Saturday, June 25, 2016

XIII-O.T.-C: I Kgs 19:16b, 19-21; Gal 5:1, 13-18; Lk 9: 51-62

An expert on the subject of time management was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration those students will probably never forget. As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered over-achievers he said, "Okay, time for a quiz." Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed Mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, "Is this jar full?"
Everyone in the class said, "Yes."
Then he said, "Really?" He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar, causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. Then he smiled and asked the group once more, "Is the jar full?"
By this time the class was onto him. "Probably not," one of them answered.
"Good!" he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in, and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, "Is this jar full?"
"No!" the class shouted.
Once again he said, "Good!" Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, "What is the point of this illustration?"
One eager beaver raised his hand and said, "The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!"
"No," the speaker replied, "that's not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is this: If you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all.
Jesus says, "Follow me." BIG rock. We respond, "I will follow you, Lord, but..." Priorities. Get the big rocks in first. How to make sure the priorities are appropriate? A good start will be a commitment to ‘Ban the Buts’, then all the rest will fall into place. If you place Jesus the number one priority in your life you will be his true disciple.
Today’s readings are about God’s call and man’s answering that call with commitment. The first reading describes how Elisha committed himself whole-heartedly to answer God’s call to be a prophet, in spite of his initial hesitation when God called him through the prophet Elijah. 

 In today’s Gospel, Luke introduces some potential disciples who offered a variety of reasons as to why Jesus’ call to ministry was “impossible” for them to accept. We are surprised at Jesus’ sharp response to the first man’s willing discipleship. Undoubtedly, Jesus saw more deeply into the man’s heart than we can. Jesus is simply honest about the demands and the cost of a commitment we might make too lightly and a journey we might undertake too easily. “Let the dead bury their dead”:  This response may sound too harsh. But this man’s father was not dead or sick. He simply wished to stay with his father until his death. Jesus knew that later he would find another reason to delay the call. Jesus did not want another would-be follower to go home and bid farewell to his dear ones. Hence, Jesus rebukes him saying that the plowman must look ahead rather than back. Looking back while plowing, causes crooked lines in the field. We see classical cases of initial reluctance and lame excuses in accepting God’s call from Moses (Exodus 3: 1, 4: 10), Gideon (Judges 6: 15), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6), and Isaiah (Isaiah 6: 5). But gradually they committed totally to God’s service. Hence, we should be slow to condemn those who offer excuses in the service of the Lord; we need to offer them proper motivation, support, and encouragement. 
 We need to pray for strength to honor all our commitments. We are here this morning because, in one way or another, we have said to Jesus, “I will follow you.” But the truth of the matter is that most of us don't want to follow Jesus because we want him to follow us. Hence, we are only partially faithful to him. But the Good News is that we are following him as best we can. We will leave this hour of Eucharistic worship and return to the world with all sorts of tough choices and difficult demands. Hence, we need to pray for strength, we need to ask for forgiveness when we fail, and we need to renew our determination to walk with Jesus by being loyal to our spouse and family, earning our living honestly, and living not only peacefully, but lovingly, with our neighbors.

Let’s pray that we may be able to follow Jesus totally and immediately, without any reservation, by giving up everything we have and surrendering our lives to God in the service of others.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

OT XII [C] Zec 12:10-11, 13: 1; Gal 3:26-29; Lk 9:18-24 

When Jesus was praying with his disciples he felt like he should check his disciples’ knowledge of who he was. Realizing that if his disciples did not know who he really was, his entire ministry, suffering and death would be useless. Hence, he decided to ask a question in two parts.

He first asked them about what people thought about him and then he asked them what they thought about him. Recognizing that they did not have a right understanding of him, he reveals to them who he was. He told them he is the one who was prophesied, the one who will be pierced to death as mentioned in the first reading in Zachariah. He stresses his need of suffering and death on the cross.

He then lays down the conditions of service for those who would follow Him. He says, "If anyone wishes to come after me, [then] he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me."  He affirms, explicitly and uncompromisingly, that all his followers must  “take up the cross”; we must accept suffering in this life.

The Church has decreed that above each of her altars there should be a crucifix. The crucifix is a depiction of humiliation, torture, pain, and death.  Why such pride of place for such a cruel reality? Christ dying on the cross was the perfect sacrifice offered to God in loving atonement for our sins and the sins of all people (2Cor 5:15). 
With his arms stretched wide and raised between heaven and earth, Christ reconciled us to God and bridged the gulf opened by sin. If we want to go over that bridge and make our way to eternal life in communion with God, which is the only thing that can make us truly happy, we too must pass through the cross. We must follow the footsteps of our Lord: suffering, self-denial, opposition, humiliation, and difficulty. We may even have to lose the “whole world”, like so many saints and martyrs, in order to gain the truly abundant “life.” Many prosperity preachers of the day speak against the place of suffering in life. They say God wants to bless you with worldly riches in this life and he does not want you to suffer at all in this life. Suffering is undesirable they say. This is not what Jesus says when he says to follow him taking up his cross.

Suffering, when we bear it with faith and unite it to Christ's suffering, is like the oven that cooks saints, the fire that purifies our hearts of selfishness.
This helps explain why euthanasia is so wrong. Euthanasia is also sometimes called mercy-killing, or dying with dignity. Human euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Colombia, and Luxembourg. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Albania, Canada, and in the US, states of Washington, Oregon, Vermont, Montana, and California. The Catechism makes very clear that it is always an evil act: "Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable" (#2277).
The Catechism also makes clear that: "Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of ‘over-zealous’ treatment. “Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted" (#2278). In some situations, drawing the line between normal and over-zealous treatment is difficult. At those times, we need to get good advice, pray, and trust that God will guide us. But the main point is clear: suffering, even terrible suffering, does not take away the value or dignity of a human life. Suffering is part of life in a fallen world.
God allows it and uses it to teach us wisdom, compassion, patience, humility, and many other things, and to let us participate in his cross.  It's different for animals. They are not created in the image and likeness of God. They are not able to know, love, and praise God in this life and enjoy him forever in the next. That's why it's perfectly acceptable to put an animal to death when its physical condition has made its life useless or unbearable.
A human life is never useless, and Christ has made sure that, united to him by faith, no amount of pain will ever become unbearable. To die with dignity means to live with dignity for as long as God, the author of life and creator of every human being, wishes to keep us on this earth, whether in comfort or in pain
The cross, when we carry it with Christ, is like a stopwatch in the hands of an expert coach: it pushes us out of our comfort zone so that we can develop our spiritual potential to the full.
The great St. Augustine put it clearly: “There is more courage in a man who faces rather than flees the storms of life, and who holds cheap the opinion of men...

Are we ready to take up our crosses and follow Jesus? Do we have enough Faith to offer up a genuine sacrifice for Christ's sake? A true disciple asks, "Am I willing to sacrifice something for the Kingdom?"  Today let’s ask the Lord for the grace to deepen our Christian life by following the way of Jesus to the Cross and victory.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

OT XI : II Sm 12:7-10, 13; Gal 2:16, 19-21; Lk 7:36 -- 8: 3

In his book, Healing for Damaged Emotions, David Seamonds deals with people who have scars that nobody else can see. He uses the analogy of those beautiful giant sequoia and redwood trees in the far western part of this country: "In most of the parks," says Seamonds, "the naturalists can show you a cross section of a great tree they have cut, and point out that the rings of the tree reveal the developmental history, year by year. Here's a ring that represents a year when there was a terrible drought. Here are a couple of rings from years when there was too much rain. Here's where the tree was struck by lightning. Here are some normal years of growth. This ring shows a forest fire that almost destroyed the tree. Here's another of savage blight and disease. All of this lies embedded in the heart of the tree, representing the autobiography of its growth. "And that's the way it is with us," Seamonds continues. "Just a few minutes beneath the protective bark, the concealing, protective mask, are the recorded rings of our lives.  "In the rings of our thoughts and emotions, the record is there; the memories are recorded, and all are alive. And they directly and deeply affect our concepts, our feelings, our relationships. They affect the way we look at life and God, at others and ourselves." (2) If we could look into the heart of this woman described in today’s Gospel, we might not be so harsh in our judgment of her. What brought her to such a wretched position in life? Was she abused as a child? Did poverty lead her into this?

The whole theme of today’s reading is God's mercy. The common theme of God's unbelievable mercy ties together the first reading about King David's plea for forgiveness for his terrible sin of murder and adultery, and the Gospel about the sinful woman who throws herself on the mercy of Jesus as He dines at the house of Simon the Pharisee. Pope Francis has said that Jesus is "the face of God's mercy."

Our God is a God Who always tries, not to punish, but to rehabilitate sinners, so that we may be made whole and experience inner peace and harmony.
Why did a Pharisee like Simon invite Jesus to his house?  It could be that Simon had invited Jesus with the deliberate intention of enticing him into some word or action which could then be made the basis of a charge against him.  More likely, Simon was a collector of celebrities and with a half-patronizing contempt had invited the young Galilean to have a meal with him.  That would best explain the strange combination of respect along with the omission of the usual courtesies.
Jewish good manners demanded that when an invited guest entered such a house of banquet, three things were always done. a) The host placed his hand on the guest's shoulder and gave him the kiss of peace. That was a mark of respect, which was never omitted in the case of a distinguished Rabbi. b) Since the roads were only dust tracks, and shoes were merely soles held in place by straps across the foot, cool water was poured over the guest's feet to cleanse and comfort them. c) Either a pinch of sweet-smelling incense was burned or a drop of attar of roses was placed on the guest's head.
The uninvited guest: According to social customs of the ancient Near Eastern world, dining rooms -- especially those of the rich and famous -- were left open to the public.  Uninvited guests and curious onlookers could pass in and out of the room at will.  This explains how the public sinner got inside.  What shocked Simon and surprised other eminent guests was the uninvited entry of a public prostitute.  She was carrying an alabaster flask of concentrated, costly perfumed ointment, her hair was unbound and she chose to make what was considered an excessive show of repentance and love. The woman thought she would offer the precious perfume to Jesus and ask for the forgiveness of her grave sins in public.
A parable of criticism and teaching: The rabbinical teaching said prostitutes should be kept at a distance of two yards. While Simon silently condemned Jesus for not divining the character of the woman, Jesus proved himself to be a prophet by reading the secret thoughts of Simon. Jesus then presented the parable of the two debtors to Simon, asking him, which person loved the merciful creditor more:  the one who owed five hundred denarii or the one who only owed fifty. Through this parable Jesus defended and justified the good intentions of the woman who had publicly demonstrated her true repentance. He also criticized the rude and inhospitable behavior of his host who had prided himself on his strict observance of the Mosaic Law. Thus Jesus demonstrates correct understanding of forgiveness and justification. The verse "She has shown great love" has become a classic text for showing that perfect charity has the power of forgiving sins: Jesus first loved the woman and she responded to his love by loving him back in this full surrender.
We are challenged to accept or reject the mercy of God. We often share Simon’s mentality, displaying an attitude of lovelessness and harshness.   Let us remember that Simon’s self-sufficiency prevented him from acknowledging his need for the grace of God. 
King David reacted to the rebuke of Nathan with great humility. He realized his sin, repented of it and lamented, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Then Nathan said to David, The Lord, for his part, forgives you.”

We need to be grateful to our forgiving God: As the repentant sinner showed her gratitude to Jesus by anointing his feet with tears and precious ointment, we, too, should show gratitude to God for unconditionally and repeatedly pardoning our sins. This is possible only if we try our best to keep the promises we make in our act of contrition in confession "to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.” Our sincere attempts to avoid the occasions of sin will be proof of our sincere repentance and the expression of our gratitude to the merciful God who has forgiven our sins.

We need to cultivate a forgiving attitude towards our neighbor: Although it is not easy, we must learn to forgive those who hurt us if we want to be able to receive the daily forgiveness we need from a merciful God. We start forgiving when we try our best to patch up quarrels, misunderstandings and disagreements and pray for the well-being of our offenders. Let’s pray that in this year of Mercy, we may be merciful to others who offend us, just as God is merciful to me.

Friday, June 3, 2016

OT X [C]: I Kgs 17:17-24; Gal 1:11-19; Lk 7: 11-17

A number of years ago the New York Daily News carried a story about a television news anchorwoman named Pat Harper who left her luxurious East Side apartment with 80 cents in her pocket and spent five days living on the street "to learn what it's like to be homeless." Harper spent the days wandering the streets in the icy January rain and her nights sleeping in doorways, train stations and public shelters. She began to realize that most of the homeless people were not much different than she. Several people helped, giving her food and advice on how to survive without money. The undercover investigation made her realize that many homeless are simply normal people who have been hit with financial problems from which they have not been able to rebound. There was no other way to know how they felt than for this successful media person to walk where the homeless walk.
There is another who left comfort and convenience to walk where the outcasts walk. When he saw the widow of Nain, he could probably see his own mother in the shoes of this widow, a few months later what his own mother would be going through when he will be dying on the cross.  And he saw wanted to help the poor widow by bringing her son back to life.

The central theme of today’s readings is that, in a world of broken hearts, God sees and cares for us in our grief. He shows compassion on our miseries and gives us His healing touch.

The first reading, taken from I Kings 17, shows us how our merciful God uses His prophet Elijah to resuscitate the only the son of the poor widow of Zarephath who had given the prophet accommodation in her house during a famine. Tragically her only son became very ill and stopped breathing. In utter desperation and anger the poor widow struck out at Elijah, as if somehow this were his fault.   Grief often gives rise to misplaced anger, and hurting people hurt other people.  This woman was hurting, and so she struck out at Elijah. Elijah realized that it was his turn to help her in her tragedy. And he prays to God and He brought him back to life.

Today's Gospel presents one of the three accounts in the Gospel of Jesus’ raising of a dead person to life. The other stories are those of Lazarus and of Jairus, the synagogue leader’s daughter. Today's story is found only in Luke. Meeting a funeral procession coming out of the village of Nain, Jesus was visibly moved at the sight of the weeping widow going with the town to bury her only son.
This woman had lost her husband, now she has lost her only son – she is alone, suffering without hope. No one asked him to perform this miracle; he took the initiative to intervene.
The Christian God is not a God who remains aloof: he does not keep his distance; he cares too much about us, in spite of our sinfulness, weakness, and brokenness. Sometimes we feel like we are suffering alone, as if God doesn’t care. Sometimes Christ seems far away, because he doesn’t give us the miracle we long for. But that is not what we find in the Bible.

The whole gospel gives witness to the compassion and care of Jesus for sick and tired. Mark 8:1-4 gives the account of Jesus healing a leper who was suffering. Verse 25-35 recounts the account of Jesus healing a woman with hemorrhage. Jn 5:1-18 relates the story of Jesus healing a man who was paralyzed for 38 years. Mark 6:30-32 tells how Jesus took his tired disciples to a deserted place away from the crowd so that they could have some rest. John 21:9 tells us how Jesus prepared a breakfast for the disciples who had been tired from fishing all night. All these reveal the tender compassion of Jesus for people.
We don’t see Jesus in the Gospel episode as a remote Divine Being, but as somebody close to us, sharing our loss and sorrow. Jesus’ raising of the widow’s son was also a sign of the spiritual resurrection offered to all people. Jesus is showing concern about the need for us to be spiritually alive here and now.

We can also offer our broken hearts to Jesus: We need to bring our deepest hurts and broken relationships to Jesus and experience how he reaches out to us to grant us his loving reconciliation. Let us invite Jesus to transform the most difficult situations in our life. 

We need to become channels of God’s compassion and healing love as Jesus was. Our deeds of love will transform the broken-hearted and help them to experience God as the Father who has come among His people. We must ask God for the grace to be like Christ for the others in our daily lives. Those who saw St. Francis of Assisi, for instance, were also seeing Jesus in him. Saints are those who carry Jesus in their words and deeds, imitating his way of doing things and his goodness. Our society need saints, and we can each be one in our own environment. Those who hurt also need comfort, and again, it is our responsibility to offer that comfort. As our Lord comforted this woman, let us comfort others (Galatians 6:2, Romans 12:15). And thus let’s be his hands and heart to others.