Saturday, September 19, 2015

OT XXV [B] Wis 2:12, 17-20; Jas 3:16--4:3; Mk 9:30-37
There was a story a number of years ago that was carried in the newspapers and in Time magazine. Mary Frances "Frankie" Housley was the lone stewardess on National Airlines flight 83 which crashed after landing at Philadelphia Airport in January, 1951. Frankie Housley had made 10 trips into that burning plane... to help passengers get out. As soon as she had finished getting all of the passengers to safety Housley also started to jump from the plane. But just before she made her escape, a passenger on the ground screamed, “My baby, my baby!” Flight attendant Mary Housley turned back into the plane to find the baby, and that was the last time anyone saw her alive. She died in the attempt to save the baby, and rescue workers found her charred body holding the four-month-old baby in her arms. The story of her courage made national headlines, including an item in Time magazine. One passenger called her a "real heroine." A congressman labeled her the bravest American in history. 

Today’s Gospel challenges Christians to serve others with Frankie’s dedication and sacrificial commitment.
The readings invite us to become great in the sight of God by doing God’s will, as Jesus did,  surrendering our lives in humble service of others.

The second reading is in tune with the dispute among the apostles about who is the greatest. James warns us that selfish ambitions destroy peace and cause conflicts and war. He advises us to choose the path of righteousness and humble service which leads to lasting peace. Jesus also teaches his apostles that child-like humility and loving, selfless service make one great in the eyes of God.
St Augustine wrote: “Observe a tree, how it first reaches downwards so that it may then shoot upwards. It sinks its roots deep into the ground so that its top may reach towards the skies.  Is it not from humility that it endeavors to grow? But without humility it will not reach higher.   You want to grow up into the air without roots.  That is not growth, but collapse.”

It is the ego, the false self, that looks for promotion; the real self, the self that comes every moment from the hand of God, doesn't need it or look for it. 
When Jesus and his apostles sit down to relax in Capernaum after a day of walking the hot, dusty roads of Galilee, he knows exactly what they have been talking about - success, glory, greatness.
But the apostles are too embarrassed to admit it; they suspect that their interest in worldly success is a too self-centered to be praiseworthy. But our Lord's response is surprising. He doesn't tell them that they shouldn’t desire to excel, to achieve, to do great things. He doesn't condemn that very normal impulse - because he knows that achieving things, making a difference in the world, is a basic need felt by every human heart. This is one of the purposes of our lives: being a sign of God's goodness by making a positive difference in the world. So Jesus doesn't scold them for wanting to do something great. Instead, he tells them what true greatness really is.

Greatness in Christ's Kingdom is equated with humility, an attitude of the heart that puts the good of others ahead of one's own preferences: it's self-giving, not self-getting. He doesn't say to his apostles, "Don't strive to achieve great things," but he does point out where true, lasting, fulfilling greatness lies - in loving one's neighbor as Christ has loved them. Jesus is the Servant-Lord; we, his faithful disciples, are called to follow in those demanding footsteps.
When Jesus said the paradox of the first becoming the last: he was standing conventional wisdom on its head. The truly great person is a diakonos -- a deacon; a servant; a person who spends his/her day taking loving care of other people.
Mother Teresa puts it like this: “Be the living expression of God's kindness through humble service. Show kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile and kindness in your warm greeting.”

The two conditions of true greatness are humility and loving service. Turning to Jesus who emptied himself taking the form of a servant, sacrificed his life for redemption of humanity, let’s ask for the grace to learn humility and humble service from him and lay down our life in the service of our brothers and sisters.

Friday, September 11, 2015

OT XXIV [B]Is 50:5-9a; Jas 2:14-18; Mk 8:27-35

Every photographer knows the importance of having the camera lens in focus before triggering the shutter. You can set the right shutter speed. You can open the lens to its proper setting. But if that lens is not in focus, the picture will be worthless.

Anyone who's trying to sell something these days knows the importance of having an accurate focus on the market for which a product is intended. Whether you're trying to sell soap or soft drinks, it's necessary to know exactly which people will most likely purchase your product. On what age group or sector of the public do you focus your advertising?

So Jesus realized that if people were going to follow him, and if his followers were going to be truly effective Christians in the world, they needed to know exactly who he was. They also needed to know precisely what was involved in being a Christian. If his disciples did not know who he really was, then his entire ministry, suffering and death would be useless.

That's probably one reason why he asked this simple, but all-important question in the gospel reading. "Tell me," he says, "who do people say I am?"
When the people identified Jesus with Elijah and Jeremiah they were paying him a great compliment and setting him in a high place. Then came the most important question, "Who do you say I am?" With this question Jesus reminds us that our knowledge of Jesus must never be at second hand. Christianity never consists in knowing about Jesus; it always consists in knowing Jesus. Jesus demands a personal verdict from every Christian.

"Who do you say I am?" When this question was addressed to Peter, his answer was, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." His answer was correct. Jesus complimented him for his right answer. But then the way he reacted to Jesus’ next statement that the Son of man should suffer and die, shows that Peter really didn’t know the exact implications of his answer. It is something like you ask your kid to solve a math problem from his Math book. And after some time he comes up with the right answer. And you ask him how did he get this answer? And you find out that he didn’t know because  he cheated the answer from the back of the text book. Father revealed him the answer. But Peter had to find out the way to get there himself, by gradually living with Jesus and observing him personally.
For the last 20 centuries this question has been repeatedly addressed to a number of Christians; and their lives depended on the answer they found for this question. During the first three centuries, the Church boasts about eleven million martyrs who fertilized the tree of faith with their blood. They found the right answer looking at the life of Jesus and those others martyred before them.  
The four Gospels are filled with demands straight from the mouth of Jesus Christ. These demands are Jesus' way of showing us who he is and what he expects of us. Jesus never sugarcoats his call to discipleship; to be his faithful friend will involve sharing in his cross, there is no way around it. But crosses, when borne together with Christ, always lead to resurrections.

How many advertisements do we think most of us see or listen to every day? Probably at least 14,15. And what is the message behind almost all of those advertisements? In some form or another, each one of them is telling us that we can have more happiness if we have less inconvenience, which this particular product or service can provide for us. And most of the propaganda mega churches will never tell you that there is a cross in Christianity. They gulp down the most important message of the Gospel: the cross. In other words, our consumer culture is convinced that lasting joy comes with diminishing crosses.

But God has showed us that true lasting joy, Christian joy, includes the cross. If we follow him on the path of self-denial, "losing" our self-centered lives in order to be faithful to him and his Kingdom, we will "find" true life, life in communion with God.

As we continue with this holy Mass, in which Jesus will unite our crosses to his, let's thank him for giving meaning to our sufferings, and promise to help spread that meaning to others.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

OT XXIII [B]  Is 35: 4-7a; Jas 2: 1-5;   Mk 7: 31-37

Telemachus was a monk who lived in Asia Minor about the year AD 400. During his life the gladiatorial games were very popular. The gladiators were usually slaves or political prisoners who were condemned to fight each other unto death for the amusement of the crowd. People were fascinated by the sight of spurting blood.

Telemachus was very much disturbed that the Christian Emperor Honorius sponsored these games and that so many people who called themselves Christians went to see them. What could be further from the Spirit of Christ than the horrible cruelty of the gladiatorial games? The church was opposed to the games and spoke out against them, but most people would not listen because they were deaf to God's unbounded message of love.

Telemachus realized that talking about this evil was not enough. It was time to do something. But what could he accomplish - one lone monk against the whole Roman Empire? He was unknown. He had no power. And the games had been entrenched in Roman life for centuries. Nothing that he could possibly do would ever make a difference.

For a long time Telemachus agonized about the problem. Finally he could not live with himself any longer. For the integrity of his own soul he decided to obey Christ's Spirit within him, regardless of the consequences. He set out for Rome.

When Telemachus entered the city, the people he met had gone mad with excitement. "To the Coliseum! The games are about to begin!"

Telemachus followed the crowd. Soon he was seated among all the other people. Far away in a special place he saw the emperor.

The gladiators came out into the center of the arena. Everybody was tense. Everybody was quiet. Now the two strong young men drew their swords. The fight was on! One of them would probably die in a few minutes. Who would it be?

But just at that moment, Telemachus rose from his seat and ran into the arena. He held high the cross of Christ and threw himself between the two combatants.

"In the name of our Master," he cried, "Stop fighting!" The two men hesitated. Nothing like this had ever happened before. They did not quite know what to do.

But the spectators were furious. Telemachus had robbed them of their anticipated entertainment! They yelled wildly and stampeded toward the center of the arena. They became a mob. With sticks and stones they beat Telemachus to death.

Far down there in the arena lay the little battered body of the monk. Suddenly the mob grew quiet. A feeling of revulsion at what they had done swept over them. Their once deaf ears sensed a stirring. Emperor Honorius rose and left the coliseum. The people followed him. Abruptly the games were over.

Honorius sensed the mood of the crowd. His ears too were opened. He issued an edict forbidding all future gladiatorial games. Honorius' ears had been opened to the violence and dehumanization of the games. As a result he was able to speak.

So it was that in about the year A.D. 404, because one individual, filled with the love of Christ, dared to say no, all gladiatorial games ceased.
In today's Gospel, which describes the miraculous healing of a deaf mute, we are invited to open our ears and eyes, loosen our tongues and pray for the courage of our Christian convictions to become the voice of the voiceless.
 We need to allow Jesus to heal our spiritual deafness and muteness. We may find it hard to speak to God in prayer and harder still to hear Him speaking to us through the Bible and through the Church. This may be because many of us are satisfied with what we have learned in catechism class and we don’t want to hear more about our Faith through further study of the Bible or the teachings of the Church. It is not infrequent to meet Catholics who are highly qualified in their secular professions but are basically illiterate in their Faith.
Hence, let us imitate the dumb man in the Gospel by seeking out Jesus, following him away from the crowd and spending more of our time in coming to know  him intimately as we study Holy Scripture and to experience him directly in our lives in personal prayer. Our growing awareness of the healing presence of Jesus in our lives will open our ears and loosen our tongues, and will bring transformation in the world like Telemachus did.