Sunday, December 31, 2017

Nm 6:22-27, Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21

Today’s Feast of "Mary, the Mother of God" is a very appropriate way to begin a new year. What better way to ring in the New Year than to celebrate the woman whose complete devotion to God played such a central role in our salvation? A Human woman is the mother of God, and God is the son of a human mother.

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said that no subject in our Faith needs to be approached more delicately than this, and one of the reasons he cited was that Catholics have a natural affection for Mary, and when Mary is attacked, Lewis says that Catholics respond with that “chivalrous sensibility that a man feels when the honor of his mother or his beloved is at stake.” Lewis says that Catholics feel this way about Mary “very naturally,” but there is one person who feels that way about Mary even more naturally than we do: her literal Son according to the flesh — Jesus Christ. As the obedient, infinitely Holy, Son of God, the Lord Jesus was a very firm believer in the commandment to honor one’s father and mother. As a result, if we were to talk about Mary in an impious manner then we would be offending not only Mary but also Christ by denying his mother the glory that he himself gave her.

 Since we celebrate the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, on New Year’s Day, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy and Peaceful New Year?  I pray that the Lord Jesus and His Mother Mary may enrich your lives during the New Year with an abundance of God’s blessings.  Today’s Feast of Mary, the Mother of God is a very appropriate way to begin a new year. This celebration reminds us that the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, is also our Heavenly Mother.  Hence, our ideal motto for the New Year 2018 should be “Through Mary to Jesus!" This is an occasion to renew our devotion to Mary, who is also Mother of the Church because she is our spiritual mother — and we are the Church. The solemnity shows the relationship of Jesus to Mary. It’s a perfect example of how we should venerate Mary under all of her titles and is a good foundation for our understanding of Mary’s place in Christology. The Church puts the feast of this solemnity on the first day of the New Year to emphasize the importance of Mary’s role in the life of Christ and of the Church.

Today's Solemnity reminds us that if we have become Christ's spiritual brothers and sisters, we have also become spiritual children of Mary. She was his mother in the flesh, and she is our mother in grace. And just as we learn from our natural mothers how to be good human beings, so we learn from Mary how to become mature Christians. She is the living school where we learn every virtue that leads to happiness and holiness. New year comes around with a lot of expectations, but behind them there may be some remorse too.

The name "January" comes from the Roman god Janus, the god with two faces, one looking to the past and the other looking to the future. This is indeed a time to look back at the year that has just ended and to look forward to the new year ahead of us. How did I spend this one year of my life that has just passed? Did I use it to advance my goals and objectives in life? Did I use it to enhance the purpose of my existence? Could I have done better last year in the way I invested my time between the demands of work, family, friends and society, and the demands of my spiritual life? We do need to review our lives from year to year because, as Socrates says, the unexamined life is not worth living.
Our lives are shaped much more by our attitude than by our circumstances. Everybody has struggles. My struggles are just more apparent than yours. That’s why I think my troubles are greater than yours.
The good news what lies ahead is no surprise to God. In fact, He has already been where we are going. That reason alone empowers us to face every tomorrow with hope, knowing whatever touches us passes through His hands, with His permission.

Whatever the situation in which we find ourselves - a hardship, a disappointment, a decision to make - God has a solution, an answer that is right for us. We tell God about it in prayer but we also listen to what God has to tell us about it. Prayer is a conversation with God but sometimes all we do is pick up the phone, read out the list of our problems to God and drop the phone without listening to hear what God has to say to us.

Let us today resolve to listen more to the voice of God, to treasure God's word and ponder it in our hearts. Then shall we be able to realize our new year resolution of a new life in union with God.

THE FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY [B] (Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Col 3:12-21; Luke 2: 22-40

A few years ago, a study was undertaken to find the U.S. city with the lowest incidence of cancer and heart disease.  The winner was Rosetto, Pennsylvania. Soon experts descended upon the city expecting to see a town populated by non-smokers, people who ate the correct food, took regular exercise and kept close track of their cholesterol.  To their great surprise, however, the researchers discovered that none of the above was true. They found instead that the city’s good health was tied to the close family bonds that prevailed within the community.   This suggests that there is much to be said for a close and loving family relationship.

On the last Sunday of the year, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.  We are here to offer all the members of our own families on the altar for God’s blessing. The first reading is a commentary on the fourth commandment: "Honor your father and your mother." Sirach reminds children of their duty to honor their parents – even when it becomes difficult. He also mentions the five-fold reward which God promises to those who honor their father and mother. The first reward is “riches,” and the second is long life: “Whoever reveres his father will live a long life.” Forgiveness of sins and God’s prompt answer to prayers are the fourth and fifth rewards. He reminds children that God blesses them if they obey, revere and show compassion to their father. Paul, in the letter to the Colossians, advises us that we should put on love and remain thankful in our relationships with one another.

Although more emphasis is given in the first two readings on the obligation of children to their parents, there is a profound lesson here for parents too. "Like father like son" is an old saying, and very often true. If the parents fail to do what is right and just in the sight of God, they can hardly complain if their children turn out disobedient to God and to them. The young learn more from example than from precept. If parents give their children the example of a life of obedience to the laws of God and their country, the children will in turn carry out their duties to God, to their parents and to their fellowman.

By celebrating the Sunday following Christmas as the Feast of the Holy Family, the Church encourages us to look to the Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph for inspiration, example and encouragement.   They were a model family in which both parents worked hard, helped each other, understood and accepted each other, and took good care of their Child so that He might grow up not only in human knowledge but also as a Child of God. Jesus brought holiness to the family of Joseph and Mary as Jesus brings us holiness by embracing us in His family.

The Feast of the Holy Family reminds us that, as the basic unit of the universal Church, each family is called to holiness. In fact, Jesus Christ has instituted two Sacraments in His Church to make society holy – the Sacrament of priesthood and the Sacrament of marriage.  Through the Sacrament of priesthood, Jesus sanctifies the priest as well as his parish. Similarly, by the Sacrament of marriage, Jesus sanctifies not only the spouses but also the entire family. The husband and wife attain holiness when they discharge their duties faithfully, trusting in God, and drawing on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit through personal and family prayer, meditative reading of the Bible, and devout participation in Holy Mass.  Families become holy when Christ Jesus is present in them. Jesus becomes truly present in the parish Church through the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass.  

 A senior Judge of the Supreme Court recently congratulated the bride and groom in a marriage with a pertinent piece of advice: “See that you never convert your family into a courtroom; instead let it be a confessional. If the husband and wife start arguing like attorneys in an attempt to justify their behavior, their family becomes a court of law and nobody wins.  On the other hand, if the husband and the wife -- as in a confessional -- are ready to admit their faults and try to correct them, the family becomes a Heavenly one.”

 "Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily details which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to grow in faith. As we celebrate this feast of the Holy Family, let’s pray that our families may grow in the model of that small family of Nazareth. 

Monday, December 25, 2017

CHRISTMAS VIGIL:Is 62:1-5, Acts 13:16-17, 22-25,Mt 1: 18-25

Michael Hendrix tells about a dinner party he once attended during the Christmas season. The house was properly decorated, including an electric train set up around the base of the tree. One of the children was running the train too fast and it derailed. She was bent over the train trying to put it back on the track. The host noticed what she was doing and went over to help. He said to her, “You can’t do that from above; you have to get down beside it.” Then he lay down on the floor beside the train where he could see to place the train back on the track.

This is the story of the history of salvation. “The human race had derailed and needed to be put back on the track of life. It couldn’t be done from above; God had to come down beside us in order to put us on track. That’s what God did in Jesus Christ when he became a child in the manger.

There's only one religion in which mankind’s effort to climb back up to heaven is met by the unimaginable event of God himself deciding to climb down into human nature. Christmas is one thing that makes Christianity entirely unique among all the world religions. Only we Christians have the privilege of saying, "The Word became flesh, and lived among us."

God came down because we could not reach up to God intellectually. Our little brains are not sufficient to understand God. Christian faith is not a philosophy that someone thought up. Christian faith is revelation. God revealed His purpose and plan, His love and His grace, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. If there are some things about our faith you do not understand, join the crowd. If we could understand everything there is about God, God would not be God. We do not have the mental capacity to reach up to God intellectually.

We also could not reach up to God morally. That is, before the coming of Jesus the Jewish people believed that the way to God is through right living. If you could just follow the Law and keep all its ordinances, then you could be saved. But salvation by righteousness did not work. For some, their devotion to the Law deteriorated into an odious legalism. They looked down their noses at others who were not as righteous as they. While others, feeling that they had no hope of fulfilling the Law, simply threw up their hands in despair and did not bother to try. So, God came down to save us through grace in Jesus, not by knowledge or moral righteousness.

The angel told Joseph that Mary, his betrothed will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Yehosua, which means "YHWH is salvation." Just as the first Joshua (successor of Moses), saved the Israelites from their political enemies, the second Joshua (Jesus) will save them from their sins.  The Jews, however, did not expect a Messiah who would save them from their sins, but one who would deliver them from their political oppressors. Matthew stresses the fact that the birth of Jesus as Savior is the fulfillment of a prophecy by Isaiah (7:14): “'Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,' which means, 'God is with us.' In Hebrew, El is a short form of Elohim, a name for God.  Immanu-El, therefore, means "God with us," a meaning which Matthew spells out for non-Hebrew readers. Emmanuel is not a second name by which friends and neighbors will know Jesus.  "Jesus" is Our Lord's true name and   Emmanuel describes his role. Thus, Matthew begins his Gospel with the promise that Jesus' role-name means "God-with-us." He will end his Gospel with Jesus' own promise that He will be with us "always, to the end of the age" (28:20). His being with us is to free us from all the irrational fears and worries.

We fear life, we fear death, and everything in between. We are afraid of little things like a black cat crossing our path or spilled salt. Or, leaving our home at night lest we become a victim of crime. Or, the fear that floods our hearts as we wait for the doctor to tell us if we have cancer. Or, the fear that startles us when the shrill sound of the telephone jolts us awake in the middle of the night.

Leonard Griffith, the outstanding pastor in Toronto, tells the story of a mother who was putting her little daughter to bed in the midst of a thunderstorm. She told her daughter that she did not need to be frightened, that her mother and father were close by in the living room. The girl replied to her mother, "Mommy, but when it thunders this way, I want somebody who has skin on." This simple, homely story, in essence, is the essential truth of our celebration. The invisible spirit of God the Son did clothe Himself in skin, flesh, and blood and came to dwell among us with grace and truth. He did not remain far away as an impersonal force, but a loving embrace.

The antidote to our fears is found in the coming of Christ into the world. The first words of Adam are "I was afraid."(So he hid behind the tree). But the first words at the birth of Jesus are, "Don't be afraid. If Jesus is Emmanuel, the God with us, why should we be afraid of anything? If I am afraid, it means, He is with me, but I am not with him.  The purpose of every Christmas celebration is to bring ourselves to Jesus the God with us and strengthen ourselves in his power. The message of Christmas is that you are never alone.  So, let us not have a Christmas without Jesus in our hearts and minds and in every of our relationships.

Real Christmas is not in the amount of gifts we receive, but in the measure of Christ we have in our hearts.

Let us remember the famous lines of Alexander Pope: “What do I profit if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world during this Christmas, but is not born in my heart?” Let us allow Him to be reborn in our lives during Christmas 2017 and every day of the New Year 2018.
ADVENT IV: II Sm 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a,16; Rom 16:25-27; Lk 1:26-38

Three stonecutters were involved in building work. When asked what they were doing, the first one replied, “I’m breaking stones!” The second answered, “I’m earning a living!” The third exclaimed, “I’m building a house for God!” Like the third stone-cutter, in today’s first reading King David desires to build God’s House.

The focus of today’s liturgy is the Davidic covenant, the promise of a throne that will last forever.
David succeeded Saul in 1010. David’s first step was to capture Jerusalem from the Jebusites and make it the political capital of his kingdom. Once David had completed the building of his palace, he wanted a more beautiful house to accommodate the Ark of the Covenant representing God’s presence in the midst of His chosen people. For over 200 years, the Ark of the Covenant had been a "mobile shrine," kept in a tent so that it could be easily carried to any place to which the people moved or where Yahweh's special presence was needed. David wanted to build a special Temple in Jerusalem to house the Ark. He hoped that making Jerusalem the religious center of Israel would ensure the continued loyalty of all twelve tribes.
Though prophet Nathan initially accepted the plan, as we heard in the first reading, he eventually returned to inform the king that Yahweh was more concerned with turning David's family into "His House" than with residing in a “house” Himself. In other words, God's presence in families is more important than is His presence in buildings. God said that David was not to build a house for God; rather God would build a” House” for David. ” The Son of God, born of David’s lineage, is that house. The kingly line of David’s lineage finds its everlasting fulfillment in Christ.  God allowed the descendants of David to serve as kings of Israel in unbroken succession. But in the 6th century BC, the Babylonians conquered Judah and ended the succession of Davidic kings, prompting Israel to look for a different kind of fulfillment of God's promise to David. In other words, Israel began to look for the Messiah, a descendant of David who would come at the end of time to eradicate evil from the world.  We find the beginning of the fulfillment of this hope in today’s  Gospel  where  the angel tells Mary that the son she is about to conceive will sit on "the throne of his father David, and reign over the house of Jacob forever" (Lk. 1: 32-33).

The child Mary would bear would not only be a distant grandson of David -- he would be God's own Son. How will Jesus inherit the throne of David? It did not happen in his earthly lifetime. It happened in his death and resurrection. 

The complete fulfillment of the promise was not to be found in Solomon but in Jesus, since   Solomon built a Temple that stood for only 379 years (966 BC – August, 578 BC), whereas   Christ will build "a House not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor 5:1).  For Jesus to be the” Son of David” in a real sense—for the royal blood to flow in His veins—it was necessary that His mother be personally descended from the family of that ruler, because Jesus had no father according to the flesh. St. Paul implies it in Romans 1:3; II Timothy 2:8 and Hebrews 7:14. Seventeen verses in the New Testament describe Jesus as the “son of David.” Christ (the Messiah) was the fulfillment of the prophecy of the seed of David (2 Samuel 7:12–16). Jesus is the promised Messiah, which means He had to be of the lineage of David. Matthew 1 gives the genealogical proof that Jesus, in His humanity, was a direct descendant of Abraham and David through Joseph, Jesus’ legal father. The genealogy in Luke 3 traces Jesus’ lineage through His mother, Mary. Jesus is a descendant of David by adoption through Joseph and by blood through Mary. Now we know what feelings went in to the addresses when the people shouted Hosana to the Son of David and the blind man's request, Jesus son of David have mercy on me. God’s promises are everlasting. They will be fulfilled no matter what. Christmas proclaims to us loud and clear, that God is faithful in his promises.

Christmas is the celebration of Jesus as the Son of God and son of Mary: God made man. The purpose of his this coming was to save us, to be Emmanuel, to be on our side. As Mary was privileged to be the biological mother of Jesus we are also called to be spiritual mother of Jesus.
St. Francis said, "We are the mother of Christ when we carry him in our heart… and we give birth to him through our holy works which ought to shine on others by our example.”
As we move into the very proximate preparation of Christmas, let’s like Mary open our hearts to God and say: Let it be done to me according to thy word.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

ADVENT II [B]: Is 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 Pt 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8

Not too many years ago, newspapers carried the story of Al Johnson, a Kansas man who repented of his sins and chose Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. What made his story so remarkable was the fact that, as a result of his newfound Faith in Christ, he confessed to a bank robbery he had participated in when he was nineteen years old. Because of the statute of limitations, Johnson could not be prosecuted for the offense. But because of his complete and total change of heart, he not only confessed his crime but voluntarily repaid his share of the stolen money! That’s repentance – metanoia – (in Gk.) the radical change of heart demanded by John the Baptist in today’s Gospel.

All three readings focus on the absolute necessity of our readying ourselves by repentance and reparation for Christ’s coming.  The Gospel tells us that the restoration of the fallen world has already begun, starting with the arrival of John the Baptist, the messenger and forerunner of the Messiah.
John's message calls us also to confront and confess our sins; to turn away from them in sincere repentance; to receive God's forgiveness; and most importantly, to look to Jesus. Do we need to receive God's forgiveness? There are basically two reasons why we fail to receive forgiveness. The first is that we fail to repent, and the second is that we fail to forgive. Jesus was very explicit about this second failure in Matthew 6:14-15. He says, "For if you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." Is there someone we need to forgive today? Let us not allow what others have done to destroy our life. We can't be forgiven unless we forgive. Let us let go of that bitterness and allow God to work healing in our life.

John’s ministry was effective primarily because his life was his message:  he lived what he preached. He was a man from the desert. In its solitude, he had heard the voice of God, and, hence, he had the courage of his convictions. His camel’s hair garment and leather belt resembled those of Elijah and other great prophets of Israel. His food, too, was very simple:  wild locusts and honey. The Israelites had not had a prophet for four hundred years, and the people were waiting expectantly for one.  John’s message was effective also because he was completely humble.   His role was to serve Jesus and to serve the people. "He must increase, I must decrease," he says elsewhere (John 3:30). That is why he publicly confessed that he was not fit to be a slave before the Messiah.

We need to make use of Advent as a season of reflection and preparation. We are invited by the Church to prepare for Christmas. Christmas is the time for reflection and personal renewal in preparation for the coming of Jesus into our lives.  Through the section of his letter which we read today, St. Peter reminds us, on the one hand, of God's great desire to come into our lives and, on the other, of our need to be prepared for that event when it happens. We want God's help and comfort, but we are not always prepared to change our ways to enhance genuine conversion. For God to come to us, we also need to go to Him. 2 Chronicles 15:2 says: The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.  

It was their stubborn pride and self-centeredness, which blinded the eyes of the Jews and kept them from recognizing Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah. The same stubborn pride, the same exaggerated sense of our own dignity, blinds the intellects of many of us today who not only fail to accept Christ and his good tidings, but also prevent others from accepting him. Holiness is found in simple and humble things and acts of our daily lives.

Martin Buber tells the story about a rabbi's disciple who begged his master to teach him how to prepare his soul for the service of God. The holy man told him to go to Rabbi Abraham, who at the time, was still an innkeeper. The disciple did as instructed, and lived in the inn for several weeks without observing any vestige of holiness in the innkeeper, who, from Morning Prayer till night devoted himself to affairs of his business. Finally, the disciple approached him and asked him what he did all day. "My most important occupation" said Rabbi Abraham, "is to clean the dishes properly, so that not the slightest trace of food is left, and to clean and dry the pots and pans, so that they do not rust." When the disciple returned home and reported to his rabbi what he had seen and heard, the rabbi said to him, "Now you know the answer about how to prepare your soul for the service of God." The way to reach God is by doing everything wholeheartedly and genuinely; everything (and every act) is full of God's holiness -- so treat it accordingly with dignity and respect.

John the Baptist invites us to turn this Advent season into a real spiritual homecoming by making the necessary preparations for the arrival of the Savior and his entrance into our lives. Let’s do that by doing simple daily activities with perfection for the glory of God and with simplicity and humility like John the Baptist. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Advent I [B]: Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37

Years ago, when 20th Century Fox advertised in the New York papers to fill a vacancy in its sales force, one applicant replied: "I am at present selling furniture at the address below. You may judge my ability as a salesman if you will stop in to see me at anytime, pretending that you are interested in buying furniture. When you come in, you can identify me by my red hair. And I should have no way of identifying you. Such salesmanship as I exhibit during your visit, therefore, will be no more than my usual workday approach and not a special effort to impress a prospective employer."
From among more than 1500 applicants, this guy got the job. Jesus wants us to be ready like that man. We don’t know when He’s coming back, so we should be prepared all the time.

The common theme of today’s readings is that vigilant service prepares us for the coming of Christ as our Savior during Christmas and as our judge and Lord at the end of the world. 
We wait for Christ in two ways. The early Sundays of Advent teach the end-of-the-world theme. In this context, we wait for Christ to “come again in glory, to judge the living and the dead”. The later Sundays of Advent celebrate a different theme: the coming of the Messiah in the flesh. The reason why the liturgical year ends and begins with the same theme is clear: if we have already embraced Jesus in his first coming, we will have no fear of his second coming.  Advent is the season of special preparation for and expectation of the coming of Christ.  It encourages us to examine our lives, to reflect on our need for God to enter our lives, and to prepare earnestly for, and eagerly await the coming of Christ. He will come to us in the celebration of the Incarnation, in His continual coming in our daily living and in His final coming as our Lord to judge us all and to renew the Father’s creation.  Using apocalyptic images, the Gospel urges the elect to be alert for the return of Christ because no one except the Father knows the day or the hour of the Lord’s return.

Like the parents who trust their teenagers to look after the house while they are away, or like the teacher who leaves the classroom after giving her students plenty of work to do, Jesus trusts us to carry out his work until he returns.
The Lord first came in a way that nobody expected. Isaiah today was hoping the Lord would come and make mountains quake, but Our Lord was born a baby in a cave instead, hidden to most of the world.
A lot of knowledgeable people in the Lord’s time were clueless about the time and way in which he was coming. It reminds us that many times God is not someone we figure out, but Someone who reveals himself to us.

When Eisenhower was president of the United States, he once visited Denver. His attention was called to a letter in the local newspaper saying that a six-year- old boy dying with cancer expressed a wish to see the president. One Sunday morning a black limousine pulled up in front of the boy's house. Ike stepped out of his car and knocked on the front door. The father, Donald Haley, opened the door wearing faded jeans, an old shirt, and a day's old beard. Standing behind him was the boy. Ike said, "Paul, I understand you want to see me. Glad to see you." Then he took the boy to the limousine to show it to him, shook hands, and left. The family and neighbors talked about the President's visit for a long time with delight, but the father always remembered it with regret because of the way he had been dressed. He lamented, "What a way to meet the President of the United States." If we keep in fellowship with God through prayer, we will keep ourselves spiritually dressed for Christ's coming at any time.

Jesus specifically chose not to reveal the exact day and hour: "you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning."
Even so, throughout history many good Christians, and many heretical groups, have become obsessed with the details of how and when this will occur. We should never let ourselves or our loved ones be deceived by them. We should be grateful that Christ's own Church has preserved the true doctrine: that Christ will come again in glory, and that, like good servants, we should live every day with that in mind.

We need to be more spiritually wakeful and prepare for our eternal life because we can die any day, and that is the end of the world for us.  Advent is a time of personal preparation for Christmas. And we have to be prepared if we want to see God's work. We have to stay awake and be alert so that Christmas can be meaningful. We have to prepare our hearts as well as our homes. Let this Advent season be the time of such a preparation for us. 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A number of years ago the late King Baudouin was reigning in Belgium. As the Constitutional Monarch, one of his duties was to "rubber stamp" all the bills passed by Parliament with his signature, thereby officially promulgating them as law. In 1990, the Belgian parliament passed a reprehensible bill that basically removed all legal sanctions against abortions. As a practicing and conscientious Catholic, King Baudouin objected to abortion vehemently, and so he could not and would not endorse the measure. But according to the Constitution, he did not have a choice - as figurehead Monarch, he had to ratify the bill, so by refusing to sign the bill into law, he was, in effect, attempting to veto the parliament, and putting his throne on the line! The parliament simply dethroned him for one day, promulgated the law on that day when there was no reigning monarch in Belgium, and then re-instated him on the next day. Earthly monarchs of this century are only titular heads and they do not have absolute power. Jesus the king is not limited in his power by any constitutions, but he is the absolute monarch.

Pope Pius XI instituted The Feast of Christ the King in 1925 for the universal church because the people of the day had “thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives,” believing “these had no place in public affairs or in politics.”  The purpose of this feast was that the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies (Quas Primas, 33).

The first reading presents God as a Shepherd reminding us of Christ’s claim that he is the true shepherd.  In the second reading, St. Paul introduces Christ as the all-powerful ruler who raises the dead and to whom every other power and authority must eventually give way. Today’s Gospel presents Christ the King coming in Heavenly glory to judge us, based on how we have shared our love and blessings with others through genuine acts of charity in our lives. Matthew adds a new dimension to the risen Jesus’ presence in the Christian community in the parable of the Last Judgment.  Jesus is present to us now, not only as our good shepherd leading, feeding and healing his sheep, but also as dwelling in those for whom we care. 

Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Prophet Micah announced the Messiah’s coming as King.  "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrata, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel.." (Micah 5:1).  Daniel presents "one coming like a son of man ... to him was given dominion and glory and kingship that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed" (Daniel 7: 13-14).  

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? ”   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.” (John 18:37).  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; repent, and believe in the Gospel" (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). 

Jesus Christ still lives as King, in thousands of human hearts all over the world.  The cross is his throne and the Sermon on the Mount is his rule of law.  His citizens need obey only one law: “Love others as I have loved you" (John 15:12).  His love is selfless, sacrificial, kind, compassionate, forgiving and unconditional.  That is why the preface in today’s Mass describes Jesus’ Kingdom as "a Kingdom of truth and life, a Kingdom of holiness and grace, a Kingdom of justice, love and peace."  He is a King with a saving and liberating mission: to free mankind from all types of bondage so that we may live peacefully and happily on earth and inherit Eternal Life in Heaven. 

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?
Conclusion:  The Solemnity of Christ the King is not just the conclusion of the Church year.  It is also a summary of our lives as Christians. 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.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

THANKSGIVING DAY IN THE U.S. (2017)           
(Sirach 50:22-24; I Cor 1:3-9; Luke 17:11-19)

St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) told this story in an address given at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994. “One evening several of our Sisters went out, and we picked up four people from the street. One of them was in a most terrible condition. So, I told the other Sisters, “You take care of the other three: I will take care of this one who looks the worst.” So, I did for the woman everything that my love could do. I cleaned her and put her in bed, and there was such a beautiful smile on her face. She took hold of my hands and said two words in her language, Bengali: “Thank you.” Then she died. I could not help but examine my conscience. I asked myself, “What would I say if I were in her place?” My answer was simple. I would have tried to draw a little attention to myself. I would have said, “I am hungry, I am dying, I am in pain.” But the woman gave me much more; she gave me grateful love, dying with a grateful smile on her face. It means that even those with nothing can give us the gift of thanks.” 

Thanksgiving is the most uniquely American of all our holidays. In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, established Thanksgiving Day as a formal holiday on which we express our thanks to God for the many blessings He has provided.  Thanksgiving Day also has a profound religious meaning, because giving thanks is the very heart of our natural and spiritual life.  For us as Catholics, the central act of worship is called the Eucharist, a Greek word for Thanksgiving. In the Mass, we give thanks to God through Jesus, and share a sacred meal in which we acknowledge the fact that everything we have comes from God.  

There are basically two types of people in our world: the grateful and the ungrateful.  Today’s Gospel tells the story of the ten lepers whom Jesus healed.  Only one of them, a Samaritan - a Jew despised and held unclean for being in schism – returned to give Him thanks.  The other nine (who were “real” Jews), apparently considered their healing as something they had a right to, whereas the Samaritan took it as an undeserved gift from God.  This Gospel reminds us that God, too, desires our thanks. "Where are the other nine?” Jesus asks with pain.  (Confer also Is 1:3-5.)  That is why St. Paul admonishes us, "Always be thankful" (Col 3:17).  It is a Christian's duty as well as a privilege to be grateful for the blessings of God (Deuteronomy 8:10; Psalm 107:19, 21; Colossians 1:12-14; Philippians 1:3).  "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.  His love endures forever" (1 Chronicles 16:34).  (Refer to Psalm 107:1, John 11:41, Eph. 5:20, and Col. 3:17 for Biblical prayers and expressions of thanksgiving.)  

Daniel Defoe gave us some good advice through his fictional character Robinson Crusoe. The first thing that Crusoe did when he found himself on a deserted island was to make out a list. On one side of the list he wrote down all his problems. On the other side of the list he wrote down all of his blessings. On one side he wrote: I do not have any clothes. On the other side he wrote: But it's warm and I don't really need any. On one side he wrote: All of the provisions were lost. On the other side he wrote: But there's plenty of fresh fruit and water on the island. And on down the list he went. In this fashion he discovered that for every negative aspect about his situation, there was a positive aspect, something to be thankful for. It is easy to find ourselves on an island of despair. Perhaps it is time that we sit down and take an inventory of our blessings.

The attitude of gratitude is important for several reasons:
Thankfulness acknowledges that God is our provider.
Thankfulness prevents a complaining spirit.
Thankfulness creates a positive outlook on life
Thankfulness invites joy to dwell in our hearts.
(Kent Crockett, Making Today Count for Eternity, pp. 161.)
Let me close with this Thanksgiving Day Prayer.

Oh, Heavenly Father,
We thank Thee for food and remember the hungry.
We thank Thee for health and remember the sick.
We thank Thee for friends and remember the friendless.
We thank Thee for freedom and remember the enslaved.
May these remembrances stir us to service,
That Thy gifts to us may be used for others.

Saturday, November 18, 2017


Jesus once told a story of a wealthy landowner who was preparing for a long journey. He called his three servants and divided his money between them, each according to their ability. To one servant he gave five talents, meaning a sum of money, to a second two, and to a third one.
Why is life like that? I don't know. We are all equal in the eyes of God. We are all guaranteed equal rights under the Constitution. In an election our votes are all equal. But when it comes to our abilities, we are as different as different can be. God simply did not make us all the same. There are some people who can handle five talents; there are some who can handle only one. There are some persons who have great intellectual capabilities, and some who do not. There are some who have the ability to project and articulate their thoughts, and there are some who cannot. There are some who have physical prowess and attractive looks, and there are some who do not.
The important thing to remember is that each servant was given something. No one was left idle. You may not be a five-talent person, but you have some talent. We all do. And you know something. I think that there are a whole lot more one and two talent people in this world than there are five talent people. Oh, there are some people who seem to have it all. I won't deny that. But most of us are just one or two talent servants.

The parable of the talents challenges us to do something positive, constructive and life-affirming with our talents here and now.

God calls us to live in a world of abundance by taking risks and being generous. In addition to our homes and families, the best place to do this is in our parish.  This means that we should be always willing to share our abilities in creative worship in the Church and innovative educational events in the Sunday school.   We can fulfill needs we will find right in our parish: feeding the hungry, visiting the sick or the elderly, housing the homeless, and welcoming strangers in our midst.  We need to make the bold assumption that there’s going to be a demand for every one of our talents in our parish community.  We should step out, with confidence, believing that every God-given gift we have is going to be exceedingly useful and fruitful!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

O.T.  XXXII: Wis 6:12-16; I Thes 4:13-18; Mt 25:1-13 

There's a true story that comes from the sinking of the Titanic. A frightened woman found her place in a lifeboat that was about to be lowered into the raging North Atlantic. She suddenly thought of something she needed, so she asked permission to return to her stateroom before they cast off. She was granted three minutes, or they would leave without her. She ran across the deck that was already slanted at a dangerous angle. She raced through the gambling room with all the money that had rolled to one side, ankle deep. She came to her stateroom and quickly pushed aside her diamond rings and expensive bracelets and necklaces as she reached to the shelf above her bed and grabbed three small oranges. She quickly found her way back to the lifeboat and got in. Now that seems incredible because thirty minutes earlier she would not have chosen a crate of oranges over the smallest diamond. But death had boarded the Titanic. One blast of its awful breath had transformed all values. Instantaneously, priceless things had become worthless. Worthless things had become priceless. And in that moment, she preferred three small oranges to a crate of diamonds. There are events in life, which have the power to transform the way we look at the world. Jesus' parable about the ten virgins offers one of these types of events, for the parable is about the Second Coming of Christ.

The universal meaning is that the five foolish virgins represent those who fail to prepare for the end of their lives.  What matters is not the occasional or the last-minute burst of spiritual fervor but habitual attention to responsibilities before God.  Spiritual readiness, preparation and growth do not just happen.  They come as a result of intentional habits built into one’s life.  We cannot depend on a Sunday morning service to provide all our spiritual needs.  We cannot depend on Christian fellowship to provide us with spiritual development. 

At the final judgment, there will be no depending upon the resources of others, no begging or borrowing of grace.  A good relationship with God and a good character cannot be obtained at the last minute. The parable implies that we should attend to duties of the present moment, preparing now rather than waiting until it is too late. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

O.T. XXXI: MAL 1:14- 2:2, 8-10; I THES 2:7-9, 13; Mt 23:1-12

Because of his great devotion and faithfulness to his king, a shepherd was promoted to the position of prime minister. The other ministers were angry that someone of such lowly origin should be so highly honored, and they tried to find some way to bring him into disfavor. But they couldn't find anything objectionable about him, except one curious thing: Once a week he'd enter a little room he kept locked and stay for about an hour. The nobles told the monarch about this and said they were certain he must be sneaking some of the wealth of the kingdom into that room. The king doubted it, but gave permission to break into the room and make a search. What they found was a small bundle containing a dilapidated pair of shoes and an old robe. The prime minister was brought before the king and asked about this curious bundle in the locked room. And he said, "I wore these things when I was a shepherd. I look at them regularly so that I won't forget what I once was and how unworthy I am of all the kindness and honor you've given to me."

In today’s Gospel, Jesus offers a word of judgment against those religious leaders of his day who have been more concerned with self-promotion than with giving loving service to others.  Christ-like leadership calls for integrity and honesty from all those in authority, whether priests, parents, teachers or politicians.  There should be no double standards in leaders. Rather, there should grow a deep sense of equality with, and mutual respect between, leaders and those they rule.
Jesus raises three objections to the Pharisees: they do not practice what they preach, they adopt a very narrow and burdensome interpretation of the Torah, and they seek public acknowledgment of their spiritual superiority.

Jesus accuses the scribes and Pharisees of seeking the glory that rightly belongs to God.  The real goal of the Pharisees was to dress and act in such a way as to draw attention to themselves instead of glorifying God.  In their misguided zeal for religion, they sought respect and honor for themselves rather than for God.  They expressed their love of honor in several ways, thereby converting Judaism into a religion of ostentation.

A local church asked members to donate money for a new building. The building committee made one stipulation: no plaques or recognition of any kind would be placed in the building to honor the givers. The response was mediocre at best. When the committee withdrew their requirement and allowed for a memorial registry with a listing of donors, the building was easily subscribed. What had changed? At first, the building committee was appealing solely to people's charity and generosity. Later, they offered an appeal to their egos, and the egos won. Christian service that is worthy of Christ's name is for God's glory and not for personal gain.

According to the evangelist’s account, any religious stratification runs counter to Jesus' teachings.  Jesus condemns the coveting of titles, distinctive clothes, places of honor and marks of public respect.  Such demands on the part of leaders make it impossible for the community to truly experience Jesus.  "The greatest among you," he reminds his community, "must be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted."  What is implied in each of Jesus' statements about the Pharisees is that Christian leaders should do the opposite.

This is National vocation awareness week. The word Vocation means the call of God to a status of life; it could be to priesthood, religious life, marriage or single life. One has to recognize that call and live accordingly to live the best version of oneself. The Church in America is going through a shortage crisis on dedicated priests and religious leaders. It is not that God is not calling people to enter these states of life, but people ignore or delay the call like the young man in the gospel who said to Jesus, let me go first and bid farewell to my parents.
In some cases the young men of this generation don’t come back from bidding farewell, because the parents won’t allow him or her to leave them, telling we need grandchildren. They tend to be selfish rather than caring for the mission of the Church.
One young man was willing to follow Jesus but he was not willing to leave everything and follow Jesus, because he thought Jesus himself was not enough for him, he needed some financial social security too. Whatever be the case we need more vocations to priesthood and religious life as those we have now are not sufficient to take care of the sacramental and charitable needs of the Church. Our bishop has dedicated this coming year for the year of Vocations to priesthood. Banners and posters will appear in the churches for the whole next year at all Churches of the diocese. God does not call anyone in disembodied voice to join a seminary or convent. In this parish he has entrusted that to me and so during this year, I am going to personally approach some young men and women whom God inspires me to talk to on considering becoming priests or religious. It is to help them discern whether God has been calling them to these states of life. Today’s second collection is for seminarian collection. The diocese has 18 seminarians this year and so we need to support them, financially and by our regular prayers. Please consider promoting vocations to priesthood and religious life.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

All Saints Day : Rev 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12a

All Saints Day is a universal Christian feast honoring all Christian saints – known and unknown. One thing that strikes you first about the Saints is their diversity. It would be very difficult to find one pattern of holiness, one way of following Christ. There is Thomas Aquinas, the towering intellectual, and John Vianney (the CurĂ© d'Ars), who barely made it through the seminary. There is Vincent de Paul, a saint in the city, and there is Antony who found sanctity in the harshness and loneliness of the desert. There is Joan of Arc, leading armies into war, and there is Francis of Assisi, the peacenik who would never hurt an animal. There is the grave and serious Jerome, and there is Philip Neri, whose spirituality was based on laughter. How do we explain this diversity? God is an artist, and artists love to change their styles. The saints are God's masterpieces, and He never tires of painting them in different colors, different styles, and different compositions. What does this mean for us? It means we should not try to imitate any one Saint exactly. Look to them all, study their unique holiness, but then find that specific color God wants to bear through you. St. Catherine of Siena was right: "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire."  (Fr. Robert Barren).
"What is it like to be a Christian saint?" "It is like being a Halloween pumpkin. God picks you from the field, brings you in, and washes all the dirt off you. Then he cuts off the top and scoops out the yucky stuff. He removes the pulp of impurity and injustice and seeds of doubt, hate, and greed. Then He carves you a new smiling face and puts His light of holiness inside you to shine for the entire world to see." This is the Christian idea behind the carved pumpkins during the Halloween season.

All baptized Christians who have died and are now with God in glory are considered saints. All Saints Day is a day on which we thank God for giving ordinary men and women a share in His holiness and Heavenly glory as a reward for their Faith. In fact, we celebrate the feast of each canonized saint on a particular day of the year. But there are countless other saints and martyrs, men, women and children united with God in Heavenly glory, whose feasts we do not celebrate. Among these would be our own parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters who were heroic women and men of Faith. All Saints Day is intended to honor their memory. Hence, today's feast can be called the feast of the Unknown Saint, in line with the tradition of the “Unknown Soldier.” Today, the Church reminds us that God's call for holiness is universal and that all of us are called to live in His love and to make His love real in the lives of those around us. Holiness is related to the word wholesomeness. We show holiness when we live lives of integrity and truth, that is, wholesome and integrated lives in which we are close to others while being close to God.

In today’s Gospel, the Church reminds us that all the saints whose feasts we celebrate today walked the hard and narrow path of the Beatitudes to arrive at their Heavenly bliss. The Beatitudes are God’s commandments expressed in positive terms. They go far beyond what is required by the Ten Commandments, and they are a true and reliable recipe for sainthood.
Life messages: 1) On the feast of All Saints, the Church invites and challenges us to walk the walk of the saints and not just talk the talk: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven" (Mt 7:21). 2) The feast gives us an occasion to thank God for having invited so many of our ancestors to join the company of the saints. May our reflection on the heroic lives of the saints and the imitation of their lifestyle enable us to hear from our Lord the words of grand welcome to eternal bliss: "Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joys of your master" (Mt 25:21). 3) Today is also a day for us to pray to the saints, both the canonized and the uncanonized, asking them to pray on our behalf that we may live our lives in faithfulness like theirs, and so receive the same reward.

Thomas Merton was one of the most influential American Catholic authors of the twentieth century. Shortly after he was converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s, Thomas Merton was walking down the streets of New York with a friend, Robert Lax. Lax was Jewish, and he asked Thomas what he wanted to be, now that he was Catholic. “I don’t know.” Merton replied, adding simply that he wanted to be a good Catholic. Lax stopped him in his tracks. “What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!” Merton was dumbfounded. “How do you expect me to be a saint?” Merton asked him. Lax said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you consent to let him do it? All you have is to desire it.” Thomas Merton knew his friend was right. Do I want to be a saint? Let’s ask ourselves this challenging question. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

OT 30 [A]: Ex 22:20-26; I Thes 1:5c-10; Mt 22:34-40  

The Constitution of the United States started off with only 7 articles and 21 sections that took up only four handwritten pages including signatures! 4 pages! But to that we added 27 amendments.
Today, the United States Code, which is all of the laws in this country, fills up around 80 volumes of books, nearly 800,000 pages, and this doesn’t even include the Federal Regulations.
But, let’s not think for a moment that we are the only ones to take something simple and make it complex. God gave the Israelites something simple to follow, the Ten Commandments. Just ten simple rules to follow. Nothing complex about it. But were the Israelites content with just ten commandments? Oh, no. They ended up making 613 separate commandments, 365 negative and 248 positive. Try following all those laws in order to be considered faithful and righteous, and you probably thought the original ten was hard enough.

For the lawyer and the Pharisees there was certainly a complex issue at stake. The Israelites were under assault from a man who claimed to be God, and who did God-like things. But this man was a Jew; he should have known better, no one is God, but God. Yet, he was a man who knew and quoted the Hebrew scripture, who knew the laws and commandments better than any religious leader.
The Pharisees had to put a stop to it, the situation was getting out of control, it was becoming too complex to let it go on much longer. This man must be stopped and the only way to stop him was to discredit him. And what better way to discredit Jesus, the Jew, than to ask him such a question, on a complex issue about the greatest commandment, that any answer he gave would spell defeat.

In answering their question, Jesus cited the first sentence of the Jewish Shema prayer: … “Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5).  Then He added its complementary law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18).  Finally, He declared that the “whole Law and the prophets” depended on the commands to love God “with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind” and to love “your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus actually combined the originally separate commandments and presented them as the essence of true religion.

The uniqueness of Jesus’ response consisted in the fact that he understood the two laws as having equal value or importance.  We are to love our neighbor and our self as a way to love God: God gives us our neighbors to love so that we may learn to love Him.  Thus, Jesus proclaims that true religion loves God both directly and as living in our neighbor.  "Jesus does not separate love for God from love for man, since the latter flows from the former, and since without the latter the former is impossible."

A man once observed a young boy out in a field flying a kite. He noticed that there was something odd about the way the boy was standing and holding on to the string. He walked up to the boy and then learned that the boy was blind. He said, "Do you like flying kites?"
The boy said, "I sure do."
This piqued the man's curiosity and he asked, "How is that when you cannot see it?"
The boy answered, "I may not be able to see it but I can feel it tugging'!"
We may not always be able to identify the love of God in this world. Like the little boy, we may not be able to see love but it has a tug that lets us know it is there. Loving our neighbor may be like holding on to the string, while you get feel of the pull in your heart.

Lewis L. Austin, in This I Believe, wrote: "Our maker gave us two hands. One to hold onto him and one to reach out to his people. If our hands are full of struggling to get possessions, we can't hang onto God or to others very well. If, however, we hold onto God, who gave us our lives, then his love can flow through us and out to our neighbor."

Loving our neighbor as ourselves means looking at and treating others with the respect God gives them.  This love begins at home with one's parents.  It then extends to others. As the parable of the Good Samaritan explains, Love of neighbor extends beyond our family and friends to strangers, especially to the poor, the sick, and the sinner.  Love of neighbor knows no national borders or class distinctions or barriers of any kind, because God knows no such impediments.

Jesus underlines the principle that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves because both of us bear God’s image, and to honor God’s image is to honor Him.  Love for our neighbor is a matter, not of feelings, but of deeds by which we share with others the unmerited love that God lavishes on us. 

Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength means that we should place God’s will ahead of ours, seek the Lord's will in all things and make it paramount in our lives.  There are several means by which we can express our love for God and our gratitude to Him for His blessings, acknowledging our total dependence on Him. 
If we know how to love ourselves, the commandant to love our neighbor bids us to do all we can to bring our neighbor to love God. This is the worship of God; this is true religion; this is the right kind of devotion; this is the service which is owed to God alone.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

At some time every older sibling has pulled this on a little brother or sister who had a nickel they wanted.
"Okay," older child offers, "let's flip for it. Heads I win, tails you lose."
The little kids agree: "Sure!" Then when heads appears the older proclaims "Heads, I win!" Of course if tails comes up the declaration is "Tails, you lose."
At this point it suddenly dawns on the younger child that this is truly a no-win situation. Whatever way the coin lands it's going to land in their sibling's pocket.

In this week's gospel text the Pharisees think they've concocted the perfect no-win question to present before Jesus: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" If Jesus says yes, he'll alienate all those who continued to struggle against Roman rule and who ardently believed Israel must only be obedient to God and God's Torah. If, however, Jesus answers no, then he's immediately at odds with the entire Roman Empire and has identified himself as a dangerous, seditious opponent. Rome would deal swiftly with such a threat.

In the Gospel, Jesus escapes from the trap in the question, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” by stating, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” By this answer, Jesus reminds his questioners that if they are so concerned and careful about paying taxes to the state, they should be much more concerned and careful about their service to God and their obligations to Him as their Creator and Lord.
By birth we become the citizens of the country of our birth, and by Baptism we become the citizens of heaven.  In every age, Christians are faced with balancing the demands of Caesar with the commands of God. Jesus’ answer forms the guiding principle in solving the problems that arise from our dual citizenship, belonging to God and to our country.  As Christians, we are to obey the government, even when it is pagan and non-Christian.  A loyal Christian is always a loyal citizen.  Failure in good citizenship is also failure in Christian duty.  We fulfill our duties to our country by loyally obeying the just laws of the State, by paying all lawful taxes, and by contributing our share, whenever called on, toward the common good.  Both St. Peter (1 Pt 2:13-14), and St. Paul (Rom 13:1-7), stressed the obligation of the early Christians to be an example to all in their loyalty as citizens of the state.  As the famous martyr St. Thomas More said of himself: "I die the King's good servant, but God's first."  Cooperation with secular authority cannot interfere with our primary duty of "giving back to God" our whole selves, in whose image - like the stamp on the coin - we are made.  Consequently, we give taxes to the government but we give ourselves to God. A faithful Christian is a loyal citizen.

A young lady was soaking up the sun's rays on a Florida beach when a little boy in his swimming trunks, carrying a towel, came up to her and asked her, "Do you believe in God?" She was surprised by the question but she replied, "Why, yes, I do." Then he asked her: "Do you go to church every Sunday?" Again, her answer was "Yes!" He then asked: "Do you read your Bible and pray every day?" Again she said, "Yes!" By now her curiosity was very much aroused. The little lad sighed with relief and said, "Will you hold my quarter while I go in swimming?" A faithful Christian is trustworthy member in a community.

We should be loyal to the state and the laws of the state, but when the state oversteps the mark and puts itself in the place of God, Christians are, as a last resort, absolved from obedience.  We must give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and not the things that are God's.  We must “obey God rather than human beings.” 

Since everything is God’s, we must give ourselves to Him 100%, not just 10% on Sundays.  We should be generous in fulfilling our Sunday obligations and find time every day for prayer and worship in the family, for the reading of the Bible and the proper training of our children in Faith and morals.  St. Augustine teaches that when we truly succeed in "giving to God what is God's," we are "doing justice to God."  Our contribution to the parish Church   should be an expression of our gratitude to God, giving back to God all that he has given us.  This will help us to combat the powerful influence of materialism in our lives and enable the Church to do God’s work.  

This Sunday we should do a thorough examination of how well do we give to God what is His due. Do we take what belongs to God and give to somebody else?

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?