Friday, October 13, 2017

OT XXVIII [A]  Is 25:6-10a; Phil 4:12-14, 19-20; Mt 22:1-14

At the end of World War II, the Russian head-of-state gave an elaborate banquet to honor the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  The Russians arrived in their best formal wear -- military dress uniforms -- but their honored guest did not.  Churchill arrived wearing his famous zipper coveralls that he had worn during the German bomb attack in London.  He thought it would provide a nostalgic touch the Russians would appreciate.  They didn’t.  They were humiliated and insulted that their prominent guest-of-honor had not considered their banquet worthy of his best clothes.  Wearing the right clothing to a formal dinner honors the host and the occasion; neglecting to wear the right clothing is an insult.  Weddings were such an important occasion in Palestine in Christ’s days that people were expected to wear the proper clothing to show appreciation and respect for the invitation.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus demands and provides the wedding garment of righteousness from his followers.

Today’s Scripture gives us the strong warning that if we do not accept God’s love, if we reject His gift, we can have no place with Him. We have to stay prepared for the freely-offered Heavenly banquet and wearing the freely-given wedding garment of grace always. Our wedding garment is made of our grace-assisted works of justice, charity and holiness.  The parable warns us that membership in a Church alone does not guarantee our eternal salvation.

 This parable is obviously more than a story about a king and a banquet.  It is the story of Salvation History in which God sent prophets and Christian evangelists with Good News.  The first-invited are now rejected, but strangers are accepted.  In other words, the Gentiles have replaced the Jews who refused to respond to Yahweh's call.  This was the way that first-century Christians looked at the Jewish rejection of Jesus.

The “refusal of a king's invitation by the VIPs, without any valid reason suggested rebellion and insurrection” (The Interpreter’s Bible).  That is why the king sent soldiers to suppress the rebellion. The other invited guests challenge the king's honor directly by seizing his slaves who bring the invitation, beating, and killing them.  Clearly this action demands reprisal, and the King obliges.  Later, Christians tended to see the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as a similar judgment of God upon the people who had rejected the invitation by Christ to the eschatological banquet.

God’s invitation includes an offer of the correct dress for the feast, namely, the robe of Christ's righteousness. The invitation to the ordinary people from the byways tells us that God’s invitation to each one of us is purely an act of grace and not something that we deserve by our good works.  The parable also warns us that God will judge those who refuse His invitation.
In those days, participants in a banquet were expected to dress in clothes that were superior to those worn on ordinary days.  Guests who could afford it would wear white, but it was sufficient for ordinary people to wear garments as close to white as possible.  It was customary for the rich hosts to provide their guests with suitable apparel. For royal weddings, special outfits were given to any guests who could not afford to buy their own.  Hence, to appear in ordinary, soiled working clothes would show contempt for the occasion, a refusal to join in the King's rejoicing.

The Christian must be clothed in the spirit and teaching of Jesus.  Grace is a gift and a grave responsibility.  Hence, a Christian must be clothed in a new purity and a new holiness.  In other words, while God, through the Church, opens wide His arms to the sinner, the sinner can only accept His invitation to this relationship of mutual love by loving Him back, and so by making some effort to repent and change his life. It is not enough for one simply to continue unabated in one’s sinful ways.  Although Jesus accepted the tax collectors and prostitutes, he demanded that they abandon their evil ways. 

We need to be grateful to Christ for the invitation to the Heavenly banquet: From the moment of our Baptism, we have been invited to the Heavenly banquet and provided with the wedding garment of sanctifying grace.  These great privileges and blessings are freely given to us by a loving God.  But the same obstacles which prevented the Pharisees from entering the Kingdom –- pride, love of this world, its wealth and its pleasures –- can impede us too.  Hence, we must be prepared to do violence to our ordinary inclinations and offer ourselves in love and service to Jesus and to his people.  That is how we will make our wedding garment clean and bright every day.  Receiving these gifts of God fully also demands that, instead of remaining marginal members of our parish community, we bear visible witness to our beliefs.  
Let us pray that we may keep our wedding garments pure and spotless and that we may become disciples who really practice the teachings of Jesus, rather than remaining mere Sunday Catholics.  Let us pray for a deeper Faith and love and a better spirit of responsibility to our community.

Let us examine whether we have fully accepted God’s invitation to the Messianic banquet and remember that banqueting implies friendship and intimacy, trust and reconciliation. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

OT XXVII [A]  Is 5:1-7; Phil 4:6-9; Mt 21:33-43

Andrew Carnegie, a multimillionaire, left one million dollars to one of his relatives, who in return cursed Carnegie bitterly because he had left $365 million to public charities and had cut the relatives off with one million each. Samuel Leibowitz, criminal lawyer and judge, saved 78 men from the electric chair.  Not one of them ever bothered to thank him. Many years ago, as the story is told, a devout king was disturbed by the ingratitude of his royal court. He prepared a large banquet for them.  When the king and his royal guests were seated, a beggar shuffled into the hall, sat down at the king's table, and gorged himself with food. Without saying a word, the beggar then left the room.  The guests were furious and asked permission to seize the tramp and tear him limb from limb for his ingratitude.  The king replied, "That beggar has done only once to an earthly king what each of you does three times each day to God.  You sit there at the table and eat until you are satisfied.  Then you walk away without recognizing God, or expressing one word of thanks to Him."  The parable in today’s Gospel is about the gross ingratitude of God’s chosen people who persecuted and killed all the prophets sent to them by God to correct them and finally crucified their long-awaited Messiah.

The common theme of today’s readings is the necessity of bearing fruit in the Christian life and the consequent punishment for spiritual sterility, ingratitude and wickedness.   Its importance is shown by its appearance in all the three Synoptic gospels. In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us Christians that since we are the "new" Israel, enriched with additional blessings and provisions in the Church, we are expected to show our gratitude to God by bearing fruits of the Kingdom, that  is, the Fruits of the Holy Spirit, in our lives.  
The parable reflects the frictions in tenant-landlord relations in Palestine.  Most of the vineyards were owned by rich, absentee landlords living in Jerusalem, Damascus or Rome who leased their lands to tenants and were interested only in collecting rent.  The country was seething with economic unrest.  The working people were discontented and rebellious, and the tenant farmers had picked up the revolutionary slogan, “land for the farmer.”  Hence, they often refused to pay the rent previously agreed upon and in some cases assaulted the landowner’s representatives.  It is natural, then, that Jesus’ parable should reflect the popular hatred of foreign domination and the monopolizing of agricultural land by a rich minority who supported Roman rule.
The Lord’s vineyard at present is the Church, and we Christians are the tenants from whom God expects fruits of righteousness.  The parable warns us that if we refuse to reform our lives, to become productive, we, too, could be replaced as the old Israel was replaced by the "new" Israel.  We cease being either God's vineyard or the tenants of God's vineyard when we stop relating to others as loving servants. In the parable, the rent the tenants refuse to pay stands for the relationship with God and with all the people of Israel, which the religious leaders refuse to cultivate. This means that before anything else, God checks on how well we are fulfilling our responsibilities to each other as children of God.  The parable teaches that instead of glorying in our privileges and Christian heritage, we are called to deeds of love, including bearing personal and corporate witness that invites others into God's kingdom.

Are we good fruit-producers in the vineyard of the Church?  Jesus has given us the Church, and through her everything necessary to make Christians fruit-bearing: i) The Bible to know the will of God.   ii) The Sacrament of Reconciliation for the remission of sins.  iii) The Holy Eucharist as our spiritual food.  iv) The Sacrament of Confirmation for a dynamic life of Faith.  v) The Sacrament of Matrimony for the sharing of love in the family, the fundamental unit of the Church. vi) Role models in thousands of saints. We are expected to make use of these gifts and produce fruits for God.

What is our attitude toward everything God has given to us?  Are we grateful for everything God has given to us, or are we like the ungrateful tenants who acted as if they owned everything God had given them?  

Friday, September 22, 2017

OT XXV [A] Is 55:6-9; Phil 1:20c-24, 27a; Mt 20:1-16a

An old “Family Circus” comic strip shows the two boys Jeff and Billy squabbling over the size of the slices of pie their mom has placed before them. “They aren’t the same,” Jeff pouts. Mom tries again, evening-up the slices. Still Jeff is upset. “They still aren’t the same!” he whines. This time Mom uses a ruler and absolutely proves that both slices of pie are the exact same size. “But Mom,” Jeff complains, “I want mine to be just like Billy’s . . . only bigger!”
We all tend to think we deserve a bigger slice of the pie. From the time we are little children, we are taught that doing more is worth more. If a five year old gets a dollar for picking up their toys and clothes; If an eight year old gets five dollars for feeding the dog, emptying the garbage, and vacuuming the living room; Then a twelve year old should get considerably more for mowing the lawn, doing some laundry, watching younger siblings, and cleaning the garage.
Chores and allowances teach children that in this world’s economy we have to do work in order to receive our “rewards.” We want our kids to learn and to live the adage, “Hard work pays off.”
That is why the parable in today’s gospel text is so unsettling. It is easy to identify with the grumbling guys who worked sunup to sundown, through the heat of the day, and then watched in amazement as some slackers who worked for one measly hour, in the cool of the approaching evening no less, got paid a full day’s wage. Of course the full day worker EXPECTS more and SHOULD get more. It is only fair. More work should equal more wages. ”Hard work pays off.” But it doesn’t. Not in Jesus’ story of the kingdom… Because it is not about fair or just payments. It is about God’s mercy and grace in human life.

A story is told of the lady who had a stranger appear at her door and simply handed her a $100 bill. She was dumbfounded! Then the same thing happened the next day….and the next…and the next. For thirty straight days this stranger gave her $100 without explanation. On the 31st day the lady was waiting at the door when she saw the man coming down the street. But then he passed her house and walked up to her neighbor’s house, and gave her a $100 bill! The first lady was indignant and yelled at the guy, "Hey, where’s my $100 bill?"

It’s easy to think that when life is going our way that somehow we deserve it. We come to expect it. We even plan for it. This parable is not so much about the injustice of workers getting paid the same for different amounts of work. It is about God and God’s mercy and grace. Sometimes it appears that some people are receiving more of God’s grace than others. But as Christians we live, not in a world of justice, but of grace.

In the first reading Isaiah says: The thoughts of God are not the thoughts of man. The ways of God are not the ways of man. As the heavens are higher than the earth, the ways of God are higher than the ways of man and the thoughts of God are higher than the thoughts of man. The way of God is beyond the understanding of the world; the ways of men are limited.

In Israel there were many great veteran warriors to fight with Goliath. But, God chose a young boy who was not even able to put on the armor to subdue Goliath. When God chose a simple maiden, Mary, to be the mother of Jesus, there were many young women of respectable genealogy, who were hoping to be called by God.  When Jesus called the illiterate fisher man Peter, in Israel there were many learned men who wished to follow Jesus. All these show that God chooses who He wants, and when he wants. And this call is a sheer act of mercy on God’s part.

God rewards us, not in the measure of what we do, but according to His good will. A full wage is offered to each of us, whether one has served him for a whole lifetime, or has turned to Him only at the eleventh hour. The story shows us how God looks at us, sees our needs and meets those needs. 

All the people, no matter when they come, are equally precious to God. Similarly, long-time Church members should expect no special preference over recent members.  Jesus warns them that the Gentiles who put their Faith in God will have the same reward a good Jew may expect.  Matthew, by retelling this parable, may well desire to give the same warning to the members of his Judeo-Christian community who considered the Gentile Christians as second-class Christians.  Those who carry out the will of God with love and humility will be acceptable before the Lord. So, Jesus says, “The first will be the last and the last will be the first.”

Pope Francis says: “The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.” The parable suggests that we can't work our way into Heaven because by our own unaided strength we can never do enough good in this life to earn our everlasting reward.

To God, we are more than just numbers on a payroll. All our talents and blessings are freely given by God. Hence, we should express our gratitude to God by avoiding sins, by rendering loving service to others, by sharing our blessings with the needy, and by constant prayer, listening and talking to God at all times.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

OT XXIV [A]: Sir 27:30--28:7; Rom 14:7-9; Mt 18:21-35

Monday was September 11, a date that Americans consider one of the most significant in the nation’s history. It has become one of the epic historic events equivalent to the founding of the United States, the ending of the conflict between the North and the South, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the ending of World War II and the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.  September 11, 2001 is a date that challenged both the freedom of a free people and the grace of forgiveness that Americans are told by our Lord Jesus Christ to offer, even to their enemies. But forgiveness is not an easy gift to give. Our readings for this Twenty-Fourth Sunday concern forgiving our offenders and being reconciled with them.   

It was the Rabbinic teaching that a man must forgive his brother three times. The Biblical proof for this was taken from the first and second chapters of Amos where we find a series of condemnations on the various nations for three transgressions (Am.1:3, 6, 9; Am.1:11, 13; Am.2:1, 4, 6). From this it was deduced that God's forgiveness extends to three offenses, and that He visits the sinner with punishment at the fourth. Also, seven was a holy number to Jewish people, symbolizing perfection, fullness, abundance, rest, and completion. Peter expected to be warmly commended.  But Jesus’ answer was that the Christian must forgive “seventy times seven times.” In other words, there is no reckonable limit to forgiveness.

A certain married couple had many sharp disagreements. Yet somehow the wife always stayed calm and collected. One day her husband commented on his wife’s restraint. “When I get mad at you,” he said, “you never fight back. How do you control your anger?”
The wife said: “I work it off by cleaning the toilet.”
The husband asked: “How does that help?”
She said: “I use your toothbrush!”

We must forgive in order to be forgiven. Jesus explains this after teaching the prayer, Our Father, saying=, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Mt 6:14-15). The same theme is reflected in the first reading from Sirach today. James offers this warning in different words: "For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy" (Jas 2:13). This means that Divine and human forgiveness go hand in hand.
Francis of Assisi’s prayer is: “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.” Our failure to offer pardon means that we have forgotten God’s goodness or have not fully appreciated the unconditional forgiveness we have received from Him.

Forgiveness involves more than absolution of guilt. It involves the reconciliation of our past and the healing of our brokenness. It involves intentional work to heal and be reconciled with another.
Forgiveness does not mean condoning evil. Neither in God nor in the Christian community, do forgiveness and reconciliation mean the indefinite tolerance of evil and unjust behavior. The king was perfectly ready to forgive the senior official. But how could reconciliation take place when the official later behaved in such an abominable way to a brother? God and the Church can forgive the repentant sinner, but they cannot condone un-repented behavior that is a source of real evil and suffering. God cannot be reconciled with the sinner who chooses to stay in sin, nor can the Christian community fully incorporate a member who refuses reconciliation and the healing of the behaviors that offend against truth and love. With God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, forgiveness is easily available to the individual Christian, but along with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we must seek a mutual healing of wounds and a real change of mind and evil behavior.

We need to forgive the person who has wronged us before the hatred eats away at our ability to forgive. It will not be easy, but God is there to help us. We can do this by offering that individual to God, not sitting in judgment on him or her, but by simply saying, “Help so-and-so and me to mend our relationship.” Whatever the hurt, pain, disappointment, fear or anger that we may be feeling, we need to say, “God, I give this over to You. I can’t take care of it, but I know that You can. What would You have me to do?” And then listen. This isn’t merely being passive – or passing the buck to God. In fact it’s just the opposite. This kind of prayer and this kind of listening has to give birth to action, but it’s action that realistically acknowledges God’s Lordship, and trusts that, through God’s power, we can do all things, even the impossible . . . like forgiving. When we withhold forgiveness, we remain the victim. When we offer forgiveness, we are doing it also for our own well-being. Forgiveness allows us to move beyond the pain, the resentment, and the anger. We always have a choice: to forgive or not to forgive. When we forgive we make the choice that heals.
Let’s say with full awareness the Lords’ prayer: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

Friday, September 8, 2017

The common theme of today’s readings is that we are all  “keepers” of our brothers and sisters, for each one of us is important to all the others in our Faith community. In the first reading, God tells Ezekiel that he is to be a "watchman for the house of Israel,” obliged to warn Israel of moral dangers.  If Ezekiel should refrain from speaking God’s word intended to convert the wicked, God will hold Ezekiel responsible for the death of the wicked. 

In the second reading, St. Paul points out that the love we should have for one another should be our only reason for admonishing the sinner.  Love seeks the good of the one who is loved. Therefore, we should admonish one another so that we all may repent and grow in holiness. In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that true Christian charity obliges a Christian with correction and counsel for an erring brother or sister who has damaged the community by his or her public sin. Matthew expands a saying of Jesus, originally concerned primarily with forgiveness into a four-step procedure of confrontation, negotiation, adjudication and excommunication, dealing to finally mend a broken relationship within the Christian fellowship.

1.Confrontation:  The worst thing that we can do about a wrong done to us is to brood about it. Brooding can poison our whole mind and life, until we can think of nothing else but our sense of personal injury. We mustn’t gossip either, but should go to meet the offender in person, and point out lovingly, in all seriousness, the harm he has done.  This is to solve the issue between them.

2.Negotiation:  Suppose the first step does not resolve the situation and the person refuses to admit wrong, and continue in a bad behavior, the second step is to take one or two other members of the Church along with the wronged person to speak to the wrongdoer and to act as confirming witnesses. The taking of the witnesses is not meant to be a way of proving to a man that he has committed an offence, but for emphasizing and explaining calmly the gravity of the situation. 

3.Adjudication: If the negotiation step does not resolve the situation either, the third step is to have the whole Church or community of believers confront the wrongdoer. The Church provides an atmosphere of Christian prayer, Christian love and Christian fellowship in which personal relationships may be righted in the light of love and of the Gospel. Finally, in matters of honor and shame, the community is the final arbiter, for the community as a whole suffers from the wrong.

4) Excommunication: If the offender chooses to disregard the believing community's judgment, the consequence is “excommunication.” That is, the wrongdoer should be put out of the Church with the hope that temporary alienation alone may bring the erring person to repentance and change. But the excommunication should be carried out with genuine grief (1 Cor 5:2), not vindictive glee over another's "fall" or self-righteous pride.

In one of the popular Chicken Soup volumes, Dennis E. Mannering tells about an assignment he once gave to a class he teaches for adults. He gave them the assignment, "Go to someone you love, and tell them that you love them." At the beginning of the next class, one of the students began by saying, "I was angry with you last week when you gave us this assignment. I didn't feel I had anyone to say those words to. But as I began driving home my conscience started talking. Then I knew exactly who I needed to say ‘I love you’ to. Five years ago, my father and I had a vicious disagreement and never really resolved it. We avoided seeing each other unless we absolutely had to at family gatherings. We hardly spoke. So by the time I got home, I had convinced myself I was going to tell my father I loved him. Just making that decision seemed to lift a heavy load off my chest. At 5:30, I was at my parents' house ringing the doorbell, praying that Dad would answer the door. I was afraid if Mom answered, I would chicken out and tell her instead. But as luck would have it, Dad did answer the door. I didn't waste any time. I took one step in the door and said, ‘Dad, I just came over to tell you that I love you.’ It was as if a transformation came over my dad. Before my eyes his face softened, the wrinkles seemed to disappear and he began to cry. He reached out. But that's not even my point. Two days after that visit, my dad had a heart attack. So my message to all of you is this: Don't wait to do the things you know need to be done. What if I had waited to tell my dad? Take the time to do what you need to do and do it now!"

People hurt us, sometimes intentionally, sometimes without meaning to. But sometimes who is in the right and who is in the wrong is not as important as finding a common ground where the relationship can be maintained. Sometimes that means that we have to take the first step, even though we know that the other person is in the wrong. And the best time to take that step is today.

Friday, September 1, 2017

OT XXII [A] Jer 20:7-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27  

Joseph Ton was pastor of a Baptist church in Rumania while that country was ruled by Communists. The authorities hated him because of his preaching. They arrested him, and threatened to kill him. Ton said to the arresting officer:
"Sir, your supreme weapon is killing. My supreme weapon is dying. Sir, you know my sermons are all over the country on tapes now. If you kill me, you will be sprinkling them with my blood. Whoever listens to them after that will say, 'You'd better listen. This man sealed it with his blood.' They will speak ten times louder than before. So, go on and kill me. Then I will win the supreme victory."
The officer sent him home. Ton then said, "For years I was a Christian who was cautious because I wanted to survive. I had accepted all the restrictions the authorities put on me because I wanted to live. Now I wanted to die, and they wouldn't oblige. Now I could do whatever I wanted in Rumania. For years I wanted to save my life, and I was losing it. Now that I wanted to lose it, I was winning it."

Today Jesus reveals a paradoxical truth. Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Last week Our Lord was praising Peter’s faith; this week he is condemning his worldly outlook, scolding him telling get behind me Satan.  Jesus announces that he “must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised." After correcting Peter’s protest, Jesus announces the three conditions of Christian discipleship: “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” Unless we constantly remind ourselves of the demands of this difficult vocation from God, we will fail to be the kind of disciples that Christ expects us to be.

Our Lord teaches us that the cross is a part of our life whether we want it or not, and what matters is how we face it and why we face it. He also encourages us to practice self-detachment and to remember that everything we have comes from God. The world tries to turn our minds away from the Cross, but the cross is the true path to life and fulfillment. When we accept and shoulder the crosses in our life, it renews our attitude toward the fleeting things of this world and what is truly important. No matter how often we try to accumulate things and ensure comfort, something prevents it from happening. Some people are wealthy, or healthy, or in charge of their lives, yet they feel something is missing.

Our Lord reminds us today that we can have the whole world, but not possess what is truly important: an enduring and fulfilled life. That enduring and fulfilled life doesn’t exist in this world, yet this world is the path to it. It depends on how we live in this world. The only way to achieve what we truly desire is to take up our cross for the sake of a higher cause: Jesus’ cause.

Remove the cross from our faith and it is a house of cards. It will crumble under the slightest weight.

When a bud goes through the pain of bursting, it is transformed into a beautiful flower.  When a pupa struggles out of a cocoon, it is transformed into a charming butterfly. When a chicken breaks the shell and comes out it becomes a lovely bird. A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It has to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain.  When a seed bursts the pod and falls to the ground it begins to grow as a plant. When we undergo the suffering and pain of life we get strengthened.  St Paul wrote:  “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Romans 5:3-4).”  Suffering is not the last thing in life. It leads us to something greater as long as we are ready to accept its challenges.  “A bend in the road is not the end of the road... unless you fail to make the turn.”  

Dear brothers and sisters, the Christian life is the sacrificial life. When we practice little acts of kindness we are writing our name in the history of time. We will be remembered by many even after our departure from this world.

A true disciple asks, "Am I willing to sacrifice something for the Kingdom?" 

Let’s ask Our Lord today to help us see our crosses not as burdens, but as opportunities to help construct a better world in his name. Through our crosses, in his service, we can achieve a better life for ourselves and others. Let us listen to the teaching of Jesus, “whoever wishes to keep his life safe, will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it.” 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

We are all familiar with the term identity crisis. It is a modern phenomenon that man tries to find his own identity. Many today ask the question who they are?
In today’s Gospel Jesus confronts his disciples with a very difficult question. The opinion of people about him, and their personal opinion about him.
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. When this question was addressed to Peter, his answer was, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

It is evident that Jesus was well pleased with Peter’s answer. Jesus first pronounced a blessing upon Peter, the only disciple in the Gospels to receive a personal blessing. "Blessed are you, Simon son of John!" Next, Jesus confirmed Peter's insight as a special revelation from God. "No mere man has revealed this to you, but my Heavenly Father." Only those who have had received such a revelation from God can really live and die for Christ.

During the first three centuries, the Church boasts about eleven million martyrs who fertilized the tree of faith with their blood. The martyrs are the most intriguing and most beloved saints of Christianity. Our most popular and beloved saints, with innumerable churches dedicated to their names, are those who died for the faith, like St. George, St. Sebastian, St. Stephen, St. Catherine, St. Barbara, St.Polycarp and many more.

Neo-martyr Michael Paknanas was less than twenty years old, and he worked as a gardener in Athens in the 1800s. The Turks, who enslaved Greece at the time, were trying to convince him to give up his faith. When flattery and wealth failed to persuade him, they put to use some of their more convincing standard missionary work by torturing the teenager. When all the tortures proved to be futile, the executioner was preparing to behead the young man, but at the same time he was feeling some compassion for him. So he began cutting his neck slowly with the sword by administering very light blows, while asking the martyr to reconsider. The martyr's response? "I told you, I am a Christian. I refuse to give up my faith." The ax-man struck with another light blow to make some more blood flow, to possibly convince him. The martyr repeated, "I told you, I am a Christian. Strike with all your might, for the faith of Christ." This totally aggravated the executioner. He did exactly that, and St. Michael was sent to the heavenly mansions.

For the last 20 centuries this question: who do you say that I am, has been repeatedly addressed to a number of Christians; and their lives depended on the answer they found for this question. 
In his teens, C.S. Lewis was a professed agnostic. He was influenced in his conversion to Christianity by reading the book The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton and through the influence of two of his Christian friends. After his conversion, he wrote a number of books defending Christianity. During the Second World War, in his famous BBC radio talk, “Mere Christianity,” he said, “I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Jesus: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who is merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic, on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg, or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” If we accept Jesus as a moral teacher, then we must necessarily accept Him as God, for great moral teachers do not tell lies.

Today, Jesus challenges us to know him personally and to serve him and love him as Lord, and he wants from each one of us our total, single-hearted response. Who do you say I am?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

OT XX [A] Is 56:1, 6-7; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt 15:21-28 

One day, a certain curious person in heaven asked St. Peter “How many Hindus are in heaven?” Peter replied: “No Hindus”. Then he asked: “How many Muslims?” “Not even one,” replied Peter. The man was surprised. He said: “Oh, then, there are only Christians in heaven?” “No, there are no Christians in heaven either,” replied Peter. “How Many Catholics?” “No, Catholics either.” Then St. Peter said, “Heaven is not meant for any particular group of people. Here, there is no distinction between Hindus, Muslims or Christians for all are welcome in Heaven.”

All three readings today speak of the expansive and universal nature of the “Kingdom of God,” in contrast with the protocol of the day which demanded that salvation should come first to the Jews and then to all the people of the earth. Although God set the Hebrew people apart as His chosen race, He included all nations in His plan for salvation and blessed all families of the earth in Abraham (Gn 12:1-3). By declaring through the prophet Isaiah (the first reading), “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples,” God reveals the truth that in His eyes there is no distinction among human beings on the basis of race, caste or color.  The long-expected Messianic kingdom was intended, not only for the Jews, but for all nations as well.  There is no place for discrimination among God’s children.

Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 67) rejects all types of religious exclusivity: "Let all the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You.  For You judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon the earth, so that Your saving power may be known among all the nations." In the second reading, Paul explains that, although the Jews were the chosen people, most of them denied the promised Messiah. Consequently, God turned to the Gentiles who received His mercy through their Faith in Jesus. In the Gospel story, Jesus demonstrates that salvation is meant for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews by healing the daughter of a Gentile woman as a reward for her strong Faith.

The Gospels describe only two miraculous healings Jesus performed for Gentiles:  the healing of the centurion’s servant (Mt 8:10-12) in Capernaum, and the healing of the daughter of the Canaanite woman which we heard today. By granting the persistent request of the pagan woman, Jesus demonstrates that his mission is to break down the barriers and to remove the long-standing walls of division and mutual prejudice between the Jews and the Gentiles. God does not discriminate but welcomes all who believe in Him, who ask for His mercy and who try to do His will.

 On another occasion too he praised the faith of a pagan; "nowhere in Israel have I found such faith," he said to a Roman centurion (Matthew 8:10; Luke 7:9).  And to his disciples he once said, "Whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:38). 
However he also said something that appears opposed to this last quotation.  "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters" (Luke 11:23).  But notice that he said "with me."  He did not say “with you.”  Once a group of people get together they begin to be exclusive.  Even a group of disciples can be exclusive in a way that Christ himself would never be.  Notice too that the first statement (Mark 9:38) is addressed to his own disciples and refers to the work of outsiders, while the second (Luke 11:23) is addressed to outsiders and refers to his own work.  There are many who claim to be working with him  -  good Christians, good Catholics  -  but who have nothing of his great mind and Spirit, nothing of his compassion and love, and who may be surprised to know that they are working against him.  
Much good work is done for Christ outside the fold.  In its document on non-Christian religions, the Second Vatican Council stated: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all people." (NostraAetate, 2).  In our own time too there are movements without number for the development and liberation of humanity.  If they are not against Christ they are with him, and their followers are our brothers and sisters. 

We need to pull down our walls of separation and share in the universality of God’s love: Very often we set up walls which separate us from God and from one another. It is therefore fitting that we should pray that the walls which our pride, intolerance and prejudice have raised, may crumble. Next, we have to be grateful to God for all the blessings we enjoy. As baptized members of the Christian community, we have been given special privileges and easy access to God's love.  But we also have serious responsibilities arising from these gifts. One of these responsibilities is to make clear to others, with true humility and compassion, that God's love, mercy and healing are for them also because they too are the children of God.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Rv 11:19a, 12:1-6a, 10ab; I Cor 15:20-27a; Lk 1:39-56)

The Feast of the Assumption is one of the most important feasts of our Lady.  We believe that when her earthly life was finished, Mary was taken up, body and soul, into Heavenly glory, where the Lord exalted her as Queen of Heaven. (CCC # 966).  It was on November 1, 1950, that, through the Apostolic Constitution Munificentimus Deus, Pope Pius XII officially declared the Assumption as a Dogma of Catholic Faith. 

Although there is no direct reference to Mary’s death and Assumption in the New Testament, two cases of assumption are mentioned in the Old Testament, namely, those of Enoch (Gn 5:24) and the prophet Elijah (2 Kgs 2:1).  These references support the possibility of Mary’s Assumption.  Although the New Testament does not explicitly affirm Mary’s Assumption, it offers a basis for it because it strongly emphasized the Blessed Virgin’s perfect union with Jesus’ destiny. Perfectly united with the life and saving work of Jesus, Mary shares his Heavenly destiny in body and soul.
In AD 325, the Council of Nicaea spoke of the Assumption of Mary. Writing in AD 457, the Bishop of Jerusalem said that when Mary’s tomb was opened, it was "found empty. The apostles judged her body had been taken into Heaven.”  There is a tomb at the foot of the Mt. of Olives where ancient tradition says that Mary was laid.  But there is nothing inside.  There are no relics, as there are with the other saints. This is acceptable negative evidence of Mary’s Assumption. 
In his decree on the Dogma of the Assumption, Pope Pius XII gives a couple of theological reasons to support this traditional belief.

The degeneration or decay of the body after death is the result of original sin.  However, since, through a special intervention of God, Mary was born without original sin, it is not proper that God would permit her body to degenerate in the tomb. In other words, at the first moment of her life, by a very special privilege of God, Mary was preserved free from the stain of sin. At the last moment, by another very special privilege she was preserved free from the corruption of the grave.

Since Mary was given the fullness of grace, Heaven is the proper place for this sinless mother of Jesus. Hence, unlike other saints, Our Lady is in Heaven not only with her soul but also with her glorified body.

In the first reading, the author of Revelation probably did not have Mary of Nazareth in mind when he described the “woman” in this narrative.  He uses the “woman” as a symbol for the nation and people, Israel.  She is pictured as giving birth, as Israel brought forth the Messiah through its pains. The woman is also symbolic of the Church, and the woman’s offspring represents the way the Church brings Christ into the world.  The dragon represents the world's resistance to Christ and the truths that the Church proclaims.  As Mary is the mother of Christ and of the Church, the passage has indirect reference to Mary

In the Magnificat, or song of Mary, given in today’s Gospel, Mary declares, “the Almighty has done great things for me; Holy is His Name.” Besides honoring her as Jesus’ mother, God has blessed Mary with the gift of bodily Assumption.  God, who has "lifted up" His "lowly servant," Mary, lifts up all the lowly, not only because they are faithful, but also because God is faithful to the promise of Divine mercy.  Thus, the feast of the Assumption celebrates the mercy of God or the victory of God’s mercy as expressed in Mary’s Magnificat.

Mary’s Assumption gives us the assurance and hope of our own resurrection and assumption into Heaven on the day of our Last Judgment.
Since Mary’s Assumption was a reward for her saintly life, this feast reminds us that we, too, must be pure and holy in body and soul, since our bodies will be glorified on the day of our resurrection.  St. Paul tells us that our bodies are the temples of God because the Holy Spirit dwells within us.  He also reminds us that our bodies are members (parts) of the Body of Christ.

Finally, it is always an inspiring thought in our moments of temptation and despair to remember that we have a powerful Heavenly Mother, constantly interceding for us before her Son, Jesus, in Heaven. The feast of Mary’s Assumption challenges us to imitate her self-sacrificing love, her indestructible Faith and her perfect obedience.
Therefore, on this feast day of our Heavenly Mother, let us offer ourselves on the altar and pray for her special care and loving protection in helping us lead a purer and holier life.  

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Dale Carnegie relates in his famous book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, the resilience of a discouraged and disheartened book salesman, John R. Antony. Antony knew his job thoroughly, but somehow he never made many sales. Day by day, he was discouraged. He became afraid to call on people. Even when he went in, often, he would wish that his client wouldn’t be in the seat. The sales manager threatened to stop his advances if he didn’t send in more orders. With decreasing sales, Antony grew depressed. The only reason he did not commit suicide was because he did not have the courage to do so. Since he had no one else to turn towards, he turned towards God. He asked God to help him to give him money to feed his wife and his three children. After the prayer he opened his eyes and saw the Bible on the dresser in the hotel room. He opened the Bible read the words of Jesus: “Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Mt: 6: 25-33).” As he read and prayed over those words of Jesus, a miracle happened. His anxieties, worries and fears were transformed into heart-warming courage and hope and triumphant Faith. The next morning he got up and dressed well and headed towards his clients with a bold and positive stride. He held his chin high and introduced himself confidently and began his selling of the books. From then on, he never turned back. Twenty-two years later he confessed this truth: “That night I had become suddenly aware of my relationship with God. A mere man alone can easily be defeated, but a man alive with the power of God within him is invincible. I know. I saw it work in my own life.” Anthony from his sinking state reached out to Christ and Christ lifted him up.(John Rose in John’s Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

 The disciples saw Jesus walking towards them. Whenever we are in trouble, too, Jesus is walking towards us. He is never far from us.  He is walking towards us to take away our fears, to take away our troubles, to take away our sorrows.

When Peter found that Jesus was walking towards them, he cried out “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.” Peter expressed a desire to imitate what the master was doing. Peter started to imitate his master with great enthusiasm, but as he felt the force of the wind he began to sink. He was not able to sustain in his attempt to imitate Jesus, for long. When doubts overtook him, he began to sink. Even then Peter showed his absolute trust in Jesus. He shouted, ‘Lord Save me.” When we too feel the force of pressure from the society, the force of pressure from the contemporary customs, the force of pressure from the materialistic attitude towards life we too give up our enthusiasm to imitate Jesus, and sink like Peter.  But, in our troubled moments our prayer too should be “Lord save us.” Jesus will put out his hands to hold us.

It is the presence of Jesus which gives us peace even in the wildest storms of life: storms of sorrow, storms of doubt, tension and uncertainty, storms of anxiety and worries, storms of anger and despair, storms of temptations. Storms let us know that without him we can do nothing, without him we are doomed to fail. Yet, when Jesus shows up, we gain the strength to join Paul, saying, “In Christ I can do all things.” But this demands a personal relationship with God, with Jesus, enhanced through prayer, meditative study of Scripture and active Sacramental life. Experiencing Jesus’ presence in our lives, lets us confess our faith in him and call out for his help and protection and say with Peter: Lord save me.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The 17th century English poet, John Donne, tells of a man searching for God. He is convinced that God lives on the top of a mountain at the end of the earth. After a journey of many days, the man arrives at the foot of the mountain and begins to climb it. At the same time God says to the angels: “What can I do to show my people how much I love them?” He decides to descend the mountain and live among the people as one of them. As the man is going up one side of the mountain, God is descending the other side. They don’t see each other because they are on opposite sides of the mountain. On reaching the summit, the man discovers an empty mountaintop. Heartbroken, the man concludes that God does not exist. Despite speculation to the contrary, God does not live on mountaintops, deserts, or at the end of the earth, or even in some Heaven, - God dwells among human beings and in the person of Jesus. – Staying on in the safety of the mountain is what Peter would prefer. During the Transfiguration, Peter and his companions got a glimpse of the future glory of Jesus’ Resurrection. They want nothing more. However, after they come down the mountain, they are told by Jesus that the glory they witnessed would be real only after he had gone through suffering and death. We too will share in his glory, only by sharing in his suffering and death.

Today’s Gospel describing Christ’s Transfiguration challenges us to revitalize our Faith as true disciples of Christ, just as the passages from Daniel and II Peter were written to strengthen the Faith of their audiences in times of persecution.

In the second reading, St. Peter argues that the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ and the testimony of the Old Testament prophets (in the Messianic prophecies) are the guarantee of the doctrine of Christ's Second Coming. The primary purpose of Jesus’ Transfiguration was to allow Jesus to consult his Heavenly Father in order to ascertain His plan for His Son’s suffering, death and Resurrection.  The secondary aim was to make his chosen disciples aware of Jesus’ Divine glory, so that they might discard their worldly ambitions and dreams of a conquering political Messiah and might be strengthened in their time of trial. On the mountain, Jesus is identified by the Heavenly Voice as the Son of God. Thus, the Transfiguration event is a Christophany, that is, a manifestation or revelation of Who Jesus really is.

While praying, Jesus was transfigured into a shining figure, full of Heavenly glory.  This reminds us of Moses and Elijah who also experienced the Lord in all His glory.  Moses had met the Lord in the burning bush at Mount Horeb (Ex 3:1-4).  After his later encounter with God, Moses' face shone so brightly that it frightened the people, and Moses had to wear a veil over his face (Ex 34:29-35). The luminosity of the face of Moses is also meant to signal the invasion of God. The Jews believed that Moses was taken up in a cloud at end of his earthly life (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 4. 326).  Elijah had traveled for forty days to Mt. Horeb on the strength of the food brought by an angel (1 Kings 19:8).  At Mt. Horeb, Elijah sought refuge in a cave as the glory of the Lord passed over him (1 Kings 19:9-18).  Finally, Elijah was taken directly to Heaven in a chariot of fire without experiencing death (2 Kings 2:11-15). In addition, “Moses led his people out of slavery in Egypt, received the Torah on Mount Sinai and brought God’s people to the edge of the Promised Land. Elijah, the great prophet in northern Israel during the ninth century BC, performed healings and other miracles and stood up to Israel’s external enemies and the wicked within Israel. Their presence in Matthew’s Transfiguration account emphasizes Jesus’ continuity with the Law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah) in salvation history.”(Fr. Harrington S. J.)

Each Sacrament that we receive transforms us.   Baptism, for example, transforms us into sons and daughters of God and heirs of heaven.  Confirmation makes us the temples of the Holy Spirit. By approaching the Sacrament of Reconciliation when we recognize, repenting, that we have sinned, God brings us back to the path of holiness. By receiving in Faith the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, we are spiritually, and if God wills physically, healed and our sins are forgiven. So, God offers us the opportunity to transform us everyday into his likeness and glory.

In our everyday lives, we often fail to recognize Jesus when he appears to us “transfigured,” hidden in someone who is in some kind of need.  Jesus will be happy when we attend to the needs of that person.  With the eyes of Faith, we must see Jesus in every one of our brothers and sisters, the children of God we come across each day and, by His grace, respond to Him in them with love and service.

Friday, July 28, 2017

O.T. XVII [A] 1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12; Rom 8:28-30; Mt 13:44-52

Dr. Williamson was a geologist doing some archeological excavation work in Tanzania. One day he found himself driving in a deserted area, slipping and sliding along a rain-soaked road. Suddenly his four-wheel drive vehicle sank up to its axles in the mud and got stuck. Pulling out his shovel, Dr. Williamson began the unpleasant task of digging the car out of a mud hole. He had been at it for a while when his shovel uncovered something strange. It was a pinkish stone of some sort. Being a geologist and naturally curious about rock formations, he picked it up and wiped away the mud. The more mud he removed, the more excited he became, and he could hardly believe what he saw. When the stone was finally clean, Dr. Williamson was beside himself with joy. He had discovered the diamond which became known as the famous Pink Diamond of Tanzania and is now set in the royal scepter of Great Britain. In today’s two parables, Jesus tells of two other men who unexpectedly discovered treasures

In the Gospel, Jesus teaches that God’s Kingdom is something of extraordinary value, like a hidden treasure or costly pearl, and that safeguarding it within us calls for total commitment. The Kingdom of God is God’s reign in our hearts, in our lives, in our homes, in our society, and in our world. Only those who develop a searching mind and are willing to give up everything for the great treasure of God’s Kingdom will be rewarded.

The "Kingdom of Heaven," synonymous in these parables with the "Kingdom of God,” is hidden, but it is of surpassing value. The parable of the pearl (45-46) makes the point that the sacrifice of everything must be made for this one thing of immense value. Those who have not sacrificed everything for it will not have this treasure and will come to know how much they have lost.

The first two parables in today’s Gospel are lessons in the total attachment to Christ and detachment from the things of the world demanded of the disciple to make the reign of God in himself, and in the world, a reality.  Frequent battles and foreign invasions encouraged the people of Palestine to bury their treasures like money and jewelry in their fields. For example, the great religious treasure – the “Dead Sea Scrolls,” discovered in the caves at Qumran in 1947 – was hidden there over 2,000 years ago. Sometimes unclaimed and forgotten, the hidden treasures awaited some lucky finder. Jesus tells the story of one such lucky treasure-finder who sold everything he had in order to get ownership of the field. According to the Palestinian laws of that time, the mere finding of buried treasure did not entitle the finder to possession unless he also owned the property in which it was found. In the parable of the treasure in the field and in the parable of the merchant who sought fine pearls, we see the image of one who recognizes the value of the kingdom of God and gives everything to possess it. Matthew, a tax-collector, might have experienced something like this when he discovered the eternal value of the Kingdom preached by Jesus of Nazareth.  When he discovered Jesus and his vision of life, everything else became secondary. Having a personal relationship with Christ, that is, making Christ’s view of life one's own, is the most beautiful, the most precious thing in the world. But most of the time, we are chasing false treasures like money, social status and pleasure. Jesus our true treasure may come to lives unexpectedly through some daily experience as he did with Mathew.  

Jesus wants us to know that the Kingdom of God is worth all we have.  He has come to offer us God's Kingdom, a unique pearl of the greatest price. The genuine disciples are those who respond to this opportunity with joy and selfless commitment, eagerly giving top priority to life in the Kingdom by doing God’s will, whatever it may be. The “treasures” and “pearls” of lasting value are the things of God. They are the love of family and friends, the support of community, and the sense of fulfillment that rises from serving and giving for the sake of others.  In order to attain such treasure, we must “sell off” our own interests, ambitions and agendas and thus free ourselves to embrace the lasting values of the compassion, love and mercy of God Who reconciles us to Himself.

when one discovers Jesus and his vision of life, everything else becomes secondary.  That is what St. Paul meant when he said: "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:8), and again "For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 2:21). To have a personal experience of Christ and personal relationship with Him – in other words, to have made Christ’s view of life one's own – is the most precious thing in the world.  

Right now, it is for us to use the time given to us to go in search of the pearl of great price and to help others in their search. We are challenged to search and discern where the Lord is calling us so that we may know what path to take.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

In today’s parable, Jesus presents a wise and patient God who allows the good and the evil to coexist in the world, so that the evil ones may come to conversion before their time ends and God must punish them.  "Let the wheat and the weeds grow together till the harvest time.” God gives all of us sinners ample time to repent and change our lives. God calmly recognizes that there is evil in the world, but He sees that evil is no excuse for the good people not to do good with the power of God at their disposal. 
The weeds or darnel resemble wheat plants so closely that it is impossible to distinguish the one from the other until the ears of seed appear.  By that time, the wheat and darnel roots are so intertwined that the darnel cannot be weeded out without plucking the wheat out with them.  Another way to get rid of the weeds, as we know it now is to buy some weed killer. This stuff will really kill the weeds. The biggest problem with weed killer is that it doesn't know a tumble weed from a tomato plant. It kills every plant that it touches. Sometimes, it is best just to leave the weeds alone until it is time to harvest the crop. Then you can separate the weeds from the good plants.

The weeds in the parable stand for unrepentant sinners, people whose priority is themselves, who use others for their own advancement or pleasure, instead of serving them. These unrepentant sinners, unless they cooperate with God’s grace, repent and change their lives, will end up in Hell, "the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth." The wheat stands for the righteous, those who have resisted the seductions of evil, repented of their sins, and battled against selfishness in order to follow Jesus Christ.

The parable hints at why we should not treat others as "weeds," i.e. evil or wicked.  Each one of us is a combination of wheat and weeds.  In each of us there are elements of the Kingdom of God and elements that are deeply opposed to it. 
Another reason we should avoid judgment is that we cannot draw a line which would neatly separate the good from the bad because everyone is a mixture of good and evil.  Here is Karl Rahner’s piece of advice to enthusiastic “weed”-gatherers: "The number-one cause of atheism is Christians themselves.  What an unbelieving world finds simply unbelievable is the presence of those who proclaim God with their mouths and deny Him with their lifestyles.  Perhaps, the best defense of God would be to just keep our mouths shut and to live as He told us to.  The Gospel would then have such a power and attraction that we wouldn't have to worry about defending it.”

Bishop Sheen said in one of his radio speeches: “The history of the world would have been different if the Christian authorities had shown compassion, patience and mercy instead of expelling Hitler and Mussolini from the schools and Stalin from the seminary in disgrace as ‘weeds.’”

It's better to have a wheat field with weeds in it than a field with nothing in it at all. There is a cost to the innocent as well as to the guilty in trying to weed the wheat. In an imperfect world, the innocent can be rooted up along with the evil when we choose to pass final judgment.

Instead of asking why God allows evil to exist let us ask what God expects from us.  God wants us to take a good look into the field of our own lives to see what is growing there.  Let us work with Him to pull out the “weeds" in our own personalities.  Then we need to start treating the so called "evil ones” as Christ did.  Why did he not weed out Judas who betrayed him, or Peter, who denied him?  Jesus saw the “weeds” in their lives, but he saw also saw the wheat.  He knew that with encouragement the wheat could prevail.  And often it did.  “Even the most honest man has stolen something in his life, but this doesn't mean that all people are thieves.” (Dostoyevsky)

Some are judged as being too radical and others as not being radical enough.  Some are judged for embracing doctrinal errors, others for appearing not to have any doctrine at all.  Some are condemned for not caring for the poor, others for caring too much for the poor. The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, including my heart. I may even be the weed in somebody else's garden.

 Let us patiently and lovingly treat the “weeds” in our society as our brothers and sisters and do all in our power to put them back on the right road to Heaven, especially by our good example and our fervent prayer for their conversion.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

OT XV [A]: Is 55:10-11; Rom 8:18-23; Mt  13:1-23

Jesus taught the good news for three years. The message of Jesus penetrated the heart of each of his listeners because he spoke with tenderness using the vocabulary of the common man. In order to make himself understood more easily he made abundant use of comparisons which he took from the everyday life of the people.

In his parable of the sower, Jesus uses four different soil-types to represent four separate responses people can give to God's saving word. The word “parable” comes from the Greek word parabole, which means putting two things side by side in order to confront or compare them.  And that is exactly how Jesus uses parables:  He places a simile from life or nature against the abstract idea of the reign of God. Jesus’ parable of the seed sown in various soil types was an attempt to boost the morale of his frustrated disciples. They were upset and discouraged because they realized that their master was facing opposition and hostility from the scribes, Pharisees and priests. The synagogues refused to admit him to preach. So Jesus had to go to beaches and hillsides. Some of the Pharisees were planning to trap him, and the common people were more interested in his ability to heal them than in his preaching.  Using the parable of the sower in today’s Gospel, Jesus assured his confused disciples that the “Good News” he preached would produce the intended effect in spite of opposition and controversy. In fact, each one of us may display all four different types of soil at various times in our personal lives. Some time the seed or the word may remain dormant for some time before it produces the intended fruit.

Fred Craddock tells a story about the time he got a phone call from a woman whose father had died. She had been a teenager in one of the churches he had served as pastor twenty years before, and he would have sworn that if there was ever a person who never heard a word he said, that teenage girl was it. She was always giggling with her friends in the balcony, passing notes to boys, drawing pictures on the bulletin. But when her father died, she looked up her old pastor, the Rev. Fred Craddock, and gave him a call. "I don't know if you remember me," she started. Oh, yes, he remembered. "When my daddy died, I thought I was going to come apart," she continued. "I cried and cried and cried. I didn't know what to do. But then I remembered something you said in one of your sermons . . ." And Fred Craddock was stunned. She had remembered something he had said in one of his sermons?! It was proof enough to him that you can never tell how the seed will fall or where it might take root.

The parable of the sower challenges us to see how deeply the word of God has taken root in our lives, how central God is to the very fabric of our day-to-day life. 
Good soil represents the company of the committed people who are determined to serve Christ to the best of their abilities, people who are willing to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to see Christ's kingdom come, people who by their work and their witness bear fruit that does not perish. What kind of soil am I?

There has been a person who offered the best soil to God’s Word at all times. That is Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is the perfect model as to how we should listen to the Word of God. Luke says, “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Lk 2:19)

She is also the perfect model of obedience to God’s word.  She submitted herself to the word of God and declared:  “I am the handmaid of the Lord let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
She also commanded others to follow the words of Jesus. “Do whatever he tells you.”(Jn2:5).

How do we respond to the Word of God and to the various Acts of God in our lives? The real hearer of the word has an open mind; he is prepared to listen; he understands; and finally he translates his hearing into action.

Do we allow the trials and tribulations of this world to overwhelm the tender seed growing within us?  Do we pull back when people harass us because we are believers?  Do we decide, because things are not working out the way we think they ought, that God doesn't care for us, or that He is powerless, weak and not to be heeded? Lets’ keep the soil of our hearts loose and fertile so that the word of God may take root and bring a 100 fold fruit.

Friday, July 7, 2017

 A farmer went to a government bureaucrat specializing in animal health. The farmer sought help from the “expert” because ten of his chickens had suddenly died. The government expert instructed the farmer to give aspirin to all the surviving chickens.
Two days later, however, the farmer returned. Twenty more chickens had died. What should he do now? The expert said quickly: Give all the rest castor oil.
Two days later, the farmer returned a third time and reported 30 more dead chickens. The government expert now strongly recommended penicillin.
Two days later a sad farmer showed up. All the rest of his chickens had now died. They were all gone.
“What a shame,” said the expert, “I have lots more remedies!”
The world offers many so-called remedies to the problem of stress, but the truth is most of them don’t work. The world offers many so-called solutions for the tensions and burdens that push us down and pull us apart… but the truth is there is only one Prince of Peace, who can soothe our jangled nerves and save our troubled souls.

In today's Gospel Jesus says, “Come to me. All who are exhausted and weighted down beneath your burdens, and I will give you rest….. my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

This is an imagery taken from the daily association of a farmer who used the yoke, and the carpenter who made the yoke.
It is a human tendency to mourn over our inabilities and blame God. It is common in everyone of us. We look at others talents, blessings, wealth, health and achievements.  In this despair we fail to appreciate our abilities and talents. When we are tested with trials we ask God Why me? And we fail to count the innumerable blessings that we have received.
Arthur Ashe, the legendary Wimbledon player was dying of AIDS which he got due to infected blood he received during a heart surgery in 1983.
From the world over, he received letters from his fan, one of them conveyed: "Why does God have to select you for such a bad disease?".

To this Arthur Ashe replied: The world over--50,000,000 children start playing tennis, 5,000,000 learn to play tennis, 500,000 learn professional tennis, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5000 reach the grand slam, 50 reach the Wimbledon, 4 to semi-finals, 2 to finals. When I was the one holding the cup, I never asked god "Why me?".
And today in pain, I should not be asking GOD "why me?".
If we can have this attitude   we will not feel that our life is overburdened with problems.  God has designed our life only according to our ability. When we compare our sufferings with that of others often we find ours problems are nothing. It is very good remember the quote, "I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.
Every heavy burden in our life will become light, if it is accepted in love.

We are burdened by many other things: business, concerns about jobs, marriage, money, health, children, security, old age and a thousand other things.

To take the yoke of Christ is to enter into relationship with Christ as his loving servants and subjects and to conduct ourselves accordingly. The yoke of Christ is not just a yoke from Christ but also a yoke with him. A yoke is fashioned for a pair -- for a team working together. So we are not yoked alone to pull the plow by our own unaided power; we are yoked together with Christ to work with Him using His strength. By saying that his “yoke is easy” (11:30), Jesus means that whatever God sends us is made to fit our needs and our abilities exactly.

There is an old story which tells how a man came upon a little boy carrying a still smaller boy, who was lame, upon his back. "That's a heavy burden for you to carry," said the man. "That's not burden," came the answer. "That's my wee brother."
The burden which is accepted in love and carried in love is always light.  A mother will never feel spending sleepless night with the suffering child a burden. So when we do things out of love what seems to be heavy burden for others will become joyful.

One of the effects of Worship for many of us is that it gives us a time for rest and refreshment when we let the overheated radiators of our hectic lives cool down before the Lord. This is especially true when we unload the burdens of our sins and worries on the altar and offer them to God during the Holy Mass.

During this holy Eucharist, let's renew our trust and faith in Jesus, and ask him to help us make the burdens of our life light and carry them with him. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

OT XIII: 2 Kgs 4:8-11, 14-16a; Rom 6:3-4, 8-11; Mt 10:37-42

The Gospel lesson concludes Jesus' great “missionary discourse” in which he instructs his twelve disciples on the cost and the reward of the commitment required of a disciple. The first half of these sayings of Jesus details the behavior expected from his disciples and the second half speaks of the behavior of others towards the disciples.

“Whoever loves father or mother or children more than me is not worthy of me…."  These words may sound a bit extreme, since family comes first for most of us. What Jesus means is that all loyalties must give place to loyalty to God.   When we become followers of Christ, it really does change our priorities “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”

If we ask ourselves why we should love Christ more than our most dearly beloved relations and friends, then the answer we find is that the friendship, the closeness, already offered to us in Christ is something which goes further and deeper than even the very closest human relationship.

“What a morbid religion you have!” a Muslim said one day about Christianity.  “All that emphasis on suffering and death can't be good.” 
But suffering and death do not stand by themselves, for a Christian.  We are never to think of them as if they were the whole story.  We never think of Christ's suffering and death without thinking of his resurrection; and likewise our own suffering and death are openings to resurrection.  The last word is not suffering and death, but “that we might walk in newness of life.” 

There is no deep life without a lot of dying to oneself.  The way to deeper life is not through exaltation of the ego, but through its death.  The false self, the self-made self, the ego and its false pride: this has to die – or rather burst, because it is nothing real but only a bubble.  “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” 

"Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.". We live in a world where "finding their lives" is the paramount ambition of the majority of people. But Jesus tells us very clearly that this should not be our main concern. What he asks of us is that we should “lose this life" which means that we must stop living for ourselves alone.   We must forget our own security and work toward the security of others.  We must learn to take our own health a bit less seriously in order to care for those who are sick and hungry.   We must stop polluting the environment so that the rest of the world will have clean air to breathe. All these things fall into place when we lose ourselves in caring for others.

Jesus assures his disciples that whoever shows them hospitality will be blessed. Those who receive Jesus receive the One who sent him. So, too, those who help the "little ones" (messengers) will be amply rewarded. Our hospitality for others will be reward by Jesus. Hospitality means encountering the presence of God in others, usually where we least expect to find Him. The virtue of hospitality is the virtue of recognizing the presence of God in others and nourishing this presence. In the words of Mother Teresa, "The Gospel is written on your fingers." Holding up her fingers, one at a time, she accented each word: "You-Did-It-To-Me." Mother Teresa then added: "At the end of your life, your five fingers will either excuse you or accuse you of doing it unto the least of these.”

We, as a community, are to look for the opportunities to be hospitable-- and, of course, there are many ways of offering hospitality.  Maybe we offer hospitality simply by offering a stranger a kind word or a smile. When we live in such a busy and hectic world, we tend to brush off people who need help. A kind smile or a “hello" to someone waiting with us in a grocery line may be the only kindness that person encounters all day. As disciples called to receive Jesus in others let’s be charitable, kind and hospitable to others.