Friday, January 30, 2015

O.T. IV: DEUT 18:15-20; I COR 7:32-35 MK 1:21-28
 Did your mother ever say any of the following to you?
- "I could plant potatoes in those ears."
- "I’m not your maid."
- "If your friends jumped off a cliff does that mean you have to jump  too?"

Perhaps these phrases are familiar to you as well
- "Just wait till you have kids of your own!"
- "Don't talk with food in your mouth!"
- "You weren't born in a barn, so stop acting like you were!"
And of course, the all time classic – "Because I'm your mother, that's why!"
These expressions have been passed from generation to generation. They are expressions of authority - the authority of a parent over a child. Authority however is weaker in some people and stronger in others.
We have all heard parents who say things like "I really mean it this time" and known that it means nothing.
Equally, we have heard others say simply and quietly - "Come here, children" and seen an entire herd of kids tumble into a classroom, waiting for what is to be said next.
Authority and power is not easy to define but it is easy to recognize when we see it.
The common theme of today’s readings is Divine authority- manifested in Jesus’ power to drive out demons.
The Old Testament prophets had taught using God’s delegated authority, and the scribes and Pharisees taught quoting Moses, the prophets and the great rabbis. But Jesus taught using his own authority and knowledge as God. Jesus used his real (or authentic) authority to teach, empower, liberate, and heal others.
The devil is not a fashionable topic for those of us who live in the post-modern world. Yet, the story of Christ's life and ministry simply cannot be told without referring to the devil. The Apostle John, in his First Letter (4:8), actually sums up Jesus' mission with the following words: "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil."
There is a spiritual battle going on beneath and above the surface of human history, and of our personal history. We cannot avoid being involved in this battle as long as we are here on earth - the devil is just too interested in making our lives miserable, now and forever, by separating us from God. The devil is interested in sabotaging the work of grace in us. 
As we read in the book of Genesis, after creating everything God entrusted everything to the care of the first parents. They were made the owners of the earth. Then Satan tricked them and subjected them to himself by getting them go against God’s will; making them believe that by eating the fruit they will become like God. At the time of temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, Satan showing the things of the world, said to Jesus, all these that you can see belongs to me. I will give them to you if you fall down and worship me. To which Jesus did not deny the fact that Satan is the ruler of them. He did not say, no, it belongs to God. Later in John’s gospel Jesus says: the ruler of this world is coming, but he has no power over me. And in the context of the resurrection Jesus said: I have conquered the world. So, with his death Jesus conquered Satan and his power. Those who belong to Jesus by faith and baptism are no longer under the rule of Satan. Satan has no power over them now. Jesus defeated Satan and gave his disciples the power to drive out demons.
Now, will those who have received Jesus not be affected by Satan? Of course they will be. That is why St Peter in his First warns (1 Peter 5:8): "Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."  So we need the courage to resist the Satan.
Leslie Weatherhead once told a parable of a little boy who fled from a witch who had turned herself into a cat. As the boy ran, he kept glancing fearfully over his shoulder. The first time he looked back, the cat was the size of a calf. The next time he looked, it had grown to the dimensions of an elephant. Then the boy fell, and was unable to go farther. Resolutely he got up and faced the pursuing horror. It stopped. So he took a step toward it. It backed away. As he continued to advance toward it, it began to shrink in size as it retreated from him. Finally it changed into a mouse and ran under the door of the witch's cottage to be seen no more. This is what happens when we resist Satan, knowing that we are no longer under him.
I remember one story someone told about how Satan tries to intimidate us. Image a man working under a tyrant who shouts at the employee, humiliates, scolds and beats him. One day a nice gentle man walks in and finds this treatment and offers this man a job in his firm. And he started working for this new employer. One day the old employer walks in and finds his old employee there and starts dictating as he used to before. Now because of the old fear for this employer, the employee couches a little bit and started obeying him out of fear for him. This is what happens for us Christians. We don’t realize that we are no longer under that despotic any more. So we need to assert our freedom and resist him in the name and power of Jesus.
Evil operates as an active force in our world as well as in our souls. When we hear the activities of Boko Haram and ISIS, who would deny that our century is possessed of an evil spirit? This is why we need to pray to Mary who crushed the head of Satan and to St.Michael who defeated Satan in the beginning.

As we continue with this celebration of the Mass, let’s remember that we have been given authority by God, through Jesus Christ, to heal, to proclaim, to change, to bring redemption, and to expel. We are under an imperative from God and we need not fear either principalities or death, for Christ has been given all authority over heaven and earth. Now we need to start applying that authority, using the power of the Cross and the blood of the Lamb. Try to anoint yourself and others everyday by saying the prayer: Abba, Father, purify me (or the one you want to pray for), in the precious blood of Jesus and fill me with your Holy Spirit.

Friday, January 23, 2015

O.T. III SUNDAY JONAH 3: 1-5, 10; I COR 7: 29-31; MARK 1:14-20
The story of Jonah and the Whale is one of the oddest accounts in the Bible. God commanded Jonah to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh. Jonah found this order unbearable. Nineveh was known for its wickedness. It was also the capital of the Assyrian empire, one of Israel's fiercest enemies. Jonah was a stubborn fellow so did just the opposite of what he was told. He went down to the seaport of Joppa and boarded a ship to Tarshish, heading directly away from Nineveh. 
God did not want to leave him. God sent a violent storm, which threatened to break the ship to pieces. The terrified crew cast lots and found that Jonah was responsible for the storm. The waves got stronger and higher. The sailors finally tossed Jonah into the sea, and the water immediately grew calm. But, Jonah was swallowed by a great fish. In the belly of the whale, Jonah repented and cried out to God in prayer.
Jonah was in the giant fish three days. God commanded the whale, and it vomited the reluctant prophet onto dry land. This time Jonah obeyed God. He walked through Nineveh proclaiming that in forty days the city would be destroyed. Surprisingly, the Ninevites believed Jonah's message and repented. God had compassion on them and did not destroy them. Before preaching repentance, Jonah himself needed to repent and come to God’s way and obey him. That made his ministry among the Ninevites more effective and powerful. People could listen to the story of how Jonah was thrown into the sea and finally got repented the hard way.
One day one Christian lady sitting next to a man. When he saw her pull out her Bible he gave a little chuckle and went back to what he was doing. After a while he turned to her and asked "You don't really believe all that stuff in there do you?"
The lady replied "Of course I do! It is the Bible."
He said "Well what about that guy that was swallowed by that whale?"
She replied "Oh, Jonah. Yes I believe that; it is in the Bible. The Bible says Jonah was swallowed by a whale, and I believe it. And if it had said that Jonah had swallowed the whale, I would believe that too!"
He asked "Well, how do you suppose he survived all that time inside the whale?"
The lady said "Well I don't really know. I guess when I get to heaven I will ask him." "What if he isn't in heaven?" the man asked sarcastically.
"Then you can ask him when you reach the hell," replied the lady.
Call to repentance is the message of all the prophets. Prophets called people to turn away and repent. John the Baptist warned people and urged them to repent. Jesus admonished the people to repent in order to prepare themselves to receive the good news. He said, repent the Kingdom of God is at hand. Is the Kingdom of God still only at hand even after 2000 years later? Well, repent, the kingdom of God is at hand, is what Jesus said. So, if we don’t repent, it will always remain only at hand. We will never enter there without repenting.
When Jesus demanded repentance, he demanded a total change of heart. But, we often confuse two things – sorrow for the consequences of sin and sorrow for the sin itself. Many of us feel sorry for a certain action because of the mess it gets us into, but if we can reasonably get out of it we would do it again. It is not the sin that we try to avoid but its consequence. Real repentance is that a man should avoid the sin itself.
Repentance means changing our life-our mind, our spirit, our attitudes, our behavior, our relationships, our plans--long range and short term. It means coming to a new understanding of life's purpose and direction, and acting differently from now on. The graceful ability to change our mind and to change our behavior is the gift of God that we call repentance and faith.
J. Edwin Orr, a professor of Church history has described the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the Protestant Welsh Revivals of the nineteenth century resulting in real metanoia. As people sought to be filled with the Spirit, they did all they could to confess their wrongdoings and to make restitution.  But this created serious problems for the shipyards along the coast of Wales.  Over the years workers had stolen all kinds of things, from wheelbarrows to hammers. However, as people sought to be right with God, they started to return what they had taken, with the result that soon the shipyards of Wales were overwhelmed with returned property. There were such huge piles of returned tools that several of the yards put up signs that read, "If you have been led by God to return what you have stolen, please know that the management forgives you and wishes you to keep what you have taken." 
 In today’s Gospel, Jesus challenges each one of us to revive our lives with a true spirit of repentance. Those of us here today are not mass murderers and devil worshippers. But we still need to repent. We must take all those things out of the top drawer of our hearts, and put Christ there instead.

The disciples Jesus called in today’s gospel made their graceful move by leaving their ordinary business, an honorable one, and their boats and nets, their relatives and families, and enter into discipleship. We all need a repentance, a turning towards Jesus every day, choose him as first, to enter into the kingdom of God. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

O.T. II (B) SUNDAY JN 1: 35-42
All of us here today want to know and follow God's will for our lives. Some more and some less, but all of us share, at least to some degree, that fundamental desire; it's one of the reasons we have come to Mass. This desire is in itself a sign of God's presence in our souls, a sign that he is guiding us. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ have received the same baptism and Catholic formation that we have, and yet, they don't come to Mass anymore. They no longer desire to follow Christ; they have chosen to follow someone else. But somehow God has kept alive in our hearts that prayer uttered so beautifully in today's Psalm: "Here I am, O Lord, I come to do your will." We should be deeply grateful that God has kept that desire burning. But, on the other hand, how can we discover what God's will is?
Today, God is reminding us of one of his most favorite methods of communicating his will: through human messengers. The young prophet Samuel had been chosen to lead and instruct God's people and to anoint the first two Kings of ancient Israel. But when God first started to speak to Samuel's heart, the future spiritual hero didn't even know how to recognize his voice. Eli, his spiritual guide and a priest of God, had to teach him.
John and Andrew had been chosen by God to become two of the twelve pillars of the Church, the Apostles. And yet, Jesus walked right by them on the bank of the River Jordan, and they didn't even recognize him. John the Baptist had to point him out, twice, before they got the message and decided to follow their calling.
When two of John’s disciples follow Jesus, he turns and asks them what they are seeking.  Somewhat confused, they ask Jesus where he is staying.  Jesus does not tell them. Instead, he invites them to “come and see.”  For each of us, belief in Jesus develops in stages, which John appears to be describing.  First, we respond to testimony given by others.  Then, having "seen" where Jesus dwells - we move to commitment based on our own experience of the risen Lord.  Finally, our conversion is completed when we become witnesses for Jesus.  In Andrew's case, his conversion reveals his belief in Jesus as the Messiah. He then brings his brother Peter to Christ.  The evangelist sets out a challenging pattern for evangelization.  The first people to be evangelized preached Jesus in their turn to relatives, friends, and even to strangers.  We, too, must find and grow in faith through the lifelong seeking of God's will, coming to God through Jesus, whom we find in the local Christian community.
A recent survey conducted among members of the Catholic Church found that the majority of those who were interviewed reported having mystical, life-changing experiences with God. But the majority of those who reported having such experiences also said they had never told anyone about them. When they were asked to explain that, most of them answered, "Because people would think I was crazy, or a Jesus freak or something."
Nathan Williams told of two men who had been business partners for over twenty years. They met one Sunday morning as they were leaving a restaurant. One of them asked, "Where are you going this morning?" "I'm going to play golf. What about you?" The first man responded rather apologetically, "I'm going to church." The other man said, "Why don't you give up that church stuff?" The man asked, "What do you mean?" "Well, we have been partners for twenty years. We have worked together, attended board meetings together, and had lunch together, and all of these twenty years you have never asked me about going to church. You have never invited me to go with you. Obviously, it doesn't mean that much to you."
If God is number one in our life, if we had God experience, we cannot keep it bottled up. If we do that, our own faith will wane away. Faith, to grow, has to be shared. A tree when grows, puts out branches. Sometimes we get so much rut in our spiritual activities that they no longer interest us, and we don’t take care to share it with others.
In his book, Finding God in Unexpected Places, author Philip Yancey describes the time he and his wife visited Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone Park. They were having lunch in the lodge, watching the digital clock ticking down the minutes until the next big splash. When the clock reached 30 seconds, diners left their tables and rushed over to the windows overlooking the geyser. When Old Faithful erupted, and all the tourists were ooohing and aahing, Yancey looked over his shoulder and saw that the waitresses and busboys were using this time to clear tables of their dirty dishes and garbage. They had become so familiar with that spectacular eruption that it no longer impressed them; it no longer held their interest.

And Yancey wondered if that isn’t also true in the church? Jesus is the Savior of the world, the Creator of the Universe, the very Son of God who came into our world to die on the cross so that we might have eternal life; and he has become to us, boring in our services. And we are unwilling to give one hour of our time for him on Sunday?

How can we make our services invigorating and nourishing and life-changing? Hold the wonder of the mystery we share each time we come here. Andrew and John even knew exactly at what hour they first met Jesus. Decades and decades after the incident they still remembered that 4.o’clock meeting with the Lord. Like Andrew and his companion I need a quiet hour, a quiet evening, in which the Lord can ask me, "What are you looking for?"  Sometimes my heart may not be sure what exactly my heart is looking for. Am I willing to spend a quiet hour with him everyday, so that I can really know what I am looking for?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Today is the first Sunday of Ordinary Time. We inaugurate Ordinary Time by celebrating the Baptism of Our Lord. Before beginning his public ministry, Jesus was baptized. Though he never sinned, Jesus wanted to identify himself with the sinners, because he came to die on behalf of the sinners. So, he wanted to identify with them, though he was not one of them.
In baptism, God adopts us in his son and shares with us everything that He owns. Imagine you adopt a baby, you would love and treat him the same way you would do with your blood/biological baby. You wouldn’t make any differentiation with both. God does the same way. He loves all of us in the same way he does his own son. It is hard to believe, but it is. What does Jn.3:16..say?
Baptism is the initiation sacrament without which you cannot receive any other sacrament or become heir to God’s heavenly treasures. Imagine you adopted a baby, brought up the baby but did not do the legal procedures required for adoption. What would happen if you die; can the baby get your inheritance? No. The baby has to prove that he was legally adopted and he is your son. The same is with the baptism. It is the adoption certificate. If you don’t have that adoption certificate you are not going to get what your so called dad owns. You cannot enter heaven. So, what will happen for all those not baptized..are they all going to hell? Well, God has given us this ordinary means of salvation. But he can save anybody without baptism. Because he is above the law He gave to us. But why would you want to go against the law and risk your salvation? God has told us that we need to believe and get baptized. Now, we are not sure about those who don’t get baptized. God may or may not save them. Now, if you had a chance to believe and get baptized, and you didn’t, why should save you through an extraordinary means? I don’t think there is a chance for them. If you don’t believe in God’s word why should He save you? If you never had a chance to know Jesus and to believe, it is not your fault. In such case, I believe God will come to your rescue. But not in the case, when you were told and when you knew and still you did not believe and get baptized.
Now, does just the baptism suffice without faith? It would be trying to cheat somebody by faking, and trying to get someone’s assets by tricks. So, faith, a little or more, is important for baptism. Now you would ask does a baby has faith. Well, the parents or god parents vouch for the baby. If a person is not in a state when he/she cannot profess faith, one is baptized in the faith of others, the faith of the Church.
The effect of Baptism is spiritual regeneration. Spiritual regeneration demands a renewed way of thinking and living.
Sarah Jo Sarchet is a Presbyterian pastor in Chicago. A 10 year-old boy in her congregation named Cameron, walked into her office and said he needed to talk to her. Fresh from soccer practice, and wearing his Cincinnati Reds baseball cap, he had a request for her. "I'd like to be baptized," he said. "We were learning about Jesus' baptism in Sunday School. The teacher asked the class who was baptized, and all the other kids raised their hands. I want to be baptized too."
Using her best pastoral care tone of voice, she said, "Cameron, do you really want to be baptized because everyone else is?" His freckles winked up at her and he replied, "No. I want to be baptized because it means I belong to God."
She was touched by his understanding. "Well, then," she said, "How about this Sunday?" His smile turned to concern and he asked, "Do I have to be baptized in front of all those people in the church? Can't I just have a friend baptize me in the river?" She asked where he came up with that idea. "Well, Jesus was baptized by his cousin John in a river, wasn't he?"
Caught off guard, she conceded, "You have a point. But, if a friend baptized you in the river, how would the church recognize it?" Realizing this was a teachable moment, she climbed up on her foot stool to reach for her Presbyterian Book of Order that was located on the highest shelf. But before she placed her hand on the book, he responded.
"I guess by my new way of living" he said.
She nearly fell off the foot stool and left the Book of Order on the shelf. Cameron's understanding was neither childish nor simple. It was profound. Baptism calls us to a new way of living.
Baptism is dying with Christ and rising with Christ.  It is a dying to oneself and living in and for Christ.
There is a story about St.Patrick’s baptism. He would wade out waist-deep into the water and call out for new Christians to come to him, one by one, to receive the sacrament.
Once he baptized a mountain chieftain. Saint Patrick was holding a staff in his hands as the new converts made their way into the water. Unfortunately, as he was lowering the chief down under the water three times, he also pressed his staff down into the river bottom.
Afterwards the people on the riverbank noticed their chief limp back to shore. Someone explained to Patrick that, as he pressed the wooden staff into the riverbed, he must have also bruised the foot of the chief. Patrick went to the chief at once and asked, "Why did you not cry out when I stuck you in the foot?"
Surprised the chief answered, "I remembered you telling us about the nails in the cross, and I thought my pain was part of my baptism."
How many of us would have been baptized if we knew pain was a part of the process. In the Bible repentance is not just remorse for the past, feeling sorry that you did something. In the Bible repentance is making a decision about the future, how you are going to live. It's the realization that God is giving you a new opportunity for life, and seizing that opportunity. Do I see it as an opportunity? Do I see Baptism as elevating me to the status of the child of God?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Today is the feast of Epiphany. The word Epiphany means “manifestation” and is associated with light shining in the darkness. The visit of the magi is considered to be manifestation of light to the Gentile world. The word ‘magi’ is translated here as “wise men.”  ‘Magus’ (singular) meant different things: a magus was a member of the Persian priestly caste; or one who possessed occult knowledge and power (this is the origin of our word ‘magic’).  They were astrologers and they were privy to the secrets of the stars, and the stars held the secrets to the universe. But they were not even Jews.
Tradition calls them “kings” – judging, probably, by the wealth of the gifts they brought.  How could they have known of this birth unless by divine knowledge, when even Herod, the local king had no knowledge of it? At any rate they came looking for a king.  Where do you look for a king?  In a palace.  Who else is likely to be there?  A royal family.  But the Magi came to a cave or a stable where they found a poor family, with animals and perhaps a few shepherds.  All the appearances would have told them they had made a ridiculous mistake, yet “falling to their knees, they did him homage.” 
Our first reading by the Prophet Isaiah foretold that gifts of gold and frankincense would one day be brought from foreign nations in tribute to a child born in Bethlehem.
Though there were three gifts, there could have been more than three Magi. Three important, wealthy, educated men did not start out on a caravan alone in those days. There was probably a large delegation of the School of the Magi who went in that caravan. First of all, they brought gold, and it's significant that in that day gold was presented as a gift only to a king. They brought frankincense. That was a symbol that they believed that Christ was divine, because frankincense was what the Zoroastrians burned on their altars to their pagan gods. It was a symbol of Jesus' divinity. And they also brought myrrh. Myrrh is the ointment of sadness and of death. Myrrh was the precious embalming fluid that the ancients used to preserve dead bodies. And so by their gifts, the Magi expressed the fact, first, that Jesus was a king; second, that he was divine; and, third, that he had come on a mission of sorrow and death.
When the Magi finally reached their destination, what was the first thing they did? They “knelt down and paid him homage” (Matthew 2:11). Here is the bitter irony of God's revelation of himself to us. The first to fall down and worship Jesus Christ as a Divine King were not the Chosen People, not the ones who were supposedly waiting and watching for him, but these were the despised, the hated, the pagans, the heathen. They fell down and worshiped him. They came, as they told Herod, for the expressed purpose of worshiping him.
The Jews were so preoccupied with the pettiness of life that they didn't notice the coming of Christ. Though they were able to consult the scriptures and tell Herod that the Savior will be born in Bethlehem. And the only thing that really concerned them was the reestablishment of the Kingdom of Judah within the Roman Empire, and they were too busy with that to notice that the King of Kings had come.
We can look at the significance of this from many angles.  Preparation is no guarantee that you will be ready; it may actually blind you, because you prepare according to your own preconceived idea.  Your eyes will see only those things that your mind told you to look for. There is no substitute for an open heart; learning sometimes has the effect of closing the heart, and in some cases even the mind. 

The Scripture says that Magi went back home by a different route. And even when they got home, they found that they no longer fitted in? Their eyes had been opened to the mean reality behind the pomp and wealth of Persian court and Babylonian temple. This was no longer their home, because they had received from Christ infinitely more than they had given him: they had received the faith that brings with it the promise of a heavenly homeland. Tradition says they became Christians later.

Christmas demands us to go by another way. Meeting Christ necessitates to leave the old way and take a new way. We are made new when we dare to go home by another way. Bethlehem is a place from which, once you've been there, you cannot go home the same way. The road to Bethlehem and the road from Bethlehem are never the same. You can't bow at the manger and see the world the same again.

A poet reflected on the magi searching for truth and finding their way to Bethlehem. When asked how far they will go for the truth, one magi responded by saying, "Not too far, just far enough so we can say we've been there." Is that us? We will be hanging around the manger for several weeks in this season. The question we must ask is how far down a different path we will let this little town take us. In fact we can never go home the same way we came here, to the church, if we really had seen the Lord in the Eucharist, just as the magi saw him in the manger.

May we in this season go "home by another way," that we might be found by the One who is the way, the truth, and the life.