1st Sunday of Advent Year B – 14

1st Sunday of Advent Year B – 14
Is.63:16b-17, 19b, 64:2-7; I Cor.1:3-9; Mk.13:33-37

Years ago, when 20th Century Fox advertised in the New York papers to fill a vacancy in its sales force, one applicant replied: “I am at present selling furniture at the address below. You may judge my ability as a salesman if you will stop into see me at anytime, pretending that you are interested in buying furniture. When you come in, you can identify me by my red hair.

And I should have no way of identifying you. Such salesmanship as I exhibit during your visit, therefore, will be no more than my usual workday approach and not a special effort to impress a prospective employer.” From among more than 1500applicants, this guy got the job. Jesus wants us to be ready like that man. We don’t know when He’s coming back, so we should be prepared all the time.

The central theme of today’s readings is Jesus’ warning to us to be alert, watchful and prepared because Christ’s Second Coming, coinciding with the end of the world, can occur at any time. The vigilant service prepares us for the coming of Christ as our savior during Christmas and as our judge and Lord at the end of the world.

The reason why the liturgical year ends and begins with the same theme is clear: if we have already embraced Jesus in his first coming, we will have no fear of his second coming. Advent is the season of special preparation for and expectation of the coming of Christ. It encourages us to examine our lives, to reflect on our need for God to enter our lives and to prepare earnestly for, and eagerly await the coming of Christ.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah prays for God’s active presence so that the Jewish community, returned from Babylonian exile, may remain faithful to their God. In the second reading, St. Paul prays for the reconversion of Christians in Corinth who have misused their gifts and charisms and remain well-prepared for Christ’s Second Coming.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses the short parable of the servants and gate-keeper of an absentee master who could return at any time. Jesus instructs his followers to be alert and watchful while doing their Christian duties with sincerity. The gate-keeper and the house hold servants are expected to be ever-vigilant because their master is sure to return. The time of his return is uncertain, but the reward or punishment is sure and certain.

Jesus summarizes the complexities of Christian living in two imperatives: “Take heed!” (Be on guard) and “Watch!” (Be alert, stay awake, and don’t grow careless).Our life on earth is to be one of productive service uninfluenced by a supervisor’s presence or seeming absence. Today’s Gospel is the conclusion of a speech found in Mark13, in which Jesus predicts his Second Coming (Parousia), at the end of time or at the end of the world.

Ten years after Paul’s death, Mark reminded his community in Rome of Jesus’ words, “Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake! You do not know when the appointed time will come.” The evangelist knew that if an expected event didn’t happen as quickly as expected, people would stop doing the things they ought to do.

Hence, Mark reminded them of Jesus’ parable about the gate-keeper in the house of a traveling master. When Paul and Mark spoke about the things to come, it was only to remind their readers that their present behavior wasn’t measuring up to what Christ’s second coming demanded.

People, in general, used to have a paranoid fear about the end of the world. They expected it in A.D. 204, 999and 2000. The title of a best-seller published in 1988 was 101 Reasons Why Christ Returns in 1988.

A very popular film released in 1999 about Christ’s Second Coming was Omega Code, and another film released in 2005 was Left Behind. Excessive fear of the tribulations accompanying the end of the world led the followers of a religious cult led by Jim Jones (in 1978), and followers of another cult called Heaven’s Gate (in1997), to commit mass suicide.

But Jesus, in today’s Gospel, gives us the assurance that we need not be afraid of the end of the world, Christ’s Second Coming and the Last Judgment if we remain alert and prepared. Jesus illustrates the need for alertness and readiness by comparing the situation of his followers to that of a gate-keeper in a house when the owner was out of the country.

Since the gate-keeper did not know when the owner of the house would return, “in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning,” he must always be ready if he did not want the owner to find him asleep. In the same way, there is no reason for Christ’s followers to be fearful, provided we are ready everyday for Jesus’ return.

If we are awake and ready, the coming of the Son of Man is an event
to be greeted with joy. Thus our whole life should be a preparation to meet the master. Like the parents who trust their teenagers to look after the house while they are away, or like the teacher who leaves the class room after giving her students plenty of work to do, Jesus trusts us to carry out his work until he returns.

There is the work of witnessing to Jesus in our daily lives. There is the work to be done in our families, our schools, our local churches and our community. There is the work of caring for those who are hurting and have needs.

There is the work of guiding and leading others, pointing people to the comforting message of the Gospel. There is the work of living “lives holy and dedicated to God,” “doing our best to be pure and faultless in God’s sight and to be at peace with him”

This passage reminds us also that we should not be so foolish as to forget God and become immersed in worldly matters. Using Christ’s parable, the Church reminds us of the alertness and preparation needed for the four-fold coming of Jesus into our lives, namely:

At the celebration of His Incarnation during this Christmas season, in His active presence in our daily lives, at the moment of our death, and in his final coming in glory at the end of the world.

Every morning when we get up, let us pray, “Lord, show me someone today with whom I may share your love, mercy and forgiveness.” Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Whatever you do in your family, for your children, for your husband, for your wife, you do for Jesus.”

Every night when we go to bed, let us ask ourselves, “Where have I found Christ today?” The answer will be God’s Advent gift to us that day. By being alert and watchful we will receive an extra gift: Christ himself. Let us remember the saying of St. Thomas Aquinas:”Without God, I can’t. Without me, He won’t.”

We are so future-oriented that we often forget the present entirely. We spend too much time trying to protect ourselves against future misfortunes. We save for a rainy day, to get married, to buy a home, to send the children to college, to retire in comfort and to protect ourselves against future misfortunes.

But we need to be more spiritually wakeful and prepare for our eternal life because we can die any day, and that is the end of the world for us. Let this Advent season be the time of such a preparation for us.

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Solemnity of Christ the King – 2014

Solemnity of Christ the King – 2014

Ezek.34:11-12, 15-17; 1Cor.15:20-26, 28; Mt.25:31-46

The Church celebrates the feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday (34th Sunday), of her liturgical year. It was Pope Pius XI who introduced this feast in the liturgy in 1925. Although Emperors and Kings now exist mostly in history books, we still honor Christ as the King of the Universe by enthroning him in our hearts and allowing him to take control of our lives. Today the Church presents Jesus as our King and Lord who was and is the visible presence of God in our midst.

A young woman teacher with obvious liberal tendencies explains to her class of small children that she is an atheist: that she doesn’t believe in the existence of God. She asks her class if they are atheists too. Not really knowing what atheism is, but wanting to be like their teacher, their hands explode into the air like flashy fireworks. There is, however, one exception. A beautiful girl named Lucy has not gone along the crowd.

The teacher asks her why she has decided to be different. “Because, I’m not an atheist.” Then teacher asks, “What are you?” “I’m a Christian.” The teacher is little perturbed now, her face slightly red. She asks Lucy why she is a Christian. “Well, I was brought up knowing and loving Jesus. My mom is a Christian, and my dad is a Christian, so I am a Christian.”

The teacher is now angry. “That’s no reason,” she says loudly. “What if your mom was an idiot and your dad an idiot, what would you be then?” Lucy paused, smiled and said, “Then, I’d be an atheist!” The first reading introduces God as a Shepherd reminding us of Christ’s claim that he is the true shepherd. In the second reading, St. Paul presents Christ as the all-powerful ruler who raises the dead and to whom every other power and authority must eventually give way.

Today’s Gospel describes Christ the King coming in his Heavenly glory to judge us, based on how we have shared our love and blessings with others through genuine acts of charity in our lives. Jesus is present to us now, not only as our good shepherd leading, feeding and healing his sheep, but also as dwelling in those for whom we care.

The New Testament tells us that Jesus is the long-awaited king of the Jews. In the Annunciation, recorded in Lk.1:32-33, we read: “The Lord God will make him a King, as his ancestor David was, and he will be the King of the descendants of Jacob forever and his Kingdom will never end.” The magi from the Far East came to Jerusalem and asked the question: (Mt.2:2) “Where is the baby born to be the King of the Jews? We saw his star… and we have come to worship him.”

During the royal reception given to Jesus on Palm Sunday, the Jews shouted: (Lk.19:38) “God bless the King, who comes in the name of the Lord.” When Pilate asked the question: (Jn.18:37) “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus made his assertion, “You say that I am a King,” then went on, “For this I was born and came into this world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Luke’s Gospel tells us (19:19), that the board hung over Jesus’ head on the cross read: “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews,” and Jesus (Lk.23:42-43) promised Paradise to the repentant thief on the cross, who made the request: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Before his Ascension into Heaven, Jesus declared: (Mt.28:18) “I have been given all authority in Heaven and on earth.”

Today’s Gospel on the Last Judgment presents Christ the King coming in his Heavenly glory to judge us. Christ is a unique King with a unique Kingdom. Jesus Christ still lives as King in thousands of human hearts all over the world. The cross is his throne and the Sermon on the Mount is his rule of law. His citizens need to obey only one major law: “Love one another.”

His love is selfless, sacrificial, kind, compassionate, forgiving and unconditional. That is why the preface in today’s Mass describes Jesus’ Kingdom as “a Kingdom of truth and life, a Kingdom of holiness and grace, a Kingdom of justice, love and peace.” He is a King with a saving and liberating mission: to free mankind from all types of bondage, and to enable us to live peacefully and happily on earth and to inherit eternal life in heaven.

Jesus says that there is only one right way to exercise power in this world, and that is for the sake of the powerless. Those with food and drink should share it. Those who are on the inside should be hospitable to those on the outside. If someone is cold, someone with clothes should keep him or her warm. If someone is sick, those who are well should be in attendance.

If people are oppressed, those who have their liberty should look to their needs. If we live by these kingdom rules during our time in this world, we will slip pretty easy into the next one. Take up your pen and write a check for the poor Christ. Jesus Christ comes to us in the form of victims of wars, hurricane victims, earthquake victims, refugees and accident victims.

Put on your jacket and go visit the sick Christ. Christ is sick in the hospitals and apartments. Set a place at your table for the lonely Christ. Forgive, support, or lift up the burdened Christ. When we do these things, the kingdom is ours. We have to choose between love of power and the power of love.

One of the first lessons that grow out of this parable of the Last Judgment is that our God is a hidden God. He hides himself and he goes incognito wearing a mask. When our God is being crucified today in the suffering millions, He is the most hidden God. Hence, the real message of today’s parable is to seek God hiding behind the faces and in the places of suffering people.

In the parable about the separation of the sheep from the goats at the Last Judgment, Jesus reminds us to get ready to answer “yes” to his six questions based on our corporal and spiritual acts of mercy. “I was hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick, imprisoned; did you help Me?”

When God threatens us with punishment or the withholding of rewards, it is His way of motivating us to do what He wants us to do, just as mature parents have always done. We are reminded that when we care for the hungry, thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned, we are actually taking care of Jesus who lives behind the faces of these people.

Mother Teresa explains that they are, “hungry, not only for bread, but hungry for love; naked not only for clothing, but for human dignity and respect; homeless not only for want of a room of bricks, but homeless because of rejection. This is Christ in distressing disguise.” Jesus lives within these hurting people, behind their eyes, their tears, and their pain.

All the Sacraments and prayers in the Church are meant to make us truly compassionate toward them all and so make us eligible to be rewarded on the day of the Last Judgment by our King and Lord Jesus Christ Whom we have thus helped.

We start forgetting ourselves in loving and caring for another person. This quality of love then spreads from our home to the neighbor down the street. This love is amplified when I begin to feel that it is my brother who is starving in Asia and Africa and my sister who is starving in Latin America. I reach out to help because we are a family.

Every person to whom we give ourselves, “whether hungry, thirsty or a stranger, naked, sick or in prison,” is revealed to us as having been the risen Jesus. Our reward or punishment depends on how we have treated this risen Jesus in the needy.

33rd Sunday in O T Year: A – 14

33rd Sunday in O T Year: A – 14

Prv.31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31, 1Thess.5:1-6, Matt.25:14-30

A man got mad with God. “God,” he said, “I have been praying daily for three years that I should win the state lottery. You told us to ask and we shall receive. How come I never got to receive all these three years I have been asking?” Then he heard the voice of God, loud and clear: “My dear son,” God said. “Please do me a favor, go to the store and buy a lottery ticket.” This is not supposed to be a promotion of gambling. Rather, it illustrates the saying: “If you want to win, you got to play.”

There are two kinds of people in our churches today: the risk-takers and caretakers. The problem with caretakers is that they might show up at the gate of heaven with little to show for the lives they have lived. Jesus warns us against this in today’s gospel parable of the talents. This parable is a story about a businessman who leaves the town and entrusts his money with his workers.

Wealthy merchants and businessmen often had to travel abroad and leave the business to others to handle while they were gone. Why did Jesus tell this story? Most importantly it tells us something about how God deals with us, His servants. The parable speaks, first, of the master’s trust in his servants. Then second, the essence of the parable seems to lie in the servants’ conception of responsibility.

Each servant entrusted with the master’s was faithful up to a certain point. The servant who buried the master’s money was irresponsible. One can bury seeds in the ground and expect them to become productive because they obey natural laws. Coins, however, do not obey natural laws. They obey economic laws and become productive in circulation. The master expected his servants to be productive in the use of his money.

Talent is a Greek word for ‘money’. What do you think of the third slave in today’s gospel? I sympathize with the third slave who buried his money. After all, he was given the equivalent of over fifteen years of labor, which means a huge worth of silver coins in his hands! He decided to bury them for fear of losing them in trading.

In English a ‘talent’ is defined as “a natural ability that can be improved by diligent practice.” The first step in utilizing our talents is to acknowledge that we have them. How many of your talents can you name? Just think for yourselves.

A friend of mine, a successful business man, told me this story. Once, during a long season when his work was suffering, he began to wonder if he should find another occupation. One of his sister’s kids, listening to his doubts, took a pencil and wrote on a piece of paper what she must have learned at her catechism class: “God created you to use your talents. Name them.”

Those last words were underlined for emphasis. She taped the paper nearby his computer where they are to this day. You could have a talent of gold, a talent of silver, a talent of copper, etc.; it didn’t matter, it was still a talent. This is surely part of the parable’s message. It doesn’t matter what kind of talents you have: very ordinary ones, or bordering on genius; the same holds true of them all.

We are to risk our talents, this parable teaches; in other words, we are to use them. The man who had only one talent was afraid to lose it, so he buried it in the ground. He probably looked at the people who had two talents or five, and he said, “It is all right for them; they can afford to risk and lose, but I have only one chance and it would be madness to risk it.”  It’s very logical.

But there would be no life on earth if that logic prevailed everywhere.  We might feel safe, but we would just be dead safe. It is clear that the parable was directed against the scribes and Pharisees, who were identified as the “wicked and lazy servant”. This servant buried the talent so as to be able to hand it back just as it was. The whole aim of the scribes and Pharisees was to keep the Law exactly as it was.

In their own phrase, they sought “to build a fence around the Law.” The slightest alteration or adaptation was out of the question. All life is risk. People who are afraid of risking anything or taking chances do not win. Fear is not the mother of inventions or discovery. Fear paralyzes action. Fearful people will be concerned about their own skin and security.

But safety is not the supreme value in religion. In this parable Jesus is telling us we must take risks. Life itself is a risk, and the texture of it is continual risk-taking. Of course there are foolish risks that are better avoided, but that is because they are foolish, not because they are risks. We are invited to use our gifts recklessly for the good of our families, our community, everyone we meet… and the many whom we will never meet.

Therefore, today’s parable awakens our sense of responsibility. Responsibility means to respond with ability. Let us discover the gift of abilities that God endowed us. Let us not be afraid to respond to the call to the service that he is inviting us to do. We are empowered by special graces to act accordingly and faithfully to our duties in this world.

And so do we put to good use the gifts which God has entrusted to us like health, intelligence, faith, skills, our 3 Ts (Time, Talent and Treasure)? But if we are given responsibilities we have so many reasons to give, not to accept them. We are the greatest excuse makers in the world. Why are we afraid to take responsibilities? There are three reasons: 1. We are afraid because of what others might say; 2. That we are busy that we don’t have time. We are so busy, for what? 3. Because of pride.

At the end, let us remember this that the parable teaches us also about accountability. We shall be made to render an accounting of our gifts, whether that be material or whatever. Do we earnestly seek to serve God with the gifts, talents and graces he has given to us? Are we responsible? Do we use them for the good of all or for our own selfish interest?

The parable can challenge us to look at the way in which each of us look at what we own and what we earn. Are we risk takers or care-takers? Are we hoarders or are we generous? Do we think ahead about how some small risks might be necessary to accomplish good things in life? The needs of the community, parish, diocese and country are great. They won’t be filled by burying our talents.

Let me finish this homily with a joke. How to stay safe without taking risk? 1. Avoid riding in automobiles because they are responsible for 20% of all fatal accidents. 2. Do not stay home because 17% of all accidents occur in the home. 3. Avoid walking on streets or sidewalks because 14% of all accidents occur to pedestrians. 4. Avoid traveling by air, rail, or water because 16% of all accidents involve these forms of transportation. 5. Of the remaining 33%, 32% of all deaths occur in Hospitals. So, above all else, avoid hospitals.

BUT, you will be pleased to learn that only .001% of all deaths occur in worship services in church, and these are usually related to previous physical disorders. Therefore, logic tells us that the safest place for you to be at any given point in time is at Church! And, Bible study is safe too. The percentage of deaths during Bible study is even smaller. So for SAFETY’S sake: Attend Church, and read your Bible. IT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE! Amen.

 

The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica – 2014

The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica – 2014

Eze.47:1-2, 8-9, 12; 1Cor.3: 9-11, 16-17; Jn.2:13-22

A man was driving without his seatbelt. When he spotted a patrol car right behind him, he grabbed for the belt and put it on. But it was too late, and the red and blue lights began to flash. “You weren’t wearing your seatbelt,” said the officer. “Yes I was,” said the man, “and if you don’t believe me, ask my wife.” “So how about it, ma’am?” asked the cop.

“Officer,” she said, “I’ve been married to this man for forty years, and there’s one thing I’ve learned: Never argue with him when he’s drunk! Just give him a ticket for not wearing the seat belt.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t bother to argue with the unjust merchants and money changers who have converted the Temple into a noisy “market place” and a “den of thieves.” Instead, he frightens them with his angry order and chases them away, holding a whip in his hands.

The central theme of today’s readings is the warning that, as baptized Christians, we are the temples of God where the Spirit of God dwells and that we should not desecrate the temple of God by sin. Today we celebrate the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

Have you ever wanted to go back to see the home in which you lived as a child? Go back to the school in which you entered kindergarten or the first grade? Or maybe, with friends, go back to your old high school? Have you ever wanted to see the home you first lived in after you were married? All of us have probably taken ourselves back to those “firsts”.

Today the Roman Catholic Church takes us back to Rome, to Rome under the reign of the Emperor Constantine. On Nov. 9, 324A.D. Pope St. Sylvester consecrated the first public Christian church in the ancient City of Rome. It was built on property given to the Church by the Emperor Constantine and then converted into a Christian church and given the name “The Church of Saint Savior.” Centuries later, in the eleventh century, it became known as the Cathedral of St. John Lateran.

Buildings are important not just to keep us warm and dry. They are important for many, many reasons. Winston Churchill said it so clearly when London had to be rebuilt after the World War II. “We shape our buildings then our buildings shape our lives.” A church building is a holy place, a place where God’s people gather for prayer and worship and sacrifice.

But a church building is important not just because God is there but because we are. A church building is called a church only because it is where the Church gathers and prays and celebrates God’s saving love. Without the gathering of God’s people, it would not be a church, even if it were the most beautiful building ever built. So today’s commemoration of St. John Lateran is a feast worth celebrating; it’s also a feast reminding us that Church is more than a place to go.

So many people today claim to belong to a church, but they are seldom there. I think they deceive themselves to say they belong to a church unless they belong to the gathering of God’s people. And that’s what Church really is.

In the Second Reading St. Paul says, “You are God’s building.” Those who are physically unable to be part of the gathering because of sickness or infirmity are still connected with us through the Eucharist our Communion ministers take to them each week.

Belonging to a Church is more than having your name on a church’s roster or in the church’s computer. Being part of a church involves more than simply believing in Christ. St. James (2:19) tells us the devils also believe … and tremble with fear. Later on in his letter, Paul uses another example to show, that following Christ means, being part of a community of Christ’s body and we need to be united and work together as one.

In today’s First Reading, Ezekiel describes the Temple as a source of life-giving water for a broad sweep of land. And this land will become the marvelously fertile home of the restored tribes when the exiles return. He prophesies how the small stream will flow to the East making the land fertile for the returned exiles.

Thus, the Temple in Jerusalem is pictured as the source of God’s abundant blessings for His people when they will finally be allowed to return to their homeland, fully repentant and reconciled with God. The Temple of Jerusalem was the symbol of Jewish religion and the only center of their common worship and sacrifices. Weekly Sabbath prayers and the teaching of the Law took place in local synagogues under the leadership of the rabbis.

Jesus did his controversial cleansing of this Temple in its outer courtyard called the Court of the Gentiles, since Gentiles were allowed to enter it. The merchants selling animals and the money-changers at work had converted the Court of the Gentiles into a noisy market making it impossible for the Gentiles to worship Yahweh.

The Temple authorities, by sharing the profit made by merchants and money-changers, had converted the Temple into a “den of thieves”. Jesus’ reaction to this commercialized Faith was fierce. Since no weapons were allowed inside the Temple, Jesus had to construct his own: a whip of cords.

John adds an additional note that Jesus’ disciples remembered Ps.69:9 (“Zeal for your house consumes me”), as a justification for Jesus’ rage. Filled with zeal for the House of God, that special place where humans and God met, Jesus challenged a religious practice that was simply external. But the great emphasis here is not so much on the cleansing of the Temple, but on the replacement of the Temple. That is the Body of Jesus.

So our relationship with God must be that of a child to his parent, with no thought of loss or gain, but only of mutual love, respect and the common good.  Hence, fulfilling one’s Sunday obligation only out of fear of mortal sin and consequent eternal punishment is a non-Christian approach.

We need to remember that we are the temples of the Holy Spirit: St. Paul reminds us that we are God’s temples because the Spirit of God dwells in us. Hence, we have no right to desecrate God’s temple by impurity and injustice. We are expected to cleanse our hearts of pride, hatred, jealousy and all evil thoughts, desires and planning.

We need to love our parish Church and use it. Our Church is the place where we come together as a community to love and praise God. It is the holy place where we gather strength to support one another in the task of living the Gospel. It is the place where we come privately to enter into intimate conversation with God.

Jesus has promised that He would be with us always until the end of time. So let us continue to offer our prayers, asking God to bless us as his people gathered in faith. Amen.