Homily

Baptism of the Lord

“You are my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on you.”

The Christmas season, celebrating the Self-revelation of God through Jesus, comes to an end with the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. Christmas is the feast of God’s Self-revelation to the Jews, and Epiphany celebrates God’s Self-revelation to the Gentiles. At his Baptism in the Jordan, Christ reveals himself to repentant sinners. The Baptism of the Lord Jesus is the great event celebrated by the Eastern churches on the feast of Epiphany because it is the occasion of the first public revelation of all the Three Persons in the Holy Trinity, and the official revelation of Jesus as the Son of God to the world by God the Father.  

What was the need of baptism for Jesus?

Jesus of Nazarethby Pope Benedict, pp. 17-23 will help us to answer this question. Sinless Jesus did not have any sins of his own to take down into the river Jordan, therefore it could only have been our sins that he took down into the river Jordan. Naturally no one would understand this at that time but they would realize this later when they understood that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. So Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and his dying on the cross go together; he did both for our sins. He took our sins on his shoulders as he went down into the Jordan and as he died on the cross.

We can see that there is a close connection between Jesus’ baptism and his cross in the Scriptures. Jesus, when speaking in prophecy about his Passion, described it as a baptism. “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50) 

When James and John wanted to sit in glory beside Jesus he spoke about his Passion to them but we can be sure that they understand only later. Jesus said, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38)

The Gospel of John tells us that when John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching him in the river Jordan he proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) It is interesting that as Jesus appears at the river Jordan John the Baptist mentions that Jesus takes away the sin of the world. It is also interesting that John the Baptist describes Jesus as the Lamb of God. In the Gospel of John Jesus dies on the cross as the Passover lambs are being slaughtered in the temple. The Passover lambs were slaughtered in remembrance of the first Passover lambs whose blood was smeared on the doorposts the last night the Hebrews spent in Egypt to protect them from death. Jesus is the new Passover Lamb of the New Covenant who shed his blood for us to save us from our sins and already at his baptism he is proclaimed by John to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. 

Just as there is a close link between Jesus’ baptism and his cross there is a close link between our baptism and Jesus’ cross. Paul in his letter to the Romans tells us,

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:3-4)

When we were baptized we buried sin by spiritually entering the tomb with Jesus and we rose again with the new life of Jesus just as Jesus rose to new life out of the tomb. Our baptism is a sharing in the effects and salvation of Jesus’ death and resurrection, a sharing in the new life of Jesus we receive from his death and resurrection. Jesus was baptized so that all righteousness might be fulfilled and this happens when we live our baptism by turning from sin to live the life of Jesus and all righteousness is fulfilled. We are children of God through the Holy Spirit, who burns and destroys Original Sin and restores us to grace. “Think of to what dignity Baptism elevates us! ‘See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!’ (1 Jn 3:1) ” This stupendous reality of being children of God involves a responsibility of following Jesus, the obedient Servant, and to reproduce in ourselves His features: those of meekness, humility, tenderness.” 

Each of us has received that fire of the Spirit through Baptism and Confirmation. The same Holy Spirit who came down upon Jesus was given to us. We were granted the forgiveness of our sins and the promise that the One who raised Jesus would raise us up to everlasting life. The same Spirit who ignited a fire in the Apostles has been given to us so that we can live and spread his word, not with our puny efforts but with the very power of God. All this is given to us who have believed in the name of Jesus and have been baptized in his Spirit. It is a Spirit that leads us out of fear and slavery into freedom. The baptism of Jesus is dying to our self-centered endeavors and being resurrected into a life marked by grace and love. When we live in the baptism of Jesus, we touch the hearts of others and help open them to the Holy Spirit and new life in Christ. 

Today’s manifestation invites us to contemplate and to live 3 things:

Christ’s humility. He is the God made Man who, as a sign of penance and conversion, goes to another man to be baptized. He is the innocent Lamb who humbly carries the sin of the world. With his incarnation as a baby, the Son of God, infinite power and absolute greatness, become a humble weakness. Receiving the baptism, Jesus lowers himself even more: he presents himself almost as a sinner. He enters Jordan’s waters like a public sinner and a penitent. He loves us with infinite love and doesn’t hesitate to descend into the deepest bottom of our poverty, humiliation, and sin.

Christ’s” solidarity.” He, who is without sin, joins his sinner brothers and sisters to partake of their sufferings. He brings on himself the punishment of every sin to let mankind be part of His life and of His Holiness. Nothing shows better the divine mercy than the fact that He acquired our own misery. This mercy is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it is a passionate regenerating love.

The “testimony” of God as the Father who opens the sky of His Heart, sends His Spirit sweet as a dove and says:” This is my beloved Son. Listen to His words”. Mankind does not have any reason for unbelieving: God makes himself understandable to all of us and His testimony is truly believable. In the Gospels, we find two episodes in which God recognizes Jesus as His Son: at Baptism and during Transfiguration. John the Baptist and the people who saw Jesus descend in the waters together with the sinners were the witnesses of the Father’s testimony. They saw the sky open, heard the words of the Father and were able to recognize God’s greatness and His supreme humility. Jesus is the humility that goes below anyone to guide everyone to the Father.

Epiphany

Feast of the Epiphany

Where is the newborn king of the Jews?

The feast Epiphany is the celebration of the first appearanceor manifestationof Jesus to the Gentiles.“Epiphany” refers to God’s self-revelation as well as the revelation of Jesus as His Son. The angels revealed Jesus to the shepherds, and the star revealed him to the Magi, who had already received hints of Him from Jewish scriptures.  Later, God the Father revealed Jesus’ identity at His baptism in the Jordan. In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus revealed himself as the promised Messiah.  At the transfiguration Jesus reveals to his disciples. These multiple revelations are all suggested and signified by the Feast of the Epiphany. Today’s gospel teaches us how Christ enriches those who bring Him their hearts. Since the Magi came with joy in their hearts to visit the Christ child,Godallowed them to see wondrous things. 

According to the sixth century Italian tradition, there were three magi – Caspar,Baltazhar, and Melchior- is based on the fact that three gifts are mentioned in Matthew’s gospel: gold, frankincense and myrrh. There is a legend, which speaks or a fourth Magi, whose name is Artaban. He too saw the star and decided to follow it, taking with him a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl as gifts for the new King. The others were waiting for him at an agreed sport. However, Artaban comes across a traveller lying by the roadside stricken down with fever. Though he knew this would delay and probably miss his friends, nevertheless, he stopped and brought the man to an inn and had him taken care of. Finally he reached the meeting place and found that the others departed without him.  He needed a camel and supplies to get across the desert. So reluctantly he had to sell the sapphire to buy them. 

When he reached Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary had already fled to Egypt to escape from Herod. Artaban was staying in a house where there was a year old boy. One evening the soldiers came to the door, Artaban with the ruby bribed the captain and saved the child. He continued his search for the King, but all in vain. Some thirty years later he came to the Holy city of Jerusalem and a number of crucifixions were taking place that very day he arrived. He heard that Jesus was one of them and hurried towards the hill of execution. However he met a girl who was fleeing from a band of soldiers, because her father had incurred a debt and was being sold into slavery. He hesitated for a moment, but took out the pearl and gave to the soldiers and freed the girl. Now he had to face the King empty handed. 

Just then the sky began to get dark. An earthquake shook the ground under his feet. Houses began to rock. Roof tiles began to fly and one of them hit Artaban on the head. Mortally wounded he struggled onwards, but died before reaching the hill of execution. He not only saw the star, but he allowed the king to enter into his life that inspired in him deeds of love and generosity, and had lit up all his journeys with meaning and hope. Anyone who searches for God sincerely will always find him and will always manifest in our life and actions.

Gold, frankincense and myrrh may be thought of as prophesying Jesus’ future. Gold was a gift for kings; frankincense (an ancient air purifier and perfume) was offered to God in temple worship (Ex. 30:37); and myrrh to prepare bodies for burial. (It was also used by the High Priest in the   anointing oil (Ex. 30:23). This gift of myrrh pointed out that Jesus was the sacrificial lamb whose death restored life. Finding much to ponder in these offerings, the Church Fathers often interpreted them as symbols of what every Christian is called to present to God: the goldof charity and good works, the incenseof prayer and faith, the myrrhof purifying suffering and belief in the resurrection.

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.Today’s gospel also tells us the story of the magi’s encounter with the evil King Herod. This encounter symbolizes three reactions to Jesus’ birth: hatred, indifference, and adoration

a) A group of people headed by Herod plan to destroy Jesus

b) Another group composed of priests and scribes ignores Jesus

c) A third group — shepherds and the magi — adore Jesus and offer themselves to Him.

A) The destructive group

King Herod considered Jesus a potential threat to his kingship. He was a cruel and selfish king who murdered his mother-in-law, wife and three children on suspicion that they had plotted against him.  Later, the Scribes and Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus, because he criticized them and tried to reform some of their practices.  Today, many oppose Christ and his Church from selfish motives, evil ways and unjust lives.Children still have Herods to fear, because many of them do not see the light of the day.

B) The group that ignored Christ

The Scribes, Pharisees and the Jewish priests knew that there were nearly 500 prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the promised Messiah. They were able to tell Herod the exact time and place of Jesus’ birth.  They were in the habit of concluding their reading from the prophets on the Sabbath day by saying, “We shall now pray for the speedy arrival of the Messiah.”  Unfortunately, they were more interested in their own selfish gains than in discovering the truth.  Hence, they refused to go and see the child Jesus — even though Bethlehem was quite close to Jerusalem. Today many Christians remind us of this group. They practice their religion from selfish motives such as political power, prestige and recognition by society.  They ignore Jesus’ teachings in their private lives.

C) The group that adored Jesus and offered Him gifts

This group was composed of the shepherds and the Magi.  The shepherds offered the only gifts they had: love, tears of joy, and probably woolen clothes and milk from their sheep.  The Magi offered gold, in recognition of Jesus as the king of the Jews; frankincense, in acknowledgment that he was God, and myrrh as a symbol of his human nature. 

Let us make sure that we belong to the third group

Worship Jesus every day at Mass with the gold of our love, the myrrh of our humility and the frankincense of our adoration.  Offer our very selves, promising God that we will use His blessings by doing goodto our fellow men. In the Christmas stable, the magi got transformed themselves. What Christ wants from us is a reformation of ourselves. Just as the Wise Men returned home to begin the work of transforming their own kingdoms, we too must go home and transform the world around us 

Like the wise men all of us are on a journey to get closer to Jesus our Savior. Like the wise men we too are relying on the grace of God to lead us to the light of Jesus our Savior. Like the wise men let us offer ourselves at His feet. May our hearts seek Christ, find Christ and love Christ.

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.

Christ the King (B)

Jesus the King of Truth and Love
“I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth.”

The Solemnity of Christ the King was established in 1925. Pope Pius XI had seen the rise of secularization, atheism, and communism. The world was still trying to recover from World War I, which had devastated Europe and shattered people’s hopes for unlimited progress based solely on human reason. Besides, it was just around this time that the Russian Revolution, which had given birth to the world’s first explicitly atheist totalitarian regime: Soviet communism. Everywhere the pope looked, he saw human societies abandoning Christian values and trying to build paradise on earth through other means. The pope by instituting today’s Solemnity reminds the world that to reject Christ, either in private life or in public life, is to reject our only hope, and to accept him is to accept life eternal. He is a model leader, who inspires, guides and empowers people.

What is that makes Jesus so special? He was born in a stable while others were born in palaces. He had to flee for safety, while others grew in opulence. He came to serve, while others were served. He loved and cared for everyone and died for us that we may gain eternal life, while others instilled fear and used swords to subdue their subjects. He came down from heaven in order to take us to heaven, while others were of the earth and had no power to take us to heaven. He is the perfect human being with out sin, while others are imperfect and born with original sin.

The multiplication of the loaves had a great impact on the people, who wanted to make him the king. Jesus refused this dignity, and escaped from those who were looking for him to proclaim him as king (Jn. 6, 15). Later, he was to die with the accusation that he had wanted to be the king of the Jews and their liberator from foreign dominion (Jn. 19, 19-21). But Jesus claimed this dignity and title for himself only when there was no possibility of his being misunderstood, during a trial when even his friends had abandoned him, his enemies mocked him and the authorities condemned him to death. It was only in this moment of extreme weakness and supreme loneliness; that Jesus acknowledged, with certainty and dignity, that he was the king.

The Gospel of today (Jn. 18:33b-37) presents us with the true meaning of Christ’s kingship. The form of kingship that Jesus assumed is that of servitude and fidelity to truth. The King of the Jews is the beloved Servant of Yahweh who brought to fulfillment the Father’s saving plan to save the poor and the sinners. Indeed, Jesus is a King, but not of earthly origin. His kingdom is not of this world (Jn. 18:36), but of the spiritual order. His exercise of kingship consisted in bearing witness to the truth (Jn. 18: 37). He is the Messiah sent from heaven to reveal the truth about God’s love. Hence, the kingdom that Jesus inaugurated in his entire life of service and self-giving is a “kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace” (Preface of the Feast of Christ the King). The Kingdom of God is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. The phrase “Kingdom of God” occurs 122 times in the Gospels, 90 of which are on the lips of Jesus. “The Kingdom of God is a total, global, and structural transfiguration and revolution of the reality of human beings; it means the cosmos purified of all evils and full of the reality of God” says Eugene Maly a biblical scholar.

The crucifix with the inscription: “This is Jesus the King of the Jews,” tells us of his claim to be a king not of this world but the world to come. Remember when Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He replied: “Yes I am but my kingdom is not of this world therefore you have no authority over me.”
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.” (Jn. 18. 36-38

What is remarkable is that He speaks with authority. He doesn’t say he is one wise man among many, one philosopher among many, or one prophet among many. He tells us that all the nations of the world will come before him to be judged; He holds in his hands the eternal destiny of every man and woman of all time. Jesus is claiming to be the Lord and King of the entire universe, of all history, and of eternity and he will judge everyone at the end of our lives. He is the way, the truth and the life at all times.
There is another realm of existence where He reigns supreme. Neither Pilate nor any worldly powers will be able to do any harm to his authority there. His kingdom is in the hearts of people. Emperors after emperors tried in vain to dethrone him from the hearts of people. Religions, ideologies and political masters through the centuries tried and are trying even today in vain to remove Jesus from the hearts of people. Recently ISIS tried the heinous and worst kind of cruelties on Christians just because Christ is the king in their hearts. But they thought it is better to die than to reject him. So they gave their lives victoriously to become members in his kingdom. But their efforts are not going to succeed since Jesus is the supreme power of this world.

Jesus is king of the universe, because of what he is to each one of us. He is the author of our life, the beginning and the end. Jesus is close to us, he walks by our side, he lifts us up when we need help and he gave his life for us. The celebration of this feast is an impetus to put Jesus first and foremost in our lives and make him King of our hearts and minds. We make Jesus king of our minds by blocking out voices that are contrary to Jesus and filling our minds with what would please Jesus. When we make Jesus King of our minds it is much easier to make Jesus King of our actions. We make Jesus King of our actions when we have decisions to make and we choose the option that would most please Jesus.
St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians 2:9-11, has a beautiful hymn to express the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus attributed by the Heavenly Father.
“God has highly exalted him [Jesus],
and bestowed on him the name which is above every name,
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

33rd Sunday (B)

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

We are Living between the first and Second Coming of Jesus, we cannot but be aware that there is a great battle going on, a battle between good and evil, which seems to be intensifying. On one side we see it especially in the destruction of family life, the priesthood and the lack of respect for life. While on the other hand, we also see the good that people do, the rise of prayer groups, people going on pilgrimage and an eagerness to encounter and experience God in their lives. The battle between good and evil will be finally over when Jesus comes again. Then evil will be conquered forever and good will be victorious.

The radical intervention of God to destroy the ultimate power of evil in the end-time is the theme of today’s Gospel reading (Mk 13:24-32). While the end-time description, with its dark imagery of trials, tribulations, and turmoil is scary, there is also the note of consolation, which takes form in the glorious figure of the Son of Man, Jesus, coming in the clouds to gather his faithful and chosen ones from the four winds of the earth. The heart of this powerful apocalyptic device is the belief that God would one day intervene in a cataclysmic way to destroy evil and restore the fullness of life and abounding peace. Ultimately, the specter of doom gives way to the hope of a new creation, where the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its light, and the stars will fall before the splendor of the Son of Man.

Jesus reiterates the power and the efficacy of His words in the life of every disciple, who listens and translates them into his life. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “The word of God is active and alive, cuts more finely than any two edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow. It can read our secret thoughts and emotions.” (Heb.4, 12)
We are fortunate to have received the words of life. The word of God should continuously inspire and guide us in all our actions. Where do we stand? Am I open to listen what God is speaking to me? What is the impact of the words of Jesus in my life and activities? Do they guide me? Am I a living gospel? Perhaps seldom in the history of the Church has the message of this Word of God been as relevant as it is at the present time. Precisely because we feel secure in this world that we have built, because we have never enjoyed so much comfort and convenience, such economic and social progress, so much peace and civil liberty, we have relegated God to the last place. We believers know well that our world without God, our house without a Father, is steadily becoming a less human place and a home without brothers. We have exiled the Father, our brother has become our enemy, our neighbor has become a stranger. Our suffering has no value in a world without God, and a society that has no God and no future.

Living now in the time between the first and Second Coming of Jesus each of us has the capacity – a second chance – to quicken the triumph of good over evil by living more as Jesus asks or perhaps we could say to allow Jesus to have more control over our lives. This is to have the primacy of the spiritual and supernatural as a priority in us. We allow Jesus to have more room in our lives by spending time with him in prayer, by attending Mass every Sunday and as often as possible during the week, by receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly, once a month or if possible more frequently, by praying the Rosary, by praying together as a family and also through acts of charity. We allow Jesus more room in our lives and more control over our lives when we live the way he asks us to live, when we are morally upright. When we allow Jesus to be the focus of our lives we are tipping the balance in the battle between good and evil a bit more towards the eventual victory of good over evil.

Today our life is preoccupied with so many things and it is easy to forget about the second coming of Christ. We prefer to ignore our mortality and put off our preparation for the death, which we all must face. How do we prepare ourselves? How do we get ready? How will we be sure that the Lord recognizes us? What are the right choices to make during our day? The end of chapter 25 reads:

“Then the king will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. Although we do not know the day or the hour of the second coming of Christ, we do not know the day or the hour of our own deaths, we have been told what staying awake entails. It will be unfortunate if we have to hear from the Lord: “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you, it will be because of our foolishness and not because of a lack of mercy or justice on the part of the Lord.

What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and in the process loses his own soul? This is the message we have to proclaim by our hope-filled lives and by our active opposition to evil that destroys the human beings. We believe that God still has a place in today’s world and a role to play. To make our witness credible we must be Christians with greater commitment, optimism and hope, with no discouragement or pessimism, as we face up to the task of proclaiming to our world that a world without God will surely end.

32nd Sunday (B)

“ This poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.”

Today’s readings from the Old and the New Testaments teach us about the wisdom hidden in small things and humble actions. There is a tendency in every one to invest in a very calculative way in terms of returns. This is the utilitarian philosophy that teaches to use people and things in terms of what we can get out of others. It is a very selfish attitude and unfortunately that is the tone of the day, but contrary to the life and teachings of Jesus.

The story of the poor widow described in the Book of Kings is also inspiring. Elijah was escaping from the powerful and rich king of Israel, who was persecuting him, and now here he is in a pagan country by God’s direct order. Elijah tells the widow that God of Israel will not let her flour and oil run out. The widow of Zarepthath trusted in God, listening to Prophet Elijah’s words. She baked bread for the Prophet with the handful of flour intended for her last meal with her son at the verge of starvation death. Because of her kindness and generosity to the hungry Prophet, God did not let her jar of flour and jug of oil go empty. They were always supplying miraculously until the season of drought was over.

In the gospel Jesus compared the attitude of the scribes with that of the poor widow, which was bound to provoke controversy. Some people perform acts of worship in the hope of gaining privilege or advantage in the community. This poor woman gave to God all she had to live on. They give in the hope of receiving. She simply gives, and gives totally. They expect to receive more than they give. She places everything she has in God’s hands. Jesus comments to his disciples on both, and proposes the anonymous widow to them as a model for their imitation.

Jesus wanted to teach the people a lesson on the miserly behavior of the scribes, but he could not overlook the detached attitude of the widow. Those who think they need God to give them status in the sight of others, who honor God in order to be honored by others, who seek God because they want others to seek them, do not deserve God. God cannot be made a pretext for accumulating honor and privilege, but the temptation is always there, especially among those who honor God most. We lose the respect we owe him when we respect him only to win the respect of others, when secretly we want to obtain for ourselves the honor we give to God. In our relationship with God, we need to be more sincere, because this is the only way we can be sure we will not become like the scribes whom Jesus criticized.

The message contained in the readings today challenges us to examine our generosity towards God and our attitude towards the poor. Usually our admiration goes to who people in the limelight of name and fame. We ourselves desire to be like them. Jesus would remind us that we have lost the proper perspective to look at reality and its genuine values. From the view point of Jesus the human values of selfless love, kindness and generosity are found among the poor and the marginalized of society who utterly depend on God and his provisions.

The story of the widow is only the culmination in a series of people in the Gospels who abandon their false securities in the presence of God:

• The Magi open their treasures and humbly prostrate before the baby in whom they have seen the presence of God (Mt. 2:1-11);
• The disciples when called by Jesus leave their boats, hired men and even their father and follow Jesus (Mk. 1:20, also Mt. 4:22);
• When Mathew the tax collector encounters Jesus he is ready to leave his table and follow Jesus (Lk. 5:27-28);
• Zacchaeus is willing to give half of his property to the poor (Lk. 19:9);
• Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, leaves his upper garment and comes to Jesus in a symbolic nakedness (Mk 10:50); and,
• The Samaritan woman after her encounter with Jesus leaves her empty water jar at the feet of Jesus in a symbolic abandonment of her past (Jn. 4:28).

A question that we can all ask ourselves then is: what is it that I am still holding on to – that prevents me from totally surrendering myself to God?
Luke 6, 35-38 says, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not you will not be condemned; give and it will be given back to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

We need to accept Christ’s criteria of judging people: We often judge people by what they possess. We give weight to their position in society, to their educational qualifications, or to their celebrity status. But Jesus measures us in a totally different way – on the basis of our inner motives and the intentions hidden behind our actions. He evaluates us on the basis of the sacrifices we make for others and on the degree of our surrender to His holy will. The offering God wants from us is not our material possessions, but our hearts and lives. What is hardest to give is ourselves in love and concern, because that gift costs us more than reaching for our purses. Let us, like the poor widow, find the courage to share the wealth and talents we hold. Let us stop dribbling out our stores of love, selflessness, sacrifice, and compassion and dare to pour out our whole heart, our whole being, our “whole life” into the love-starved coffers of this world.

The Eucharist gives us the perfect model of self-gift in love. It should continually inspire us to live our daily lives with trust in God and commitment in service to our fellow human beings.