22nd Sunday O T Year B – 2015

                           22nd Sunday O T Year B – 2015           Dt.4:1-2, 6-9 / Jas.1:17-27 / Mk.7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

A man and a lady enter a ‘to go’ restaurant and the man orders two fried chicken dinners. The girl at the counter mistakenly gives him a bag of money, the entire day’s proceeds, instead of fried chicken. The man and woman drive to their picnic site and sit down to enjoy their chicken dinner. To their surprise, they discover that it is a bag of money, totaling almost $1,000. 

They put the money back in the bag, drive back to the restaurant and return the money bag to the restaurant manager. The manger is overwhelmed. He declares the man a hero and a saint. He goes to call the local press to put the story and the man’s picture in the local newspaper. “You’re the most honest man in the whole world,” says the manager. 

But the man would not let him call the press. Instead he leans closer and whispers in the ears of the manager, “You see, the woman I’m with is not my wife…she’s uh, somebody else’s wife.” The man might well be a hero, but he’s no saint. 

As James tells us in today’s second reading, true Christian holiness has as much to do with doing good to others as it has with keeping ourselves pure. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jas.1:27). The man scores high on honesty but very low on purity. 

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

Apostle James teaches us that a Christian must score high marks in both practical concern for the welfare of others and self-mastery in order to be truly holy and acceptable before God. For the next four Sundays we shall be reading from the Letter of James, as he leads us to understand the importance of practical Christianity, that faith without good works is dead.

Apostle James makes two important points in today’s reading. He teaches the importance of faith in action, and he defines for us what true devotion is. True devotion is not a matter of hearing good preaching and celebrating inspiring liturgies. Good preaching and inspiring liturgies are wonderful. Yet the litmus test of true devotion remains how we live out the word of God that we hear.

St. James defines true religion as keeping the word of God and doing His will by helping the needy, the poor and the weak in the community. He challenges us to become doers of the word, not merely hearers. “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” (Jas.1;27)

Today’s readings explain what true religion is. It is not simply a scrupulous, external observance of rules, laws, traditions and rituals. It is a loving, obedient relationship with God expressed in obeying His Commandments, worshipping Him, recognizing His presence in other human beings and rendering them loving and humble service. 

Prayers, rituals, Sacraments and religious practices only help us to practice this true religion in our daily lives. In today’s Gospel, Jesus describes true religion as serving God and all His children with a pure and holy heart.

Two monks, Brother Francis and an elder monk, are walking down a muddy road on a rainy day. They came upon a lovely young girl dressed in fine silk, who was afraid to cross because of the flood and the mud. “Come on, girl,” said Brother Francis. And he picked her up in his strong arms, and carried her across the river. 

The two monks walked on in silence till they reached the monastery. Then the elder monk couldn’t bear it any longer. “Monks shouldn’t go near young girls,” he said, “certainly not beautiful ones like that one! Why did you do it?” “Dear brother,” said Brother Francis, “I put the girl down by the river bank, but you have brought her into the monastery.” 

In these two monks we see the two often conflicting approaches to Christian spirituality, namely, avoidance and involvement. The spirituality of avoidance emphasizes the devout fulfilment of pious religious obligations, and shuns away from those regarded as sinners for fear of being contaminated by them. It aims at keeping the believer unstained by the world, not at changing the world or making a difference. 

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

Balance in Christian spirituality consists in reconciling these two tendencies and bringing them into harmony. As St James tells us, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress [involvement], and to keep oneself unstained by the world [avoidance].” 

In today’s gospel the Pharisees and the scribes speak for the spirituality of avoidance. Their focus is on ritual observances. Today we hear clearly in the gospel that it is the spirit of the law of God that is important. 

What the Pharisees lacked in spectacular fashion was any kind of interiority or depth; their minds were turned outwards, to rules and casuistry. What matters, Jesus said, is not what goes into a person from the outside, but what comes out from the inside. 

Religion is not about things, it is about us! It is about the kind of response we make to the world, to others, and to God. It is about whether that wonderful ‘chemistry’ of the Gospel is happening in us: the kind of ‘chemistry’ that can turn bad stuff into good, curses into blessings, suffering into prayer. The spirit of faith is hard to keep in sight at all times, yet it is meant for all times. 

It is the most sublime wisdom, yet it is meant to be very practical and not just a way of thinking. One way to make these ends meet is to identify religion with a few very visible practices. This is what the Pharisees and others did in the time of Jesus, and it is a constant temptation for us.

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

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

Advertisements

21st Sunday O T year B – 2015

                             21st Sunday, O T Year B – 2015               Jos.24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b/ Eph.5:21-32/ Jn. 6:60-69

The story is told about three priests who started discussing their common problem of how to get rid of bats in their churches. The first priest said he once took a shotgun and fired at them, but to no avail. The second one said he trapped them alive and released them outside, but they came back. 

The third priest said, he no longer had a problem in his church. They asked how he solved it, he said: “I simply baptized them and confirmed them, and I haven’t seen them in the church since then.” 
The word “paradox” is a rather strange word to define. 

I tried to look for the simplest and clearest and shortest definition, but I think I got into some kind of confusion. So I can only vaguely say that a paradox is a statement which is seemingly absurd, but nonetheless true. 

Yet in a way, we also vaguely know what a paradox is, and maybe a few examples may help us understand the paradox of our modern lives. 

So what is the paradox of our modern lives? Well, we have taller buildings but shorter tempers; we have wider expressways but narrower viewpoints; we spend more but have less; we buy more but enjoy less.

We have bigger houses but smaller families; we have more conveniences but less time; we have more knowledge but less judgment; we have more medicine but less health. We have conquered outer space but not our inner space; we have done bigger things but not better things.

These are just some examples of the paradox of our modern lives. And we may even come up with some paradoxes of our own. Yet there are times when we come across statements of conflicting truth and we don’t think much about them.

For example, if a person says “I always lie.” Is that person telling the truth, or is that person lying? Or we may have heard parents saying to their little children: Don’t go near the water until you have learned how to swim!

Well, statements of conflicting truths and paradoxes may leave us in confusion and even frustration. But we know what a nonsensical statement or a nonsensical language is. It is a statement or language that has no meaning or just simply absurd.

We will know it when we hear it, and there is no need to give an example. Yet, we heard in the gospel that some of the followers of Jesus were complaining that He used intolerable language. Putting it simply, they were saying that Jesus was talking nonsense, and that He was absurd and ridiculous.

And that was because Jesus said that the bread that He shall give is His flesh for the life of the world. And that anyone who eats His flesh and drinks His blood will have eternal life. It was nonsensical and absurd and ridiculous to them, and it disturbed them to the extent that they left. 

And what about us? Can we accept the teachings of Jesus? Don’t we feel disturbed by His teachings? Well, by the fact that we are here for Mass may mean that we believe in the teachings of Jesus. 

We say “Amen” when we receive Holy Communion, and we truly believe that we are receiving the Body of Christ. (I know a person who does not say Amen but repeats the words, “Body of Christ”). 

Our Christian faith was known as “the Way” before it was known as Christianity. It is a journey on which we are invited, not a system of thought and behavior that we set up for ourselves. 

The initiative is God’s, who “first loved us” (1Jn.4:19). As Leo the Great said, “Jesus is the hand of God’s mercy stretched out to us.” “You did not choose me but I chose you,” Jesus said (Jn.15:16). 

An invitation calls for a choice: acceptance or refusal. This is the theme of the readings at today’s Mass. In the Old Testament reading, Joshua (whose name, incidentally, is the Hebrew form of Jesus) said to the people, “Choose today whom you wish to serve.”  

The “gods beyond the river,” no doubt, had their attractions; they probably demanded less and could be easily manipulated. Joshua’s God was more demanding. In the gospel reading Jesus asks his disciples to make a similar choice. For Peter there was no contest: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life.”  

Joshua had said, “God is a jealous God” (Josh.24:19). What sense does it make to speak of the jealousy of God? It is a large theme in the Old Testament. In one place, ‘Jealousy’ is even said to be God’s name (Exo.34:14). But there is right jealously.

If parents saw their daughter getting into an intense friendship with an unprincipled ruffian, they would be very jealous indeed. This does not mean that they want to keep her locked up forever.  

They want her to meet people who will not use her as a plaything, but instead respect and love her. Their jealousy is an expression of their love. Likewise God, but infinitely more so.

God is absolute. This means that God is not prepared to be part of anything. A God who was less than absolute would only be a plaything for human beings. Likewise the demands of Jesus are absolute. They can be rejected, but they cannot be diluted. Why? Because that is the nature of love. 

Now just think of the other challenging and difficult teachings of Jesus? Like for e.g., love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt.5:43-44).

Or how about this: Do not resist an evildoer; if he strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other to him as well (Matt.5:39). Or, if you do not take up your cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. In fact, every page of the gospels is filled with some kind of hard teachings of Jesus.

These teachings of Jesus may sound absurd and ridiculous, yet His words are spirit and they are life, and they contain the message of eternal life. In fact, Jesus and His message is like a paradox, which may initially seem absurd and ridiculous, but nonetheless true.

Yes, it is the truth, but it is only after going through the pains of the trails of life that we can discover the truth of Jesus and His message. Because it is in the trials of life that we will have to decide whether to leave Jesus or to believe in Him; whether to stay with Jesus or to stay away from Him. 

The words of Jesus may seem ridiculous and absurd, but it is truth and life. Do we leave it, or believe in it? Will we stay with Jesus, or will we stay away from Jesus? From Peter we hear these profound words: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and we believe.

Oh yes, life can be a paradox; there will be good times, there will be bad times. Yet good times or bad times, it is hard to say. What we must do is to believe and stay with Jesus, because only He has the message of eternal life and he is the life giving bread that came down from heaven. 

Let us make our choice for Christ and live it. We Christians have accepted the challenge of following the way of Christ and making choices for Christ, fortified by the Bread he gives and relying on the power of his Holy Spirit. 

The Heavenly Bread and the Holy Spirit will give us the courage of our Christian convictions to take a stand for Jesus, to accept the Church’s teachings and to face ridicule, criticisms and even social isolation. That is what we mean by our “Amen” while receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. 

We express without any conditions or reservations our total commitment to him in the community to which we belong. Christ’s thoughts and attitudes, his values, his life-view must become totally ours. 

Above all, we are to identify with him in the offering of his Flesh and the pouring out of his Blood on the cross by spending our lives for others. Amen.

20th Sunday O T Year – B – 2015

20th Sunday O T Year B – 2015

Pro.9:1-6/ Eph.5:15-20/ Jn.6:51-58

Two dots on a piece of paper can be joined by a line. In our minds, we would presume that the line would be a straight line, meaning to say that a ruler would be placed between the two dots, and a straight line would be drawn across to join the two dots.

Especially in technical drawing, a line is usually a straight line. But that’s on paper, and we are talking about technical drawings. But in life, lines may not be that straight, and the lines of life weave in and out of the various aspects of life.

For example, the line that divides the rich and the poor is not a pencil-thin line, but a large grey area. The question is how rich is rich and poor is poor? Or the line between good and bad. Again, the question is how good is good and how bad is bad?

And the line between wisdom and foolishness may also not be so clear at times. It is said that wise men talk because they have something to say, whereas fools talk because they have to say something. Indeed, there is a difference between having something to say, and having to say something.

Yet is also said that, never argue with a fool, because people may not know the difference. In other words, only fools argue with each other. In the gospel, we heard that the people were arguing with one another. They were arguing about this – How can this man (Jesus) give us his flesh to eat?

Jesus said that He is the living bread, and that the bread He shall give is His flesh for the life of the world! The main point of the people’s argument is just those two words: How can? (How can this man give us his flesh to eat?)

And if we were around at that time when Jesus said those words, what would our reaction be? Most likely than not, we are also going to say “How can?” As a matter of fact, the ignorant and the foolish will be quick to say “How can?” to what they do not understand.

And even if the majority says the same thing, it doesn’t mean that they are right. So even if fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing. Well, six centuries before Christ, there was a Greek philosopher and mathematician by the name of Pythagoras. From him we got the Pythagoras theorem.

He was the first man to say that the world was round. The people at that time ridiculed him and also said “How can?” Now, if we were there, six centuries before Christ, and we hear him saying that the world was round, what would our reaction be?

Would we say “How can the world be round?” (because our eyes see it as flat!) Or would we ever dare to say “Why can’t the world be round?” and then get shot with all kinds of ridicules.

Indeed, to challenge the foolishness of this world, we need a lot of courage and wisdom.

It is easier to say “How can?” and stay with the majority; it is not that easy to say “Why cannot?” and then be ridiculed for being foolish. Yet the 1st reading reminds us that as we partake of the Eucharist, we partake of the bread of life, and in doing so, we must live our lives with wisdom and leave the folly of foolishness.

The 2nd reading also tells us the same thing – to be careful about the sort of lives we lead, to be wise and not be like foolish people. So practically what does that mean? Well the 2nd reading continues by saying that this may be a wicked age, but our lives should redeem it.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta had a rule that when a newcomer arrived to join her Order, the Missionaries of Charity, the very next day the newcomer had to go to the Home of the Dying. One day a girl came from outside India to join the Order.  Mother Teresa said to her: “You saw with what love and care the priest touched Jesus in the Host during Mass.

Now go to the Home for the Dying and do the same, because it is the same Jesus you will find there in the broken bodies of our poor.” Three hours later the newcomer came back and, with a big smile, said to her, “Mother, I have been touching the body of Christ for three hours.”

“How? What did you do?” Mother Teresa asked her. “When I arrived there,” she replied, “they brought in a man who had fallen into a drain, and been there for some time. He was covered with dirt and had several wounds. I washed him and cleaned his wounds. As I did so I knew I was touching the body of Christ.”

We can sympathize with those who object, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ We cannot hear this language without thinking of the words of Jesus to his disciples at the last supper when, taking bread, blessing it and breaking it, he gave it to them saying:

‘Take, eat, this is my body’, and taking and blessing a cup of wine he gave it to them, saying, ‘Take, drink, this is the new covenant in my blood.’ He gave himself to his disciples, his body and blood, under the form of bread and wine. The last supper became the first Eucharist.

We cannot but hear the language of the Eucharist in t0day’s gospel, the Eucharist which we are now celebrating together. We invite people to our home and put food and drink before them and we invite them to eat and drink. Jesus invites us to his table and he puts himself before us as food and drink and invites us to eat and drink.

In language that is very daring Jesus declares himself to be our food and drink, the one who can satisfy our deepest hungers and thirsts, our hunger and thirst for life. Jesus declares today’s gospel, ‘anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.’ We come to the Eucharist to draw life from the risen Lord to draw God’s life from him, God’s love.

We are then sent from the Eucharist to be channels of that life, of that love, for each other. We come to the Eucharist hungering and thirsting for life, for authentic life, the life of God, the love of God, and we are sent out from the Eucharist as life givers, as agents of God’s life and love within our homes, our society, and our world.

The Bread of Life, or the Holy Eucharist, is the Sacramental Body of Christ. Theologians recognize four elements in this “Body of Christ.” 1) The physical body: It is the physical body of Christ which was born in Bethlehem and died on Calvary. 2) The risen body: It is the transformed and glorified body of Jesus with which Jesus appeared to his disciples.

3) The Mystical Body: It is the Church which is the continuation of Jesus Christ on earth. Each baptized believer is an integral part (member), of the Mystical Body of Christ. 4) The Sacramental Body: It is related to and distinct from the above mentioned bodies of Christ.

During the Holy Mass, Jesus takes the bread and wine which we offer on the altar, offers it to God his Father and declares: “This is no longer your body, it is My Body; this is no longer your life’s blood, it is My Blood.” The Eucharist is, thus, Jesus’ dying for us, sacrificing himself for us, and calling us to perform the same sacrifice for others.

The Eucharist is the eternal sacrifice of Jesus providing life to those who eat his Body and drink his Blood. Thus, the Holy Mass is the Sacramental act which transforms our lives into the Divine Life. In each Mass, Jesus transforms us into other Christs – ritually, sacramentally and existentially – thus keeping his promise: “I will be with you till the end of the world.”

So do our lives have a line that distinguishes what is wisdom and what is foolishness? Do our hearts have a line that tells us what is good and what is evil? The bread that Jesus gives us is the bread of life. May we not only do well in life, may we also do good, and redeem the world with our lives. Amen.

                               19th Sunday O T Year B – 15

                               19th Sunday O T Year B – 15                    1Kings 19:4-8; Eph.4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51

Once there was a stonecutter who was bored and unhappy with his job. One morning, as he was cutting stones, he saw the king pass by. He prayed to God: “Lord, please make me that king because I am tired of being a stone cutter. It seems good to be king.” The Lord made him a king instantly.

While he was a king he was walking along a road one day, he found the sun much too hot that he was perspiring heavily. He said to God: “It seems the sun is more powerful than the king. I would like to be the Sun.” instantly, the Lord made him the Sun.
As he was shining brightly one morning, he found that the clouds were blocking his sunshine, then he thought to himself: “It seems as though the clouds are better than the sun because they can obstruct my sunshine.” 
So he said: “I want to be the clouds.” He became the clouds. Later on, he became the rain that poured down on the earth causing a flood. He said: “I’m now very powerful.”
Then he noticed a big rock that blocked his flow. He said to himself: “It seems the stone is more powerful than I am. I want to be this stone.” Then he became the stone. 
One morning, a stonecutter started to cut him to smaller pieces. He said: “it seems the stonecutter is more powerful than I am. I want to be stonecutter.” Then he instantly became what he originally was. 
We are the people who love to complain. We are a people who love to murmur. We all do our fair share of complaining, and sometimes with good reason. We complain about the weather a great deal. We complain about all kinds of things. If we are not careful we can find ourselves complaining about nothing in particular, just complaining. 

We can easily get ourselves into a very negative frame of mind. We see the problems but we see nothing else. We fail to see the bigger picture which will nearly always have brighter shades in it. Our vision can be restricted to what is wrong or missing or lacking.
The gospel starts by saying that as soon as the Lord said to the Jews: “I am the Bread that came down from heaven,” the Jews murmured to one another. They started to say: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’” 
As far as they were concerned, he was a problem, and they could not see beyond the problem. They had always known him as the son of Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth; they knew his family and his mother. Yet, here he was claiming to be the bread that came down from heaven. 
They were scandalized that one of their own could make such claims for himself. Their response to Jesus was to complain about him. Complaining on its own is rarely an adequate response to anything or anyone; it is certainly not an adequate response to the person of Jesus.
Yes, Jesus had a difficult time trying to teach the people that He is the bread of life because their minds were already filled with complains. When the mind is filled with complaints, the heart is already closed. And when the mind is filled with complaints, then life can be a pain.
Joke for the day: After his return from church one Sunday a small boy said, “You know what, Mommy? I’m going to be a preacher when I grow up.” “That’s fine,” said his mother, “but what made you decide to be a preacher?” “Well,” said the boy thoughtfully. 
“Since I have to go to Church every Sunday anyway, I think it would be more fun to stand up and yell than to sit still and listen.”In the 1st reading, we hear of the prophet Elijah, who seemed to be complaining and even wishing he were dead. 

His words of complaint were these: Lord, I have had enough. Take my life. I am no better than my ancestors. Yet his complaint was not about the small stuff. His complaint was about a real mortal danger. 
He was being pursued by his enemies, and they were hunting him down and bent on taking his life. So even as a prophet, he felt he can’t take it anymore, and hence those words – Lord, I have had enough. Take my life! Well, those are indeed prophetic words coming from a prophet in distress. 
Because we too have our own complaints about life. Especially when all the work is arrowed and pushed to us, and no one would help us, whether it is at home or at work. Or when our problems keep mounting and no one understands us. All they ever say is: Don’t worry, be happy!
Or when one is old and sickly, and no one bothers or cares, and loneliness has drained the meaning out of life. In such situations, we will be tempted to say: Lord, I have had enough. (Take my life) But God being God, He won’t take our life just like that. Rather He will give us the bread of life.
For the prophet Elijah, God sent an angel to bring him bread and water to help him go on. The bread has a deeper meaning than just food to fill the stomach and to satisfy the hunger. It was a sign for the prophet Elijah that God will be with him in the journey ahead.
So for his complaint, God did not give a solution; rather God became his companion. Yet in our all complaints, whether it is about life or about God, let us realize that we are not asking for answers. For the questions about life, pain, suffering and even about God, the answers won’t be of much help, even if we can get those answers.
Yet for all our questions and complaints, God comes to be with us and to be our companion on the way. And that is actually what we really need – a companion to be with us in our difficult and painful moments of life.
With that, we will understand what Jesus meant when He said: the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world. The language of the gospel is very graphic. Jesus speaks of himself as the bread that comes down from heaven and calls on us to eat this bread. 
When we hear that kind of language we probably think instinctively of the Eucharist. Yet, it might be better not to jump to the Eucharist too quickly. The Lord invites us to come to him and to feed on his presence, and in particular to feed on his word. 
In the Jewish Scriptures bread is often a symbol of the word of God. We may be familiar with the quotation from the Jewish Scriptures, ‘we do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ 
We need physical bread, but we also need the spiritual bread of God’s word. We come to Jesus to be nourished by his word. The Father draws us to his Son to be fed by his word. The food of his word will sustain us on our journey through life, just as, in the first reading, the baked scones sustained Elijah, until he reached his destination, the mountain of God. 
When we keep coming to Jesus and feeding on his word, that word will shape our lives. It empowers us to live the kind of life that Saint Paul puts before us in the second reading, a life of love essentially, a life in which we love one another as Christ has loved us, forgive one another as readily as God forgives us. That, in essence, is our baptismal calling. 
Indeed, the best service we can render to someone is to be a companion, to be a spiritual companion to be with that person even if it’s just being there quietly, especially when that person is in difficulty. Because no one would ever complain against a companion, especially a companion who shares in the bread of pain and suffering. Amen.