Friday, February 27, 2015

LENT-II-B-Gen 22: 1-18; Romans 8: 31-34; Mk 9:2-10

Dr. Peggy Hartshorn, president of Heartbeat International, tells a dramatic story about a woman who glimpsed the mystery of her unborn child. The young woman was seeking an abortion. She simply could not handle having a baby at this time. But she agreed to an ultrasound. When the baby appeared on the screen, the woman was amazed to see the perfectly formed body, the tiny legs and arms moving inside her womb. But the woman kept saying, "No, no, I have to have an abortion." Dr. Hartshorn felt sad. He knew that seventy-five percent of women who see an ultrasound decide to keep their baby - but that a quarter, nevertheless, still have the abortion. It seemed like this woman would be in that twenty-five percent. All of sudden, Dr. Hartshorn's assistant said, "Reach out and take your baby's hand." Dr. Hartshorn thought, "Oh, gosh, why is she saying that?" But the woman raised her hand and touched the monitor. As if by some divine cue, the baby stretched out his arm to the exact place of his mom's hand. On the screen his tiny fingers met hers. She kept her baby. There is a mystery inside each one of us - the mystery of the image of God. Today’s Gospel tells us how three of the apostles saw a glimpse, a tiny glimpse, of who Jesus was. That would transform them and sustain them through some dark moments following Jesus’ arrest.

The primary purpose of Jesus’ Transfiguration was to manifest Jesus’ divinity and to allow him to consult his Heavenly Father and ascertain His plan for His Son’s suffering, death and resurrection.  God’s secondary aim was to make Jesus’ chosen disciples aware of his Divine glory, so that they might discard their worldly ambitions and dreams of a conquering political Messiah and might be strengthened in their time of trial. On the mountain, Jesus is identified by the Heavenly Voice as the Son of God. Describing Jesus’ Transfiguration, the Gospel gives us a glimpse of the Heavenly glory awaiting those who do God’s will by putting their trusting Faith in Him.

Robert Louis Stevenson tells the story about a ship that was in serious trouble in a storm. A passenger on that ship, defying orders, made his way to the pilot, who seeing the fear on the passenger's face gave him a smile of assurance. Relieved, the traveler returned to his cabin and said, "I have seen the face of the pilot. He smiled and all is well."
There are times in life when we need to see our pilot face-to-face. That's what happened in this mystical story that the Church calls the Transfiguration of Christ. Peter, James and John were there. Moses and Elijah showed up from the past. They have an experience that is mystical and out of this world.
Moses had met the Lord in the burning bush at Mount Horeb (Exodus 3:1-4).  After his encounter with God, Moses' face shone so brightly that the people were frightened, and Moses had to wear a veil over his face (Exodus 34:29-35). The Jews believed that Moses was taken up in a cloud at end of his earthly life (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 4. 326). Elijah traveled for forty days to Mt. Horeb on the strength of the food brought by an angel (1 Kings 19:8).  At Mt. Horeb, Elijah sought refuge in a cave as the glory of the Lord passed over him (1 Kings 19:9-18).  Finally, Elijah was taken directly to Heaven in a chariot of fire without seeing death (2 Kings 2:11 -15).  These representatives of the Law and the Prophets – Moses and Elijah - foreshadowed Jesus, who is the culmination of the Law and the Prophets.  Both earlier prophets were initially rejected by the people but vindicated by God.  This is what will happen to Jesus also.
The book of Exodus describes how God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai from the cloud.  God often made appearances in a cloud and the Jews generally believed that the phenomenon of the cloud would be repeated when the Messiah arrived.  God’s words from the cloud, “This is My beloved Son; listen to him,” are similar to the words used by God at Jesus' baptism: “You are My beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” Mark 1:11). At the moment of Jesus’ death, a Roman centurion would declare, “Truly, this man was the Son of God” (15:39).  These words summarize the meaning of the Transfiguration, that on this mountain, God revealed Jesus as His Son -- His beloved -- the One in whom He is always well pleased and the One to whom we must listen.

Jesus did not stay on the mountain for long. He came down to the valley with his disciples where he started to work on the plan he knew that was his. We too cannot stay too long in our mountain top experiences. On the mountain we encounter our faith's heritage; in the valley, we encounter those who consider questions of faith as occasions for battle. On the mountain, the glory of God is revealed; in the valley, the power of sin and unbelief is revealed.

A little boy was out in his backyard, throwing a ball up in the air. An elderly passerby, not accustomed to such youthful delights, asked the boy what he was doing. He replied, “I am playing a game of catch with God. I throw the ball up in the air and he throws it back.”
I am in no position to comment on God’s ability to play ball, but I do know that whatever goes up must come down, said the man. “There may be exceptions, such as Charlie Brown’s kite! But as a rule, whatever goes up must come down. The process is so predictable that you could refer to it as a scientific law”. The same process applies to our religious lives. It is a good thing to “go up” to a great experience with God, but we will become greatly disillusioned if we do not remember that eventually we have to “come down” again.
In the valleys of life cross will be waiting for us. But we are assured of the Father’s love for us in our sufferings. Our sufferings are designed to strengthen us. Helen Keller says: “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

Let the feast of transfiguration give us the grace to cooperate with the grace of God with the assistance of the  Holy Spirit to transform our lives by renewing them during Lent and to radiate the grace of the transfigured Lord around us by our Spirit-filled lives. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Lent-1-B-Gen 9:8-15; 1 Peter 3: 18-22; Mk 1:12-15 
The primary purpose of Lent is spiritual preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ death and Resurrection. The Church tries to achieve this goal, leading her children to  “repentance” by the reordering of their priorities and the changing of their values, ideals and ambitions, through fasting, prayer and self-control. 
Mark, presents Jesus as the new Israel, and presents with almost shocking brevity, three major events in the history of Israel as happening in the life of Jesus: In a new exodus Jesus recapitulates the journey of Israel from Egypt. His baptism represents the crossing of the Red Sea, Jesus’ temptation in the desert, represents the Hebrews’ 40 years in the desert, their test and failure, and the result that all except Joshua and Caleb died in the desert;  and Jesus’ preaching good news is compared to the entry into the promised land.
(The Gospel says that Jesus fasted in the desert for forty days. The Old Testament is replete with examples of the use of forty: God punished mankind by sending a flood over the earth that lasted forty days and forty nights (Gen 7:12); the people of Nineveh repented with forty days of fasting when Jonah preached the destruction of Nineveh (Jonah 3:4); Moses and the Hebrew people
wandered in the desert for forty years (Num 14:34); the Prophet Ezekiel had to lie on his right side for forty days as a figure of the siege that was to bring Jerusalem to destruction (Ez 4:6); the Prophet Elijah fasted and prayed on Mount Horeb for forty days (1 Kings 19:8); and, Moses fasted forty days and forty nights while on Mt. Sinai (Ex 34:28). )

No sooner was the glory of the honour of Baptism was over than there came the battle of the temptations in the life of Jesus. The great lesson it imparts is that we cannot miss temptations. In this life it is impossible to escape the assault of temptations. But, temptations are sent to us not to make us fall; they are sent to strengthen us. They are not meant for our ruin, but for our good. They are meant to be tests from which we emerge better warriors of God.

The temptations Jesus faced and defeated help us to understand the conflicts that were in Jesus' own life and which will be found in ours too.  Instead of yielding to the temptations, Jesus said a firm “Yes” to his Father's plan, even when it came to giving over his life.    
There are two equally damning lies Satan wants us to believe: 1) Just once won't hurt. 2) Now that you have ruined your life, you are beyond God's use, and might as well enjoy sinning. With convincing lies he traps us.
A story is told of four high school boys who couldn't resist the temptation to skip morning classes. Each had been smitten with a bad case of spring fever. After lunch they showed up at school and reported to the teacher that their car had a flat tire. Much to their relief, she smiled and said, "Well, you missed a quiz this morning, so take your seats and get out a pencil and paper." Still smiling, she waited as they settled down and got ready for her questions. Then she said, "First question--which tire was flat?"
No lie has ever remained uncovered forever. To cover one lie a chain of lies are needed.
An ancient rabbi said, “Sin begins as a spider’s web and becomes a ship’s rope.” You and I add those strands that change the spider’s web into a rope; but because we add just one strand at a time, and because each one is usually so small, we don’t realize what we’re constructing. Sometimes, on the other hand, the growth seems to happen almost of its own accord. It is as if we planted a seed in the soil of the soul by some small act of sin and, without our seeming to attend it or care for it, it develops into a full-grown tree. Sometimes, verily, a forest!
The basic, underlying temptation that Jesus shared with us is the temptation to treat God as less than God. We may not be tempted to turn stones into bread, but we are constantly tempted to mistrust God’s readiness to empower us to face our trials. None of us is likely to put God to the test by leaping from a cliff, but we are frequently tempted to question God’s helpfulness when things go awry; we forget the sure promise, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9).
Mark says that the Angels were helping him. Jesus was not alone to fight his battle. Neither are we. We are always supported by God and Men, when we begin our battle. While God allows us to experience temptations, He never gives us more of these than we can bear. He will give us means to overcome our sinful habits with His guidance and grace through prayer. 
Like Jesus during this lent, we should go into the desert of ourselves and face our demons there; otherwise we will project them onto other people and try to destroy them by destroying people. We do not become good by fighting evil  -  we become good by doing good. 
The desert is a place where our illusions of self-sufficiency and comfort fade away. When we are in the desert, either literally or figuratively, we quickly realize that we need God. In other words, the desert is the opposite of the Garden of Eden. It is the place of suffering and hardship that sin has led us to.
Lent should be a time for personal reflection on where we stand as Christians accepting the Gospel challenges in thought, word and deed.  It is also a time to assess our relationships with our family, friends, working colleagues and the other people we come in contact with, especially in our parish. 

During this Lent, let’s fight daily against the evil within us and around us by practicing self-control relying on the power of prayer and Scripture. Let’s open ourselves to the invitation of Jesus to repent and believe in the Gospel.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

O.T.VI-B-Lev 13:1-2, 44-46; 1 Cor 10:31–11:1; Mk 1:40-45
All three readings of today contain the Christian teaching on the need for social acceptance even when people are different from us. The first reading shows the ancient Jewish attitude toward leprosy and the rules for quarantining lepers. According to the Mosaic Law leapers had to dress in torn clothes, keep their hair unkempt, and their life became a long period of mourning and estrangement. Leprosy struck the healthy with terror just as Aids and Ebola have in recent times. Isolation wards are essential and the victim must not be touched by unprotected human contact.
No Jew would have ever touched a leper. The mere touch  rendered him legally impure. Jesus ignored the law. Jesus could have just spoken a healing word, he could have raised his hand to bless, without making any bodily human contact. But notice how Jesus’ gesture of touch is stressed: he stretched out his hand and touched the leper. And immediately he is healed.
Why does Jesus insist on touching him and what is the significance of this miracle? The reason for touch is simple. Jesus touched him ‘out of compassion’. He was able to sympathize with the suffering of the leper so that he willed to bring him out of his isolation. So many of Jesus’ miracles involve touch because it expresses powerfully the way the loneliness which comes with illness and stigma is overcome.
St. Francis of Assisi, for instance, understood this. At one time in his life, he had a terrible fear of lepers. Then one day when he was out for a walk, he heard the warning bell that lepers were required to ring in the Middle Ages. When a leper emerged from a clump of trees, St. Francis saw that he was horribly disfigured. Half of his nose had been eaten away; his hands were stubs without fingers and his lips were oozing white pus. Instead of giving in to his fears, Francis ran forward, embraced the leper and kissed him. Francis’ life was never the same after that episode. He had found a new relationship with God, a new sensitivity to others and a new energy for his ministry.
The Memminger Institute in Topeka, Kansas once had a fascinating experiment. They identified a group of crib babies who did not cry. It seems that babies cry because they instinctively know that this is the way to get attention. Crying is their way of calling out. These babies, however, had been in abusive situations. Their parents let them cry for hours on end and never responded. The babies eventually quit crying. It is almost as if they had learned that it was not worth trying.
So the Memminger Institute came in for an experiment. They got some people from retirement and from nursing homes, and every day these people held these babies and rocked them. The object was to get these babies to start crying again. And it really worked. Physical touch had made the difference.
Marcel Gerber was sent by a United Nations committee to study the effects of protein deficiency on Ugandan children. She found, to her surprise, that Uganda's infants were developmentally the most advanced in the world. It was only after two years of age that the children began to be seriously damaged by such things as tribal taboos and food shortages. Ugandan infants were almost constantly held by their mothers and mother surrogates. They went everywhere with their mothers. The physical contact with the mother and the constant movement seemed to be the factors that propelled these infants to maturity beyond Western standards.

Many young parents today understand this principle and make it a practice to massage their infants. That's a wise practice. We all have a need to be touched. Studies have shown that touching has physiological benefits--even for adults. One researcher made numerous studies on the effects of the practice many Christians recognize called "laying on of hands." She discovered that when one person lays hands on another, the hemoglobin levels in the bloodstreams of both people go up, which means that body tissues receive more oxygen, producing more energy and even regenerative power. 
As important as physical touch is there is another kind of touch that is even more important. It is spiritual touch. This is that special touch that influences and impacts the lives of people.
As the family of God we are called upon to reach out and touch the lives of the least, the last, the lost, and the lonely.
St Paul speaks in the second reading of respecting both Jews and Greeks. He knew too well how they could hate and stigmatize each other. But the isolating barriers which kept them apart were finally overcome through the death of Christ.
We need to tear down the walls that separate us from others and build bridges of loving relationship. Jesus calls every one of us to demolish the walls that separate us from each other and to welcome the outcasts and the untouchables of society. These include homosexuals, AIDS victims, alcoholics, drug addicts and marginalized groups such as the divorced, the unmarried, single mothers, migrant workers and the mentally ill. God's loving hand must reach out to them through us. Jesus wants us to touch their lives. When new members come to our Church, we need to reach out and communicate with them; make them feel at home in our parish. Let us pass beyond the narrow circles of our friends and peers and try to relate to those who may be outside the bounds of propriety.  Remember the old African-American children’s song reminding us that there is room for everyone in God's Kingdom: "All God's creatures got a place in the choir, some sing low and some sing higher. Some sing out loud on a telephone wire and some just clap their hands or paws or anything they've got."

Friday, February 6, 2015

O.T.V.-B JOB 7:1-4, 6-7; I COR 9: 16-19, 22-23; MK 1: 29-39 
The Book of Job is an intense meditation on the problem of innocent suffering.  Job compares human life to a drudgery because of his suffering and restless nights.  His ‘comforters’ tell him to repent, believing (as people did at that time) that all suffering was because of sin.  Job who is innocent refuses to give up his trust in God's love.

The Gospel presents “Jesus as the hand of God's compassion stretched out to us.”  Jesus spent most of his time ministering to the needs of others, giving healing, forgiveness and a new beginning to many. Yet, Jesus rose early morning and went off "to a deserted place" to pray, in order to assess his work before God his Father and to recharge his spiritual batteries. 

Jesus was convinced that if he were going to spend himself for others by his preaching and healing ministry, he would repeatedly have to summon spiritual reinforcements. He knew that he could not live without prayer, because his teaching and healing ministry drained off power. For example, after describing how the woman who had touched Jesus’ garment was instantly healed, Mark remarks: “Jesus knew that power (energy) had gone out of him” (5: 30).If healing drains the power off, he had to refresh himself for further service. Our daily activities drain us also of our spiritual power and vitality. Our mission of bearing witness to God requires spiritual energy which comes to us through daily anointing by the Holy Spirit. Hence, we, too, need to be recharged spiritually and rejuvenated every day by prayer – listening to God and talking to Him.
How often do we spend time alone with God? When are you alone?
Not when we are at work. Not when we are on the phone.
Not when we are on-line. Not when we are awaiting a return text-message. Not when we are watching TV. Not when we are listening to the news. But then when are we alone? Are we too busy? B.U.S.Y stands for Being Under Satan’s Yoke. Am I under Satan’s yoke? Most of the time at the end of the day we are burned out. Burn out is not the result of too much activity. It is the result of the wrong kind of activity. One saint said: A Christian should pray at least half an hour every day, except when he is busy, when he is busy he should pray an hour.

Take some time to energize our life and the life of others by taking time to pray. Faith is a social practice, but one that requires solitude and silence. It is not too much to say that all real growth in the spiritual life-all victory over temptation, depend upon the practice of secret prayer.
A father took his small son with him to town one day to run some errands. When lunchtime arrived, the two of them went to a familiar diner for a sandwich. The father sat down on one of the stools at the counter and lifted the boy up to the seat beside him. They ordered lunch, and when the waiter brought the food, the father said, "Son, we'll just have a silent prayer." Dad got through praying first and waited for the boy to finish his prayer, but he just sat with his head bowed for an unusually long time. When he finally looked up, his father asked him, "What in the world were you praying about all that time?" With the innocence and honesty of a child, he replied, "How do I know? It was a silent prayer."

Max Lucado says: Prayer reminds us of who is in charge. We don’t take our requests to someone with less authority. We take them to someone who outranks us in the solutions department.
The same is true in prayer. We don’t pray just to let God know what’s going on. He’s way ahead of us on that one. We pray to transfer “my will be done” to “God’s will be done.”  And, since he’s in charge, he knows the best solution. Prayer transfers the burden to God and He lightens our load. Prayer pushes us through life’s slumps, propels us over the humps, and pulls us out of the dumps. More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of. With prayer we can accomplish in half a day what we can accomplish in half year. Prayer is the key which unlocks the door of God's treasure-house.

Why are many Christians so often defeated?  Because they pray so little.  Why are many church-workers so often discouraged and disheartened?  Because they pray so little.
Most of the time why we don’t pray is due to lack of confidence that God will answer our prayer.

A traveller in China visited a heathen temple on a great feast-day.  Many were the worshippers of the hideous idol enclosed in a sacred shrine.  The visitor noticed that most of the devotees brought with them small pieces of paper on which prayers had been written or printed.  These they would wrap up in little balls of stiff mud and fling at the idol.  He enquired the reason for this strange proceeding, and was told that if the mud ball stuck fast to the idol, then the prayer would assuredly be answered; but if the mud fell off, the prayer was rejected by the god.

We know we don’t have to take chances like that. All the petitions we throw out at our God will be caught by him and none of them will fall to the ground and remain unanswered.

In his life Jesus had time for prayer, time for healing and time for reconciliation. Let’s keep in mind, that we cannot succeed without slowing down and finding quiet time with God. Let’s resolve now, not only our community prayer in the Church but our personal prayer will be placed on the priority list.