Friday, February 26, 2021

 

LENT II Gen 22: 1-18; Romans 8: 31-34; Mk 9: 2-10

A man and a woman had a little daughter. They lived for her. They were shocked when they discovered that she became chronically ill and her illness resisted the efforts of the best doctors, they became totally discouraged and inconsolable.

Soon she passed away. The parents were completely distressed, and they shut themselves off from their family and friends. But, one night the woman had a dream that she was in heaven. There she saw a long procession of little children processing like little angels before the throne of God. Every child was dressed in a dazzling white robe and they each held a lit candle. However, when the woman saw her daughter, she noticed that her candle was not lit.

The mother ran up to her, embraced her, and then asked her how it was that her candle was the only one that was not lit. She said, “Mother, they often relight it, but your tears always put it out.”

Just at that moment the woman woke from her dream. They decided to embrace their loss with Christian hope and that they would no longer extinguish their daughter’s little candle with their useless tears.

The gospel account of the transfiguration of Jesus tells us that our sufferings will lead to the transformation of our lives. Jesus takes his closest disciples up the mountain, alone, to give them an insight into who he is and prepare them for the trials to come.

If the Lord subjected Abraham to a trial, Our Lord takes his closest disciples up the mountain to prepare them for an upcoming trial: his Passion and death.

Our Lord gives his disciples a glimpse of his divinity. They’ve followed him and had faith in him, and now he gives them a deeper insight into who he truly is and to strengthen their faith. Elijah and Moses, through their appearance, show the disciples that Our Lord is the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets.

Transfiguration established Jesus’ glorious identity as the beloved Son of God, and placed his divine Son-ship in the context of Jewish expectations about the kingdom and the resurrection. While praying, Jesus was transfigured into a shining figure, full of heavenly glory. This reminds us of Moses and Elijah who also experienced the Lord in all His glory. Moses had met the Lord in the burning bush at Mount Horeb (Ex 3:1-4). After his encounter with God, Moses' face shone so brightly that the people were frightened, and Moses had to wear a veil over his face (Ex 34:29-35).

Luke mentions the topic of the conversation of Jesus with Moses and Elijah: they talked about the suffering Jesus was about to undergo in Jerusalem. Then the voice of the father was heard “This is my beloved son; Listen to him”. Assured of his Father’s love, Jesus was determined to carry out his Father’s plans to save the world.

Like Jesus, we are also assured of the Father’s love in our sufferings. Our sufferings are designed to strengthen us. “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” says Helen Keller. Every challenge, every difficulty, every moment of suffering, is an opportunity for transformation and spiritual growth.


Jesus’ real transfiguration took place on His resurrection after his passion and death. When we suffer by standing with the underprivileged; when we accept suffering for the sake of justice; when we accept suffering for the sake of a co-worker who is not able to defend himself or herself; or when we accept suffering to build a strong family, we are preparing our way for our final glorification.

The main purpose of today’s readings is to give us an invitation as well as a challenge to put our Faith in the loving promises of a merciful God Who sent His Son to die for us and to transform our lives by renewing them during Lent. Our transformed lives will enable us to radiate the glory and grace of the transfigured Lord around us by our Spirit-filled lives.

The primary purpose of Jesus’ Transfiguration was to allow him to consult his Heavenly Father and ascertain His plan for His Son’s suffering, death and Resurrection.  Secondary aim was to make Jesus’ chosen disciples aware of Jesus’ Divine glory so that they might discard their worldly ambitions and dreams of a conquering political Messiah and might be strengthened in their time of trial.  

Just as Jesus’ Transfiguration strengthened the apostles in their time of trial, each holy Mass should be our source of heavenly strength against temptations, and our renewal during Lent. In addition, our holy Communion with the living Jesus should be the source of our daily “transfiguration,” transforming our minds and hearts so that we may do more good by humble and selfless service to others. May the Lord strengthen us to renounce our sins and transform us to a holy life.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

 

OT III [B]Jon. 3:1-5, 10; 1 Cor. 7:29-31; Mk. 1:14-20

 

Billy Graham was in a certain town years ago, and he wanted to mail a letter, but he had no idea where the Post Office was. So he stopped a little boy walking the street and asked him if he could direct him to the nearest Post Office. Well, the little boy said, “Yes sir, go down to the red light, turn right, go two blocks to the second red light, turn left, go one block, turn back to the right and you will be right there.” Dr. Graham thanked him and said, “Son, if you will come to the Convention Center this evening, you can hear me telling everybody how to get to Heaven.” The boy said, “Well, I don’t think I’ll be there, Mister; you don’t even know your way to the Post Office.”

The very first command Jesus ever gave to any disciple was: “Follow Me.” For that is where discipleship begins and ends, in following Jesus. Because he knows and he is the way to the Father/heaven.

Jesus didn’t say, “Come and fish with me.” He said “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” Following Jesus is true discipleship.

In the ancient world fishing was a metaphor for two distinct activities: judgment and teaching.  “Fishing for people” meant bringing them to justice by dragging them out of their hiding places and setting them before the judge. And “fishing” was also used of teaching people, of the process of leading them from ignorance to wisdom. Both cases involve a radical change of environment, a break with a former way of life and entrance upon a new way of life.

 

No matter to what life, work, or ministry God calls us, He first calls us to conversion, to reform, to repentance – to the process of continually becoming new people. The mark of genuine repentance is not a sense of guilt, but a sense of sorrow, of regret for having taken a wrong turn. For Jesus, repentance is not merely saying, “I’m sorry,” but also promising, “I will change my life.” Real repentance means that a man has come, not only to be sorry for the consequences of his sin, but to hate sin itself. We often think of repentance as feeling guilty, but it is really a change of mind or direction — seeing things from a different perspective. Once we begin to see things rightly, it might follow that we will feel bad about having seen them wrongly for so long. But repentance starts with the new vision rather than the guilt feelings. By true repentance we are giving up control of our lives and throwing our sinful lives on the mercy of God.  We are inviting God to do what we can’t do ourselves — namely to raise the dead — to change and recreate us.  The word “Repent” is used in the present tense — “Keep on repenting!”  “Continually be repentant!”  This means that repentance must be the ongoing life of the people in the Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God is the theme of Jesus’ preaching. This Kingdom is any society where God’s will is done as it is done in Heaven. Hence, a person who does the will of God perfectly is already in the Kingdom of God. Being in the Kingdom offers us a new healing and freeing access to God, already to be tasted in Jesus’ own ministry. Matthew, as a devout Jew, consistently uses the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven,” while Mark, writing for Gentile converts, uses the phrase “Kingdom of God,” without any scruples about using God’s name. We probably shouldn’t interpret the “Kingdom of God” as Heaven where God rules.   In telling us that the Kingdom has come near, Jesus is telling us that we can dwell in this Kingdom now, provided we repent or turn away from the idols that crowd our lives and do the will of God as it is done in Heaven, thus allowing God to reign in our lives.

A Russian youth who had become a conscientious objector to war, through reading of Tolstoy and the New Testament, was brought before a magistrate. With the strength of conviction he told the judge that he believed in a life which loves its enemies, which overcomes evil and which refuses war. “Yes,” said the judge, “I understand. But you must be realistic. These laws you are talking about are the laws of the Kingdom of God, and it has not come yet.” The young man straightened and said, “Sir, I recognize it has not come for you, nor yet for Russia or the world. But the Kingdom of God has come for me! I can’t go on hating and killing as though it had not come.”

In a way, the Russian youth summed up what we believe about the Kingdom of God. –How soon will the plan of God for his Kingdom be realised? It depends much on how earnest we are to be on God’s side and cooperate with his plan.

Let us be shining lights in the world as Christ was and make a personal effort to bring others to the truth and the light, so that they may rejoice with us in the Mystical Body of Christ, the invisible Kingdom of God.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

 

Baptism of the Lord [B]  (Is 55:1-11; 1 Jn 5:1-9; Mk 1:7-11)

The Christmas season comes to an end with the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. Jesus’ baptism is an event described by all four Gospels, and it marks the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. Jesus’ baptism by John was the acceptance and the beginning of his mission as God’s suffering Servant.  He allowed himself to be numbered among sinners.   Baptism marked the end of Jesus' private life, which had prepared him for his public ministry.  It was a moment of identification with his people in their God-ward movement initiated by John the Baptist.  It was also a moment of approval. Jesus might have been waiting for a signal of approval from his Heavenly Father, and during his baptism Jesus got this approval of himself as the Father's "beloved Son."  Furthermore, it was a moment of conviction.  At this baptism, Jesus received certainties (assurances) from Heaven about his identity and the nature of his mission: He was the "Chosen One" and the "beloved Son of God".

 

Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other Sacraments" (CCC, #1213).

Jesus wasn't affected by original sin. So if Jesus didn't need a spiritual rebirth, if he was already in perfect communion with the Father, why did he get baptized? It was for our sake: he wanted to reveal his strategy for redeeming the world: entering so fully into the human condition, that he could take upon himself the weight of all our sins, so that we could be freed from them and have a new start, a new hope, a new life.

French writer Henri Barbusse (1874-1935) tells of a conversation overheard in a trench full of wounded men during the First World War. One of the men, who knew he only had minutes to live says to one of the other men, "Listen, Dominic, you've led a very bad life. Everywhere you are wanted by the police. But there are no convictions against me. My name is clear, so, here, take my wallet, take my papers, my identity, take my good name, my life and quickly, hand me your papers that I may carry all your crimes away with me in death." The Good News is that through Jesus, God makes a similar offer. Something wonderful happens to us when we are baptized. When we are baptized, we identify ourselves with Jesus. We publicly declare our intention to strive to be like Jesus and follow God's will for our lives. When we are baptized, our lives are changed. We see things differently than we did before. We see other people differently than we did before. Baptism enables and empowers us to do the things that Jesus wants us to do here and now. We are able to identify with Jesus because He was baptized. And we are able to love as he loved. Such identification is life-changing. That kind of identification shapes what we believe and claims us.

The first amazing thing about baptism is that it elevates us from being merely part of God's creation to becoming God's adopted children. This is why part of the baptismal rite includes officially proclaiming the Christian name of the person who is to be baptized. The name indicates personal identity, and baptism increases our personal identity by making us members not only of our natural family, but also members of God's own, eternal and supernatural family. This really happens with baptism - it is not just a pretty ritual or a nice symbol: it really happens. We become Jesus’ dwelling places. This is one of the reasons why Christians are so careful to avoid sins that desecrate our bodies, like drugs and drunkenness, sexual sins, and self-inflicted violence or self-mutilation. Our bodies are temples of God; we should always treat them with respect.

 

Original sin separated the human race from God. Baptism is the sacrament by which the grace which Christ won for us on the cross first comes into our soul. By this, God reestablishes friendship with every human being, one person at a time. In a very real sense, every baptism is a miracle. But Christian life doesn't end with baptism - or with the party after the baptism - it only starts there. Once we have received this great gift, we have to take responsibility for it.

Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit, are in our soul through the sanctifying grace that we received in baptism. And it is our responsibility and opportunity to take advantage of that fact, to develop a deep and personal friendship with God throughout our lives. That's the only way we will be able to discover and fulfill our life mission.

Let us ask Our Lord today to make us faithful to our Baptismal promises.  Let us thank Him for the privilege of being joined to His mission of preaching the “Good News” by our transparent Christian lives of love, mercy, service, and forgiveness.

 

 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

 

EPIPHANY: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12

Next to Easter, Epiphany is the oldest season of the Church year. In Asia Minor and Egypt, Epiphany was observed as early as the second century. The Festival of the Epiphany fell (and still falls), on January 6. It was observed as a unitive festival -- both the birth and Baptism of Jesus were celebrated at this time. January 6 was chosen as Epiphany Day because it was the winter solstice, a pagan festival celebrating the birthday of the sun god. In 331 AD the solstice was moved to December 25, but January 6 continued to be observed. Christians substituted Epiphany for the solstice. The emphasis was upon the re-birth of light. In keeping with this time, the First Lesson for Epiphany Day is appropriate: "Arise, shine; for your light has come." The unitive Festival of Epiphany was divided when December 25 was chosen as the birthday of Jesus. The Church in the East continued to celebrate Epiphany in terms of the Baptism of Jesus while the Western church associated Epiphany with the visit of the Magi. For the East the Baptism of Jesus was more vital because of the Gnostic heresy claiming that only at his baptism did Jesus become the Son of God. On the other hand, to associate Epiphany with the Magi is appropriate, for the Magi might not have gotten to Bethlehem until a year after Jesus' birth. By this time the holy family was in a house rather than in a stable. If this was the case, then the Magi could not have been a part of the manger scene popularly portrayed in today's Christmas scenes and plays. The Vatican II lectionary and calendar combine the two by placing the visit of the Magi on Epiphany Day and the Baptism of Jesus on Epiphany 1 (The First Sunday after the Epiphany).  

The gifts that the Magi brought, Gold, frankincense and myrrh may be thought of as prophesying Jesus’ future; gold representing his kingship as well as divinity, frankincense a symbol of his priestly role, and myrrh a prefiguring of his death and embalming.

Gold was a gift for Kings, accepting baby Jesus as the king of the Jews. Gold is also a symbol of Divinity and is mentioned throughout the Bible. Pagan idols were often made from gold and the Ark of the Covenant was overlaid with gold (Ex. 25:10-17). The gift of gold to the Christ Child was symbolic of His Divinity—God in flesh. Frankincense is highly fragrant when burned and was therefore used in worship, where it was burned as a pleasant offering to God (Ex. 30:34). The gift of frankincense to the Christ Child was symbolic of his willingness to become a sacrifice, wholly giving himself up, analogous to a burnt offering. Myrrh was used by the High Priest as an anointing oil (Ex. 30:23) Myrrh was used in ancient times for embalming the bodies of the dead before burial. It was a fitting “gift” for Jesus who was born to die. It was also sometimes mingled with wine to form an article of drink. Mt. 27:34 refers to it as “gall.” Such a drink was given to our Savior when he was about to be crucified, as a stupefying potion (Mk 15:23). Myrrh symbolizes bitterness, suffering, and affliction. In addition, myrrh  was used an oriental remedy for intestinal worms in infants, a useful gift for a new baby. These gifts were not only expensive but portable. 

 

The Epiphany can be looked on as a symbol for our pilgrimage through life to Christ.   The feast invites us to see ourselves as images of the Magi, a people on a journey to Christ.  We can see three kinds of reactions to Jesus’ birth:  hatred, indifference, and adoration: a) a group of people headed by Herod planned to destroy Jesus;  b) another group, composed of priests and scribes, ignored Jesus;  c) the members of a third group -- shepherds and the magi -- adored Jesus and offered themselves to Him.

 

We need to be like the third group, worshipping Jesus at Mass, every day if we can, with the gold of our love, the myrrh of our humility and the frankincense of our adoration.  Like the Magi we need to plot a better course for our lives choosing for ourselves a better way of life in the New Year by abstaining from proud and impure thoughts, evil habits and selfish behavior and sharing our love with others in acts of charity.    Let us become stars, leading others to Jesus, as the star led the Magi to Him.   We can remove or lessen the darkness of the evil around us by being, if not like stars, at least like candles, radiating Jesus’ love by selfless service, unconditional forgiveness and compassionate care.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

 

MARY MOTHER OF GOD

Num. 6:22-7; Gal. 4:4-7; Lk. 2:16-21

Welcome to today's celebration of the Feast of Mary. This Feast of "Mary, Mother of God" is very appropriate to start a new year. This celebration echoes that the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the Mother of God, is also our Heavenly Mother.

We base our faith in this dogma on the words of Elizabeth who was the cousin of Mary. When the Blessed Virgin Mary visited Elizabeth after the angel had appeared to her and told her that she would be the mother of Jesus, Elizabeth said, "And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?" [Lk. 1:43] Through Elizabeth who was full of the Holy Spirit, it was acclaimed that Mary had been chosen to be the Mother of God.

In the fourth century, a priest named Arius claimed that Jesus as the Son of God was created by God. This would mean that Jesus was an amazing creature, but not God, so it was a denial of his divinity. The idea took hold, and Arianism became popular in the Eastern and Western Roman empire. 

Opponents such as St. Athanasius, who was exiled multiple times for his belief, said that would be a return to polytheism, since Jesus in the Arianist view was not God, but was still worshipped alongside God the Father.

In 431 A.D. the Council of Ephesus affirmed that Mary was truly the Mother of God because "according to the flesh" she gave birth to Jesus, who was truly God from the first moment of His conception. Twenty years later, in 451 A.D. at the Council of Chalcedon, it was affirmed that the Motherhood of Mary was a truthful dogma and an official doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church. The Feast of the Mother of God affirms that Mary was the mother of Jesus who was both God and human. The Holy Scriptures teaches us through the Gospel of John that Jesus was both God and human. "The Word became flesh and lived among us." [Jn. 1:14]

Mary chose to be the mother of God, with her unconditional faith, submission and hope. When the Angel announced the news that she had been chosen to be the mother of God, her response was: “Behold, I am the hand maid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word."

She was well aware of the consequences of being found with a baby before marriage. She had witnessed the punishment given for infidelity. Still when the word of God made demands on her she did not think about the worries that "tomorrow" might bring. This is a great lesson for us. We, often, live in the worries of the future. Our life is engulfed by the regrets of the past and the unknown worries of the future. After all today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday.  As we are setting foot to the New Year, our mother stands beside us, encouraging us to be optimistic in life.

In today's Gospel Mary teaches us one of the most important virtues of all: wisdom. St Luke tells us how Mary responded to the wonderful things that God was doing in and around her: "Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart."

Just as Mary's womb was open to receiving God's living Word at the moment of Christ's Incarnation, so her heart was constantly open to receiving God’s ongoing words and messages as He continued to speak through the events of her life. This capacity and habit of reflecting in our heart on God's action in our lives is both a sign and a source of wisdom. And we can never become mature, courageous, and joyful followers of Christ unless we develop it.

Mary was Jesus’ 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. Inspired by Mary’s example let’s strive to begin this new year as a year of a more profound love for Christ; in that way, it will indeed be a happy new year.

The year 2020 has not been without its challenges and its trials and yet in so many ways we can find the hand of God at work within each of us and within His Church.  There can be no growth without some growing pains, without some struggle, without some change. Even in dark days, our God never deserts us. He is present with his people. And he has unseen purposes that he is fulfilling through all this.

And now we look forward to a new year – another gift of our loving God – and we pray that it will be a fruitful year, a life-giving year, a grace-filled year!  We pray that it will bring us closer to our God and to each other as we work together for His glory by deepening our discipleship.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother, wrap us safely in her mantle and bring us closer to her Son.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

 

CHRISTMAS 2020.

 

We have four sets of readings for different Masses for Christmas, but I chose to preach on just one of them. This homily may sound a bit theological but it is important to know who Jesus is and how his nature is before we can understand Jesus and the Bible.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (Christmas day mass reading). How did the Word become flesh and what are the implications involved?

Unlike in the Hindu incarnations where the supreme God incarnated as fish or tortoise, in the Christian revelation God incarnated only once and that too in human form because only humans can sin. The Word became flesh because he came to save us from our sins and not for any other purpose. Since God is immortal and cannot suffer or die, he became human.

Jesus is technically human but not a human being, that would be like saying he is a human person. He is a divine being with two complete and unconfused natures. In him they are two natures in a perfect inseparable union called in theological term, hypostatic union.

The Old testament prophecies represented the coming Saviour as sometimes divine and sometimes human.

(Messiah as God himself) He was the Branch “of the Lord” (Is 4:2). He was the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the “Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6). The one who was to come forth out of Bethlehem and be the ruler in Israel, was one whose goings forth had been from the days of eternity (Mic 5:2). It was none other than Yahweh Himself who was to come suddenly to the temple (Mal 3:1). (The annunciation account says his kingdom shall never end… Is there any king whose kingdom never ends? Every king dies and so his kingdom also ends. But Jesus’ kingdom will never end? It means he will live forever).

Yet on the other hand, he was the woman’s offspring (Gen 3:15); a prophet like unto Moses (Dt. 18:18); a descendent of David (2 Sam 7:12-13); (the genealogy clearly shows his ancestry). He was Yahweh’s “servant” (Is 42:1); He was “the man of sorrows” (Is 53:3).

And in the New Testament we see these two different sets of prophecies harmonized. The One born at Bethlehem was the divine Word. The Incarnation does not mean that God was merely manifested Himself as a man (as in Vishnu’s incarnation). The word became flesh; he became what he was not before, though he never ceased to be all he was previously. “Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance (Phil. 2:6-7). The babe of Bethlehem was Immanuel- God with us.

He was more than a manifestation of God; He was God manifest in the flesh. He was both Son of God and Son of Man; not two separate personalities, but one person possessing two natures, the divine and human.

If Jesus was two persons one totally different from the other Mary could not be called the Mother of God.

In His divinity, He is of the same nature of the Father. In His humanity, He’s of the same nature as us. It’s in this way that He is able to serve as a bridge between God and man.

The sacrifice of Jesus had infinite merits, because he was a divine person. He suffered in his human nature; (divine nature could not suffer or die) The merits of his suffering is of the divine person. He had human nature but he was not human person.

 

When we think about Jesus, we think of him primarily as God. From this perspective, we will not be able to understand anything that happened in the real life of Jesus. This prejudice distorts everything that the gospel narrates. Luke says that Jesus grew in stature, in knowledge, and in grace before God and men. (God cannot grow).

Jesus displayed his human life like any other human being. As a man, he had to learn and mature little by little, making use of all the resources he found in his path.  If we do not understand that Jesus was fully man, we do not accept the incarnation.

 Jesus has a true human soul. Christ’s human soul is created, but (like His Body) His soul is united to Him from the first moment of its existence, not pre-existing like his divine nature.

If Christ didn’t have a human soul, He wasn’t fully human.  If Christ didn’t assume a human soul, He didn’t redeem human souls. The whole point of the Incarnation is to unite humanity with divinity so that humanity can be saved. If Christ didn’t have a human soul, He couldn’t suffer or die.  It’s also due to His human soul that Christ weeps for the death of His friend Lazarus, etc.

 Jesus has two wills is clear from his prayer: Father take this cup away from me but not my will but your will be done. Again, he says: I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father who sent me." (John 5:30). So Jesus had his human will and also his divine will which he shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

God became man on Christmas Night 2000 years ago because he wanted to correct our mistaken ideas about what he's like. He wants us to have the right idea about him, so that we can live in a right relationship with him. If we have wrong idea about God we would not be able to relate with him in the right way. Jesus was the only one who told us God is our Father. The Jews hesitated to call God their Father.

Baby Jesus smiling helplessly at his mother Mary is the true God, a God who comes to meet us right where we're at. He wants to give forgiveness, hope and meaning to everyone around us who is suffering and searching, but he refuses to do it alone. He entrusts us with the task of bringing him into the world. Not because we're so great, but because he is so great that he lets us share his all-important, everlasting mission.

He is glad that we are here today to celebrate his birthday, and he is hoping that we will give him the only present he really wants: our renewed commitment to spread the Good News of salvation to everyone around us - a commitment that we fulfill in our everyday activities, through our way of life, words, and works. May the infant Jesus take birth in our hearts so that we can share him generously with others.

 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

 

ADVENT III (Is 61:1-2a, 10-11; I Thes 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8, 19-28)

The third Sunday of Advent has been "Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday" ever since the time of Pope St. Gregory the Great, in the sixth century. It's the reason for the rose-colored vestments and Advent candle. One thing that can inhibit our experience of Christian joy is wrong expectations. The joy that comes from Christ goes deeper than passing emotions. It is a joy that comes from knowing that Christ is always with us, guiding us, and loving us, even amidst life's trials.

When John the Baptist began his ministry, a deputation came to interview him. The deputation was composed of two kinds of people - priests and the Levites. Their interest was natural. The priests wanted to know that John was the son of a priest, therefore, why he was behaving in such an unusual manner. Second, there were emissaries of the Sanhedrin. John was a preacher to whom the people were flocking in hordes. The Sanhedrin may well have felt it their duty to check up on this man in case he was a false prophet.

They asked him three questions: Firstly, they asked him if he was the Messiah. Then they asked him if he was Elijah. Then they asked him if he was the expected and promised prophet. When they found that John’s answer was ”no”, they asked him the most difficult question: “Who are you?”

We seldom know what gifts we are endowed with. We will have to learn where we belong, what we have to learn to get the full benefit from our strengths, where our weaknesses lie, what our values are. So, it is fundamental to know oneself. Where do we come from? Where are we going? What is the objective of existence? Why do we live? What do we live for?

 The replies that John gave to the deputation that came to interview him shows that he was a man who knew himself. Therefore, he was profoundly humble. He pointed to Jesus and declared: “I am not fit to undo his sandal strap.”  Undoing the straps of someone’s sandal was the work of slaves towards their masters.  At the sight of Jesus John realized not just his littleness, but his nothingness.

John was different from us all who try at all times to appear more than what we are. So, the season of Advent invites us to reflect on the following three questions:

 ·         What do I think of myself…?

·         What do people think that I am…?

·         What does God think about me…..?

Only when we know who we are can we, like St.John, point others to Christ. Otherwise we will point others to ourselves and our achievements.  The Jewish leaders’ own preconceived notions impeded their acceptance of God's word spoken through John. They heard the prophecy, but it didn't help them at all. They tried to fit God inside the box of their own preferences and prejudices, and God was not their highest priority.

Having the right expectations in our relationship with God means always keeping the door of our hearts open to his grace, always being ready to do whatever he asks, even when it's difficult or uncomfortable. Here at the midpoint of Advent, we can examine our expectations for this coming celebration of Christmas. On a simple, human level, we are expecting to receive some Christmas presents. But all of those gifts are just symbols of God's great, everlasting gift of grace, of friendship with Jesus Christ. God wants to give us a new outpouring of that grace this Christmas. But unless we have the right expectations, we will not be ready to receive it. That means three things.

First, it means we have to avoid the trap of the Pharisees. We must not think that we know it all already; that we already understand how God works; or that we are beyond a true, transforming encounter with the living God.

Second, it means that we have to spend quality time in prayer during the next ten days. We have to "fix our thoughts on Jesus" (Hb 3:1). This will tune our souls to God's wavelength, so that we can hear his voice when Christmas comes.

Third, having the right expectations means spending time before Christmas reaching out to others in need. Whether the need is material, spiritual, or emotional, the best to way to "make straight the way of the Lord," as St. John the Baptist did in preparation for the first Christmas, is to give others an experience of God's goodness. By reaching out to others, we clear the runway of our hearts for the arrival of God's grace to us.

In a few moments, Jesus will renew his commitment to us through the sacrifice of this Mass. When he does, let's stir up our desire to know him better, and to receive whatever grace he wants to give us this Christmas.