Saturday, April 30, 2016

Easter VI : Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Rv 21:10-14, 22-23; Jn 14: 23-29
St. Francis of Assisi was an ardent advocate of the doctrine of the indwelling of God in man. It enabled him to love everyone equally whatever his status in life. One day he met a fellow who had no love for God. As they walked along they met a man who was blind and paralyzed. St. Francis asked the sightless cripple: “Tell me if I were to restore your eyesight and the use of your limbs, would you love me?” “Ah,” replied the beggar, “I would not only love you but I would be your slave for the rest of my life.” “See,” said Francis to the man who maintained that he could not love God, “this man would love me if I gave him his sight and his health. Why don’t you love God Who created you with eyesight and strong limbs?” That is what Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel. If we love him because of the countless blessings he has given us by “keeping his words” he will start dwelling within us in the company of his Father and the Holy Spirit, making us the temples of the Triune God.

The first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, tells us how the Holy Spirit, dwelling in the Church, helped the apostles to solve a major doctrinal problem, which shook the very foundation of the early Church. The first major controversy in the infant Church was about "what one needs to do to be saved."  For the first 15 to 20 years of the Christian era, all Jesus’ followers were Jewish.  During that period, any Gentiles who wanted to become Jesus’ disciples were expected first to become Jews. They had to attend Sabbath synagogue services and keep the 613 Torah laws.  This situation began to change when a few “liberal” Christian communities like the newly founded Church of the Gentiles in Antioch, began to admit Gentiles into their number without demanding that they first be converted to Judaism.  Some of the Judeo-Christians from Judea and Jerusalem argued that the new Gentile converts must observe the Mosaic Law of circumcision, dietary regulations, purification rituals, etc.  The issue couldn't be settled on a local level, although Paul and Barnabas tried that at first.  Hence, they had to go to Jerusalem to consult the apostles.  The apostles convened the first synod at Jerusalem and, with the clear leading of the Holy Spirit, decided that the Gentiles need not become Jews first, to be saved as Christians.  The decision was momentous for two reasons.  First, it marked a significant break of Christianity with Judaism. Second, it put the burden of salvation on God rather than on man.  In other words, it is God’s love that saves us -- not prayers, sacrifices or keeping of the Law, which are only expressions of our gratitude to God.  Thus the Holy Spirit was able to solve the cause of dissention by inspiring the leaders of the Church.

 Jesus is quite forthright in today's Gospel as he speaks to the disciples at the Last Supper. He tells them he is to die, he has to leave them. He does not deny the hard facts of the case. But even as he describes their condition without him, he is assuring them it is only temporary. "I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you." Another, Advocate, the Holy Spirit will come to you and he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.
The role of the Holy Spirit is twofold: a) to "teach" the disciples and b) to “remind" them of what Jesus has already taught them” (v. 26).  Jesus affirms that even though He will no longer be visible with them, he will continue to be present among them through the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of truth will continue teaching them and helping them to understand and to build on what Jesus has already taught them.  The Advocate will bring no new revelation because God has already revealed Himself in Jesus.  But the Advocate will deepen their understanding of the revelation given by Jesus.

The Holy Spirit is the abiding love of God available to us, enabling us to accept the friendship of Jesus, while imitating Him, the Master.   Then he gives us His peace to strengthen us against fear in the face of trouble. Here "peace" is not just the absence of conflict, but also the far wider concept of shalom, the total well-being of the person and community. 
Jesus says that the peace He offers is different from the one that the world gives. When the Christian community remains united like Jesus is united with his father the gift of peace will pervade in our communities too. The peace of Jesus comes to us when we obediently submit ourselves to God’s Divine Will through the authority of the Church. Then we are blessed with Divine peace; we are no longer troubled or afraid.

We must deepen our relationship with Jesus, learn to get in touch with him, and sincerely love him.  When we listen to the Holy Spirit, we will   know His plan for our life and His solutions to whatever problems we face.   The Holy Spirit teaches us through the Scriptures and preaching during the Holy Mass as well as in our prayer and our private reading of Scripture.

In these last days of Easter let us open up to the Holy Spirit; whom we received when we were baptized and confirmed, so that he may share with us the peace of Christ which Jesus left for us before he went up to heaven.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Easter V [C] Acts 14: 21-27; Rv 21: 1-5a; Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35
In 1921, Lewis Lawes became the warden at Sing Sing Prison in New York state. No prison was tougher than Sing Sing during that time. But when Warden Lawes retired some 20 years later, that prison had become a humanitarian institution. Those who studied the system said credit for the change belonged to Lawes. But when he was asked about the transformation, here's what he said: "I owe it all to my wonderful wife, Catherine, who is buried outside the prison walls." Catherine Lawes was a young mother with three small children when her husband became the warden. Everybody warned her from the beginning that she should never set foot inside the prison walls, but that didn't stop Catherine! When the first prison basketball game was held, she went ... walking into the gym with her three beautiful kids, and she sat in the stands with the inmates. Her attitude was: "My husband and I are going to take care of these men and I believe they will take care of me! I don't have to worry." She insisted on getting acquainted with them and their records. She discovered one convicted murderer was blind so she paid him a visit. Holding his hand in hers she said, "Do you read Braille?" "What's Braille?" he asked. Then she taught him how to read. Years later he would weep in love for her. Later, Catherine found a deaf-mute in prison. She went to school to learn how to use sign language. Many said that Catherine Lawes was the body of Jesus that came alive again in Sing Sing from 1921 to 1937. Then, she was killed in a car accident. The next morning Lewis Lawes didn't come to work, so the acting warden took his place. It seemed almost instantly that the prison knew something was wrong. The following day, her body was resting in a casket in her home, three-quarters of a mile from the prison. As the acting warden took his early morning walk he was shocked to see a large crowd of the toughest, hardest-looking criminals gathered like a herd of animals at the main gate. He came closer and noted tears of grief and sadness. He knew how much they loved Catherine. He turned and faced the men, "All right, men, you can go. Just be sure and check in tonight!" Then he opened the gate and a parade of criminals walked, without a guard, the three-quarters of a mile to stand in line to pay their final respects to Catherine Lawes. And every one of them checked back in. Every one! They learned the commandment of love as practiced by Catherine.

Today’s Gospel passage gives us the secret of Christian renewal as the faithful practice of Jesus’ new commandment:  “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13: 35). Jesus has added a new element to the Old Testament command of love by telling us that the true test of discipleship is to love other people in the same way that he has loved us. The basis of the new law was his own life. The love that Jesus showed was different from the one that they had experienced. His love was sacrificial. Love becomes meaningful only when its demands for sacrifice are accepted.
Edwards VIII ascended the throne of the British Empire after the death of his father. But his proposal to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorced American Socialite, led to a constitutional crisis in British Empire. Religious, legal, political and moral objections were raised. Mrs Simpson was perceived to be an unsuitable consort to him. But King Edward was not ready to give up his love for the throne. The conservative leaders and people were unwilling for any compromise. Edward abdicated his throne for the realization of his love.

Jesus’ love for the humanity is characterized by great sacrifices. He left his immortal and radiant form and assumed mortal body and came down to earth. On earth he experienced rejection and persecution. He accepted even crucifixion to show his love for his people. And Jesus told his disciples “love one another as I have loved you.”
When Jesus tells us “love one another as I have loved you” our love too should be ready to accept sacrifices for the sake of our love. We should be able to sacrifice our ego. We should be able to sacrifice our comforts. We should be willing to sacrifice our likes and dislikes. We should be able to sacrifice our choices.

Secondly, Jesus’ love is full of understanding. He knew his disciples through and through. He knew that the disciples would flee at the moment of his trial. He knew that they would disperse after his death. But he understood the circumstances which made them react in such a manner. The understanding that was seen in the early Christian communities made them unique. Tertullian, a great Christian writer and leader from North Africa in the second century, gave an account of a mass turning to Christ.  What prompted them to do it was the life of the early Christian communities.  Unlike their hate-dominated clubs and societies they saw the emergence of a strikingly different community with unusual love and understanding. This experience attracted them to accept Christian life.
Thirdly, Jesus’ love is forgiving. He told Peter that he would deny him three times before the cock crew. But Jesus was ready to forgive Peter. When the people brought the woman caught in adultery to be stoned, she felt secure before the forgiving eyes of Jesus. She felt reassured of God’s love and forgiveness. Even on the cross Jesus promised paradise to the repentant thief and prayed for those who crucified him. Never has there been a concrete realization of such a forgiving love. When Jesus gave the new commandment of love to his disciples, he expects the same forgiving love from each one of us.

In the Eucharist we see how practical Christ’s love for us is. He laid down his life for us in an outpouring of love, and he gives us the strength to follow his example.
Bolstered with Jesus’ very strength in Holy Communion, let's make our first priority every day to "love one another as Christ has loved us." Let’s beg him to set our hearts on fire with love, and to give us the strength to love others as he has loved us: to the end. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Acts 5:12-16; Rev 1:9-1, 12-13,17-19; Jn 20:19-31                                                        
On October 6, 2006, an armed man entered an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. He chased out the little boys and lined up the 10 little girls in front of the blackboard. He shot all of them and then killed himself. Five of the girls died. After the medics and police left, the families of the fallen came and carried their slain children home. They removed their bloody clothes and washed the bodies. They sat for a time and mourned their beloved children. After a while they walked to the home of the man who killed their children. They told his widow they forgave her husband for what he had done, and they consoled her for the loss of her spouse. They buried their anger before they buried their children. They believe in a real sense that God’s forgiveness of themselves depends on their extending forgiveness to other people. That’s what the mercy of God is all about. Today on the second Sunday of Easter we celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy.

At the canonization of St. Faustina, Pope St. John Paul II said: “The cross, even after the Resurrection of the Son of God, speaks, and never ceases to speak, of God the Father, Who is absolutely faithful to His eternal love for man. .. Believing in this love means believing in mercy."  “The Lord of Divine Mercy,” a drawing of Jesus based on the vision given to St. Faustina, shows Jesus raising his right hand in a gesture of blessing, with  his left hand on his heart from which gush forth two rays, one red and one white.  The picture contains the message, "Jesus, I trust in You!".  The rays streaming out have symbolic meaning: red for the Blood of Jesus, which is the life of souls and white for the Baptismal water which justifies souls.  The whole image is symbolic of the mercy, forgiveness and love of God. You may have a picture of divine Mercy in your homes by now, if not yours is lying at the back of the Church with your name on it. Keep the picture in an honorable place and look at it and pray every day for God’s mercy on you and your family.

The readings for this Sunday are about mercy, trust and the forgiveness of sins.   In the Responsorial Psalm, we repeat several times, "His mercy endures forever" (Ps 118).  Besides mentioning the word, our readings illustrate mercy in action. How does God reveal His mercy?  He does so, first and foremost, by sending His only-begotten Son to become our Savior and Lord by his suffering, death and Resurrection. When Jesus appears to the disciples, he shows them his hands and his side. He shows them the wounds of his crucifixion. His wounds are his identity card. They shout out to us that God’s mercy is more powerful than death.   
Divine Mercy is given to us in the celebration of the Sacraments.  The first reading explains how the Risen Lord continued to show His Divine Mercy to the sick through the healing and preaching ministry of His apostles in the early Church. 

The Risen Lord gives the apostles the authority to forgive sins in His Name.  "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (Jn 20-23).  He gives the apostles the power of imparting God’s mercy to the sinner, the gift of forgiving sins from God’s treasury of mercy.   In the liturgy, the Church has proclaimed the mercy of God for centuries through the Word of God and the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.  The Gospel text also reminds us that the clearest way of expressing our belief in the presence of the Risen Jesus among us is through our own forgiveness of others. We can’t form a lasting Christian community without such forgiveness.  Unless we forgive others, our celebration of the Eucharist is just an exercise in liturgical rubrics.

One way the Church celebrates God’s mercy throughout the year is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Finding time for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is another good way to receive Divine Mercy.  The Gospel command, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful," demands that we show mercy to our fellow human beings always and everywhere.  We radiate God's mercy to others by our actions, our words, and our prayers.  It is mainly through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that we practice mercy in our daily lives and become eligible for God’s merciful judgment. Mercy is when’s God love meets our brokenness. As Pope Francis, paraphrasing Pope Benedict XVI, once said, “The name of God is mercy.” And the wounds of Christ, visible for all eternity, are the vivid reminder of God’s mercy.

Mercy of God on the estranged human race brought peace and reconciliation to the world. “Peace” is the first word that came from the lips of Jesus on meeting his Apostles. “Peace be with you. (Jn 20:19). Then Jesus gave them the power to forgive sins. As sin destroys internal peace Jesus strictly commanded his disciples to love their enemies, and to return good for evil (Mt 5:44). Jesus ratified his teaching with his own example as he hung on the cross. He prayed, “Father forgive them” (Lk 23:24).

Today the risen Lord stands in our midst and greets us too, “Peace be with You.” Let’s translate this message into action and pass on to our brothers and sisters. When you take initiative in patching up an estranged relationship with your friend, when you forgive a dishonest act of your friend, when you show kindness to someone, when you appease the anger of your friend, when you find time to re-establish a broken relationship, when you persuade someone to give up some evil habits you are giving the message, “Peace be with you”. And the peace that you radiate will come back to you manifold.