Friday, November 25, 2016

I ADVENT [A] Is 2:1-5; Rom 13:11-14; Mt 24:37-44 

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is a time for looking both backward and forward.  We look backward as we prepare to celebrate the historical birth of Jesus. At the same time, we look forward to his Second Coming, as we prepare ourselves to welcome him into all areas of our lives during the Advent season.   One Bible scholar has estimated that there are 1845 references to Christ’s second coming in the Old Testament and 318 references in the New Testament. We see the traditional signs of Advent in our Church: violet vestments and hangings, dried flowers in the sanctuary, and the Advent wreath. We light a candle on this wreath each Sunday until all four are lit. By lighting one candle each week we show how progressively we are going to be in the light of Christ and completely surrounded and engulfed in the light of Christ by the end of 4th week.  We could light them all in one week, but that would not signify the preparation we put in each week. These signs remind us that we are waiting for the rebirth of Jesus in our hearts and lives in love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness. 

The consistent warning in today’s Gospel text is that we should be prepared for the coming of the master.  Our text indicates that the end will seem to be a peaceful and normal time, with people eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, and working in their homes or businesses.  In this routine normal life, it might be easy to forget the "coming of the Son of Man."   In a reference to the story of Noah, Jesus says that the sin of the people was placing too much emphasis on the normal cares and necessities of life.  They were too concerned with eating and drinking – just as we are during the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's holidays.  Jesus reminds us that there is something more important than feasts or weddings: the Son of Man will come to us unexpectedly, either at our death or at the end of the world, and that could be at any moment.   Since God will show up without an appointment, we must be prepared at all times. 

The man working in the field and the woman working at the mill will be “left", because they won’t leave their work.  True enough – work is important.  We need to provide food and shelter for ourselves and our families.  But there is something more important than our work: the coming of the Son of Man. God will arrive unexpectedly. We don't know when a thief might break into our house, so we are prepared for him at all times.  We lock our doors and windows.  We leave a light on when we're gone. We put in an alarm system. We insure our possessions.  We do these things now because a thief could come at some unknown time. 

We spend too much time trying to protect ourselves against future misfortunes.  We save for a rainy day, to get married, to buy a home, to send the children to college, to retire in comfort and to protect ourselves against future misfortunes with varieties of insurance.  But we need to be more spiritually wakeful to prepare for our eternal life. 
Hence, even during this busy Christmas season we must keep our daily life centered on Christ. The advent readings give us warnings as well as promises. To obtain the promise we need to listen to the warning and take it real seriously.

William Willimon tells the story of a funeral he attended when he was serving a small congregation in rural Georgia. One of his members' relatives died, so Willimon and his wife attended the funeral held in an off-brand, country Baptist church. He writes: "I had never seen anything like it. The preacher began to preach. He shouted; he flailed his arms. 'It's too late for Joe. He's dead. But it ain't too late for you. People drop dead every day. Why wait? Now is the day for decision. Give your life to Jesus.' "
Willimon goes on to suggest that this was the worst thing he had ever seen. He fumed and fussed at his wife Patsy, complaining that the preacher had done the worst thing possible for a grieving family - manipulating them with guilt and shame. Patsy agreed. But then she said: "Of course the worst part of it all is that what he said is true."

For the many who faithfully observe the consumer Christmas, Advent is the inevitable prelude to disappointment. And we can easily find that instead of preparing to sing "O Holy Night" we will find ourselves living out one holy nightmare; trying to buy and wrap gifts and decorating the house and making cribs, and not really do anything for a spiritual birth of Christ in our life. Let this advent be a challenge for us to really find Jesus in ordinary things, finding him who was born in the most ordinary situation of being born in a manger. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

OT 34 [C] CHRIST THE KING: II Sam 5:1-3; Col 1:12-20; Lk 23:35-43

As the body of Abraham Lincoln’s body lay in state for a few hours in Cleveland, Ohio, for mourners to pay their tribute, a black woman in the long queue lifted up her little son and said in a hushed voice: “Honey, take a long, long look. He died for us, to give us freedom from slavery.” Today’s Gospel gives us the same advice, presenting the crucifixion scene of Christ our King Who redeemed us from Satan’s slavery by His death on the cross.
The Gospel presents Christ the King as reigning, not from a throne, but from the gibbet of the cross. Like the “suffering servant” of Isaiah (53:3), he is despised and rejected, as the bystanders ridicule the crucified King, challenging him to prove His Kingship by coming down from the cross.  The Gospel also tells of the criminal crucified beside Jesus who recognized Him as a Savior King and asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus entered His kingdom. Although the Romans intended the inscription on the cross, “This is the King of the Jews,” to be ironic, it reflected the popular Jewish speculations about Jesus’ possible identity as the Messiah of Israel. For Luke and other early Christians that title was correct, since the Kingship of Jesus was made manifest most perfectly in his suffering and death on the cross.

David was seen in the Old Testament as a representation, of the future Messianic King (2 Sm 7:16, Is 9:6-7, Jer 23:5). Jesus is often identified as the Son of David, as the Messiah and as the Shepherd of God’s people.  King David's successful 40-year reign became the model for the hoped-for Messiah in later Judaism. Saul, the first King of Israel, learned from God through the prophet Samuel that the kingship would not remain in his family because he had disobeyed the laws of God. David was chosen by God to replace Saul and was anointed secretly by Samuel in Bethlehem.  Having had to flee from Saul, David settled in Hebron.  Accepted by the tribe of Judah, he reigned there as King of Judah for seven years.  The first reading tells us how, on the death of Saul, the northern tribes came to David in Hebron and anointed him King over all of Israel.  David's reign lasted a mere forty years, but Christ's reign is eternal.  David was a mere man, sinful but repentant.  Christ was True God and True Man, sinless and All-perfect. Christ died on the cross to free all men from their sins. But he rose from the dead, and as living forever he reigns also forever.

In most of the Messianic prophecies given in the Old Testament books of Samuel, Micah, Isaiah and Jeremiah, Christ the Messiah is represented as a King.  Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the Prophet Micah announced His coming as King.  
The New Testament tells us that Jesus is the long awaited king of the Jews.  In the Annunciation, recorded in Lk.1:32-33, we read: “The Lord God will make him a King, as his ancestor David was, and he will be the King of the descendants of Jacob forever and his Kingdom will never end.”  The Magi from the Far East came to Jerusalem and asked the question: (Mt 2:2) “Where is the baby born to be the King of the Jews?   During the royal reception given to Jesus on Palm Sunday, the Jews shouted: (Lk 19:38) “Blessed is the King, who comes in the name of the Lord.”  When Pilate asked the question: (Jn 18:33) “Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus, in the course of their conversation, made his assertion, “You say that I am a King.  For this was I born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the Truth. Before His Ascension into Heaven, the Risen Jesus declared: (Mt. 28:18) “I have been given all authority in Heaven and on earth.”

The Kingdom of God is the central teaching of Jesus throughout the Gospels.  The word Kingdom appears more than any other word throughout the four Gospels.  Jesus begins His public ministry by preaching the Kingdom.  "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:14). In Christ's Kingdom, “we are all a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pt 2:9; see also Ex 19:6; Is 61:6). According to the teachings of the New Testament, the “Kingdom of God” is a three-dimensional reality:  the life of grace within every individual who does the will of God, the Church here on earth, and Eternal Life in Heaven.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the Church is the Kingdom of Christ already present in mystery.  It is the mission of the Church to proclaim and establish the Kingdom of Christ in human souls. This mission takes place between the first coming and the second coming of Christ. The Church helps us to establish Christ’s Kingdom in our hearts, thus allowing us to participate in God's inner life. We are elevated and transformed through sanctifying grace. This supernatural life of grace comes to fulfillment in the eternal life of Heaven (CCC #758-780).

To ensure that Jesus is always the King of our hearts, we need to make a great commitment to Him and to back that commitment with the necessary sacrifices, conviction, hard work and daily, serious prayer.
 This feast is an invitation to all those who have power or authority in the government, public offices, educational institutions and in the family to use it for Jesus.  Are we using our God-given authority so as to serve others with love and compassion as Jesus did?  Are we using it to build a more just society rather than   to boost our own egos? Are parents using their God-given authority to train their children in Christian ideals and committed Christian living?

 On this great Feast, let us resolve to give Christ the central place in our lives and to obey His commandment of love by sharing our blessings with all his needy children.  Let us conclude the Church year by asking the Lord to help us serve the King of Kings as He presents Himself in those reaching out to us.  

Saturday, November 12, 2016

OT 33 [C] Mal 3:19-20a; II Thes 3:7-12; Lk 21: 5-19

The Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, tells the parable of a theater where a variety show is proceeding. Each act is more fantastic than the last, and each is applauded by the audience. Suddenly the manager appears on the stage, apologizing for the interruption.  He announces at the top of his voice that the theater is on fire, and begs his patrons to leave the theatre immediately, without causing a commotion. The spectators think that it is the most amusing turn of the evening, and cheer thunderously. The manager again feverishly implores them to leave the burning building, and he is again applauded vigorously. At last he can do no more. The fire races through the whole building engulfing the fun-loving audience with it. "And so," concludes Kierkegaard, "will our age, I sometimes think, go down in fiery destruction to the applause of a crowded house of cheering spectators". Today’s readings warn us about a similar fate if we are not well prepared when the “Day of the Lord” dawns quite unexpectedly, marking the end of the world.

Today’s Gospel passage warns that the date of the end of the world is uncertain.  Signs and portents will precede the end, and the faithful will be called upon to testify before kings and governors.  The Good News, however, is that those who persevere in faithfulness to the Lord will save their souls and enter God's eternal kingdom. Christ’s Second Coming is something to celebrate, because he is going to present all creation to his Heavenly Father. That is why we proclaim His Second Coming at Mass: "We proclaim Your death, O Lord, and profess Your Resurrection, until You come again." The second coming of Jesus at the t end of the age is a repeated theme in the scriptures.
C. S. Lewis said that when the author appears on the stage, you know the play is over. This is how he understands the doctrine of the Second Coming of our Lord. It means that he who has begun a good work will bring it to the best conclusion of which he is capable. After all, no one has ever claimed that this planet earth was intended to exist forever. The concept of the Second Coming merely affirms that such a conclusion will be purposeful. The drama of history is not going to just fizzle out or end in a whimper! It is going to come to the kind of climax that he who conceived the drama wants for it.
Humorist Lewis Grizzard wrote about a man in his hometown named Luther Gilroy. Luther claimed he was out plowing his field and saw a sign in the sky that said THE END IS NEAR. So Luther let his mule and his cow out of their pens, gave all his chickens away, and climbed on top of his house to await the end. When it didn't come, he pouted and refused to come down off the roof. Finally, his wife called the deputy sheriff, who came over and said, "Luther, you idiot, I saw that same sign. It didn't say, `The end is near.' It said, `Go drink a beer.' Now come down off that roof before you fall off and break your neck."
There are also people going about trying to tell people the end is near. Jesus said even he didn’t know the end times, only the Father knows. But Jesus said the end will have some portents. You will suffer persecution and those who persevere to the end will receive the reward.
“By your perseverance, you will secure your lives.” There can be no holiness without perseverance. Storms batter all of us. Sometimes they can be external. We could lose our jobs, we could fail epically in a relationship, someone we love could get cancer.
Sometimes these storms will be internal. We could be tormented by anxiety or self-doubt. Maybe there’s an intense loneliness. Maybe we suffer from depression. Obviously, God wants us to seek help for that. But He also wants us to recognize that these weaknesses aren’t an obstacle to our holiness, as long as we keep trying to walk with him. God is walking with us, and he asks us not to run from him.
The liturgical year draws to an end. Advent is just around the corner. And today’s readings highlight our call to be holy. Holiness grows through struggles, difficulties and challenges. If we don’t remain holy and prepared it can be disastrous for us when the Lord comes unexpectedly.  
The believers were assured that if they remained constant in Faith, they could welcome the end of all things and the beginning of eternity with confidence and joy rather than with fear and dread.
The ideal way to accept Jesus’ apocalyptic message is always to be ready to face our death.   We must live holy lives of selfless love, mercy, compassion and unconditional forgiveness, remembering the demands of justice in our day-to-day lives. Let us conclude this Church year by praying for the grace to endure patiently any trials that are essential to our affirmation of Jesus our Savior.