Friday, June 30, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

OT XII [A] : Jer 20:10-13; Rom 5:12-15; Mt 10:26-33  

C. S. Lewis wrote a book called The Screwtape Letters. "Screwtape" is a devil, a very accomplished devil. Using any trickery, he can, Screwtape turns people away from God. By his letters, Screwtape gives advice to Wormwood, his young nephew and apprentice who is just learning the deceptive ways of devils. In one letter, Screwtape writes to Wormwood, "Keep them anxious, make certain they are worried about something." Remind people about their fears. Why this advice? Being a devil, Screwtape wants to get people so focused on their fears that they forget God. Our Scripture readings for this Sunday call us to preach Christ through our words and lives without fear. 

The first reading tells us how the prophet Jeremiah trusted in the power of God while he faced opposition for his prophetic ministry. In the second reading, Paul assures the Christians in Rome that they need not be afraid of opposition both because they share in the death of Jesus and his Resurrection and because they are united with Christ, the new Adam, in his resurrection.

Today’s Gospel passage is taken from the end of Jesus’ instruction to his disciples as he sends them forth to carry on his mission of preaching and healing. He asks them to live simply and to expect opposition and rejection. After having predicted future opposition and persecution, Jesus encourages his disciples to stand firm. Three times they are urged, "Do not fear!" "Do not be afraid!" Instead of shrinking from their task, they are to proclaim the Gospel boldly because they will be protected, just as Jeremiah was assured of God's protection. 

This phrase, “Have no fear” runs like a refrain through the Gospel, indeed through the whole Bible.  To Abram, God said, “Do not be afraid, I am your shield.”  To the prophets, “Do not be afraid, I am with you.”  To Mary, the angel said, “Do not be afraid.”  To the apostles, Jesus said, “Do not be afraid.”  To Paul, the Lord said, “Do not be afraid.”  To all his disciples, Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock” (Luke 12:32). In fact there are 366 times the bible repeats: do not be afraid. May be God wants to tell us every day of the year do not be afraid.
Fear is a powerful factor in the life of every human being. In young and old alike, fear can express itself as shyness, feelings of inferiority, aggression, and (most painful of all) anxiety.  Anxiety is a generalized form of fear: fear of nothing in particular but of everything in general.  It is often about possible future troubles rather than present ones.
Today’s gospel reading offers a more substantial support.  It does not say, “Don’t be afraid, it won't happen.”  It says something more like, “Don’t be afraid; it may well happen, but when it does happen you will not be destroyed as a person.”  This is the difference between optimism and hope.  The 14th-century English mystic Julian of Norwich put it clearly.  “He did not say, ‘You will not be tempted, you will not be troubled, you will not be distressed,’ but he said, ‘You will not be overcome.’” 

The God who cares for a trivial bird like the sparrow also cares about our smallest problems – even the hairs on our heads are counted. While this is an encouraging assurance, it may be difficult to believe in the midst of persecution. But God knows everything that we go through – nothing that happens to us escapes Him. When we feel lonely and abandoned, when it seems that our prayers are unanswered, God knows and cares.

Jesus concludes by saying, "So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows." In other words, the perfect antidote for fear is trust in God. God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. No matter how dark the tunnel of life gets, as Christians, we are always able to see a light ahead: our resurrected Lord.
Any time we are afraid that we will make a wrong decision, afraid of what the future will bring our children,  afraid of growing old, or of what bad health will bring us,  let us take a moment to recall some of the great promises of God, and remind ourselves that God cares for each of us.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

October 17, 2008, a 22ft dinghy with 30 Dominican refugees aboard drifted for 15 days after getting lost at sea en route to Puerto Rico. What began as a journey to a better life went horribly wrong. According to the men, they were all told by the Captain  not to take any food and water on board since it was a one-day trip.

Two days after the boat left on, they complained of hunger and thirst to the Captain who could offer them no solution as he was hopelessly lost. The situation turned even worse when the fuel ran out leaving them stranded and completely helpless.

One week into the trip they were so weak from food deprivation, the first person died and was thrown into the sea.  They tried to sustain themselves on rain and seawater as they bobbed for days on the open waters, far off their original course. Famished and dehydrated, the survivors watched migrant after migrant die, each time dutifully waiting 15 to 20 minutes before throwing the body overboard.

By the 13th day only six out of 30 people remained. It was almost certain that nobody would complete their journey. The dying men persuaded those who were still alive, to eat their body to survive - a great act of concern.

In every nook and corner of the world we see a great symbol that announces the offer made by a man to sacrifice himself for giving life to the whole of humanity. The cross reminds us about the great sacrifice of Jesus.

Today, we celebrate the solemn feast of Corpus Christi. At the last supper Jesus established the Sacrament of Eucharist and symbolically shared His body and Blood with His disciples. He also commanded them to do it till the end of the world, in His memory. Food gives energy for sustenance. The Spiritual food Jesus offered, gives energy for spiritual sustenance. The concept of God feeding His children is found throughout the Sacred Writings.
When the Israelites, on their journey to the Promised Land, were hungry, God fed them with Manna. God sent a raven to feed Prophet Elijah. God sent Prophet Elijah to feed a woman in Zarephath. When Jesus saw the hungry people, he fed them with bread and fish, and finally Jesus went to the extreme of offering Himself for the spiritual sustenance of His People.
The second reading tells of The Corinthian Christians who were apparently ill-mannered and rude in their celebration of the Lord's Supper.  So Paul was trying to make them behave in a more Christ-like fashion. Paul was also clearly distinguishing the Eucharist from the ritual meals of some pagan groups known to the Corinthians.  For Paul, “the Body of Christ” can have two meanings: the Body of Christ that we share in the Eucharist and the Body of Christ that we form as the community of believers, united with the risen Christ.  Paul extended this union with Jesus to include union with all believers.  As Paul says, “the cup of blessing is a sharing in the Blood of Christ, and the bread we break is a sharing in the Body of Christ.”  The language is mystical, but it carries the meaning of the union of all believers with Jesus and thus with one another.  Our participation in the Eucharist concretizes and energizes our relationships with Christ and one another.  
Just as numerous grains of wheat are pounded together to make the host, and many grapes are crushed together to make the wine, so we become unified in this sacrifice.  Our Lord chose these elements in order to show us that we ought to seek union with one another, to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into Our Lord Jesus Christ and to work with Him in the process.  Christ is the Head and we are the Body.  Together we are one.  Hence, Holy Communion should strengthen our sense of unity and love.

This imposes a serious obligation on us Christians – to receive the Holy Eucharist only if we are determined to live in peace with one another. If there is disunity, if our hearts are filled with malice towards others, if we indulge in injustice, if we our thoughts are impure, we have no right to partake in the breaking of the Bread. The sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is the living bread of eternal life. Therefore, it is meant for those who are pure of heart. Our outward piety towards the consecrated Bread and Wine cannot coexist with rudeness, unkindness, slander, cruelty, gossiping or any other breach of charity toward our brothers and sisters.
Justin the martyr taught “It is allowed to no one else to participate in that food which we call Eucharist except the one who is living according to the way Christ handed on to us.” St Augustine preached, “Before you receive Jesus Christ, you should remove from your heart all worldly attachments which you know to be displeasing to Him.

St. Therese of Lisieux wrote, “Our Lord does not come down from Heaven every day to lie in a golden ciborium. He comes to find another heaven which is infinitely dearer to Him - the heaven of our souls”.

Hence, let us receive Holy Communion with fervent love and respect -- not merely as a matter of routine.  
Before the greatness of this mystery, let us exclaim with St. Thomas Aquinas "O Sacrament most holy! O Sacrament Divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!" 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

MOST HOLY TRINITY [A] [Ex 34:4-6, 8-9; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Jn 3:16-18]

Today is the feast of Most Holy Trinity. The mystery of the most Holy Trinity is a basic doctrine of Faith in Christianity, understandable not with our heads but with our hearts. It teaches us that there are three distinct Persons in one God, sharing the same Divine Nature, co-equal and co-eternal.  Our mind cannot grasp this doctrine which teaches that 1+1+1 = 1 and not 3. But we believe in this Mystery because Jesus who is God taught it clearly, the Evangelists recorded it, the Fathers of the Church tried to explain it and the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople defined it as a dogma of Christian Faith.

All the official prayers of the Church, including the Holy Mass and the Sacraments, begin with an address to the Holy Trinity: “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We are baptized, absolved of our sins and anointed in the name of the Blessed Trinity. Throughout the world, church bells can ring three times a day inviting Christians to pray to the trinity giving glory to the Triune God for the Incarnation of the Son and our Redemption. We bless ourselves with the Sign of the Cross, invoking the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and we conclude our prayers glorifying the Holy Trinity, saying “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.”

The first reading, taken from the book of Exodus, describes how God revealed His name to Moses as “Yahweh,” which means, “I am Who am.”  But Orthodox Jews never used that name.  They addressed God by calling Him Lord.  The passage also is as close as the Bible comes to giving a definition of God. According to that text, the Lord is “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” Every part of that statement stresses God in relationship to humankind, and it emphasizes especially God’s great love for us. The revelation of God’s nature as Triune was made by Jesus.  In fact the very word "Trinity,” referring to Three Persons in one God, one in Godhead yet distinct in Person, is not explicitly spelled out in the Bible, although the doctrine on Trinity is mentioned about forty times in the New Testament without using the term “Trinity.”  Rather, the early Church arrived at the doctrine of the Trinity when she reflected on the Revelation which she had received from Jesus in Faith.

St. Cyril, tried to explain the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity using sun as an example.    He said, "God the Father is that blazing sun. God the Son is its light and God the Holy Spirit is its heat — but there is only one sun. So there are three Persons in the Holy Trinity but God is One and indivisible." St. John Maria Vianney used to explain Holy Trinity using lighted candles and roses on the altar and water in the cruets. “The flame has color, warmth and shape. But these are expressions of one flame. Similarly, the rose has color, fragrance and shape. But these are expressions of one reality, namely, rose. Water, steam and ice are three distinct expressions of one reality. In the same way one God revealed Himself to us as Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.”
St. John of Damascus, said we should think “of the Father as a root, the Son as a branch, and of the Spirit as a fruit, for the sustenance of these three is one.”   

There are only vague and hidden references to the Trinity in the Old Testament. But the New Testament gives clear teachings on the Holy Trinity.
1)    At the Annunciation, God the Father sends His angel to Mary, God the Holy Spirit comes upon her, the Power of the Most High overshadows her and God the Son becomes incarnate in her womb.
2) At the baptism of Jesus, when the Son receives baptism from John the Baptist, the Father’s Voice is heard and the Holy Spirit appears as a Dove.
3)  At the Ascension, Jesus gives the missionary command to his disciples to baptize those who believe, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
4) In John, chapters 15--18, we have a detailed account of Jesus’ teaching of the role of each Person of the Holy Trinity: a) God the Father creates and provides for His creatures. b) God the Son redeems us and reconciles us with God. c) God the Holy Spirit sanctifies us, strengthens us, teaches us and guides us to God.

 Our conviction of the presence of the Triune God within us should help us to esteem ourselves as God’s holy dwelling place, to behave well in His holy presence, and to lead purer and holier lives, practicing acts of justice and charity.  This Triune Presence should also encourage us to respect and honor others as "Temples of the Holy Spirit." 

We are made in God’s image and likeness.  Just as God is God only in a Trinitarian relationship, so we can be fully human only as one member of a relationship of three partners.  The self needs to be in a horizontal relationship with all other people and in a vertical relationship with God.  In that way our life becomes Trinitarian like that of God. 
Let me close with St. Francis Xavier’s favorite prayer: “Most Holy Trinity, Who live in me, I praise You, I worship You, I adore You and I love You.”   Amen. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Pentecost  Acts 2:1-11; I Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”
“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?” 
The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouth. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”
The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.
”The second insisted, ”Well I think there is something, and maybe it’s different from life here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”
The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover, if there is life, then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes nowhere.”
“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”
The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”
The second said.” She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”  
Said the first: “Well I don’t see her, so it is only logical that she doesn’t exit.”
To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and listen, you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

Today is Pentecost: The Church’s birthday! “Before Pentecost, the disciples were unsure of what they were to do next, and spent most of their time in hiding. After Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit, they understood their mission to spread the Good News of Jesus, and they had the courage to come out of their hiding and speak openly about who Jesus was, and what he had accomplished by his dying and rising.

 Pentecost marks the end and the goal of the Easter season.  It is the official birthday of the Church. The main theme of today’s readings is that the gift of the Holy Spirit is something to be shared with others.  In other words, the readings remind us that the gift of the Holy Spirit moves its recipients to action and inspires them to share this gift with others. The Holy Spirit empowered the early Christians to bear witness to Christ by their sharing love and strong Faith.  This "anointing by the Holy Spirit” also strengthened the early Christian martyrs during the period of brutal persecution that followed.  

The scripture repeatedly confirms our belief that the Holy Spirit lives within us!  Saint Paul reminds the Corinthian community of this fact when he asks, "Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?" (I Corinthians 3:16).  It is the Holy Spirit who develops our intimacy with God.  "God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying, ‘Abba!' ('Father!’)” (Gal 4:6).  "God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us" (Romans 5:5). "No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit" (I Corinthians 12:3).  Moreover, we know that it is the Holy Spirit Who teaches us to pray (Romans 8:26).  It is the Holy Spirit who enlivens, enlightens, guides, and sanctifies the Church. The Psalm refrain for this Sunday says it so well: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”  We know Jesus through the Sacramental Mysteries of the Church, and Holy Spirit is at the heart of the Sacramental life of the Church.  It would be impossible for us to receive Jesus in the Eucharist without the descent of the Holy Spirit at the Epiclesis of the Divine Liturgy.  Even the forgiveness of sins comes through the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-23). 
The Holy Spirit descended on the disciples who were gathered together in prayer. It is important that we gather together on Sundays to pray together. Otherwise we can miss out on the workings of the Holy Spirit. D.L. Moody once called on a leading citizen in Chicago to persuade him to accept Christ and come to Church gatherings. They were seated in the man’s parlor. It was winter and coal was burning in the fireplace. The man objected that he could be just as good a Christian outside the church as in it. Moody said nothing, but stepped to the fireplace, took the tongs, picked a blazing coal from the fire and set it off by itself. In silence the two watched it smolder and go out. “I see,” said the man. The message was clear to him. If we absent ourselves from the Church gatherings we can miss out on the Pentecost experience. A single straw lit can go out soon but along with other straw it will burn itself completely out.

Today’s Gospel passage also tells us how Jesus gave to the Apostles the power and authority to forgive sins.  “Receive the Holy Spirit.  For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.”  These wonderful words, which bind together inseparably the presence of the Holy Spirit and the gift of forgiveness, are referred to directly in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  But they have a much wider meaning.  Those words remind us of the Christian vocation we all have, to love and forgive as we have been loved and forgiven, in the world of today. Learning to forgive is a lifelong task, but the Holy Spirit is with us to make us agents of forgiveness.  If we are prepared on this day of Pentecost to receive the Holy Spirit into our lives, we can have confidence that our lives will be marked by the Spirit of forgiveness.

Today is a great day to ask the Holy Spirit to rekindle in us the spirit of new life and enthusiasm, the fire of God's love.  Let us pray Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman’s favorite little prayer, “Come Holy Spirit:”
“Come Holy Spirit
Make our ears to hear
Make our eyes to see
Make our mouths to speak
Make our hearts to seek
Make our hands to reach out
And touch the world with your love.  AMEN.”