Wednesday, August 30, 2017

We are all familiar with the term identity crisis. It is a modern phenomenon that man tries to find his own identity. Many today ask the question who they are?
In today’s Gospel Jesus confronts his disciples with a very difficult question. The opinion of people about him, and their personal opinion about him.
When the people identified Jesus with Elijah and Jeremiah they were paying him a great compliment and setting him in a high place. Then came the most important question, “Who do you say I am?” With this question Jesus reminds us that our knowledge of Jesus must never be at second hand.  Christianity never consists in knowing about Jesus; it always consists in knowing Jesus. When this question was addressed to Peter, his answer was, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 4, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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