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.