Saturday, May 26, 2018

HOLY     TRINITY [B]: Dt 4:32-34, 39-40; Rom 8:14-17; Mt 28:16-20

The feast of the Holy Trinity invites us to live in the awareness of the presence of the Triune God within us. “There is one God, who has three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Each Person is God, yet there is still only one God” (CCC #234, #253-256). Father, Son and Spirit are not parts of God, but One God. Easier said than understood!

All the official prayers of the Church, including the Holy Mass and the Sacraments, begin with an address to the Holy Trinity. We are baptized, absolved of our sins and anointed in the name of the Blessed Trinity. 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 early Christians started talking about a Triune God. This wasn’t to make God more logical and understandable and acceptable to human ways of thinking. In fact, the idea of the Trinity intensified the Mystery and awesomeness of God. They observed that Jesus had a unique relationship with the Father and that the Holy Spirit had a unique relationship with the Father and the Son. Against all sorts of odds, against all human logic, and in the face of mounting opposition, the Church maintained that Jesus Christ is true God, equal with the Father, and that the Holy Spirit is God, equal with the Father and the Son.

Since Yahweh, the God of Israel, was careful to protect His Chosen People from the pagan practice of worshipping several gods, the Old Testament books give only indirect and passing references to the Trinity, and the Jewish rabbis never understood them as references to the Holy Trinity.    Genesis 1:26 presents God speaking to Himself:  "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness."    Genesis 18:2 describes Yahweh visiting Abraham under the appearance of three men, an event that the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates as the “Trinitarian Experience of Abraham.” In Genesis 11:7, before punishing the proud builders of the Tower of Babel, God says, “Come, let Us go down among them and confuse their language. “These passages imply, rather than state, the doctrine of the Trinity.
In the N.T. we get a clearer understanding of the Trinity.
 a) The Annunciation (Luke 1: 26-38), describes how God the Father sent angel Gabriel to Mary to announce to her that God the Holy Spirit, would "come upon” her, that “the power the Most High will overshadow” her, that the Son would be made flesh in her womb: “Therefore, the Child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
 b) During the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:  16-17), the Holy Spirit was shown descending on Jesus in the form of a Dove, while the Voice of God the Father was heard from the clouds, saying, “You are My Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased” (Luke 4:22).
 c) John Chapters 15 & 18 present the detailed teaching of Jesus on the Persons of the Holy Trinity.  
 d) In the preaching mission given by the risen Lord to the disciples, Jesus commanded them to baptize people “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19; John 10:30).

St. John of Damascus, a great Eastern theologian of the eighth century, 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.”    
A good illustration of the Trinity comes from world-renowned scientist Dr. Henry Morris. He notes that the entire universe is Trinitarian by design. The universe consists of three things: matter, space, and time. Take away any one of those three and the universe would cease to exist. But each one of those is itself a trinity. Matter = mass + energy + motion. Space = length + height + breadth. Time = past + present + future. Thus the whole universe witnesses to the character of the God who made it (cf. Psalm 19:1).

Richard of St.Victor Said: For God to be truth he has to be one; for God to be love: He has to be two; for God to be Joy he has to be three.
It is a mystery and therefore it cannot be really understood. Therefore it is not necessary to understand it before we can believe it.
One parishioner said, “The Trinitarian God is a lot like our pastor. I don’t see him through the week and I don’t understand him on Sunday.”

Thomas Edison, the inventor, once remarked: "We don't know what water is. We don't know what light is. We don't know what electricity is. We don't know what heat is. We have a lot of hypotheses about these things, but that is all. But we don't let our ignorance about these things deprive us of their use." The truth of that statement is real. Most of us do not know how an electric light works, how a telephone or a TV works, but this does not prevent us from using them. Let us try to apply the same common sense to our Faith in the doctrine of the Trinity.

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.  “I am a Christian insofar as I live in a relationship of love with God and with other people.” 
St. Francis Xavier’s favorite prayer was: “Most Holy Trinity, who live in me, I praise You, I worship You, I adore You and I love You.”  Let the Son lead us to the Father through the Spirit, to live with the Triune God forever and ever. Amen.” 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

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

There are transitional moments in life that confirm something tremendous has taken place. One of those moments occurs in a teenager's life and in lives of the parents of that particular teenager, when a mom or a dad gives to him or her the keys to the car for the first time for a solo run. What a transitional moment this is! It's going to be a step of growth for you. It's a time when you release your child into an adult world. It's a change in your son or daughter's life from which they are never going to turn back. It's a moment in which you are giving your child an adult responsibility.
It is a transitional moment for the child also because the teenager recognizes that he/she has been given a great responsibility. It's an adult responsibility. He also realizes that this is something that he needs to take care with because great trust has been put in him/her. Teenagers need to prove to their parents that the validity of their faith in them is correct.

In the Scripture for today, Jesus does something very similar for His followers. Jesus said, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Jesus is tossing the keys to the kingdom to His disciples. He is demonstrating that He is accepting them as His followers but He is also demonstrating to them that He is entrusting to them the message of the gospel. He is showing them that He believes in them.

The feast of Pentecost commemorates the official inauguration of the Christian Church by the apostolic preaching of St. Peter, which resulted in the conversion of 3000 Jews to the Christian Faith. Pentecost is, thus, the official birthday of the Church. It is the Holy Spirit who enlivens, enlightens, guides, and sanctifies the Church. The Psalm refrain for this Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 104) 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.  Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders are the Sacramental Mysteries through which people receive the seal of the Holy Spirit.  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 (Jn 20:21-23). 

At Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended, notice that the Spirit “filled the entire house”, and then the apostles were “all filled with the Holy Spirit”, and then they fill the streets of Jerusalem where, speaking in the languages of the known world, they signify that the Spirit fills the inhabited world with God’s blessings. On the day of Pentecost, those touched by the Holy Spirit were accused of being drunk, or maybe crazy. Today, believers are still considered to be weak, foolish, or emotionally unstable. But more and more studies are showing that religious believers are more emotionally and mentally stable than the average population. Religious faith is linked to lower blood pressure and lower rates of drug use, alcoholism, suicide, and mental disorders. Therefore remaining an active member in the community of believers is significant.

D.L. Moody once called on a leading citizen in Chicago to persuade him to accept Christ. 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. Away from the active community of believers we cannot get the support to sustain ourselves in grace.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is something to be shared with others. If we are led by the Spirit, then, we shall have “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” If we desire to these gifts of God, then we have to receive the Holy Spirit, and seek daily to “be directed by the Spirit.” As Pope Francis said recently: “Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Holiness does not make you less human, since it is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace. For in the words of León Bloy, when all is said and done, “the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.”

How beautiful is the thought 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 Cor. 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" (Rom. 5:5). "No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit" (I Cor. 12:3).  Moreover, we know that it is the Holy Spirit Who teaches us to pray (Rom.8:26).  

There was once an Eskimo who used to take his two dogs for a bet-fight in the town square. One was a black dog the other was white. The people gathered week after week to see the dogs fight and betted heavily. On some days, the black dog won and on others the white. No matter which dog won, the Eskimo made money. The secret behind duping the people was that he would feed well the dog which he wanted to win. Do we feed our spiritual self and keep it strengthened by the daily anointing of the Holy Spirit to win over the carnal person? "

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.”  

Saturday, May 12, 2018

THE FEAST OF ASCENSION OF OUR LORD [B] (Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23 or 4:1-13; Mk 16:15-20)

Today’s readings describe the Ascension of the Lord Jesus into his Heavenly glory after promising the Holy Spirit as the source of Heavenly power for his disciples and commanding them to bear witness to him by their lives and preaching throughout the world.  The feast of the Ascension tells us that the Church must be a community in mission, guided by God’s Spirit and confident of God’s protection even amid suffering and death.

Each Sunday we profess through the Creed, "He ascended into Heaven."  Christ’s Ascension was the culmination of God’s Divine plan for Christ Jesus, his return to his Father with “Mission Accomplished”.  Jesus’ Ascension is the grand finale of all his words and works done for us and for our salvation.  It was a culmination, but not the conclusion.  One wonder is that though Jesus is now with God in glory he continues to remain with us, dwelling within us together with the Father and the Holy Spirit: "Lo, I am with you always." The Feast of the Ascension celebrates one aspect of the Resurrection, namely Jesus’ exaltation.  The focus of this Feast is the Heavenly reign of Christ, and the Lord’s being  “seated at God’s right hand,” meaning He alone will be in control of the continuing plan of salvation through the Holy Spirit, unrestricted by time, space or culture. Jesus has gone to heaven so as to direct operations more fully here on earth. That’s why we pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

We need to live a life of Christian joy in the presence of the ascended Lord. According to Luke, the disciples "returned to Jerusalem with great joy." Apparently, Jesus' exaltation and final blessing gave them, as it gives us, the assurance that, though absent, Jesus is still present, present even in the pain and sorrow we undergo. That is why St. Augustine assures us, “Christ is now exalted above the Heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his Body, have to bear. He showed this when he cried out from above: 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?' and when he said: 'I was hungry and you gave me food.' While in Heaven he is also with us; and while on earth we are with him.

When the trials of life feel too heavy to bear, we must remember that Christ will come again in glory, the same glory in which he arose from the tomb, the same glory in which he ascended, and the same glory in which he currently abides.
A priest, Walter Ciszek by name, was in Russia for 23 years, five of which were spent in the dreaded Lubyanka prison in Moscow and ten of which were spent in the harsh Siberian slave labour camp. He was finally released from Russia in 1963, in exchange for two Soviet spies held in USA. He died in 1984 at the age of 84. After release he wrote a book He Leadeth Me. In this book he tries to answer the question: “How did you manage to survive in Russia?” He says: “I was able to endure the inhuman conditions in which I found myself because I experienced somehow the presence of God. I never lost my Faith that God was with me, even in the worst of circumstances.” What was true of Fr. Walter Ciszek is true of each of us. Jesus is with us; God is with us in the power of his Holy Spirit.

"Like the first apostles, we too share in the mission of spreading Christ’s kingdom in the world today. Yet we do not have to become missionaries in Africa to do this. Whether a teacher in the classroom, a businessman in the workplace, a college student on campus, or a mother raising children in the home, all Christians play a crucial role in helping build the kingdom where God has called them to serve. To be a Christian is to be a proclaimer and an evangelizer. There is a difference between preaching and proclaiming. “We preach with words but we proclaim with our lives.” By bringing the extraordinary witness of Christian truth, virtue, and love into our ordinary, daily endeavors, we can help transform our culture into the kingdom of the risen and ascended Christ."

Ruddell Norris was a conscientious young man. But he was also a shy young man. He found it hard just to talk to people, much less to discuss religion with them. Then one day he got an idea. Ruddell did a lot of reading, and he was aware of the many pamphlets about the Catholic faith. So he decided to set aside a part of his weekly allowance to buy pamphlets. Ruddell placed his pamphlets in places where he thought people would pick them up and read them. For example, he placed them in waiting rooms and in reception areas. One day a young woman who was a friend of his family told his parents how she became a convert and how her husband returned to the Church. "It all started with a pamphlet," she said. "I found it in the hospital waiting room." You can imagine the boy's excitement when he learned of the impact just one of his pamphlets had. He just tried to obey the missionary command of Christ.

After attending a convention led by Billy Graham a woman wrote to him. “Dear Sir, I feel that God is calling me to preach the Gospel. But the trouble is that I have twelve children. What shall I do?” The televangelist replied: “Dear Madam, I am delighted to hear that God has called you to preach the Gospel. I am even more delighted to hear that He has already provided you with a congregation in your own home.”
Anyone who has truly experienced God's saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love." Our great hope is that one day we too will be ascending to Heavenly glory provided we complete our part of the mission entrusted to us by the ascending Lord.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

EASTER VI [B]: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; I Jn 4:7-10; JOHN 15: 9-17  

During the Second World War Dr. Ernest Gordon, later Chaplain of Princeton University, was a prisoner of war in Thailand. In his book, Through the Valley of the Kwai, he reflects on the difference between two Christmas seasons he spent in prison. He says that during the Christmas season of 1942 there were thousands of American soldiers in that prison who robbed the sick among them, mistreated one another, and did not care whether the other prisoners lived or died. During the following year, a healthy American soldier began giving his food to a sick buddy to help him get well. In time the sick prisoner recovered, but the buddy who had given him food died of malnutrition. The story of the man who sacrificed his life to save a buddy made the rounds of the camp. Some of the prisoners remarked that he was a lot like Christ. Some of the soldiers began to recall passages from the Bible they had learned years earlier under far different circumstances. One of the passages stated, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Some who were Christians took heart and began to witness to other men. The prisoners began to ask about Christ and to meet for Bible study. When they began to know Christ as Lord the entire atmosphere in the camp changed from despair and desperation to hope and compassion. When Christmas of 1943 arrived, Dr. Gordon said, 2000 prisoners assembled for worship. They sang carols and someone read the story of the birth of Jesus from a Gospel account. Much more was different. In spite of their hunger, prisoners who were well, shared food with the sick to help them gain strength faster. They cared for one another. They agreed that the difference came about because of faith in Christ and people who lived his love in the midst of unloving circumstances. After telling the parable of the vine and branches, in today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches the disciples that they are to remain bonded to him as branches are bound to a vine.  They are to obey his commandment of love, just as he has obeyed his Heavenly Father’s will by fulfilling His commandments and remaining inseparably bonded with his Father.  Jesus’ unconditional, forgiving, selfless, sacrificial love for us must be the criterion of our love for others.  The highest expression of this love is our willingness to lay down our lives as Jesus did, for people who don’t deserve it.

G. K. Chesterton once said that the really great lesson of the story of "Beauty and the Beast" is that a thing must be loved before it is loveable. A person must be loved before that person can be lovable. Some of the most unlovely people I have known got that way because they thought that nobody loved them. The fact of the matter is that unless and until we feel ourselves loved, we cannot love. That's not only a principle of theology but of psychology and sociology as well. Just as abused children grow up to abuse their children, loved children grow up to love their children. Loved persons are able to love. Unloved persons are not. Christianity says something startling. It says that God loves and accepts us "just as we are." Therefore, we can love and accept ourselves and in so doing, love and accept others.

Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord said, “Because you are precious in my sight, I love you (43:4).” After Mother Theresa received the Noble Prize, someone asked her, “How can we solve the world’s problems.” She replied, “Go home and love one another.” The thing that is destroying the world today is: hatred and intolerance. It is only love, which can save the world from destruction. And love shall be the only thing that is eternal. Therefore Jesus tells his disciples that by their love, others will know that they are his disciples. And love can transform the world around us.

The power of Christ's love and friendship in no way negates the reality of this world's ability to hate.  That is why Jesus closes with a clear command that we must love one another, and even love those who hate us. Jesus says to pray in his name and the Father will grant that grace to love irrespective of the harm done to us.

This week: think of one small thing we can do to ease the burdens of others, especially of your spouse; think of one small thing you can do to make your boss's or coworker's job just a little bit easier; think of one small thing you can do to bring some encouragement and joy into your parents' lives; think of a friend or relative who is suffering, and think of one small thing you can do to help support them.

Jesus gives the assurance that "Love will always bear fruit." At times it may appear to us that to do good to certain people is a waste of time; people are often ungrateful, and on occasions those to whom we have done good turn against us. But, we should not get discouraged; because we do not know when, how and where love will bear fruit. It is the assurance of Jesus that "Love will bear fruit." It bore fruit in the life of Mother Theresa. It bore fruit in the life of Pope John Paul. It bears fruit in our lives. May God help us in our attempt to show his love to our brothers in small little ways. Amen.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

EASTER V [B]:  Acts 9:26-31; 1Jn 3:18-24; Jn 15:1-8

Today’s Scripture selections emphasize the need for Christians to abide in Christ as a condition for producing fruits of kindness, mercy, charity and holiness.  Jesus explains to his apostles how they and their disciples can carry on when he is no longer bodily or physically present.  Jesus assures them, using the parable of the vine and branches, that the life-giving Spirit whom Jesus will send them, will be present and active within and among his disciples and their successors.
Fruit-bearing in Christian life is not of our own independent and unaided making. The Holy Spirit who dwells within us trims and prunes us, teaching us himself and reminding us of what Jesus taught. It is He who enables us to love him and to keep His words (John 14:24, 26).

In pruning a vine, two principles are generally observed: first, all dead wood must be ruthlessly removed; and second, the live wood must be cut back drastically. Dead wood harbors insects and disease and may cause the vine to rot. Live wood must be trimmed back in order to prevent such heavy growth that the life of the vine goes into the wood rather than into fruit.
Cutting out of our lives everything that is contrary to the spirit of Jesus and renewing our commitment to Christian ideals in our lives every day is the first type of self-imposed pruning expected of us. A second means of pruning is practicing self-control over our evil inclinations, sinful addictions and aberrations.
Jesus prunes, purifies and strengthens us by allowing us to face pain and suffering, contradictions and difficulties with courage of our Christian convictions.

Abiding in Christ means that God has to be inside us and we have to be inside God.  We abide in Christ by drawing near to God and by experiencing His being near to us, that is, by living every moment as He has commanded us to do, with the radiant presence of Christ all around us. This life of intimate union with Christ in the Church is maintained by the spiritual helps common to all the faithful, chiefly by active participation in the Liturgy. 

C.S. Lewis wrote, "God has designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy without bothering about religion. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing."

 Max Lucado explains it in these words:  “Take a fish and place him on a beach. Watch his gills gasp and scales dry. Is he happy? No! How do you make him happy? Do you cover him with a mountain of cash? Do you get him a beach chair and sunglasses? Do you bring him a Playfish magazine and a martini? Do you wardrobe him in double-breasted fins and people-skinned shoes? Of course not! So, how do you make him happy? You put him back in his element. That’s what you do. You put him back in the water. He will never be happy on the beach because he was not made for the beach. Indeed so, and the same is true for you and me. We will never be happy living apart from the One who made us and saved us. Just like a fish was made to live in water… we were made to live in close fellowship with our Lord… and nothing can take the place of that.”

And essentially what the image of the vine and the branches is telling us is that if Christ’s disciples are to bear any fruit they need to be dependent on Christ and to be pruned by the Father.

Staying united to the vine means allowing God to prune us. Jesus says that each healthy branch of the vine must be pruned "so that it bears more fruit." This pruning takes the form of suffering. It may be painful, physical sufferings, like sickness, disease, financial insecurity, or old-age. It may be hidden, interior sufferings, like losing a loved one or watching a dear relative abandon their Catholic faith. Whenever God permits these kinds of sufferings - the ones that we don't seem to have any control over - we have to let our faith remind us that they are under his control. He is the vine-dresser. He knows how much pruning we can handle (and the amount is different for each branch). And he knows how to use that suffering to unite us more deeply with Christ, who suffered on the cross to redeem the world. In times of pain and hardship, God is begging us to trust in him more and more, to pray in the depths of our hearts that beautiful prayer that he himself taught us through his revelations to St Faustina of the Divine Mercy: "Jesus, I trust in you."

Accepting the Cross, not rebelling when God tries to prune us, is the secret of all the saints. Prayer, the sacraments, loving obedience, and suffering in union with Christ are what keep the Christian sap flowing in our lives.
As we continue with this Mass, let's thank God from the depths of our hearts for uniting us to the vine of Christ. And let’s ask him for the grace to not be grudging when he prunes us so that we can bear much fruit for the kingdom of God.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

EASTER IV SUNDAY: Acts 4:8-12; I Jn 3:1-2; Jn 10:11-18

Saint Maximilian Kolbe is the patron of families, drug addicts, prisoners, journalists and pro-life movement, and he is known for founding the Immaculata Movement and producing the Knight of the Immaculata magazine. During World War II, Saint Maximilian housed over 3000 Polish refugees at his monastery. He was eventually imprisoned and sent to Auschwitz, where he experienced constant beatings and hard labour. St. Maximilian died in the place of a man with young children, who was chosen by the guards for the firing squad. Kolbe is considered a good shepherd. He laid down his life for his sheep. Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, a good time to pray for the good shepherds as well as the bad ones; and a good time to realize that the Good Shepherd still walks with us.

The fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. It is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Each year on this Sunday we reflect on the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, devotedly taking care of his flock.   A shepherd leads, feeds, nurtures, comforts, corrects, and protects his flock—responsibilities that belong to every church leader.  The earliest Christians had seen Jesus as the fulfillment of the ancient Jewish dream of a good shepherd.
In the Old Testament, the image of the Shepherd is often applied to God as well as to the leaders of the people.  The book of Exodus several times calls Yahweh a shepherd.  Likewise, the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel compare Yahweh’s care and protection of His people to that of a shepherd.   Psalm 23 is David’s famous picture of God as The Good Shepherd:  “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.  In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me.”

Just as the Palestinian shepherds knew each sheep of their flock by name, and the sheep knew their shepherd and his voice, so Jesus knows each one of us, our needs, our merits and our faults. The knowledge talked of here is not mere intellectual knowing but the knowledge that comes from love and leads to care and concern for the other. 

When the emperor Alexander the Great was crossing the Makran Desert on his way to Persia, his army ran out of water.  The soldiers were dying of thirst as they advanced under the burning sun.  A couple of Alexander's lieutenants managed to capture some water from a passing caravan. They brought some to him in a helmet.  He asked, "Is there enough for both me and my men?" "Only you, sir," they replied.  Alexander then lifted up the helmet as the soldiers watched.  Instead of drinking, he tipped it over and poured the water on the ground. The men let up a great shout of admiration.  They knew their general would not allow them to suffer anything he was unwilling to suffer himself. Jesus our good shepherd does not allow us to suffer anything that he himself did not go through. He says he is not a hireling who runs away in the face of danger leaving his sheep helpless. The radical difference between a Good Shepherd and a hireling is the former does his work because he wants to, the other does it because he has to; one has his heart in it, the other does not.

Jesus the good shepherd gives eternal life to his sheep by receiving us into his sheepfold through Baptism. Jesus strengthens our Faith by giving us the Holy Spirit in Confirmation.  He supplies food for our souls by the Holy Eucharist and by the Divine words of the holy Bible.  He makes our society holy by the Sacraments of Matrimony and the Priesthood.  
In the first part of chapter ten of John’s Gospel, Jesus adds two more roles to those of the good shepherd.  He goes in search of his stray lambs and heals his sick ones.  Jesus heals the wounds of our souls by the Sacrament of Reconciliation and strengthens us in illness and old age by the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Jesus loves us as we are, with all our limitations, and he expects us to receive and return his love by keeping his word. 

The universal priesthood of all believers, the sharing of all the baptized in the priesthood of Christ, has received special emphasis since Vatican II. Those who are called to make a lifelong commitment to serve as ordained ministers share the ministerial priesthood of Jesus. On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations   we are asked to encourage and pray for our young men to respond to God’s call to serve His Church in the ministerial priesthood.
We become good shepherds by loving those entrusted to us, praying for them, spending our time and talents for their welfare, and guarding them from physical and spiritual dangers.  Parents must be especially careful of their duties as shepherds, becoming role models for their children by leading exemplary lives.
Let us pray for vocations to the priesthood, the diaconate and the consecrated life, religious and lay so that we may have more holy and Spirit-filled shepherds to lead, feed and protect the Catholic community, and more responsive, loving, cooperative sheep. And let’s also ask for the grace to be good shepherds to the flock that we have been entrusted with and not behave like a hireling.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

EASTER SUNDAY Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9   
According to an ancient Russian Orthodox tradition, the day before Easter was devoted to telling jokes. Priests would join the people in telling their best jokes to one another (presumably “clean” jokes!!) The reason was to reflect the joke God pulled on the devil in the Resurrection. Satan thought he won on Friday, but God had the last laugh on Easter Sunday. Someone said to me the other day, this year priests will have hard time making people believe when they say Jesus is risen, because Easter is on April Fools’ day.  Well if anyone says God is dead, or Jesus is not risen then it is a joke. Because we have overwhelming evidences to prove that Jesus is risen. Easter is the greatest feast of Christians which gives hope amid sorrows.

Eric Butterworth tells about a young soldier who lost his legs in battle. Something died within this young man when he found he would never walk again. He lay in his hospital bed, staring blankly at the ceiling. He refused to talk to anyone who tried to help him. He refused to cooperate with doctors or nurses who wanted to help him to adjust.
One day another inmate of the hospital strolled in and sat down on a chair near the bed. He drew a harmonica from his pocket and began to play softly. The patient looked at him for a second, then back to the ceiling. That was all for that day. Next day the player came again. For several days he continued to come and to play quietly. One day he said, "Does my playing annoy you?" The patient said, "No, I guess I like it." They talked a little more each day.
One day the harmonica player was in a jovial mood. He played a sprightly tune and began to do a tap dance. The soldier looked on but was apparently unimpressed. "Hey, why don't you smile once and let the world know you're alive!" the dancer said with a friendly smile. But the legless soldier said, "I might as well be dead as in the fix I'm in." "Okay," answered his happy friend, "so you're dead. But you're not as dead as a fellow who was crucified two thousand years ago, and He came out of it all right." "Oh, it's easy for you to preach," replied the patient, "but if you were in my fix, you'd sing a different tune." With this the dancer stood up and said, "I know a two-thousand-year-old resurrection is pretty far in the dim past. So maybe an up-to-date example will help you to believe it can be done." With that he pulled up his trouser legs and the young man in the bed looked and saw two artificial limbs. The tap-dancing fellow with the harmonica was not simply a Pollyanna. He once lay where that young soldier now lay. He himself had known the power of a resurrection. He had learned to live life abundantly--even without his legs. Needless to say, the young soldier's own resurrection began that moment. Easter isn't just about dying. It's about the power of belief in a world of lost hope. It is about knowing that no situation is beyond God's redeeming power.

In this world of pain, sorrows and tears, Easter reminds us that life is worth living.  It is our belief in the Real Presence of the Risen Jesus in our souls, in His Church, in the Blessed Sacrament and in Heaven that gives meaning to our personal, as well as to our common prayers.   Our trust in the all-pervading presence of the Risen Lord gives us strength to fight against temptations and freedom from unnecessary worries and fears.  
 The Resurrection is the greatest of the miracles -- it proves that Jesus is God.  There are overwhelming evidences for the resurrection. Transformed life of individual Christians itself is a strong proof.
A day after the terrible tragedy at Columbine High, CNN journalist Larry King did a live interview with a teenage girl named Mickie Cain, a student who had witnessed the massacre. Mickie was having a difficult time maintaining her composure and was able to blurt out only a few words before lapsing into uncontrollable sobs. Larry King was patient and gave her plenty of time to regain her composure. Mickie recounted the chilling story: “Let me tell you about my friend Cassie,” she said. “[Cassie] was amazing . . . She completely stood up for God when the killers asked her if there was anyone [in the classroom] who had faith in Christ. She spoke up [and said she did] and they shot her for it.” [Franklin Graham, The Name (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2002), pp. 14-15]. Such a testimony as Cassie made that day makes our witness look pretty pathetic, doesn’t it? The critical question is, would you make such a sacrifice for something that you knew was patently untrue? Of course not. And neither would those early disciples of Christ. They had met Christ, Risen from the grave, and they would not testify otherwise, even while being tortured. The witnesses are so credible, the change in their lives so dramatic, that their testimony cannot be disregarded.

The resurrected Christ appeared only to those who did believe. The angel told the men: Go to Judea and there you will find him. I would suggest that Judea represents the community of believers. Judea was to be the place where Jesus would plainly reveal to his followers that he was indeed alive. He did not reveal himself to the Caiaphases and Pilates and Herods of the world. Only Paul can be told as one of the exceptions. Jesus appeared to him even though he was an enemy of Jesus.

 Resurrection is Good News, but at the same time, it’s sometimes painful because it involves death. Before the power of the Resurrection can take hold in our own lives, we’re called to die to sin, to die to self. We may even have to die to our own dreams, so that God can do what He wants to do with our lives.

 We all choose death by old age." Wouldn't we all! But that just delays the big question: Then what? What comes after you finally die at the age of 110 on the golf course? Only Jesus has the answer. He says, "I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, even though he die, will live with Me forever."
Dr. Seamands tells of a Muslim who became a Christian in Africa. "Some of his friends asked him, 'Why have you become a Christian?' He answered, 'Well, it's like this. Suppose you were going down the road and suddenly the road forked in two directions, and you didn't know which way to go, and there at the fork in the road were two men, one dead and one alive--which one would you ask which way to go?'" There is no religious founder who is alive today, except Jesus.

Resurrection means that we are not supposed to lie buried in the tomb of our sins, evil habits and dangerous addictions.  It gives us the Good News that no tomb can hold us down anymore - not the tomb of despair, discouragement or doubt, nor that of death.  Instead, we are expected to live a joyful and peaceful life, constantly experiencing the real presence of the Risen Lord in all the events of our lives.  “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad” (Psalm 118:24).  Wish you all a happy Easter.

Friday, March 30, 2018


As Jesus was hanging on the Cross, he made seven great statements, treasured by believers as the Seven Words from the Cross. If there were more we don’t know but surely it is significant that seven is God’s perfect number. It represents completeness and wholeness. They cover the basic needs of mankind.
These phrases were not recorded in a single Gospel but are taken from the combined accounts of the four Gospels. They are:
1.Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Luke 23:34. ...
2.Today you will be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43. ...
3.Behold your son: behold your mother. ...
4.My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ...
5.I thirst. ...
6.It is finished. ...
7.Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

Today we reflect on only one of them, Father, forgive them…
When Jesus was hanging on the cross he asked for forgiveness for the people who were responsible for this great evil, and he gave a reason that they should be forgiven. He said it was because they were ignorant of their deeds. Bishop Fulton Sheen says their ignorance was a great blessing to them.
Sinning against someone of infinite virtue brings with it infinite guilt, but as He hung there on the cross he asked that the offenders be forgiven. 

Right up to his final hours on earth, Jesus preaches forgiveness. He teaches forgiveness in the Lord's prayer: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us" (Matthew 6:12). When asked by Peter, how many times should we forgive someone, Jesus answers seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22). He forgives the paralytic at Capernaum (Mark 2:3-12), the sinful woman who anointed him in the home of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:37-48), and the adulteress caught in the act and about to be stoned (John 8:1-11). During the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, Jesus tells them: this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:27-28). And even following his Resurrection, his first act is to commission his disciples to forgive: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:22-23).

Just when they began driving the nails into his hands and feet, Jesus said to God the Father: “…forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." In fact, the original Greek of the words “Jesus said” is better translated “Jesus was saying” – meaning Jesus kept saying this several times.  
Imagine the cross on the ground and Jesus is positioned on it. One soldier holds His arm in place while another hammers a huge nail into His wrist, ripping through skin and muscle, and deep into the wood. Through the horrible pain, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them.”  The soldiers cross over to other arm, driving another iron nail into it too. Again, Jesus says: “Father, forgive them.” Finally, they move to the base of the cross. They put one foot over the other, this time driving a thicker, longer nail right through both feet, into the wood. Despite the agony of pain, Jesus says: “Father, forgive them.”  

The bottom of the cross is placed at the mouth of a hole in the rocky ground. The soldiers start lifting the cross upright, with Jesus nailed to it. As the cross reaches vertical position, it’s base slides into the hole hits the bottom with a jerk and a thud. Jesus’ body is now hanging on the nails, metal slowly ripping flesh in a pain that cannot be imagined. Jesus looks at those who were killing Him, turns his eyes to heaven and again asks the Father: “forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing”.

The Cross of Christ is God’s ultimate demonstration of His love for each one of us. For more than 2000 years, the Father has continued to answer Jesus’ prayer: “Father, forgive them.” Over the centuries, millions are streaming into the Kingdom of God because of this powerful prayer that Jesus made on the Cross.  The centurion on hearing this extraordinary act of forgiveness exclaimed: truly this man was son of God.

As we come to venerate the cross now, remember this and be amazed: The Father has honored Jesus’ request for us! We are forgiven! The punishment of sin that should have been on us was poured on Jesus. Here’s our status: Forgiven! No longer guilty! Express our gratitude to God as we kiss the cross: Exclaim in your heart, thank you Jesus for forgiving me my sins.

Thursday, March 29, 2018


As we come to the end of Lent, we begin the Sacred Triduum, the high holy days of the Christian liturgical year when we remember and celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Holy Thursday calls us to remember: the institution of the Eucharist; the institution of the Priesthood; and the call to Christian service and discipleship. All these three things happened at the last supper.

Dr. Ray C. Stedman once noted, "We have to get out of our minds the famous Leonardo Da Vinci painting of the Last Supper, with everyone sitting on one side of the table . . . Da Vinci was a masterful artist, but he was a weak theologian. Someone has said that when they look at that picture, they imagine Jesus saying to the disciples, ˜Everyone who wants to be in the picture get on this side of the table!' But that is not how they sat at table that evening. They arranged themselves around a low, probably U-shaped table, and they reclined on their left elbows, their legs and feet sticking out diagonally from the table. A second misconception in that painting is the ‘angelic' look of the disciples' faces as they gaze at Jesus. Luke records that they came into the room, arguing over who was the greatest among them.
There was no servant there that night. The disciples certainly were not going to wash each other's feet. To do so would have lowered their position and prestige in the group. It is a strange scene. Jesus strips himself down to the garments of a common slave and washes the dust, mud, and sewage from the feet of the proud disciples.

In ancient Palestine foot-washing was a job reserved for slaves. It was one of the most unpleasant and humiliating tasks. People wore sandals or went barefoot. And they walked on roads shared by herdsmen driving their animals to market and traders moving goods by ox and camel. The dirt of these unpaved byways, therefore, was blended with dung. Even a short walk caked one's sandal-exposed feet with the filthy, smelly mix. That's what Jesus washed off his Apostles' feet.
In that one decisive act Jesus demonstrated that Christian greatness is not determined by position, or prerogatives, or education or titles or visibility. Christian greatness is determined by the willingness to meet the need of the moment with a deed of service. The need at that moment was to wash dirty feet.
Max Lucado describes it so vividly:
"As they argue, the basin sits in the corner, untouched. The towel lies on the floor, unused. The servant's clothing hangs on the wall, unworn. Each disciple sees these things. Each disciple knows their purpose. But no one moves, except Jesus.
"As they bicker, he stands. But he doesn't speak. He removes his robe and takes the servant's wrap off of the wall. Taking the pitcher, he pours the water into the basin. He kneels before them with the basin and sponge and begins to wash. The towel that covers his waist is also the towel that dries their feet." (3)
The Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated the nature of glory by washing mud off the feet of common, ordinary, laboring people. He did it in love not with a sense of disgust and disappointment. "Someone with my education shouldn't have to do that," we would have said. "Someone in my position doesn't do windows or floors. I have been elevated above this type of duty . . ." Jesus washed their feet. He took the position of servant.
When I was at St.Timothy’s one Sunday we had no servers showed up. I was going around looking for servers and one man offered to serve. He was the County judge at the time. I politely declined him telling I will try to find somebody else. I was impressed by his willingness to serve which usually even altar boys once they are in high school feel ashamed to do. Any way after two weeks I received a letter from him asking me to serve on the Jury. May be I should have allowed him to serve!  
The most miserable people are always worried about their proper titles. Always worried about rank and prestige. The happiest people are those who don't spend a great deal of time concerned with rank, order, prestige, or authority. They focus in on something greater.
Peter was ticked off at Jesus because, if the Lord did something humble like this, then Simon Peter as a follower of Jesus, must be willing to do it too. All destructive human pride must go in the service of God.

There was a story a number of years ago that was carried in the newspapers and in TIME magazine. A plane crashed on a runway in Philadelphia and caught on fire. At the door an attractive twenty‑four-year-old flight attendant, Mary Housley, took her place to help the passengers to the ground. As soon as she had finished getting all of the passengers to safety Housley also started to jump from the plane. But just before she made her escape, a passenger on the ground screamed, “My baby, my baby!” Somehow this passenger had left her baby behind on the plane. Flight attendant Mary Housley turned back into the plane to find the baby, and that was the last time anyone saw her alive. When the debris cooled they found Mary Housley’s body over the 4‑month-old baby she tried to rescue.
TIME magazine captioned her picture with these words, “She could have jumped.”
There are still heroes in the world. There are still people who sacrifice themselves for others and we are thankful for it. But many of us, have forgotten what Christ meant when he said that we are to be a servant of all.
As somebody once put it, “Live such a life that when it comes your time to die, even the undertaker is sad.” If we would be the greatest person in our community, we have got to be a person who is willing to serve the community, serve the town, serve the Scouts, serve the church. That is the key to greatness.
Jesus Christ, says Paul in Philippians, “though he was in the form of God became man and took upon himself the form of a servant.” There was Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. There was Jesus carrying his cross up Golgotha. There was Jesus saying to his disciple Peter after his resurrection, “Feed my sheep.” That’s who we are.

We are the Servant Community; we are the Body of Jesus Christ who gave himself as a ransom for others.
Today when we receive Holy Communion, our Lord will renew his commitment to us. He will wash our feet, cleanse our hearts and minds, and fill us with his strength. And how will we respond? How would he like us to respond? 
He has told us: "If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet." This is his commandment of love in concrete forms.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

PALM SUNDAY [C] Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Lk 22:14-23 -- 23: 56

One of the great blockbuster movies which made ripples across the world was The Passion of Christ by the Oscar winning Hollywood actor and director Mel Gibson. The movie is about the last twelve hours in the life of Jesus. In Texas, a 21 year old man, Dan Leach, murdered his wife, Nichole Wilson, and stage-managed it as if she had hanged herself. The post mortem said it was a suicide. Her mother found her body on January 19, 2004 in her apartment. Two months later Dan Leach went and surrendered himself to the police, saying he was the one who murdered his wife and made it look like a suicide. When the detectives asked him why he had surrendered, he said, "After watching the movie The Passion of Christ, I was compelled to seek redemption." The whole movie is one unrelenting violence and bloodshed endured by Jesus -all for our redemption. The common reaction after watching the movie is either deep silence of the audience or tear stained cheeks. After watching the movie one man said, "No matter what you are - whether you believe in Jesus or not, you will begin to love Jesus, who suffered for you."

It is on Palm Sunday that we enter Holy Week and welcome Jesus into our lives, asking him to allow us a share in his suffering, death and Resurrection. This is also the time we remember and relive the events which brought about our redemption and salvation.  That is why the Holy Week liturgy presents us with the actual events of the dying and rising of Jesus. 
Over one-third of the material in the four Gospels is devoted to that last week in the earthly life of Jesus. We call this part of each Gospel the Passion Narrative, for it tells of His entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, His arrest, the trials, His crucifixion. Perhaps all this can come alive for us in a different way if we turn off the picture and listen. We can use the ear instead of the eye, for if we hear, we are more apt to be drawn in. If we only watch, we may be mere spectators. (That is one of the reasons why we have the statues in the church covered up).So let's try to create a sound picture.

Let us remember that Holy Week can become "holy” for us only if we actively and consciously take part in the liturgies of this week. This is also the week when we should lighten the burden of Christ’s passion as daily experienced by the hungry, the poor, the sick, the homeless, the lonely and the outcast through our corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Let’s find time this week to listen to the Passion narratives and ponder on its significance for our life.  

Saturday, March 10, 2018

LENT IV B: II Chr 36:14-16, 19-23; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21

During the years when slavery was legal in the United States, a gentleman happened upon a slave-bidding in a crowded street. As he watched from the edge of the crowd, he saw one slave after another led to a platform, their arms and legs shackled with ropes as if they were animals. Displayed before the jeering crowd, they were auctioned off, one by one. The gentleman studied the group of slaves waiting nearby. He paused when he saw a young girl standing at the back. Her eyes were filled with fear. She looked so frightened. As the auctioneer opened the bidding for the girl, the gentleman shouted out a bid that was twice the amount of any other selling price offered that day. There was silence for an instance, and then the gavel fell as, "sold to the gentleman" was heard. The rope, which bound her, was handed to the man. The young girl stared at the ground. Suddenly she looked up and spat in his face. Silently, he reached for a handkerchief and wiped the spittle from his face. He smiled gently at the young girl and said, "Follow me". She followed him reluctantly. When a slave was set free, legal documents were necessary. The gentleman paid the purchase price and signed the documents. When the transaction was complete, he turned to the young girl and presented the documents to her. Startled, she looked at him with uncertainty. Her narrowed eyes asked, what are you doing? The gentlemen responded to her questioning look. He said, "Here, take these papers. I bought you to make you free. As long as you have these papers in your possession, no man can ever make you a slave again. The girl looked into his face. What was happening? Slowly, she said, "You bought me, to make me free? You bought me, to make me free?" She fell to her knees and wept at the gentleman's feet. Through her tears of joy and gratitude, she said, "You bought me, to make me free....I'll serve you forever!"
You and I were once bound in slavery to sin. But the Lord Jesus paid the price, to make us free, when He shed His Blood at Calvary. How often have we spat in our Master's face - He who paid His all, for our freedom?

The central theme of today’s readings stress God’s mercy and compassion and remind us of the great love, kindness and grace extended to us in Christ. 
The Fourth Sunday of Lent is called Lætare (Rejoice) Sunday. Lætare Sunday reminds us of the Church's joy in anticipation of the Resurrection, a joy which cannot be contained even in Lent, though we still refrain from Alleluias and the singing of the Gloria until the magnificence of the Easter Vigil.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” This is the summary of the Gospel message of salvation through Christ Jesus.  This text is the very essence of the Gospel.  It tells us that the God takes the initiative in all salvation because of His love for man.  As St. Augustine puts it: "God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love."  It also explains to us the universality of the love of God.  God's motive is love and God's objective is salvation.  Those who actually receive eternal life must believe in the Son. “Such depth of God's love this Gospel reveals: God gave the only Son, allowed the only Son to be “lifted up” on a cross, and now remains patient with us while we struggle with choosing between darkness and light, evil and truth. Moreover, in the very midst of our ongoing struggle, it is God who brings us to greater belief and leads us to eternal life. Such is the depth of love God has for us!”

There is a story that comes out of the Bedouin culture. "Bedouin" is the Aramaic name for "desert dwellers." These people live much as the characters of the Old Testament did. During a heated argument, according to this story, a young Bedouin struck and killed a friend of his. Knowing the ancient, inflexible customs of his people, the young man fled, running across the desert under the cover of darkness, seeking safety.
He went to the black tent of the tribal chief in order to seek his protection. The old chief took the young Arab in. The chief assured him that he would be safe until the matter could be settled legally.
The next day, the young man's pursuers arrived, demanding the murderer be turned over to them. They would see that justice would prevail in their own way. "But I have given my word," protested the chief.
"But you don't know whom he killed!" they countered.
"I have given my word," the chief repeated.
"He killed your son!" one of them blurted out. The chief was deeply and visibly shaken with his news. He stood speechless with his head bowed for a long time. The accused and the accusers as well as curious onlookers waited breathlessly. What would happen to the young man? Finally the old man raised his head. "Then he shall become my son," he informed them, "and everything I have will one day be his."
The young man certainly didn't deserve such generosity. And that, of course, is the point. Love in its purest form is beyond comprehension. No one can merit it. It is freely given. It is agape, the love of God. Look to the cross. At the cross we encounter love in its purest form.
 We need to reciprocate God’s love by loving others. God’s love is unconditional, universal, forgiving and merciful.  Let us try, with His help, to make an earnest attempt to include these qualities as we share our love with others during Lent.  

Saturday, February 17, 2018

LENT I SUNDAY Gn 9:8-15; I Pt 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15

The primary purpose of Lent is spiritual preparation for the celebration recalling Jesus’ death on Good Friday and his Resurrection on Easter Sunday.  The Church tries to achieve this goal by leading her children to “repentance.” It is a type of conversion – the reordering of our priorities and the changing of our values, ideals and ambitions - through fasting, prayer and mortification.  Lenten observances are also intended to lead us to our annual solemn renewal of Baptismal vows on Holy Saturday.  The three readings of today refer to Baptism directly or indirectly.  The first reading describes how Noah’s family was saved from the waters of the Flood by God’s special providence and how God made His first “friendship covenant’” with mankind. Noah’s rescue from the flood waters symbolizes how we are saved through the waters of Baptism which cleanses us of sin and makes us one with Christ. In the second reading, Peter shows us how the waters of Baptism are the cleansing agent that saves all.

All the synoptic Gospels agree that Jesus experienced a period of temptation.  The desert was the place where ancient Israel in Moses’ time was tested for 40 years. The 40 days of Jesus’ fasting may also recall the 40-day fasts undertaken by Moses (Dt 9:18) and Elijah (1 Kgs 19:8). The temptations described by Matthew and Luke and hinted at by Mark refer probably to the main temptation Jesus faced during his public life, namely, the temptation to become a political messiah of power and fame (according to the Jewish expectation), to use his Divine power for personal comfort, and to avoid suffering and death.  The temptations Jesus faced and defeated, help us to understand the conflicts that were in Jesus' own life and which will be found in ours too.  Instead of yielding to the temptations, Jesus said a firm “Yes” to his Father's plan, even when it came to give over his life.    

A husband was struggling to make ends meet at home on one salary. Then one day he had to confront his wife with a receipt for a $ 250.00 dress she had bought. “How could you do this?” I was outside the store looking at the dress in the window, and then I found myself trying it on, “she explained. “It was like Satan whispering in my ear, “You look fabulous in that dress. Buy it!” “Well,” the husband replied, “You know how I deal with that kind of temptation. I say, “Get behind me Satan!” His wife replied, “I did that, but then he said, “It looks fabulous from the back too!”

The Fathers of the Church explain that Jesus’ temptations are described after his baptism to teach us why we are tempted and show us how we should conquer temptations.  Baptism and Confirmation give us the weapons we need to do battle with Satan.  God never tempts people, and never permits them to be tempted beyond their strength. But He does allow them to be tempted. Why?  Here are the five reasons given by the Fathers: i) so that we can learn by experience that [with God] we are indeed stronger than the tempter; ii) to prevent us from becoming conceited over having God’s gifts; iii) that the devil may receive proof that we have completely renounced him; iv) that by the struggle we may become even stronger; and v) that we may realize how precious is the grace we have received.

As the Union Pacific Railroad was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon in the West.  Wanting to test the bridge, the builder loaded a train with enough extra cars and equipment to double its normal payload. The train was then driven to the middle of the bridge, where it stayed an entire day. One worker asked, "Are you trying to break this bridge?" "No," the builder replied, "I'm trying to prove that the bridge won't break." In the same way, the temptations we face aren't designed to see if we would sin, but to prove that we can win over them. 

 Lent is a time of renewal of life by penance and prayer:  Formerly the six weeks of Lent meant a time of severe penance as a way of purifying ourselves from our sinful habits and getting ready to celebrate the Paschal Mystery (the passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ), with a renewed commitment to follow Christ.  Now the Church leaves the Lenten practice of penance to the good will and generosity of individual Christians. However, Lent should be a time for personal reflection on where we stand as Christians in accepting the Gospel challenges in thought, word and deed.  It is also a time to assess our relationships with our family, friends, working colleagues and other people we come in contact with, especially those of our parish. 

We can convert Lent into a time for spiritual growth and Christian maturity by:  a) participating in the Mass each day or at least a few days in the week;  b) setting aside some part of our day for personal prayer; c) reading some Scripture, alone or, better still, with others;  d) setting aside some money that we might spend on ourselves for meals, entertainment or clothes and giving it to an organization which takes care of the less fortunate in our society;  e) abstaining from smoking or alcohol;  f) receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation in Lent and participating in the “Stations of the Cross”;  g) visiting the sick and those in nursing homes and doing some acts of charity, kindness and mercy every day in the Lent.
Lent reminds us that we have to take up the fight each day against the evil within us and around us, and never give up. Jesus has given the assurance that the Holy Spirit is with us, empowering us so that final victory will be ours through Jesus Christ. Let’s renew our baptismal promises to fight Satan every day and live a life conforming to the life of Christ who defeated Satan.

Friday, February 9, 2018

OT VI [B] Lv 13:1-2, 44-46; I Cor 10:31--11:1; Mk 1:40-45  

Michael Wayne Hunter was put on death row in California in 1983, in San Quentin Prison. After his third year on death row something happened. One day he was getting ready to spend time exercising when the guard said, "You're going to miss Mother Teresa. She's coming today to see you guys." “Yea, sure,” he said, "one more of those designs they have on us." A little later he heard more commotion about it and thought it might be true, that Mother Teresa was actually coming to see them. Another guard said, "Don't go into your cells and lock up. Mother Teresa stayed to see you guys." So Michael jogged up to the front in gym shorts and a tattered basketball shirt with the arms ripped out, and on the other side of the security screen was this tiny woman who looked 100 years old. Yes, it was Mother Teresa. This hardened prisoner wrote about his experience, he said, "You have to understand that, basically, I'm a dead man. I don't have to observe any sort of social convention; and as a result, I can break all the rules, say what I want. But one look at this Nobel Prize winner, this woman so many people view as a living saint, and I was speechless." Michael said an incredible vitality and warmth came from her wizened, piercing eyes. She smiled at him, blessed a religious medal, and put it in his hands. This murderer who wouldn't have walked voluntarily down the hall to see the Warden, the Governor, the President, or the Pope, stood before this woman, and all he could say was, "Thank you, Mother Teresa." Now listen to what happens: At one point Mother Teresa turned and pointed her hand at the sergeant, "What you do to these men," she told him, "you do to God." The sergeant almost fainted away in surprise and wonder. He couldn't believe Mother Teresa had just said that to him. That day was
a turning point in the life of Michael Wayne Hunter. This San Quentin Death Row prisoner was cleansed by that experience. Life changed. Suddenly there was meaning to it. So drastic was the change, a new trial was set and the death penalty was not sought. The verdict was guilty on two counts of first-degree murder but a new sentence was given: Life. Life, without the possibility of parole. Prosecution did not seek the death penalty because Mr. Hunter was now a model prisoner and an award-winning writer. He is one other thing: A testimony that Christ still is willing to heal, still willing to touch the untouchable, and to make us whole.  

Today’s Scripture lessons teach us that the sick and the maimed are not to be objects of scorn, but potential reservoirs of God's mercy for us.  All three readings today contain the Christian teaching on the need for social acceptance even when people are different from us.  The first reading shows the ancient Jewish attitude toward leprosy and the rules for segregating lepers.  This provides a background for Jesus' healing of a leper.

By touching the leper, Jesus was defiled in the eyes of Levitical law.  The leper broke the Law in approaching Jesus, and Jesus in turn broke through the Law to reach and touch the afflicted man.  
Jesus could have been angered by the blasphemous religious explanation of the day that all leprosy was God’s punishment for grave sins. Jesus was also angry at the way lepers were treated as cursed creatures by the Jewish religion which sanctioned such inhuman treatment for lepers.  Lepers were not only considered physically loathsome but were looked upon as persistent sinners. Even if the lepers were cured, they had to submit to a ritual cleansing and purging of sin before they would be re-admitted to society.  By instructing the healed leper to go and show himself to the priest, Jesus may have been challenging the religious authorities to see that God’s healing grace is available to anyone who asks. 

Jesus risked becoming “unclean” Himself in order to make the leper clean.  Just as he stretched out his hand to the leper and touched him and made him whole, Jesus stretched out his hands on the cross to make us whole.  He touched the leper thus bridging the gap between what is clean and what is unclean, identifying himself with all lepers, with all who are ritually or socially unclean and isolated and with all of us sinners who are spiritually unclean and have no way to change our condition except through His sacrifice and mercy.  Thus, He became “unclean” in the eyes of the law that we might be made clean. He allowed himself to be rejected by his family and people so that those who are separated from God might return to him and be healed.

Jesus could have behaved as a severe moral judge, condemning the sinful; in fact that was what was expected of a prophet.  Instead he reached out in mercy to failures and outcasts.  He could have invented any kind of parable to say what the Father was like; he invented the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15).  Jesus reaches out and welcomes sinners while they are still in their sin.

We need to trust in the mercy of a forgiving God who assures us that our sins are forgiven and that we are clean.  We are forgiven and made spiritually clean from the spiritual leprosy of sins when we repent of our sins.  This is because God is a God of love who waits patiently for us.  No matter how many sins we have committed or how badly we have behaved, we know God forgives us.  The only condition required of us is that we ask for forgiveness with a repentant heart.  We need only kneel before him and ask him, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean"

Jesus calls every one of us to demolish the walls that separate us from each other and to welcome the outcasts and the untouchables of society.   These include homosexuals, AIDS victims, alcoholics, drug-addicts and marginalized groups such as the divorced, the unmarried, single mothers, migrant workers and the mentally ill.  God's loving hand must reach out to them through us.   Jesus wants us to touch their lives.  Let us pass beyond the narrow circles of our friends and peers and try to relate to those who may be outside the bounds of propriety.   Let us breakdown the barriers we have created and approach God with a heart that is ready to welcome the outcasts in our society.  We all need God’s mercy to be healed, let’s ask the merciful Lord the same petition the leper petitioned: Lord, if you choose you can make me clean.

Friday, February 2, 2018

There is an old and funny little anecdote that goes something like this. An elderly man who was quite ill said to his wife, "You know, Sarah, you’ve always been with me – through the good and the bad.  Like the time I lost my job – you were right there by my side.  And when the war came, and I enlisted – you became a nurse so that you could be with me.  Then I was wounded, and you were there, Sarah, right by my side.  Then the Depression hit, and we had nothing – but you were there with me.  And now here I am, sick as a dog, and, as always, you’re right beside me.  You know something, Sarah -- you’re a jinx! You always bring me bad luck!” There is a part of us that is tempted to look for somebody to blame for all the things that go wrong in our lives.  More often than not, we blame the very people we once looked up to for an answer.  Today’s first reading from the book of Job is a futile attempt to answer the perennial question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The Gospel shows us how Jesus spent himself in alleviating the pain and suffering around Galilee by his preaching and healing ministry rather than by pondering on universal solutions for the problem of worldwide evil.  

Jesus’ first day of public ministry at Capernaum was a Sabbath day.  During the day, he had taken part in the synagogue worship, taught with authority, exorcised a demon and healed Simon’s mother-in-law.  After all that, when the sun had set, he “cured many who were sick with various diseases, and drove out many demons.” Thus, Jesus spent himself and most of his time ministering to the needs of others, bringing healing, forgiveness and a new beginning to many. He was touched by the suffering of others.
The book of Job is a long didactic poem intended to refute the ancient Jewish belief that God rewards the good and punishes the wicked in this life. The book describes God’s permitting Satan to test the commitment of His servant Job.  A prosperous and God-fearing man, Job suddenly experienced the successive, catastrophic losses of wealth, family and health. The only explanation the author offers for God’s permitting the innocent Job to suffer these losses is that He had allowed Satan to test Job’s trusting commitment and fidelity to God, even under extreme pressure. Only in the light of Christ's sufferings and cruel execution, can we see the value of suffering in this life.   In Job’s account, he claims that the entire human condition is sad and hopeless, and he compares himself to a farm laborer who is forced to do degrading work for wages that barely keep him alive and who yearns for relief from the scorching sun.  There is no peace, Job says, even in sleep!  Instead, there is only a restless expectation of a return to toil at dawn.  But continued suffering, monotony and isolation make Job aware of the emptiness of life without God and the hope of ultimate union with God.  We learn from this reading that God listens to every human cry, even to the anger and dismay of the lament. We also learn that there is no struggle so great, no suffering so intense that it cannot be surrendered with confidence into God’s capable, powerful hands.

We are reassured by Faith that God gives life a purpose.  He permits pain in order to serve His saving will and to teach us appreciate His gift of Life to the full.  The Good News we proclaim is that, through the death and Resurrection of Jesus, God has joined us to Himself, now and forever.  Job eventually realizes that those who choose to give themselves to God will find that life has meaning.  Jesus shows us that we can reach perfection only by allowing the risk of suffering into our lives, and submitting ourselves to God’ Wisdom and His loving Will in all things.

We live in a hi-tech, fast pace, workaholic world where no one rests. We are constantly on the road, running errands, going places. We stuff ourselves with "fast food," overbook our lives with a myriad of things to do, and at the end of the day we are totally exhausted. We live (and die) by the clock. We are controlled by the need to produce. Time is money, time is how we keep in control of our lives. We resist quiet time by keeping the radios, televisions and computers on. The very thought of being alone, praying, scares us to death. We want professionals to do that for us. We haven’t learned that relaxation and mediation breaks will empower us to do even greater things. Thus, we continue to be busy. Consequently we are on a path to self-destruction, unable to help others, let alone help ourselves.

Jesus was convinced that if he were going to spend himself for others by his preaching and healing ministry, he would repeatedly have to summon spiritual reinforcements.  He knew that he could not live without prayer, because his teaching and healing ministry drained him of power. For example, after describing how the woman who had touched Jesus’ garment was instantly healed, Mark remarks: “Jesus knew that power had gone out of him” (5:30).  The “deserted place” to which Jesus went to pray was not actually a desert. Rather, it was a place where he could be free from distractions -- a place where he could give himself unreservedly to prayer.  He went there, not so much to escape the pressures of life, as to refresh himself for further service. Jesus' prayer is a prayer of perfect praise and thanksgiving to the Father; it is a prayer of petition for himself and for us; and it is also a model for the prayer of His disciples. Our daily activities also drain us of our spiritual power and vitality.  Our mission of bearing witness to God requires spiritual energy which comes to us through daily anointing by the Holy Spirit.  Hence, we, too, need to be recharged spiritually and rejuvenated every day by prayer – listening to God and talking to Him. How much time do I find everyday for recharging my spiritual and biological batteries after I am drained out.