Saturday, January 28, 2017

OT IV [A]: Zep 2:3, 3:12-13; I Cor 1:26-31; Mt 5:1-12a 

There was a touching incident in the career of Professor Stuart Blackie of the University of Edinburg. Many years ago, once he was listening to his students as they presented oral readings. When one young man rose to begin his recitation, he held his book in the left hand. The professor
thundered, “Take your book in your right hand, and be seated!”

At this harsh rebuke, the student held up his right arm. He did not have the right hand! The other students shifted uneasily in their chairs. For a moment, the professor hesitated. Then he made his way to the student, put his arm around him, and said, “I never knew about it. Please, will you forgive me?” Professor Stuart Blackie was so humble that he was able to realize his mistake, accept it and apologize for it. Humility is a virtue rarely prized by our society today. Power, appearance, and finances are too often centered around oneself. In contrast, humility minimizes self-focus. A humble person is neither arrogant nor selfish. But he regularly seeks to praise, honour, and serve others. Therefore, the lifestyle of a modest person is richly saturated in compassion, encouragement and integrity.

Today’s First Reading from the Book of Zephaniah  suggests that if the humble seek to obey the commands of the Lord, seeking righteousness and humility, on the Day of Judgment, they will be hidden from the wrath of the Lord because of their simplicity, humility and righteousness.

We have prided ourselves to live in a society of educated, sophisticated and modern people. However, it does not justify our rudeness, our unforgiving attitude, or our self-serving personality. Humility is a virtue that needed to be rediscovered in our lives. It needs to be cultivated if we desire to live peacefully and in accord with our community.

Humble people maintain a personal relationship with the God, submitting themselves to His Divine Will. This opposes the rich and the proud who do not have time for their Creator. Their fame, social life, wealth, pleasures take up their time. So, Jesus taught:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, For they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

The second reading also emphasizes that God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. We can find many examples in nature for it. Poets have praised lavishly the song of birds. But it is strange that all the song birds are small creatures. We have never heard an eagle sing. Poets have never sung of the song of a turkey.  Children have never followed the song of an ostrich. But, poets have immortalized the song of a cuckoo. Lines have been written about the song of the nightingale. The canary has found its place in literature. Many small and insignificant things in nature reflect beauty in its fullness. Sweetness of human existence comes from people who are small in their own estimation. When we humble ourselves God will make us His instruments. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble"(James 4:6). Proverbs teaches “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom,” (Proverbs 11:2) and St Peter wrote to the early Christians" Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. (1Peter 5:2-6).

A pompous, inflated Congressman once remarked to Horace Greeley: (Horace Greeley was a political reformer and newspaper editor) "I am a self-made man." To which Greeley replied, "Well, Sir, that relieves the Almighty of a great responsibility." When pride comes there is no place for God. Pride not only withdraws the heart from God, but lifts it up against God. Humility helps us to realize our strengths and weaknesses.

Being humble is a powerful trait. Humble people see things for what they are. They do not judge, as they do not wish to be judged. The humility that Jesus demanded from his disciples was exemplified in his life, and it culminated at the last supper, when he washed the feet of His disciples.

Today, through the beatitudes Jesus invites us to cultivate the virtues of poverty and humility that they may help us to return to the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God. Hence, we should always remember the words of Jesus:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Saturday, January 21, 2017

OT III [A]: Is 8:23--9:3; I Cor 1:10-13, 17; Mt 4:12-23   

Al Catraz Island was the first long term Army Prison in America. It is an island surrounded by freezing waters and hazardous currents. This prison had many types of cells. The underground cells were dark dungeons. The rooms were dark. The only sustenance thrown to that darkness was a little bread and water. Several prisoners were kept in the darkness hand cuffed. In that darkness men lost the concept of days, weeks and years. Their only companion was darkness.

In 1934 work was begun to give the military prison a new face and a new identity. So, a delegation was sent to improve the conditions of prisoners in Al Catraz Prison. There in the pitch dark underground cellars they found certain types of men who were afraid of light. When they were brought out they couldn’t stand the brightness of the sun. The light made them frantic. They wished to take refuge in darkness.
Today’s Scripture readings tell us that Christ has brought us into the Light (4:16), by calling us to repentance (4:17).  The first reading contains the prophetic reference to Christ as the Light that dispels darkness. Matthew wanted his readers to recognize that the Light Isaiah spoke of had finally appeared with the coming of Jesus.   The second reading advises the Corinthians to live as children of the Light, avoiding divisions and rivalries, because several factions had arisen among the Corinthians, each claiming allegiance to its first Christian teacher or to a particular Apostle.  Today's Gospel reading (Mt. 4:12-23) makes us realize that what had been prophesied by Isaiah was fulfilled through Jesus. In his ministry of calling the disciples and reforming lives, Jesus also brought Light to peoples in darkness, restoring and fulfilling God’s original promise.  
After John was arrested, Jesus chose Galilee as the base for his teaching, preaching and healing mission. That choice fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah (9:1-2).  Nazareth and Capernaum of Galilee were in the territory of Zebulon and Naphtali. It would seem that Jesus' trip to Capernaum was made, not just as a missionary trip, but to establish Capernaum as his home base.  Capernaum by the sea was a small agricultural and fishing village of Galilee on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Galilee was a small region with a large, mixed Jewish and Gentile population. Major trade routes passed through it. Hence, the Galileans were more open than the residents of Judea to new ideas. 

Matthew tells us that the people to whom Jesus brought his ministry had been sitting in darkness, but that Jesus' coming had brought them a great Light.  The area was called the "Galilee of the Gentiles" because there was a large population of Hellenistic pagans mixed in with the Jews who had only recently begun to resettle a land devastated by earlier wars.  As a Jew in Roman-controlled territory, Jesus had located Himself among the marginalized, with the poor not the wealthy, with the rural peasants not the urban elite, with the powerless and exploited not the powerful. Thus, He established His ministry among the apparently small and insignificant places and people who, nevertheless, were central for God's purposes. We, too, need to introduce Christ’s Light into the darkness of prejudice, war, abuse, social injustice, hunger, poverty, ignorance, greed, anger, vengeance and apathy. Repentance leads us out of darkness into light. “To repent” means that we make a complete change of direction in our lives.  Repentance, properly understood, is promising God, "I will do better." When we come before God confessing, we are throwing our sinful lives on the mercy of God. We are moving to light.
We have received the light of faith, the flame of Christ's saving truth and grace, and now it is our turn to pass it on to others. Every one of us is called by God, both individually and collectively. The mission of preaching, teaching and healing which Jesus began in Galilee is now the responsibility of the Church, every baptized Christian.  In addition, God is relentless in calling us back to Himself when we stray from Him.  Let us make personal efforts, then, to see the Light of Christ and to grow in holiness by learning the truths that are revealed through the Holy Catholic Church and its Sacraments.  Let us be shining lights in the world as Christ was and make a personal effort to bring others to the Truth and the Light. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

O.T.-II-C: Is 49:3, 5-6; I Cor 1:1-3; Jn 1:29-34

The Christmas Season ended last Monday with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Today's Gospel immediately follows the Baptism of Jesus as John tells his disciples that this Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
John the Baptist's favorite title for Jesus is "the Lamb of God."  It also became one of John the Evangelist’s favorite titles. He uses it here in his Gospel, and then he used it again, twenty-nine times, in the Book of Revelation. It brings together several images that would have been familiar to the Jews of those times. And so, by calling Christ the "Lamb of God," St John is telling us that those ancient images are fulfilled in Jesus. 
When God asks Abraham to go to one of the mountains in the land of Moriah – perhaps the mount on which the Temple would later be built – and offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering, the unsuspecting Isaac asks his father ‘where is the lamb?’ Abraham’s responds ‘God will provide’ – words which only become at the close of the Old Testament when John the Baptist points to Christ and says ‘Here is the Lamb of God’.

In the Old Covenant, God required the Jews to sacrifice a lamb twice a day to expiate the sins of the people (cf. Exodus 29:39). So the lamb symbolized the price to be paid for sin.

The primary holy day of the Jews was (and remains) the Passover. In the Passover ceremony each family sacrifices and eats a lamb to recall their liberation from Egypt in the days of Moses. On that night, God allowed the death of all the firstborn children and animals of the Egyptians, but spared those of the Hebrews. In order to indicate which households the angel of death was to skip over, God commanded the Hebrews to kill a lamb and mark their doorposts with its blood. Thus the Passover lamb signified God's merciful and saving love. John would say that Jesus would be crucified at the very time the lambs were sacrificed on the feast of the Passover.

Finally, a lamb going silently and docilely to be slaughtered is one of the images used to describe the coming Messiah. The prophet Isaiah speaks of a suffering servant of God, a man who would be despised and rejected by men and wounded for the transgressions of the people. He compares this suffering servant to a lamb that is led to the slaughter. From the very beginning of his life, Jesus is on a trajectory that will lead to the sacrifice of the Cross. He was going to take Israel's sins upon himself and wipe them away through his suffering obedience.
In John's gospel this theme is expertly woven into the story.  The ancient instructions for killing and eating the Passover lamb said, "You must not break any bone of it" (Exodus 12:46).  And so, John says, the soldiers did not break Jesus' legs as he hung on the Cross but pierced him instead with a lance.  Later, near the end of the century, in John's apocalyptic vision he saw "between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered" (Revelation 5:6)  -  that is, dead and raised up again.

And so, by calling Jesus the "Lamb of God," John reminds us that all of these Old Testament symbols had been pointing towards Christ - the true Savior.

This theme is so vital in our understanding of Jesus is that at the breaking of the bread symbolizing the time the death of Jesus is enacted in the mass: the Congregation shouts aloud…the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…three times.
What also becomes clear in the story is that this Jewish Messiah, this servant of the chosen people, would be a Savior not just for the people of Israel, but for all people. He would take away the sins of the world. Until he came, the task of the chosen people of the Old Testament, as Isaiah insists in our first reading, was to act as a light to the nations. And this task of being a light to the nations is one that we must continue.

We, who through the gift of faith, recognize Jesus as the Son God who takes away the sins of the world have the ongoing mission, like John the Baptist, of pointing out Jesus to the world. Strengthened by the grace given to us in the Eucharist, the sacrament which makes present the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, we must go out as signs and instruments of the love, mercy, and forgiveness that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, offers to all peoples of the world. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

EPIPHANY OF THE LORD : Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12
The Battle of Milvian Bridge was fought between Roman Emperors Constantine I and Maxentius in 312. On the evening of October 27, with the armies preparing for battle, Constantine had a vision. A most marvellous sign appeared to him from heaven. The famous sign in the sky was a cross of light, with the inscription, Conquer by this. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle.
Constantine delineated the sign on the shields of his soldiers, and proceeded to battle, and his troops stood to arms. Maxentius was defeated in the battle, and Constantine was acknowledged as emperor by the senate and people of Rome. Constantine’s victory brought relief to the Christians by ending persecution.
300 Years before Constantine, God’s sign appeared on the sky as a luminous star. It announced the good news that a Saviour was born to emancipate humanity from the clutches of evil. This sign was read by the simple shepherds and wise men. It led the wise men to Bethlehem. Today we commemorate that event of the visit of the magi to the divine Child. It is called the feast of the Epiphany. The Greek word Epiphany means appearance or manifestation or showing forth.

The Epiphany can be looked on as a symbol for our pilgrimage through life to Christ.   The feast invites us to see ourselves as images of the Magi, a people on a journey to Christ. Their journey in search of the King of peace was heroic. Neither distance nor uncertainty of the destination could hold them back from their decision to find the new King.  God lit their way; His light shone above them, and they followed it.
Mother Teresa once visited a poor man in Melbourne, Australia. He was living in a basement room which was in a terrible state of neglect. There was no light in the room. He did not seem to have a friend in the world. She started to clean and tidy the room. At first he protested, “Leave it alone. It is alright as it is.” But she went ahead anyway. As she cleaned, she chatted with him. Under a pile of rubbish she found an oil lamp covered with dust. She cleaned it and discovered that it was beautiful. And she said to him, “You have got a beautiful lamp here. How come you never lighted it?” “Why should I light it?” “No one ever comes to see me.”

Will you promise to light it if one of my sisters comes to see you?” “Yes,” he replied. “If I hear a human voice, I will light the lamp.” Two of Mother Teresa’s sisters began to visit him regularly. Things gradually improved for him. Every time the sisters came to visit him, he had the lamp lighted. Then one day he said to them: “Sisters, I will be able to manage myself from now on. Do me a favour. Tell the first sister who came to see me that the light she lit in my life is still burning.” (M K Paul p.18)

The light that God lit to announce the coming of His son is still burning. For the last twenty centuries many have followed the footprints of the Magi. When they found Jesus they, too, laid down everything they had at the foot of Jesus just like the Magi made their offerings.
These days we might expect the story to include a wise woman or two suggesting things might have gone better if the wise men had been wise women. After all, had women been in charge, they would have asked for direction, gotten to the Manger on time, assisted with the birth, cleaned up the place and made a casserole for the Holy Family. But we are told that God chose the wisest woman to be in charge of her son, who pondered all these things in heart; that wise woman was the Throne of Wisdom.

The wise men from the East recognized Jesus' greatness even as a little Child in an ordinary house. The spirit of God has always been there to guide those who have desired to walk in the light. So the Angel of the Lord guided the Magi to return to their own country, ‘by a different way”, and to a different life. The Magi’s meeting with Jesus brought about a total change in them. It lit their minds and removed the darkness from them. Jesus revealed Himself as their Saviour, and they accepted Him. Emperor Constantine was given a sign. He accepted it, and his acceptance gained him victory. When Jesus revealed Himself to Paul, he accepted Jesus, and his acceptance led him to change his way of life.

Ex-Beatle, George Harrison, in an interview shortly before his death said, “Everything else in life can wait, but the search for God cannot wait." Larry King said, “I have a lot of respect for true people of faith, I have always searched. I envy people who have it. I just can't make the leap." It was no quick or easy trip for the Magi to find the Christ Child. Maybe it never is easy but don't settle for anything less. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be satisfied." Don't settle for anything less this year than an authentic, living, vital relationship with God. You will be glad you did.

May the Spirit of God help us to search every day to see the incarnation in our midst and offer our hearts in self surrender to him.