Epiphany of the Lord
Is.60:1-6; Eph.3:2-3,5-6; Mt.2:1-12

On an extremely cold morning three palm fruit farmers were warming themselves by the fireside. Soon two of them were engaged in a heated debate comparing their religions to decide which one was the true religion.

Okoro, the oldest among them, sat quietly listening to the debate. Suddenly the two turned to him and asked, “Decide for us, Okoro. Which religions is the right one?”

Okoro rubbed his white beard and said thoughtfully, “Well, you know there are three ways to get from here to the oil mill. You can go right over the hill. That is shorter but it is a steep climb.

You can go around the hill on the right side. That is not too far, but the road is rough and full of potholes. Or you can go around the hill on the left side. That is the longest way, but it is also the easiest.”

He paused and then added, “But you know when you get there, the mill man doesn’t ask you how you came. All he asks is, ‘Man, how good is your fruit?’”

The wondrous truth we celebrate during this time of Christmas is that God in His love has journeyed from the heavens above all the way down to us.

We will never comprehend that stupendous journey, the enormity of God’s love for us, a love that is infinite in its length, height, and depth.

Love will not rest until it achieves union and rests in intimacy. And so God in His quest is here, not only here among us but living deep within us.

That is the story of Christmas and Epiphany. What is not of this world has entered into our world, and not only into our world but into us.

We know that Christmas-time is the busiest time of the year for travelling. It is the time when we reunite with our families.

When we travel we go to our maps, we call up MapQuest on our computers, and we enter our destinations into our GPS systems.

But what are we looking for? In other words, “If you don’t know where you are going you might not get there.” So, we might ask: “Do I really know what I want and how to get there?

What sort of a spiritual MapQuest am I using in my travel, in my journey through life?

Today’s Gospel account begins with the question of the Wise Men: “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? Where do we find Him?” Many people in the world around us ask that same question.

Perhaps some have asked you that question. The question “Where do we find Him” has within it a quest, a searching, a journey. The word “question,” we must note, has within it the word “quest.”

We all have our own quests, our own journeys that we are making through life. What are we looking for, material things or spiritual things, things that will last or things that won’t last?

What is material won’t last, what is spiritual is everlasting. What is material eventually leads to darkness; what is spiritual leads us into God’s light, a light that has overcome darkness that surrounds us.

What is spiritual frees us, what is material captures us. For us, the question is not what we are looking for but rather who we are looking for. Epiphany is all about movement, all about our journey.

The Magi had access to what the forces of nature revealed to them. The Star of Bethlehem was their heavenly GPS system guiding them to the destination they were seeking.

Herod the king was blinded in the darkness of his jealously and hatred. The Magi, who were themselves kings, sought the kingship of God. The Magi made their journey to seek the King of the Jews.

Herod, a Jew, sought to kill the King of the Jews, the King who was sent by God not only to the Jews but to all of the peoples of this world. That is why at Christmas we celebrate the birth of the King of the Jews.

At Epiphany we celebrate the birth of Christ the King of us all, Jew and gentile alike. Ours is a journey of hope, a hope that is given substance by our faith in Jesus Christ.

The journey of the Wise Men wasn’t just their own. Their journey is ours also. We are fellow travelers with those Wise Men. Wise men today still seek Him. Ours is a life-time journey.

The Magi were able to overcome that dangerous moment of darkness before Herod, because they believed the Scriptures, the words of the prophets which indicated that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

And so they fled the darkness and dreariness of the night of the world. They resumed their journey towards Bethlehem and there they once more saw the star, and the gospel tells us that they experienced “a great joy” (Mt 2:10).

One aspect of the light which guides us on the journey of faith is holy “cunning”. This holy “cunning” is also a virtue. It consists of a spiritual shrewdness which enables us to recognize danger and avoid it.

The Magi used this light of “cunning” when, on the way back, they decided not to pass by the gloomy palace of Herod, but to take another route.

These wise men from the East teach us how not to fall into the snares of darkness and how to defend ourselves from the shadows which seek to envelop our life. By this holy “cunning”, the Magi guarded the faith.

We too need to guard the faith, guard it from darkness. We need to cultivate that spiritual cunning which is able to combine simplicity with astuteness, as Jesus told his disciples: “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mt 10:16).

On the feast of the Epiphany, as we recall Jesus’ manifestation to humanity in the face of a Child, may we sense the Magi at our side, as wise companions on the way.

Their example helps us to lift our gaze towards the star and to follow the great desires of our heart. They teach us not to be deceived by appearances, by what the world considers great, wise and powerful.

The Magi are a symbol of our own journeys, journeys to the home from which we came, journeys back home to God our Father. We cannot claim that we do not know the way or do not know how to get there.

Following in Jesus’ way of living, seeing the truth that He gives us, and living life in loving union with Him is not our destination. It is rather our journey.

We are empowered by the hope that He gives us. All journeys begin with hope. Hope, we must remember, isn’t simply wishful thinking. Hope isn’t simply a nice feeling.

Hope is a virtue, a power, a capacity that is a gift of God. Without hope we do not act. Every decision we make is based on hope. Without hope we are paralyzed. Without hope we are powerless.

May you and I join the Wise Men both in their journey and in giving our gifts of our heart to the One who is God’s gift to us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Feast of the Holy Family – 2017

Feast of the Holy Family – 2017

Sir.3:2-6, 12-14; Col.3:12-21; Lk.2:22-40

A little boy greets his father as he returns from work with a question: “Daddy, how much do you make an hour?” The father is surprised and says: “Look, son, not even your mom knows. Don’t bother me now, I’m tired.” “But Daddy, just tell me please! How much do you make an hour?” the boy insists. The father finally gives up and replies: “Twenty dollars.” “Okay, Daddy,” the boy continues, “Could you loan me ten dollars?”

The father yells at him: “So that was the reason you asked how much I earn, right? Now, go to sleep and don’t bother me anymore!” At night the father thinks over what he said and starts feeling guilty. May be my son needed to buy something. Finally, he goes to his son’s room. “Are you asleep, son?” asks the father. “No, Daddy. Why?” replies the boy. “Here’s the money you asked for earlier,” the father said.

“Thanks, Daddy!” replies the boy and receives the money. Then he reaches under his pillow and brings out some more money. “Now I have enough! Now I have twenty dollars!” says the boy to his father, “Daddy, could you sell me one hour of your time?” Today’s gospel has a message for this man and for all of us, and the message is that we need to invest more of our time in our family life.

On the last Sunday of the year, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.  We are here to offer all the members of our own families on the altar for God’s blessing. Today we continue our Christmas celebration with a consideration of the Holy Family. The first reading is a commentary on the fourth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.”

Ben Sirach has many good things to say about living properly according to the Torah. Sirach reminds children of their duty to honor their parents – even when it becomes difficult. He also mentions the five-fold reward which God promises to those who honor their father and mother. The first reward is “riches,” and the second long life: “Whoever reveres his father will live a long life.”Forgiveness of sins and God’s prompt answer to prayers are the fourth and fifth rewards.

He reminds children that God blesses them if they obey, revere and show compassion to their father. Paul, in the letter to the Colossians, advises us that we should put on love and remain thankful in our relationships with one another. Paul’s advice is part of the “Household code” – the rules for members of the Christian family.

In today’s Gospel, Mary and Joseph present Jesus in Jerusalem’s Temple in fulfillment of their religious tradition. You, parents can remember when your children were infants. You couldn’t wait to show them off to family and friends. You probably had a big celebration on that very special day when you went to your parish church and presented them to the Lord to receive his life in Baptism.

When you first held your children, when you brought the baby home from the hospital, when you survived that first night when your baby would not get to sleep, you probably asked yourself, how will I, how will we, deal with the challenges this new life is going to bring? Perhaps you are still asking yourselves that question. Certainly there is not a parent here who has not wondered:

How can I be the best parent possible? What will happen to my child during his or her life? What sort of person will he or she become? Today the Church bids us to look to the Holy Family. They kept their union with God as the foundation and glue of their lives. This resulted in a tranquility that let them meet each challenge they faced…conquering the surrounding chaos instead of being destroyed by it.

You, parents live in a society that does too much but not enough. Other forces tempt you to do too much. They convince you that if you are going to be good parents you have to have your kids in every activity possible, be a part of every organization you can, be the perfect homemaker, cook, provider, repairer, and referee. They convince you to do too much… but not enough.

For many parents there is not enough time to develop the union with God but that is the heart of your family. You try too hard… but not hard enough. You try to be the perfect parent in every way but sheer exhaustion results in you. You find not much time to spend in prayer. Your prayer time should not be something you throw into your day.

Prayer is a life style, not an emergency exit.  It should be the ground upon which you build your day. The sudden and unexplained collapse during the last fifty years of the institution we know of as family is a great mystery. Why, during these times, have so many young people simply begun living together as a family when they really were not? One third of the children born today are born out of wedlock.

The numbers of children who are being shaped and formed without a father and a mother living with them is staggering. Who are their grandparents, and how many sets of grandparents do they have, given the number of stepfathers and stepmothers they have? What sorts of values are being displayed in the lives of the adults with whom children live?

Much is said these days about the troubles within our public school system. While a lot may be wrong in the system, the chief thing that has gone wrong is the absence of genuine families in which the children are being raised. Most of the children are not being raised with mom, dad, and siblings. Schools cannot replace families. Do you know that 60% of the felons in our prisons don’t know who their fathers are?

Yet it was in our family that our character, personality were formed. We became an individual and a person with a distinct character because we lived in a family. For a family makes an individual, and individuals in turn constitute the family. It is in our family homes that we learn a philosophy of life.

It is there, in the family (the so called domestic church), that God is acknowledged, that prayer is learned, and devotion is formed. It is there that our soul is nurtured at the family altar, the family table in which we share a communion of food for the body, the mind and the soul.

There is a story about a solicitor who lived some distance from her elderly, widowed father. Months had passed since she had seen him and when her father called to ask when she might visit, the daughter detailed a long list of reasons that prevented her from taking the time to see him, court schedules, meetings, new clients, research, etc., etc.

At the end of the recitation, the father asked, “When I die, do you intend to come to my funeral?” The daughter’s response was immediate,” Dad, I can’t believe you’ve asked that. Of course, I’ll come!” To which the father replied, “Good. Forget the funeral and come now. I need you more now than I will then.” She got the message and began to see him regularly after that!

So in thanking God for the gift of the Christ Child, let us also thank God for our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and the wonderful gift that we have been given, our family. Amen

4th Sunday of Advent Year B – 17

      4th Sunday of Advent Year B – 14
2Sam.7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Rom.16:25-27; Lk.1:26-38

There is a story about a man who was dangerously hanging on to a single branch on the top of a tree from where he could not climb down. He cried out to God: “Oh God, save me; you know I believe in you.

All that I asked of you is to save me and I shall proclaim your name to the ends of the earth.” “Very well,” said the voice of God, “I shall save you and now let go off of the branch.”

The distraught man yelled out: “Let go off of the branch? Hello, My God, do you think I’m crazy?”

Some people cling to their reason so adamantly that they are never able to see the light of faith. Mary’s faith is ever active and hence she does not only accept the divine truth but dwells upon it, uses it and develops it.

Her faith is ever active and hence she says, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.” The Gospel stresses the key role of Mary in the work of our salvation.

In addition, today’s Scripture texts describe God’s promise to David and its fulfillment in Jesus, the Son of David. They also tell us that God’s preparation for the coming of Jesus was full of surprises.

Today’s Gospel surprises us by telling us that this King would be born to an ordinary virgin, not by means of sexual relationship, but through the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel surprises by reminding us that God’s promise is best fulfilled not in buildings, or even great kings like Solomon, but rather in humble souls like Mary who trusted in God’s promise.

Now let us pay attention to what happened to the conversation between Mary and the angel Gabriel. The first thing is that Mary listens.

The angel announces that the Messiah will be born in her and she listens. Her greatness comes through her faithful listening. Mary listens, asks for clarification and finally accepts to be the servant of the Lord.

In the two annunciations described in Luke’s Gospel, neither Elizabeth nor Mary appears to be likely candidate for motherhood. Elizabeth is too old and Mary is a virgin.

The angel’s salutation to Mary, “Hail, full of grace,” reminds us of God’s words to Moses at the burning bush, “I will be with you” (Ex.3:12), the angel’s salutation Gideon, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior” (Jgs.6:12) and the Lord’s assurance to Jeremiah, “Be not afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you” (Jer.1:8).

The second thing is Mary accepts. Mary is deeply disturbed even by the initial greeting of the angel. But Angel Gabriel showers her with assurances that everything will be alright.”

Do not be afraid….The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence the holy offspring to be born will be called Son of God,” (v.35).

These words of assurance eventually brought Mary to turn her negative emotion to a humble word of acceptance.

The important word in these angel’s words of assurance is “overshadow”. The word is rarely used in the Bible. In the Old Testament, however, we can find it in the book of Exodus.

It says that as soon as the cloud overshadowed the tent, “The Lord’s presence filled it,” (Ex.40:34). It was in the tent that the Ark of the Covenant was kept and God overshadowed or covered it.

The word “overshadow” is also used at the Transfiguration (9:34) and in a story of Peter’s healing ministry (Acts.5:15). In all these places the verb clearly refers to Divine presence and power.

The angel makes it clear that the child “will be holy” and “will be called Son of God.” Luke’s choice of this word is not accidental but it is deeply symbolic.

He compared Mary’s body to the tent in which the Ark of the Covenant was kept. He compared Mary’s womb in which Jesus will be housed.

And we know that the Ark of the Covenant in which the tablet of the Ten Commandments were housed. Thus when God’s power overshadows Mary, the Lord’s ‘presence’ fills her.

The third thing is that Mary believes. Her faith was humble and hence she first believes and only then reasons upon it. The important words in the sentence are, ‘nothing is impossible with God.’

Before God’s power overshadows Mary, the world had no hope. Sin and violence were everywhere. The human race had no hope of salvation.

But when God overshadows Mary, He changes all these especially when Jesus has entered the world through Mary’s great fiat. Yes God wants Mary to submit even to the noble reason of faith.

The next is Mary obeys. Her obedience is risk-taking when she says, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Her obedience is a loving obedience. She loves God and hence trusts in Him and obeys.

She agrees to carry out the Word Gabriel has addressed to her. Her response again calls forth OT language. Abraham’s “Here I am” (Gn.22:1) Isaiah’s “Here am I, send me” (Is.6:8)

Hannah’s “Think kindly of your maidservant”(1Sam.1:18) Samuel’s “Here I am” (1Sam.3:4). Mary’s response qualifies her as Jesus’ first disciple. Mary is thus presented as the perfect disciple.

Those who find out what God wants of them and accept His message as Mary did are Jesus’ true followers. Those who only hear the Word but never put it into action are deceiving themselves. Christian Faith is a matter of continually making Jesus a part of our lives.

Jesus’ earthly existence begins with Mary’s “Yes” in today’s account of the Annunciation.

Although we normally regard the birth of Jesus as the beginning of God’s presence among us, the Church teaches that the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit took place at the moment that Mary agreed to be the mother of Jesus.

Mary’s “Yes,” changed the world. Her obedience to God’s call changed the lives of all of us. How many times have we said “No,” to God?

How different would things be for us and for others if we had said “Yes,” to him more often? We need to say a courageous and generous “Yes” to God as Mary did.

True obedience comes from a free choice made in the light of what is true and good. It often requires a great deal of courage.

True obedience also aims at putting oneself at the service of something/Someone that is greater than oneself. Will we surrender to God and allow God to do what seems impossible from our human point of view?

Will we surrender our agenda, our will and our kingdom to God and allow God’s agenda God’s will and God’s Kingdom become a reality for and through us?

It is by saying “yes” wholeheartedly and unconditionally to God that Jesus will be re-born in us or maybe even born in us for the first time. By our saying “yes” Jesus will be born or reborn in others too.

The Good News in today’s Scripture message is not only that God is making provision for the salvation of His people, but also that He has a plan for each individual person.

In many cases, our work for God seems rather ordinary, but each ordinary task which we carry out fits into God’s plan in ways that we cannot yet understand. God desires not the skill of our hands but the love of our hearts.

The Babe in the Manger reminds us of what God has done and is still doing for us. What are we doing in return? Let us show our gratitude to God by living as true followers of Christ saying: “Behold here I am Lord to do thy will.”

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2nd Sunday of Advent [B] 2017

2nd Sunday of Advent [B] 2017
Is. 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 Pet. 3:8-14; Mk. 1:1-8

A school principal called the house of one of his teachers to find out why he was not in the school. He was greeted by a small child who whispered: “hello?” “Is your Daddy home?” asked the principal.

“Yes,” answered the whispering child. “May I talk with him?” the principal asked. “No,” replied the small voice. “Is your mommy there?” the principal asked.

“Yes” came the answer. May I talk with her?” Again the small voice whispered, “No.” “All right,” said the principal “Is there any one besides you?” “Yes,” whispered the child, “A policeman.”

“A policeman? Now, may I speak with the policeman?” “No, he is busy,” whispered the child. “Busy doing what?” asked the principal.

“Talking to Daddy and Mommy and the fireman,” came the child’s answer. “The fireman? Has there been a fire in the house or something?” asked the worried principal.

“No,” whispered the child. “Then what are the policeman and fireman doing there?” Still whispering, the young voice replied with a soft giggle, “They are looking for me.”

It would be pretty hard for the “rescuers” to find this child as long as the child keeps hiding from them. In today’s gospel we see John the Baptist calling out to the people of Judea to come out into the open space and let God find them.

Homecoming is the central theme of the Scripture readings for the Second Sunday of Advent. All three readings focus on the absolute necessity of our getting ready for Christ’s coming by true repentance, reparation and the renewal of our lives.

The first reading, taken from the prophet Isaiah, tells us about the Babylonian exiles coming home to their native country, Judah, and their holy city, Jerusalem.

Isaiah assures his people that the Lord will lead them in a grand procession to their homeland and take care of them as a shepherd cares for his sheep.

The Responsorial psalm describes how shalom or perfect peace is coming home with the Lord’s coming. The second reading, taken from the second letter of Peter, invites us to get ready to go home to Heaven with Jesus at his second coming.

Peter tells those who doubt the second coming of Jesus that God’s way of counting time is different from ours and that God has His own reasons for delaying Christ’s second coming.

The Gospel tells us through John the Baptist how we should prepare to receive Jesus our Savior’s coming home into our lives during the Advent season by repentance and the renewal of life.

John preached that the appropriate behavior for those preparing “the way of the Lord” was to be baptized “as they confessed their sins.”

He wanted the Jews to prepare their lives for the Messiah by filling in the valleys of prejudice, leveling the mountains of pride and straightening out their crooked paths of injustice.

John recommended a baptism of repentance in the river Jordan to the Jews who were familiar with ritual and symbolic washings.

The Jews insisted that when a male Gentile became a Jew, he had to do three things:

i) accept circumcision as the mark of the covenant people;
ii) offer sacrifice because he stood in need of atonement, and
iii) undergo baptism by immersion in water, which symbolized his cleansing from all pollution.

The most amazing thing about John’s baptism was that he, a Jew, was asking fellow-Jews to submit to that which only a Gentile was supposed to need.

John was convinced of the truth that even the chosen people needed true repentance and renewal of life to receive their long-awaited Messiah. The baptism of a Gentile was accompanied by a confession made to three different recipients as a sign of repentance for sin.

(i) A man must make confession to himself because the first step in repentance is to admit his sin to himself.
(ii) He must make confession to those whom he has wronged.

This involves humiliation and is a test of real repentance since there can be no forgiveness without humiliation. (iii) He must make confession to God because it is when a man says, “I have sinned,” that God gets the chance to say, “I forgive.”

John’s message calls us also to confront and confess our sins; to turn away from them in sincere repentance; to receive God’s forgiveness; and most importantly, to look to Jesus.

Do we need to receive God’s forgiveness? There are basically two reasons why we fail to receive forgiveness. The first is that we fail to repent, and the second is that we fail to forgive. Is there someone we need to forgive today?

We can’t be forgiven unless we forgive. Let us let go of that bitterness and allow God to work healing in our life. Perhaps we need to draw closer to Him. Like the prodigal son’s father, God will run to meet us.

He will throw His arms around us and He will forgive us and restore us. He will receive us as His sons and daughters. Let us draw close to Him today, and He will draw close to us.

During this advent, John is calling us to come out of our hiding places such as complacency, smugness, procrastination, taking people for granted, self-preoccupation, addiction, chronic complaining, envy, pettiness, rudeness, ingratitude, laziness and anger.

When the heart is full, not even God can come into it. We have first to let go of what our heart is holding on to before we can embrace God.

We need to make use of Advent as a season of reflection and preparation. We are invited by the Church to prepare for Christmas.

Christmas is the time for reflection and personal renewal in preparation for the coming of Jesus into our lives.

Through his letter today St. Peter reminds us, on the one hand, of God’s great desire to come into our lives and, on the other, of our need to be prepared for that event when it happens.

We want God’s help and comfort, but we are not always prepared to change our ways to enhance genuine conversion. For God to come to us, we also need to go to Him. We need to let every day become Christmas and the “Day of the Lord” for each one of us.

We need to become preachers of the Good News through our own life. John’s preaching reminds us also of our important task of announcing Christ to others through our lives at home and in the community.

When we show real love, kindness, mercy and a spirit of forgiveness, we are announcing the truth that Christ is with us.

Thus, our lives become a kind of Bible which others can read. John the Baptist invites us to turn this Advent season into a real spiritual homecoming by making the necessary preparations for the arrival of the Savior and his entrance into our lives.

Be Blessed and Be. Blessing. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1st Sunday of Advent, Year B -2017  

    1st Sunday of Advent, Year B -2017                                                                                            Isa 63:16-17, 64:1, 3-8/ 1 Cor 1:3-9/ Mk 13:33-37

A group of young people went to visit a famous Master (of Life) well known for his wisdom. To test his wisdom a young man asked the Master, “Master I want to be in heaven after my death. So how many days before my death should I prepare for that?

Immediately the Master replied, “One day before your death.” This was an unexpected answer for the young man. Still he braved to ask, “But, how do I know when I am going to die?

In a calm voice the master replied, “Since we do not know the time, start preparing now.  The time is now to organize our lives with right priorities.

There are many ways to know how healthy we are or how our body is feeling. We can go for a medical check-up, or take advantage of those free consultations to see how well we are. But one of the best ways to know how healthy we are and the physical state of our body is to see who we feel when we wake up.

If at the point of waking up, we feel fresh and rejuvenated then we can be sure that we will go through the day energetically, and we will even go be in a good mood throughout the day.

We may not even need that cup of coffee to get us started and we may even be waking up before the alarm goes off. But this is often not the case.

Very often, the alarm wakes us up and at times we can even not hear the alarm! Oh yes, we can oversleep and we jump-start the day and get into that morning rush as we try not to be late for work or for school or for whatever.

If we can oversleep and the alarm can’t even wake us up, then we must be very tired and not in good shape. And even if we can wake up and drag ourselves out of bed and when we look at ourselves in the mirror, then we can really see how we feel.

Very often, we look sleepy, with eyes only half-opened. Our face looks tired and feels tired. It looks like as if we had been working all night instead of sleeping. It is strange to look tired when we wake up.

Even a cup of coffee may not get us started. May be a few cups are needed. And if we wake up feeling tired, then most likely we will feel tired throughout the day, tired and maybe moody.

So, how we feel when we wake up in the morning will certainly have a bearing on the rest of the day. Today, we begin a new liturgical year, a new Church year, with the 1st Sunday of Advent.

We can say that today we wake up to a new Church year. The season of Advent prepares us for Christmas. So the 1st Sunday of Advent is like the alarm clock ringing. The 4 weeks of Advent to slowly wake us up to Christmas. But are we hearing the alarm and slowly waking up?

Or do we just wake up for a while and then back to sleep and end up oversleeping? If after sleeping one whole night and we still can’t quite wake up or feel tired upon waking up, then something must be wrong.

Well, we can ignore the signs and continue to sleep and end up oversleeping and then jump-start and rush through Advent and through Christmas and rush through life, and end up getting more and more tired about life.

In today’s gospel, Jesus kept repeating this phrase – stay awake! Jesus wants us to look at the areas of our lives that tire us out physically and spiritually.

Advent is a time to see the world for what it is, to acknowledge the mess things are in, to recognize our own failings, failings caused by our own indifference and apathy. We’re too distracted, lost in iPhone chatter, twittering and tweeting away¸ awash in e-mails.

Advent can be a gift that allows to take time out to clearly see that we need a savior and in our hearts to listen to His voice within us. We need God to come among us and set us back on the right path for living on this planet among each other, as He intended we should.

And, of course, Christmas is the celebration of the fact that God has done just that. In Christmas, He has given us His presence, His power, and His love.

We have so many questions we put to God. We have all of these lamentations and cries for Him to act. But did you notice that Jesus has a question for us? He has an expectation of us.

He asks: Where is your faith? Do you in fact have any faith? And, He asked, when He comes again in glory on the Last Day, will He find any faith on earth?

Again, and again we hear about all we must do for the poor, the oppressed and those less fortunate than we are.

But what about the one duty upon which all of our social services are based, namely our duty to honor God, to believe in His love, and to live in faith, to pray and give Him worship?

Faith gives us the power of hope. If we see hopelessness we see faithlessness. Faith empowers us to act – to engage our surrounding world because we hope for better things.

So, God wants us to look at our spiritual life and stay awake and keep looking at it instead of closing our eyes and sleeping through it and think that they will go away somehow.

Yes, we open our eyes and look at our lifestyles and our eating habits, especially those that are unhealthy and doing damage to our health. We open our eyes and look at our spiritual life, e.g., our prayer life and our awareness of the presence of God in our lives.

We also look at what is bothering us – our frustrations, worries and anxieties, our disappointments, resentment and anger. All these trouble our hearts and burden our minds so much so that as we are sleeping, our minds and hearts are not resting.

Hence, when the alarm wakes us up, or when we try to wake up, we feel too tired and we just want to continue sleeping. But to continue to sleep and then end up oversleeping will not solve any problems – in fact, the problem will only keep increasing.

And that’s why Jesus tells us to stay awake and to open our eyes to look at our problems. It is only when we keep looking at the problem, then we will slowly see the solution.

Be Blesses and Be a Blessing. Amen.

32nd Sunday O T Year A – 17

32nd Sunday O T Year A – 17

Wis.6.12-16, 1Thess.4.13-18, Matt.25:1-13

There was a man with four wives. He loved his fourth wife the most and took a great care of her and gave her the best. He also loved his third wife and always wanted to show her off to his friends. However, he always had a fear that she might run away with some other man.

He loved his second wife too. Whenever he faced some problems, he always turned to his second wife and she would always help him out. He did not love his first wife though she loved him deeply, was very loyal to him and took great care of him.

One day the man fell very ill and knew that he is going to die soon. He told himself, “I have four wives with me. I will take one of them along with me when I die to keep company in my death.”

Thus, he asked the fourth wife to die along with him and keep company. “No way!” she replied and walked away without another word. He asked his third wife. She said “Life is so good over here. I’m going to remarry when you die”.

He then asked his second wife. She said “I’m Sorry. I can’t help you this time around. At the most I can only accompany you till your grave.” By now his heart sank and turned cold. Then a voice called out:

“I’ll leave with you. I’ll follow you no matter where you go.” the man looked up and there was his first wife. She was so skinny, almost like she suffered from malnutrition. Greatly grieved, the man said, “I should have taken much better care of you while I could have!”

Actually, we all have four wives in our lives.

  1. The fourth wife is our body. No matter how much time and effort we lavish in making it look good, it’ll leave us when we die.
  2. The third wife is our possessions, status and wealth. When we die, they go to others.
  3. The second wife is our family and friends. No matter how close they had been there for us when we’re alive, the furthest they can stay by us is up to the grave.
  4. The first wife is our soul, neglected in our pursuit of material wealth and pleasure. It is actually the only thing that follows us wherever we go.

How many of you have ever run out of gas? It would appear that every year at least a half million people call for help because they have run out of gas. Besides flat tires, dead batteries, and misplaced keys, running out of gas ranks right up there in the reasons why people call for roadside service.

One might understand this happening a generation ago, when gas gauges were not entirely accurate, and when all the warning lights of our day were non-existent. But now we have warning messages that our fuel is running low (giving us perhaps an hour more of driving), and then additional progressively urgent warnings indicating just how many estimated miles of driving we have left. One must say that most people who run out of fuel are “without excuse.”

Why, then, do we do it, seemingly as often today as people did years ago, when all of the advantages of technology were not available? In our gospel, it is not gasoline that is lacking, but olive oil “the fuel burned in the lamps of Jesus’ day.

And, I believe we will discover that the five foolish virgins did not really “run out” of oil; they never had it.

This parable is confusing for some people, but a little clarification goes a long way. The virgins are girls, bridesmaids. Virgin is just the standard word for an adolescent girl. Their job was to be a part of the procession, carrying lamps.

I used to think that the wise girls were really the selfish girls. I learned about sharing in kindergarten, but it seems that these girls did not. Why not share the oil? Then I finally heard, as if for the first time, the reasoning of the wise girls and realized that they were right.

There might not be enough for both. The oil each girl had in her flask might keep her lamp lit for 8 hours but would only keep two lamps lit for 4 hours. If they had shared the oil, they might have ended up with no light at all. It would be foolish to share the oil and burn through the limited supply twice as quickly.

What about the strange words of the bridegroom, “I do not know you”? The foolish girls went to town to buy some oil, and when they came back, presumably with well-lit lamps, they knock on the door respectfully. “Lord, Lord”, they say, “open up for us.”

He does not refuse to open, but simply admits that he does not know them. There is a parallel here between this parable and the end of the Sermon on the Mount, 18 chapters earlier. There Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you.’” The girls say “Lord, Lord.” The bridegroom says, “I do not know you.”

So, what do all these symbols mean? Oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit: it is used in Baptism and Confirmation and Anointing of the Sick to signify the Holy Spirit. If that is the case, there are two kinds of Holy Spirit in this parable, for there are two kinds of oil container.

Some of the Holy Spirit is in a lamp, burning. Some of the Holy Spirit, at least for the five wise girls, is in a flask, not burning. So also, in every Christian, there are two kinds of Holy Spirit: there is the Holy Spirit that burns:

A jumping up and down, casting out demons, speaking in tongues, healing the sick with a touch, floating in the air kind of Holy Spirit, and then there is the Holy Spirit that does not burn – a quiet, prayerful, loving your neighbor, biting your tongue, suffering patiently kind of Holy Spirit.

Of course, there is really only one Holy Spirit, just as the oil in the lamps and the oil in the flasks was the same oil. It is not the Holy Spirit who is different; the difference is in the containers: our souls. Now all the girls had lamps, but only some had flasks.

Every Christian is glad to have the power of the lamp, but not everyone wants to do the work required to fill up the flask. Some Christians go so far as to consider the lamps to be the real Holy Spirit.

They gather on Sunday and speak in tongues and play music that sets their hearts on fire; they like to see miracles and healings and spectacular conversions. These are gifts from God; I do not denigrate any of this, but if this is all Christianity is for them, they are like the foolish girls: lamps but no flasks.

It is in quiet prayer that we fill our flasks. The Church is calling us to return to silence, uncomfortable silence. Not merely the absence of noise, but the space to pray.

It is in patient suffering that we fill our flasks. Suffering is either accepted or chosen. We can accept suffering in sickness or cruel treatment. We can also choose to suffer by fasting or vigils or discomfort. Our culture cannot understand why someone would choose to be uncomfortable or accept suffering gladly.

It is in loving that we fill our flasks, loving our neighbor and loving our enemies: forgetting ourselves. To love means to live for. If we love ourselves, we live for ourselves. If we love others, we live for them.

It is the will of God that we fill our flasks, so if anyone says to us, “Oh you with your boring Christianity”, while juggling snakes and drinking poisons and dancing in the aisles, if anyone tells us that we are missing something because we do not shout often enough, let us go on nonetheless, filling our flasks, waiting for the Bridegroom.

Although many things need to be said about how best to understand the meaning of this parable, four brief observations adequately suggest to us what Jesus was trying to say:

(1) The delay of the bridegroom plays a critical role in the story. Had the bridegroom not delayed, all of the virgins would have been ready and waiting when the marriage procession arrived, and they all would have accompanied the bridegroom to the feast. Only because the bridegroom was delayed were half of the virgins caught unprepared and not able to accompany him to the feast.

(2) The wisdom of the wise virgins consisted in their understanding that the bridegroom might be delayed. Why did the wise virgins take the flask of extra oil with them? Was it not because they had the foresight to anticipate that they might have to wait? Had they thought there would be no delay, it would have been completely unnecessary for them to carry extra oil.

(3) In the end, the only crime of the foolish virgins was not being ready to follow the bridegroom to the feast when finally, he came.

(4) The bridegroom’s response to the crime of these foolish virgins is severe: he bars them from entering the marriage feast altogether; and, more severely, he makes the astounding claim that he does not know them.

As a conclusion, let me make a reference to wise virgins. Why is wisdom referred to girls / women? Wisdom is presented as a woman because both in Hebrew (hokmah) and in Greek (Sophia) wisdom is a feminine noun.

So, let us love our first wife/husband. The first wife is our soul, neglected in our pursuit of material wealth and pleasure. It is actually the only thing that follows us wherever we go. We need proper preparation so that we can meet the Lord and enter into his Kingdom. Let us be ready always because we cannot ask for anything or borrow anything at the Pearly Gate. Amen.

 

31st Sunday O T Year A – 17

31st Sunday O T Year A – 17

Mal.1:14-2:2, 8-10; 1Thess.2:7b-9, 13; Matt.23:1-12

One of the shared criticisms directed at Catholics by our Protestant fundamentalist brethren especially the Born-again Christian groups (whom as someone called as Born-against Christians), is about the address we give to our Pope as “Holy Father” and the priests as “Fathers”.

They say that this is against the teaching of Christ in the Bible. They cited today’s gospel especially in verse 9 that says: “…do not call anyone your father, only one is your father, the one in heaven.”

If we follow this kind of interpretation, it is an absurd interpretation. If taken literally, the word would forbid us to call our natural father as ‘father.’

What will be the feeling of Mr. So and so if his children would not address him as ‘father’ or papa or daddy. Instead, his children would call his name. Will he be agree? I’m sure he will not.

Maybe he is going to scold or get angry with them especially that for us Asians, we have a great respect for the elders. Then, how are we to call our school, ‘teachers’ if there is only one teacher?

What Christ wants to teach us, is that, our concern should not be after honors, worldly dignity and crave for first places in gatherings.

If we extend our helping hands to others in need, we should not be proud of it that it is coming from us but rather, we should announce that it is coming from God because we don’t have as our own.

We just do our job and not expecting any return. Our expression has to be: “Everything is for the greater glory of God.”

Why Jesus forbids His disciples to use these titles: father and teacher? Even St. Paul called himself as the father of the Corinthians (1Cor.4:15)? It is because these can be abused and misused. It is in the abused sense; these titles are forbidden of being used.

Many used their titles, positions in government and organizations and honors to threaten, to look down other people, to exploit, deprive and oppress other people. What is happening now?

There is abuse of power especially those in the government and you can cite examples even by yourselves.

The message of today’s gospel is a clear warning also to all who hold office and authority in God’s church whether as bishops, priests and deacons or superiors. Instead of being servants of all servants of God, they become their masters.

However, this gospel also applies to all of us who are here. Like for example, the parents used their authority as parents to justify what they are doing instead of listening to their children’s plea.

In other words, it is service that matters. If we want to become great human beings and outstanding Christians, then we must serve the rest.

Our service should take the form of meeting their physical and material needs like: washing or cooking meals for the family and many more. It is a small thing but taken for granted. In the eyes of God, it is the greatest performance we ever have.

Our service should take the form of caring for the emotional and psychological needs of others like offering them companionship when they are down and friendship, speaking words of hope and encouragement, showing acceptance and giving recognition.

Another form of service might be to meet the spiritual and faith needs of others like giving good examples, living simple lifestyles and many more.

What is our feeling now when we hear Jesus criticizing the Pharisees? Are we happy? Are we satisfied or sad and sorrow because like the Pharisees, we are also hit by such criticism?

Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full”.  It is a call to humble service as Jesus says today. The reason that Jesus was so harsh on the Jewish religious leaders of his time was that they were leading the people astray.

They were the ones who were trained in the study of the Law and the Prophets i.e. the basis of their religion. Instead of “giving glory to the name of the Lord” as Malachi says in today’s first reading, the Pharisees were seeking their own glory.

They wanted the places of honor at banquets, having the front seats at synagogues and all other marks of respect as well as wanting people to call them Rabbi, Teacher, Father.

Jesus is asking us simply to “LET YOUR LIFE TELL GOD’S STORY”. And he tells us how. This may be done as it is said in the end of today’s gospel by serving and being there for others. “The greatest among you will be the one who serves the rest”.

This is the good news of today’s gospel since it is possible for any of us. Jesus is inviting each of us to continue to do this in our daily lives and not just priests or religious. If I am the father or mother of a family, am I the best father or mother I can be for my family?

If I am a son or daughter am I the best that I can be in that family. The call is to think of the others. Do not seek to be the center of attention. If I am a priest or sister or bishop, am I the best one I can be in using the talents God gives me in the service of others.

The paradox is that the less we make ourselves the center of attention and serve others, the happier we will be and the more peace and joy we will experience in our lives.

Ultimately it is by realizing this, Jesus went this way before us in his own life that he is now inviting us to follow his way. We read in Jn.14.6 “I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE”.

He emptied himself to come amongst us to show God’s total choice of and love for us. He knelt down and washed the apostles’ feet. He fed the hungry and healed the sick. Why? To reveal to others that this is our heavenly Father’s way too.

God the Father is prepared to kneel at our feet and wash them if we will allow him. He will do anything apart from sin for our sakes. God is the ultimate servant for us.

His only concern is our happiness, our joy, and our peace. Can we do anything less for others so as to reveal to them by our lives ‘THIS IS OUR GOD and YOURS TOO!

“Lord, it is not easy to be of service to others.  Give us the Holy Spirit so we can show others the kind of God you are – a servant to all. Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen”