Palm Sunday, Year B – 2015

Palm Sunday, Year B – 2015

Is.50:4-7/ Phil.2:6-11/ Mk.14:1-15, 47

You might have heard of a story about a husband and a wife who had quarreled. It had been a high-pitched quarrel, each digging heels in to preserve the position each had vehemently taken. Emotions ran high. As they were driving to attend a family wedding in a distant city, both were nursing their hurt feelings in defensive silence. The angry tension between them was so thick you could cut it with a knife.

But, then the silence was broken. Pointing to a donkey standing in a pasture out beside the road, the husband sarcastically asked, “Relative of yours?” The wife quickly replied, “Yes, by marriage!” In modern communication, the ass is a symbol for awkwardness, dumbness, blundering ineptness, non-sophistication. Yet, an ass plays a key role in the drama of Palm Sunday at which we’re looking today.

Today’s Mass began with a festive and a celebrative kind of mood. Yes today is called Palm Sunday, and at the beginning there was the procession with palms to commemorate the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

The celebrative procession with palms gave way to a solemn mood where we heard of betrayal and denial, agony and pain. Palm Sunday is also called Passion Sunday. In short, we can say that the mood in today’s Mass went from “palm to pain”.

And with that, we also enter into Holy Week and we can also say that “the pain is increasing” until it reaches its climax on Good Friday in a painful death on the cross. Yes, from this Sunday to the next Sunday, we will be confronted with a mixture of emotions – of joy and sorrow; glorious entry and humiliating exit; life and death.

Yes, we move from palm to pain. Yet it does not stop just there. Because pain and suffering and death do not have the last say and neither do they determine the final outcome. The final outcome is always in the hands of God who will be victorious, and in Jesus Christ who has conquered sin and death.

It is in the humble palm branch that we see the unfolding of pain and suffering and death. Yet it is also a sign of the victory and glory to come. As it is, this palm branch will slowly dry up in the days to come. It will turn from green to a brownish color. In the end, it will just be a dried up stiff branch.

Yet in the future, this palm branch together with the other palm branches will be collected and burnt and made into ashes for Ash Wednesday’s imposition of ashes. So what was thought to be dead and useless will be given a new purpose and a new meaning. Yes the ashes take on a new meaning and a new purpose and they become a sign of our repentance and conversion.

The same way life is like a cycle of ups and downs. And as it is always said, what goes up must come down, and what goes down must come up. Hence, we can say that nothing stays up always, and nothing stays down always. Today’s liturgy has two opposite and contrasting moods.

We began the liturgy with the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The crowds spread their garments on the road and shouted: Hosanna in the highest!  (Praise God and his Messiah, we are saved)  As we recalled that gospel scene, we too waved the palm branches in remembrance of that glorious moment when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem.

But as we move on into the liturgy, the mood begins to swing drastically. From “Hosanna in the highest”, we hear of human drama in the darkest and lowest. We hear of betrayal, desertion, abandonment and crucifixion. Within a span of an hour, we hear of glory tumbling down into agony.

And in that cycle of glory and agony, we are invited to see our lives in that one week of the life of Jesus. We too had our days of glory when we walk with sunshine confidence and everything seems to be going right and under control. But within a week, or even a day, or even in a matter of hours, things start crumbling and tumbling down.

And this is where we are invited to share in that moment of glory-to-agony experience of Jesus. The readings prepare us for what is to come on Good Friday.  At the same time, the readings also prepare us for our own Good Fridays when we feel the agony of a sudden serious illness, the death of a loved one, the loss of a friendship, failure and disappointment, heartaches and distress.

Yes, in a short time and maybe even overnight, we plunge from glory to agony, and fall into the darkness of the tomb. The gospel also ended with Jesus buried in the tomb. But with Jesus we wait. Because what goes down must come up. Agony will be turned into glory. But we must wait. With faith and hope in the power and love of God, we wait till the agony of darkness will give way to the glory of light.

An interesting as well as challenging old fable tells of the colt that carried Jesus on Palm Sunday.  The colt thought that the reception was organized to honor him. “I am a unique donkey,” this excited animal might have thought. When he asked his mother if he could walk down the same street alone the next day and be honored again, his mother said, “No, you are nothing without Him who was riding you.”  Five days later, the colt saw a huge crowd of people in the street.

It was Good Friday, and the soldiers were taking Jesus to Calvary. The colt could not resist the temptation of another royal reception. Ignoring the warning of his mother, he ran to the street, but he had to flee for his life as soldiers chased him and people stoned him. Thus, the colt finally learned the lesson that he was only a poor donkey without Jesus riding on him.

As we enter Holy Week, today’s readings challenge us to examine our lives to see whether we carry Jesus within us and bear witness to him through our living or whether we are Christians in name only.

Let us rejoice and weep. Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday are two sides of the same coin because we have to rejoice and sing as we receive Jesus into our lives as our Lord and Savior and we have to weep and mourn as his death confronts us with our sin. Yes, we were there in the crowd on both days, shouting “Hosanna!” and later “Crucify!”

Because of what Jesus has done for us and our faith in him, one day we will be in that great crowd gathered around the throne of God, and there everyone will shout words of praise, heavenly hosannas, that will ring through all eternity, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!” Amen.

Advertisements

5th Sunday of Lent Year – B – 2015

5th Sunday of Lent Year – B – 2015

Jer.31:31-34; Heb.5:7-9; Jn.12:20-33

A married couple in their early 60s was out celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary in a quiet, romantic little restaurant. Suddenly, a tiny beautiful fairy appeared on their table and said, “For being such an exemplary married couple and for being faithful to each other for all this time, I will grant you each a wish.” Ooh, I want to travel around the world with my darling husband,” said the wife.

The fairy moved her magic stick and two tickets for the new luxury liner appeared in her hand. Now it was the husband’s turn. He thought for a moment and said, “Well, this is all very romantic, but an opportunity like this only comes once in life time, so I’m sorry, my love, but my wish is to have a wife 30 years younger than me.”

The wife and the fairy were disappointed but a wish is a wish. So the fairy made a circle with her magic stick and there it was – the husband became 92 year old. The best part is towards the end, not only in the story but even in our life. By mentioning the statement, “The Best part is towards the end,” I remember what Scot Peck had said in his book, “The Road Less Travelled.”

He says that one of the techniques in developing discipline is delaying gratification. Delaying gratification is the process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with. The experience of dying or giving up a part of our own self is always rewarding and that reward is eternal life.

This dying to self or to put it in another way, unless we die to our own will we cannot bear fruit. And that is what Jesus is telling us in today’s gospel. He said that unless a grain of wheat dies, it couldn’t bear fruit. Each act of kindness, toward a loved one or a stranger is a step in the right direction.

A husband meets his greatest challenge to die to self as he devotedly cares for his terminally ill wife unto the end, never counting the coast in dollars or days. So it is with a wife attending to her paraplegic husband in a heroic sacrifice of her life. So it is with a parent unconditionally loving his child with Down syndrome.

Concretely, what does all this dying to self or dying to our own will mean for you and me every day of our lives? It means dying to our pride and asking for help; admitting our problem and seeking help from others and God; forgiving the person from our hearts and treating her/him with love once again.

Mr. Ernest Tan in his book, “Living Life Fully”, said: “Self-investment is a key to growth. The more investments we make in life, the more we gain.” Similarly, this is what we hear now from today’s gospel: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

In today’s gospel Jesus is speaking of ‘hating’ too. Hating one’s life. But we all know that life is sacred and no man can take it away from you. The context of the gospel shows that to ‘hate’ is to give less preference. The comparison here is between life in this world and eternal life.

Here Jesus makes us realize that attachment to home, loved ones and possessions may prevent us from following Him and closing our eyes to the values of the Kingdom. He is telling us to yield up the love of life for the sake of the life of love. If we are going to choose between life in this world and eternal life, which one we choose?

Today’s readings focus on the upcoming death of Jesus, which is interpreted not only as a priestly sacrifice but also as the moment of his “exaltation” and “glorification.” In a way, the gospel reading explains the paschal mystery of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. Let us try to reflect on the important points found in the gospel passage.

First, Jesus gives us the image of the “grain of wheat” to describe his coming death.  If we are familiar with farm life, we can easily understand what Jesus meant. There is a contradiction here: a grain has to fall or die in order to produce fruits. A grain, when it falls to the ground, ends its being a grain and is transformed into a new life.

Jesus now foresees that his impending death would mean life for his followers. His death is an act of self-offering par excellence. It can never be a useless and meaningless death because it brings salvation and eternal life to believers. Thus, he has to die so that we may live. His death means our life.

Second, he gives another contradiction: hate one’s life in order to preserve it. He says, “Whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” We can think of some people who were able to live this out. St Francis Xavier left or abandoned a glamorous life in the university, and instead, became a missionary.

Likewise, we heard about the life of Albert Schweitzer, who abandoned a lucrative career in music and instead, he works as a missionary doctor in Africa. There are many more inspiring stories of people on how they fought against the values of the world, and instead embrace the values of the kingdom. By doing so, they are able to preserve themselves “for eternal life”.

Third, Jesus emphasizes the need for discipleship or following him. He says, “Whoever serves me must follow me.” Indeed, we are servants of the Lord. But Christ expects more than that. It is necessary for us to follow him. Following him would mean following in his self-offering.

We need to reflect on the suffering of Jesus. His suffering is a redemptive suffering. He suffered for our sake; he offered his life for our salvation. Suffering is not alien to us. Almost every day we can experience suffering. We suffer from relationships, and we also suffer from illness. But suffering without Christ is senseless and meaningless.

It is good that we take the opportunity to find the meaning of our own suffering. It can be a graced moment if we see it as our participation in the suffering of Christ on the cross. Today’s Gospel teaches us that new life and eternal life are possible only by the death of the self through suffering and service. Salt gives its taste by dissolving in water.

A candle gives light by burning its wick and melting its wax. The oyster produces a priceless pearl by transforming a grain of sand through a long and painful process. Loving parents sacrifice themselves so that their children can enjoy a better life than they themselves had. Let us pray that we may acquire this self-sacrificial spirit, especially during Lent.

Only a life spent for others will be glorified here in this world and in Heaven. It is better to burn out than rust out. So let us learn to live this Lenten period “burning out,” spending our time and talents for others around us by humble, selfless and self-giving service. “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” (John Wesley) Amen.

 

 

 

4th Sunday of Lent Year – B – 2015

4th Sunday of Lent Year – B – 2015

2 Chr.36:14-16, 19-23; Eph.2:4-10; Jn.3:14-21

There was a man who was bitten by a dog and got rabies. His doctor told him he had only a day to live. Immediately the man pulled out a pen and a paper and started furiously scribbling things down. Curious, the doctor asks, “Are you writing your will?” “Nope,” he replies. “I am making a list of the people I’m going to bite before I die.”

Today is the first day of the fourth week of Lent. Today is “Rejoice Sunday” too. So, three weeks done is 21 days, and there are 19 days left until the Easter Triduum. We are halfway through! I hope these days of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving have been fruitful. We should not stop or slow down.

When a runner reaches the halfway point of a race, they rejoice, but they keep running. So we too should rejoice but keep running this race. Why does the Church invite us in the middle of the penitential season of Lent to rejoice? It is because, “God so loved the world so much that he gave his only son.”

These forty days provide an opportunity for God, and he is always going to take advantage of an opportunity to save us. We are trying to listen to him. We are trying to love ourselves less and our neighbors more. We are trying to be perfect, and he, who wants us to be perfect, is using this effort to effect real change in our souls.

It is not we who are accomplishing this change, lest we should boast. But God cannot accomplish the change unless we are trying to be perfect. We try, and he accomplishes. God built the road; we are just driving on it. We are not saved by our works, for our works are insufficient, but they are necessary.

Just as a car does not move because I push my foot on a gas pedal slightly: it moves because of the gas and the engine and the design, but until I do press down slightly, the car will not go anywhere, so too we do not actually accomplish our salvation by means of the little works we do, the fasting and the praying and the almsgiving, but without them we are not saved.

So what is the one big difference between God and us? God gives and forgives! We get and forget! God loved the world so much that He gave. We love the world so much that we forget that He gave. So it is correct to say that this Lent we are saving ourselves because we are finally making use of the grace of God.

The goal of all this effort is to believe in Jesus. God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. If you are looking for something to believe or someone to believe in, I can recommend Jesus, but it is not easy to believe in Jesus.

Believing in Jesus must mean something other than going to Mass on Sunday and something other than saying the right words and even something other than a particular feeling of faith, for wicked people often appear to lack nothing of these normal religious attributes.

If I believe in Jesus, I believe that he will not fail me; I believe that his commands are true and good, and I believe that my happiness comes from him and nowhere else. If I have faith in Jesus I am making a statement about how my whole life will be structured. It is this kind of faith that has the power to save.

If I believe in God, this faith has to change my whole life. The ancient Israelites forgot how important God was. They thought that he would not mind if they sinned. He sent them prophets to warn them, but they ignored the prophets, so he sent a different kind of messenger: the King Nebuchadnezzar, who came and destroyed Jerusalem, and carried the Israelites back as slaves.

We should not imagine that the situation is any different now. God does not expect less of us. He expects more from us because we have been given more grace. If he was not willing to preserve Jerusalem, his holy city, when the inhabitants had given themselves over to sin, he will not have any special protection for our country or any other country.

The citizens of Jerusalem thought they were safe because of their allies and their strong walls and their other defenses, but an empire arose from nowhere and conquered them easily. We are being confronted by some difficult decisions: do we believe in our country or do we believe in Jesus?

This does not have to be a contradiction, but it slowly is becoming one. Our country has risen, and someday it will fall, but Jesus is forever. Do we believe in the general opinion of society or do we believe in Jesus? There are a lot of voices that call traditional morality “extreme”.

And then there is a constant buzz that says that Jesus cannot be trusted, that we have to make certain allowances, certain indulgences, certain reasonable adaptations. We call it “updating” Christianity, but that is only because we live in a culture obsessed with have everything up-to-date. There has always been a voice opposed to Christianity. Do we believe in that voice, or do we believe in Jesus?

Believing in Jesus includes three elements: 1) the belief that God is our loving Father, 2) the belief that Jesus is the Son of God and, therefore, tells us the truth about God and life, and 3) the belief that we must give unquestioning obedience to Jesus.  “I believe” means I put my trust in Jesus and I seek to obey Him.

The Faith of which our Lord speaks is not just intellectual acceptance of the truths He has taught: it involves recognizing Him as Son of God (1.Jn.5:1), sharing His very life (Jn.1:12) and surrendering ourselves to Him out of love, thereby becoming like Him. The Catholic doctrine teaches that salvation is “by grace through Faith unto good works.”

We must do “good works” if we have been truly saved. In other words, if we are saved by our Faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, good works will follow as our acts of thanksgiving. This favor from God is constantly being offered, and our challenge is to respond to it gratefully by leading a good life.

Thus, we will receive from God eternal life, the very life of God Himself. Then we will experience peace with God, peace with men, peace with life and peace with ourselves. Believing in Jesus is not easy. It is a decision we make and a decision we fight for every day. In every action we say what we believe in and we decide what we will believe in.

So we need to reciprocate God’s love by loving others. God’s love is unconditional, universal, forgiving and merciful. Let us try, with His help, to make an earnest attempt to include these qualities as we share our love with others during Lent. Amen.