4th Sunday, O T Year C – 16

4th Sunday, O T Year C – 16

Jer.1:4-5, 17-19 /1Cor.12:31-13:13 / Lk.4:21-30

A lady was telling her friend, “my husband and I had a big argument and we ended up not talking to one another for three days. Finally, on the third day he asked where one of his shirt was. I said, ‘So, now you are talking to me.’ He looked confused and asked ‘what are you talking about?’

I said, ‘haven’t you noticed I haven’t spoken to you for three days?’ he said: ‘No, I just thought we were getting along.” Such is the joy and complexity of love. I will speak something about that later. But first, today’s gospel.

We are left with a lot of questions. How is it that Jesus’ visit to his hometown turned from enthusiasm to hostility they wanted to kill him? Or how did he get away from them without being harmed?

Is Luke telling us, in a summarized form, what took place over the course of a number of visits Jesus made to Nazareth as he began his ministry. Luke does not answer our concerns.

We have strong feelings when we discover that someone has lied to us or deceived us. We want the truth, even the unpleasant and painful truth. You want your doctor to tell you that you have cancer. How would you feel if you had terminal cancer and your doctor did not tell you?

It’s far better to be told the truth than to be consoled with a pleasant lie. If your child’s teacher calls you and tells you that your child is failing in school you would, of course, be upset. But if your child were failing how would you feel if the teacher simply allowed you to feel good without knowing the truth?

Now, while we agree with that in principle, there are facts we don’t want to hear. We don’t even want to discuss them. We would rather that they were buried, or that somehow they would go away where we didn’t have to pay attention to them.

It brings to mind the phrase we’ve all heard: “My mind is made up. Please don’t confuse me with the facts.” Today’s gospel account brings us Jesus in His own hometown having just given His “Inaugural Address” in His home synagogue, there among all of His family and friends.

He was the toast of the town – well received; they held Him in their rapt attention. The gospel account tells us “All who were present spoke favorably of him. They marveled at the appealing discourse that came from His lips.” But very soon it all turned to hatred.

Moments later they took Him to the brow of a cliff and attempted to throw Him over the cliff’s edge to His death. They suddenly changed and turned on Him when Jesus told them a truth they did not want to hear.

What had He said to them? Well, He reminded them of two events in Jewish history. One was during the life of Elijah, the prophet. The Hebrews in Elijah’s time were suffering from a horrible drought; people were dying of starvation. A prophet had come from God to a widow and because of her faith. God had saved her.

The problem was she was not a Jew; she was a Gentile. The same was true in the story of Elisha. Leprosy was a plague spreading throughout Israel but God used a prophet to save only one leper, and he, too, was a Gentile.

This was all terribly painful for the Jews of the time of Jesus because they had come to believe that they were God’s Chosen, that non-Jews would not be saved, and that God’s love and favor were manifest only in and among Jews.

The people Nazareth, as well as those in other Jewish settlements, and especially in Jerusalem, apparently thought they had a monopoly on God. In fact, that idea was axiomatic in their thinking. In times of conflict God would come to their aid, they thought.

When all else failed God could be counted on and non- Jews would suffer and die outside of God’s favor and love. Jesus’ words deeply offended them because He was reminding them that what they believed about God’s favor might not be true.

There is a story that truth and lie went for a swim. They took off their clothes and put them on the side as they went into the water. Lie finished swimming and came out first and wore truth’s clothes and went off.

When truth finished swimming, and found that its clothes are gone, it refused to wear lie’s clothes. And that’s why, to this day, people cannot accept the bare truth, the stark truth, the naked truth. That’s also why it is said that a lie can go around the world a couple of times while truth is still putting on its shoes.

With that we may understand now why Jesus met with rejection and violence even in His own hometown. Jesus preached the truth to them because they were His people and they were important to Him. If someone isn’t important enough to tell them the truth, then there is no need to tell them anything at all.

Jesus preached the truth to His people because He cared for them, He loved them, and He knows that the truth will save them and set them free. So at first they were astonished by His words and even gave Him their approval.

But when they realized the truth of what He was saying, they were enraged, and then turned violent and hostile, and even wanted to throw Jesus down the cliff.

Our second reading from St Paul is one of the most beautiful passages written by him. It is especially popular at weddings, and rightly so. It may sound romantic, and indeed a couple who loves one another in the way Paul describes love would surely not lose the romance in their relationship.

But the love Paul talks about does not happen easily or without effort. It demands discipline, unselfishness and self-sacrifice. As Paul says, love is not self-seeking; he insists that without love we are nothing. Paul means it literally.

There is probably no more abused word in the English language than the word “love’, with the possible exception of that other four-letter word, which dictionaries strangely like to define as “making love” or “the act of love.”

Nowadays, the word “love” is used almost exclusively to express romantic attachment. Almost every adult has had some experience of romantic love or has been, at least, brushed by passion, however fleetingly.

St Paul preaches a different gospel. His love-letter to the Corinthians has another theme altogether. These same named qualities are not even distant cousins. His is a heroic virtue, not an obsessive infatuation. Like other scripture writers, Paul prefers to define it negatively.

What it is, is more often better communicated by what it is not. His words speak for themselves. What connects us with one another and makes us one body is love. Without love we are separate individuals, no longer one with our head, which is Christ, and no longer one with each other.

The people of Nazareth are a lot like us. And too often we are much like them. So when the truth hurts, when it confronts and challenges us, we ought to ask ourselves “Why are we so upset?” We ought to take a second look and see if it is God who is causing us growing pains.

We will never be saved if we worship only a God who suits us because we’ve made Him over into our own image and likeness. When we pray we should expect change, for prayer changes us, not God. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

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3rd Sunday Year C – 16

3rd Sunday Year C – 16

Neh.8:2-10; ICor.12:12-30; Lk.1:1-4, 4:14-21

Remembrance of St. Francis De Sales (1567-1622)

Our (Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales) patron St. Francis De Sales

(St. Francis De Sales was born on August 21, 1567 at Thonon, near Annecy in France. He was ordained a priest on December 18, 1593. He worked among the Calvinists, faced much opposition, including attempt on his life and converted the whole district of Chablais to the catholic faith. He was ordained a bishop on December 8, 1602.

He was a good shepherd, caring for all with a special love for the poor. He founded a contemplative religious order, “The Sisters of the Visitation” on June 6, 1610. This order was to accept as members the poor, the weak in health, the handicapped and the widows whom normally religious orders did not admit.

He wrote two books, Spiritual Classics: ‘The Introduction to Devout Life” and “A Treatise on The Love of God”. He died at the age of 55 on December 28, 1622. He was canonized a saint by Pope Alexander VII on April 19, 1665 and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX on November 16, 1877.

I wish all visitors of you and all who follow the spirituality of St. Francis De Sales, especially the Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales, a very Happy Feast. We gratefully and joyfully remember our patron St. Francis De Sales for passing on to us a spirituality that is human, simple, joyful, optimistic and down to earth. Let us draw our inspiration from him as we continue to live out our religious commitments and serve God’s people.)

There was a story about God calling the three most popular Presidents for a meeting: Presidents coming from Russia, U.S.A. and India. God told them one thing: “The world will end by the year 2020.” The three Presidents went to their respective countries and told their people about what God had told them. The Russian President said:

“My dear people, I have two things to give, all of them are bad news. First, there is God and the second is the world will end by the year 2020.” The U.S. President also said to the Americans: “My dear people, I have two things to give, one is good news and the other is bad news. The good news is, there is God while the bad news is the world will end by the year 2020.”

Then it was the turn of the Indian President. He said: “My dear people I have three things to give, all of them are good news. First, there is God. Second, He talked to your President. And the third is, the world will end by the year 2020 and all our problems are over.” What can you say?

All of us are quite familiar with inaugural addresses, especially when presidents of our country take office and begin their elected terms. Some of these addresses are, of course, more memorable than others. Unfortunately, much of the content of these inaugural addresses bear little relationship to the actions of these presidents subsequent to their addresses.

Jesus Christ gave an inaugural address shortly after He returned from spending forty days and forty nights in the desert preparing for His public ministry. He returned to His own hometown of Nazareth to begin His public ministry. His inaugural address is what we just heard reported in today’s Gospel account.

The Scripture readings for today focus our attention on the importance and liberating power of the Word of God as “sacramental,” making God present in our midst. The readings challenge us to listen to the Word, accept it into our hearts, then put it into practice as we live out our lives, liberating ourselves and others from all types of bondages.

Today’s first reading, taken from Nehemiah, and Luke’s Gospel both describe a public reading of Sacred Scripture which challenged the hearers to make a “fresh beginning” with a new outlook.  In the first reading, after rebuilding the Temple and restoring the city, Ezra was leading the people in a “Covenant renewal” ceremony by reading and interpreting the Law.

The Second Reading, taken from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, reminds us that “Together we are Christ’s Body, but each of us is a different part of it.” This suggests that, as different parts of Christ’s Body, we each have a share, as his instruments.

Can we make Christ’s vision come true? It seems to me that the answer is “yes.” And to the extent that it isn’t yet true, we can work to make it come true. As a matter of fact, we must make it come true. A huge part of our human misery is found in our human rejection of that visionary declaration of Jesus.

We can, however, do our part to make it come true if we put aside our human differences, accept our commonly shared humanity, and live as members of one human body in shared common good. We, you and I, by the way we live our lives and relate to others, ought to be able to say: “Today this Scripture passage is being fulfilled in your hearing.”

The Bible, you see, isn’t so much as a creed to be accepted, as it is a task to be accomplished. We, with Christ, can be out there in the reality of our world making His vision come true. We can be bringing good news to the poor, liberty to those held in the slavery of addictions and compulsions.

We can be giving the light of knowledge and vision to those who are blinded by this world’s darkness, and release those held in the bondage of contempt and prejudice. Too many people, even nominal Christians, are spending too much time debunking the Bible, debunking religion, and trying to secularize our children and our world.

They should be asking the question: Why can’t we make it all come true? Christian values are not altogether different from the values of other great world religions. Respecting life, living in honesty and truth, establishing justice, working for peace, and building up our families are all things that we Americans should be about.

To be told that we should keep our values to ourselves is totally un-American, a denial of our freedom to speak openly and publicly about what we hold to be true, and a denial of our basic human and civil rights. Keeping our values to ourselves ultimately leads to the downfall of our nation. The Spirit of the Lord is upon you.

He has anointed you and me and given you and me His gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, steadfastness and courage. We need to live our commissioning boldly and courageously. With those first apostles, burst out of your private rooms and go out into the public square.

And there, along with those apostles, proclaim the values and the freedom that Jesus Christ suffered, died and rose from the dead to give us. We need to receive Christ’s freedom, live it and pass it on to others: As members of Christ’s Mystical Body, we share in the freeing, saving mission of Jesus.

However, even after we have chosen to believe in him, to accept his teachings and to live them out in our lives, we are still in bondage. We are captives of sin, and only Christ can set us free. We are often blinded by our evil habits, addictions and need for financial security.

Pride and prejudice can make us blind to the needs of the less-fortunate, prompting us to fear and avoid them, rather than to love and help them. We can also be blind to the presence of God within ourselves and others. We are often not free to listen to a lonely, heart-broken neighbor.

We can be prisoners of materialism and consumerism, chained to pleasure, power, money and control of everyone and everything in our world. Accordingly, we need to be freed and raised to a richer level of life. Once we receive true liberation from Christ, we need to share it with those we encounter in our daily lives — in our families, communities, parishes and workplaces.

The inaugural address of Jesus is like the sentiments that every president or prime minister has spoken as their own inaugural address. They are the words that cannot be initiated by one president or prime minister alone.

We the listeners share the moral responsibility of making the dreams of Jesus come true. The victims of social injustice, poverty and liberty are waiting to hear from us, the Good news of liberation. What impact do the Sunday readings have on our lives?

We need to let the power of the Holy Spirit fill us, and to be ready to have miracles done through us. To this very day, the Holy Spirit is available to all believers who sincerely ask Him to dwell in their hearts.  If we fail to receive, and then to use, His power and His gifts, we are left with nothing but our natural abilities, and we will be unable to be used as instruments in His freeing miracles.

Miracles occur every day through weak human instruments, although they may be less spectacular than the ones Jesus performed. People whose minds are ravaged by fear and hatred can be miraculously filled with peace and kindness.

Those whose hearts are crippled with bitterness and anger can be made gentle and peaceful.   Perhaps others, whose relationships with their spouses are strained, can be miraculously healed by love and faithfulness. These are true miracles, performed by the power of God, through the Holy Spirit, often making use of human instruments.  Let us be ready to become Spirit-filled instruments of Christ’s saving freedom.

2nd Sunday O T Year C – 16

2nd Sunday O T Year C – 16

Is.62: 1-5; I Cor.12: 4-11, Jn.2: 1-11

One woman asked the other, “You were always so organized in school, meticulously planning every detail. How did you plan your married life?” “Well,” said her friend, “My first marriage was to a millionaire; my second marriage was to an actor; my third marriage was to a preacher; and now I’m married to an undertaker.”

Asked the friend, “What do those marriages have to do with a well-planned life?” “The first marriage was for the money, the second for the show, the third to get ready and the fourth to go!”

Weddings are universal. We can find them in every culture, race, country and religion. Today, Catholic weddings are getting more organized with the help of the so-called “wedding coordinators”.  They are a new phenomenon in wedding events.

To keep the bride and groom free from worries and stress, they hire wedding coordinators who take care of everything: from the Church down to the reception hall. They take care of the program, as well as the food and drinks for the guests.

The gospel today is about the recorded wedding event at Cana in Galilee, where Jesus reveals his Divine power by his first miracle, transforming water into wine. The Bible begins with one wedding, that of Adam and Eve in the garden (Gen.2:23-24), and ends with another, the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev.21:9, 22:17).

St John in his gospel mentions Mary, the mother of Jesus two times: at the marriage feast at Cana, the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus and at the crucifixion, the end of it. That could be a way of telling us that Mary did not only play the passive role of being the physical mother of Jesus; that she was also actively involved with Jesus in the work of our redemption.

The miracle at Cana is the first of seven “signs” in John’s Gospel – miraculous events by which Jesus showed forth his Divinity. Jesus, his mother and his disciples were guests at the wedding feast.  When the wine “ran short,” Jesus’ mother told him about it.

At first Jesus seemed to refuse to do anything about it. But later he told the servants to fill six large stone jars with water and take some to the headwaiter. When they did so, the water had become wine, better wine than that which had run out.

Throughout the Bible, marriage is the symbol of the Covenant relationship between God and His chosen people. God is the Groom and humanity is His beloved bride. We see this beautifully reflected in today’s first reading, where Isaiah uses the metaphor of spousal love to describe God’s love for Israel.

God’s fidelity to his people is compared to a husband’s fidelity to his wife. In today’s second reading, St. Paul reminds us that the new wine that Jesus pours out for us is the gift of the Holy Spirit, given to his bride.

If this was Jesus’ very first miracle, how then did Mary know that Jesus could do it? Good mothers know their children. They know the hidden talents and potentialities of their children. There are many young men and women who have gone on to accomplish great things in life because their mothers believed in them and encouraged them.

A more fascinating question arising from the story is this: Did Mary know all those thirty years she lived with Jesus that she was living with a wonder-worker and yet never she asked him to multiply her bread, turn the water on the dining table into wine, or double her money to make ends meet?

How come she never asked Jesus to use his miraculous power to help her out but she was quick to ask him to use it and help others? Think of it. If you have a child who has a miraculous power to double money for other kids at school, won’t you ask him to double yours at home too?

After all, one would argue, charity begins at home. But for Mary and for Jesus the needs of others come first. Take the case of Jesus. He knew he had this power to perform miracles. After his forty days fast in the desert he was hungry and the devil suggested it to him to turn some stones into bread and eat, but he did not do it.

Yet he went out and multiplied bread for crowds of his followers. What are they telling us, Mary and Jesus, through their actions? They are telling us that God’s gifts to individuals are not meant primarily for their or their families’ benefit but for the service of others.

That is what St Paul also tells us in the second reading when he enumerates the many different gifts of the Holy Spirit to different persons and adds that “to each person is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good,” (1 Cor.12:6) not for personal profit.

So now we need to explore the symbolism of the story. We know that weddings are new beginnings. So it is with the wedding at Cana. The water changing into wine symbolizes the old becoming new. That was the experience of many people in Jesus’s time: sinners, outsiders and pagans.

Jesus released these people from their fate and accepted them. Each one of them had gone down many roads, fleeing God and searching. And one day they encountered Jesus, and their lives were made anew. Also we can read the miracle at Cana as the story of Jesus as the one who brings joy.

Those who abide in Jesus will never have to say again, “We have no wine or there is no more life for us.” If there is no joy in our lives, no glasses raised, no toasts being proposed, no peace treaties signed and celebrated, no intoxication in life: it is because of the lack of the abiding presence of Christ in our lives.

Now the question is: What gifts has God given me? Am I using these gifts for some service in the community?” We may wonder why there are no more manifestations of the Holy Spirit like what we read in the Bible.

Maybe if we began better using the gifts we have for the common good – like the gift of praying, singing, teaching, caring, sharing, encouraging, supporting, motivating, writing, etc. – then we might begin to see miracles. Concern for others is the basic miracle.

Antony De Mello tells a story about some people who were on a raft off the coast of Brazil. They were perishing from thirst, for as you know, ocean water is undrinkable. What they did not know, however, was that the water they were floating on was fresh water.

A nearby river was coming out into the sea with such force that it went out for a couple of miles, so they had fresh water right there where they were. But they had no idea that they were floating on fresh water. In the same way, says De Mello, “we are surrounded with love, joy and happiness, but we fail to realize it.”

So let us, “invite Jesus and Mary to remain with us in our homes. St. John Mary Vianney suggests this as the solution for many of our family problems. He used to encourage parents to create an atmosphere of prayer, Bible-reading, mutual love and respect and sacrificial service at home so that the presence of Jesus and Mary might be perpetually enhanced and experienced in the family.

Let us also appreciate the miracle of the Real Presence of the Lord on the altar. The same Jesus, who transformed water into wine at Cana, transforms our gifts of bread and wine into his own Body and Blood. Let us receive this so that we can be fill with joy and happiness. Amen.

 

 

The Baptism of the Lord – 16

The Baptism of the Lord – 16

Is.40:1-5, 9-11, Tit.2:11-14; 3:4-7, Lk.3:15-16, 21-22

Whenever I stand here before you at this time during the Mass I have a dual responsibility — the responsibility to teach and to preach. That is particularly true today as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. Let’s begin now with the teaching aspect.

We might ask ourselves why Jesus Christ submitted to the baptism of St. John the Baptist. After all, if Christ is the incarnate Son of God, the sinless Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, why would it be necessary for Him to be baptized? That’s a good question for an insightful answer.

The answer begins with a clear understanding that Jesus Christ did not need to be baptized. He, the Holy One of God, sanctified the waters of baptism, He wasn’t sanctified by them. He, the Holy One, made Baptism holy, not the other way around.

By being baptized His intention was to reveal the love of God for us even though we have sinned against Him. By His own baptism Jesus leads us to repentance. A few points come to mind. (1) Jesus was identifying Himself as being immersed in our sinful humanity.

(2) He was emptying Himself of His divine glory and joining Himself into our human state of alienation from the Father, (3) His baptism opened up His public ministry, revealing His activity in our world as one of us.

Jesus is there anonymously in the crowd, coming forward with the rest to meet the famous John the Baptist. It is impossible for us to see him as an anonymous person; to us he stands out from every crowd and from the whole human race: above them, beyond them.

We can’t imagine him not yet majestic. But there he is, the village man, Jesus, known only to his family and neighbors. He is not yet famous. There is only one famous man there: John the Baptist. When we imagine a famous person among the crowds there is nearly always something false about it: he or she is looking for something, votes or applause or some other sort of ego-stroking.

But John the Baptist isn’t looking for anything; he is delivering!  He is delivering a verbal lashing of extraordinary severity, calling the crowd ‘a brood of vipers.’ Jesus is there, watching, listening, anonymous. He is indistinguishable from the brood of vipers.  He is one of us.

This is nothing new for him; this is how he has been all the thirty years of his life. But this meeting with John the Baptist is a turning point. Something happened. He experienced the Spirit, and it is described in the kind of language that mystics have used throughout the ages to describe their union with God: ‘You are my son, the beloved.’

Have you ever known that in your very bones: God speaking to you (in some sense), ‘You are my son, my daughter, the beloved?’ If you experience God at all how could it be otherwise? God is love. Even the thundering 19th-century preacher, Spurgeon, became quiet in front of today’s gospel passage. He wrote: “The wings of the dove are as soft as they are swift.       Quietness seems essential to many spiritual operations; the Lord is in the still small voice, and like the dew, His grace is distilled in silence.” The unshakeable intimacy with his Father that Jesus demonstrated throughout the rest of his life bears witness to his experience of God’s Spirit.

Was he now somehow ‘above’ the crowd? Would he no longer line up with them? On the contrary. He was now more than ever one of them. He spent the rest of his life seeking out “the weak, the sick, the wounded, the strayed, the lost” (Eze.34).  He was for the lost sheep, the outcast, the sinner.

This has ever since been the mark of true greatness. Can language convey this? I know a man who conveys it better than words ever could. When he is talking with you (or, much more often, listening) and someone interrupts, he totally ignores the interruption. His attention is unwavering.

Nothing else exists for him at that moment, and you know that he would stop at nothing to help you, and there is not the slightest hint of ego in it – he has no agenda of his own. This is a rare quality. People know instinctively that he is a man of God. In case you’ve never met one, that’s what meeting a saint is like.

If meeting a saint is like that, what must it be like to meet Jesus himself? For the preaching aspect I turn now to examine how that teaching applies to you and me as we together live out the Catholic Faith that we share.

The beginning point of all theology is that God offers and then waits for our response. We can reflect on all of the glorious things God has done for us, and we should. What is crucial is that we hold before our eyes all that we ought to do in response to God’s initiatives.

There is a temptation on our part to think that God’s gift of salvation to us is automatic, that all we have to do is believe and we will be saved. While it is true that God’s activity is necessary, it is at the same time incomplete unless and until we act in response.

The simple truth is that a gift is not a gift unless we receive it. Love isn’t effective unless we accept it — and then act on it. Salvation is ours only if we receive it by acting on it. Christ was baptized – immersed – into our human life so that we would be baptized – immersed – into His divine life.

As we hear the scene in today’s Gospel passage, we could ask ourselves not just, “Why was Jesus baptized?”, but also, “Why did the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus?” and, “Why did God the Father speak from Heaven?” The answer to all these questions is the same. These things happened for us, to lead us on a path towards true freedom in our lives.

The Holy Spirit that abided in Him now, because of our Baptism, abides in us. When you stop and think about it that’s quite astonishing. Furthermore, when we were baptized we were baptized into Christ and thereby immersed in His Holy Spirit.

Acting on our baptismal faith means that we honor God, respect His Church, and give God the worship that is due to Him. Prayer and worship are essential to our baptismal response to God’s offering of Himself to us. The baptism of Christ was out in public — it wasn’t in private.

Christian living isn’t private and hidden. It is public. It was in this context that Jesus was baptized by John and so began His public ministry. In Christ, God offers Himself to us.

The question to be answered now is “How will we respond?” The answer will be found in your life and in mine, in your lived-out baptismal faith and in mine. This is why we are privileged to call ourselves Christian. This is why we are here, to receive and then go out from here and share what we have received in God’s love.

The baptism of Jesus reminds us of our identity. It reminds us of who we are and Whose we are. By Baptism we become sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, members of his Church, heirs of Heaven and temples of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ baptism reminds us also of our mission:  Our mission is to experience the presence of God within us, to acknowledge our own dignity as God’s children, and to appreciate the Divine Presence in others by honoring them, loving them and serving them in all humility. Amen.