christian fellowship because troubles are never amicably settled by going to a civil court of law. Further, the Church provides an atmosphere of Christian prayer, Christian love and Christian fellowship in which personal relationships may be righted in the light of love and of the Gospel. Finally, in matters of honor and shame, the community is the final arbiter, for the community as a whole suffers from the wrong. 
4) Excommunication: If the offender chooses to disregard the believing community's judgment, the consequence is “excommunication.” This means that if none of the three steps has brought a resolution of the situation, then the wrongdoer should be treated like "a Gentile or a tax collector."  That is, the wrongdoer should be put out of the Church with the hope that temporary alienation alone may bring the erring person to repentance and change. The sinner is expelled because every obvious case of unrepented sin denies the Gospel's power and the Church's mission of reconciling sinners to God and to the community. But the excommunication should be carried out with genuine grief (1 Cor 5:2), not vindictive glee over another's "fall" or self-righteous pride. 
Modern believers tend to think that they have no right to intervene in the private lives of their fellow believers. Others evade the issue saying, “As a sinner, I don’t have the moral courage or the right to correct anyone.” But Jesus emphatically affirms that we are our brothers' keepers, and we have the serious obligation to correct others. When we tolerate someone to drink and get behind the wheel, we cannot guarantee that the only thing that he will hit is a roadside tree or the road dividers. If we tolerate it we or our kids may be dead; or his kids and dependents may be left orphan whom the community may have the responsibility to look after. So, it is our business to correct our dear ones, and anyone who does mistakes. Very often we hesitate to correct others because of the fear to lose the friendship.
Let’s ask the Lord for the strength and the wisdom to have the courage to correct the erring brothers and sisters and bring them back to the right track and bring glory to God and the Church.