Pentecost Sunday

On the day of Pentecost 1) The Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary as fiery tongues. 2) The frightened apostles were transformed into fiery preachers and evangelizers and were given the gift of tongues by a special anointing of the Holy Spirit. 3) The listeners experienced the Power and Presence of the Holy Spirit through the apostles’ gift of tongues: they heard Peter speaking in their native languages. 4) The early Christians became powerful witnesses and brave martyrs for their Faith in Jesus.

On 26thMay 2014 Pope Francis was in the Upper Room, Jerusalem, to celebrate the Eucharist as a part of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During the homily he shared that it is a great gift that the Lord has given us by bringing us together here in the Upper Room for the celebration of the Eucharist. Here, where Jesus shared the Last Supper with the apostles; where, after his resurrection, he appeared in their midst; where the Holy Spirit descended with power upon Mary and the disciples. Here the Church was born, and was born to go forth. From here she set out, with the broken bread in her hands, the wounds of Christ before her eyes, and the Spirit of love in her heart.

In the Upper Room, the risen Jesus, sent by the Father, bestowed upon the apostles his own Spirit and with this power he sent them forth to renew the face of the earth (cf. Ps104:30). To go forth, to set out, does not mean to forget. The Church, in her going forth, preserves the memory of what took place here; the Spirit, the Paraclete, reminds her of every word and every action, and reveals their true meaning.

The Upper Room speaks to us of service, of Jesus giving the disciples an example by washing their feet. Washing one another’s feet signifies welcoming, accepting, loving and serving one another. It means serving the poor, the sick and the outcast.
The Upper Room reminds us, through the Eucharist, of sacrifice. In every Eucharistic celebration Jesus offers himself for us to the Father, so that we too can be united with him, offering to God our lives, our work, our joys and our sorrows…offering everything as a spiritual sacrifice.

The Upper Room reminds us of friendship. “No longer do I call you servants – Jesus said to the Twelve – but I have called you friends” (Jn.15:15). The Lord makes us his friends, he reveals God’s will to us and he gives us his very self. This is the most beautiful part of being a Christian and, especially, of being a priest: becoming a friend of the Lord Jesus.

The Upper Room reminds us of the Teacher’s farewell and his promise to return to his friends: “When I go… I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn. 14:3). Jesus does not leave us, nor does he ever abandon us; he precedes us to the house of the Father, where he desires to bring us as well.

The Upper Room, however, also reminds us of pettiness, of curiosity – “Who is the traitor?” – and of betrayal. We ourselves, and not just others, can reawaken those attitudes whenever we look at our brother or sister with contempt, whenever we judge them, whenever by our sins we betray Jesus.

The Upper Room reminds us of sharing, fraternity, harmony and peace among ourselves. How much love and goodness has flowed from the Upper Room! How much charity has gone forth from here, like a river from its source, beginning as a stream and then expanding and becoming a great torrent. All the saints drew from this source; and hence the great river of the Church’s holiness continues to flow: from the Heart of Christ, from the Eucharist and from the Holy Spirit.
Lastly, the Upper Room reminds us of the birth of the new family, the Church, established by the risen Jesus; a family that has a Mother, the Virgin Mary. Christian families belong to this great family, and in it they find the light and strength to press on and be renewed, amid the challenges and difficulties of life. All God’s children, of every people and language, are invited and called to be part of this great family, as brothers and sisters and sons and daughters of the one Father in heaven.

The role of the Holy Spirit in Christian life: 1) As an indwelling God: Saint Paul reminds the Corinthian community of this fact when he asks, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16).  It is the Holy Spirit who develops our intimacy with God.  “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying, ‘Abba! (Father!’)” (Gal 4:6).  “God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:3).2) As a strengthening God, He strengthens us in our fight against temptations and in our mission of bearing witness to Christ by transparent Christian lives. 3) As a sanctifying God, He makes us holy through the Sacraments: a) Through Baptism He makes us children of God and heirs of Heaven. b) Through Confirmation, He makes us temples of God, warriors and defenders of the Faith. c) Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, He enables us to be reconciled with God by pardoning our sins d) Through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, He gives us spiritual nourishment by converting bread and wine into Jesus’ Body and Blood through Epiclesis. e) Through the Sacraments of the priesthood and matrimony, He makes the Church community holy. 4) As a teaching and guiding God, He clarifies and constantly reminds us of Christ’s teachings and guides the Magisterium of the Church to present Christ’s teachings correctly.  5) As a listening and talking God, He listens to our prayers and enables us to pray, and He speaks to us mainly through the Bible. 6) As a Giver of gifts, He pours out on us His gifts, fruits and charisms, thus enriching the Church.They may take different forms like prophecy, teaching, administration, acts of charity, healing and speaking in tongues, and they may reside in different persons like apostles, prophets, teachers, healers and so on.  Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit in his Letter to the Galatians “What the Spirit brings is … love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (5:22-23a).  He continues, “Since the Spirit is our life, let us be directed by the Spirit” (5:25). 

7th Sunday of Easter.B

It was during the Passover meal that he instituted the Holy Eucharist, he washed the feet of the Apostles, and finally He began to prepare the disciples for his departure.  He foretells his betrayal, gives them the great commandment of love and foretells Peter’s denial.  He then tells them that he is going to the Father’s house where he will prepare a place for them and that he will come again to take them with him.  He promises them the gift of the Holy Spirit and assures them that the Holy Spirit will teach them everything.  He warns of the world’s hatred and explains that the Spirit cannot come unless Jesus goes.  Finally, he promises them joy and peace.  Jesus then prays his “High Priestly Prayer,” of which our Gospel lesson is part.

The prayer of Jesus distinguishes three parts: 1) Jesus Prays for His Glorification (17:1-8).  2). Jesus Prays for the Faith Community (17:9-23).  3). Jesus Prays for the Eschatological Union of Father, Son, and Believers (17:24-26).  The main elements of the prayer are a) the founding of the community (17:6-8), b) the petition for the preservation and sanctification of the community (17:9-19), c) the petition for the oneness of the community (17:20-23), and d) the petition for the perfecting of the believers (17:24-26).

Jesus’ relationship: This prayer tells us something about Jesus’ relationship with his disciples.  (i) The disciples are chosen by Him, but given to Jesus by God.  It is the Holy Spirit, God, Who prompts us to become Jesus’ disciples.   (ii) Through the disciples, glory has come to Jesus because the men whom Jesus has redeemed bring honor to him.  (iii) A disciple is a man who is commissioned to a task.  As the Father has sent Jesus to redeem the world, Jesus sends out his disciples into the world, to continue the reconciliation of everyone to God. He prays for his men in order that they may be effective to win the world for him.

Jesus’ warning and promise:Further, this passage tells us that Jesus offered his men two things.  (i) He offered them a warning.  He told them that they were different from the world, and that they could not expect anything but hatred from it because their values and standards were different from those of the world.  ii) He offered them his joy.  All Jesus was saying to them was designed to bring them joy.  It is by facing the hostility of the world that they will enter into the Christian joy.

Jesus’ prayer for his disciples:Jesus prayed for the victory, unity, protection and consecration of his disciples.  (i) Jesus prayed that they might find victory by living out their Christianityin the rough-and-tumble of life. Of course, there is a need for prayer, meditation and quiet times for this equipping process.  The disciples must win the world for Christ by living out their Christianity within the world. They must bear witness to Christ through their transparent Christian lives, reflecting Christ’s love, mercy, forgiveness and spirit of humble service.  (ii) Jesus prayed for the unity of his disciples. The world cannot be evangelized by competing Churches, and that is why Jesus prayed that his disciples might be as fully one as he and the Father are one. But Christian unity is not determined by whether we agree with each other about every interpretation of Scripture or doctrine or form of Church government. Rather, Christian unity is determined by whether and how well we love one another, and whether we reflect the love of God in Christ for the world.(Eph­esians 4:4–6:one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism;e6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all).(iii) Jesus prayed for His Father’s protection for his disciples from the attacks of the Evil One. If the Disciples of Christ fall, it is because they try to meet life on their own strength and do not remember the presence of their protecting God and seek His help.  (iv). Jesus prayed that his disciples might be consecrated by the truth. (a) ‘Consecrate’ means to set apart for a special task (Jer. 1:5; Ex 28:41).  (b) It also means to equip a man with the qualities of mind, heart and character, which are necessary for that task.  God has chosen us and dedicated us for His special service of loving and obeying Him and bringing others to do the same.  He has not left us to carry out that great task with only our own strength, but by his grace He fits us for our task, if we place our lives in His hands.

The first letter of Johnwas addressed to the early Christian community beset with many problems.  Some members were advocating false doctrines.  Some of them refused to accept the full Divinity and full humanity of Jesus.  Others disregarded the commandment of love of neighbor.  Still others   denied the redemptive value of Jesus’ death and refused to accept Faith in Christ as the source of sanctification. These errors are here recognized and rejected. The letter is reaffirmation that God loves usand it isGod who first loved us.  God doesn’t love us because weare good.  God loves us because Heis good.  So what should we do?  Love one another. How are we to love each other? We show our love for God by loving one another in action.  What happens when we love one another?  God remains in us.  How do we know God remains in us?  He has given us the Spirit so we can experience His presence within us.  What happens to those who acknowledge Jesus as Son of God?  They remain in God and God remains in them.  Who is God?  God is Love.  What happens to those who remain in Love?  God remains in them and they remain in God.

6th Sunday of Easter.B

“If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love”

We have one of the most beautiful passages from the Gospel of John for our reflection today.The Gospel and the second readings are well connected with the theme of love.  Jesus gives us his commandment of love. “This is my commandment: Love one another as I have loved you”.

What is love?Bishop Fulton Sheen says that it is the most used and misused four letters word in English language. However John uses the Greek word agapein his gospel and in the three letters attributed to him. Pope Benedict the XVI in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Estspeaks about “three aspects of love”The first of these is eros , which is applied to romantic love, often considered to be selfish than genuine. The second is philia,which in a way is the love of friendship, is essentially mutual and shared, and touches every aspect of a person’s being expressing itself in a total transparency through intimacy. Finally, agape describes a love, which reaches out to others without expecting anything in return. Such is the love of God for his creation. God’s loves is poured out in abundance on every single creature and it continues to flow out whether there is a response or not. This is the love, which the father in the story of the Prodigal Son shows to the wayward son who has gone far away and wasted all his father’s gifts on a debauched life. It is that love of agape, which we too, are supposed to have. It is this love that enables us to love our enemies and want to be reconciled with them. To love them with agape is to want the very best for them, to want them to reform, to be changed and healed of hate and negativity.

Where there is God, there is love:  John says today, “Wherever there is love, there is God”. He does not say, “Wherever there are Christians, there is God” or “Wherever there is a Christian church, there is God”. But, wherever there is a person filled with real agape-love for others, God is there. That is the meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan. He was called “good” not because he was a religious person but because he reached out in compassionate love for someone who was supposed to be his enemy. Wherever in the world there is truth, compassion, justice, true freedom and peace, God is certainly there.

What gives value to my life?Perhaps I have been baptized, perhaps my family is Catholic for a long time, perhaps I fervently go to Mass every Sunday, perhaps I carefully keep all the Ten Commandments, yet if I do not really love and reach out in solidarity to brothers and sisters, whoever they are and wherever they are, I do not have God’s life in me. Paul put it well when writing to the Christians of Corinth: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1-3). God loves me unconditionally but that love is not in me if I am not passing it on to others.

One commandment: In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us just one commandment. He does not say, “Love Jesus or love God as I have loved you”. No, he says, “If you want to be my disciple, then you must love one another, as I have loved you.” If we really love our brothers and sisters, including strangers and even enemies, we do not have to worry if we love God. But, if we do not love everyone unconditionally, then there is no other way I can claim to love Jesus. I need to love those God loves (with agape) and God loves every single person without exception, even the most wicked.  In practice, of course, it is not always so easy. We need to learn slowly how to love people unconditionally. Our lower instincts and the prevailing culture around us think differently. Yet, we need to learn that the way of Jesus is in fact more in tune with our deeper nature. To love and to be loved is an innate desire in every human being. We do not like to hate people and hating does terrible things to our minds and our bodies. We like people to be our friends and do not like them to be our enemies.

Love and commandments:Love is not to be understood in terms of keeping rules and commandments. Love is a way of life. It is an internal attitude, which influences every single thing we do and say and think. The love of a Christian needs to be unconditional. Sometimes people will love us back; sometimes they will not. Sometimes, even though we want to love people, they may reject us. If they do reject us, we need not necessarily think that we have done wrong. When people cannot return genuine love, it is they who have the problem. Sad to say, not everyone is capable of loving. Then there is all the more reason why we need to reach out to them. People often learn to love by being loved.

The most important thing is not that I am very clever, very successful, very rich, and very famous. The most important thing is that I am someone who really loves. When I genuinely love others, there will always be some who cannot love me back but there will be others who will really respond in love.

True love is sacrificial. The model of this ultimate self-giving love is Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep (cf. Jn. 10:11). In this Easter season, it is good to focus our attention on the great act of love that the Good Shepherd carried out for us by his saving sacrifice on the cross. For, as he himself says: A greater love no one has than to give his life for his friends. This is indeed the greatest love that ever anyone had. But yet had our Savior a greater, for he gave his for both friend and foe.” Indeed, God is the love that appeared in the person of Jesus Christ. He brought this sacrificial love to perfection in his death on the cross and his rising to new life. In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us the various aspects of this love. Christian love is, first of all, a participation in the love of the Father and the Son. It springs forth from the love of the Father and the Son.

Love is forgiving: The ability to forgive shows the quality of love. Jesus taught us and showed us in His life. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” The other examples are the forgiving of woman caught in adultery, sitting with tax collectors Mathew and Zacchaeus and forgiving the Peter even after he denied him.

Love expressed in serving: Jesus said I have come not to be served, but serve and give my life as a ransom for many. He washed the feet of his disciples and asked them to follow His example. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, taught the ignorant and accepted the rejected.

Easter 2018

In the history of the world, only one tomb has ever been had a rock rolled before it, and a soldier set to guard to prevent the dead man Jesus from rising . They certified that he was dead, yet they watched because he had called his body the temple, which if destroyed will built up in three days. He compared himself to Jonah who was in the belly of a fish for three days and three nights. He is the one who raised dead Lazarus, son of the poor widow of Naim and daughter of Jaiurs. The enemies of Christ expected the resurrection, but it was unfortunate that his friends and disciples did not. The weeping Magdalene came to the tomb to anoint and not to see the resurrected Lord, but to anoint his body.

Dr. Paul Tillich one of the great minds of the time was asked to given lecture in the University of Chicago Divinity School. The talk lasted for two hours, in which he tried to quote scholars after scholars, book after books to prove that there was no resurrection and it is completely fabricated. Well after the talk he asked the audience if they had any questions that he would be willing to answer myth of Christianity. After his talk, he asked the audience if they had any questions, which he will be willing to answer. An young man from behind got up and said, Dr. Tillich, I have a question and started to eat an apple. As he was eating he said, I am neither a scholar not have I read any books as much as you have done. In the mean time he had finished eating the apple. My question is could you tell me about the apple I have eaten is eaten is sweet or sour? Dr. Tillick said, I cannot possibly answer as I have not tasted it. The young lad responded neither have you tasted my Jesus. The audience applauded him for his courage and deep faith in Lord. Taste and see the Lord is good Ps.34,8

The resurrection of Christ is the basis of our Christian faith.  It is the greatest of the miracles – it proves that Jesus is God.  That is why St. Paul writes: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain; and your faith is in vain”… …  And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is a delusion and you are still lost in your sins…  But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Cor 15: 14, 17, 20). “Jesus is Lord, he is risen” (Rom 10: 9) was the central theme of the kerygma (or ‘preaching’), of the apostles because Jesus prophesied it as a sign of his divinity:  “Tear down this temple and in three days I will build it again” (Jn 2: 19). The founder of no other religion has an empty tomb as Jesus has.  Resurrection of Jesus is so foundational to the Christian faith that there are 213 references to the death and resurrection of Jesus in the New Testament. St. Paul’s letters alone have 81 references to the death and resurrection of Jesus

Christ is risen, therefore our sins have been forgiven … we have risen with him to a new life, Christ’s own life have been given to us. .. we are all children of God. .. we are all brothers and sisters. … we have nothing to fear from the devil.

Resurrection of Jesus is not just an event in history that happened once upon a time in the life of a Master called Jesus. It has been an experience that transformed the whole life of his disciples. It is an experience that changed the track of human history forever. A tremendous experience, the disciples of Jesus experienced. We read of different encounters of resurrected Jesus with his disciples in the Gospels. They meet him in the closed rooms, on the way, on the seashore. In different ways! In different forms! He strengthens their faith. He provides them a new way of looking at realities, which they were not able to do till then. Their life gets transformed by an experience, which had no physical proof available.

Two things are worth considering: First of all, the disciples experienced a new level of freedom in their life, which until then they were not able to do. The bondages of the body, the chains that bind one to this world, the relations, the fears and aspirations of the mind are broken into pieces. A new level of existence slowly begins to reveal itself to the disciples and through them to the human existence. How is one going to achieve this new level of existence? The real freedom comes through opening up of the doors of one’s existence to unselfish love and unconditional forgiveness. When the doors of one’s heart and soul are kept open to the unencumbered embrace of even the enemy; then that is the point of flight heavenward. That is the moment of resurrection. That is the realm of the resurrected life.

Secondly, the proof of resurrection is the transformed life. The transformed life of the disciples is the only proof of the resurrection of Jesus. The courage and conviction they manifest in later days speak volumes of the reality of resurrection. One divine touch is waiting for us to transform us into new creations. In Johannine version of Resurrection apparition, Jesus calls out to Mary Magdalene, “Mary”. Immediately Mary turns around and calls, “Rabooni (Master)”. She has been talking to the same person for quite some time. But the right moment of transformation came when the call came from the master. It was an immediate “turning around” for Mary. The doors of realization open wide on her face. She runs fast to others to convey the new experience she started experiencing before its warmth subsides. This is resurrection experience.

Faith in the resurrection of Jesus invites us for a transition from the old way of life to a new way of life as depicted by St. Paul in his letter to Ephesians (4:22-24). “Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts….. and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” St. Paul again describes the characteristics of the old man and the new man in his letter to the Galatians (4:19-23). The characteristics of the “old man” are immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness and the like. The Characteristics of the “new man” are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control and they are the fruits of the spirit. It will be a great contradiction if we confess our faith in the resurrected Jesus and at the same time live a life of the “old man”. Both can never go together.


Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

This is the time of the year we are called to remember and relive the events, which brought about our redemption and salvation. What we commemorate and relive during this week is not just Jesus’ dying and rising, but our own dying and rising in him, which will result in our healing, reconciliation, and redemption. Proper participation in the Holy Week liturgy will deepen our relationship with God, increase our faith and strengthen our lives as disciples of Jesus. Today’s liturgy combines two contrasting moments of glory and suffering -the welcome of Jesus in Jerusalem and the drama of his trial culminating in his crucifixion.

Bishop Fulton Sheen speaks of the worst paradox that was ever written in history. On the one hand the sovereignty of the Lord and on the other His need. This is the combination of Divinity and dependence, of possession and poverty was the consequence of the Word becoming Flesh.

He was rich became poor for our sake, that we might become rich. He borrowed a boat from a fisherman from which to preach; He borrowed barley loaves and fishes from a boy to feed the multitude; He borrowed a grave from which He would rise; and now He borrowed an ass on which to enter Jerusalem.

In the second part of today’s Gospel, we listen to the Passion of Christ according to Mark.  We are challenged to examine our own lives in the light of some of the characters in the Passion story – like Peter who denied Jesus, Judas who betrayed Jesus, Herod who ridiculed Jesus, Pilate who acted against his conscience as he condemned Jesus to death on the cross, and the leaders of the people who preserved their position by getting rid of Jesus.

The Pharisees: They were religious men, who devoted all their energy to doing good and study of God’s Law. They were absolutely convinced of their own rightness, and history shows that such men are capable of the most appalling evil.

Caiphas: He was preoccupied with religious orthodoxy and how easily people led astray by false Messiahs. History of the church proves blunders in the name of the Gospel.

Pilate: He knew that Christ was innocent, but gave in to the demands of the people rather than justice be done. He was more worried about the security of his job.

Judas: A man of no character, who could never be trusted. He preferred money, and was ready to betray his master. The same betrayal continues even today in the lives of many people.

Peter: A weak and cowardly man. Jesus forgave him because he repented. When we refuse to stand for the truth and refuse to speak up, we too fall into the same boat.

The soldiers: They simply carried out the orders without thinking. We too often take up this position without taking up responsibility.

The crowd: They were influenced and carried away without knowing what was happening. We too often carried away by the crowd when we do not stand up for the truth.

Will Jesus need to cleanse my heart with His whip?  Jesus cannot tolerate the desecration of the temple of the Holy Spirit in me by my addiction to uncharitable, unjust and impure thoughts words and deeds; neither does He approve of my calculation of loss and gain in my relationship with God.

Do I welcome Jesus into my heart?  Am I ready to surrender my life to Him during this Holy Week and welcome Him into all areas of my life as my Lord and Savior, singing “Hosanna”? Today, we receive palm branches at the Divine Liturgy. Let us take them to our homes and put them some place where we can always see them. Let the palms remind us that Christ is the King of our families that Christ is the King of our hearts and that Christ is the only true answer to our quest for happiness and meaning in our lives. And if we do proclaim Christ as our King, let us try to make time for Him in our daily life; let us be reminded that He is the One with whom we will be spending eternity. Let us be reminded further that our careers, our education, our finances, our homes, all of the basic material needs in our lives are only temporary. Let us prioritize and place Christ the King as the primary concern in our lives. It is only when we have done this that we will find true peace and happiness in our confused and complex world.

Are we ready to become like the humble donkey that carried Jesus?   As we “carry Jesus” to the world, we can expect to receive the same welcome that Jesus received on Palm Sunday, but we must also expect to meet the same opposition, crosses and trials later.  Like the donkey, we are called upon to carry Christ to a world that does not know Him. Let us always remember that a Christian without Christ is a contradiction in terms.  Such a one betrays the Christian message. Hence, let us become transparent Christians during this Holy Week, enabling others to see in us Jesus’ universal love, unconditional forgiveness and sacrificial service.

5th Sunday of Lent (B)

“We want to see Jesus”

The word of God of the day presents us with a challenge: Just as Jesus became the “Promised Messiah of Glory” and the” Conquering Son of Man” by offering his life for others, we, too, must possess Heaven by dying to self and spending our lives in self-giving, sacrificial service.  They focus on the upcoming death of Jesus, which is interpreted not only as a priestly sacrifice (Heb. 5) but also as the moment of his “exaltation” and “glorification” (Jn. 12). The Gospel hints at Jesus’ inner struggle in accepting the cup of suffering to inaugurate the New and everlasting Covenant.  However, Jesus accepts the cross as his “hour,” meaning the stepping-stone to his passion, death, Resurrection and exaltation.

Some Greek pilgrims who were either new converts to Judaism or mere ‘truth-seekers’ were greatly impressed by the royal reception given to Jesus on Palm Sunday and by the subsequent cleansing of the Temple by Jesus.  Hence, they approached the apostle Philip who had a Greek name and requested a private interview with the Master.  When Jesus was told about the presence of some people who wanted to see him, he knew that his hour had come. His death and his glorification were near at hand. When someone really searches for him, it convinces him that the end of his life is near. If someone among us is interested in Jesus, he should remember that it is not just personal curiosity that leads him to seek Jesus, but rather, the desire of Jesus to offer himself for each one of us. Jesus himself said so: “when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself.” Jesus’ death on the cross for us is the source and the reason for our interest in him. Despite our fickleness and forgetfulness, Jesus has paid a high price to gain our attention. If we forget this, it will be more difficult for us to come back to him. It was to ensure that we show an interest in him and a desire to meet him, that Jesus died on the cross for us.

The hour of glorification for the “Son of Man”: The “hour” Jesus refers to is his time for glorifying his Heavenly Father and of being glorified by his Father.  It is also the way by which he draws all people into the saving action of God.  Jesus’ being “lifted up” on the cross to glorify his Father reminds us that we too can glorify God by wholeheartedly accepting our crosses from our loving Heavenly Father.

Jesus uses the occasion to declare that he is the “Son of Man” prophesied by Daniel, and that his time of glorification is at hand.  He immediately corrects the false notion of a political messiah hoped and longed by the Jewish people by stating that he is going to be glorified by his suffering, death and Resurrection. The term “Son of Man” is taken from Daniel 7:13.  The seventh chapter begins with the description of a frightening vision of Daniel in which he sees the cruel and savage world powers of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes and the Persians as wild beasts like a winged lion, a bear with three tusks, a four-headed leopard and a terrible, ten-horned wild beast.  At last, Daniel sees a gentle, humane and gracious ruler in the form of a man.  The Jews, under repeated foreign rules and bondages, dreamed of such a God-sent ruler and preferred to call this “promised Messiah” by the name “Son of Man.”  It was but natural that the apostles shared this view and consequently saw the “Son of Man” in Jesus.  Jesus promptly corrected them, however, replacing their dream of conquest and political power with a vision of His cross and suffering.

The metaphors of the “dying grain of wheat” and of the “surrendered life”: Jesus explains to his apostles that it is by his suffering and death that he is bringing life and liberation to the sinful world, just as a grain of wheat sown in the field ceases to remain itself alone, “just a seed,” by germinating and then growing into a plant which produces many new grains of wheat.  In the same way, it is by the self-sacrificial lives of holy men and women that life and salvation come to mankind.  In other words, when we “die” to our selfishness, we “rise” to new life in Jesus Christ.  To be “buried in the earth” means avoiding sin, accepting suffering and living for others.

Each of us is a like a grain of wheat planted by the Heavenly Father. That grain must die if it is to produce a harvest. This dying to self is a gradual process and happens in ordinary ways. Every act of kindness involves dying to meanness. Every act of love involves dying to selfishness. Every act of humility involves dying to pride. Every act of courage involves dying to cowardice. Every act of forgiveness involves dying to bitterness.

When a person’s life is producing a rich harvest of such acts, it means that the grain of wheat has well and truly died. The false self is dying and the true self, made in God’s image, is slowly being born. It is the true self alone that will inherit eternal life, for there is no place for what is false in the presence of God. It would melt like snow before the sun.

4th Sunday of Lent (B)

The Gospel of John is often considered the most difficult of the Gospels – highly symbolic in its expression and deeply theological in its content.  John likes to use terms with more than one meaning and thus invite us to a deeper level of reflection. The core of Christianity is the experience of the love of God in the person of Jesus.  Unlike the other religions in Christianity it is God who takes the initiative and all that we need to do is to respond to it with love and submission. This is the experience of our salvation. Jesus is the visible manifestation of God and believing in Him is being open to the possibility that we can experience God in the person of Jesus.

The Gospel of today makes a comparison with Moses, who was also an agent of God and a savior of God’s people. In this Biblical passage, Jesus was referring to an event that occurred in the days of the Old Testament. The Israelites in the desert had been complaining bitterly about their conditions and were punished by God who sent a plague of serpents among the people and many died. At God’s command, Moses raised up a bronze serpent on a pole “and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he recovered”. John tells us that Jesus too will be lifted up. For John Jesus’ being “lifted up” includes both his being raised up on a cross and being raised up to be with his Father in glory at the resurrection.

B) Believing in Jesus: This includes three elements: 1) the belief that God is our loving Father, 2) the belief that Jesus is the Son of God and, therefore, tells us the truth about God and life, and 3) the belief that we must give unquestioning obedience to Jesus. “I believe in ” means I put my trust in Jesus and I seek to obey Him. The Faith of which our Lord speaks is not just intellectual acceptance of the truths He has taught: it involves recognizing Him as Son of God (cf. 1 John 5:1), sharing His very life (cf. John 1:12) and surrendering ourselves to Him out of love, thereby becoming like Him (cf. John 10:27; 1 John 3:2).

The Gospel of the Gospels: John 3:16 is probably the best loved verse in the Bible and it has been called “everybody’s text” and the “Gospel of the Gospels.”  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” This is the summary of the Gospel message of salvation through Christ Jesus. This text is the very essence of the Gospel. It tells us that the God takes the initiative in all salvation because of His love for man.

God’s love for us is personal as St. Augustine puts it: “God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love.” It also explains to us the universality of the love of God. God’s motive is love and God’s objective is salvation. Those who actually receive eternal life must believe in the Son.

Gospel reveals that the depth of God’s love is sacrificial. God gave us the only Son, allowed the only Son to be “lifted up” on a cross, and now remains patient with us while we struggle with choosing between darkness and light, evil and truth. Moreover, in the very midst of our ongoing struggle, it is God who brings us to greater belief and leads us to eternal life. Such is the depth of love God has for us. God here sacrifices something most precious to him, his own son so that we may have life in and through him.

God’s love is forgiving: God is love and forgiveness is the essence of this great love God has for us. The parable of the prodigal son is a very powerful example of God’s forgiving attitude. He forgave the sinners and reconciled them to God. “It is mercy that I desire and not sacrifice.” The culmination of it is from the cross “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Love of darkness and God’s judgment:  When we walk according to the teachings of Christ, we are walking in the Light. If we oppose these teachings, we oppose Christ himself; hence, we are walking in darkness. In today’s text, we are told, Light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. There are many dark corners in our world.  Addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling and pornography, sexual immorality, environmental irresponsibility, and a lack of purpose among so many of us, especially among young people are a few of these dark corners.  It is very easy to pretend that these dark corners don’t exist.   Our lives matter to God, and He knows all about the dark corners in our lives. He wants us to stop hiding our sin in the dark and demands that we expose every dark corner to His Light of life. He is giving to us the Light that not only shows up the dirt in our lives but cleanse it away. He died so that we could be made new and clean. Freely, the light of His forgiveness shines into our lives, brightening up every corner, forgiving every sin, restoring our relationship with God, renewing our lives.

We need to love the cross, the symbol of God’s forgiving and merciful love: The crucifix – the symbol of the “lifted up” Jesus – holds a central place in our Churches because it is a forceful reminder not only of God’s love and mercy, but also of the price of our salvation.  Hence, no Christian home should be without this symbol of God’s love.  The crucifix invites us to respond with more than compassion; it inspires us to remove the suffering of other people’s misery.  It encourages us not only to feel deep sorrow for another’s suffering, but also to try our best to remove that suffering. Hence, let us love the cross, wear its image and carry our own daily cross with joy.

Let us be bearers of Jesus’ light and carry it to other people. When we allow the Light of God’s forgiveness to shine in our lives, it brightens up every corner, forgives every sin, restores our relationship with God and renews our lives. Whoever follows Jesus will not walk in darkness. We will experience the joy and peace of sins forgiven, of new attitudes and of new relationships with family and friends. Jesus’ Light of truth, justice, holiness and charity shining in our lives ought to bring blessing to others. We are to let this Light of Christ shine through us into the lives of the people around us.  The Light we give to others can dispel the darkness of their lives and bring them to a completely new outlook. Let us not underestimate what the Light of Christ can do through us. As Jesus said: “You are the light of the world…. your light must shine before people so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16).

3rd Sunday in Lent (B)

The Gospel of today focuses on cleansing of the Temple by Jesus. In the Synoptic Gospels, this scene takes place at the end of the “Palm Sunday Procession” into the holy city. With the people shouting out in triumph, Jesus entered into the temple area, not to do homage but to challenge the temple and its leaders. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and upset the stalls of those selling birds and animals for the sacrifice. What a teaching moment this was! Jesus quoted from the Scriptures: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations … but you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17, Isaiah 56:6-7, Jeremiah 7:11).

What saddens Jesus is to see the degeneration of a religious place caused by a logic of merchandising the sacred as if God could be bought. It is indeed a petty reduction of God. Instead of worshiping God, gratuitous love, with offerings that show a gratitude for this providential love, it becomes a serious impoverishment of the face of God, who is gratuitous Love. God the Father is not an officer to be bribed or a salesperson appease with a big donation. In short, we cannot bargain with God. He stopped the temple service that had outlived its aim and was no longer relevant existence.

In the Fourth Gospel, the cleansing of the temple takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and not at the beginning of the events of the last days of Jesus’ life. The startling words and actions of Jesus in the temple, whether they are from the Synoptic accounts or John’s account, took on new meaning for later generations of Christians. “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house into a market place!” The temple was not a commercial center or shopping mall but rather a holy place of the Father. Like the prophets before him, Jesus tried to awaken the hearts of his people.

Jesus’ disciples recall him saying in the temple the words of Psalm 68:10: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” When the magnificent Temple of Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans, and both Jews and Christians grieved at its loss, the followers of Jesus recalled this incident in the temple. Now they could see new meaning in it; it was a sign that the old temple was finished but a new temple was to be built. This new temple would not be of stone and wood and gold. It would be a living temple of holy people (I Peter 2:4-6; Ephesians 2:19-22).

Extreme Jesus: One intriguing aspect of today’s Gospel story is the portrait of an angry Jesus in the temple-cleansing scene that gives way to two extremes in our own image of the Lord. Some people wish to transform an otherwise passive Christ into a whip-cracking revolutionary. Others would like to excise any human qualities of Jesus and paint a very meek, bland character, who smiled, kept silent and never rocked the boat. The errors of the old extreme, however, do not justify a new extremism.

Jesus was not exclusively, not even primarily, concerned with social reform. Rather, he was filled with a deep devotion and burning love for his Father and the things of his Father. He wanted to form new people, created in God’s image, who are sustained by his love, and bring that love to others. Jesus’ disciples and apostles recognized him as a passionate figure; one who was committed to life and to losing it for the sake of truth and fidelity.

The Prophets have spoken in the name of God about the kind of worship they ought to do. It is mercy that I desire and not sacrifice. The Lord says: Do you think I like the sacrifices you keep offering to me? Who asked you to do all these when you come to worship me? Who asked you to do all the tramping about in my temple? He continues to say what is right to do. Wash yourselves clean. Stop all evil that I see you doing. Yes, stop evil, and learn to do right. See that justice is done. Help those who are oppressed. Give orphans their right and defend the widows.

After this event Pharisees quizzed Jesus whether he could show any sign to them. Jesus answers that He could rebuild the temple within three days. Jesus was talking about his own body as temple. There is a message for every one of us. Jesus body is a temple. The old temple service is stopped by him and the new temple has been announced. The one in which God is with the orphans and the widows, with the marginalized of the society, with the sinners and the sick. St. Paul reminds us that even our body is the temple of God. Then we should not make it a den of robbers. If my body is the temple of God, our neighbors also are temples of God. This should prompt us to respect and revere them. As temple is kept neat and tidy, we should keep the temple premises, our environment neat and clean.

Message of the cross: In St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (1:18, 22-25), we hear about “the message of the cross that is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” For St. Paul, the cross represents the center of his theology: To say cross means to say salvation as grace given to every creature. It was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. The “scandal” and the “foolishness” of the cross are precisely in the fact that where there seems to be only failure, sorrow and defeat, precisely there, is all the power of the boundless love of God. The cross is the expression of love and love is the true power that is revealed precisely in this seeming weakness.

St. Paul has experienced this even in his own flesh, and he gives us testimony of this in various passages of his spiritual journey, which have become important points of departure for every disciple of Jesus: “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9); and even “God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something” (1 Corinthians 1:28).

2nd Sunday of Lent(B)

The event of the transfiguration of Jesus gives us a glimpse of the glorious fulfillment of Christ’s paschal journey through rejection, humiliation, suffering and resurrection. The primary purpose of Jesus’ Transfiguration was to make Jesus’ chosen disciples aware of Jesus’ Divine glory so that they might discard their worldly ambitions and dreams of a conquering political Messiah and might be strengthened in their time of trial.  The Transfiguration also established Jesus’ glorious identity as the beloved Son of God and placed his Divine Sonship in the context of Jewish expectations about the kingdom and the resurrection of the dead.

While Jesus was praying his face changed and his clothing became radiant white. It wasn’t that Jesus reflected light, it wasn’t light shining on Jesus, but it was light coming from Jesus. Now Jesus’ divinity shone forth through his humanity. When Jesus is in prayer with his Father we see his true self; his divinity is revealed like never before, as he shares in the radiance of his Father. In the Nicene Creed we profess that Jesus is truly divine, begotten of the Father, consubstantial with the Father, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” When Jesus was transfigured, the Father and Son, Light and Light, are in prayerful union. When we pray, light doesn’t shine through us but we ask God to shine his light on us. When Moses came down Mount Sinai his face shone because he had been talking with God (Ex 34:29) and he had to put a veil on his face (Ex 34:34-35). When we pray, we enter the presence of God, God’s light. Our faces do not shine, but we ask to be enlightened in prayer. Peter said to Jesus, “it is good that we are here” and when we pray, we are our truest self because our longing for God is now being fulfilled.

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 Kings 8:10-11).   We are told how God revealed His presence in the Temple of Jerusalem on the day the Ark of the Covenant was placed under the cherubim, and the Temple was dedicated: “When the priests left the Holy place, the Cloud filled the entire Temple, so that the priests could no longer minister, because of the Cloud, since the Lord’ Glory had filled the Temple of the Lord” (1 Kgs 8:10-11). 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 Beloved Son; listen to him,” are similar to the words used by God at Jesus’ baptism: “You are My beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” Mk 1:11). At the moment of Jesus’ death, a Roman centurion would declare, “Truly, this man was the Son of God” (15:39).  These words summarize the meaning of the Transfiguration, that on this mountain, God revealed Jesus as His Son — His beloved — the One in whom He is always well pleased and the One to whom we must listen.

The three transformations in our lives in our journey towards eternity: The first change begins at Baptism, which washes away original sin, transforming us into children of God and heirs of Heaven. The second transformation takes place through our victory over the trials and tribulations of life.  Every challenge, every difficulty, every moment of suffering, is an opportunity for transformation and spiritual growth. The third transformation takes place at death.  Eternal life in Heaven, perhaps after a period of further transformation in purgatory, is granted to those who have been found worthy.  The last transformation or transfiguration will be completed at the Second Coming when our glorified body is reunited with our soul.

The transubstantiation in the Holy Mass is the source of our strength: In each Holy Mass, the bread and wine we offer on the altar are changed into the crucified and risen, living body and blood of Jesus.  Just as Jesus’ Transfiguration strengthened the apostles in their time of trial, each holy Mass should be our source of heavenly strength against temptations, and our renewal during Lent.  In addition, our holy Communion with the living Jesus should be the source of our daily “transfiguration,” transforming our minds and hearts so that we may do more good by humble and selfless service to others.

Each time we receive one of the Sacraments, we are transformed: For example, Baptism transforms us into sons and daughters of God and heirs of Heaven. Confirmation makes us temples of the Holy Spirit and warriors of God.  By the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God brings back the sinner to the path of holiness.

We need “mountain-top experiences” in our lives: We share the “mountain-top experience” of Peter, James and John when we spend extra time in prayer during Lent.  Fasting for one day will help the body to store up spiritual energy.  This spiritual energy can help us have thoughts that are far higher and nobler than our usual mundane thinking.  The hunger we experience puts us more closely in touch with God and makes us more willing to help the hungry.  The crosses of our daily lives also can lead us to the glory of transfiguration and resurrection.

We need transformation in our Christian lives so that we may seek reconciliation instead of revenge, love our enemies, pray for those who hate us, give to the needy without expecting a reward, refuse to judge others and make friends with those we don’t naturally like. This transformation will also enable us to hold back on harsh words and let love rule so that we may seek reconciliation rather than revenge, pray for those who give us a hard time, avoid bad-mouthing those we don’t agree with, forgive those who hurt us, and love those who hate us.

1st Sunday of Lent (B)

“Repent and believe in the Good News of God’s Kingdom.”

Lent is a time of repentance and conversion through self-examination, self-discipline and self-commitment. It is the time to return, renew and reconcile our relationship with God. It is an invitation to respond positively for a purposeful reflection on one’s need for encountering God. During lent we spend six weeks preparing to celebrate the high point of our faith: the Paschal Mystery, the suffering, death and resurrection of the Incarnate God. Formerly it was a time of severe penance as a way of purifying ourselves from our sinful habits and preparing ready to celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ with a renewed commitment to follow him.

In the Gospel of today, mark tells us that after his baptism, Jesus goes into the desert for forty days. And, during that time, he is tested by the evil one. Mark does not say how he was tested or tempted but Matthew and Luke do. These tests are really examples of the kind of tests that Jesus was to face in the course of his public life and how we are going to be tempted in our life. There is the temptation to change stones to bread so that Jesus satisfies the hunger, to jump down the pinnacle of the temple and present himself as messiah, and finally to worship the Satan and receive the universe as a reward. These temptations can be summarized to say that it was an invitation to be unfaithful to the Mission of the Lord. Satan shows the easy way but the Father wants Jesus to be faithful to his mission of suffering and death to rise again. He is tested frequently by enemies from among his own people and by the Romans. His own relatives say that he is out of his mind (Mark 3: 21). The most severe temptation comes when he appears to have failed in his mission; he is misunderstood, betrayed, and abandoned by his disciples; he is arrested, undergoes the humiliation and torture associated with a criminal’s public execution; and finally he apparently has the experience of being forsaken by God while dying on a cross.

Mark here gives us the first public words of Jesus, his Messianic mission’s basic keynote speech, which has four specific messages: “The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent. Believe in the Gospel.” This message summarizes the purpose of Jesus’ ministry. In this statement Jesus is not asking his audience to do or not to do something to shape their future in Heaven.  He is concerned with the here and now. Repentance, (metanoia) is a change of mind and heart, a lifelong process of transformation. The Good News Jesus announced is that God is already working here among us, so close to us that we can reach out and touch Him in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Man. But we will be able to experience Jesus as Son of God only if we undergo a complete change in our value system and priorities by means of true repentance. Jesus announces, “the time has come,” meaning that the long-expected “Kingdom of God” is present in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is at hand. His kingdom is not a political kingdom but a spiritual one. That is why when Pilate questions Jesus says that his kingdom is not of this world. This kingdom is God’s rule in the heart of the individual. This was established with creation and man lost it through his disobedience and God wants to restore it in Jesus. This will be fully realized at the end of times when Jesus restores all things to the Father. How are we to achieve this kingdom? We can achieve this by “believing in the Gospel”. Not just believing that the Gospel is true; but believing IN the Gospel. There is a world of difference between believing something and believing in something, or, even more significantly, believing in a person. Where the Kingdom is concerned, this involves a total commitment of ourselves to the way of life presented in the Gospel and a sharing of its vision of life. This will mean a turning upside down of many of the values we take for granted and which prevail in our world.

The presence of God’s Kingdom in Jesus is revealed also by the liberation of people from the destructive forces in their lives, by the bringing back of the rejected and the outcast, by the forgiveness and reconciliation given to repentant sinners and finally by the supreme act of self-giving love of Jesus’ passion, death and Resurrection. “Believing in the Gospel” means a total commitment to the way of life presented in the Gospel and a sharing of its vision of life.

In the Second Reading taken from the First Letter of Peter, we heard the author speaking to the believers about their suffering and the sufferings of Jesus. Peter tells them that since Jesus had triumphed, they would also triumph. Their Baptism was the pledge of their triumph for it gave them a share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He also tells the Gentile community that Jesus suffered for our sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring us to God. The sacrifice of Jesus was not just for a few, but for all of us, from the beginning of time until the end of time. He, who was sinless, took upon Himself the weight of our sins and allowed Himself to be crucified in our place so God the Father may be appeased. Christ died for us!