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Monday, December 31, 2012

MARY: VIRGIN and MOTHER

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SOLEMNITY OF MARY MOTHER OF GOD
Luke 2:16-21

To listen at the Australian Catholic Radio Online:
http://cradio.org.au/talks-and-resources/homilies/fr-vladimir-echalas-solt/virgin-and-mother/ 

         Virginity and motherhood are the crowning glory of womanhood which also define the whole being of Mary. 
         When a young girl from a primary state school asked me how could Mary be a virgin and mother at the same time, I tried to answer it through the image of the Church since Mary is the model and icon of the Church.  The Church being the bride of Christ is and will always be a virgin: pure and undefiled; She is also a mother who continuously gives birth to the children of God.  Mary remained a virgin by the grace of God who at the same time became a mother to Jesus, to the New Humanity, the Church and a mother to us all.
         Mary’s motherhood started when She said her Fiat to the message of the incarnation by the angel Gabriel, but the wonder of wonders without the intervention of a human father.  But still another wonder when God preserved her purity through her undefiled virginity.  The peak of Mary’s motherhood was when She ended her being the mother of Jesus and became the Mother of the Church beneath the cross: “Woman behold your son… behold your mother….” (John 19:26-27).  She was with the Church in prayer (Acts 1:14) and will always give birth to the new children of God until the end of time (Revelation 12).   Because of Her virginity She was and will always be a mother:  that defines Her role in the history of salvation.  Because it defies human reason, we will always stand in awe before its wonder which can only be conceived by the Wisdom of God.
         Maybe the word “beautiful” which has been used so many times to describe the grandeur and wonder of Mary, really pales in comparison to Her extraordinary life.   In our limited perception, we can only have a little glimpse of the splendor of Mary’s beauty which is just but a reflection of  Beauty made Man!
         If we have to look deep inside our hearts, there is a “spark” of Mary’s purity and fertility in each one of us.  It is the dwelling place of God in the depth of our being, as if the innermost chamber of a castle only known to God.  It may  may have been covered up or hidden by our sinfulness, but in the midst of the darkness of our souls, God's grace makes it possible to shine once again.  It is there that we encounter God.  This is the reason of the basic goodness in us: the presence of the divine which continues to glow as long as we live.   At the end of our earthly life, this “spark” will finally be united with the grand Light which is the source of Life. Mary is now at the centre of that Light drawing all of us Her children until She brings us together where we will shine forever.  We call it eternity!

Friday, December 28, 2012

HOLY FAMILY

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HOLY FAMILY

Luke 2:41-52



         Before time began, the Trinity was the primordial family in perfect love.  From the outpouring of their charity with one another the first human family was born.  Far from being perfect because of human frailty, infidelity, greed and anger the once happy family was destroyed and fell.   But God did not give up and promised to re-create a new family that would mirror the family of the Trinity once again.  God conceived this “dream family” for a long time through a people He had chosen to be His own.  This came about when the Church was born out of the pain and suffering of Jesus beneath the cross.  The Church becomes the new family of God with Jesus as our head.  It is through the Church that God continues to give birth to His children on earth in the context of the Christian family which is called the “domestic church”.  

The family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus is the ideal family;  they are called the Holy Family not just because they were good people but because Jesus was the centre of their lives.  Like any other ordinary family, they also experienced the hardships, anxieties, rejection, suffering, tragedies, loss of loved ones and other problems that we experience within our families.  Their lives were not at all roses in bed;  humans as they were, most of the times they did not even understand why strange things were happening to them.  They were as ordinary as we are now but because of the presence of Jesus in their midst, they had a different way of looking at things.

Under normal circumstances, each one of us was born in a family hence belonging to a household.  It is through this family that we experience love by loving and being loved.  Since I was a young boy and being the youngest in the family, I felt tremendously loved by my parents and my siblings.  Later on, I realized that God was loving me through the love I experienced at home  It was through my family that I first encountered God and felt His presence through the people around me at home.

Because of our human weaknesses, our families are far from the ideal.   Just like the first family of Adam and Eve, our families have our own share of frailties that make us vulnerable to faults and inadequacies.   Some of us come from broken homes, others are victims of misfortunes that continue to beset our families; we also have skeletons in the closets and dark secrets of our parents and ancestors.   But in the midst of all these grim realities is the hope that out from the ashes we rise to face life with its bright promises and our eagerness to find happiness.  Our faith makes the difference, knowing that life is beautiful because of the silent presence of Jesus in our lives in spite of our gloomy past.  He is the beacon light of our families when tragedies strike us and everything is dark…

It is through the Church that we manifest the reality of the family of the Trinity in our world today.  When we come together as a Church to celebrate the Eucharist, we gather in the altar of the flesh and blood of Jesus just as we gather as a family to partake our meal in our homes.  To those who do not  believe in God or have lost their faith in God or question the presence of God, we say that God is alive and kicking within us when we love Him, our family and each other. 

One day we will all be gathered as one Family of God when we see each other together in the womb of God.


Friday, December 21, 2012

AGENTS OF THE INCARNATION

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4TH SUNDAY OF ADVENT – C

Luke 1:39-45



Mary and Elizabeth are iconic representations of the New Testament and the Old Testament respectively:  Mary, being young and fertile while Elizabeth was old and barren.  Representing the People of God, they were agents of the Incarnation.  The Visitation was the coming together of the two eras in human history represented  by the two women soon to be mothers.  It was also the meeting for the very first time of the two human beings who would soon change the course of history: John the Baptist and Jesus!

The pregnancies of Mary and Elizabeth were out of this world: a very young lady of fourteen conceiving without a human father and a woman maybe in her seventies who used to be barren.  Both of them perplexed and confused needed more understanding to the very unusual events that were happening to them.   Mary needed the wisdom of a mother older than her and Elizabeth who hid herself out of shame also needed the physical help of someone younger than her.  

Mary upon receiving the message from the angel Gabriel that her cousin was conceiving did not waste a single minute, went as quickly as she could to lend her a hand.  She being the first evangelized became the first evangelizer. She did not just bask in the glory that was announced unto her by the angel but went out of her way to translate the message into concrete service.  This is the  greatness of Mary! 

In the Old Testament, the two tablets of the Ten Commandments were kept in a wooden box called the Ark of the Covenant which represented the physical presence of God among the Isrealites.  When the Ark of the Covenant was being carried to Jerusalem, David danced in front of the presence of God (2 Samuel 6).   In the New Testament, the Word who became flesh was kept in the New Ark of the Covenant which was the womb of Mary.   John the Baptist like David leapt for joy in the presence of God being carried by Mary.  John the Baptist acknowledged the new presence of God among his people in the person of Jesus.

The Visitation was not just an historical event between Mary and Elizabeth or Jesus and John the Baptist, it is the continuous manifestation of God among us in the present time.  We are the new agents of the Incarnation.  Like Elizabeth during our most trying and difficult moments we also hid in confusion and shame and yet God comes to us through Mary.  God also sends us people to extend us a helping hand in our darkest moments. God may also send us to help other people  like Mary to Elizabeth.   Sometimes we are not aware when God uses us to touch other people; at other times, God also uses other people to touch us, too.  

During tragedies or moments of destruction and suffering, many accidental heroes are born without them wanting or knowing it.  They are the people who go out of their way to lend a helping hand to those who are in pain and in darkness.  Like Mary, we are also privileged to be “arks of the covenant” in our own little ways when we act as agents of the Incarnation through our service to others.  Through us, God’s presence shines once more and the world like David and John the Baptist dances with joy…..


MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!!!





        

Saturday, December 15, 2012

DIMINUTIVE SPIRITUALITY

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THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT – C
Luke 3:10-18

         Today is GAUDETE SUNDAY, a day of rejoicing!
After listening to St. John the Baptist who speaks to us “heart to heart”, like his listeners from the different strata of life during his time, we also ask WHAT SHALL WE DO?
First of all, the call to holiness is universal as Vatican II teaches us; it permeates the different strata of our society.  Our following of Jesus does not always mean leaving the world, our families or careers in order to enter into a more spiritual walk of life like entering the convent, seminary or a monastery.   Discipleship is the call to holiness within the secular lives that we have chosen as long as we follow the gospel value of Jesus.
Secondly, the voice of John the Baptist is not only heard during Advent although it becomes more relevant during this season when we stop in our life’s journey like a spiritual retreat in order to evaluate our value system before we step further on. Because conversion is a continuous call, like a journey, it will always be an on-going process of transcending the old self towards a better way of living.  It is like a pulsating energy that draws us closer to perfection.   If this is true, then conversion is not just about feeling good, not even being “spiritually high” but something that we work on even after having done something good before. 
Listening to the voice of John the Baptist in the present time, if I am a soldier or a lawyer then I have to defend the weak, the innocent and the helpless; if I am a mother or father then I have to nourish and educate my children; if I am a teacher then I have to pass on the knowledge and wisdom to my students; if I am a politician then I have to serve unselfishly  my constituents; the examples go on and on….  Our profession is not just about getting our bread and butter for our survival but a way of doing justice and charity to others.  Our career is not just about self-aggrandizement but giving back to others what they deserve through service.

Holiness is not just limited in the confines of the church, it  permeates through the ordinariness of our secular lives beyond religion.  Because of this, we can all be saints in the eyes of God only if we are able to live the way God wants us to be.
Later on Jesus would be praising John Baptist by saying “No man born of a woman is greater than John the Baptist…”  and yet the greatness of John the Baptist did not get into his head.   He knew his place and would not grab the opportunity of self-canonization towards egotism: “I am not worthy to untie his sandals…”   John the Baptist is the perfect example of Christian humility, not of self-abasement.  He acknowledges his prophetic mission but he puts Jesus in the centre of things.  He gives a lesson most especially to people who are given more opportunities in life: the higher we go up in the ladder, the smaller we become for those who are below us.  We may call this as “diminutive spirituality.”  We do not become bigger than others just because we are higher in the ladder.  On the other hand we do not falsely accuse ourselves of being close to nothing simply because we are at the base of the ladder.  The self should never be the standard to measure up things.   Jesus should be the centre which is the ultimate criterion by which someone or something is judged or recognized.  If we are able to do this, we can truly rejoice because we are gradually molding ourselves into the resemblance of Christ.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A NEW HEART

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2ND SUNDAY OF ADVENT – C

Luke 3:1-6



         Like the Israelites who journeyed in the desert for forty years towards the Promised Land, the Church is also journeying in the desert in this Season of Advent towards Christmas which prefigures the coming of Jesus in Parousia.   Inasmuch as God prepared the Israelites for the journey by sending them guides and prophets, the Church is also being guided by St. John the Baptist who is the greatest prophet of all times during this Advent journey,  This Sunday we listen to St. John’s message.

         During the olden times in the Mediterranean region, the visit of a king necessitated the paving of the way for the king’s entourage.  The prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament prophesied a “voice” that will cry out in the wilderness who would prepare the People of God for the coming of their King.  This “voice” was no other than St. John the Baptist.  His message was “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!  Make his paths straight, every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be leveled, winding ways be straightened and rough roads made smooth!”

         In this journey, the desert now is not anymore the physical harsh realities of sand and dunes but our very own hearts.  It is through the heart that we listen to John’s message as we journey with the Church. Year after year as long as we can remember we had gone through many Advents and Christmases, so what’s  new this year?    Have you seen an old bark of a tree peeling off to give way to the new trunk?  Or an empty shell in the shore abandoned by a crab?  Or some dried skin of a snake in the woods?  They are just some few examples found in nature where the old reality gives way to the birthing of the new for to withhold means death.  It’s more than just the process of ageing which is inevitable in life.   Science sees life as continuously evolving; our faith tells us that God is continuously re-creating.  We just do not grow one year older during our next birthday;  should we not become better persons than the year before?  Like the tree, crab or snake, we shed off the old traces of our skin because we deserve a much better life than we had before.   This is what the Church offers us in our journeying through Advent: A NEW HEART! But it comes with a price!  If our heart is not anymore functioning normally as it should, it may require some medical procedures like surgery otherwise it will lead to other complications.  If not given the proper attention it will stop breathing which will lead to death.  Think of those unhealthy energies which we have been keeping all these years in our hearts:  pride, anger, unforgiveness, hatred, addictions, egotism, vices, indifference, etc.  Consider them as blockages which are responsible for our heart problems not just in the physical sense but more so with our relationship with God.   They are the mountains, hills, rough roads and valleys spoken by John the Baptist: they block the coming of Jesus in our lives.  Like a cardiologist, John the Baptist speaks to us telling us what’s blocking in our encounter with Jesus our King. Let us give our hearts a break!   It may require some spiritual procedures, just like an open heart surgery with the physical heart, to make it alive once again.  We have to endure the pain for to refuse such an opportunity is to withhold something great that we deserve: a new heart from God.    When we are able to do it, then our hearts will breathe again in welcoming Jesus, ready to love and be loved….





Friday, November 30, 2012

PAROUSIA: SECOND COMING OF JESUS

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FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT – C
Luke 21:25-28.34-36

      As the Church enters into the season of Advent, she invites all the faithful to journey with her towards the Second Coming of the Lord which we call the Parousia.  But before she embarks on this Advent pilgrimage, she invites us to pause a moment and look back to a point in history so we can learn the wisdom of the past.  Then we are able to prepare ourselves to face the future with anticipation and hope which is our salvation.
         This is the reason why in this First Sunday of Advent, we read St. Luke’s version on the destruction of the temple and the end of the world.   Of course the world did not end after the destruction of the temple but it goes to show that if Jesus’ prediction of its destruction became true in 70 AD then the world will also end but we do not know the time.   The destruction of the temple which marked  the end of the priesthood of Judaism in the Old Testament paved the way for the birthing of the  priesthood of Jesus in the New Testament.  The temple which housed the Ark of the Covenant was not needed anymore when the Word became flesh in Jesus Christ. After the destruction of the temple the Kingdom of God indeed came in a new way through the Church. 
         The catastrophes mentioned in the Gospel are part of the Jewish apocalyptic literature which signals the intervention of God revealing Himself in human history.  The worldly upheavals and other cosmic disasters should not be taken literally; they are signs for the believers to hold firm in their faith because God is on their side protecting them.  They have to be faithful in the midst of these tribulations through watchful expectation and prayer.  Like any other birthing, the coming of God’s Kingdom is preceded by pain expressed through  suffering.   It entails the destruction of the old structures like the Temple of Jerusalem to give way to the new order of reality like the Church. 
         These cosmic upheavals can find their expressions in our personal lives.  There are those who after experiencing a great crisis in life gave up their faith because they could not comprehend a loving God who would tolerate such pain and suffering.  How do we pray to God who is silent in the midst of a family tragedy?  How do we understand His presence when He seemed absent in the death of a beloved?  How do we appreciate our relationship with God when we are in the middle of an intense difficulty or danger?  Some people left their faith in rebellion to God whom they thought had abandoned them when they needed Him the most.  To most of us, these are more real than the signs in the sun and the moon and the stars.  Jesus reminds us in our Gospel: “Stake awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen….”
         When the Church invites us in this Advent Pilgrimage, she assures us  that we are not alone in our struggles and that she accompanies us in whatever tribulations we are in.  In the midst of life’s tragedies, some romantic couples hold hands together looking at each other while we as members of the Church hold hands together in prayer looking forward to God’s Kingdom which is about to come….
        
        
        
        

Friday, November 23, 2012

CHRIST THE KING

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34TH SUNDAY: CHRIST THE KING – B
John 18:33-37  

To listen and download as podcast:
 http://cradio.org.au/talks-and-resources/homilies/feast-of-christ-the-king-2/

      The celebration of the Christ the King signals the end of the liturgical calendar of the Church.   This is to remind us that at the end of our life’s journey, Jesus will be our King.
      The gospel this Sunday brings us to the judgment drama between Jesus and Pontius Pilate in the Passion Narrative.   Pilate was the prefect of the Roman province of Judaea from 26-36 AD; traditionally he was known as the procurator. The Jewish religious leaders brought Jesus to Pilate because the Sanhedrin which is the equivalent of our Supreme Court did not have the power to sentence and execute political prisoners.  By bringing Jesus to Pilate, the religious leaders ensured that Jesus would be crucified through the hands of the Romans. 
      There are many interesting details in the narrative and  dialogue between Jesus and Pilate towards a better understanding of the Kingship of Jesus.  Pilate represented the Roman Empire who practically owned the whole world during that time.  Because he was a man of supreme authority, the life of Jesus depended upon his judgment.  When Pilate asked Jesus if He was the King of Jews, Jesus did not respond in the affirmative, instead Jesus explained that His Kingdom is not of this world: “If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”  So when Pilate asked Jesus if He was a king, Jesus answered “You say I am a king.”  Now Pilate had spoken and had given the Roman confirmation that Jesus was indeed a king.  Jesus explain further “For this reason I was born and this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  Because Pilate never understood a thing, in his utter ignorance he said “What is truth””
True enough Pilate did not find any political fault  with Jesus and he wanted to free him.  He made Jesus sit down in a stone pavement called Gabbatha, a judgment seat because in John’s thought Jesus was the real judge of the world.  It was about noon when Pilate handed him over to the Jews to be crucified which was the same time when the priests began to slaughter the Passover lambs in the temple. It was also Pilate who had the inscription INRI (Iesous Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum) which meant as a mockery that Jesus who was from Nazareth was the king of the Jews.  When the Jews saw it, they demanded that it be changed to “I am the King of the Jews”.  But Pilate insisted “What I have written, I have written” which means that Rome had indeed confirmed the kingship of Jesus.  John’s polyglot character of the inscription signaled that it be understood by the languages of the Roman Empire being written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek.
Jesus being raised on the cross which was His throne, was the height of paradox when He was finally exalted as the King of the Universe although in the eyes of the world He was a total failure.
After understanding the kingship of Jesus from the presentation of John in his gospel, let us reflect it in our lives.  When we were baptized, we shared in the kingly office of Jesus. It is more than having the royal blood that gives us the right to enter and live at the Buckingham Palace.  Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world so it does not have an army, courts, palaces nor boundaries.  It does not have the riches and the power of an earthly kingdom because it is spiritual and eternal.  It is not just about our privilege to be subjects of Jesus’ Kingdom but having our regal identity as heirs of His Kingdom.   Whenever we pray the Our Father, we always say “Your Kingdom come…”  Every time we witness to truth and when we celebrate our inner goodness as a human person, God’s Kingdom has indeed come and Jesus reigns in our hearts…..


Friday, November 16, 2012

PILGRIMAGE HEADING HOME

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33RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B
Mark 13:24-32

      Our life’s journey is likened to a pilgrimage.  There is a difference between a tourist and pilgrim.  For a pilgrim, every step leads to the sense of the sacred while for a tourist it is more of sightseeing.  Being members of the Pilgrim Church, we participate in this pilgrimage not by going to the sacred sites or pilgrimage shrines but by celebrating the liturgical seasons.  We are now at the end of the liturgical calendar of the Church, hence almost at the end of our pilgrimage in the liturgical season.
      This is the reason why the readings are taken from the apocalyptic literature which features about the destruction of the world to signal the end of time.  This is particularly pictured symbolically in the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem.  The Temple was the very heart of Israel and its destruction was almost taken as the death of their national identity.  But the world did not end in 70 AD when the Temple of Jerusalem was completely destroyed by the Romans.  Therefore the symbols used in the apocalyptic literature should not be taken literally.  Vatican II calls them “signs of the times” that we need to read and interpret under the guidance of the Church. 
      In any form of giving birth, there is a breaking of the old to give way to something new.  The destruction of the Temple alludes to the breakthrough in Judaism which was the antecedent in the birthing of Christianity.  When the Temple was destroyed the priesthood of Judaism in the Old Testament came to an end to give way to the new priesthood in the New Testament which is the priesthood of Jesus Christ.        
    All around us life in different forms experiences birthing all the time, a continuous flux of life-processes resulting in the advances of many life forms.  The natural calamities can be explained by the geological  movements of the earth resulting in the many changes of land formations or weather conditions. Man-made catastrophes are the result of our politics, greed, irresponsibility and improper use of our resources.  Either man-made or natural, the world around us is not just changing all the time but also will come to an end just like any other thing.  This inevitable reality should not frighten us but instead  inspire us to see our life moving forward unto our final destination.  Don’t dwell in fear about the end of the world but rather in hope!  Until we become a person of faith, our existence is just like a tourist who simply enjoys sightseeing and will never reach his destination.  As a pilgrim, being a member of the Pilgrim Church, Vatican II reminds us “…men and women are performing their activities in a way which appropriately benefits society.  They can justly consider that by their labor they are unfolding the Creator’s work….” (Gaudium et Spes #34).  Each one has a mission to fulfill, that’s why we are here.  Big or small, our contribution to the world is our own way of re-creating this world towards a better place not just for us and our loved ones but for generations yet to come.  
The person that I am today is the result of my own and collective effort of other people and so I have the responsibility to give back whatever good I have received in my lifetime to the world.   I can do this creatively by planting a tree, writing a book, offering help to the needy or anything that will benefit others out of my own charity. 
A pilgrim owes the world  every bit of his goodness before he reaches the final destination of his pilgrimage….
     
     

Friday, November 9, 2012

THE WIDOW'S MITE

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32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B
Mark 12:38-44
 
      What is total giving?  Does the size or amount of the gift matter? Or is it the cost of the gift to the giver? 
Two widows in the readings this Sunday showed us the true spirit of giving through their overwhelming generosity.  The widow of  Zarephath in the first reading was about to bake the last bread for her and her son when the prophet Elijah asked her to share it with him.  She obeyed the prophet and did not run out of flour and oil till the famine was over.  Another widow in the Gospel gave her last two coins in the temple and was praised by Jesus.  These two widows gave lavishly and unconditionally out of their poverty and are immortalized and celebrated in our liturgy as true witnesses of self-giving.
Isn’t it natural to think first of ourselves and our security before others because of survival instinct?   Under normal circumstances, it is the way we preserve ourselves and has been the norm in the secular world: “Myself first before others!” The widow of Zarephath could have told Elijah “Why I should share with you our last bread when this is our last meal before we die?” The widow in the gospel could have just given one coin and kept the other one for herself.  Both of them had given out of their utter poverty everything they possessed.  In the eyes of the world this is sheer madness!  It even sounds almost a suicide!  But in the eyes of God, it is an offering more acceptable than all the riches given out of surplus.
During mass at the preparation of the gifts on the altar, the priest pours a drop of water into the chalice. Many of us do not even notice it and may look insignificant but it is a very powerful symbol that is full of meaning.  When water is mixed with wine it loses its properties and becomes one with the wine.  Spiritually, the water represents us when we give ourselves to Jesus who is the wine and we become one with him in sacrifice.  Like the two widows, our self-offering becomes acceptable and is transformed by God. 
Here are some words of wisdom on giving from Kahlil Gibran from his masterpiece “The Prophet”:
You give but little when you give your possessions.  It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
There are those who give little of the much which they have  and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all.  These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.
And is there ought you would withhold? All you have shall some day be given; Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors’.
You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.” The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.  They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.”
Jesus gave the world more than what the widow had given when He offered Himself in total self-giving on the cross. Many of us give a part of ourselves in many forms of giving every minute of our lives for the sake of the people we love.  Worth mentioning is the poustinik in the Russian Orthodox tradition who may sell everything he/she owns, gives the money to the poor, becomes a beggar and dedicates his/her entire life to God in prayer and solitude. There are also those who, for their love of Jesus, give up their lives and career, leave their families and homeland and follow Him. They believe that by giving up everything they own, they will possess true joy in life. They do this because they are madly in love with God and they never count the cost of loving Him.  
It is through these people that God truly incarnates Himself once again by loving and giving….




Friday, November 2, 2012

LOVE OF GOD, LOVE OF NEIGHBOUR

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31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B

      What is the most important thing in the world to you at this very moment?   What keeps you going?  What is the most important reason of your existence?  To whom do you live for? These are the present translations of the question of the scribe to Jesus in our gospel this Sunday.
      To the Jews, following God’s commandments was the reason of their being (raison d’etre).  That is why the Shema Israel (Dt. 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.”) had been the most important prayer which reminded the Jews to love God with their whole being.  To assure them of fulfilling the law, the religious leaders expanded the Ten Commandments into 613 negative and positive laws.  When Jesus came, He introduced something new, that is He brought the law back to its basics.  For Jesus, the law was about love which was expressed equally in two ways: love of God and love of neighbour.
      The reason of our being defines our priorities in life.  If the most important thing in life is our family, then our priority is the wellbeing of our spouse, children and other members of our family.  If the most important thing for me is my health, then my priorities will be a healthy lifestyle and to eat healthy food.  If my education or career is of prime importance to me, then I will do my best to excel in class to get a medal or promotion in  job.  Some people have dedicated their lives for a noble cause for the good of humanity while others simply want to excel in a particular field like science, sports, medicine, research, technology, etc. There are those who safeguard their religion to the point of even killing other people who pose a threat to their belief. There are also countless men and women who gave up their lives to God through a life of prayer, mission or contemplation.
      We may not be aware but the underlying reason to all these passion is a pulsating energy called love.  It is the drive that impels us to embrace a life beyond the boundaries of our mind.  Love is inherent in each person because we were created out of love by God who is Love Himself.   When I was a little boy, the first lesson I learned in my catechism class was: Why did God create us?  There are three reasons: 1) so that we will know Him, 2) love Him and 3) be with Him in eternity.   True enough the Shemah Israel is a calling not just to the Israelites but to all of us to return back that love to the one Who loved us first hence the first commandment for us to love God.  Then why do we have to love our neighbour? Simply because God loves him/her the way He loves us whether he/she is our spouse, a family member, a friend, an enemy or a stranger.  But loving another person should find its reason in God so we say “I love you for the sake of God and because God loves you, too.”  When we are able to do this, God has truly incarnated Himself as Love once again. Then love transcends beyond blood relations, colour, race, religion or belief.
      St. Augustine reminds me of this beautiful reality: “God loves me as if I am the only person in the whole world; He likewise loves others the way He loves me.”  If each one of us has a reason of being, then the only reason of being for God is LOVING US!
       

Saturday, October 27, 2012

BARTIMEUS



30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Mark 10:46-52

Bartimeus was blind and he was sitting on the side of the road!    The road was a symbol of dynamism of life and Bartimeus sitting on the side of road meant that he was not part of the movement of life.  His encounter with Jesus in Jericho would change his life forever.
         When Bartimeus heard that Jesus was passing by, he knew it was the opportune moment that he had been waiting for and began to shout and cried out “Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me.”  There were two kinds of crowd in the story: the first one scolded him and told him to keep quiet, the second one encouraged him and brought him to Jesus.  Bartimeus caught the attention of Jesus.  Jesus a) stopped 2) asked the second crowd “call him here” 3) and said “What do you want me to do for you?”  Bartimeus’ cry could not be simply ignored by Jesus amidst the pushing crowd; when Jesus heard him, He stopped and gave him his full attention.  When we cry to God in our utter humility and desperation, our voice pierces the heart of God and He stops and listens to our pleas.  Jesus asked the assistance of the crowd to bring Bartimeus to Him.  Our encounter with God, although personal, always involves the community which either hinders or assists us.  Are we a wall that obstructs people to encounter God or a bridge that brings others to God?   Jesus knew that Bartimeus was blind and He knew what he needed but He still asked him “What do you want me to do for you?”  Why?  Because Jesus did not want to impose what He wanted so he asked Bartimeus to express his freedom of the will.  Bartimeus knew what he wanted all his life and this was now the moment he had been waiting for; it would be very remiss of him not to say what he wanted: Rabbuni, let me see again.”  Jesus said “Go, your faith has saved you.”  Once he had his sight back, he followed Jesus along the road.
         In the book of Genesis, the very first thing that God created was light.   Because of light, we are able to see the world and its beauty.  Darkness symbolizes emptiness and everything that is evil.   Jesus said “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).   Our eyes are the windows of our souls.  What a sad thing if the dynamism of life is taken away from us so that we are not able to engage with life.   We might not be physically blind like Bartimeus but in our spiritual life we might experience blindness through our arrogance, self-centeredness, sensuality, addictions, etc.
Some time in our life, we may experience the darkest night of our souls. Like Bartimeus, we just have to admit in utter humility our need for God and we cry out: “Lord, I need you in my life.  Take me out of darkness.  I want to see.”
         The most important thing is not just having our sight back, but to be able to walk again in the road and celebrate the dynamism of life.  The only way we can do this is to follow Jesus who is “The Way” and will lead us to life eternal.

Friday, October 19, 2012

BASIC GOODNESS OF MANKIND

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29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B
Mark 10:35-45

Podcast through the Australian Catholic Radio Online: http://cradio.org.au/talks-and-resources/homilies/fr-vladimir-echalas-solt/christian-leadership/
 

         When we were young, we were asked in the school “What do you want to become in the future? and Why?” Those questions became our innate urge towards a purpose-driven life!  They give us the power and determination to achieve something that will sustain us through life.  Achieving that goal defines our career and status in the community we live in.
         During the time of Jesus, Israel was longing and waiting for the Messiah to come.  They were expecting a political messiah who would free them from the Roman rule and establish the Kingdom of God.  The favour that James and John (in Matthew it was their mother) were asking from Jesus sounded ambitious and political.  Even the other disciples were angry with James and John because maybe they themselves were harboring the same ambition.   Jesus had to correct them by teaching them a lesson on true greatness.  The way to greatness in the eyes of God is through service to others.  Jesus Himself lived out His teaching because He came not to be served but to serve and gave His life for the ransom of many.
         In one way or another we were given the authority towards others or we were under the authority of others by being parents to our children, a manager or boss in our workplace, a political, school or a church leader, etc.  But greatness does not consist in the possession of that authority, not according to how many people we have at our disposal or the imposition of our will towards others.   We have seen some world leaders like Hitler, Idi Amin, Marcos, Polpot (to name a few) who lord it over their countries through dictatorship by having their authority felt through whimsical caprices and abuses.   Christian leadership hinges on servanthood.  Authority is given to us in the context of service.   That is why our Church authorities like the cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, nuns and the religious should be servant-leaders.   Yes they are our leaders and have authorities over us but only because they are our servants and they should serve us as we deserve.  “It is not ourselves we preach but Christ Jesus our Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4-5).
         We may find ourselves serving others as part of our job and career hence we are being paid in remuneration of such service.  There is nothing wrong in that because of justice we need to be repaid for our efforts and time.   Some are even promoted because of exemplary works done for the company or the business.  But Christian service is more than that.  It is the giving of self to others because of one’s love to God and humanity.   We may receive our salary or remuneration because of our work but we can turn it into something more noble by putting love into our work.  We don’t even have to think of God all the time while doing it as long as we put love on it then our work is transformed into a service to humanity.   We don’t have to think big to do something explosive in changing the world for the better.  One little act of charity can change the world of one person who in turn will pay it forward through his service to others.  It becomes a domino effect that starts with one person doing a simple act of goodness.  This belief in the basic goodness of mankind explodes beyond proportion if each person celebrates his/her kindness towards others.  Then it goes beyond religion, race or color which transforms the world when love is expressed in charity through service to others. Because goodness is inherent in each one of us we have the power to change the world for the better than we first found it.  When this happens, an ordinary person becomes a saint in the eyes of God without him/her knowing it.