Saturday, February 25, 2017

O. T. VIII (A): Is 49:14-15; I Cor 4:1-5; Mt 6:24-34

Two business executives meet for lunch. Gene asks Ed: "How's your health?" Ed said, "I feel great! My ulcers are gone. I feel great!" Gene says, "How did that happen? Ed says, “Well, you know my doctor told me my ulcers were caused from worrying. So, I hired myself a professional worrier. Whenever something worrisome comes up, I turn it over to him, and he does all my worrying for me!" Gene says, "Wow, I'd like to hire someone like that! How much does he charge?" Ed says, "One hundred thousand dollars!" Gene asked, "How in the world can you afford $100,000? Ed says, "I don't know. I let him worry about that!"
 Today’s readings give us an invitation to avoid unnecessary worries by putting our trust in the love and providence of a merciful God, and then living each day’s life as it comes, doing His will and realizing His presence within us and others.
Today’s first reading, taken from the prophet Isaiah, begins with the Lord God’s rhetorical question “Can a mother forget her infant?” and His solemn pledge, “Even should she forget, I will never forget you!” This is one of the most touching expressions of God’s love in the Bible. Through the prophet, God assures Israel of His unfailing love when the people of Israel cry out in despair, believing that they have been forgotten by God. The Lord God reminds Israel that even the best of human love is only a shadow of God’s eternal, life-giving love for His people. Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 62) also invites us to hope and rest in the strength and providence of a loving God.

Some people worry all the time. Poor people worry that they have no money and rich people worry that they don’t have enough money. Sick people worry about their premature death, and healthy people worry about getting sick. Some people worry about their past blunders, and others worry about their future. Everyone one, it seems, worries about something all the time. Only trust and faith in God can take us beyond the immediacy of worries and an inordinate focus on ourselves. The tragedy of most of our lives is that we worry so much about tomorrow that we never claim the resources God has for our living today. Hence, Jesus gives us some reasons why we should not worry.  1) Worry is a pagan or an irreligious attitude of those who don’t believe in a loving and providing God. Worry is the ultimate act of rebellion against the rule of God in a believer’s life.  How?  Worry says that God is dead; and if He is alive, then He is incapable of doing anything about my situation! It is a deficiency of faith that causes us to worry over health or food, past or future. 2) Only humans worry: In nature, other creatures, like birds, work hard for their daily food, but they don’t worry about tomorrows. 3) Worry is useless because we cannot increase even an inch of height by days of worrying. I did that a lot when I was young. 4)Worry is injurious to the health because it causes physical and mental problems and illnesses.

We need to live one day at a time: Here are the three simple steps. First, we start the day with God. We set aside for prayer at least fifteen minutes early in the day, and begin by repeating Psalm 118, verse 24: “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Then we thank God for the day and dedicate it to His glory, ask for a 24-hour full-activation of the Holy Spirit so that He may provide the resources we don’t have for living victoriously that day. Secondly, we touch base with God periodically throughout the day. This could take the form of what saints call “red-light prayers,” little prayers that we can whisper with eyes wide open, perhaps when we’re about to talk with a customer or just before boarding a plane or when we have a tough decision to make. This is what St. Paul meant when he advised us to “pray continually” (I Thess. 5:17). It is amazing what peace this God-consciousness can bring. In the third step, we  end each day with God. Before we go to sleep, we say, “Thank You, Lord, for walking through this day with me. Thanks for helping me at critical points. I have wounded my soul today by my sins. Please pardon me. With Your grace I shall be more faithful tomorrow. Now, I ask for a restful night of sleep, and if You see fit to give me another day tomorrow, I will receive it gladly. I love you, Lord. Amen.”

Thursday, February 16, 2017

OT VII [A] Lv 19:1-2, 17-18; I Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48

Today’s readings explain the basis of Jewish and Christian morality, the holiness of the loving, merciful and compassionate God. The first reading, taken from the book of Leviticus, gives the holiness code: “Be holy, for I the Lord, your God, am holy.” It also gives us the way to share God’s holiness:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Responsorial Psalm (Ps 103) challenges us to be like our God – kind, merciful and forgiving.

The old Jewish law said: ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth’. This was enacted to limit revenge, rather than encourage it. If someone takes out one of your eyes, you are not entitled to take out both of his. That would only escalate the violence. So the old law aimed to limit human wickedness, but could not eradicate it. In contrast, Jesus says: ‘Turn the other cheek’. I cannot hit the person facing me on the right cheek except with back of the hand. I can hit the left cheek straight. To be slapped with the back of the hand on the right cheek was a gross insult; it implied that the person hit is inferior. Our natural instinct is to hit back. Jesus says it is far better to find a creative way forward, reflecting the patient love of God himself. By offering the other cheek, you are effectively saying: ‘Hit me again if you wish; but this time, treat me as an equal, not as an inferior’.
Similarly, Jesus says that if your opponent in law would take the shirt off your back, give him your vest too. In those days in Palestine, a poor man would have just two garments: a cloak and a shirt. By surrendering both of them, you show your opponent what he is really doing: reducing a poor man to nakedness and shame. 

Again, you may be obliged to carry some equipment for a Roman soldier. The military had the right to make civilians do this, but only for one mile, not more.  Very well then, says Jesus: surprise him by offering to go two miles. That is far more constructive than making an official complaint, or plotting revenge by joining a resistance movement. You would be showing the Romans that there is a different way to be human, a way which reveals God’s victory over all oppression, injustice and inequality.

These three little scenes give glimpses of God’s way for us to live a truly human life. They are not easy; and perhaps they were not intended always to be taken literally. But they should certainly urge us to think about our own behavior, and realize that we are often oppressive or domineering. They should encourage us to share Jesus’ truly creative and loving way of being human. 

In Bill Adler's popular book of letters from kids, an 8 year-old boy from Nashville, Tennessee makes this contribution: "Dear Pastor, I know God wants us to love everybody, but He surely never met my sister." Sincerely, Arnold.
There was a man who was always bragging about his love for children. One day he was pouring a new driveway of cement and some of the little kids in the neighborhood came running through his yard and ran right through his freshly poured driveway. In fact, this occurred while he was gone, and some even wrote their initials and names in the cement. By the time he got back it had hardened with the footprints and the initials and the names hardened for all to see. This man went into a tirade. He was screaming and yelling at the top of his lungs; pacing back and forth about to explode. One of his neighbors came over and said, "I thought you said you loved children." The man said, "Well, I do love them in the abstract, but I don't love them in the concrete."

When Jesus said, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, he was not asking us to do anything that he did not do himself. When they challenged his teaching, he told Parables, quizzical and often humorous stories, which forced them, and us, to think differently. When they mocked him, he did not respond. When they struck him and scourged him, he accepted the pain, uncomplainingly. When they made him carry the burden of the cross, the ultimate symbol of Roman domination, he carried it as far as he was able, and then had the humiliation of someone helping him with it. Together they brought it to the place of execution; and as the soldiers hammered in the nails he prayed for them. As true disciples of Jesus we should try to live by a merciful and compassionate attitude even to our enemies. Otherwise we are not worthy to be called the disciples of Jesus.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

O. T. VI (A): Sir 15:15-20, I Cor 2:6-10, Mt 5:17-3

Today’s readings challenge us to choose freely and wisely to observe the laws given by a loving and caring God. The first reading, exhorts “If you choose, you can keep the commandments . . . before you are life and death, whichever you choose shall be given you.”  God revealed His laws through Moses and the prophets in the Old Testament and through His own Son, Jesus, in the New Testament. For the Israelites, the Torah was not a set of laws but the instruction or teaching intended to promote the holiness and wholeness of each believer. It was the revealed will of a caring God for the people with whom He had made His covenant.  
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says that he did not come to destroy the Torah but to bring it to perfection by bringing out its inner meaning because he is the ultimate Self-revelation of God the Law-Giver. Jesus also explains the real meaning of three Mosaic laws concerning murder, adultery and false oaths.

 Jesus came to establish a new Kingdom. Hence he had promulgated a new law. A new law for a new Kingdom. Neither the Jews who had been used to the rabbinic interpretation of the Mosaic Law, nor the Rabbis who interpreted the Mosaic Law could grasp the meaning of Jesus interpretation. They thought that Jesus was abolishing all the existing laws. In this context, Jesus declared that he had not come to abolish the Law but to complete it (Mt 5:17). Jesus taught them that the Kingdom of God would be guided by a single law, “The law of love.” Hence, Jesus summed up the Ten Commandments into two, “Love the Lord, your God with all your heart 
     ….Love your neighbour as yourself.”(Deut 6:5. Mt 22:38-39).

Jesus demanded a higher standard of conduct from the citizens of his Kingdom.
“If your virtue goes no deeper Than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, You will never get into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20)

The contemporary Society of Jesus followed the principle of “an eye for an eye” and “a tooth for a tooth.” But in the new Kingdom that law was abolished and a new law was promulgated. “Show the right cheek to the one who strikes on the left.” It seemed impractical for the contemporaries of Jesus.

The demand of Jesus from the citizens of His Kingdom is a step higher than the normal standards. If anger is met with anger, treachery with treachery, falsehood with falsehood, there will not be any place for such people in the new kingdom.
This demand Jesus placed on his followers with great authority. All the Prophets spoke in the name of God. They announced, “Thus says the Lord….” The Rabbis taught in the name of the written word of God. “Thus it is written….” But Jesus taught in His own authority. “I say to you…” Everyone was amazed but no one dared to question the authority of Jesus, because his words radiated unchallengeable authority and wisdom.

By the world’s standards a man is a good man, if he never does a forbidden thing. The modern civilization has diluted it further. A man is not guilty until it is proved. The world judges a man from his deeds. But Jesus went one more step further. He judges a man from his thoughts. Jesus taught that thoughts are as important as deeds. By Jesus’ standards a man is not a good man until he never even desires to do a forbidden thing. Goodness proceeds from within not just from actions. As disciples of Jesus let’s ask his grace to purge our intentions, conscience and desires and accept his law of love to be citizens in his kingdom. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

OT V [A]: Is 58:7-10; I Cor 2:1-5; Mt 5: 13-16

Mother Angelica, who died last year, started broadcasting Catholic TV for just a few hours a day in 1981 from the garage of her Poor Clare Monastery.  The project grew and grew, and now, after thirty-six years, the EWTN is available twenty-four hours a day all over the world by cable and satellite.  Mother Angelica is an example of a true Christian, living out her Faith as salt to preserve Christian values and to provide the modern world with a purifying mass medium. She kept putting her lamp on the lamp-stand so that Christ’s Light would shine for everyone in the modern global village. 
The common theme of the readings today is our mission to the world as salt and light.  In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah gives examples of how we are to allow the light of God to shine through us.  “Share your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.   Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday” (58:7, 10). 

Using two simple metaphors in today’s Gospel, Jesus outlines the role of Christians in this world. The Christian’s task is to be the salt of society, preserving, reconciling, adding flavor, giving meaning where there is no meaning and giving hope where there is no hope.  Every Christian needs to reflect the light borrowed from Christ and radiate that light in the form of love, kindness, mercy, forgiveness and humble service. 
When Jesus commanded his followers to be the light of the world, he demanded nothing less than that they should be like him, the One who claimed to be the Light of the world.  "As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the world" (Jn 9:5).  Christ is the "true" or "original" Light (Jn 8:12).  Citizens of the kingdom are simply "luminaries" reflecting the One True Light, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun (2 Cor 4:6).  The radiance which shines from the Christian comes from the presence of Christ within the Christian's heart.  Christians are to be torch-bearers in a dark world.  We should not try to hide the light which God has lit in our lives.  Rather, we should let it shine so that others may see our good deeds and praise God. 

When the early Christians lived in unity the others  wondered. Look, how they live in unity! Our life must attract others. There is an old proverb “A drop of honey catches more flies than a cup of vinegar.”  Our little acts of kindness are like drops of honey. They are able to attract others, and motivate others to show acts of kindness. “A good example has twice the value of good advice”. 

One day a man visited Mother Teresa’s home for the poor and the dying in Calcutta. He arrived just as the sisters were bringing in some of the dying off the streets. They had picked up a man off the gutter, and he was covered with dirt and sores. Without knowing that she was being watched, one of the sisters began to care for the dying man. The visitor kept watching the sister as she worked. He saw how tenderly she cared for her patient. He noticed how as she washed the man she smiled at him. She did not miss a detail in her attentive care of that dying man. After carefully watching the Sister the visitor turned to Mother Teresa and said, “When I came here today I didn’t believe in God, and my heart was full of hatred. But now I am leaving here believing in God. I have seen the love of God in action. Through the hands of that Sister, through her tenderness, through her gestures which were so full of love for that wretched man, I have seen God’s love descend upon him. Now I believe.” The kind gesture of the sister was able to make a great impact on the atheist.

A Peanuts cartoon showed Peppermint Patty talking to Charlie Brown. She said, “Guess what, Chuck. The first day of school and I got sent to the principal’s office. It was your fault, Chuck.” He said, “My fault? How could it be my fault? Why do you say everything is my fault?” She said, “You’re my friend, aren’t you, Chuck? You should have been a better influence on me.” How much influence do we exercise on our friends and neighbors?

God wants us to be the salt and light for everyone around us. As a Christian do I reflect Christ as surely as the moon reflects the sun. Do I illuminate a dark world with the reflected light of Christ, always giving him glory?.  Let’s ask the Lord for the grace to be salt and light in our family, parish and community around us.