29th Sunday O T Year B

29th Sunday O T Year B

Is.53:10-11; Heb.4:14-16; Mk.10: 35-45

A priest went into a Washington, D. C. barber shop for a haircut. When the barber finished, the priest asked him what the charge was and the barber responded, “No charge, Father, you are serving the Lord and I consider my service rendered to you as a service to the Lord.”

The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop he found at his front door a stack of usable Christmas cards and a note of thanks from the priest. A few days later, a police officer went to the same barber for a haircut. When he went to pay, the barber said, “No charge, officer.

I consider it a service to our community because you serve our community.” The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop there were a dozen donuts at the front door and a note of thanks from the policeman.

A few days after this an influential senator came in for a haircut.

“No charge, Senator, I consider it a service to my country.”

The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop there were two congressmen waiting for their chance for the barber’s free service, carrying a note of thanks from the Senator!

Today’s readings describe leadership as the sacrificial service done to others and offer Jesus as the best example. They also explain the servant leadership of Jesus, pinpointing service and sacrifice as the criteria of greatness in Christ’s kingdom.

The gospel teaches us that true happiness comes from surrendering ourselves completely in humble service to God through Christ. And all we need is a servant’s heart, mind, eyes and touch.

Our Gospel reading for today is another classic text on the question of ambition. For the third time, (Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:32), Jesus predicts his own death.

In spite of Jesus’ two previous predictions, James and John still thought of him as a revolutionary freedom-fighter and shared the Jewish belief that the Messiah would be a political king, sitting on David’s throne and ruling over a re-united Israel.

They thought that they were sure that the purpose of Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem was to overthrow the Roman rulers. Hence, they wanted an assurance from Jesus that he would make them his first- and second-in- command in his messianic kingdom.

James and John picked a bad moment. St John Chrysostom said, “Their timing was precisely wrong for this was not the right time for crowns or prizes.

It was the time for struggles, contests, toils, sweat, wrestling rings and battles.” Jesus is going deliberately towards suffering and death.

It is easy to imagine that procession: Jesus striding ahead, the disciples following in a daze, and the crowd bewildered. Normal prudence would urge us to avoid suffering and death – to go in the other direction.

But this scene is telling us something about the wisdom of the cross. The request of James and John revealed their lack of understanding of true leadership.

They were looking for positions of power and prestige. They thought that leadership came from where you sat rather than how you served.

Jesus gave them a sharp rebuke when he said, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

Without fully understanding what Jesus meant, James and John quickly affirmed that they could share in their master’s cup and baptism.

They had no understanding of the personal cost that lay behind these two images. To drink the cup is to accept the reality of suffering and to do God’s will in the midst of it, as Jesus did in Gethsemane.

Those who follow the way of Jesus and seek to imitate his example of servant leadership must be willing even to suffer for others.

Naturally, the request of James and John angered the other disciples. They were upset that James and John had tried to gain some advantage over them.

So Jesus called them all together to give them yet another lecture on real leadership in the kingdom of God.

Jesus told his disciples plainly what his mission was, how he was going to accomplish it and what should be the criteria of greatness among his disciples.

He summarized his mission in one sentence, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Here, he challenged his apostles to share not only his power, but his service, by sacrificing themselves for others as he had done.

According to Jesus, greatness consists not in what we have, nor in what we can get from others but in what we give to others.

The CEO in Jesus’ kingdom is the one who serves the needs of all the others. Very often, people in authority act as if others exist only to serve them.

We forget the fact that authority is different from power. Power is something a person has and forces on people. Authority is something a person gains – it’s given to one by the people one leads. One can gain authority from those one leads only through service and sacrifice.

When people see that a person has their best interests at heart and is willing to sacrifice and serve them, they will be willing to follow. That’s real leadership and authority.

Jesus saw authority as an opportunity to serve others rather than to promote his own honor and glory.

He connected authority with selfless service. He considered authority without sacrificial love as merely self-serving. We are challenged to give our lives in loving service to others.

To become an authentic disciple of Jesus means to put ourselves in the humble, demanding role of servant to others, to intentionally seek the happiness and fulfillment of those we love regardless of the cost to ourselves.

Let me end with the words of Rabindranath Tagore an Indian Poet. “I discovered that Service is Joy.” It may sound unbelievable, but it is true that Asia’s first Nobel Prize winner in Literature (1913), Rabindranath Tagore, was behind the three great national anthems of three nations.

The nations are Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. He was also the first non-westerner to win the Nobel Prize in literature. He did so in 1913. He wrote this short poem:

I slept and dreamt that life was Joy;

Then I awoke and realized that life was Service.

And then I went to work – and, lo and behold,

I discovered that Service is Joy.

We are challenged to give our lives in loving service to others. As Christians, we are all invited to serve others – and to serve with a smile!

Be Blessed And Be A Blessing. Amen.


28th Sunday OT Year B

28th Sunday O T Year B

Wis.7:7-11, Heb.4:12-13, Mk.10:17-30

A little child was playing one day with a very valuable vase. All of a sudden he put his hand into it and could not withdraw it. His dad, too, tried his best, but all in vain. They were thinking of breaking the vase when the father said, “Now, my son, make one more try.

Open your hand and hold your fingers out straight as you see me doing, and then pull.” To the Dad’s astonishment the little fellow said, “Oh no, Dad. I couldn’t put my fingers out like that, because if I did I would drop my pennies that I have in my hand.

Many of us are like that little boy, so busy holding on to the worthless pennies of the world that we cannot accept liberation.

The rich young man in today’s gospel is just another example.

He wants eternal life but will not let go “the peanuts” of riches. The young man is a metaphor of all our lives. His story deserves our attention.

Today’s readings remind us that we do not possess anything in our life that we refuse to surrender to the Lord. In reality these things often possess us, and we become the prisoners of our possessions.

The first reading advises us to use the God-given virtue of prudence and to seek true wisdom in preference to vanishing realities like riches or political and social influence.

Solomon chose Wisdom before everything else. But when he accepted Wisdom, he received everything else along with her.

The second reading warns us that we are accountable before God as to how we use our blessings.

In today’s Gospel we find three sections:

A narrative about Jesus’ encounter with a rich man, Jesus’ sayings about wealth as a possible obstacle to following him and Jesus’ promise of reward for those who share their material possessions with the needy.

Let me quote a sentence from the first reading. “I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me…. Compared with her I held riches as nothing.”

This is the background to the gospel story of the rich young man, who made the wrong choice: when the choice was put to him “his face fell and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.”

This man (in Matthew, a young man) runs up to Jesus and with totally exaggerated courtesy asks him what he must do, etc. Full marks for enthusiasm, but none for follow-through.

You can imagine him running up to any and every new teacher, and turning away disappointed when they asked him to change his life.

He wanted religion as entertainment; he was interested in using religion for his own purposes, perhaps, without being challenged by it. We all have that in us. Some of us avoid the challenge by refusing to change, others by changing all the time.

The rich young man was a true believer in the other God: Mammon. There can be no final peace between these; they are the ultimate rivals. Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and Mammon” (Matt.6:24). Some people would say, “Can we not serve God and Mammon?

We become very skilled at keeping them in combination. Sometimes we are capable of using God as a cover for our worship of Mammon.

More commonly we serve God, as we imagine, but with the mind of Mammon, calculating in every area of life as if everything were bargains and profit.

But the most common solution of all is to keep them in separate worlds; God in the world of theory and Mammon in the world of practice. Is there any hope for us? Yes, there’s always hope.

As usual, Mark shows a more ‘feeling’ Jesus. Matthew and Luke write simply, “Jesus answered…”, but Mark writes, “Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and said….”

From Matthew and Luke you could get the impression that the rich man was a write-off. True, he is never heard of again in the New Testament, but could anyone whom Jesus loved be a write-off?

Jesus did not demand perfection of him; he just held it before him as an invitation.

An invitation is by its nature optional; you cannot imagine Jesus taking any kind of revenge on him for refusing it. There are stages in our life, and the Lord has more patience with us than we have with ourselves or with one another.

All three Gospel writers say that the rich man became “sad.” They didn’t need to say that Jesus was sad, because it was so obvious. The Twelve were all called individually by Jesus, and they all followed. Even Judas followed for three years.

But the rich young man is the only one in the New Testament who was called individually and did not follow. “He went away sorrowful, because he was very rich” (Matt.19:22).

There is nothing quite like wealth for closing the ears and the mind, for deadening the conscience.

After a while it also closes the eyes, so that we no longer see the poor. That rich young man is never heard of again in the New Testament. He might have become a greater apostle even than Peter or John.

A wealthy older gentleman had just recently married a lovely young lady, and was beginning to wonder whether she might have married him for his money. So he asked her, “Tell me the truth: if I lost all my money, would you still love me?”

She said reassuringly, “Oh honey, don’t be silly. Of course I would still love you. And I’d miss you terribly.” Obviously, this young man who came to Jesus in search of eternal life really wanted to be accepted by Jesus as a disciple.

However, Jesus did not want this man as a disciple on his own terms, but rather on Jesus’ terms. The young man claimed that, from his youth, he had observed all the commandments Jesus mentioned, including the fourth commandment.

His tragedy was that he loved “things” more than people. He was trapped by the idea that he could keep his possessions and still obtain God’s mercy. He failed to realize the fact that his riches had built a wall between himself and God.

In other words, his possessions “possessed” him. Even though the rich man had never killed, stolen, or committed adultery, he was breaking both the commandment forbidding idolatry and the one commanding love of neighbor. He worshiped his wealth more than God.

We need to “Do something beautiful for God” by reaching out to others. That’s the message we need to reflect on. Our most precious possession is our souls.

Let us give ourselves away and give lavishly. Mother Teresa puts it in a different way: “Do something beautiful for God. Do it with your life. Do it every day. Do it in your own way. But do it!”

We all have something in our lives that serves as a major obstacle to happiness and peace. We must recognize this obstacle and address it head-on. It may not be riches – it may be anger, holding grudges, alcohol, drugs, lust, apathy, lies, unfaithfulness, theft, or fraud.

Let us invite God into our lives and into our efforts to face and remove that one obstacle to holiness. We have a decision to make: whether to go away sad like the rich young man, or to follow Jesus and be happy. Let us choose Happiness.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

Homily for Respect Life Sunday

Homily for Respect Life Sunday

Hb.1:2-3; 2:2-4; II Tm 1:6-8, 13-14; Lk 17:5-10

Since this is Respect Life Sunday, and the beginning of Respect Life month, I would like to talk about the respect for Life. “Each of us is a Masterpiece of God’s Creation”, says Pope Francis. Pope Francis is a masterpiece of God’s Creation.

What Catholics most clearly offer the rest of the world is our inherent and deep belief that every human being is a masterpiece of God, from womb to tomb. We hear these words all the time and they are powerful. What is even more powerful is when these words become our own.

Then we become walking billboards of this inherent dignity message to the world. How do you become this walking billboard? By the transformation of your heart by God.

That’s how a transformed heart changes your views on everything. A transformed heart changes your views not just on somethings, but on all things.

The horrifying truth is this: we live now in a culture that not only does not respect life, but discards it like trash — not only at the beginning of life, but also at the end, and every place in between. What has happened to us?

Life has become disposable. I like to give you some facts. The number of unborn children slaughtered in the wombs of their mothers in the last 25 years is 1200 million in the world and 37 million in the U.S.A. (4400 per day in the U.S.).

“Planned Parenthood” in the U. S. does 327653 abortions a year or 900 abortions per day. Almost half of the women in the US over the age of 40 have undergone an abortion, with or without the consent of the baby’s father.

Hundreds of old or terminally ill people are killed in advanced countries under the names “mercy-killing” or euthanasia. Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for all U.S. men. It took the lives of 30,622 people in U.S.A. in 2001.

It is the third leading cause of death for 15-19-year-old youngsters (19 adolescents each day) and only 5% of suicides are attributed to mental illness. There are also Embryo-destruction for scientific experiments.

Why should we respect life? The Bible teaches that life is a gift of God and, hence, we have to respect it from womb to tomb. Abortion attempts to destroy a work of God. Based on the word of God, the Church teaches that an unborn child from the moment of its conception in its mother’s womb is precious because he or she carries an immortal soul.

It is God’s commandment that we shall not kill. Ex.20:13: “You shall not kill.” The circumstances of how the baby was conceived do not change the evil of abortion: it is still a baby who is killed.

Every tiny human embryo can grow into a child, and modern medical technology can enable the unborn child to survive outside its mother’s womb after five and one-half months. At two weeks’ pregnancy, the baby can move alone. The baby’s heart starts beating from the 25th day and the baby’s brain starts functioning on the 40th day.

International Law forbids the killing of innocent, defenseless people. Abortion is the killing of a defenseless child in his or her safest abode, the womb, by his or her own mother, mostly for selfish motives.

Abortion harms women physically, emotionally, psychologically, socially and spiritually. 93% of the abortions in America are for convenience.

The mother’s health is an issue only 3% of the time, and the baby’s health is an issue 3% of the time. Rape and incest are issues only 1% of the time. Ninety-three percent of all abortions in America are performed because of selfishness, just because someone doesn’t want a child!

Advocates of pro-choice follow a dangerous principle of far-reaching consequences in the society. If it is justifiable to kill unwanted children by abortion, then the old, the sick, the handicapped, the mentally ill, and the retarded can also be killed. It is all against the 6th commandment.

Pope Francis, who has captivated the world by his own beautiful heart said, “even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect”

In reference to pregnant women, the term “with child” occurs twenty-six times in the Bible. The term “with fetus” never occurs. The Bible never uses anything less than human terms to describe the unborn (Exodus 21:22-23).

In Luke chapter one, verses 36 and 41, we are told that Elizabeth conceived a “son” and that the “babe” leaped in her womb. God does not say that a “fetus” leaped in her womb! Elizabeth greets Mary (in her early pregnancy) as “my Lord’s mother.”

If God allows a child to be conceived, then God obviously has a plan for unborn children (Jer.1:5; Lk.1:13-17; Gen.4:25; Jud.13:3-5), and so to abort an unborn child is to stop a plan of God:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you… Psalm 139:13: You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works!”

We need to respect and protect all forms of human life from conception to natural death; we need to work and pray vigorously to end the culture of death. We need to speak and act against abortion in private and public forums.

Protecting human life is no more a sectarian creed than the Declaration of Independence is a sectarian document. Because all rights depend on life, the right to life is the most fundamental issue of all; if that is eliminated, the rest will follow.

We need to work to have the government enact anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia and anti-Physician- assisted suicide laws; these killings violate justice, and therefore the command of God to love one another.

We need to give real care, support and assistance to mothers with unwanted pregnancies, contemplating abortion. Helping a woman choose life affirms and empowers her. We need to teach the Church’s doctrines on abortion.

The Church cares about the women who have had abortions, forgives them, heals them, brings them peace with God, with their lost children and with themselves. The Church promises any woman who has had an abortion that if she truly repents of her sin, she will find welcome and forgiveness.

However, she has to understand the fact that abortion is a mortal sin, and it brings an automatic excommunication upon those who procure it, perform it, or cooperate in it.

Prayer to End Abortion: Lord God, I thank you today for the gift of my life, and for the lives of all my brothers and sisters. I know there is nothing that destroys more life than abortion, Yet, I rejoice that you have conquered death by the Resurrection of Your Son.

I am ready to do my part in ending abortion. Today I commit myself never to be silent, never to be passive, never to be forgetful of the unborn.

I commit myself to be active in the pro-life movement, and never to stop defending life until all my brothers and sisters are protected, and our nation once again becomes a nation with liberty and justice, not just for some, but for all. Through Christ our Lord. Amen!

26th Sunday OT Year B

26th Sunday O T Year B

Num.11:25-29; Jas.5:1-6; Mk.9:38-43, 45, 47-48

In Belfast, Ireland, a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister and a Jewish rabbi were engaged in a heated theological discussion.

Suddenly an angel appeared in their midst and said to them, “God sends you His blessings. Make one wish for peace and your wish will be fulfilled by the Almighty.”

The Protestant minister said, “Let every Catholic disappear from our lovely island. Then peace will reign supreme.” The priest said, “Let there not be a single Protestant left on our sacred Irish soil. That will bring peace to this island.”

“And what about you, Rabbi?” said the angel. “Do you have no wish of your own?” “No,” said the rabbi. “Just attend to the wishes of these two gentlemen and I shall be well pleased.”

A young man approaches a good looking girl in a Mall and asked, “You know, I have lost my girlfriend here in the Mall.

Can you talk to me for a couple of minutes?” “Why?” she asks. “Because, every time I talk to a beautiful girl, my girlfriend appears out of nowhere.”

Today’s readings give us a strong warning against jealousy, intolerance and scandal. Some of history’s sins can be attributed to jealousy.

The first murder was committed because of jealousy. Cain was jealous that Abel’s offering was accepted by God and his was not. Jesus was crucified because of the jealousy of the religious leaders.

The Jews of Antioch in Pisidia persecuted Paul and Barnabas because of jealousy. In today’s first reading Joshua is jealous of Eldad and Medad prophesying. The Israelites were jealous of Moses’ leadership.

Joshua could not tolerate these absent men prophesying in the camp without receiving God’s Spirit in the Tent of Meeting. Moses had to instruct Joshua to be tolerant.

In the gospel today the disciples were jealous of a stranger expelling demons. Remember at one point the disciples were jealous of John and James trying to get a spiritual promotion.

So today’s Gospel gives us lessons in Christian tolerance and exemplary Christian living.

The apostles wanted to reserve God’s love and healing power to themselves as the “sole owners” and “authorized distributors”!

We hear John complaining to Jesus that a stranger was driving out demons in Jesus’ Name, though he was not of their company.

They wanted Jesus to condemn the man. They may have been jealous of this stranger. Jesus, however, reprimanded his disciples for their jealousy and suspicion and invited them to broaden their vision and to recognize God’s power wherever it was found.

Like Moses in the first reading, Jesus challenged a rigid understanding of ministerial legitimacy. He wanted the apostles to rejoice in the good that others did, for God was the Doer of all good.

Jesus enunciates a principle for his disciples: “Anyone who is not against us is for us.” God can and does use anyone to do His work.

Jesus’ second warning is against scandal-givers: those who cause the “little ones” to sin. The Greek word for “little ones” is micron, meaning the smallest or the least. It can mean children, those who are new to the Faith, or those who are weak in Faith.

Jesus is pointing out that the scandalous behavior of older believers can be an obstacle to those whose Faith is just beginning to develop.

We hear the theme on scandal in the Second Reading too, we heard of James condemning the rich because of their unjust treatment to laborers while indulging in their riches.

It is a scandal that continues actually this day. In the Gospel, the scandal takes a new form. Jesus warns the older people about their scandalous behavior for this definitely affect the faith of the “weak” or the “little ones”. Parents’ infidelity can be a scandal to their children.

How many children now who no longer believe in the sacrament of marriage because of their parents’ neglect and inability to find solution to family and marital problems?

Teachers can be a scandal to students when teachers demonstrate inappropriate behaviors, or when they teach things that are not proper to them.

Also, priests can be scandal to the faithful if they teach things which are contrary to the teachings of the Church. Thus, the readings today teach us that we have differences, in behavior, attitudes, values, and in faith, and that we must learn to respect our differences.

Perhaps we can take the lesson that we should never be jealous of, and, in fact, should team up with, people who have the same talents and gifts as we have, not see them as threats. The rest of the Gospel today is filled with exaggerations which we call hyperboles.

Hyperboles exist to make a strong point about something. For example, I tell people I got thousands of tomatoes out my garden this year.

Well, I didn’t really, but I got a huge amount of tomatoes – and people understand that exaggeration. Or we say of a restless night – I didn’t sleep all night! – When we probably did fade off a little bit at least – but we get the point!

So, when Jesus says that if you do anything to threaten the faith of a child, it would be better if a great millstone were hung about your neck and be thrown into the sea – he is exaggerating – but we get the point. It would be a really, really bad thing!

Similarly, if you steal things with your hands, cut off your hand! Jesus doesn’t really want you to cut off your hand, but he wants you to treat the inclination to steal very seriously!

In the same way, if you have trouble with liquor but find yourself constantly walking into bars, just cut your feet off so you can’t. I mean, Jesus can’t be serious. He is using hyperbole.

This, of course, is one of the reasons we can’t take everything we read in the Bible literally. There has to be some common sense interpretation.

If we followed Jesus’ instruction here we would all be limbless, and blind. It simply means that we must take these matters seriously – probably where the Catholic Church got the concept of “mortal sin”.

The last line of the Gospel today may be difficult to understand: “…be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” Jesus is not necessarily saying that hell is a place with fire but is actually using a metaphor here.

Hell would be better translated as Gehenna, which was the local garbage pit of Jerusalem. Maggots would be there all the time because of the food scraps, and the fire would always be burning because there was always more trash.

So hell is like the maggot-ridden, perpetually smoking garbage dump – a slightly different metaphor of hell than most of us grew up with. This brings me then to the middle reading today from James once again about how hard it will be for rich people to get to heaven.

So there is a lot packed into the readings today, but what can we take home with us? Take sin seriously and do your best to avoid it. At some point, you will be called to justify your lifestyle.

Billy Graham has a fantastic way of summing up this Gospel message by concluding his Crusades with a final challenge:

“Decide! Cut away anything that prevents you from a radical decision for Jesus Christ! Decide for Christ!”

On the other hand, let us become good role models: a) when we support and guide others in moments of doubt, weakness, and suffering,

b) when we increase other people’s self-confidence by accepting them as they are and enabling them to discover their hidden talents.

We can become good role models when we help them to grow by inspiring and correcting them, d) when we forgive them and listen to them with patience, and e) when we make ourselves examples of Christian witnessing.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

25th Sunday OT Year B

25th Sunday O T Year B

Wis.2:12, 17-20 / Jas.3:16 – 4:3 / Mk.9:30-37

Between a discussion, a debate and an argument, there are similarities and there are also differences. A discussion is a process of talking about something, typically in order to reach a decision or to exchange ideas.

An argument is an exchange of diverging or opposite views, typically a heated or angry one, with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong. Whichever it might be, emotions are always involved.

A discussion can develop into a debate and then when the emotions get high it becomes an argument that can turn into a shouting match. And usually in small and petty arguments, it isn’t about who is right or wrong but who can shout louder and prevail over the other.

It’s also rather funny how after an argument is over, you begin to think about more clever things you should have said (but a bit too late). In the gospel, Jesus asked His disciples what they were arguing about on the road.

They said nothing. Of course they said nothing because what they argued about was nothing intelligent but they argued about who was the greatest. And obviously each was trying to prove that he is the greatest by the volume of his voice, so much so that it reached the ears of Jesus.

But when they were confronted by Jesus, they became silent. But it was only when they were silent that they were ready to listen. It is interesting to note that “silent” and “listen” are made up of the same letters.

And it was when they were silent that Jesus used the occasion to put the disciples on the right direction, and explain his teaching on true greatness. This may also apply to us because greatness is everyone’s aspiration. We have the desire to be remembered as someone who is great.

For instance, fathers want to be remembered by their children as “great fathers;” mothers also want to be “great mothers.” Students, professors, office managers, national presidents, and leaders would always aspire for greatness. Indeed, we really want to be great!

Now, this is what Jesus tells us about greatness: First, we can be great in powerlessness. Powerlessness is greatness. This appears as something different because the common understanding of greatness is power. You can be great if you have the power.

This was the disciples’ understanding of a Messiah; he is a triumphant Messiah, not a suffering Messiah. So, when Jesus talked about his own passion, they never cared to listen or to understand it.

Second, to be great is to be a servant of all. This is also going against the conventional because, normally, leaders want to be served. We feel great when we just sit down while others are serving us. But for Jesus that is not greatness. True greatness can be found in service.

This may be hard to understand because in a “master-servant” relationship, each is situated on two different and opposing poles. It appears that it is impossible for a master to serve.

Third, the quality of greatness can be found in children. Children are generally humble. They are also dependent on their parents. They cannot live without their parents. Their dependence is so total.

The greatness of a person can also be found in his total dependence on God.

So Jesus taught them that if anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last and the servant of all. And then He took a little child and set him in front of them and told them that anyone who welcomes one of these little ones would be welcoming Him.

In other words, anyone who would be as humble as a little child would be able to listen to the teachings of Jesus and attain greatness without having to prove it. And there is also no need to try to win an argument in order to prove that one is great.

There is this story of Mother Teresa who went around begging for food for the orphans that she was taking care of. One day Mother Teresa went to a local bakery to ask for bread for the starving children in the orphanage. The baker, outraged at people begging for bread from him, spat in her face and refused.

Mother Teresa calmly took out her handkerchief, wiped the spit from her face and said to the baker, “Okay, that was for me. Now what about the bread for the orphans?” The baker, shamed by her response, gave her the bread she wanted.

Truly it was an example of greatness in the face of insult. And there is no argument about that. As we think about it, we may realize that most of the time, we react and enter into an argument with others and may even end up fighting for nothing and over nothing.

And that’s what St. James tells us in the 2nd reading when he says this – Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start? Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves? You want something and you haven’t got it, so you are prepared to kill.

You have an ambition you cannot satisfy, so you fight to get your way by force. Yes, when we look at what is happening in the world, we can see that there are people who would resort to violence and even killing and they think that it is great to do so.

There is a story of a holy man who was threatened with death by a bandit. The holy man calmly said, “Then be good enough to fulfill my dying wish – Cut off the branch from the tree.” With one slash of the sword, and it was done. “What now?” the bandit asked.

“Put it back again,” said the holy man. The bandit laughed, “You must be crazy to think that anyone can do that.” The holy man replied, “On the contrary, it is you who are crazy to think that you are great and mighty because you can wound and destroy.

But true greatness and might would know how to create and heal.” Certainly, it is very brave to talk like that to someone who is wielding a sword. But true greatness is also having the courage and the wisdom to speak the truth with love.

Because to speak the truth with love requires the wisdom that can be attained only with the humility of a little child. As the 2nd reading puts it, it is a wisdom that comes down from above and it makes for peace and it is full of compassion and shows itself by doing good, and there is no trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it.

Yes, we need to be humble and ask for the wisdom from Jesus in any discussion or debate or even in an argument. With the wisdom from Jesus, our discussions and debates and even arguments will bear fruits of peace and even help others to grow in holiness.

Between a discussion, a debate and even in an argument, the difference lies with Jesus and in Jesus. So we must become great through loving, humble, self-giving service. Greatness, in Jesus’ view, is found in our willingness to accept, welcome and serve with love those who are considered unacceptable and undeserving by reason of class, color, religion, poverty or culture.

We must welcome people the loving way a child welcomes them before he is taught discrimination. If we are to be truly great, we must be ready to accept four challenges:

(a) to put ourselves last, (b) to be the servant of all, (c) to receive the most insignificant human beings with love, and (d) to expect nothing in return.

During the holy Mass let us pray for the true spirit of service, for an attitude of love for those around us.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

23rd Sunday OT Year B – 2018

23rd Sunday O T Year B

Isaiah 35:4-7 / James 2:1-5 / Mark 7:31-37

Being selective can have a couple of meanings.

It may mean that one is fussy and selects only what is desired and wouldn’t consider the rest.

Or it may mean that one is discerning and after careful consideration will choose only what is good and necessary.

And the word selective is also used to describe other words – selective attention, selective memory, selective observation, selective quoting, selective hearing, selective listening.

And talking about selective hearing and selective listening, there is a little difference.

Selective listening is a listening technique that filters and summarizes in order to achieve comprehension.

While the goal of listening is to fully understand what someone is saying, in practice, people don’t always fully listen.

People make choices when listening. They apply filters. So they half-listen to get a general impression of what’s said.

When it comes to selective hearing, it can be said that we have the ability to hear certain sounds and cut off the rest. But not so for those who wear a hearing aid.

It seems that the hearing aid would just take in all the sounds and it’s a matter of which sound is the loudest.

Nonetheless, the hearing aid is certainly a great help for those who have a hearing problem.

There is a story of an elderly gentleman who had serious hearing problems for a number of years.

Finally he went to the doctor and the doctor was able to have him fitted for a set of hearing aids that allowed the gentleman to hear almost 100%.

The elderly gentleman went back to the doctor after a month and the doctor said, “Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again.”

To which the gentleman said, “Oh, I haven’t told my family yet. I just sit around and listen to the conversations. And you know what! I’ve changed my will three times!”

It’s wonderful what the hearing aid can do, although some don’t want to use it because it can be quite irritating at times.

In the gospel, there is an account of Jesus healing a deaf man who also had a speech impediment.

And indeed, the man’s ears were opened and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly.

But for those who were there, and who could hear, it seemed that they had a listening problem.

Because Jesus ordered them to tell no one about it, but the more He insisted, the more widely they published it.

Certainly their admiration was unbounded, so much so that they didn’t even want to listen to what Jesus had ordered.

As for the man who was cured of his deafness and speech impediment, it would be interesting to know what would be his direction in life.

He can now hear and he would have to choose and discern what to listen to and decide his direction in life.

There is a story of a group of frogs that set off on a hike, traveling through the woods. Then two of them fell into a deep pit.

When the other frogs saw how deep the pit was, they told the two frogs that they were as good as dead. The two frogs ignored the comments and tried to jump up, out of the pit, with all their might.

The other frogs kept shouting at them to stop, repeating that they were as good as dead. Finally, one of the frogs lost heart and gave into fear. He believed what the other frogs were saying and gave up. He fell down and died.

The other frog continued to jump as hard as he could. Once again, the crowd of frogs yelled at him to stop the pain and just die. But he jumped even harder and finally made it out!

When he got out, the other frogs were surprised and said, “Did you not hear us?”

The frog explained to them that he was rather deaf. He thought they were encouraging him the entire time.

There is power of life and death in the tongue. An encouraging word to someone who is down can lift them up and help them make it through the day.

A destructive word to someone who is down can be what it takes to kill them.

We have to be careful what we choose to listen to and what to believe. Whether we hear as well as Superman or as poorly as Beethoven, we need to be selective in our listening.

We need to listen to what comes from God and tune out the rest.

What comes from God are words that give life and fill us with faith, hope and love.

When we hear words of encouragement, words of correction, words of forgiveness and healing, words of wisdom, words of enlightenment, let us be opened to those words.

Those are words spoken by people who care for us and love us, and in and through those people, God is speaking to us.

When we listen to those words, we will in turn speak those words.

Then others will also know that God is speaking to them.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

22nd Sunday OT Year B

22nd Sunday O T Year B

Dt.4:1-2, 6-9 / Jas.1:17-27 / Mk.7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

A man and a lady enter a ‘to go’ restaurant and the man orders two fried chicken dinners. The girl at the counter mistakenly gives him a bag of money, the entire day’s proceeds, instead of fried chicken.

The man and woman drive to their picnic site and sit down to enjoy their chicken dinner. To their surprise, they discover that it is a bag of money, totaling almost $1,000.

They put the money back in the bag, drive back to the restaurant and return the money bag to the restaurant manager. The manger is overwhelmed.

He declares the man a hero and a saint. He goes to call the local press to put the story and the man’s picture in the local newspaper. “You’re the most honest man in the whole world,” says the manager.

But the man would not let him call the press. Instead he leans closer and whispers in the ears of the manager, “You see, the woman I’m with is not my wife…she’s uh, somebody else’s wife.”

The man might well be a hero, but he’s no saint.

As James tells us in today’s second reading, true Christian holiness has as much to do with doing good to others as it has with keeping ourselves pure.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jas.1:27). The man scores high on honesty but very low on purity.

All of us in our churches belong to one of two camps. Either we are people, like the man in the story, who score high mark in our commitment to practical justice and fairness but low in self-discipline or we are people who score high in self-discipline but low in practical commitment to justice and fairness.

Apostle James teaches us that a Christian must score high marks in both practical concern for the welfare of others and self-mastery in order to be truly holy and acceptable before God.

For the next four Sundays we shall be reading from the Letter of James, as he leads us to understand the importance of practical Christianity, that faith without good works is dead.

Apostle James makes two important points in today’s reading. He teaches the importance of faith in action, and he defines for us what true devotion is.

True devotion is not a matter of hearing good preaching and celebrating inspiring liturgies. Good preaching and inspiring liturgies are wonderful. Yet the litmus test of true devotion remains how we live out the word of God that we hear.

St. James defines true religion as keeping the word of God and doing His will by helping the needy, the poor and the weak in the community.

He challenges us to become doers of the word, not merely hearers. “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” (Jas.1;27)

Today’s readings explain what true religion is. It is not simply a scrupulous, external observance of rules, laws, traditions and rituals.

It is a loving, obedient relationship with God expressed in obeying His Commandments, worshipping Him, recognizing His presence in other human beings and rendering them loving and humble service.

Prayers, rituals, Sacraments and religious practices only help us to practice this true religion in our daily lives.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus describes true religion as serving God and all His children with a pure and holy heart.

Two monks, Brother Francis and an elder monk, are walking down a muddy road on a rainy day. They came upon a lovely young girl dressed in fine silk, who was afraid to cross because of the flood and the mud.

“Come on, girl,” said Brother Francis. And he picked her up in his strong arms, and carried her across the river.

The two monks walked on in silence till they reached the monastery. Then the elder monk couldn’t bear it any longer. “Monks shouldn’t go near young girls,” he said, “certainly not beautiful ones like that one! Why did you do it?”

“Dear brother,” said Brother Francis, “I put the girl down by the river bank, but you have brought her into the monastery.”

In these two monks we see the two often conflicting approaches to Christian spirituality, namely, avoidance and involvement.

The spirituality of avoidance emphasizes the devout fulfilment of pious religious obligations, and shuns away from those regarded as sinners for fear of being contaminated by them.

It aims at keeping the believer unstained by the world, not at changing the world or making a difference.

The spirituality of involvement, on the other hand, emphasizes active solidarity with sinners, who are often perceived as the untouchables of the world. It does not shun but extends a helping hand to them, believing that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

Balance in Christian spirituality consists in reconciling these two tendencies and bringing them into harmony. As St James tells us,

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress [involvement], and to keep oneself unstained by the world [avoidance].”

Religion is not about things, it is about us! It is about the kind of response we make to the world, to others, and to God. It is about whether that wonderful ‘chemistry’ of the Gospel is happening in us:

the kind of ‘chemistry’ that can turn bad stuff into good, curses into blessings, suffering into prayer. The spirit of faith is hard to keep in sight at all times, yet it is meant for all times.

Here I also like to talk a little bit about the life style of Fr. Evans (from Kenya) for whom we have a mission appeal today.

African countries are really rich in natural resources but people are poor and have no power and knowledge to overcome the exploitation, by the few rich and the powerful, because they are not educated.

We can find even children have no great expectation in life than to become like their parents who have got few sheep or cows and have some cultivation depending up on the rain.

The children are not encouraged to go to school by the parents, since they find difficult to look after the cattle and cultivation without the support of their children.

In the parishes the people always expected from the priests financial support to buy medicine, food, clothing, and transportation, etc.

They don’t have proper Churches to celebrate The Holy Mass; they have mass celebrated under the mango trees and in open space.

They have to travel a lot to reach the remote villages, and the roads are very poor, we can drive 5, 10, 15, or if the roads little better 25, miles speed.

Almost all the priests used to celebrate three to four Masses on Sundays, travelling, 60 to 80 miles. Please do not think it is in one place, each mass in different villages of 5 to 25 miles distance.

Usually they get around 25 to 30 bucks as a Sunday collection for all the Masses together. It is not even sufficient for the wine and Hosts that they use for the Masses. So it is a huge expense to maintain those missions.

Let us accept the challenge to become hearers and doers of God’s word as St. James instructs us. Let us ask ourselves how the Sunday or daily readings are affecting or changing our lives. That will show us whether we are being attentive listeners to, and doers of, God’s word.

We become more fully Jesus’ family members, only when we consistently “hear the word of God and do it.” When we receive Jesus in Holy Communion today, let us ask him for the grace to become the doers of his word as he was the doer of his Fathers’ will.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.