Saturday, November 29, 2014

Advent-1 – Mark 13:24-37

Some years ago, the London Times ran a front-page story about an Englishman named Arthur Arch. He had just celebrated his 95th birthday, which was an accomplishment in and of itself. But the truly newsworthy thing about Mr. Arch was that for 42 years he had been precisely and consistently 20 minutes late for every meeting and appointment he had. According to his own time, he was always prompt. But according to everyone else's time, he was always late!

In 1922 in England they changed all of the clocks by 20 minutes. But Mr. Arch never accepted the change.
 he said: "Nobody is going to take 20 minutes off my life. So, I'll keep my watch at the old standard time. And some day I plan to die 20 minutes late just to prove that I was right!"

Now, Mr. Arch had an American counterpart, who was also a very stubborn man, a Kansas farmer, and an independent thinker if there ever was one. In the early 1940s, this Kansas farmer alleged that the worst thing that ever happened to the United States of America was the election of Franklin Roosevelt as President. And, he said, the worst thing Roosevelt ever did was to approve the order of Daylight Saving Time. As you know, the order went through, but the old farmer never changed his clocks, so he was always one hour off the time observed by everyone else. That farmer, like Arthur Arch, lived and died by the old time. And his defense, he felt, was theological. He said, "I will not exchange God's time for Roosevelt's time!"

Our scripture lesson today resounds with the same thought, that we are not to exchange God's time for anybody else’s time. We are to "take heed, watch, pray; for you do not know when the time is (Mark 13:33)." Our time may not have come, we may not be ready, but God’s time will inevitably come.
The season of Advent, which is the first period in the Year of Worship, reminds us to be prepared for the coming of Christ. The word "Advent" means "coming."
During advent we prepare for the three comings of Jesus in the world. On Christmas Day and during the 8 days of Christmas we remember the past coming of Jesus in history 2000 years ago. During advent however, we prepare for the final coming of Christ which will happen in the future and we also prepare for the present coming of Jesus in human life every day. Jesus comes every day into your and my life. So, we celebrate Jesus who is the same yesterday, today and forever,(past future and present) at advent and Christmas.
Jesus said to his disciples, "No man knows about that day and that hour. Be watchful, be wakeful and be praying, for you do not know when the time is."  Natural calamities and man-made disasters creep into human life unannounced, at the most unexpected time.  It is fact of daily experience that accidents, and medical problems like heart attack take away human life without any warning.  A faulty rhythm of heart-beats or a slightly prolonged halt between breaths is sufficient enough for the death-bell to resound.  Human life is as momentary as a shepherd's tent (Is. 38:12) that is pitched erect at every dusk and removed at dawn!" So, in this season the church reminds us of the need to be prepared.

One thing we don’t do very well in our society is wait. We get impatient. We get nervous and some even get angry. That’s because we see waiting as wasted time. It’s boring to sit and wait. It’s "down" time or "dead" time. We equate waiting time with being non-productive. “waiting is an attitude, an inclination to act. We wait because there is something worth having. We wait because the resources we need to survive and to grow are not in our own hands, but in the hands of God.”
Waiting is an opportunity to reflect or meditate. Nor do we have to fill our idle time with things to do. The more time we spend working the less time we get to spend with our families or attending to our souls. Our society has become so production focused that we have lost sight of the fact that we need time to think, relax or just wonder. We need time for introspection, for strengthening the family bond through family prayer and for cherishing the community life by active participation in the church activities.
 During the Second World War there was a young boy in a small town who had to go to the drugstore for his mother. As he arrived at the drugstore, he saw a poster on the front window that made a great impression upon him. It was the picture of an American soldier dressed in full battle uniform lying flat on his face, dead in the sands of a South Pacific island. He was lying there with the ocean cradling his body, and at the bottom of the poster was this question: "What have you done for your country today that's worth this soldier dying yesterday?" During advent we need to ask a similar question to ourselves:"What have you done for Christ today that's worth what He gave for you on Calvary?"
During the season of advent, let’s try to do something that would make Christ’s coming into the world worthwhile.

Advent is a time for us to go about our business of obeying God's directions for living, being found frequently in prayer and good works. St. Francis de Sales was asked one time by a nervous parishioner: "What will I do, what will I do?" St Francis replied, "Do the next loving thing."  Let’s watch out for that chance to find the next loving thing that we can do while waiting eagerly for the Lord to walk into our life.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

In Chicken Soup for the Soul, Rev. John Ramsey tells how in one church a certain person provided him with a rose boutonniere for the lapel of his suit every Sunday. At first he really appreciated it but then it sort of became routine. Then one Sunday it became very special.
As he was leaving the Sunday Service a young boy walked up to him and said, "Sir, what are you going to do with your flower?" At first the preacher didn't know what the boy was talking about. When it sank in, he pointed to the rose on his lapel and asked the boy, "Do you mean this?"
The boy said, "Yes, sir. If you're just going to throw it away, I would like it."
The preacher smiled and told him he could have the flower and then casually asked what he was going to do with it. The boy, who was probably no more than 10 years old, looked up at the preacher and said, "Sir, I'm going to give it to my granny. My mother and father divorced last year. I was living with my mother, but she married again, and wanted me to live with my father. I lived with him for a while, but he said I couldn't stay, so he sent me to live with my grandmother. She is so good to me. She cooks for me and takes care of me. She has been so good to me that I wanted to give her that pretty flower for loving me."
When the little boy finished, the preacher could hardly speak. His eyes filled with tears and he knew he had been touched by God. He reached up and unpinned the rose. With the flower in his hand, he looked at the boy and said, "Son, that is the nicest thing that I've ever heard but you can't have this flower because it's not enough. If you'll look in front of the pulpit, you'll see a big bouquet of flowers. Different families buy them for the Church each week. Please take those flowers to your granny because she deserves the very best."
Then the boy made one last statement which Rev. Ramsey said he will always treasure. The boy said, "What a wonderful day! I asked for one flower but got a beautiful bouquet."
That's the thankful spirit. That's the gratitude attitude. And it's that attitude that should guide our giving and our lives. Like that boy's granny, God has blessed us so much. God has been so good to us that giving shouldn't even be a question. It should just flow from us naturally.
The most intense moments of thankfulness are not found in times of plenty, but when difficulties abound. Think of the Pilgrims that first Thanksgiving. Half their number dead, men without a country, but still there was thanksgiving to God. Their gratitude was not for something but in something. It was that same sense of gratitude that lead Abraham Lincoln to formally establish the first Thanksgiving Day in the midst of national civil war, when the butcher’s list of casualties seemed to have no end and the very nation struggled for survival.
Perhaps in your own life, right now, are in intense hardship. You are experiencing your own personal Great Depression. May be you are going through a great sickness, or financial strains, family struggle, whatever. Why should you be thankful this day then? There are three things why we should be thankful.
1. We must learn to be thankful or we become bitter.
2. We must learn to be thankful or we will become discouraged.
3. We must learn to be thankful or we will grow arrogant and self-satisfied.
During a harvest festival in India, an old widow arrived at her church with an extraordinarily large offering of rice - far more than the poor woman could be expected to afford. The itinerant pastor of the church did not know the widow well. But he did know that she was very poor and so he asked her if she were making the offering in gratitude for some unusual blessing. "Yes," replied the woman. "My son was sick and I promised a large gift to God if he got well." "And your son has recovered?" asked the pastor. The widow paused. "No," she said. "He died last week. But I know that he is in God's care; for that I am especially thankful."
If we are not thankful then we can become bitter. If we are not thankful, then it becomes too easy to sit around and ponder the question: why me?
We know a lot of people in our life who after losing one of their loved ones don’t show respect for God or come to Church, thinking God did that on purpose to punish them for something….and they remain bitter. I wish they read the book of Job and take some inspiration from there.
This is a day we count our blessings. For many of us, our focus will be on our material blessings. Our warm house, The comfortable car, The stylish clothes, A table bountifully spread. And yet, in the long run of things, these are the least important of all our blessings. The first thing to be thankful for is our faith we are given to believe in a loving God, whom we can trust in any challenging situation. Jesus warned the people who followed him for material things. He said: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. These blessings are generally trivial and transitory.
Be thankful for what you enjoy and the rest of the world can only dream: life, liberty, and a chance to pursue happiness. Think of the Christians and minorities in Syria or Iraq now fleeing for their life to live their faith and protect their lives.  Let’s develop an attitude of gratitude in any circumstances which will help us to develop a positive outlook on life and bring joy to dwell in our hearts.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

CHRIST THE KING. Matthew 25:31-46
Today is the last Sunday of the liturgical year and we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. Jesus is king and he himself said: I am a king.  During the trial, Pilate asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" Jesus replied, "You have said it." (Luke 23:3). "You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Shortly before His Passion Jesus exclaimed with joy,“In the world you will have hardship, but be courageous: I have conquered the world!” (Jn. 6. 33). This is the language well-suited to a King reassuring His followers that He’s so confident that already He has triumphed! Jesus spoke several parables about the kingdom of God.
St. Paul, defining the nature of Christ’s conquest wrote, “Christ emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, and being in every way like a human being, He was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross. And for this God raised Him high, and gave Him the name which is above all other names; so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus,”  (Phil. 2).  So we are called to accept Jesus as king, professing and kneeling before him.
However, Jesus Himself would have us know that words of respect, honor and praise trip effortlessly from tongues and fall lightly upon ears. So, he said, “It is not anyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord," who will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mtt.7.21).
The Gospel reading pictures Christ the King as Judge of all mankind, separating the sheep from the goats, the good from the bad: and his judgment will be based on the commandment of love he gave to his disciples the night before he died. After he washed the feet of his disciples, he said: "Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must also wash one another's feet. I have just given you an example that as I have done, you also may do."
Now Jesus tells in today’s gospel how that behavior should be. Anonymously feeding the hungry, Clothing the naked, visiting the sick are some of the ways to serve the Lord. It is not serving the “humanity”, but in serving each little individual, that we are able to see God. That is why Mother Theresa once said, "I never look at the masses as my responsibility, I look at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. So you begin with one. If I didn't pick up that one person, I wouldn't have picked up 42,000. My whole work is only a drop in the ocean. But if I didn't put the drop in, the ocean would be one drop less." So, caring for each individual is the basis of our attitude of serving Christ.
Once there was a little boy who wanted to meet God. He knew it would be a long trip to where God lived, so he packed a suitcase full of Twinkies and cans of root beer (his two favorite foods) and set off on his journey. He had only gone a few blocks when he passed an older woman, sitting on a park bench and just staring at some pigeons. She looked sad and lonely, so the boy went over and sat down next to her. He opened his suitcase, took out a package of the Twinkies and offered it to her.
She gratefully took it and smiled at him. Her smile was so warm and wonderful that the boy wanted to see it again, so he offered her a can of his root beer. Once again, she took it and smiled at him. The boy was delighted. They sat there all afternoon, eating the Twinkies, drinking the root beers and watching the pigeons, without saying a word to each other.
As it grew dark, the boy realized that he had better get started home and got up to leave. But before he had just a few steps, he turned around, ran back to the older woman and gave her a big hug. She gave him the biggest smile of all.
When the boy got home, his mother noticed how happy he seemed. So she asked him what he had done all day. He told her: "I had lunch with God. And you know what? She has the most beautiful smile that I've ever seen."
Meanwhile, the older woman had returned to her home. Her son also noticed how happy and contented she seemed so he asked her what she had done that had made her so happy. She said to him: "I sat in the park and ate Twinkies with God. You know, he's much younger than I expected." Both of them recognized God’s presence in each other’s presence. We are called to recognize Jesus’ face in each other’s faces, particularly those in need. Because Jesus lived on the generosity of others during his ministry.  As we honor Jesus the king, let’s ask for the grace to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, so that we may be able to sing all our life: the Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

XXXIII.O.T. Matthew 25:14-30 -The Parable of the Talents
There is a psychologist at Harvard named Howard Gardner who is trying to revolutionize the study of intelligence. He says we have been studying I.Q. all wrong. On our intelligence tests we only measure one or two forms of intelligence. Gardner says that there are actually seven forms of intelligence. Some people are gifted with linguistic intelligence, he says. These are our writers and poets. Others have what he calls logical/mathematical intelligence. They make good accountants and scientists. Some people are gifted spatially. These are our artists and architects. Some are gifted kinesthetically. Their bodies are unusually graceful and coordinated. These are our athletes and dancers. Others are gifted interpersonally. They know instinctively how to get along well with the people around them. These are our sales persons, counselors, teachers. Some are gifted in their ability to look within. These are our philosophers ” our wise people. Some are gifted musically.

Here is the important point. Gardner claims that everyone he has ever tested has scored high on at least one of these seven forms of intelligence. All of us are gifted in our own way.
The parable tells us that God gave various talents to different people, but no one was left without anything. Everyone received a gift from God. They were to work with it and develop it. The servant who did not work with was punished. So, to say, everything we possess from God is making it a purely passive thing. In reality we know that nothing deep or 'inner' can ever be given to us without our effort. You would love to give your knowledge of, say, a foreign language to someone you love, but it cannot be done without their labor. How much more your understanding, your wisdom, your experience? Even God's gifts, poured out without measure, cannot really become mine unless I interiorize them myself. First of all I have to get that basic gift from God with which I was able to develop more. So, we say everything that we possess comes from God.
So, we all have some talents which we need to develop in our life. Some people discover their unusual talents accidentally. Richard Gonzales was a very famous tennis player. He accidentally discovered Tennis Talent. At the age of 12 Gonzales asked his mother for a bicycle. His mother was afraid that her son might hurt himself on the bike, so she bought him a tennis racket instead. Gonzales was not initially thrilled with his mother’s gift, but he decided to try his hand at tennis. Gonzales walked to a public tennis court a few blocks away and began hitting the ball. Gonzales wrote in his 1959 autobiography titled Man with a Racket. "In the days, months, and years that followed the challenge of hitting a white, fuzzy ball squarely on the strings of a racket grew and grew. Such is the strange hand of destiny,”
Mohd Ali at the age of 12, discovered his talent for boxing through an odd twist of fate. His bike was stolen, and Ali told a police officer, Joe Martin, that he wanted to beat up the thief. "Well, you better learn how to fight before you start challenging people," Martin reportedly told him at the time. Ali started working with Martin to learn how to box, and soon began his boxing career.
We are all gifted with some strength. The small size of the hummingbird, weighing only a tenth of an ounce, gives it the flexibility to perform complicated maneuvers, such as beating its wings 75 times a second. This enables the humming bird to drink nectar from flowers while hovering, but it cannot soar, glide or hop. The Ostrich, at 300 pounds, is the largest bird, but it can’t fly. However, its legs are so strong that it can run at up to 50 miles per hour, taking strides of12-15 feet. So, if you are strong in something, it is probable that you may be weak in one or several other things. But only by trying to develop what we have we can find out what is strong in us. We human beings are akin to the battery in a flashlight; unused it corrodes. What we do not use is wasted, what we do not share we cannot keep."

The parable tells us that the man who is punished is the man who would not try. The man with one talent did not lose it; but he simply did nothing with it. His complaint was his gift was too modest to be significant. Even if our talent is very small, we can make a strong difference with that in the community.
An elderly man is walking along the edge of the water and stops occasionally, picks up something, and then tosses it into the ocean. He then walks a few steps more, picks up something, and tosses it into the ocean. A young jogger is running along and has been watching the man. Finally his curiosity gets the best of him and he stops and goes over to the old gentleman and asks: "Excuse me, what are you doing?"
The man answered: Well, I am saving the life of these star fish. The storm washed them ashore last night, the sun will be up in thirty minutes, and then they will all die. I am throwing them back into the water to save their lives.
The jogger was a bit astounded. Old man, he said, don't you know that you have thirty miles of beach ahead of you and that millions of those star fish were washed ashore last night. What possible difference do you think that you are going to make. The old man took another step picked up a star fish, and with all his might hurled it into the ocean, then turned to the jogger and said: "Well, son, I guess I made a difference in that one's life."

Let us discover our special talents. It may be to sing, to dance, to draw, to write, to do farming, to sympathize with others, to be a good listener, to teach or to serve.  When we earnestly try to cultivate them and use them for the good of our brothers and sisters, God will tell us, “Well-done good and faithful servant, come and enter into the joy of your master.”

Friday, November 7, 2014

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica : Ez 47:1-2, 8-9, 12; I Cor 3:9-11, 16-17; Jn 2:13-22

A snake lived in a hole on a forest path leading to a famous Hindu temple in India.  Many pilgrims would walk along the path to the pilgrimage center, and the snake would often bite people with his poisonous bite if they walked over its residence.  One time a Hindu hermit was on his way to the temple and the snake jumped out to bite him, but before the snake could strike, the hermit put the snake into a trance and ordered him to stop biting people.  "It is not right to bite pilgrims with your poisonous bite," the hermit told him.  "From now on, you shall not bite anyone."  A few months later the hermit was passing that way again, and he noticed the snake lying in the grass beside the path.  The snake was all cut and bruised and was in an awful state.  "Whatever has happened to you, my friend?" the hermit asked.  "Since you have put your spell on me," the snake explained, “I have been unable to defend myself.  Give me back my bite."  "You foolish snake," the hermit answered.  "I told you not to bite anyone.  But I never said that you couldn't hiss and frighten trespassers!"
In today's Gospel reading we see an angry Jesus boiling with moral indignation. If Jesus did not bite in this episode, he surely hissed. He was very angry at the irreverence shown to His Father's House, and referred to Himself as a "temple" which would one day resurrect from the dead.
Today we celebrate the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome on 9th November 324 AD by Pope St. Sylvester.  Every bishop has a cathedral, and the Pope’s official cathedral is the Basilica of St. Johns Lateran, not the Basilica of St. Peter. Hence it bears the title the mother of all the churches in the city and in the world – and their head. The Laterani palace was donated to Pope by Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor. The Church built there was dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist and so it was called the Basilica of St. Johns Lateran.
We may think what are we doing as we make a fuss about a church building in Rome?  We are thinking symbolically.  A church – any church – is a symbol of a believing community, just as a house is a symbol of the self.  We search for God there, and God searches for us.  This is not usually a peaceful process: God ransacks the house,  throwing aside one thing after another to find us.  This is what happened in Jerusalem temple. Jesus threw things aside, cleaning up the court of the Gentiles in the temple and helping them worship God there.
In fact, in John’s gospel, the emphasis here is not so much on the cleansing of the Temple, but on the replacement of the Temple.  The Temple in Jerusalem was the place where God made His Name or Glory to dwell.  With Jesus’ coming on the scene, the Temple was no longer important in Jewish life in John's view.  The Temple had ceased to be functional. Jesus' promise of a new Temple suggested that God's glory would be manifested, not in a building, but in a Person.   Jesus had replaced and superseded everything the Temple had formerly symbolized. By his prophetic actions in the Temple, Jesus made it clear that the God who gave the law on Sinai could not be bought by sacrifice or bribe. Now Jesus is the Temple through whom His followers come into contact with God.  Our faith is Person-centered and we are dealing with a relationship.   

Our relationship with God must be that of a child to his parent, with no thought of loss or gain, but only of mutual love, respect and the common good.  Hence, fulfilling one’s Sunday obligation only out of fear of mortal sin and consequent eternal punishment (hence a loss), is a non-Christian approach.  In the same way, obeying the Commandments and doing acts of charity merely as prerequisites for Heavenly reward are acts urged by a profit motive, which Jesus would not approve from his followers.  
St Paul says in the Second Reading: "You are God's building!... the Spirit of God dwells in you." At baptism, that's what happened: God took up residence in our souls. It is in human heart that we worship God in spirit and truth, not in a building. We are expected to cleanse our hearts of pride, hatred, jealousy and all evil thoughts and desires so that God can make His dwelling in us.  Let us welcome Jesus into our hearts by repentance and the renewal of our lives.  Let’s drive out the wild animals that do not belong to the holy temple of our body, making a whip of cords by our fasting, penance and alms giving, not just during Lent but all year round, and by going top confession to receive God’s loving forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And above all by moments of prayer life where God can speak to our hearts and we can hear God.