The Ascension of the Lord, Year C – 19

The Ascension of the Lord – 19

Luke 24:46-53

A new pastor in a small Midwestern town spent the first four days making personal visits to each of the members, inviting them to come to his first service.

The following Sunday, the church was all but empty. Accordingly, the pastor placed a notice in the local newspapers, stating that because the church was dead, it is everyone’s duty to give it a decent Christian burial.

The funeral would be held the following Sunday afternoon, the notice stated. Morbidly curious, a large crowd turned out for the “funeral.” In front of the pulpit, they saw a closed coffin, smothered with flowers.

After the pastor delivered the eulogy, he opened the coffin and invited his congregation to come forward and pay their final respects to their dead church.

Filled with curiosity as to what would represent the corpse of a “dead church”, all the people lined up to look into the coffin. Each “mourner” peeped into the coffin then quickly turned away with a guilty, sheepish look.

In the coffin, tilted at the correct angle, was a large mirror!

I think that I can speak for us all when I say that we want the good things in our life to last as long as possible.

When we have been blessed, when we are with the people that we love, when we are happy with our family or our job, we do not want any of these good things to change.

Such good things energize us, comfort us, and give us joy. Now having said that, it is also true to say that life does not allow us to hold onto the good things we have forever.

Life changes and we must change with it. Therefore, a fundamental skill of living is learning how to say goodbye. It is a true blessing when we learn how to say good-bye well.

Sr. Joyce Rupp has collected thoughts on this issue in her book PRAYING OUR GOODBYES.

She defines a goodbye as an empty space within us, something that occurs in any situation where there is loss or incompleteness. We carry then an emptiness that cries out to be filled.

Those empty places are created when we have to say goodbye to our parents, or our spouse, or our children, or our friends; when we have to say goodbye to familiar surroundings or secure homes;

when we change a job; when we have to adjust to a new financial reality; when we say farewell to our healthy bodies; or we change our ideas, our values, or our self-image.

On this Feast of the Ascension, the disciples in today’s gospel had to face a major goodbye. They had to say goodbye to the physical presence of Jesus.

As Jesus ascended to the Father he promised the Spirit who would be with them always. But he would no longer physically be present to them as he was in his ministry or in his glorious body after the resurrection.

Life was changing and the disciples had to let go of what they once had. But even as Jesus leaves them, he also points out to the disciples a way in which they can say goodbye well.

He points it out not only for their benefit but for ours. Jesus asks them to remember the things of the past, his death and resurrection, and the proclamation of the Good News.

He says to them, “You will be witness to all these things.” Now at first it might seem strange or counter-intuitive to point to the past as a way of dealing with Jesus’ departure.

After all, remembering the past is remembering the very things we no longer have. But by asking them to witness to the past Jesus is actually showing the disciples an effective way of saying goodbye well.

Jesus asks us to remember the people and the things of the past, not so that we can lament because we no longer have them, but to remember them so that we can see that they were God’s blessings.

Such a recognition leads us then to the belief that the same God who blessed us in the past, will bless us again.

When we can witness to God’s presence in a love of a person we once had, or in a relationship we once shared, or in our youth that we once possessed, or in any gift of familiarity that we once enjoyed, we remind ourselves that God’s love is real.

When we witness to God’s blessings, even though those gifts are no longer ours, God is still ours.

By claiming God’s presence we affirm our faith that God is prepared to lead us into the future and to lead us to goodness.

Witnessing to God’s presence in our past is a way of saying goodbye to the gifts that are ending and at the same time preparing ourselves for the gifts that will be offered.

Life changes, but God remains the same. Life changes, and therefore every person must learn how to say goodbye.

But Christians can say goodbye with the spirit of hope because we witness to the good gifts of the past believing that the same God who gave us those gifts still loves us.

Jesus Christ was lifted up to heaven before the eyes of his disciples. This makes us wonder why did Jesus Christ leave his disciples for Heaven? What does Ascension of the Lord mean to us?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines that Heaven is where God and saints live. Heaven is an everlasting life.

Heaven is an eternal life. Heaven is the final and biggest reward for those who are faithful to God. Heaven is where people will be satisfied completely.

Actually we were born not for challenges, but we are born for changes. We don’t intend to live for persecution. But change or challenge and persecution are always around human life, especially Christian life.

We live like everyone does but we need to remember that we are on the journey of life. Our destination is heaven. Till we reach heaven the life keeps changing.

My message is, do not glue yourselves permanently on earth. We have a permanent home only in heaven not on this earth.

Everything won’t last forever on the earth. We should live, should work and should serve people on the earth with love and with our enthusiasm but remember always that we are going to everlasting life in heaven.

From the perspective of faith, the other side of every Goodbye is a new Hello.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

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6th Sunday of Easter Year C

6th Sunday of Easter Year C

Acts 14:1-2, 22-29, Rev.21:10-14, 22-23, John 14:23-29

“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make a dwelling with him.” Jn.14:23

In Africa young girls who consecrate themselves to God as nuns dress up as brides for a wedding and sing love songs to Jesus.

A few years after such a religious ceremony, a young nun who had been having a rough time in her mission assignment comes back to the convent and asks the Mother Superior: “Mother, is it really true that we are spouses of Christ.”

“Yes, it is true, my daughter,” replies the Mother Superior, “Why do you ask?” “Well,” stammered the young nun, “Since I was professed five years ago, I haven’t actually felt anything!”

Our poor nun may not have felt anything, yet she remains on the right track in understanding the relationship between Jesus and his devotees in terms of an intimate love relationship.

When Jesus speaks in today’s gospel of “those who love me” he is referring to his followers.

For Jesus “those who love me” is another way of saying “my disciples” or “those who believe in me” or simply “Christians.”

The relationship between the Christian and Christ is essentially a love relationship. That is why Jesus said in John 15:15 “I do not call you servants any longer … I call you friends.”

Yet many of us feel more comfortable serving Jesus as boss rather than relating to him as a friend.

There is a limit to what a boss can demand from you. There is no such limit when it comes to friendship and intimacy.

One thing we know about love is that lovers want to be with each other. But Jesus is not physically present.

We cannot physically see him or touch him. This is the dilemma we see in the problem of the young nun. How can you love an absent Jesus?

This is what today’s gospel is all about. In the gospel Jesus prepares his disciples, those who love him, for his departure from this world and shows them how they can keep love and intimacy alive even in his physical absence.

“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23)

If you love Jesus, (1) Keep his word. Follow his teachings. (2) This will activate God’s special love for you, and (3) Jesus and his Father will come and live permanently with you.

In this way the vacuum left by the physical absence of Jesus will be filled spiritually by the divine presence which is as real as or even more real than the physical presence.

Our part in this whole process is to focus on keeping the word of Christ.

The gospel passage reminds us that the Holy Spirit, abiding within us, is our teacher and the source of all peace.

The passage offers a vision of hope. Jesus promises his followers that the Holy Spirit will come and instruct them in everything they need to know.

While reviewing today’s readings, I realized that they have three common denominators. In the Christian spirit, we are called to do all things in the spirit with the Spirit of Christ.

In other words,

(1) We are called to walk in the Christian spirit;

(2) We are called to do all things in the spirit; and

(3) And we are called to walk with the Spirit of Christ.

Rossini was an Italian who composed some beautiful music. He was once given a beautiful watch by the King of France. He was very proud of his watch because it was a royal gift.

A few years after he had been given it, he showed it to a friend. His friend told him that although he had had the watch for years he did not know its real value.

‘Impossible,’ said Rossini. ‘Lend it to me for a moment,’ said his friend. Taking the watch, he touched a secret spring and an inner case flew open revealing a beautiful painting of Rossini himself. The composer had never known that the painting was there.

Holy Spirit is at work in the hearts of you and me, in the hearts of men and women. He is the indwelling spirit.

Though we may not be aware of Him, it is He who impels us to do good. Holy Spirit guides our communities in many ways:

=> He moves us to make right decisions as was the case in the early church: “It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by us.” The Apostles felt their oneness with the Holy Spirit.

=> He inspires us to do good, and strengthens us to accept trails and difficulties for the cause of the Gospel.

=> He helps us to keep the word of love that binds us with God and with one another.

What does it mean to walk in the Christian spirit?

To walk in the Christian spirit also involves the embracing of certain characteristics. The first, and the most important, is the attribute of unity, all the members being of one spiritual mind. Through unity, there is harmony.

Through harmony, there is strength. Through strength, there is perseverance in the living faith. And in the end, those who are joined in the Christian spirit, they achieve their goal, eternal life and salvation through Jesus Christ.

Let us get out of the “each man for himself,” from egoism and self-indulgence. Let us be responsive to the Spirit and promote love, forgiveness, and service in order to live as sincere and authentic children of God. Amen.

5th Sunday of Easter Year C

5th Sunday of Easter Year C

Acts.14: 21-27; Rev.21: 1-5a; Jn.13:31-33a, 34-35

A husband and wife went for counseling after 15 years of marriage. When asked what the problem was, the wife went into a passionate, painful tirade listing every problem they ever had in the 15 years they had been married.

She went on and on and on: neglect, lack of intimacy, emptiness, loneliness, feeling unloved and unlovable, an entire laundry list of un-met needs she had endured over the course of their marriage.

Finally, after allowing this to go on for a sufficient length of time, the therapist got up, walked around the desk and, after asking the wife to stand, embraced and kissed her passionately. The woman shut up and quietly sat down as though in a daze.

The therapist turned to the husband and said, “This is what your wife needs at least three times a week Can you do this?”

The husband thought for a moment and replied, “Well, I can drop her off here on Mondays and Wednesdays, but on Friday’s, I fish!

We love our sports-teams and rock-bands and we are proud to be identified with them. So we wear T-shirts and hats and even sometimes the uniforms.

Jesus wanted us to be identified with Him and His team. Since there were no uniforms, habits, badges, bumper stickers, pinups, T-shirts or hats during His time. He made it very simple for His followers.

He said that people would know we are His followers if we would love one another. The beautiful hymn (we are Christians by our love and they’ll know we are Christians by our love).

We are One in The Spirit,

We are One in The Lord.

We are One in The Spirit,

We are One in The Lord.

And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love,

By our Love,

Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

All will know we are His disciples by this special identification.

No special hats or uniforms are needed. Our identification is our love for others. Making others happy in our homes, work places and at schools is how the kingdom of God is built.

Loving others sounds simple. But it is difficult to attain.

A soldier was finally coming home after having fought in Vietnam War. He called his parents from San Francisco. “Mom and Dad, I’m coming home, but I’ve a favor to ask.

I have a friend I’d like to bring home with me.” “Sure,” they replied, “we’d love to meet him.”

“There is something you should know,” the son continued, “He was injured pretty badly in the fighting. He stepped on a landmine and lost an arm and a leg.

He has nowhere else to go, and I want him to come live with us.” “I’m sorry to hear that, son. May be we can help him find somewhere to live.”

“No, Mom and Dad, I want him to live with us.” “Son,” said the father, “you don’t know what you’re asking.

Someone with such a handicap (physically challenged) would be a terrible burden on us. We have our own lives to live, and we can’t let something like this interfere with our lives.

I think you should just come home and forget about this guy. He will find a way to live on his own.” At that point, the son hung up the phone. The parents heard nothing more from him.

A few days later however, they received a call from the San Francisco police. Their son had died after falling from building, they were told. The police believed it was suicide.

The grief-stricken parents flew to San Francisco and were taken to the city morgue to identify the body of their son.

They recognized him, but to their horror they also discovered something they didn’t know, their son had only one arm and one leg.

St. Mother Teresa remarked that the greatest disease in the world is not tuberculosis, leprosy or even A.I.D.S.; it is being unwanted, uncared for and unloved.

It is easy for us to love those who are good-looking, fun to be with, smart, not giving us any problem, and not causing us any troubles or hassles.

We would rather stay away from those who make us feel uncomfortable and annoying. We very often hear the excuse that he/she has been unloving and grumpy all his/her life.

It cannot be true. He/she was not always like that; it is a choice he/she has made. Therefore, they can change if they wish.

Love can be re-learned. We can be re-educated, re-formed and renewed. We don’t have to live in misery and unwantedness. We can change our life; it is a matter of decision from our part.

A word of ‘sorry’ can change our whole life forever. We shall try with our parents and friends and see how life is going to bear fruit.

There are three states of life:

1. Not to love and not to be loved – this seems like hell on earth.

2. To love and not to be loved in return – this though painful, is better than the first.

3. To love and to be loved – this is the blessed state Jesus enjoyed and asks us to practice.

There are at least five kinds of love. They are utilitarian love, romantic love, democratic love (based upon equality under the law), humanitarian love and the fifth kind is Christian love summed up in the commandment of Jesus: Love one another as I have loved you.”

It expresses itself in service, affection and self-sacrifice.

The words of Jesus “Love your neighbor as yourself” is addressed to each one of us. According to S.F.S. “to love our neighbor in charity is to love God in man.”

Love must be the rule of community. Jesus wants today that: Love should reign the life of our community.

We can become whole and holy only when we learn to love ourselves properly, acknowledging the presence of the Triune God in our souls, making our bodies the “temple of the Holy Spirit.

We love others by responding to the call of God in our lives and by walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

We love others by making sacrifices for them. This is how the world will know that we are the Disciples of Christ.

So the hallmark of Christian life is love. For Jesus says: “by this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciple.” (Jn.13:35)

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

4th Sunday of Easter Year C – 19

4th Sunday of Easter Year C – 19

Acts.13:14, 43-52/ Rev.7:9, 14-17/ John 10:27-30

The great preacher, Dr. G. Campbell Morgan had four sons all of whom grew up to become preachers. One day, a visitor arrived and found the whole family sitting around a table in the sitting room.

The visitor decided to tease one of the boys named Howard. “Howard,” he asked, “who is the greatest preacher in your family?”

Howard who had a great admiration for his father took a look at his father across the table and without a moment’s hesitation answered, “Mom.”

Mothers may not know it but they are often responsible for the faith development of their children more than many preachers put together.

So on this Mother’s Day I wish all the Mothers A very Happy Mother’s Day. God bless you all.

In the gospel, Jesus said, “The sheep that belong to Me listen to My voice. I know them and they follow Me.”

Jesus uses shepherding image in today’s gospel to describe his relationship with us. If he is the shepherd, then we must be the ones who recognize his voice and follow him.

Jesus calls us His sheep, and with that He also calls Himself the Good Shepherd.

And even our idea of the shepherd is a popular and romantic one that we see in pictures.

But pictures don’t give out any smell. A real shepherd would have a smell, and it’s none other than the smell of the sheep.

And like the sheep that he is always with, he would also have the smell of that peculiar unwashed sheep smell; and he is not someone we would want at our dining table. (Lamb chops – yes; sheep and shepherd – no!)

Even during the time of Jesus, shepherds were regarded as religiously unclean, obviously because of their peculiar smell.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Yet He is also the Lamb of God. So He not only looks like the sheep, He also smells like the sheep.

The 4th Sunday of Easter is also called “Vocation Sunday”.

The word “vocation” has its root in the Latin word “vocare” which means “to call”.

Jesus the Good Shepherd calls out to us. And if we are His sheep, we will be listening to Him and we will also follow Him.

And Jesus said in the gospel : I know my sheep and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they will never be lost. And no one will ever steal them from me.

Vocation Sunday can also be called “Listening Sunday”, because Jesus the Good Shepherd calls out to us to follow Him.

Yet the call of Jesus also goes further and deeper to those for whom He has a particular calling.

Vocation Sunday focuses on the call to the priesthood.

It is for those young men who are thinking of the priesthood because the call of Jesus has stirred their hearts.

It is for the seminarians in the major seminary undergoing training for the priesthood, that they keep listening to the call.

Last but certainly not the least, it is for priests who have heard the call, answered the call, and to remain faithful to the call.

So whether they are thinking about the priesthood, studying for the priesthood, or serving in the priesthood, the call of Jesus is to be shepherds who have the heart of the Good Shepherd.

Pope Francis in his Chrism Mass homily has this to say to those who are shepherds or preparing to be shepherds of God’s flock.

He said that priests are to bring the healing power of God’s grace to everyone in need, to be close to the oppressed, and to be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep”.

Yes, God’s flock is not a collection of stuffed toy lambs and sheep that look soft and white and cute and cuddly.

God’s flock, God’s people, have the underlying hope and desire for divine comfort and healing and protection, so that our souls can become white as wool and a pure offering to God.

And more so for God’s priests. We priests are reminded that if we really want to serve God’s people, then we have to be like the shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.

We priests cannot think of God’s people as a collection of stuffed toys that look clean and soft and fluffy and cute and cuddly.

God’s people are like a flock of sheep that needs protection and healing.

God’s people are like a flock of sheep that hunger and thirsts for none other than the living God.

So humbly I ask you, my dear people of God, to pray for us priests that we will lead you to hear the voice of Jesus and to follow Him to the green pastures of eternal life.

Yes, pray for us priests and pray for those who are preparing for the priesthood and for those who are thinking about the priesthood.

May we lead you to believe this, which is taken from Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want”.

Yes, with the Lord as our shepherd, there is indeed nothing we shall ever want.

But if you and I have a real relationship with Jesus, we should not be surprised if occasionally Christ asks us to do something.

It could be giving money to the poor. It could be doing something for the church. It could be doing something for the society. It could be doing something for the world.

It might be reconciling with an enemy. It might be spending more time with the family, seeking out counseling, or entering a specific career.

Christ can speak to us in many ways. But if we come to church every Sunday, if we pray, if we call ourselves Christians and we never hear Christ asking us to do anything, something is wrong.

And it is unlikely that we hear nothing because Christ is not speaking. It is much more likely that we are not listening. Not listening is a serious flaw, because if Christ is truly our shepherd, he is calling.

So the important question for each of us here today is what is Christ calling me to do? What is Christ asking me to do?

It is a question that is essential to our relationship, because we cannot follow him if we do not recognize his voice.

All we want is to listen to Him and follow Him.

And everyone who is entrusted with the care of others is a shepherd. Hence, pastors, parents, teachers, doctors, nurses, government officials, etc. are all shepherds.

We become good shepherds by loving those entrusted to us, praying for them, spending our time and talents for their welfare, and guarding them from physical and spiritual dangers.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C

3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C – 19

Acts.5:27-32, 40-41 / Rev.5:11-14 / Jn.21:1-19

We might like to think that having lots of time and nothing to do can be quite an enjoyable thing.

After all, we have always been so busy with work, with children, and with so many other things in life that we hardly have time for ourselves.

So we dreamed about some time in the future when we are retired and the children are grown-up and then we will be free and have lots of time for ourselves.

We will dream of going to Casinos, to go on a cruise, go for holidays, just enjoy life.

After all, we have worked hard in life and we want to have some enjoyment after that.

But for how long can we keep playing in the Casinos or going for cruises, or going for holidays? How long can we go on with lots of time and nothing to do?

Because without a challenge and a direction in life, we will begin to lose the meaning of life.

In the gospel, we hear of Peter and the other disciples at the Sea of Tiberius, doing nothing.

Though it was after the resurrection of Jesus, and Jesus had already appeared to them twice, they were not very sure what to do or where to go.

They had lots of time but they had nothing to do and nowhere to go. So Peter suggested they go fishing, hoping that they can make some use of their time.

But it was strange that they caught nothing at all after working hard all night.

Maybe because there was nothing in their minds and in their hearts, even their work also resulted in nothing. Seems like even the fish also didn’t want to go near them.

Until Jesus called out to them. Then things began to change and change so quickly. All of a sudden, there was a miraculous catch of fish.

And then one of the disciples realized that it was Jesus. And when they came back to shore, there was a breakfast ready for them.

But most importantly, Jesus was with them and life began to look different. Life began to look exciting. But it was also going to be challenging.

And at times it may seem like what the disciples went through – going fishing all night but catching nothing.

Life, indeed, has many moments of frustration and disappointment.

We feel like we wait for nothing and we work for nothing.

Our human inclination is to want life easy and smooth. So whether in church, or at home, or at work, we want it smooth and easy.

Whether in marriage, or in bringing up kids or taking care of aged parents, we want it smooth and easy.

And we can have it our way. So in church organization, if we are not happy, we leave.

If we are not happy at work, we resign. If we are not happy in our marriage, we divorce.

But do we want to choose our way or do we want to live life God’s way?

In the 1st reading, Peter bravely said that obedience to God comes before obedience to man.

Peter could have just obeyed those with power and authority and avoided trouble and saved his life.

But that would mean giving up for nothing and giving up to nothing.

There is a story about not giving up and it goes like this:

One day a man decided to quit. He gave up on his job, his relationship, his spirituality. He wanted to give up on his life. He went to the woods to have one last talk with God.

“God”, he asked, “Can you give me one good reason not to give up?”

His answer surprised the man. “Look around”, He said. “Do you see the fern and the bamboo?” “Yes” the man replied.

“When I planted the fern and the bamboo seeds, I took very good care of them. I gave them light. I gave them water. The fern quickly grew from the earth. Its brilliant green covered the floor.

Yet nothing came from the bamboo seed. But I did not give up on the bamboo.

In the second year the fern grew more vibrant and plentiful. And again, nothing came from the bamboo seed. But I did not give up on the bamboo.

In the third year there was still nothing from the bamboo seed. But I would not give up on it

In the fourth year, again, there was nothing from the bamboo seed. I would not give up.

Then in the fifth year a tiny sprout emerged from the earth.

Compared to the fern it was seemingly small and insignificant. But just 6 months later the bamboo rose to over 100 feet tall.

It had spent the five years growing roots. Those roots made it strong and gave it what it needed to survive. I would not give any of my creations a challenge it could not handle.”

He asked me. “Did you know, my child, that all this time you have been struggling, you have actually been growing roots”.

“I would not give up on the bamboo. I will never give up on you.

Don’t compare yourself to others. The bamboo had a different purpose than the fern. Yet, they both make the forest beautiful.”

“Your time will come”, God said to me. “You will rise high.”

“How high should I rise?” the man asked. “How high will the bamboo rise?” God asked in return. “As high as it can?” the man answered. “Yes.” God said, “Give Me glory by rising as high as you can.”

The Lord will never give up on us and we too must not give up on ourselves, on others and on the challenges and difficulties we face.

Instead of telling the Lord how big the problem is, let us turn around and tell the problem how great the Lord is!

Yes, God is great, all the time. May we use all our time and all our days proclaiming that God is great, all the time.