21st Sunday, O T Year A – 17

21st Sunday, O T Year A – 17

Is.22:19-23/ Rom.11:33-36/ Matt.16:13-20

We might call this Sunday “Power Sunday,” because the main theme is the handing over of the “Keys” which open and shut, representing authority in the Church and in the Kingdom.

The keys also symbolize the beginning of a new era, the refreshing presence of the Holy Spirit guiding the destiny of every human being on the earth.

To give keys means “to bestow authority”. The apostles are given authority to become the stewards of the kingdom of heaven upon the earth “the authority to lead, to instruct, to teach, to heal, to exorcise and to guide the people to God.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter and the apostles exercised their authority “the doors were opened to three thousand people, later to the gentiles.

The metaphor of ‘binding and loosing.’ This image is used by the Scribes, Rabbis and the teachers of the Law to assert their legislative authority in interpreting the Law.

It also has its significance with regard to doctrinal and judicial decisions; for example, in permitting certain things to do or forbidding them. It also suggests pardoning a sinner and if he does not listen to the elders, considering him as an outsider or foreigner.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus challenges us to know him personally and to serve him and love him as Lord, and he wants from each one of us our total, single-hearted response. So, the question is: Who is God for you? This question is one way of exploring the individual experiences of God.

The answers may vary. Some would biblically describe God as their Savior, Father, Creator, or Judge, while others give “personal” experiences which suggest intimacy, like, Brother, Friend, or Counselor.

Faith and knowledge are intimately related. No person who professes his belief in Christ, at the same time, would say that he does not know Christ. If we believe in Him, we must also have known Him.

St. John equates believing with knowing. In his writings, we can find the phrase, “I have come to know and believe….” Thus, faith is about knowing God; faith is knowledge of God.

The gospel passage leads us to this relationship. Believing in Jesus constitutes knowledge about Him. Let us turn to the two important questions of Jesus. The first is, “Who do people say that I am?” and the second, “Who do you say that I am?”

To the first question, the disciples responded: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” People, in other words, perceived Christ as a prophet.

By asking the disciples what do people perceive about Him, Jesus suggests that other people can be a true source of our knowledge of God. In fact, this is our experience. When we were kids, the sources of our knowledge about God were our parents, catechists, and teachers.

All of them are our teachers of the faith. What they say or teach about God has been instrumental in the formation of our fledging faith. However, they are only one of the sources. What they say may not be sufficient.

In fact, when Jesus heard from his disciples the people’s perception about Him, he did not even say a word of approval or confirmation. Certainly, there is truth in what people said about Him, but not satisfactory.

Jesus must have seen the truth about it, but he knows that He is greater than John, Elijah, Jeremiah, and other prophets. He is more than the prophets! This could be the reason why He asked the second question: “But who do you say that I am?”

It could be understandable that people may have insufficient view about Jesus because they have not journeyed with Him. But the disciples have. So, Jesus must have expected a more sufficient and deeper answer from them because of their “being with” Him.

True enough, Peter was able to give a satisfactory answer, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And here, Jesus has a different reaction. He agreed to it, he confirmed it, and he was satisfied by it.

As we grow in age, we are also expected to grow in faith, and more specifically, in the knowledge of God. But some of us are inclined to be satisfied with what we hear about God from other people.

I mean, we seem to be already satisfied with the knowledge we received from our parents or catechists. Seldom we spend time in communing ourselves with God in order to have a deeper knowledge of Him.

The second question of Jesus will always confront us. From time to time, we need to ask ourselves, “Who is God for me?” or “Who is Christ for me?” The answer to this question cannot be simply taken from what people say or teach to us.

Peter was able to have the sufficient answer because of the moments he had been with Christ. The time he spent with Christ was an opportunity for knowing Him more deeply. In the same way, we can only have a good answer to this question if we also spend more time with God.

Prayer is the key to this knowledge. Reading the Bible regularly is also a key to this knowledge. Thus, growing in the knowledge of God depends on the time we spend for and with Him. The grace of God the Father and the Spirit work in these moments.

To attain knowledge about God from other people is already good. But it is better that we complement it with our own experience of God which can be had through persistent prayers and personal studies or reading of the Word of God.

Jesus is not merely the founder of a new religion, or a revolutionary Jewish reformer, or one of the great teachers. For Christians, he is the Son of God and our personal Savior. This means that we have to see Jesus as the Good Shepherd, the Savior, and the Redeemer.

He is our beloved friend, closer to us than our dear ones and a living experience, who walks with us, loves us, forges us, helps us and transforms our lives and outlook. We have to give all areas of our lives to him.

Amen.

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20th Sunday, O T Year A – 17

20th Sunday, O T Year A – 17

Is.56:1, 6-7/ Rom.11:13-15, 29-32/ Matt.15:21-28

In last Sunday’s gospel reading, Peter’s prayer was condensed into three words, “Lord, save me!”  In today’s reading the Canaanite woman’s prayer is exactly the same.

Peter was the Lord’s chief disciple, the Canaanite woman was a pagan; but their prayer was the same, and the Lord responded to both.

Much has been said about the topic of prayer, and much more can be said and will be said about the topic of prayer. Well, the least we can say about prayer is that we are here to pray to God and to ask Him to answer our needs and petitions.

And what do others have to say about prayer? Mother Teresa has this to say: Prayer is not about asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depths of our hearts.

So, for Mother Teresa, prayer is total surrender to God’s call and letting Him do whatever He wants to do for us. Another quote, although not from a religious figure is this: Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one (Bruce Lee 1940-1973).

Oh yes, life is difficult and we have to handle it with prayer. There is this story of a man who bought a lottery ticket and he prayed: Lord, if I strike, I will give the Church 10% of the winnings. He did not strike.

He bought another lottery ticket and he prayed: Lord, if I strike, I’ll give the Church 25%. Again, he did not strike. He bought another ticket and he prayed: Ok, Lord, ok. This time it will be 50-50. (So, will he strike?)

As we all know by now, the purpose of prayer is not to change God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays. That being said about prayer, today’s gospel passage presents to us a unique scenario and also a unique encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite woman.

Jesus and His disciples had gone outside of Jewish territory into the region of Tyre and Sidon. When you are not on home ground, it is best that you keep a low profile and stay out of trouble. And that’s what Jesus and His disciples were doing.

Then out came this Canaanite woman shouting for Him, calling Him “Son of David” and to take pity on her for her daughter was tormented by the devil. We can imagine what a scene it was, and we can also imagine the disciples squirming at this embarrassing situation.

So desperate were they that they had to tell Jesus to give her what she wanted, probably because people were starting to look at them and wonder what was happening. And surprisingly, Jesus was silent.

It was like as if He didn’t care. It was so unlike Him. And when He finally said something, it was some puzzling thing about being sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. Again, it was so unlike Jesus, and we ourselves may begin to start wondering.

And then with the woman kneeling at His feet and pleading “Lord, help me” He seemed to be insulting the woman by saying that it was not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house dogs.

At this point, the woman could have stood up and cursed and swore at Jesus. If He was not going to help her, then there was no need to be rude and insulting.

It is said that God gives three types of answers to prayers. He says YES and gives us whatever we want. He says NO and gives us something better. Or He says wait and gives us the best. That Canaanite woman came before Jesus to intercede for her daughter.

She didn’t have to go through all that pleading and kneeling, if not for the fact that she took on her daughter’s need and made it her need. And she was prepared to wait through thick and thin to have the need addressed.

This unique encounter and unique exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman highlights the vital element in interceding for others – and that is the power of intervention. To intervene is to involve oneself in a situation so as to alter an action or development.

The Canaanite woman interceded for her daughter and in doing so she also intervened between Jesus and her daughter. She stood between Jesus and her daughter. And in the end her daughter was healed and Jesus also affirmed her of her faith.

We have come for Mass to worship and to pray. Yes, we pray for ourselves, but more importantly we pray as the Church community, and as the Church we pray for others. And this is expressed in the Intercessory Prayers or the Prayers of the Faithful.

Because like the daughter of the Canaanite woman who was unable to help herself, there are people who are quite unable to pray for themselves. And we are called to intercede for them and to intervene for them before the Lord.

We need to persist in prayer with trustful confidence. Although the essential parts of prayer are adoration and thanksgiving, the prayer of petition plays a big part in our daily lives.

Christ himself has told us to ask him for these needs: “Ask and you shall receive.” Asking with fervor and perseverance proves that we have the “great Faith” we need to receive what Christ wants to grant us in response to our requests.

We must realize and remember that we do not always get exactly what we ask for, but rather, God gives us what He knows we really need, what He wants for us and what is really best for us.

As Christians, we also know that our particular request may not always be for our good, or for the final good of the person for whom we are praying.

But if the prayer is sincere and persevering we will always get an answer – one which is better than what we asked for.

The salvation of many depends on the prayer and sacrifice of a few. We may be few, but we have the power of intercession and to make a prayer intervention.

May we have the faith of that unnamed Canaanite woman to persevere in prayer and may we too experience the power of our prayer intervention. Amen.

Assumption of the BVM, – 17

Assumption of the BVM, – 17

Rev.11:19; 12:1-6. 10 / 1Cor.15:20-26 / Lk.1:39-56

When Jesus was hanging on the cross and just before He gave up His spirit, He turned to His mother and the disciple He loved standing near her, and He said to His mother, “Woman, this is your son.” (Jn.19:26)

Then to the disciple He said, “This is your mother.” And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home. After this Jesus knew that everything had now been completed. (Jn.19:27-28)

This beloved disciple, often identified as St. John, later took Mary to his home in Ephesus. From extra biblical sources, Mary lived there for many years before she died and was buried in a tomb.

But it didn’t just end there. These extra biblical sources also related that one of the Apostles, St. Thomas, was absent when Mary died and was buried because he was in India doing his ministry.

When he came to Ephesus and wanting to pay his respect, he asked to see her body. But upon opening the tomb, Mary’s body was not there. Instead, there were sweet smelling flowers growing at where her body laid.

The rest of the Apostles attested that the tomb was not opened ever since Mary’s body was laid in it, and hence they concluded that God must have assumed her body into heaven along with her soul.

And since they had witnessed the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, they concluded that the same thing happened to Mary.

And since Mary was conceived without sin, sin had not touched or defiled her soul, then God would not allow her body to turn to dust, but rather assumed her body to heaven to share in the glory of the Risen Christ.

Since then till now, it was the common belief in the Church that Mary’s body was assumed into heaven. But it was only in 1950, 15th August, that Pope Pius XII officially declared Mary’s Assumption as an article of faith.

In other words, the Church has boldly declared that Mary is in heaven, body and soul, a declaration that is definite and irreversible. It was a declaration not just on the authority of the Church but also under the authority of the Holy Spirit.

With this declaration, our faith in the saving power of God is reinforced. Mary is the first to be saved by the saving work of Jesus, and the first to enter heaven body and soul, hence assuring us that we too will join her one day.

At the same time, our faith in Mary’s intercession is also reinforced, because from heaven she continues to pray for us as our Heavenly Mother, a mission that she received at the foot of the cross and that she continues even in heaven.

As Mary’s Assumption was a reward for a holy life, this feast invites us to keep our bodies pure and holy.  Paul gives three additional reasons: a) our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit.

  1. b) our body parts are the members of Christ’s Body, and c) our bodies are to be glorified on the day of the Last Judgment.

We are given an assurance of hope in our resurrection and a source of inspiration during moments of despair and temptations.

So, like the beloved disciple, let us make for Mary a place in the home of our hearts. Let us offer her our prayers and ask for her intercession.

And let us also pray with her for the salvation of all peoples. That’s what her Assumption means. That’s what being disciples of Jesus is all about. Amen.

19th Sunday, O T Year A – 17

19th Sunday, O T Year A – 17

1 Kg.19:9, 11-13/ Rom.9:1-5/ Matt.14:22-33

A Jewish rabbi and his friend a Catholic priest were traveling together in a train and it being a long journey they started to talk. Rabbi: So, what’s your next move, padre? Priest: Well, if I’m lucky I might get a parish of my own.

Rabbi: And then? Priest: Well perhaps I’ll be made a Monsignor and maybe even a Bishop! Rabbi: And after that? Priest: Well I suppose, it’s just possible that I could become a Cardinal. Rabbi: Yes, and what after that?

Priest: Well, it’s ridiculous to think about it. But I suppose I could become Pope! Rabbi: And then? Priest: Well that’s it, Pope! There’s only God after that. Rabbi: Well, you never know, after all one of our Jewish boys from Nazareth, made it!

It is not a joke about me. For me if not Sacred Heart, may be St. Mary’s or may be St. Antony or may be St. Joseph, or may be St. Michael…

This is the way the world is whether it is politics or the world. I could go on and on but won’t. We know we’re burdened and our hearts are heavy. We know we are carrying heave burdens. “Where is God in the midst of all of this?” some ask.

Today’s first reading presents us with the Old Testament prophet Elijah likewise in a state of despondency. Three days prior to the episode we just now heard in today’s first reading he was so miserable that he was asking God to let him die.

We find him here in this reading hiding in a cave, seeking shelter in solid rock. But just as he finds shelter in a cave along comes an earthquake and then a hurricane of a storm that smashes the rocks and cliffs of the mountains, threatening to drown him in chaos.

“Where is God in all of this?” he was asking. What is God saying to me in all of these events? Elijah, however, couldn’t figure anything out until he was able to hear the voice of God in a tiny little whisper.

The voice of God came to him in the most unexpected of ways. And so, it is with us. The disciples and Peter found themselves to be in similar circumstances, only this time out in an open boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee in a raging storm.

“Where is God in all of this?” they wondered. Peter spoke up and said, “Lord, if it’s really you over there tell me to come to you across the water.” Peter, we see, had his doubts.

We find our own lives these days surrounded by chaos. The floodwaters of social change along with the cultural earthquakes of our times, globalization, terrorism, and the energy crisis severely threaten us.

Only one in four of our nation’s households today have the typical arrangement of mom and dad living together in the same home with their children. Stated another way, only one in four children find themselves in typical, traditional homes.

Indeed, the very definition of the so-called normal family is at issue. Drugs, AIDS, absent fathers, divorce, an unstable economy, job loss, and a surrounding culture that’s alien and hostile to the normal family are the storms and floodwaters that threaten us.

Child abuse, pornography, sexual wantonness, and a blatant media exploitation of sex, violence, and lust for money assault the moral characters of our youngsters, the solid ground of normalcy.

Teenage suicide is frequently reported; teen gangs and drug gangs roam our city streets at will. “Where is God in all of this?” we cry. Confidence is the word we need to take into our hearts and souls today.

Confidence. Confidence comes from a Latin word; it means, “to believe with”. We cannot have confidence when we’re isolated and all alone. We cannot have confidence all by ourselves. No, we can only have confidence when there’s an Other near us, the Other that is God.

And that’s the point of today’s readings. One can find confidence, even in the worst of storms, even in the most chaotic of times. You can go through the worst that life can throw at you if only you keep up your contact with God.

No prayer? No confidence. Stop coming to Mass? No confidence. Not sharing in the life of the Church, in the Body of Christ? No confidence. Soon you’ll take your eyes off of Jesus, and just like Peter, you will sink.

Soon you’ll only be able to hear the screaming wind, the awful noise, and the deafening roar of the storms and winds in or world that shake the very foundations of your life.

And without the voice of God and the eyes of Jesus to hold you steady, we, like Peter, will either be blown away or drown. Is your life getting out of control? Is your faith slipping away from you? Are you experiencing more and more powerlessness in the chaos that surrounds you?

If so, here’s what you do. Find a place of solitude and silence. Go to your room, shut your door and gather around you as much silence and solitude as you possibly can. Then kneel down by your bedside and in that silence and in that solitude, say: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

If you do that, you’ll be in exactly the same position that Elijah was. Look into the eyes of Jesus, you’ll be in exactly the same position that Peter was.

Never forget, after all was said and done, God restored Elijah in power, and eventually swept him up into heaven. And after all was said and done God in Christ saved Peter, saved him even from himself.

And God will do no less for us, if and only if we give our confidence to Christ and remain faith-full to our Father in Him. The real question, you see is not “Is God absent from us.” Rather the real question is: “Are we absent from God?”

May we be filled with that confidence.

Transfiguration of the Lord – 2017

Transfiguration of the Lord – 2017

Dan.7:9-10, 13-14 / 2Pt.1:16-19 / Lk.9:28-36

The word “new” is an attractive and exciting word. When it is applied to things, e.g., new house, new office, new computer, it gives a feeling of a new beginning without the limitations of the old settings.

When it is applied to persons, e.g., new boss, new president, new priest, then it’s going to be a process of discovering and adjusting to the new attitudes and styles of new person at the helm.

But as with time and tide, all things new will also become old, or familiar, or gotten used to, or just loose its shine and sparkle.

When Jesus began His ministry, and called His disciples to follow Him, He was seen as an exciting and attractive “item” by His disciples and the people following Him. But as time went by, His disciples also slowly got used to Him and He lost His “shine” for them.

But in the Transfiguration, Jesus showed His glory, but it was not meant to bring back the shine or the attention. It was a profound moment of proclamation and revelation as Jesus reveals again to Peter, James and John His true identity.

Jesus did not lose His “shine”; rather it was the disciples who may have thought they knew everything about Jesus and was beginning to take Him for granted. But for us, the Transfiguration is also a reminder of who we really are – we are the beloved children of God.

No one can ever take that “shine” from us. Yet, we may just take ourselves for granted and lose that “shine” altogether.

It’s rare that the vestment of the priest is not green on a Sunday during Ordinary Time. But August 6th is the date of the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor.

This fourth of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary is so important for understanding our faith in Jesus Christ that the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time will not be celebrated this year.

In today’s account of the Transfiguration, we have a miniature of the entire Gospel, and a miniature of the manner in which God has always made His Divine Revelation known.

God, like any loving parent, wants us to share in His love, but at the same time He wants us to enter into that love as freely as possible. In other words, God wants us to come to Him of our own accord, because the more freely we come to Him, the more we grow in His love.

But as a loving parent, God knows we are often weak and need His help. God gave us an intellect by which we could think of our own reason that God exists, that He loves us, and that He wants us to imitate that love.

God also gave us a free will by which to imitate Him. Our human intellect and will are often very weak, however, and so God constantly gives us signs of His presence, in order to remind us of Who God is and how much He loves us.

God did not have to inspire the human authors of Sacred Scripture, but He did so in order to give us a record of His love. God did not have to choose twelve men to be his apostles, in order to share the Sacraments of His love.

But He did so to strengthen us in this earthly life of ours, because we face so many setbacks, failures, and disappointments. God the Son was transfigured before the eyes of these three apostles not simply so that they could say, “How good it is for us to be here.”

The Transfiguration occurred so that the apostles would hear God the Father’s voice, who says, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” And coming down the mountain, Jesus says what? He points their attention ahead to the Cross, to His death.

What a grace for Peter and James and John to see Jesus transfigured. They got a preview of the glory of Jesus risen from the dead and his glory in heaven. It was also a preview of the glory we all hope to share in heaven.

This was a very special grace for Peter and James and John. It was not the only special grace Jesus shared with Peter, James and John.

Earlier in the Gospel (Mark and Luke) we read that Jesus only allowed Peter and James and John with him into the house of the synagogue official whose daughter he raised up again (Mk.5:37; Lk.8:51).

Later, when Jesus was teaching in the temple, Peter and James and John asked Jesus a question privately and he gave them more teaching (Mk.13:3). In Gethsemane, Jesus took Peter, James and John aside from the others to be near him during his agony (Mk.14:33).

So, Peter, James and John received many special graces from Jesus. Moses and Elijah also appeared and spoke with Jesus. Moses received the Law from God on Mount Sinai and Elijah could be regarded as the greatest of the prophets, certainly here he is a representative of the prophets during Jesus’ transfiguration.

So, we have the Law and the Prophets, as the Old Testament was often called, with Jesus on the mountain. The Old Testament was pointing forward to Jesus as we heard in that beautiful prophecy of Jesus in our first reading.

Now two great figures of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, appeared on the mountain with Jesus transfigured, to confirm that Jesus is indeed the expected Messiah. The Father spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

So, the Old Testament and the Father in heaven are now confirming that Jesus is indeed the expected Messiah. Although Jesus had just shocked them by telling them he must suffer and die, this is, in fact, the plan of God for Jesus.

The Father said, “Listen to him.” In other words, “Do not be scandalized at the teaching of my son Jesus about his forthcoming Passion, death and resurrection.” As our preface today says, “He revealed his glory to his disciples to strengthen them for the scandal of the cross.”

Will they listen to Jesus? Will they stand by Jesus as he goes to his Passion and death? We know what happened later. Perhaps we are disappointed that Peter and James did not listen to Jesus, did not remain faithful to Jesus, during the time he most needed them.

They had seen Jesus transfigured, they heard the command of the Father to listen to Jesus, they had been with Jesus for other intimate moments like the raising of the girl to life again but they were scandalized by the Passion of Jesus.

But why should we be disappointed with them? We also have experienced and met Jesus in many ways and sometimes we too let him down. We meet Jesus in a most intimate way every time we receive him in the Eucharist. It is the time when we are closest to Jesus.

As we celebrate the feast of transfiguration of our Lord, we also should have great desire to behold the glory of the Lord. The first step to have this vision of the glory of God is to allow ourselves to be transformed from egoistic to altruistic, unloving to loving, and ever forgiving and forgetting.

If we are transformed on earth, we will be glorified in heaven with the vision of the glory of God. We should leave the path of sin, turn to God and let ourselves be transformed into the image of Jesus through his grace in us. Amen.