4th Sunday of Lent Year C – 19

4th Sunday of Lent Year C – 19

Jos 5:9, 10-12; II Cor 5:17-21; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

The Sunday School teacher was explaining the story of the Prodigal Son to his class, clearly emphasizing the resentment the older brother expressed at the return of his brother.

When he finished telling the story, he asked the class, “Now who was really sad that the prodigal son had come home?”

After a few minutes of silence, one little boy raised his hand and confidently stated, “The fatted calf.”

Today’s parable of the prodigal son is so famous and so rich that we might not notice that it is incomplete. It ends too soon.

It ends with the father pleading with the older son to come in to the celebration which he has arranged for the prodigal son. But we are never told how the elder son responds to his father’s pleading.

His father says, “We must celebrate and rejoice.” Yet the parable ends before we find out whether the older son in fact does celebrate and rejoice.

So the incompleteness of this parable draws attention to the decision which the older son must face.

That choice, whether to celebrate or not celebrate with his brother, becomes a key to unlock the meaning of the parable.

The decision of the elder son which is left hanging in the air suggests that this parable is not so much about sinning, repenting, and forgiving as it is about jealousy.

It is not so much about forgiving the son who came home but the willingness to accept the brother who has come home.

It asks us: Are we willing to rejoice in the good fortune of others?

When someone makes a great basketball shot on our team or someone delivers an excellent speech in debating class, are we willing to rejoice with that person?

Or do we say, “I could have made that shot if they passed the ball to me. I could have given just as good a speech if I had been given that topic.”

When someone at work gets a promotion or pulls off an important project, are we able to rejoice with that person?

Or do we say, “I could have done that too if I played the game, if I catered to the whim of my superiors.”

When we see a great mother, a clever businessman, a creative thinker, are we willing to rejoice and celebrate those gifts or do we feel compelled to tell ourselves and others of that person’s flaws, mistakes, and limitations?

This is exactly what the older brother does as he tries to tell his father all the reasons that his younger brother should not be welcomed home.

Today’s parable is a parable in which the elder son is jealous of the love that the father gives to his brother. Clearly the parable is inviting us to avoid such jealousy in our own lives.

But if we are going to do that, we have to understand what is the cause of jealousy. The parable gives us the answer. The older son is unable to accept the love that his father has for him.

The father certainly loves the elder son. He says this clearly. He says, “My son, you are here with me always and all I have is yours.”

And yet, for some reason, this elder son will not believe in the father’s love. Because he will not accept the gifts that flow from that love, he ends up being jealous of his brother.

The surest way to avoid jealousy in our own lives is to accept the love God has for us and the gifts that God has given us.

Even though our gifts might seem less than the gifts of others, we need to believe that the gifts that we have been given are valuable and important.

Sometimes we think: If God is loving the other person so much there will not be enough love left over for me. But the parable clearly says this is wrong.

The father is excessive in loving, prodigal in loving. The parable assures us that with our God there will always be enough love for all of the children.

This story invites us to claim the love that God has for us and the gifts that God has given us.

It invites us to be thankful for our gifts and to believe, whatever those gifts are, they are a sure sign of God’s unfailing love for us.

If we can be thankful for the gifts we have received, we can avoid jealousy in our lives.

When we claim God’s love, our response to someone’s success or exaltation will be joy rather than envy.

We will be able to celebrate with them, because no matter how much someone else can be blessed, we will know that we are never left out. With our God, there is always enough love to go around.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

3rd Sunday of Lent Year C – 19

3rd Sunday of Lent, Year C

Ex.3:1-8, 13-15 / 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12 / Lk.13:1-9

Let’s begin with a question, and the question is this: Which Christian denomination (or which Church) appears most in movies and is the topic for stories in the newspapers?

If the answer isn’t obvious, then maybe these movies may jog our memory – The Exorcist; Da Vinci Code; Angels and Demons; Sister Act; The Sound of Music

Yes, all these movies have their themes around the Catholic Church or that the Church is used as a background.

So for better or for worse, whenever a Church is featured in a movie, it is most likely the Catholic Church, maybe because it has history as well as mystery.

And if no news is good news, then it may not be the case with the Catholic Church.

Every now and then, there are stories and articles written about the Catholic Church in the papers, some of which are inspiring while some are disturbing.

And in that sense, the Catholic Church is a bit like what we heard in today’s gospel.

We heard that some people came and told Jesus something that is rather disturbing – some Galileans were killed and Pilate had their blood mingled with that of their sacrifices.

And Jesus in turn had something disturbing to tell them – those eighteen people who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them.

Those were rather disturbing and uncomfortable discussions that we would rather not want to think about them and we might even wonder why they were in the gospel in the first place.

But the parable that Jesus told after that would put all those disturbing and uncomfortable topics in their context.

The parable about the fig tree that was not bearing fruit left the conclusion rather open-ended. So did the fig tree eventually bore fruit, or did it get chopped down?

Although there was no apparent conclusion, there was a message – the man who looked after the vineyard appealed for more time to work on the fig tree.

That gives us a glimpse of the mercy of God, which does not just give us a second chance but a series of chances for repentance.

All three of today’s readings speak of God’s mercy and compassion in disciplining His children by occasional punishment, while giving them many “second chances” despite their repeated sins.

Although God’s love for us is constant and consistent, He will not save us without our co-operation.

That is why He invites us during Lent to repent of our sins and to renew our lives by producing fruits of love, compassion, forgiveness, and faithful service.

We know that tragic events can occur randomly, as in the cases of the Galileans and the eighteen Jerusalemites, and have nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of the victims.

For example, a tornado that destroys a nightclub also destroys a Church. An earthquake or tsunami kills the saints as well as the sinners in the affected area. Drunk drivers kill innocent people.

Violent people, with or without provocation, injure their loved ones. Only a few of us will have a burning-bush experience, but all of us have struggled to understand why tragedy seems to befall innocent people.

In all these cases, we need to trust in Divine mercy, believing that God is with us and God is on our side, even in those situations we cannot explain.

Jesus’ life is the clearest evidence that a person’s suffering is not proof of that person’s sin. While sin can lead to tragedy, not every tragedy is the result of sin.

On the one hand, Jesus informs us that those who do not repent will perish. On the other hand, Jesus tells us a parable about the patience of God.

The fig tree in His parable is a familiar Old Testament symbol for Israel.

As the fig tree is given one last season to produce fruit before it is cut down, so Jesus is giving Israel one final opportunity to bear good fruits as evidence of its repentance.

Through this parable, believers are reminded of the patience of a God, who is willing to give sinners chance after chance to reform their lives and to seek reconciliation.

Even when sinners waste or refuse those chances, God, in His mercy, allows still more opportunities for them to repent.

And that’s the good news in the midst of the disturbing and uncomfortable news that we heard in the gospel. God is revealing himself as being with us in our struggles, in our pain.

He is not the God who punishes, rather he does everything to help us to be free, most especially in using humans like Moses, like you and me to bring about his reign here on earth, a reign of justice, love and peace.

May we not take God’s patience for granted but repent and turn away from our sins, and by our repentance may we, the Catholic Church give the world the good news of God’s love and mercy.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

1st Sunday of Lent Year C

1st Sunday of Lent Year C

Deu.26:4-10/ Rom.10:8-13/ Lk.4:1-13

A storekeeper, seeing a boy hanging about outside where there was a tempting display of various fruits, went out to him and said, “What are you trying to do, young man, steal my apples?’ “no sir,” said the boy, “I am trying not to.”

A young boy was forbidden by his father to swim in the canal near their home. One day the boy came home carrying a wet bathing suit and his father asked where he had been. The boy calmly stated that he had been swimming in the canal.

The father was angry and said, “Didn’t I tell you not to swim there?” The boy assured him he had. The father wanted to know why the son had disobeyed him. The boy said, Well, Dad, I had my bathing suit with me, and I couldn’t resist the temptation.”

Furious, the father asked why the boy had his bathing suit with him. The boy answered with total honest, “So I would be prepared to swim, just in case I was tempted.”

Today’s gospel invites us to stay prepared to fight the temptation in our lives. Oscar Wilde was a much-celebrated Anglo-Irish literary figure, very witty… and very worldly.

He once wrote: “I can resist everything but temptation.” There are many today, who live as Oscar Wilde lived.

They regard temptations as irrelevant, things representing what they regard as hypocritical middle class moral norms, norms that constrict us and deny us our freedom.

We are to live, many claim, with only one self-indulgent moral norm: “If it feels good, do it. Anything is all right so long as it doesn’t hurt anybody.”

Some think that God tempts us just to see which way we will choose. It’s God’s way of testing us, they think. As for myself, I can’t imagine an infinitely good and loving God doing that to us.

I believe rather what St. James tells us in his epistle:

“No one experiencing temptation should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and he himself tempts no one. Rather, each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” (James 1:13-14)

We are in the season of Lent. It seems to me that we should be thinking more about how to deal with temptations rather than where they come from.

It helps us to recognize the nature of temptations because, as I said, they always present themselves to us as something good.

We should not choose what only appears to be good or simply feels good. We should choose only that which is actually good. Choosing something that is bad is not the way to achieve what is good.

In the gospel, we heard that Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, was being led by the same Spirit to the wilderness, to the desert. There, for 40 days, He fasted and prayed, and at the same time He was being tempted by the devil.

After 40 days, He was hungry, and that was when the enemy attacked Him with temptations. In His hunger, the enemy tempted Jesus to use His power as the Son of God to turn the stones into bread. Then He was tempted with the power and glory of the kingdoms of earth.

And then finally, He was tempted to put God to the test to see if God will protect Him from harm. As we look at the temptations that Jesus faced, we may come to one glaring realization.

These temptations are actually about the basic needs of our lives; not just basic needs but also the longings of our hearts.

Because in the depths of our hearts, we hunger for food to keep us alive, we long for safety and shelter, and when we have taken care of our hunger and shelter, we would begin to desire for luxury and pleasure.

So as we can see, what Jesus was tempted with, is actually what we ourselves are also tempted with.

It is often said that there is a hole in our hearts that longs to be filled, but it cannot be filled with food, no matter how much we eat. It cannot be filled with clothes no matter how much we wear.

It cannot be filled with riches, no matter how much we have. Only God who created our hearts can fill that longing in the depths of our hearts.

Yet we are tempted to long for something else. And in our foolishness, we long for something that is earthly, something that is passing, something that will eventually turn to dust.

A story goes that a psychologist spoke to an audience about stress management. Then she raised a glass of water, and everyone expected her to ask that “half empty or half full” question.

Instead she asked: “How heavy is this glass of water?” The answers that came from the audience ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

She replied, “The absolute weight of this glass of water doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem.

If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed.

In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” Well, the stress and worries or temptations of life are like that glass of water.

Think about them for a while and nothing much happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt.

And if we think about them all day long, then we will feel paralyzed and incapable of doing anything.

What happens to us when we keep thinking of our stress and worries is similar to what happens to us when we keep longing and going after the things of this world.

We will also become paralyzed and incapable of doing anything. We will be tempted to think that when we have satisfied our hunger, we won’t be hungry anymore.

Or that if we get this amount of money, then we won’t be in need anymore.

Or if we achieve this status or this position or have this authority, then we will be secure and in control. But in today’s gospel, Jesus tells the devil that it won’t be; and Jesus is also telling us that it won’t be.

For Jesus, it is in God the Father that He trusts, for the things of this earth will pass and turn to dust. As for us everything will also pass, and we will also turn to dust.

Yet in Jesus we must trust. As we heard in the 2nd reading: Everyone who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved.

So in our temptations let us call on the name of Jesus. In our needs let us turn to Jesus. And in the end, let us remember that we are dust, and we shall return to dust.

And when everything comes to pass, may we still have the faith to say that “In Jesus we trust.”

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

8th Sunday O T Year C – 19

8th Sunday O T Year C – 19

Sir 27:4-7; I Cor 15:54-58; Lk 6:39-45

I was shocked, confused, bewildered

As I entered Heaven’s door,

Not by the beauty of it all,

Nor the lights or its decor.

But it was the folks in Heaven

Who made me sputter and gasp–

The thieves, the liars, the sinners,

The alcoholics and the trash.

There stood the kid from seventh grade..

Who swiped my lunch money twice.

Next to him was my old neighbor

Who never said anything nice.

Herb, who I always thought

Was rotting away in hell,

Was sitting pretty on cloud nine,

Looking incredibly well.

I nudged Jesus, ‘What’s the deal?

I would love to hear Your talk.

How’d all these sinners get up here?

God must’ve made a mistake.

‘And why’s everyone so quiet,

So somber – give me a clue.’

‘Hush, child,’ He said, ‘they’re all in shock.

No one thought they’d be seeing you.’

Jesus draws our attention to practical points of Christian living. He challenges us to use words as he used them in his preaching and healing ministry. He used them to heal, restore and bring back life, joy and hope.

Today’s readings also instruct us to share our Christian life, love, and spiritual health by our words.

The readings instruct us to avoid gossiping about and passing rash, thoughtless and pain-inflicting judgments on others damaging their good reputation and causing irreparable harm.

Luke might have collected together sayings of Jesus which were spoken on different occasions, thus giving us a kind of compendium of rules for life and living. We may be able to trace four pieces of advice from today’s Gospel passage.

1. Advice for students & teachers of Scripture: The Christian disciples are called upon to be both guides and teachers.

Since a teacher cannot lead his students beyond what he himself has been taught, he must learn from the best teacher.

Then, the learner must apply what he has learned to his own life before trying to teach others. Our goal in the Christian life must be to become like our Teacher, Jesus, in our thoughts, words, and actions.

2) We should not be blind guides: In order to lead a blind person, one must be sighted; in order to teach, one must be knowledgeable; otherwise the blind person and the student will be lost.

The sight and the knowledge specified here are the insights that come through Faith and the Holy Spirit, and the knowledge that comes from a Faith-filled relationship with the Lord.

The point of this image of the blind leading the blind is that we must be careful when choosing whom to follow, lest we stumble into a pit alongside our blind guide.

When choosing a guide – particularly a spiritual guide – one needs to be very, very careful. This is why it is so important to go in for regular “eye exams.”

Every day, Christians should go to God, our spiritual Eye Doctor, to ask Him to check our vision.

As we get into the World, as we pray, He corrects our sight, and He shows us what to watch out for.

It is vitally important that we have this regular “eye exam,” because we are not alone in the car. There are people who trust us to lead them to safety.

It may be your children, or your spouse. It may be a friend. It may be people in the Church or community who are following where we lead. If we lead them off a cliff because of poor vision, God will hold us accountable.

3) We have no right to criticize and judge others: The first reason Jesus gives us is we have no right to criticize unless we ourselves are free of faults. That simply means that we have no right to criticize at all.

Jesus clarifies his point by presenting the humorous simile of a man with a log stuck in his own eye trying to extract a speck of dust from someone else’s eye.

It means that the task of fraternal correction (removing specks, etc.) should not be attempted without prior self-examination.

4) We must be good at heart to be good at our deeds: In order to distinguish the good tree from the bad tree we need to look at the fruit the tree produces (deeds) and not at its foliage (words).

“The treasure of the heart is the same as the root of the tree,” St Bede explains.

“A person who has a treasure of patience and of perfect charity in his heart yields excellent fruit; he loves his neighbor and has all the other qualities Jesus teaches; he loves his enemies, does good to him who hates him, blesses him who curses him, prays for him who calumniates him.

He does not react against him who attacks him or robs him; he gives to those who ask, does not claim what they have stolen from him, wishes not to judge and does not condemn, corrects patiently and affectionately those who err.

But the person who has in his heart the treasure of evil does exactly the opposite.

We need to avoid hypocrisy. Let us acknowledge the hypocrisy we all live every day. It is the word Jesus used. We should stop judging others harshly and unreasonably because, no one except God is good enough to judge others.

Only God sees the whole truth, and only He can read the human heart; hence, only He has the right and authority to judge us. We are often prejudiced in our judgment of others, and total fairness cannot be expected from us.

We do not see all the facts, the circumstances or the power of the temptation, which have led a person to do something evil. We have no right to judge others because we have the same faults and often to a more serious degree than the person, we are judging.

Hence, my dear brothers and sister, let us pray in this Eucharistic celebration that we should leave all judgment to God and practice mercy and forgiveness.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.