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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!