Homily

19th Sunday (A)

“Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

The gospel is an exemplification of what is happening in the lives of the followers of Christ. The disciples were caught up in a storm and being tossed by the strong wind. It is a time of fear and trembling and Jesus is coming towards them is a sign of hope and consolation. Initially they thought it was a ghost, but he consoles them saying “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter recognizes the master and calls out and expresses his desire to go closer to him. “Lord if it is you, command me come to you on the water.” The response of the Lord was positive and as Peter was walking on the water with the force of the wind striking against made him feel insecure and frightened. Then he began to sink and calls out “Lord save me” and Jesus saved him from being drowned. Here the question is why did you doubt?

The challenge of trusting faith: Jesus gives an open invitation to everyone, come to me all you who labor and overburdened and I will give you rest. Peter represents all who dare to believe that Jesus is Savior, take their first steps in confidence that Jesus is able to sustain them, and then forget to keep their gaze fixed on him when they face storms of temptations. From the depth of crisis, however, they remember to call on the Savior, and they experience the total sufficiency of his grace to meet their needs. It is this type of “little Faith” of Peter, which Jesus later identifies as the rock on which he will build his Church. The only Faith Jesus expects of his followers is a Faith which concentrates solely on him. In other words, when we simply heed Our Lord, we can do great things. So, with His grace, we have to raise our awareness of God’s presence in our lives.

“Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” It teaches us that adversity is neither a sign of God’s displeasure, nor prosperity a sign of His pleasure, that illness is not a sign of inadequate Faith nor good health is not a sign of great Faith. Paradoxically, the storms of life can be a means of blessing.  When things are going badly, our hearts are more receptive to Jesus.  A broken heart is often a door through which Christ can find entry.  He still comes to us in the midst of our troubles, saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Life is a journey to God, a journey of growth and maturation and there is often more growth and maturation in the valleys than on the mountaintops. Trials are an opportunity to grow closer to God and if we don’t learn our lesson from a trial the first time it comes I would not be surprised if God were to allow the same or a similar trial to come our way again so that we learn the next time and grow closer to him. Trials are opportunities if we want to succeed spiritually and really grow close to the Lord.

One of the things learned during a trial is that we cannot do anything by our own strength, but everything can be done with the grace of God. We see Peter failing the test in our Gospel today. But during all of his trials and with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost Peter grew and in the Acts of the Apostles we see that Peter had matured and grown enormously. In Acts we see that Peter is relying on the Lord and the Lord is working powerfully through him. In the Gospels Peter speaks first and thinks afterwards, but in Acts Peter relies on the Lord and allows the Lord to speak through him. For example Peter denied the Lord three times in the courtyard of the high priest but in Acts Peter is sent to prison twice for preaching in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:3; 5:17). In the Gospel Peter did not want Jesus to go to Jerusalem to endure his passion but in Acts Peter and the other apostles were glad to have had the honor of suffering for the sake of the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41). Not only that, but in Acts 5:15 the sick even hoped that the shadow of Peter would fall on them. We never read in the Gospels that the sick hoped the shadow of Jesus would fall on them. In Acts Peter has become monumental. If Peter did not endure all the trials we see him experiencing, especially in the Acts of the Apostles, he would never have grown to become the great person he became.

Call on Jesus when we are confronted with difficulties and problems: It is the presence of Jesus which gives us peace even in the wildest storms of life: storms of sorrow, storms of doubt, tension and uncertainty, storms of anxiety and worries, storms of anger and despair, storms of temptations. Storms reveal to us our inability to save ourselves and point us to the infinite ability of God to save us. When Jesus shows up in our life’s storms, we find that we gain strength to do the seemingly impossible. Storms let us know that without him we can do nothing, without him we are doomed to fail. Yet, when Jesus shows up, we gain the strength to join Paul, saying, “In Christ I can do all things.” But this demands a personal relationship with God, with Jesus, enhanced through prayer, meditative study of Scripture and active Sacramental life. Experiencing Jesus’ presence in our lives, let us confess our faith in him and call out for his help and protection.

Transfiguration

A mountain is the traditional place where divine revelations happen. Moses for instance, had his first encounter with God on Horeb – the mountain of God (Ex. 3, 1). We read in Ex 24, 12 and 13 that Moses went up Mount Sinai to encounter the glory of God. The mountain was shrouded in smoke, there were peels of thunder and it shook violently when the glory of God appeared. Years
later Prophet Elijah encountered God on the same mountain, but now in the  form of a gentle breeze. Prophet Isaiah invites the people “come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the Law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

Bishop Fulton Sheen says that there are three important scenes in the life of Our Lord that took place on the mountains. He preached the Beatitudes, the practice of which would bring a Cross from the world; second, He showed the glory that lay beyond the cross at the scene of Transfiguaration on mount Tabor and the third, He offered Himself in death on Calvary. The second incident took place as a prelude to the third and he had with Him Peter the rock, James the first martyr and John the visionary of the future glory of the Apocalpse. These three apostles needed to lealrn the necessity of the cross and to rectify the false conceptions of a political Messiah, because Peter had vehementaly opposed the cross, while James and John had been throne seekers. The most unfortunate thihg is that in spite of all these teachings, these three would sleep in the garden of Gethsemane during His agony.

The Gospel of today gives us the beautiful story of Transfiguration. Matthew tells us that Jesus took with him his three beloved disciples Peter, James and John to a high Mountain, apart and in their presence he was transfigured. When he was transfigured before them, his face shone like the Sun and his garments became white as snow. Moses the greatest law giver and Elijah the greatest prophet of Israel come to the side of Jesus and talk to him about his passion and death. For Jesus this was a special moment. He was now close to Jerusalem and hence close to his passion and death by crucifixion.  This was the important moment when he had to strengthen his disciples particularly the ones who had been chosen to be close to him during his ministry. Jesus wanted his sonship to be revealed to them with the voice of the Father telling them that Jesus is his Beloved Son in whom he is well pleased and they ought to listen to him. These were the same words used at Jordan during his Baptism as he began his ministry.  Secondly, when his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white, the event may have testified to the fact that Jesus was the true Light which enlightens everyone. Thirdly, the transfiguration foreshadowed the eternal reign of Jesus as God and King in Heaven. The Book of Revelation tells us that there will be no more night and there is no need of light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light. For Jesus this was the confirmation of his mission given by his Father and the confidence that he has been faithful to him to the end.

           The scene of Heavenly glory: The disciples received a preview of the glorious figure Jesus would become at Easter and beyond. While praying, Jesus was transfigured into a shining figure, full of Heavenly glory.  The Jews believed that Moses was taken up in a cloud at end of his earthly life (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 4. 326). Elijah was taken directly to Heaven in a chariot of fire without experiencing death (2 Kings 2:11-15). In addition, “Moses led his people out of slavery in Egypt, received the Torah on Mount Sinai and brought God’s people to the edge of the Promised Land. Elijah, the great prophet in northern Israel during the ninth century B.C., performed healings and other miracles and stood up to Israel’s external enemies and the wicked within Israel. Their presence in Matthew’s transfiguration account emphasizes Jesus’ continuity with the Law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah) in salvation history.

Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” It is the attitude of a lazy person to remain in the comfortable zone and enjoy life. Jesus is very clear in his demands that we should go out and become His witnesses. This is the spiritual ecstasy the saints have experienced in their lives. They were able to experience it, because of their passionate desire to be united with the Lord. When we have such earnest desire, we too will experience the presence of the Lord. Psalm 27 says “It is your face of Lord that I seek; hide not your face from me.”

God the Father’s Voice from the Cloud: The book of Exodus describes how God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai from the Cloud.  God often made appearances in a cloud (Ex 24:15-17; 13:21-22; 34:5; 40:34; 1 Kgs. 8:10-11). I Kgs 8:10 tells us how, by the cover of a cloud, God revealed His presence in the Ark of the Covenant and in the Temple of Jerusalem on the day of its dedication.  The Jews generally believed that the phenomenon of the Cloud would be repeated when the Messiah arrived.  God’s words from the Cloud: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with Him I am well pleased; listen to Him,” are the same words used by God at Jesus’ baptism (3:17).  They summarize the meaning of the Transfiguration: on this mountain, God reveals Jesus as His Son — His beloved — the One in Whom He is well pleased and to Whom we must listen.

17th Sunday (A)

Hidden Treasure and the Finest Pearl

 The past two weeks, we have been reflecting on the reality of the kingdom of heaven, which was the most important mission of Jesus in His public ministry. Today it is more centered on the motivation and the commitment of the individual who wants to possess the Kingdom of God and how he achieves it rather a generic expression earlier. This Sunday’s Gospel offers us the final part of chapter 13 of St. Matthew‘s gospel with the parables that compare the Kingdom of God to a treasure, to a precious stone and to a net thrown into the sea that gathers all kinds of fish.

While the parable of the net admonishes that the time of judgment is at the end of time and there is a time dedicated to penance, the parables of the treasure and of the pearl remind us of the necessity of making use of earthly riches in order to enter the kingdom of heaven and rejoice of this membership. These two short stories teach us above all that Jesus, the Savior of man, comes to offer to every person worried for his or her tomorrow, the true treasure and the true pearl that ensures happiness: the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is worth more than things, more than life. It has a prime value for which we must to be ready to sacrifice every other reality. The Lord, his friendship, his love, and eternal salvation are the treasure that no one can steal. There are those who give their life for a treasure and, today, Christ offers himself to us as the treasury of life: let us choose him.

The first is that the Kingdom requires a decisive and quick choice, like that of the man who immediately sells all his possessions, to buy the field with the treasure or the merchant who, without wasting time, sells everything he has to buy a pearl of exceptional value. The idea obviously is that when one really discovers Jesus and his vision of life everything else becomes secondary. In the service of the Kingdom there are no half measures and in that service there is a special kind of liberating joy. This was Paul’s experience: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8) and again “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 2:21). To have a personal relationship with Christ and to have made his view of life one’s own is the most beautiful, the most precious thing in the world. It is not enough, of course, just to say this; one must personally experience it as a fact – as many have done and many, unfortunately, have never really tried to do.

The second is that the choice, which implies a total detachment, springs from having found something of inestimable value. This is the true teaching of the parable. The reason that compels the disciple to leave everything is the joy of having found the treasure of life. The motive of joy is explicit in the parable of the man who buys the field: “Then he goes, full of joy, and sells all his belongings. “The Kingdom of God is demanding, but finding it has one hundred times value and eternal life.

The two parables describe two different kinds of people: the first tells us of a farmer who works a field that is not his; the second speaks to us about a merchant who is very rich. These two characters are the main characters only on the surface. The real protagonists are the treasure and the pearl that seduce the two men. The farmer and the merchant act because they are totally “grasped” by the treasure and the pearl they came across. If we recognize that the precious pearl or the invaluable treasure is Christ and His Kingdom, then we ought to make every effort to possess it.

In the first Christmas night the shepherds who were resting in the field with their sheep after the day long walk with the sheep, receives from the angels the Good News the whole world waited for years, like the man who went to work in the field finds the treasure. An invaluable treasure was waiting for the Samaritan woman who went to Jacob’s well to fetch water. Mathew who was sitting in the tax office and Peter who was in his boat also had the similar experiences.

But the learned kings who saw the star made tremendous effort, they leave the comforts of their palace and made long and tedious journey to reach Jesus. The devout and the righteous old man Simeon waited in the temple for years in prayer waiting for Jesus. Among the thousands of Children brought to the temple he searched for the Messiah and he found him and took him in his hands. Holding that precious treasure in his hands he said, Now let your servant depart in peace.(Lk. 2: 25-30). And the old woman Anna who did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer day and night, found the Messiah who was to redeem the Israel. For both of them it was a lifelong search. (LK 2: 36-38)

Some find the treasure unexpectedly and for some it is the fruit of their continuous search and effort. But in both cases the effect on them is same. The laborer who finds the hidden treasure and the merchant who finds the finest pearl sold everything they had and brought that. After finding the treasure or the pearl, to make it one’s own great sacrifices are to be made. Sacrifice is something very painful. Offering a lamb from among the thousand one has is not sacrifice, but offering one’s only child really is great sacrifice. That’s why Abraham became great.

For the invaluable treasure of attaining God and getting the vision of God what sacrifice am I doing? Life becomes meaningful when we find this treasure and make it our own. How many years Simeon and Anna lived on earth, but for them life became meaningful when they found the Messiah. We may find the invaluable God experiences unexpectedly through the incidents of life we think are accidental or we may find Him through our ardent search and prayer. In whatever way we find Him we must be ready to lose everything in order to possess the person of Christ, the most valuable treasure and the pearl of our life.

 

 

16th Sunday (A)

Our Lord was an educator par excellence, who could use simple metaphors and parables to teach and make it easy for His listeners to understand the core of His message. Last Sunday we did listen to the parable of the sower, which highlighted the quality of the seed and fertility of the land. Today’s parable is about the seed that is already sprouted and weeds that have been sown by the enemy. The Gospel is speaking very emphatically about the world in which are living now. The Kingdom represents the kind of world that God, through Jesus, wants to see realized among us here on earth. We pray for it daily in the Lord’s Prayer – “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” And it will only come about in so far as we co-operate, work together with Jesus.

Nature of the ‘Kingdom’: is primarily an environment, it is a set of relationships; it is a situation where God’s values prevail. And what are God’s values? In practice, they are the deepest human values and aspirations as mirrored in the life of Jesus, who is himself the revelation of God to us in accessible human form. These values include truth, love, compassion, justice, a sense of solidarity with all other human beings, a sense of trust in other, a deep respect for the dignity of every other human person, a holistic concept of human growth and development. And, of course, all these are seen in the light of God, who is their Ultimate Source. It is to be like him and with him that we live according to these values. People who, individually and collectively, try to live these values belong, with Jesus, to the Kingdom of God. They are united with the rule of God in trying to build a world; we would all like to see happen. It is basically the vocation of the Church, and therefore the vocation of every parish community and of every member of that community.

Weeds and wheat: In today’s Gospel reading we have three images or parables of the Kingdom at work among us. The first is the parable of the weeds among the wheat. The Kingdom of God clearly calls for people of the highest ideals and great generosity. It also calls for a great measure of tolerance, patience and understanding in seeing the Kingdom become a reality. The conversion of our societies into Kingdom-like communities is a very gradual process. The world in which we live there is good and evil, saints and sinners, rich and poor, success and failures, joy and sorrows. I do not think of any place here on earth where there are only good people, but the ratio makes a lot of difference of one influencing the other. What is conspicuous and favorable is the compassion, mercy and the patience of God, who eagerly wait for the conversion of sinners rather than condemning them. There is great joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than the ninety nine virtuous. The parable of the lost sheep is a clear indication of the love and care the Lord has for the lost ones. I have come to call the sinners to repentance and not the just. The healthy do not need a doctor, but the sick do need.

Living side by side: The parable is saying that people who are filled with the vision and values of God and Jesus; must learn to live side by side with a whole spectrum of people who, in varying degrees, do not yet share or live this vision and these values. This applies to differences between Christians and non-Christians but also within Christian communities themselves. We are – and always will be – a sinful Church. To pretend that we are anything else is a lie. It is not the healthy who need the physician Jesus but the sinners and tax collectors. Paul recognized that struggle within himself (cf. Romans 7:21-25). So we need to learn how to be tolerant with our own weaknesses. God told Paul that it was precisely through his weaknesses that he could reveal his glory. “My power is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The coming of the Kingdom then is not going to be a neat and tidy process. And experience again and again confirms that fact, whenever we try to bring out change and reforms in any community.

Small beginnings: The next two parables point to two other characteristics of the Kingdom. The parable of the mustard seed shows that the work of the Kingdom has tiny beginnings, whether we are talking of the fledgling Church, which Christ established or any newly established Kingdom-inspired movement today. And wherever the vision of the Kingdom becomes truly rooted, it will experience certain and inevitable growth. At its beginnings the Church, as the instrument for the building of the Kingdom, must have felt it faced a daunting task. Its tiny communities were scattered all over Asia Minor, Greece and Italy. Waves of persecution and hostility followed each other in a determined effort to wipe them out. But they prevailed as Truth, Love and Justice must in the end always prevail. Even so, the “weeds” of opposition will always be present.

An element of growth: In the third parable, the Kingdom is compared to a small amount of yeast in a large batch of dough. Its presence cannot be easily detected for it is totally blended with and part of its environment, as a good Kingdom community should be. At the same time, it has an energy of its own, which produces a remarkable influence of growth in the whole. Perhaps part of our Christian problem is that we are too exclusively concerned with the growth (or even the survival) of the Church in general or of our little corner of the Church and not sufficiently with the growth and wellbeing of the whole community to which we belong.

Opportunity for conversion and the need to possess the mind of Christ: This parable indicates that there will be a separation of “weeds” from wheat, good from bad fish (13:47-50), and sheep from goats (25:31-46). The Lord says “judge not and you shall not be judged, condemn not and you shall not be condemned,” God wants us to take a good look into the field of our own lives to see what is growing there. Let us work with Him to pull out the “weeds” in our own personalities.  Then we need to start treating the so called “evil ones” as Christ did. Why did he not weed out Judas who betrayed him, or Peter, who denied him? Jesus saw the “weeds” in their lives, but he saw also saw the wheat. He knew that with encouragement the wheat could prevail. It is said that patience with family is live, patience with others is respect, patience with self is confidence and patience with God is faith.

15th Sunday (A)

The establishment of the Kingdom of God was the main emphasis of Jesus in His public ministry. The inaugural message was repent and believe the Gospel for the Kingdom of God is close at hand. John the Baptist too did spoke of the Kingdom of God. I believe it is the awareness and acknowledgement of His presence and responding to the call of God, by living out the plan God has for us would be in tune with the Kingdom of God. St. Paul writing to the Romans 14, 17 has a very nice expression: “the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The disciples asked him; where is the Kingdome of God? His reply to them was spontaneous, that “It is within you.” It is the realization of God within us, God with us and God for us.

 

The Gospel of today is an example of how we could become members of this kingdom. Jesus compared the Kingdom to a sower going out and spreading seed. The sower is God himself and the seeds are his words. The ground is what we are, our openness and response will be judged by the kind of fruits that we produce. If we introspect into our lives, we could easily understand the disposition of our mind and the kind of response we make, because we are judged by the kind of fruits we bear.

  1. The soil along the path refers to the hardened heart:

This soil is too hard to absorb the seed.   Soon the birds eat it up or passers-by trample it under foot.  Jesus explains that this soil is like the person who hears the word of God without letting it sink in. The seed/word is then replaced by worldly concerns. This type of soil represents people with hard hearts and closed minds due to laziness, prejudice, fear, pride or immoral living.

  1. The soil on flat circular pieces of limestone is the distracted heart:

This soil-type represents emotional people who always look for novelties without taking permanent interest in anything. Jesus explains that this kind of person is at first impressed by the message, but quickly loses interest because of the effort needed to keep the word alive.  We have the example of a group of disciples who followed Jesus for a long time until the day he announced that he is the “bread of life”.  They found that teaching “too hard to accept” and just drifted away.

  1. The soil filled with weeds is the defeated heart:

This soil represents people addicted to evil habits and evil tendencies and those whose hearts are filled with hatred, jealousy and greed. They are interested only in acquiring money by any means and in enjoying life in any way possible.  Jesus explains that these people are filled with worldly interests that undermine them.  The classic example is Judas who follows Jesus for a long time, but in the end cannot let go of his worldly interests and so exchanges his Lord for earthly silver.

  1. The good soil is the hopeful and joyful heart:

This soil-type represents the people who hear the word of God diligently and keep it. They have open hearts filled with holiness and humility. They are eager to hear the word and ready to put it in to practice.  They are attentive to the Holy Spirit. Fortunately, the gospel is filled with people who have accepted the Lord’s message and whose lives have been changed. Jesus’ words, in spite of obstacles and barriers, will produce the kingdom. Although the seed may seem scattered at random, it will nevertheless produce amazing results: thirty-fold, sixty-fold – even a hundred-fold, an enormous yield with modern farming methods.

St. Ignatius of Loyola in his spiritual writings speaks about three categories of people and their response to the word of God. The first category is ever open to the word of God and they listen attentively, but nothing strikes their hear as they are superficial and not interested. The second category is also open and attentive, but they put a sieve to filter and accept what is convenient to them. What is difficult and challenging according to the demands of the Gospel is not acceptable to them. The third category is ever open and they translate the word of God into their lives. Their response is like Samuel the prophet “speak Lord your servant is listening.” These are the categories that Jesus himself compares to the man who built his house on rock.

What kind of soil are we?

How do we respond to the word of God, and to the various Acts of God in our lives? Do we allow the trials and tribulations of this world to overwhelm the tender seed growing within us?  Do we pull back when people harass us because we are believers?  Do we decide, because things are not working out the way we think they ought, that God doesn’t care for us, or that He is powerless, weak and not to be heeded? Do we allow the cares of this world, our ambitions or our desires for success and happiness to choke out the messages that God sends us through the various events of our daily lives and through the various people we encounter? How we respond to the Word of God is the key to how fruitful the gospel is going to be in our lives. Unlike the situation in nature, we can, as it were, change the kind of soil that we are. God allows the seed to land on the hard paths, on the rocky ground and in the thickets of our lives in the hope that in those places it will find a place to mature and bear fruit, that those things which impede growth will be removed and that the soil may be just a little deeper than it at first appears to be in those rocky places.

 

 

 

14th Sunday (A)

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest”

In the first reading as well as in the Gospel we see that the prophet and Jesus Christ praise the Father for his marvelous deeds. Jesus specially praises the Father that he chose to reveal the great mysteries to the babes instead of the intelligent and prudent.  Usually in the world there is no place for the weak and the unlearnt.  They are usually not counted as such. But for Jesus the weak and the unlearnt are the ones who are blessed ones because the Father chose to reveal them his glory.  When the disciples had returned from their mission work in the villages where he himself was about to go, Jesus had praised the Father similarly for revealing his glory to the poor illiterate disciples-Lk. 10-21-24.

We see this happening all through the Gospels. Jesus praises the poor widow for putting in two copper coins while the rich were putting in big amount as donations-Lk. 21:3. He praises the sinner tax collector for praying with real repentance in the temple-Lk. 18-14. He lauds the Canaanite woman for her answer that the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master-Lk.15: 28. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, it is Lazarus who is appreciated though being poor and neglected by rich man and the society- Lk. 16:22.  He eats with the sinners and tax collectors Mt.9: 10-12. In his parable of the lost sheep there is great joy on finding the lost one over the 99 which were never lost- Lk.15:7. In the parable of the lost son, there is joy on getting the lost one back-Lk. 15: 24. When the disciples compete to be the greatest among them, Jesus puts a child in their midst and tells them that the one like this child will be greatest in the Kingdom of God-Mt.18.2. For Jesus the lowly, humble, and simple of heart are the people who are great.  They are the ones in whom Father is well pleased.  They are being liked and appreciated for their simplicity and purity of heart.

The second part of the gospel is an invitation to accept Jesus’ easy yoke: Jesus addresses people, who are desperately trying to find God, who are exhausted by the search for truth, who are desperately trying to be good, and who find the task impossible. God gave His People basic guidelines for a holy life, but the Pharisees ended up making God’s Law inaccessible and impossible to follow. For the orthodox Jew, religion was a matter of burdens:  613 Mosaic laws and thousands of oral interpretations, which dictated every aspect of life. Jesus invites burdened Israel and us to take his yoke upon our shoulders. The yoke of Christ can be seen as the sum of our Christian responsibilities and duties. To take the yoke of Christ is to enter into relationship with Christ as his loving servants and subjects and to conduct ourselves accordingly. The yoke of Christ is not just a yoke from Christ but also a yoke with him. A yoke is fashioned for a pair — for a team working together. So we are not yoked alone to pull the plow by our own unaided power; we are yoked together with Christ to work with Him using His strength. By saying that his “yoke is easy” (11:30), Jesus means that whatever God sends us is made to fit our needs and our abilities exactly.

“My burden is light” (11:30): This burden is meant to be carried in love, and love makes even the heaviest burden light. When we remember the love of God and translate it by loving others, then the burden becomes easy. Jesus is returning to the simplicity of God’s original Covenant and Law, giving people what they need to guide them on their path easily.  By following Jesus, a man will find peace, rest, and refreshment. Although we are not overburdened by the Jewish laws, we are burdened by many other things: business, concerns about jobs, marriage, money, health, children, security, old age and a thousand other things. Jesus’ concern for our burdens is as real as his concern for the law-burdened Jews of his day.   “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest” (11:28). The yoke of Jesus is the love of God. By telling us: “Take my yoke . . . and you will find rest(11:29), Christ is asking us to do things the Christian way. When we center in God, when we follow God’s commandments, we have no heavy burdens.

Tommy Dorsey was a well-known band leader in the 1930’s and 40’s. The birth of this classical hymn “Precious Lord” had a history of its own and it is worth remembering. In 1932 he was living in a little apartment in Chicago’s south side. One day he had to go to St. Louis where he was to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting. Since Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with their first child, he was unwilling to go, but a lot of people were expecting him in St. Louis. He wished Nettie goodbye and moved on. However, outside the city, he discovered that in his anxiety at leaving, he had forgotten to his music case. On his return he found Nettie was sleeping peacefully and something telling him to stay back, but eager to get back and unwilling to disturb Nettie, he quietly slipped out of the room. The next night the crowd at St. Louis called on him to sing again and again. Finally he sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Union telegram. He ripped open the envelope and the message was “YOUR WIFE JUST DIED”. He rushed to a phone and called home. All he could hear on the other end was “Nettie is dead Nettie is dead.”

When he got back, he learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy. There was joy and sadness, but the same night the boy died. He buried Nettie and the little boy in the same casket. Then for days he closeted himself and felt that God had done an injustice to him. He did not want to serve him anymore or write gospel songs and just wanted to go back to the jazz world, which he knew so well. But then, as he hunched alone in the dark apartment those first sad days, he thought back to the afternoon that something kept telling him to stay with Nettie. He realized that if he had paid more attention to it, he would have stayed and been with Nettie when she died. From that moment he vowed to listen more closely to his inner voice. The following Saturday one of his friends took him to Maloney’s Poro College, a neighborhood music school. It is there he sat down at the piano, and his hands began to browse over the keys. He could feel the touch of God and felt at peace. These were the beautiful words come he composed “ Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn, through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light, take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.” The Lord gave him these words and melody. He also healed his spirit and he learned that when we are in our deepest grief, when we feel farthest from God, then He is closest, and when we are more open to His restoring power. The rest of his life he lived for God willingly and joyfully.

13th Sunday, Year A

Cost and Demands of Discipleship

Let us take a look at the Acts of the Apostles, which gives us some powerful insights into the beginning and the growth of the church after the feast of the Pentecost. The apostles were transformed and were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to be zealous missionaries to fulfill the command of the Lord. They were no more frightened, but became courageous to proclaim, what they have seen, heard and experienced in their life about person of Christ. Think about those 50 years after Jesus’ death, the struggles and difficulties the disciples had to endure for their beloved master. Before the last one died their efforts had brought 500,000 men, women, and children into the ranks of the church. They were vibrant Christian communities. There was no compromise, but commitment, fidelity and total dedication to their mission was very evident. History tells us that every Apostle shed their blood for Christ.
We have the apostle Paul, turning away from an ardent persecutor to an ardent believer and beheaded after becoming the greatest missionary of the gentiles. St. Francis of Assisi had to make a choice, he was willing to give away all that he had in order to posses the person of Christ. Similarly numerous saints made a radical choice in favor of the person of Christ rather than anyone or anything else. Look at the scenario today with so much of persecution and oppression on Christians. Christianity is not wiped out, but where there is fidelity it has grown and is growing in numbers, because it is the work of the Lord.

The primacy of Christ’s love – To love the neighbor in God: Today materialism and consumerism dominate our lives. There is a paradigm shift from God-centeredness to self-centeredness. The beginning of today’s Gospel: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; who loves son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me “(Mt 10:37) sounds incomprehensible, not to say inhuman. Also the following two verses: “Whoever does not take his own cross and follow me, is not worthy of me. Whoever has kept his life for himself, will lose it, and who will lose his life for my cause, will find it “(Mt 10, 38-39) are not easily understandable. If we reason like the Jews and the Greeks of two thousand years ago, we would consider these phrases of Christ foolish and scandalous.

Therefore, let us understand their wise rationality, taking into account what Saint Paul states: ” For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom; and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Cor. 1: 22-25).

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me….” These words may sound a bit extreme, since family comes first for most of us. 1) What Jesus means is that all loyalties must give place to loyalty to God.  God is to be loved with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. We should have the absolute primacy for God and everything else is secondary. It is the ability and courage to stand for truth and the values of the gospel when we are confronted with unfavorable situations. If members of one’s family   act unjustly, one must, in conscience, separate oneself from them. He is giving a warning to his disciples of the conflicts and misunderstandings they will experience through their living out the word and thus becoming prophets, proclaiming God’s Will and living presence among His people through their own lives.

We need to be ready to take up our cross and lose our life for Christ: The cross stands for unconditional forgiveness, the total emptying of ourselves of our wants and needs for the sake of another, and the courageous, consistent choosing to do what is right and just.   The main   paradox of the Christian life is that we must lose life in order to find Life, and we must die to ourselves in order to rise again. (“Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”). We live in a world where “finding their lives” is the paramount ambition of the majority of people. But Jesus tells us very clearly that this should not be our main concern. What he asks of us is that we should “lose this life” which means that we must stop living for ourselves alone.   Whatever we do for others is credited, because we are doing for the love of God.

We live in a competitive society that believes in power and influence for a successful life. The values of the Gospel are totally different and Jesus’ argument is that when we work hard to ensure that everyone has enough, there will be enough for us, too. Hence the question we should ask is:  Am I living my life at the expense of others? Am I trying to live in solidarity with others?  Am I aware of people in my area who are in real need? In the words of Mother Teresa, “The Gospel is written on your fingers.” Holding up her fingers, one at a time, she accented each word: “You-Did-It-To-Me.” Mother Teresa then added: “At the end of your life, your five fingers will either excuse you or accuse you of doing it unto the least of these.”

The Primacy of Christ’s Love in the family: When the Messiah says that He must be loved by us more than our father and our mother, does not mean to erase the fourth commandment, which is the first great commandment towards people. When family affairs are converted to the witness of the Gospel, they become capable of unthinkable things that make us aware of the works of God, the works that He does in history like those that Jesus did for the men, the women and the children whom he met. He asks us to love our dear ones in God, that is to live love in Love, in the today’s Gospel Christ teaches us that in order to do a gesture of love little is enough: “Whoever will have given just a glass of fresh water to one of these little ones, because he is my disciple, in truth I say to you, he will not lose his reward.” Every gesture of love and welcome, even the simpler, the less demanding, the one that apparently does not count, is not rated along the parameters of modern economy, utility, and performance, in the same way as that of a glass of water given to those who ask for it, if done with love and for love, will not lose his reward in front of God

12th Sunday, Year A

“Do not be afraid”

If we look into the history of all organized religions, we will find that in some or other phase of their growth they have used force to spread their faith. Although it is incompatible with authentic religious principles, the social and political wisdom has managed to get upper hand to make religion an instrument of aggression. It happens also today. The human tendency is to victimize others, in order to be victors. Christianity also has its shameful past of aggression in the name of faith. If we look into the Gospel, we find that Jesus took position with the victims, not with the victors. The teaching of Jesus is consistently non-violent in its content. Jesus opted for the down-trodden, the marginalized, and the oppressed groups of people. He came to liberate and reconcile the fallen humanity with God.

In today’s Gospel (Cf. Matthew 10:26-33), the Lord Jesus, after calling and sending His disciples on mission, He instructed and prepared them to face the dangers and persecutions they would encounter. He knew very well what was going to happen and the challenges they had to encounter. Thus He exhorts them: “Have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be revealed. What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (vv. 26-28). They can only kill the body, but they do not have power to kill the soul: have no fear of them. Jesus’ sending the disciples on mission does not guarantee them success, as it does not shelter them from failures and sufferings. They must take into account be it the possibility of rejection be it that of persecution. This is somewhat frightening, but it is the truth. So He exhorts them to grow in faith and be committed to their mission.

The disciple is called to conform himself to Christ’s own life, who was persecuted by men, knew rejection, abandonment and death on the cross. Christian mission has to be dominated by tranquility. Difficulties and tribulations are part of the work of evangelization, and we are called, to find in them the occasion to verify the authenticity of our faith and of our relationship with Jesus. We must regard these difficulties as the possibility to be even more missionaries and to grow in that trust of God, our Father, who does not abandon His children in the hour of the storm. We have to build our house of rock, so that it could withstand rain and storm. In the difficulties of Christian witness in the world, we are never forgotten, but always helped by the Father’s loving concern. Therefore, in today’s Gospel, for a good three times Jesus reassures the disciples saying: “Have no fear!” but look beyond the earthly realities of our life.

Today there is more persecution against Christians than it ever had in the earlier centuries is a matter of great concern for all of us. We pray for our brothers and sisters who are persecuted and we praise God because, despite this, they continue to witness their faith with courage and fidelity. Let their example help us to not hesitate in taking a position in favor of Christ, witnessing Him courageously in everyday situations, even in apparently tranquil environments. In fact, a form of test could also be the absence of hostilities and tribulations. However, in all of this the Lord continues to say to us, as He said to the disciples of His time: “Have no fear!” Let us not forget this word: When we have some tribulation, some persecution, something that makes us suffer, we must always listen to Jesus’ voice in our heart: “Have no fear! Have no fear; go on! I am with you!”  Have no fear of one who derides you and mistreats you; and have no fear of one who ignores or honors you “before” others but “behind” you combats the Gospel. There are so many that smile before us but behind us they combat the Gospel. We all know them. Jesus does not leave us alone: each one is precious for Jesus, and He accompanies us.

The necessity of loyalty in Christian life: If we are loyal to Jesus in this life, Jesus will be loyal to us in the life to come. On the other hand, if we are too proud to acknowledge that Christ is our Lord and Savior, He will not acknowledge us in the next life. In the early Church, Christians had the courage of their convictions, knowing very well that this might result in their losing their lives. Hence, we must not deny God through our silence, whether in word or deed. Denial by deeds arises from actions that do not match our profession of Faith. We must not be ashamed to behave as people of Faith and proclaim our Christian convictions when necessary.

Trust in God will keep us in good stead even in a turbulent world. What we need to do is to turn to our spiritual center and regenerate our energy. All those external factors, which frighten us will have no effect on us, as long us our foundation is firm. The loss of the center is a terrible experience that can happen in human life. The temptation to fortify the boundaries, the external securities is a sign of a weakened center. People depend on wealth and power, followers and supporters to substitute the center, the inner core, when it gradually become empty and dry. This betrayal of the center has grave consequences in life. Nobody can hide behind the walls of security for long. Times will come when the emptiness will be revealed as the walls fall. Jesus warns us against these disastrous happenings, which are incumbent in the lives of those who forget the Lord of life.  Whoever denies me before world; I also will deny them before the Father who is in heaven.

Revelation of hidden things and triumph of truth: “There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed and nothing secret that will not be made known,” This is not a threat that God will expose some sin we had forgotten. Jesus speaks these words as Good News, as a reason not to be afraid of persecution. These verses promise that the evil motives and the wickedness of the persecutors will someday become a matter of public knowledge.   At the Last Judgment, the persecutors will not be able to hide their sin. It will eventually come to light and to judgment. When that happens, those who have been persecuted will be vindicated before God and before the world. Verses 26-27 promise the ultimate triumph of truth and righteousness. We are challenged to trust in the loving God who continually saves us in the events of our lives. We are sheltered, protected and wrapped in God’s love. It helps us to bear witness to Him and be the agents of evangelization.

May the Virgin Mary, model of humble and courageous adherence to the Word of God, help us to understand that, in witnessing the faith, successes do not count but fidelity, fidelity to Christ, recognizing in any circumstances, even the most problematic, and the inestimable gift of being His missionary disciples.

Feast of Corpus Christi

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”

The feast of today is the combination of three events together: the feast of the Eucharistic sacrifice, the feast of the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the feast of the Real Presence of Jesus in this Sacrament.  Corpus Christi is a doctrinal feast established for three purposes:  1) to give God collective thanks for Christ’s abiding presence with us in the Eucharist and to honor Him there; 2) to instruct the people in the Mystery, Faith and devotion surrounding the Eucharist, and 3) to teach us to appreciate and make use of the great gift of the Holy Eucharist, both as a Sacrament and as a sacrifice.

I have come that you may have life, life in its fullness (Jn.10, 10). The very purpose of incarnation and God’s dwelling with us is to be seen in the light of love and reconciliation of the fallen humanity. God is love and he manifests himself in giving and sacrificing for the benefit of the loved. He has created us to love him, to serve him and to be with him. So the Lord Jesus having lived a human life here on earth accepted the plan of the Heavenly Father to offer himself as a sacrifice for the redemption of mankind. He instituted the Eucharist, to thank and praise the almighty father and to nourish us with his own self that we will continue to live with him, in him and through him. The Eucharist is the living presence of Jesus with us. The church is build up by the Eucharist and it is the community of the faithful that celebrates the Eucharist.

Jesus said, “I am the living bread came down form heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. Whoever eats my body and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. ” We have within our human nature, the body and soul, that is to say the material and the spiritual. When Jesus says that I am the bread of life, it is first and foremost regarding the food for our soul, which is nourished and sustained, by the Lord himself in its fullness of life. It also depends on what is predominantly important and what are our priorities. What does it profit a human being if he/she gains the whole world and in the process looses his/her soul?

As human beings, we suffer from many types of hunger. There is a hunger for ordinary bread. Unless this is satisfied, no life is possible. There is hunger to love and to be loved and unless this is fulfilled, a person will always be in anguish. There is hunger for meaning and unless this is satisfied, there will dissatisfactions.

Let us look the various kinds of bread that Jesus offered to the people, thus satisfying their many hungers.

To the people who followed him into the desert, and who were starving, he offered ordinary bread and satisfied their physical hunger. To Mary Magdalene, the public sinner, a public sinner, he offered the bread of forgiveness and thus satisfied her hunger for acceptance. To the lonely woman at Jacob’s well, he offered the bread of companionship, and so satisfied their hunger for self-worth. To the woman of Naim, who was burying her only son, and to Martha and Mary who had just buried their brother Lazarus, he offered the bread of sympathy, and he showed them that even in death we are not beyond the reach of God’s help. With Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector who had robbed the bread from the table of the poor, he began by inviting himself to his table. Then having awakened within him a hunger for a better life, he got him to share his ill-gotten money with the poor. To the thief who died at his side he offered the bread of reconciliation with God, thus bringing peace to his troubled soul.

We can see that Christ shared himself with the others in many different ways and under many different forms, before offering himself to them as food and drink at the last super. We also see that there were people who refused to accept the bread of life offered by Jesus.

The rich young man to whom he offered the bread of discipleship, but he refused it because it was difficult for him to part with his riches. To the Pilate he offered the bread of truth, but he had no appetite for it because it meant to put his position at risk. To the people of Jerusalem, to whom with tears in his eyes, he offered bread of peace, but they refused it with the result that their city was destroyed. The scribes and Pharisees, to whom he offered not once, but several times, the bread of conversion, but they refused even a crumb of it.

To everyone, regardless of any status, he continues to offer the bread that will ultimately satisfy our hunger, which our Heavenly Father has placed in our hearts, namely, the bread of eternal life. The Lord alone is the person who can satisfy and fulfill the hunger and thirst of our hearts. St. Paul is a person who was completely transformed by the person of Crist. It is not I who live but Christ lives in me.

We are called to be Eucharistic people because we believe in the Eucharistic presence of Jesus. We should be spirit filled people, because the reception of Jesus into our life should transform us. If the reception of the sacrament does not transform us, then we are unable to bear fruit of the presence of Jesus in our life. We are a community people, because Eucharist empowers us to see the face of Christ in everyone. This enhances our relationship with the others and caring community is created and lived for the Lord.

Feast of the Holy Trinity

“The Father is the Lover, the Son is the Beloved, the Holy Ghost is Love” (St. Augustine).

Today’s feast invites us to live in the awareness of the presence of the Triune God within us: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The mystery of the Holy Trinity, a doctrine enunciated by the ecumenical councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, is one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, and the greatest mystery of our Faith, namely, that there are three divine persons, sharing the same divine nature in one God. The doctrine of the Trinity underlies all major Christian feasts, including Christmas, the Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter, the Ascension and Pentecost. All the official prayers of the Church, including the Holy Mass and the sacraments, begin with an address to the Holy Trinity: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We are baptized, absolved of our sins and anointed in the name of the Blessed Trinity. Throughout the world, church bells ring three times a day inviting Christians to pray to God the Father (the Provider); God the Son (the Savior); and God the Holy Spirit (the Sanctifier). We bless ourselves with the sign of the cross invoking the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and we conclude our prayers glorifying the Holy Trinity, saying “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.”

The Triune God as seen in the Old Testament: Since Yahweh was careful to protect His Chosen People from the pagan practice of worshipping several gods, the Old Testament books make only indirect and passing reference to the Trinity.  Gen. 1:26 presents God speaking to Himself:  “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.”  Genesis 18:2, describes how Yahweh visited Abraham under the appearance of three men, an event that the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates as the Trinitarian Experience of Abraham.  In Genesis 11:7, before punishing the proud builders of the Tower of Babel, God says, “Come, let Us go down among them and confuse their language.”  These passages imply, rather than state, the doctrine of the Trinity.

The doctrine of the Trinity as seen in the New Testament

  1. a) The Annunciation (Luke 1: 26-38) describes how God the Father sent the angel Gabriel to Mary, to announce to her that God, the Holy Spirit, would “overshadow” her, and that God, the Son, would be made flesh in her womb.
  2. b) During the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:  16-17), the Holy Spirit is shown descending on Jesus in the form of a dove, while the voice of God the Father is heard from the clouds.
  3. c) John (Chapters 15 through 18) presents the detailed teaching of Jesus on the Persons of the Holy Trinity.
  4. d) In the preaching mission given by the risen Lord to the disciples, Jesus commands them to baptize people “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”(Confer also Matthew 28:19; John 10:30, 14:26; 2 Corinthians 13:14.). St Paul mentions the Trinity 30 times in his letters.

The development of the Trinitarian doctrine in the Church: The word “Trinity,” referring to Three Persons in one God, One in divinity yet distinct in Person; is not explicitly spelt out in the Bible although the doctrine on Trinity is mentioned about forty times in the New Testament without using the term “Trinity.”  The early Church arrived at the doctrine of the Trinity when she developed the revelation, which she had received from Jesus in faith. The oldest doctrinal formulation of the Church’s belief in the Trinity is found in the Apostles’ Creed, which has served as the basis of catechetical instruction and as the baptismal confession of faith since the second century.  Later, the Nicene Creed, originating at the Council of Nicaea (325 CE), stated the doctrine more explicitly.  This Creed; was introduced into the western liturgy by the regional council of Toledo in 589 CE. It was Jesus who revealed to us the three separate functions that are carried out by the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.  He has told us that it is proper to attribute to God the Father the work of creation; to God the Son, the work of Redemption, and to God the Holy Spirit the work of sanctification.

The Trinity in our Life: The entire Christian life is accompanied by the presence of the Trinity and it is the “fabric” of our life. In fact, we are baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and “we are called to participate in the life of the Blessed Trinity, here in the darkness of faith, and beyond death in the eternal light” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 263). All the other Sacraments of the Church are conferred with the sign of the Cross and in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In fact, we have been confirmed with the anointing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In the Sacrament of Penance, we are forgiven for our sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Again, in this name the bride and groom are united in marriage and their love is lifted up to that of God, who is the guarantor of their mutual loyalty. In the Eucharist, it is though the action of the Holy Spirit bread and wine is changed into the body and blood of Christ.

In the priestly ordination, the new priests are consecrated in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thanks to this, the priest is placed in the Trinitarian dynamics with a special responsibility. His identity stems from the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments that is in essential relation to the mystery of the saving love of the Father (Jn. 17,6-9,24, 1Cor 1,1, 2Cor 1,1), along with the priesthood of Christ, who chooses and calls his own minister to be with Him (Mk 3:15), and with the gift of the Spirit (Jn. 20:21). In illness and in the last hour, when the priest will anoint us, he will recommend the soul in the name of the Father who created us, of the Son who has redeemed us, and of the Holy Spirit who has sanctified us. In this way, all of our Christian existence is under the irradiation of the Trinity, who lives in us in a state of grace: “We will come to him – Jesus promised us – to make our home in Him.”

Immersed into the life of the Blessed Trinity, we the baptized Christian believers experience the ineffable goodness of God and are called to mirror in our lives the divine benevolence. By our efforts to awaken and cherish new life, we participate in the Father’s work of creation, generation, and maintenance. By our human works of healing, reconciling, serving, promoting the cause of justice and right, we reflect the divine Son’s own work of reconciliation and redemption. By pursuing the wisdom of heart and good inspiration, by responding to the call of holiness, by promoting community-communion, we give witness to the animating movement of the Holy Spirit. The functions of the three persons of the Blessed Trinity intertwine, influence and complement each other.