The Holy Family

Feast of the Holy Family

The significance of the Feast unfolds the reality of the “Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”. It teaches us about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph and how they lived together nurturing the young Jesus to grow to be a man in wisdom and age and in divine and human favor. The feast of the Holy Family also reminds us about the importance of family in Christian life.

The family is the smallest unit of basic Christian community. It is where the young ones learn the meaning of being human, understand the primary lessons of loving andliving together and achieve the goals of life and above all learn how to love God, the creator.  The quality of our societies and our parishes depends onthe quality of life in the family of our parishes and churches. 

Today’s Gospel story tells us of a family pilgrimage to the temple and Child Jesus was lost while coming back from the yearly visit to the Jerusalem Temple. We can see the anxiety and anguish of Mary and Joseph while searching for child Jesus. They were surprised to find the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple, sitting with the Jewish teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. All who heard them were amazed at his intelligent answers. Even in their relief, Mary could not refrain from reproaching him for his conduct: he should have realized that by staying in Jerusalem without informing them would have cause them great pain and anxiety. Jesus’ answer to their reproach was even more perplexing: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

However it is packed with lessons for those enrolled in the School of Nazareth. We cannot program our lives in its entirety.  Life unfolds or as one author puts it, a Life is what happens when you are planning something else. It takes unexpected turns most of which are not the result of a personal or family decision but due rather to illness, physical or mental; loss of job; personality differences and so on.

There was an artist who wanted to paint the masterpiece of his life. Looking for ideas he asked the pastor- what is the most beautiful and precious thing in this world? He promptly replied that it is faith and without it there is no meaning in life. 

He met a group of youngsters on his way and asked; according to them what is the most beautiful thing in the world? They promptly replied that it is love and without it life is worthless and there is no meaning at all.

He happened to come across a group of soldiers returning after the war and asked the same question and they replied that they are fed up of fighting and they long for peace. 

He had three main ideas in his mind and on returning home he found that his wife was eagerly waiting and welcomed him with open arms. The children immediately came around him showing their love and affection for him. His eyes were opened and he realized the faith his wife had in him, love the children had and he experienced peace, joy and happiness. He painted his masterpiece and called it HOME.

These are the most important qualities that are very essential for every family to build a home. It could be called the foundation stone. Faith is a gift of God and it is the response of our intellect, moved by grace and enlightened by reason. It is to be experienced and lived in our daily life by giving God the primacy that is required of us. Faith is the virtue that in turn builds trust and confidence in our relationship with self andothers. 

There is deep desire and longing in every human being to love and to be loved. Most of the problems in our families are due to lack of love for oneself and others. St. Paul writing to the Corinthians speaks about the qualities of love that we should possess. A family is a school of love, a life of journeying together, accepting each other unconditionally and growing in love in spite of the weaknesses and shortcoming one has. 

Peace is the result of faith and love. The Lord Jesus is the author of our peace.  Whenever we manifest that faith and love of God in our brothers and sisters we begin to enjoy peace. We experience peace when we seek and do God’s will in our lives. Also when we give up our selfishness and go out of our way in loving and forgiving our offenders.     

In a beautiful address in December 2012 Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the life of the Holy Family in Nazareth. “The home of Nazareth is a school of prayer where we learn to listen, to meditate, to penetrate the deepest meaning of the manifestation of the Son of God, drawing our example from Mary, Joseph and Jesus. The Holy Family is an icon of the domestic Church, which is called to pray together. The family is the first school of prayer where, from their infancy, children learn to perceive God thanks to the teaching and example of their parents. An authentically Christian education cannot neglect the experience of prayer. If we do not learn to pray in the family, it will be difficult to fill this gap later. I would, then, like to invite people to rediscover the beauty of praying together as a family, following the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth”.

So, on this Sunday dedicated to family life, I invite you to reflect on family life through the lens of the unexpected or unanticipated events that are inevitable in the life of any family. Things can go wrong at any moment of our life in the family. We may lose our happiness over thousands of reasons that can happen at any time. Misunderstandings, education of children, job, sickness, accident etc. can strike us at any moment. However the important thing is how we face it. Do we have the courage to go back to the temple to find Jesus who alone can solve our problems, anxieties and worries? Are we ready to undertake the search that is necessary to regain our happiness in the family? 

St Paul in the letter to the Colossians tells them to put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving each other, if one has a grievance against another, as the Lord has forgiven you. Let the peace of Christ control your hearts; let the word of God dwell in you richly and be the source of inspiration. And above all whatever you do in word or in deed do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Christmas

CHRISTMAS – GOD’S SHARING LOVE AS AN EMMANUEL & SAVIOR

We celebrate Christmas because it is the birthday of our God who became man and Savior to save us from our sins, a God who came to share His love with us and a God who came to live with us always as Emmanuel. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel– which means, ‘God with us.” Matthew1:22-23. He is the only person ever pre-announced among all the founders of religion. By reason we know that prophets had foretold about it and John the Baptist was the Precursor. History has split into two periods: one before His coming and the others after it. Every person born into this world came to live, but Christ came to die.

First of all,Christmas is the feast of God’s sharing a Savior with us.Jesus is the incarnation of God as man to save us from the bondage of sin. The greatest love story ever told is given by John in his gospel3: 16: “God so loved the world that he sent His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him may not die, but have eternal life. God sent His son into the world not to condemn the world but to redeem the world.” We celebrate that Incarnation today as goodnewsbecause we have a Divine Savior. As our Savior, Jesus liberated us from slavery to sin by His suffering, death and resurrection and atoned for our sins. Every Christmas reminds us that we still need this Savior to be reborn in our hearts and lives to free us from our evil addictions and unjust, impure and uncharitable tendencies.

Secondly, it is the feast of God’s sharing His love with us. Jesus as our Savior brought the “good news” that our God is a loving, forgiving, merciful and rewarding God who wants to save us through His Son Jesus and not a judging, cruel and punishing God. Jesus demonstrated by his life and teaching how God our heavenly father loves us, forgives us, and provides for us. It becomes more tangible as we experience the love and compassion of God for us. All his miracles were signs of this Divine Love. Jesus’ final demonstration of God’s love for us was his death on the cross and the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Christmas reminds us that sharing love with others is our Christian duty and that every time we do so, Jesus is reborn in our lives. Let us face this challenging question asked by Alexander Pope, “What does it profit me if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world and He is not born in my heart?” Let us allow Jesus to be reborn in our hearts and lives today and every day and radiate his light around us as sharing and selfless love, compassionate words and deeds, unconditional forgiveness, the spirit of humble service and of overflowing generosity.

Thirdly, Christmas is the feast of the Emmanuel, God living with us and within us.Christmas is the feast of the Emmanuel because God of the New Testament is a God-with-us,Emmanuel, who continues to live with us in all the events of our lives as announced by the angel to Mary. As Emmanuel, Jesus lives in the sacraments (especially in the Holy Eucharist), in the Holy Bible, in the praying community and in each believer, while His Holy Spirit transforms us into the “Temples of the Holy Spirit. Christmas reminds us that we are bearers of God with the missionary duty of conveying Jesus to others around us by loving others as Jesus did, through sacrificial, humble and committed service. Sharing with others, Jesus the Emmanuel living within us should   be our best Christmas gift to others.

Experience Jesus the Emmanuel

The real meaning of Christmas is Emmanuel, God-with-us – God coming down to us; God accompanying us; God seeking us out; God revealing Himself to us; God bringing us forgiveness, healing, comfort, moral strength, guidance. Each one of us has, deep down in our souls, an incredible hunger: a hunger for purpose and meaning; a hunger to feel and celebrate the redeeming, forgiving, sustaining love of God; a hunger to be in the presence of God. Christmas is special because it reminds us concretely that God is indeed with us. In every circumstance of life, even when we are frightened or lonely or in sorrow, God is with us. So let’s go home to the heart of Christmas and embrace Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. 

The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and made the Father known to usas the last line of our Gospel today says, No one has ever seen God, it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. John is saying the reason the Word became flesh was that we might get to know the Father. Jesus is the Father’s Word to us. Jesus is the revelation of God the Father. How do we get to know the Father? By getting to know Jesus. Jesus, the Word made flesh, is the way to the Father. If we want to know the Father, let us get to know Jesus. How do we get to know Jesus? It is the same way as we get to know anybody by spending time together. We spend time with Jesus when we pray to him and when we read the Gospels. So let us get to know Jesus who became flesh, through prayer and reading the Gospels, so that we might get to know the Father. We cannot say anymore it is too difficult to get to know God. He has revealed himself to us in his Son Jesus to show us that he really does care about us.

Imagine, Jesus, the Son of God and our Savior born in a stable and placed in a manger instead of in a cot! When God comes he usually comes in humility, silently and peacefully, without causing a great disturbance. God’s humble coming in Jesus would not surprise us if we knew God better. But of course we will never know God sufficiently to understand. So no matter how much we try to understand God becoming human in Jesus we will not be able to comprehend, it will remain a mystery. The best reaction is that of the shepherds, simply to praise God. Let us praise God now in our own words.

As we look on baby Jesus we think of the mystery of God’s love for us. Why did God who is almighty and all-powerful become small and powerless as a baby? Quite simply, out of love for us. God became human so that we might become more like God. Jesus if you had not come as a human like us, we might have had difficulty in believing that God really loved us. But now we know for sure. John the Evangelist says, “This is the revelation of God’s love for us, that God sent his only Son into the world that we might have life through him”. Let us thank God for revealing his love for us in Jesus, that he who is so big and powerful became so small and weak for us, that he became one of us, to help us be more like him, to have life through him.

3rd Sunday of Advent (C)

“What should we do?”

We are entering into the third week of advent by singing “Rejoice in the Lord always and I say Rejoice.” Two weeks have passed and we need to take stock of our preparation to see what we have achieved and what more needs to be done. The decorations are being done, shopping is going on full swing, invitations to parties are sent out and menu for the dinner is prepared. These are the external, but what about our internal preparations? Are ours hearts ready to welcome Christ? Or do we need to do something more radical in order that the Lord may be born in us.

John the Baptist cries out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths.” He shows us the kind of preparation we need to do in order to be ready to meet the Lord, the Prince of Peace. John’s preaching focuses on the baptism of repentance – a conversion of one’s heart. Just as the desert is a place of silence and peace, our hearts must be converted into a desert of peace and quietness – free from anything that could hinder us from hearing and seeing God.

In today’s gospel, John the Baptist gives us concrete examples of how we can truly achieve a joyful encounter with the Lord in the peace and tranquility of our human heart. A real encounter with the Lord is not something cerebral; it has to be translated into action to bear fruit. We have to make every effort to make it a reality and to make it happen in our daily life. John’s cry in the wilderness did yield response from those who listened to him with an open heart and mind. The people of various categories approached John to find a way they could renew their lives and experience an inner conversion of their heart. To each he had a very powerful message or a plan of action. 

The general public he tells them; to share what we have with those who do not have and to avoid greed by all means. 

To the Tax collectors; to promote justice and to avoid taking advantage of others;

To the soldiers; to be contented with what we have and avoid coveting what rightfully belongs to another person.

The encounter of the rich young man with Jesus: what must I do to gain eternal life? Obey the commandments and he seems to be in conformity with it. Then he wanted to know anything more and the Lord told him there is one thing more that you have to do and he was eager to hear about it. Sell what you have and give to the poor and come follow me. His face fell at this and went away sad. He is the only one goes away sad after encountering Jesus.

The rich men and Lazarus: The rich man was selfish and never cared or shared with the poor man who was at his doorstep.

Look the transformation of Zacchaeus after encountering the Lord; he was willing to give away all what he amassed from others.

At the judgment the Lord is going to ask everyone what you have done. Those who have done good deeds the Lord acknowledges them. Whatever you have done to the least of my brothers you have done for me.

The Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are formed by the same water supply. It flows down, clear and untarnished, from Mount Hermon. The Sea of Galilee makes beauty of its water, for the sea has an outlet. It gets to give. It gathers in its riches that it may pour them out again to fertilize the Jordan plain. The Dead Sea, on the other hand, with the same source of refreshing water, is desolate and not clean, for the Dead Sea has no outlet. It gets only to keep. Interestingly, unselfish and selfish people act much the same way. Unselfish people get to give and luxuriate in their generosity while selfish people only get to keep and stagnate into desolation. 

Are we not selfish sometimes than other oriented, are our preoccupations always centered on our plans than God’s plan? It is here his message become relevant. We also need to share and care for those who are deprived not only in material things, but also in time, care and concern for others. Today, John the Baptist exhorts us to eliminate from our hearts whatever impedes us from welcoming Jesus, namely, selfishness, greed, individualism, discrimination, and other vicious thoughts that we cultivate in our hearts.

Many of us are unhappy in life simply because we fail to appreciate what we have and just be contented with the gifts and talents God has given us. Our desire to have more money, prestige and power has brought forth misery, anxiety and general discontent. We have started to disregard the gifts we have and covet what others have, thus leading us to lose our inner peace and serenity. As we walk in our Advent journey, let us then transform our hearts of “stone” into hearts of “flesh” as God spoke to the prophet of Ezekiel. The evil desires, bad thoughts and ill feelings that once thrived will be completely uprooted and a new “natural” heart will start to grow where love, justice and peace will flourish. We need to be reconciled with God and others in order to enjoy the gift of God. During this Year of Mercythe Lord is awaiting us to pour out his mercy on us.  All that we need is to approach him with a repentant heart.      

While working on his famous painting, “The Last Supper”, Leonardo Da Vinci had an argument with a certain man.  He lashed out against the fellow with bitter words and threatening gestures.  When the argument was over, da Vinci went back to his canvas where he was working on the face of Jesus.  He could not make one stroke.  At last he realized what the trouble was.  He put down his brush, found the man he had offended, and asked his forgiveness.  He returned to his studio and calmly continued painting the face of Jesus. 

In his exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel” Pope Francis remarks, “Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, an the desire to do good fades.”

2nd Sunday of Advent (C)

“A voice cries in the wilderness, Prepare a way for the Lord,”

John the Baptist is the central figure of Advent season. His message can be hard for us to understand as it was for the people who gathered in the wilderness to hear his words some 2000 years ago. Few people then really comprehended what he meant when he declared his mission was “to prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight”. Fewer still could even begin to understand him when he said, “After me comes one whose sandals I am not worthy to untie”. And fewer still when he said, “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”. What was John talking about? And what does the message mean for us today?

John the Baptist is the very voice of Advent: He is the last of the prophets and the greatest of them all. He is the voice of the coming of Jesus to earth to make straight the relationship between God and ourselves. We are reminded of the loss of paradise and the promise of the redeemer. The preparations were on down through the centuries, but John had the privilege of immediate preparation by inviting everyone to repentance in order to welcome the messiah into the world. “ As for you little child you shall go before the Lord to prepare His way.” He baptized the giver of baptism and identified him to the world- “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
Billy Graham, who often played the 20th century role of John the Baptizer, had these comments about the disease running rampant in the world: “We’re suffering from only one disease in the world. Our basic problem is not a race problem. Our basic problem is not a poverty problem. Our basic problem is not a war problem. Our basic problem is a heart problem. We need to get the heart changed, the heart transformed.”
John presents an image of the mountains and valleys being made flat and smooth as a sign of Israel’s repentance and moral transformation. Preparing “the way” means to create a favorable environment or to make it easy for someone to come to one and operate in one’s life. The quotation which John’s work fulfills is taken from Isaiah 40:3-5, where the prophet was calling the people to prepare for the Lord’s visitation. The preparation on which he insisted was a preparation of heart and of life. “The king is coming,” he said in effect. “Mend, not your roads, but your lives.” The quotation, “making straight the paths of the Lord,” means clearing the path of sin, which is the major obstacle preventing the Lord from coming into our lives. The valley here stands for the estrangement of man from God.
There are mountains that need to come down – mountains of pride, anger and prejudice that blocks our way to healthy relationships with one another and with our Lord. There are valleys to be filled – valleys of depression, despair, loneliness, grief, pain, any of which can keep us from the rich relationship the Savior offers and that keep us from enjoying the fellowship of the faith. There are crooked places to be made straight – yes, there is perversity, even among those we might never imagine; fine exteriors mask rotten interiors of abuse, neglect, immorality, even violence. There are rough places to be made smooth – rough places that have come because of oppression and injustice.

John called people to repent as a way of preparing their hearts and lives for the Lord’s visit. He is calling us, too, to get ready for something so great that it fills our emptiness with expectation. A smooth road means nothing to God, but a repentant heart means a great deal. Hence, the truly important goal for us is to prepare our hearts to receive the Lord. By emphasizing the last line of the quotation “All flesh will see the salvation of God,” Luke stresses the universal aspect of God’s salvation. Having begun the section with a list of rulers who did not bring wholeness or salvation, Luke ends with the expectation of a true Lord Who can bring these about.

We need to prepare the way for the Messiah in our hearts: We have to fill in the “valleys” of our souls, which have resulted from our shallow prayer life and a minimalist way of living our Faith. We have to straighten out whatever crooked paths we’ve been walking, like involvement in some secret or habitual sins or in a sinful relationship. If we have been involved in some dishonest practices at work or at home, we are called to straighten them out and make restitution. If we have been harboring grudges or hatred, or failing to be reconciled with others, now is the time to clear away all the debris. If we have been pushing God off to the side of our road, if we have been saying to Him that we don’t really have the time for Him, now is the time for us to get our priorities straight. As individuals, we might have to overcome deep-seated resentment, persistent faultfinding, unwillingness to forgive, dishonesty in our dealings with others, or a bullying attitude. And we all have to level the “mountains” of our pride and egocentrism.

We need to repent and seek forgiveness from God and our fellow-human beings: John’s message calls us to confront and confess our sins. We have to turn away from them in sincere repentance and receive God’s forgiveness. There are basically two reasons why people who have recognized their sins fail to receive forgiveness for them. The first is that they fail to repent — but the second is that they fail to forgive. Jesus is very explicit about this in Matthew 6:14 and 15. He says, “For if you forgive men their transgressions, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Is there someone I need to forgive today? We must not let what others have done destroy our lives. We can’t be forgiven unless we forgive. We must release our bitterness if we are to be able to allow God to do His healing work in our lives.

We don’t live in a perfect world, and we don’t look to this world to see God’s salvation. For salvation, we have to look to Jesus — Jesus present in Scripture, Jesus present in the Sacraments, Jesus present in our coming together in his name, Jesus present in the lives of his followers. Perhaps if we began to see Jesus in each other and in ourselves, and started to treat one another (and ourselves), as we would treat Jesus, more of the world might come to see God’s salvation.

1st Sunday of Advent

“Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Today we are entering into the new liturgical year and at the beginning itself, the holy mother the church gives a clear vision of the end to which we are travelling; the second coming of Christ and what we ought to do in order to achieve the final victory of our life here on earth. Advent is a season of expectation and waiting for the coming of the Lord. We have the historical birth of Jesus in space and time. He continues to be with us and accompanies us on our journey to the New Jerusalem, the city of God. Then there is the second coming of the Lord in glory and majesty to reward us at the end of our life.

Our lives are often stressed up with too many preoccupations, constant worries and anxieties about how to manage situations and events. In the process we often forget our priorities and end up achieving very little at the end of the day. We are distracted and often get disappointed when things do not turn up the way we want them to be. The gospel gives a reorientation to our priorities that we should be focused on the goal of our lives. He warns his disciples that they will not know in advance when that dreadful day will be. Although there will be signs in the sky and on the earth, actually that day will be sprung on us suddenly, as Jesus says, like a trap. Our task is to live our lives in readiness, prepared always for that final day of days. We are advised by Christ to stay awake, to be alert so that we may stand in confidence before the Son of Man when he comes in glory. Those who live sinful lives will have reason to fear when that day comes. Those who are caught up in selfishness, licentiousness, deceit and such things will be shaking in their shoes when that final day arrives. However, for a serious Christian the proper attitudes to adopt in preparation for that day are alertness and readiness and a spirit of repentance for our sins. The whole of our Christian lives ought to be one of preparedness, getting ourselves fit for that Last Day.

The Gospel passage of the day is in the background of the curiosity of people to know the details regarding the second coming of Jesus Christ. There had been always useless arguments and baseless speculations about this great event. The answer of Jesus is clear that he wants to teach the followers what is their duty in view of the second coming. All knowledge is desirable as far as it will help us to put into practice. “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.” Jesus is warning us that this world is passing away. Our lives are short, and we have much less time than we think. He wants us to keep things in perspective. It is the eternal life that God is preparing for us, which is really important and the goal of our life.

It is the desire of all of us to enjoy peace, joy and happiness in our lives, but our everyday experience is contrary to our best hopes, so much so that we are often tempted to despair. Who will restore our enthusiasm in the faith? How do we maintain hope in this life? How do we keep our lamp burning bright in spite of the challenges that we encounter daily? We are called to read the signs of the times and be ready to face any eventualities at any time of the day or hour.

Gospel speaks of the certainty that Christ will come. It is true that his discourse seems strange to us. Signs in the sun and moon and stars, the clamor of the ocean, heavenly powers that fall to earth – these are images that we find hard to understand. We find it easier to understand when he speaks about the suffering of the nations, and about men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world.

Living in hope is the only fitting way to celebrate the coming of Christ, and the only way worthy of trust. Christians who believe in hope create situations of hope, and give reasons for others to hope. We pray that when God comes he will find us at work, spreading hope in our world, which is so much in need of it. May he find us vigilant, standing erect, working for a better world of the kind we all hope for. Only in this way can we celebrate Advent and the coming of our Lord into our lives. Then when he comes, he will recognize us as his servants, because when he was absent we did what he told us to do. We made his promises come true as we were waiting for him.

We need to prepare ourselves for Christ’s second coming by allowing Jesus to be reborn daily in our lives. Advent is the time for us to make this preparation by repenting for our sins, by renewing our lives through prayer and penance and by sharing our blessings with others. Advent also provides an opportunity for us to check for what needs to be put right in our lives, to see how we have failed and to assess the ways in which we can do better. Let us remember the words of Pope Alexander: “What does it profit me if Jesus is reborn in thousands of cribs all over the world and not reborn in my heart?” Jesus must be reborn in our hearts and lives, during this season of Advent and every day of our lives, in our love, kindness, mercy and forgiveness. Then only will we be able to give people his hope by caring for those in need, give them God’s peace by turning the other cheek when we are provoked, give them His love by encouraging those who are feeling sad or tired, and give them His joy by encouraging and helping those who feel at the end of their strength, showing them that we care and that God cares as well. When, with His grace, we do these kinds of things we will receive hope, peace, love, and joy in return. Then we will know that when the King, our Lord Jesus, returns on the clouds of glory, we will be ready for Him.