Saturday, August 27, 2016

OT XXII [C]: Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a; Lk 14:1, 7-14
Many years ago, a little girl named Sarah lived in a home for unwed mothers. She was not one of the clients; her mother was the cook there. Sarah had grown up in the home, and was the special pet of all the girls who came there. One day, a new girl, young and pregnant had come to the home. As she sat on the bench, waiting for her intake interview with the director, she wept. Sarah, now about twelve or thirteen years old, had seen many girls come and go by then, and she knew most all of them had the same look of despair when they arrived. Sarah took pity on the girl, who was not far from her own age. She began talking, and as she did, the girl stopped crying. Then Sarah began to offer some advice on how to answer the standard questions, particularly the one about the father of the baby, “When she asks you who the father is, don’t lie, she hates it when you lie, and, whatever you do, don’t say he’s dead, everyone says he’s dead.” The girl looked at Sarah, and much to her surprise, asked her, “So what did you say when she asked you?”
Sarah froze; she was horrified that the girl had mistaken her for one of them. She loved and cared for those girls, but in her mind there had always been a careful separation between them and her. She could love and support them, but she could not be one of them. That, I guess is the difference between God’s hospitality and ours. God chose to be us. “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (Phil. 2:5b-7)

 In today’s Gospel, Jesus explains the practical benefits of humility, connecting it with the common wisdom about dining etiquette. Jesus went to a banquet given on the Sabbath to the house of a Pharisee. Jesus was on trial. People were watching him to see what kind of person he was. The irony is, of course, that he was also watching them. They were concerned about who occupied the coveted place of honour. Jesus advises the guests to go to the lowest place instead of seeking places of honor so that the host may give them the place they deserve. For Jesus, the daily human needs of the poor are the personal responsibility of every authentic, humble believer. The first reading, taken from the book of Sirach, reminds us that if we are humble we will find favor with God, and others will love us. The second reading, taken from Hebrews, gives another reason for us to be humble. Jesus was humble, so his followers are expected to be humble, trying to imitate his humility.
Humility was Jesus’ favorite theme. "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 14:11); "Whoever humbles himself like a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of God" (Matthew 18:4); “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart"(Matthew 11:29).  Humility is a strange phenomenon. As a rule, when we discover we have it, we lose it. St. Augustine said: "Humility is so necessary for Christian perfection that among all the ways to reach perfection, humility is first, humility is second, and humility is third." He added, "Humility makes men angels, and pride makes angels devils." Humility must be expressed in the recognition of one’s lowliness before God and one's need for salvation.

Here is a portion of one of Mother Teresa’s exhortations to her novices: (She will be canonized next Sunday)"If I try to make myself as small as I can, I'll never become humble. It is humility with a hook. True humility is truth. Humility comes when I stand as tall as I can, and look at all of my strengths, and the reality about me, but put myself alongside Jesus Christ. And it's there, when I humble myself before Him, and realize the truth of who he is, when I accept God's estimate of myself, stop being fooled about myself and impressed with myself, that I begin to learn humility. The higher I am in grace, the lower I should be in my own estimation because I am comparing myself with the Lord God." Thus, humility is an attempt to see ourselves as God sees us. It is also the acknowledgement that our talents come from God who has seen it fit to work through us. I must not use the God-given gifts to elevate myself above others. Hence, humility means the proper understanding of our own worth. It requires us neither to overestimate nor to underestimate our worth.
A man had a gold-plated safety pin which he carried in his pocket. Frequently he would be seen fingering it. Someone asked him one day what the significance of the pin was. He told, in answer, how he had run away from a fine home, mixed with the wrong crowd, gone from one trouble to another, finally ending in poverty and degradation. He had sold his overcoat to get money for liquor, and on a cold winter night he had his sweater pinned together with that safety pin. He walked into a mission to keep warm, and there the Lord Jesus Christ found him. After he came to know the Lord he started a new life. It brought him many successes and material possessions. He had that pin gold plated to remind him of what he once had been before he knew the Lord. The feel of that pin forever robbed him of any thoughts of pride or conceit over what he had accomplished. His own strength had left him desolate and dissolute. He knew what the redemptive grace of Jesus had done.
God can work through us only when we offer a chance by keeping our pride aside. Humility is like a musical instrument. Left to itself, its worth is not known. But when it is played by the best musician, its worth is manifested to all. So are we in the hands of God.
Just as Jesus challenges his fellow guests, so he challenges us today. Am I vying for the first seat to show my importance to others? Or am I willing to place myself alongside a huge God and looking on my own littleness? Let’s pray every day: Jesus meek and humble of heart, make my life like yours.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

OT XXI [C] Is 66:18-21, Heb 12:5-7, 11-13; Lk 13: 22-30

Ask any Protestant/Reformed/Evangelical pastor anywhere in the world: What is the basis of our salvation? And the answer will likely be, "We are saved by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." No doctrine is more universally accepted than this one. We are saved by grace. It is not by works that we are saved. It is not by our good deeds. Not by our church affiliation. Salvation is a gift from God made available through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Simple question. Simple answer. Unfortunately, the words of Jesus sometimes don't seem that simple. "Make every effort," he says, "to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and not be able to."
Is Jesus trying to tell us something? Is the situation more complicated than it is sometimes represented? Will there be some who expect to get in who will be turned away?
Though we believe that we are saved by grace, we believe that in order to appropriate that grace we must have faith in Jesus Christ. But what is faith? Is faith mere belief? Is faith simply signing on the dotted line? The bible says  that even the demons believe and tremble.

If this faith in Jesus is genuine, it will have a constant meaning for our daily living. It is not that we must do good works, to be redeemed. We don’t do good works for Jesus in order to be saved; we do good works for Jesus as the outward sign that we are saved. They are the outward evidence of our inward faith.

Hence, our answer to the question: “Have you been saved?” should be: “I have been saved from the penalty of sin by Christ’s death and Resurrection.  I am being saved from the power of sin by the indwelling Spirit of God.  I have the hope that I shall one day be saved from the very presence of sin when I go to be with God.” 

Most of the worthwhile endeavors in life require struggle, they require commitment.  You have to enter through the narrow gate. You can’t bring a lot of baggage through a narrow door. You have to “Strain every nerve to enter.” In other words you need to strive mightily to squeeze through the door. “No pain, no gain”.
In the second reading, exploring with his readers the consequences of Christian commitment, St. Paul explains “the narrow gate” of Jesus as pain and suffering, resulting from God’s loving disciplining of His children. 

"If anyone desires to come after Me, says Jesus, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (Lk 9:23).   This means a consistent denial of self and the steady relinquishing of sinful pleasures, pursuits, and interests. 

Someone once said to Paderewski, the great pianist, "Sir, you are a genius." He replied, "Madam, before I was a genius I was a drudge." He continued: “If I missed practice one day, I noticed it; if I missed practice two days, the critics noticed it; if I missed three days, my family noticed it; if I missed four days, my audience noticed it.
It is reported that after one of Fritz Kreisler's concerts a young woman said to him, "I would give my life to be able to play like that." He replied, "That's what I gave.” The door is narrow. Why should we think we can "drift" into the Kingdom of God? The Christian life is a constant striving to do the will of God as Jesus revealed it. We need to strive because there are forces of evil within us and around us, trying to pull us down.
When the questioner asked Jesus “How many will be saved?” he was assuming that the salvation of God's Chosen People was virtually guaranteed, provided they kept the Law. In other words, the Kingdom of God was reserved for the Jews alone, and Gentiles would be shut out. 
 Hence, Jesus' answer must have come as a shock to the listners. Jesus affirms that God wants all persons to enjoy eternal life with Him. But he stresses the need for constant fidelity and vigilance throughout our lives. Thus, Jesus reminds us that, even though God wants all of us to be saved, we all need to work at it. Entry into God’s kingdom is not automatically granted, based purely on religious Faith or nationality, so we cannot presume on God’s mercy and do nothing by way of response to God’s invitation.
Jesus is not looking for casual acquaintance from us but for real dedication. People might say: We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.  Mere faith in Jesus and membership in His Church by Baptism cannot guarantee salvation. 
So to be "saved" means to live and to die in a close, loving relationship with God and with others.
Jesus declares that nobody can claim that he is “saved,” possessing a "visa" to Heaven. How many will be saved in the end is a decision that rests with God, and depends on whether His Justice or His Mercy finally prevails.  

Hence, we are to strive to enter through the “narrow gate” by prayer and supplication, diligently seeking deliverance from those things which would bar our entrance, and acquiring those things which would facilitate our entry. Let’s ask the Lord that we may have the grace to please the Him in all things and be counted among the chosen ones.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

OT XX [C] Jer 38: 4-6, 8-10; Heb 12: 1-4; Lk 12: 49-53

In the 1920s, an English adventurer named Mallory led an expedition to conquer Mount Everest. His first, second and even his third attempt with an experienced team met with failure. Upon his return to England, the few who had survived held a banquet to salute Mallory and those who had perished. As he stood up to speak he looked around he saw picture frames of himself and those who had died. Then he turned his back on the crowd and faced a large picture of Mount Everest looming large like an unbeatable giant. With tears streaming down his face, he spoke to the mountain on behalf of his dead friends. “I speak to you Mt. Everest, in the name of all brave men living, and those yet unborn. Mt. Everest, you defeated us once, you defeated us twice; you defeated us three times. But Mt. Everest, we shall someday defeat you, because you can’t get any bigger, but we can.” Today’s Scripture challenges us to confront the world with prophetic courage of our Christian convictions.

The central theme of today’s readings is that we should courageously live out our religious convictions and principles in our lives, as Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus did theirs, even if doing so should result in our martyrdom and turn society upside down.   If no one is ever offended by the quality of our commitment to Christ, that commitment may not be authentic, and if our individual and communal living of the Good News casts no fire and causes no division, then perhaps we are practicing “inoffensive Christianity."  
Jeremiah, in our First Reading, is presented as experiencing the consequences of the burning word of God within him. Jeremiah's preaching divided the city and incited such opposition that people sought his death. He showed the courage of his prophetic conviction by telling King Zedekiah that the Lord God said he had to surrender to the mighty army of Babylonian empire to save Israel.  The result was that Jeremiah was thrown into a deep, muddy cistern to die for his "treason." Standing in this prophetic tradition, Paul, in the second reading, challenges the Judeo-Christians to stand firm in their Faith in Jesus, ignoring the ostracism imposed on them by their own former Jewish community.  Jesus, too, in today’s Gospel, preaches the word of God which continues to divide families, a word which, he knew, would ultimately lead to his death.  The fire Jesus came to bring is the fire of love and the fire of hope.  
In Christianity, the loyalty to Christ has to take precedence over the dearest loyalties of this earth.  Standing up for what is right, working for justice and truth are higher aims than unity, and working for those aims will sometimes cause division.  Hence, Christians today may cause division and rouse opposition because they share through their Baptism the prophetic charism of speaking God’s word, no matter how unpopular; and of giving a voice to those who have no one to speak for them.

There was this amateur naturalist who saw a cocoon. This naturalist saw a butterfly struggling to get out of that cocoon. The butterfly was struggling to get out of the cocoon and was just about ready to break out of that cocoon. The amateur naturalist was closely watching as this miracle unfolded. Then, the naturalist did a very dumb thing. He took out his pocket knife and he slit the cocoon so that the butterfly did not have to struggle. The butterfly came out but could not fly around because it had no perfect wings. It develops its wings from the juice that comes from the body while struggling to get out of the cocoon.
Many parents make the same mistake in parenting, where the parents cut the cocoon and make it easier for the children to grow up, protecting their children from difficult struggles, and thereby the children never develop the inner strength that is learned through struggle.
So it is with Christianity. Christianity always involves struggle, whereby a person becomes a strong disciple. It is only through struggles that a person becomes strong spiritually or strong emotionally. That is why Jesus said: if anyone likes to follow me, take up his cross and follow me.

Every righteous man was resisted by the forces of evil. Because their mission was not to compromise but to challenge and change, their words came like a double edged sword to the forces of evil.
This is the exact mission of the Church and of every Christian. We are called not for a life of compromise but for a life of challenge and we have a rich tradition in this regard. Our martyrs and saints upheld this mission and stood for truth and justice. Today, following this tradition we have to stand for justice, keeping in mind that resistance and challenge will be part of our life.

Today more than ever, we need charismatic and fearless Christians to take up this challenge; to do the little that we can in our homes, in our work place, and in our society. Let us ask God to give us strength and courage to resist our inner conflict and stand by justice regardless of its consequences.
May the Holy Spirit kindle in us His fire to burn in us the courage of our Christian convictions.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

XIX.O.T.-C: Wisdom 18: 6–9; Hebrews 11: 1–2; 8–19; Luke 12: 32–48

When you were a child, you may have played the game, "Hide and Go Seek" The person who is "It" closes his or her eyes, counts to ten, and then searches for the other children who are hiding. "1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. Ready or not, here I come!"
Something like that is going on in our text. The master is off to a wedding banquet. His servants are at the family farm. Some are alert, ready for his return; some are not ready. The countdown has begun. No one knows exactly when the master will return. At the end of our story, Jesus says, "You ... must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour" (Luke 12:40).
Jesus identifies four types of people here: First, we have the servant who was vigilant and ready.  He was not worried about the outcome of his actions. He just carried out his duties entrusted to him. The master of the house would actually wait on the servant, as if the servant had become the master of the house. 
Second, there is the servant who seeks his own way. He thinks “My master is taking his time.” He postpones his end. He thinks he has enough time at hand.  Jesus says, “His master will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know.” There are many among us who choose our own way. We postpone the offer of pardon to our brothers. We postpone giving up certain evil habits, we postpone the payment of the debt. But we do not realize that we may not get another chance. We may be called at any time to settle our accounts.
Third, there is the servant who knows God's law but does not make preparations or act in accord with God's plan. These are the people who deliberately break the commandments.
Finally, there is the servant who was ignorant of God's law and acts in a way deserving of a severe punishment shall be beaten only lightly. Being ignorant of the state law does not excuse us totally from the punishment, though we may, by the bounty of the lawgiver be awarded a lighter punishment.
The Gospel ends with the admonition of Jesus: "from those to whom much has been given, much will be expected." We must value the fact that the Lord has given us much… he has died for us and given us new life in Christ, he has given us all the grace we need through the sacraments and the Church to live a life in accordance with our new dignity. Some people are afraid to receive generously from the Lord, fearing we will have as much responsibility to return.

One of the favorite stories of the great Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegard, concerns an emperor, touring his domain and receiving the accolades of his people. When the entourage reached the market square of one village, his carriage was surrounded by cheering villagers and peasants. To the amazement of his neighbors, one brash young farmer stepped out of the crowd and approached the emperor’s carriage.
"Give me a boon, Sire," he pleaded. "Grant me a special blessing."
The villagers were even more amazed at the emperor’s reply: "Of course, my good man," he said. "Get into my carriage. Come with me. Live in my palace. Eat at my table. Marry my daughter. Be my son-in-law."
The young man exclaimed his delight, to be the emperor’s son-in-law! Then he thought about it. No more Saturday nights at the pub with his friends. No more dirty, comfortable peasant clothes. He’d have to get dressed up. He’d have to take a bath - maybe every week. He’d have to clean his fingernails. He’d have to learn the manners of the court.
He sadly shook his head and lowered his eyes. "No, Sire," he said. "I would be too uncomfortable. It would pull me out of my comfortable customs. It would be too hard to live up to. It would take too much of me."
"If you want to do something for me, give me a plot of ground, a farm, a house of my own; but to live in your palace, eat at your table, be your son-in-law - this is too much." So he declined it.

You see - he wanted the emperor’s blessing; but he wanted it on his own terms. He wanted to be blessed in doing what he wanted to do - not what the emperor wanted him to do. He wanted to be blessed right where he was, not moved out of his comfortable customs. He wanted the blessing, but not the responsibility that went with it.

That young man is nobody else, it is you and me. Though that young man did not accept the invitation to the palace life, we did accept the invitation, at our baptism, but yet refuse to change our old lifestyle of country farm life. Jesus says to whom much is given much will be demanded of him. Let’s be honest with our call and prepare ourselves to be found ready by the king and our Master when he returns.