Fourth Sunday of Lent A
1Sam 16:1, 6-7, 10-13; Ps 23:1–6; Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1–41
Jesus said to him, “You have seen him and
the one speaking with you is he.” (Jn 9: 37).
Theme: Coming to the Light
The Gospel narrative is a beautiful illustration of believers’ progressive journey toward light. The Liturgy of the Word today inspires us to come to Jesus the light in order to see goodness, beauty, and happiness around us. Once, a disciple asked his spiritual teacher, “Why is it that everyone here is happy and joyful except me?” “Because they have learned to see goodness and beauty everywhere,” the master said. “Why don’t I see the same goodness and beauty everywhere?” asked the disciple. “Because you cannot see outside of you what you fail to see inside of you,” the teacher replied. The healing of the blind man, narrated dramatically in today’s Gospel, brings out the mercy and kindness of Jesus who is the light of the world. The blind man’s progress in his physical and spiritual sight reminds us that we need the light of God’s grace to move toward clear spiritual vision. However, we find two contrasting movements in the Gospel story: the man born blind moves from his physical blindness toward full sight (cf. Jn 9: 1-30), whereas the faith of the religious leaders is marked by blindness of unbelief. Furthermore, there is a reason that increased the seriousness of what Jesus had done: in the Jewish tradition, “there was an opinion that it was not permitted to anoint an eye on the Sabbath,” and “one may not put fasting spittle on the eyes on the Sabbath.” So they concluded, “The man who did this cannot be from God, because he does not obey the Sabbath law” (Raymond Brown).
The disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, whose sin that he was born blind” (v. 3). The neighbors saw him only as a blind beggar punished by God (v. 8). The leaders could not accept the healing of the blind man and so they accused him of being born in sin (vv. 18, 34). They could not see the goodness of the poor man and the light of divine revelation outside of themselves because they failed to see it within themselves. On the other hand, the blind man through his encounter with Jesus received his physical and spiritual sight and progressed to realize the divine light around him (vv. 11-12), convinced of his faith experience (v. 17), he defended his faith witness (vv. 25-34). It is a wonderful lesson for us in our faith journey. It was indeed life-changing experience for him to see for the first time in his life. Though the man healed of his blindness could see the goodness of God’s beauty around, he had to experience the dark side of life’s realities by enduring insult, suspicion, opposition, and accusation of being born in sin.
He was rejected by everyone around him because of his blindness, and he accepted his pitiable condition as he could not do anything more by himself. However, with his encounter with Jesus, he was restored to wholeness of health and still he was thrown out from society and the community because of his faith witness. They did not accept his testimony of the light (v. 34). This time he accepted the challenges of rejection and opposition with courage and new vision. He was not afraid of anybody or anything. He experienced God’s goodness and affirmed it with boldness. So he said, “If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything” (v. 33). His faith witness explains that to experience joy in life and to face the mounting challenges, we need God’s light of right understanding, courage, and determination. Jesus is that light, and we need to come to Him, for He said, “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (cf. Jn 8: 12; 9: 5). The man healed of his blindness finding that light followed Jesus by professing, “I do believe, Lord” (9: 38), whereas the religious leaders and the neighbors became blind as they refused to accept Jesus the true light.
It is our spiritual blindness that creates blind spots in our personal life, in fulfilling marriage commitments and in carrying out our daily responsibilities. We often wish to prefer darkness to light because it is pleasing to us. Such attitudes blind us to see the realities of poverty, injustice and people’s pain around us. “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” St. Paul reminded the Christians of their new responsibility as children of light: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” The Apostle exhorts us today to be aware that we have found the light of life in Christ Jesus and so we are to live as children of light (cf. Eph 5: 8). As Pope Benedict XVI says, “The miracle of the healing of the blind man is a sign that Christ wants not only to give us sight, but also open our interior vision, so that our faith may become ever deeper and we may recognize Him as our only Savior. He illuminates all that is dark in life and leads men and women to live as children of the light” (Lenten message-2011). Jesus as the light heals our blind spots when we come to Him in faith. By following His light, we will be enlightened to see goodness around us, the positive side of things happening to us, and God’s presence in every event of life. We will have the grace to overcome the darkness of our complacent self-righteous attitudes, superiority and inferiority complexes and superficial judgments.
When husbands and wives understand each other and walk together in the ups and downs of life, they have come to the light. Those who are committed to the cause of social justice are the people who have learned to find goodness and beauty outside of themselves. When young people are convinced of the Gospel values and become responsible people, they can value their goodness and of others. As believers, when we are committed to serve the cause of the poor and the afflicted, we have proved our identity as children of the light. God looks at the heart and men look at the appearance (cf. 1Sam 16:7). We need to ask ourselves: what do I see around me – goodness or brokenness, light or darkness? Do I lead others to find Jesus the light or lead them into darkness? During this Lent, let us come to Jesus the light that we will be able to see the goodness of people around and proclaim God’s love for the world. Let us pray during this Eucharistic celebration for the grace to see and experience the presence of a loving forgiving God in the kernels of suffering failure.
Wisdom from St. Francis de Sales: You say, “I am so imperfect.” I quite understand you! You should not dream of living in this world without committing some imperfections or the other. What is important is that you should not be attached to your imperfections. You should not commit them deliberately and you should not persevere in committing them. Having said this, now I ask you to remain at peace. Do not be afraid nor anxious. Walk firmly and confidently. If you are shielded by the armor of faith, nothing on earth will be able to harm you (Tissot, The Art of Utilizing Our Faults According to SFS, 54-55).
Fifth Sunday of Lent A
Ez 37:12-14; Ps 130:1-8; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45
Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live (Jn 11: )
Theme: The Meaning of Life and Death
Death is an inescapable reality of human life but no one prefers it as everyone loves to live. However, eternal life is assured to everyone who believes in Christ Jesus. A disciple once asked his spiritual master, “Is there life after death? If there is one, what would be the nature of such life?” The master replied, “The question is not whether there is life after death, rather the real question is, is there life before death?” Jesus assures eternal life to all those who believe in Him. This is the primary motive for the evangelist John to speak very much about ‘life theme’ in his Gospel narratives. The dried-up bones given life (cf. Ez 37: 4-6) and the dead Lazarus coming back to life (cf. Jn 11: 43-44) are two images that explain the meaning of life and death for the believers. The historical background of the first reading from prophet Ezekiel (cf. Ez 37:12-14) is that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC and dragged God’s people into exile in Babylon. Ezekiel as a priest of the Temple in Jerusalem till 597 B.C was one of those deported to Babylon. The vision about the valley of dry bones raised up to new life is an imagery that illustrates the release of Israel from their captivity in Babylon and the beginning of a new life for them. Prophet Ezekiel announced that the Lord God would raise up the people from their graves of exilic captivity to a new life in their own homeland. God assured the exiles that they would be raised from their death-experience.
The life of Israel during their exile in Babylon was darkened by miseries and misfortunes, hardships and trials, anxieties and worries. They struggled physically and spiritually as slaves and refugees losing everything in life – their dear ones, their home land as a national image and the temple as their religious identity. A sense of desperation and hopelessness overshadowed them. Their life of hopelessness in such a situation was like the dried-up bones, faceless and lifeless. So they cried out, “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off” (Ez 37: 11). Ezekiel, as one of the exiled people, preached God’s word to bring new life to the dead Israel assuring God’s promise, “You shall know that I am Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them. I will put my spirit in you that you may live” (vv. 13-14). This was in fact a powerful message of hope for the people suffering in exile. The miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead illustrates God’s ultimate power over the course of our life and death. The thrust of this whole narrative is that Jesus is the resurrection and the life; everyone who believes in Him will live even in death. Everyone who lives and believes in Him will not die (cf. Jn. 11: 25-26). Here the focus is on the effect of believing in Jesus that even if believers die, they will live. This explains the self-identity of Jesus and his power over human life and death. Hence, to believe in Him as the resurrection means that physical death has no power over believers for has defeated the powers of evil and death that separate us from God and others, and the believers’ future is determined by their faith in Jesus (cf. 5: 28-29). “Everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 6: 40). In the same way, to believe in Jesus as the life means that believers’ present life is also determined by Jesus’ power to give fullness of life (cf. 3: 16). Moreover, the words of Jesus are not mere ideal words igniting people’s hope but rather they offer a new vision for believers to understand that life and death belong to the on-going, life-giving power of God in Jesus – even if they die, they will live (cf. 11: 25b), and everyone who lives and believes in Him will live forever (v. 26a). In this light, our present life here on earth is determined and animated by the power of Jesus to give us life in its fullness and not by the power of death – everyone who lives and believes in him will live forever (v. 26a).
It is in Jesus that we experience the power of God’s love incarnate. Therefore, as we heard in the second reading (cf. Rom 8:8-11), St. Paul assures us that all those who believe in Jesus and remain loyal to him as his faithful witnesses will share in the resurrection to a new life of unending glory won for us by the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Apostle convincingly proclaims that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in the present and in the future (cf. Rom 8:35-39). Hence, accepting Jesus as our resurrection and life means believing in the fullness of His relationship with God and in His power to give us life. Our faith in Jesus is fundamentally a total belonging to Him that creates a personal communion with Him and with one another. It is this radical belonging to God and communion in love that makes our life and death relevant and meaningful. However, while going through moments of living “death experiences” such as the breakdown of marriages, disappointments and frustration by failures, suffering and starvation by poverty, being beaten and pressed down by injustice, being victimized unfairly, and all such evils, people destroy their own life or the lives of others. These are the stones that cover us in our own graves. In such situations, we cry out in anguish feeling like the dried-up bones being cut off from our living God. Even in such miserable situations, Jesus assures us the hope of a new beginning. Do I realize that His promise revitalizes my faith and rekindles my hope, removing the stones of death from my life? How do I accept Jesus as the way to new life?
Jesus calls us to know that his promise of new life is about how believers live their lives here and now, and not just about how they end their lives. Therefore, the life-giving promise of Jesus is not lodged in some distant event. It is already available in him which we call realized eschatology. As believers we must learn to believe in Jesus as our resurrection and life not only in critical moments of suffering and death but in all moments of our life experiences. Then we will be able to find lasting joy in living and real meaning in dying. “As our life is, so will be our death, that is, the general rule for a good death is to lead a good life. It is true that even while living well you will fear death, but your fear will be holy and tranquil relying on the merits of our Lord’s passion without which death would certainly be dreadful and terrifying. We must, then, fear death without fearing it, that is, we must fear it with a fear which is both tranquil and full of hope, since God has left us so many means to die well like true contrition and the sacraments of the Church. Above all we must live abandoned to the Divine Providence, asking him for nothing and refusing him nothing” (St. Francis de Sales).
John and Jim were professional players with the Atlanta Braves who lived and breathed baseball. These guys breathed, discussed, ate, and slept baseball. One of their big concerns was whether there would be baseball in heaven. They loved baseball so much that they were not sure at all they wanted to spend eternity in heaven unless they could play baseball. They had an agreement that the first one who died would somehow get a message back to earth, letting the other know whether baseball was in heaven or not. Well, it happened. John died, and Jim grieved. He grieved for days – deeply saddened over his friend John’s death. About two weeks went by, and then it happened. Jim was awakened in the middle of the night by calling of his name, “Jim, Jim, Jim, wake up! This is John.” “John, where are you?” “I’m in heaven – and I have some good news and bad news. It’s exciting, Jim. We do have baseball in heaven. It’s great. We play every day and there is marvelous teams, tough, and exciting competition.” “That’s great,” said Jim. “But what’s the bad news?” “Well,” said John, “You are scheduled to pitch next Tuesday.”
Is 50:4-7, Ps 22; Phil 2:6-11, Mt 26:14-27:66 (A),
Mk 14:1-15:47 (B), Lk 22: 14-23:56 (C)
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me” (Lk 22: 42).
Theme: “No Turning Back”
There is an interesting and challenging old fable about the colt that carried Jesus on Palm Sunday. The colt thought that the reception was organized to honor him. “I am a unique donkey,” this excited animal thought. When he asked his mother if he could walk down the same street alone the next day and be honored again, his mother said, “No, you are nothing without Him who was riding you.” Five days later, the colt saw a huge crowd of people in the street. It was Good Friday, and the soldiers were taking Jesus to Calvary. The colt could not resist the temptation of another royal reception. Ignoring the warning of his mother, he ran to the street, but he had to flee for his life as soldiers chased him and people stoned him. Thus the colt finally learned the lesson that he was only a poor donkey without Jesus to ride on him. As we enter Holy Week, today’s readings challenge us to examine our lives to see whether we carry Jesus within us and bear witness to Him through our living or whether we are Christians in name only.
St. John Paul II said, “‘Passion’ means a passionate love, unconditional self-giving: Christ’s passion is the summit of an entire life ‘given’ to his brothers and sisters to reveal the heart of the Father. The Cross, which seems to rise up from the earth, in actual fact reaches down from heaven, enfolding the universe in a divine embrace. The Cross reveals itself to be the centre, meaning and goal of all history and of every human life.” This teaching captures the true meaning of Jesus’ Passion. Therefore, the account of Jesus’ passion and death is to be read and reflected in the light of the resurrection event. Jesus faced such a cruel and humiliating death not as a punishment for treachery or crimes that he had committed but for the salvation of the world. He did not suffer in order to protect his honor and glory but to save us from our sins and restore us to a life of immortality. Like the suffering servant, he has not turned back; he has not rebelled; he has set his face like flint; as God is his help, he will not be put to shame (cf. Is 50:5-7). Jesus suffered as an innocent victim not to protect his honor and glory but rather to redeem us from sin and restore us to eternal life. In this light, His suffering and death reflect the suffering and struggle of innocent people victimized by violence and injustice in our world. However, we can notice in the Passion account Jesus’ attitude of determination to comply with the Father’s plan of human salvation, and not turn back on any cost.
Though the entire passion account is so moving and heart breaking, we are invited to concentrate our reflection on the crucial moment of prayer and interiorization that Jesus spent on the Mount of Olives. It is on the Mount of Olives that He began to experience His Passion so intensively. He foresaw the prelude of the kind of suffering that He had to endure, and therefore, He had to make a crucial decision whether to face this battle or to turn back. At this challenging moment, He freely decided to accept with determination the consequences of His mission. Jesus spent forty days of prayer in the wilderness after his baptismal consecration at Jordan. It was a decisive moment for him because, although he was tempted to give up his decision to take the side of God, Jesus deliberately decided to be obedient to the Father, and take up his mission of salvation (cf. Lk 3:16-17; 4:16ff). In the same way, during his prayer on the Mount of Olives, he freely decided to accept with courage and conviction the consequences of his mission. The purpose of Jesus going to the garden in the night does not mean that he was running away from the upcoming passion or simply to escape his accusers but to pray and ponder and decide to fight through the lonely battle.
Jesus could see in that moment of prayer, on the one hand, the terrible suffering and agony awaiting Him; on the other hand, the salvation of the world hanging in the balance. He realized that the hour of darkness was deepening (v. 14). The primal acts of abandonment, betrayal, and denial by His own disciples and being treated like a criminal were the moments of darkness that had intensified His agony. At this moment He prayed fervently, “Father, if you are willing, take away this cup from me” (cf. Lk 22:42). This was the strongest expression of Jesus’ human anguish to get rid of the cup of suffering. He had the choice for flight or to fight the battle. He could have rejected it. Yet, He decided to be obedient to the Father. No one wants to die at the very young age that too for the sake sinners, but Jesus died in his prime youth for our sake. It shows his determination of not turning back from accomplishing the goal of his mission which is the salvation of the world, and his readiness to do the Father’s will no matter what might come. This was his prayer too, “Father….still it is not my will but yours be done”. Jesus’ willingness to accept the agony and suffering resulting from dreadful scourging, shameful insult and mockery, carrying of the cross and finally crucifixion and death flow from his decision of ‘not turning back.’ The consequence of this decision was the culmination of His self-emptiness for the redemption of the world (cf. Phil 2: 6). In fulfilling His radical decision, Jesus displayed faithfulness to His mission and complete trust in the Father. He believed that the Father would not abandon him to disgrace but support him in the fight and finally vindicate him.
As disciples of Jesus, we might face our human life with its bright days and dark moments. There may be many gardens of Gethsemane where we may experience denial of human rights and privileges, betrayal of faithfulness and fidelity, situations of failures and frustration, discouragement and dejection. We might feel we are left alone to fight the battle by ourselves. What is our attitude in such moments of darkness? What decision can we make at this time of challenge and hardships? Are we tempted to turn back from our responsibilities and commitments, and escape the situation or turn to God in total confidence believing that he would defend us? Here, Jesus is our model to stand firm in our decision of “not turning back.” We must courageously decide to place the Cross before us and the world behind us and follow Jesus with determination. St. Francis de Sales says that “since God’s Son was crucified for us, what remains for us at this hour but to crucify with Him our flesh with its passions and desires (cf. 2Cor 5:15; Gal 5:24). For love is repaid with love alone. By rendering our Lord love for love and the praises and blessings we owe Him for His death and passion, we will be confessing Him as our liberator and Savior” (Visitation, The Sermons of SFS for Lent, 186).
We know the traditional hymn, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back. The cross is before me and the world is behind, no turning back”. This should not remain only as our liturgical singing. It must be our daily song of faithfulness and determination to follow the Lord in every event and experience of life. Our Eucharistic communion is the daily celebration of Jesus’ radical decision to fulfill the Father’s plan for the salvation of world which resulted in his self emptiness. As a community of God’s people, we must be motivated by this celebration to follow the Lord faithfully and never turn back from our commitment to love God and one another. Let’s pray this prayer with seriousness: “My Lord, you came not to be served nor to be adored and admired but to have your disciples to follow you. Grand us your grace that we may not be caught up with our own man made belief of admiring you but understand you and follow you in truth and faithfulness” (Sorren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher, a Lutheren).
Holy Thursday – The Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; Ps 89:21-22, 25, 27; 1Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15.
“If I, your Lord and teacher washed your feet,
you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13: 14)
Theme: “Self – Giving through Loving Service”
Today’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a profound symbolic action of God’s self-emptiness through Jesus. Washing the feet of someone or serving others is customarily the work of slaves or household servants. In our society, those who hold high positions and honorable social status and popularity neither serve nor wash the feet of others. Just imagine, as husband and wife, you have problems and conflicts, and you approach your pastor for some help and guidance. After listening to both of you and instructing you about the demands of Christian marriage, if he asks you to wash each other’s feet and get reconciled, will you do it happily? Probably, you might be shocked to hear such an advice. However, foot washing was practiced in both Jewish and Greco-Roman cultural contexts in the ancient Mediterranean world. It is practiced even today in other cultures like India where some particular groups of people have the custom of washing the feet of their guest. From such cultures we learn that foot washing is a way of welcoming one’s guests which is normally performed by the hosts themselves or by servants at the behest of the host. So, the very act of foot washing as service is closely linked with hospitality.
Nevertheless, in washing the feet of His disciples, Jesus assumed the roles of a servant and the host. In a society that highly valued honor and status, Jesus showed His love for others in total contrast to the social custom of His time. “He took off his outer garments” (Jn 13: 4). The outer garment was the symbol of His status as Lord and Teacher and He took it off. He then “took a towel and tied it around his waist” which is usually the gesture of one who is ready to serve. Jesus then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel (v. 5). This is the work of a slave or a servant. By this radical act of love, Jesus demonstrated the core message of his mission that ‘the Son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom of many (Mt 20: 28). By placing this symbolic act in the place of the last supper, the evangelist underscores the self-gift of Jesus through his death. “As he loved his own in the world and loved them to the end” (Jn 13: 3), he emptied himself of even his honor as God and became one among us, and humbled himself even unto death on the cross (cf. Phil 2: 6-8).
It means that the death of Jesus is neither a heroic act nor his personal glorification rather it is his self-gift in love for us. In this gracious and hospitable service of Jesus lie the salvific dimension and the transformative power of the foot washing. Thus, this symbolic action of Jesus explains His self-gift through His death on the Cross. Moreover, this radical gift of His self-emptiness in love is concretely explained by the Eucharistic imagery. He took the bread, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you,” and He took the cup filled with wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (cf. 1Cor 11: 24-25). The breaking of His body and shedding of His blood is the culmination of His total gift of Himself for us through His death on the Cross. Therefore, what we see in this celebration is that God’s love for the world is concretely enacted here. This symbolic act of Jesus reveals his unfettered love for us, and it is this love that holds the promise of new life for all those who believe in him. Pope Benedict XVI explains that “Jesus’ death on the Cross is the culmination of God’s turning against Himself in which He gives Himself in order to save us from sin and death and to raise us up to a life of grace. This is the nature of God’s love in its most radical form. Hence, our Eucharistic communion draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation, that is, we personally enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving” (Deus Caritas Est, nos. 12-13). Jesus as the image of the Father in human form showed the depth of his love for us in the total giving of himself. The imagery of ‘breaking his body and shedding his blood’ realistically explains the radical way God love you and me in Christ Jesus. So, St. Paul rightly teaches that “for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (1Cor 11: 26). This is the foundation of our Christian faith.
We celebrate this self-emptiness of Jesus in the foot-washing ceremony and continue to proclaim His death for us in our daily Eucharistic sacrifice. But the Lord’s self-gift must be lived out in our daily life through our own acts of self-emptiness and in loving service to one another as a sign of living out our common priesthood. Our holy father (Benedict XVI) further explains that ‘our communion with Jesus in the Eucharist draws us out of ourselves towards him and also toward all Christians in fraternal communion. God’s own communion (agape) comes to us in a bodily form in order to continue his saving work in us and through us. The Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented’ (no. 14). This is the sole purpose and the focus of ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood which we all share in Christ Jesus our Lord. If we are to love God in the same way he loves us, we are to turn against ourselves, that is, our love for Jesus must draw us out of ourselves toward him and toward others. This is the meaning of Jesus’ instruction to the disciples, “If I, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13: 14). It is not a general invitation for social service. It is a personal call to all of us to embody his acts of love and service for one another. It is a call to give as he gives, and to love as he loves (Jn 15: 12). St. Theresa of Calcutta explains that
“Love that lives on mere words alone is meaningless.
Love has to be put into action and that action is true service to one another.
Simple acts of love and care could keep the light of God’s love
burning brightly within us.
True service of love can come only from union with God
and the natural fruit of that union is:
love for the family,
love for the parents,
love for the children,
love for the neighbor,
love for the nation, and above all
love for the poor and the less fortunate people among us”
As a believing community, when we enact Jesus’ love through our acts of loving service to others, we reveal the identity of Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and assume a new identity for ourselves as a people of the new covenant, redeemed and sanctified by the self-gift of Jesus.
Nevertheless, as a believing community we would certainly experience a certain kind of struggle in living out the self-emptiness of Jesus. While the forces of the world would pull us away from God, the power of Jesus’ love would pull us toward God. The disciples themselves had such experience of struggle in their faith response. Though in their hearts they pledged their allegiance and faithfulness to Jesus, at the critical moment of his suffering and death, they were carried away by the powers of human nature which resulted in their acts of denial, betrayal and abandoning of the Lord. In our journey of faith, such critical moments of struggle are the crucial moments of decision making. The disciple’s act of betrayal and Jesus’ act of washing the same disciples’ feet sound a cautionary note about our new identity. Jesus’ gift of himself in love presents us with a choice: we can embrace Jesus’ gift of love and enact that love in our loving service to one another or we can turn our back to Jesus’ self-gift. We can enter into a community of intimate relationship with God and others or we can reject such community of love through our acts of denial and betrayal. Are we ready to make a choice?
For the people of Israel, the Passover celebration is the foundational experience of God’s intervention in their life. It marks their liberation from slavery in Egypt which they were to remember and proclaim from generation to generation (Ex 12: 11-14). This crucial moment of God’s intervention forced them to pass over from their life of slavery, suffering, oppression and hopelessness to a life of freedom, equality, prosperity, peace, and unity. It is a life of grace. However, the people of Israel always had the temptation of returning to their former life of slavery. When we celebrate Jesus’ act of self-emptiness, we have a choice either to embrace Jesus’ lifestyle or turn away from Him. This was their struggle (Ex 16: 1-3). It happens in our faith journey too. As we celebrate in the Eucharist our new identity marked by the self-gift of Jesus, we are to go through the same experience of passing over from our sins of selfishness, envy, hatred, negligence and disloyalty to a life of fraternal love, peace, joy, freedom, truth and faithfulness to Jesus. Unless this new Passover happens within us, we will not be able to enact Jesus’ self-gift in our loving service. Unless we embody Jesus’ acts of love and concretely live out that love in our daily life, we will not have a share in his promise of new life. Hence, as we celebrate today the self-gift of Jesus and our own new identity, let us come before the Lord with grateful hearts for his wonderful gift of love for us, and pray for the grace to turn against ourselves in order to turn toward him and one another in loving service that we would be able to love as he loves, and give as he gives. In this way we would continue to proclaim the death of the Lord Jesus until he comes. Are we ready to enact Jesus’ self-gift of love in my own act of self-emptiness in loving service? Today, let us resolve to turn against myself in order to turn toward Him and one another in love so that I can proclaim the death of the Lord Jesus.
Good Friday – the Lord’s Passion
Is 52:13-53:12; Ps 31:2,6, 12-13,15-17,25;
Heb 4:14-16, 5:7-9; Jn 18:1-19:42
“By his stripes we were healed” (Is 53: 5)
Theme: His Death Saved Us
The acts of torturing, stoning to death, beheading or shooting in order to execute punishment on people for the crimes they’ve committed are truly the most detestable inhuman actions. As narrated in the gospel, the passion and death of Jesus on the cross is awfully cruel, and heart-breaking. So, one is prompted to ask why should Jesus go through such a painful suffering and for what purpose? No other religion speaks about a God dying for his people. But Jesus portrayed through his suffering the God of love and compassion who went to the extent of accepting death on behalf of his people that they might live through him. A careful reflection on the death of Jesus on the cross would help us to understand clearly two things, namely the death of Jesus is the concrete expression of God’s love for us and he made no compromise whatsoever.
We humans express in various ways our deep love and affection for our dear ones. Even the sufferings and sacrifices that we endure speak loudly the intensity of our love for others. Like humans, the animals too express in their instinctive behavior their love and affection for their offspring. The scene about a mother bird while returning home in the evening feeds her little ones with the food that she stored for them. They make sacrifices too. This can be seen in the famous story about the Pelican bird that wounded herself to feed her young ones with her own blood. If they can do, then our God who became one among us in the person of Jesus (cf. Phil 2: 1ff) also expressed his love for us in the concrete form of dying on the cross. His demonstration of love surpasses all our human expression of love.
God said to the people of Israel,
“I have loved you with an everlasting love,
for you are precious to me
and you are mine, so I love you.(Is 43: 4)
I have carved you on the palm of my hands” (Is 49: 16).
God loved his people so dearly that he was prepared to make any kind of sacrifice. Therefore, he offered his only son as a sin offering for all of us (Heb 5: 3). The death of Jesus on the cross is the heavy price that he paid for our sins. John in the Gospel explains, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life (Jn 3: 16). This is demonstrated by Jesus on the cross.
By dying on the Cross;
He bore our infirmities
And endured our sufferings,
For our sake he was afflicted.
He was pierced for our offences,
And crushed for our sins,
Upon him was the chastisement
That makes us whole,
By his stripes we were healed (Is 53: 4-6).
This is the sole purpose of Jesus’ sufferings. He died for you and me that we might live through him. Do we believe this? Do we understand in gratitude the depth of Jesus’ love for us? How do we reciprocate this love in our life?
When we ask Jesus how much he loves us, he would say in silence, “I stretched out my hands on the cross to say ‘this much’ and died for you”. This is the message that challenges us today. As we are healed by his sufferings and restored by his everlasting love, we too must heal others wounds by forgiving, lessening their burdens by generous giving and restore them to new life by genuine love. In demonstrating his love for us, Jesus did not make any compromise. He always remained faithful to his promise of covenant love. He could have rejected such a cruel suffering and refused to die for our sake, but he did not do so because that would mean yielding to the temptation of compromising. The disciples yielded to the temptation of making compromise through their acts of denial and betrayal. Do we make compromise with regard to our faith values or determined to follow the Lord in spite of challenges? Jesus remains always faithful and trustworthy though at times we are tempted to be unfaithful and disloyal to him (1Tim 2: 13).
Jesus’ final commendation “Father, it is finished. Into your hands, I commend my spirit” explains his faithfulness to the mission entrusted to him. Jesus’ self-sacrifice challenges us as he hangs on the cross:
“O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have offended you? Answer me.
What more should I have done and did not do?
I led you out of the land of Egypt and
You prepared a cross for me.
I gave you a royal scepter and
You have given me a crown of thorns.
With great power I lifted you up and
You have hung me upon a cross.
My people, what have I done to you?
Or in what have offended you? Answer me”
(from the reproaches of Good Friday).
What answer can we give? Even now whenever we commit the sin of compromising our faith values, we contribute to the passion of Christ. Unfaithfulness of the married couple to their spouses, uncaring attitude of the children toward their parents, deliberate silence to the cry of the poor and the marginalized people, and being passive spectators to the acts of injustice in the society are the signs of continued existence of the sin of compromise. It aggravates the suffering of our brothers and sisters. It certainly adds to the passion of Christ. Cross is the symbol not of death but of life, hope and rebirth. It stands as an irresistible call to love God who continues to love us with an everlasting love. Hence, let us continue to reflect on God’s love for us as demonstrated by Jesus on the Cross and demonstrate our love for him through our love for one another and continue to give witness to the power of the Cross. Let’s pray: Dear Jesus, thank you for the gift of the Cross on which you died for my salvation. Inspire me to keep the Cross in front of me in my faith journey that I will steadfastly follow you. Wisdom from St. Francis de Sales: God could have redeemed us in a thousand other ways than that of His Son’s death. But He did not will to do so, for what may have been sufficient for our salvation was not sufficient for His love; and to show us how much He loved us, this divine Son died the cruelest and most ignominious of deaths, that of the Cross. The implication of all this is clear: since He died of love for us, we also should die of love for Him, or if we cannot die of love, at least we should live for Him alone (2Cor 5:14-15). Since He died for us and was lifted up on the Cross, there is no other redemption but in this Cross (Visitation, The Sermons of SFS for Lent, 181).
Holy Saturday – The Lord’s Resurrection
Gen 1: 1-2: 2; 22: 1-18; Ex 14: 15-15: 1; Is 54: 5-14; 55: 1-11;
Bar 3: 9-15, 32-4: 4; Ez 36: 16-28; Rm 6: 3-11; Mt28: 1-10 (A),
Mk16: 1-7 (B), Lk 24: 1-12 (C)
Theme: We are the Resurrection People
The resurrection of Jesus as the greatest of miracles is the basis of our Christian faith. If Jesus is not risen, His birth has no relevance, and our faith has no meaning. There is an ancient story about Joseph of Arimathea, who was a very wealthy Pharisee and an influential member of the council, but a secret follower of Jesus. It was Joseph who went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body after the crucifixion. And it was Joseph who supplied the tomb for Jesus’ burial. It happened that after the burial of Jesus in the tomb, someone pulled him aside and asked, “Joseph, that was such a beautiful, costly, hand-hewn tomb. Why on earth did you give it for burying Jesus?” “Why not? There is no problem at all,” Joseph answered. “He only needs it for the weekend.” Yes, indeed. Jesus is risen, overcoming the power of sin and death. Therefore, St. Paul teaches us that “If Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.” (1Cor 15:14, 17). The feast of Jesus’ resurrection brings us the joyful message that we are the “resurrection people.” This implies that we are not supposed to lie buried in the tomb of our sins, evil habits, and dangerous addictions. As we believe in the risen Jesus, no tomb can hold us down anymore – neither the tomb of despair, discouragement, and doubt, nor death.
The resurrection proves that Jesus is our God who died for us but lives forever. Without the resurrection, Jesus would have remained till today as a righteous person who met a tragic and vulnerable death. As He is risen from death, His resurrection gives us hope and encouragement in our world of sufferings and struggles, sorrows and tears, assuring us of our own resurrection. This is the meaning of all the symbols of newness used in the Easter celebration like the new fire, the paschal candle, new light dispelling the darkness, the new water and the glorious appearance of the alter. We have a new birth by taking part in the death of Jesus through baptism and a new identity as a resurrection people. No more gloom or sadness and no more fear of suffering and death. We have overcome all of them as Jesus our Savior is risen from the death. Hence, our risen Lord reminds us that life is worth living.
The real presence of the risen Jesus in our faith life gives meaning to our personal choices, courage in our faith witness, and purpose to our common identity as a renewed people. Therefore, resurrection is the good news of hope for us and alleluia must be our happy song. But we should remember that before we experience resurrection in our lives, we’re called to die to sin, die to self and to all that creates hopelessness and lifelessness in our world. Pope Francis says that “before the spiritual and moral abysses of mankind, before the chasms that open up in hearts and provoke hatred and death, only an infinite mercy can bring us salvation. Only God can fill those chasms with his love, prevent us from falling into them and help us to continue our journey together towards the land of freedom and life. The glorious Easter message, that Jesus, who was crucified is not here but risen (cf. Mt 28:5-6), offers us the comforting assurance that the abyss of death has been bridged and, with it, all mourning, lamentation and pain (cf. Rev 21:4). The Lord, who suffered abandonment by his disciples, the burden of an unjust condemnation and shame of an ignominious death, now makes us sharers of his immortal life and enables us to see with his eyes of love and compassion those who hunger and thirst, strangers and prisoners, the marginalized and the outcast, the victims of oppression and violence. With the weapons of love, God has defeated selfishness and death. His son Jesus is the door of mercy wide open to all” (Pope Francis, Easter Message 2016). Hence, the resurrection of Jesus is about our own resurrection and it is about seeing our world in a new way with optimism and hope.
As St. Francis de Sales: “We must love what God loves. Now, He loves our vocation; so let us also love it, and not occupy ourselves with thinking on that of others. Let us do our duty; each one’s cross is not too much for him. Do diligently the service of your vocation, and often recollect yourself, and put yourself in spirit at the feet of our Lord, and say, “My Lord, whether I run or stay, I am all yours and you mine; whatever I do is for love of you, both this and that.” When any contradiction comes upon you, thoroughly resign yourself unto our Lord, and console yourself, knowing that His favors are only for the good or for those who put themselves in the way of becoming so” (De Sales, Thy Will Be Done, 12-13). Early Sunday morning, Mary did not find what she was looking for— the dead body of Jesus. But she found something better than she could have imagined— the risen Jesus (cf. Lk 24: 5-6). Nothing can curtail the power of Jesus, neither the power of evil nor the power of death. He is risen indeed and thus paved the way for our own resurrection. Do I experience the presence of the risen Jesus in my faith life? Do I become an instrument of resurrection joy for others?
Is 49: 14-15; ICor 4: 1-5; Matt 6: 24-34
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink” (Matt 6:25)
Theme: Living one day at a Time
In this age of well-developed system of information and fast growing technology, the habit of worrying seems to be the essential part of human life people are burdened with worries and anxieties about how to handle the problems and face the issues in life. There is no one who is free from worries. Poor people worry that they have no money and rich people worry that what they have is not enough. Sick people worry about their premature death, and healthy people worry about getting sick. Some people worry about their past mistakes, and others worry about their future. Everyone one worries about something all the time. The tragedy of our human life is that we worry so much about tomorrow that we fail to appreciate the blessings of the today. While they plan out intelligently and discretely about their present and future life and learn how to control and manage their daily life affairs, today’s Gospel message seems to offer us irresponsible effort to put our affairs into God’s hand and remain passive not worrying about tomorrow. Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life, what to eat or drink.” What is Jesus trying to teach us? Is it possible for us not to worry about our daily life? Can we do to avoid unnecessary worries and anxieties in life?
Several years ago a country gospel singer named Christy Lane scored an international hit song with a title “One Day at A Time.” The message of the song is: “One day at a time–this is enough. Do not look back and grieve over the past for it is gone; and do not be troubled about the future, for it has not yet come. Live in the present, and make it so beautiful it will be worth remembering.” It was the words of the song that appealed to millions around the world. The best we can reasonably do in this world is to live one day at a time in hope and leave the rest to God in trust. This is the focus of today’s liturgy of the word. Its message is loud and clear: don’t worry; don’t be anxious; do not be pessimistic and give up hope!
We know from our study and experience that worry is a psychological feeling that would beat us down in moments of failures and misfortunes; we would lose our spirit to work hard; worry cannot increase our happiness and personal growth; it is injurious to the health because it creates mental stress and affects the internal organs of our body; it incites us to lose confidence in God and in ourselves; it takes the joy from life and wears out our mind and body. Overburdened with worries and anxieties of our daily cares, concerns and safety, very often, too many of us are trapped in the past memories or seduced by the promise of the future. Consequently, we deliberately miss the joy of the present moment. Hence, Jesus exhorts us to live our daily life serenely and not to worry unnecessarily about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. Here the real question is about the true worship: what should control and animate our daily life – stress-creating material possessions or the God who is loving and merciful?
Jesus teaches us that we should strive first for the kingdom of God in our life, that is, seeking God’s will for us and allow God to animate and guide us to live our life joyfully and meaningfully. Human life is in God’s hand and our future life is controlled by God’s providence. Therefore, what we need to do is to live well each day with optimism, placing our trust in God and, following faithfully God’s plan for us. So Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life, what to eat or drink. The Father knows all your needs” (Matt 6: 31-32). Through the symbol of the birds and the flowers of the field, Jesus exhorts us to trust in God’s loving providence and live in hope. The birds and the flowers belong to the passing world. If God can feed the birds and clothe the flowers, how much more care the Father will show to his people created in his own image. Here the teaching of Jesus does not rule out concern for the material needs of our daily life. The emphasis is to trust in God’s loving care and relying on him alone and not on the promise of the material possessions.
As we heard in the first reading, the people cried out in frustration, wallowing in the misery of despair that YHWH had forgotten his promise and abandoned them to suffer humiliation and pain in exile (cf. Is 49:14). To such depressed people, prophet Isaiah brought the message of hope, reminding them God’s promise of unconditional love. So God asked through the prophet, “Can a mother forget her infant?” Even should she forget, I will never forget you” (v.15). This is a powerful message of God’s unconditional love and divine protection for God’s people. Through this message of hope, the prophet encouraged the people to trust in God’s unfailing love for them and live in optimism each day, overcoming discouragement and despair caused by their exile. God is like a loving mother who cannot forget nor forsake his own people; rather he unceasingly cares for them and loves them unconditionally. This must be the reason for the exilic people to trust in God and live in hope. We heard in the second reading that facing criticisms from his own people at Corinth, the Apostle Paul confidently and convincingly asserted his apostolic authority and his trust in God who alone could judge everyone. So he taught the Corinthians not to worry about who brought them to the faith but trust in God’s love (cf. 1Cor 4:5) and learn to live according to God’s plan for them.
Whatever governs and controls the desires of our heart and the values of our life like love of money and possessions, desire for power and prestige, the glamour of name and fame, or the driving force of unruly passions and addictions can become our masters and rule our lives. Such masters will cause us unruly worries and stress, ruining our inner happiness. In such life-situations, God is easily forgotten and pushed into the background. Hence, today’s liturgy of the word reminds us that the ultimate goal and master of our life must be the loving God and not material possessions. We are to adapt the attitude of total detachment from material goods and live a life of simplicity and dependence on God. Jesus uses the word “slave” to heighten the contrast between our relationship with God and money. Here Jesus invites to liberate ourselves from the slavery to anxieties and worries of material concerns. The only means of total liberation is to trust in God’s loving providence and live in hope and optimism. Such freedom will lead believers to appreciate the blessings of each day and live the present life meaningfully and make it worth living. This is the life of radical faith demanded of all believers. We are challenged to put faith in God first, seek his plan as our priority, and trust in his unfailing love (cf. Matt 6:33). Then our happiness is no longer dependent on our material possessions or on our success and achievements. Our joy of living our faith in trust will flow from the experience of Jesus the face of our loving God who neither forgets nor forsakes us even in our frailties and hardships.
If we develop that attitude of faith and trust in Jesus, then whenever the events of our lives become heavy and burdensome, when calamities of struggles and strives badly strike our family relationships and personal life, we can call on the presence of the Lord who assures us, “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome. I will give you rest and happiness (cf. Matt 12:28-30).” We can hear the Lord assuring us: “Don’t worry or be anxious. I am with you and I will not abandon or forsake you.” Once Pope John XXIII, though he was dying from cancer, visited a group of seminarians in Rome and he said to them: “My dear brothers, you must know that every day is a good day – a good day for living and a good day for dying!” He could never have said that dying was a good day if he had not experienced God blessing very day of his long life. Therefore, we must take time to appreciate gratefully the blessings God and bring blessings to others’ life. Then we will have the grace to face the dark days with optimism and experience God’s presence. Relying on God’s providence is the spirituality of learning to live one day at a time with optimism and hope. As Pope Francis says, “As Christians we must learn to be happy and joyful in every moment of our life because of our trust in the love and mercy of God. Christians cannot be sad people.” So we must be happy people always. It implies that we are called to be a people of hope and optimism. That is the meaning of living one day at a time. “The same God who took care of you so far will take care of hereafter. So keep trusting him because in his loving providence either he will keep you safe from all evils or he will give you the needed strength and grace to endure them” (St. Francis de Sales). This must be the nature of our faith and trust in God’s loving providential care for us.
Once a young man of faith prayed, “Heavenly Father, I may not understand how everything will work out, but I trust you. I don’t see a way, but I know you will make a way. I have faith that at this very moment you are touching hearts, opening doors, and lining up the right breaks and right opportunities. Things may look dark and bleak now, but I have faith that my day is dawning and your providence will care for me. I pray in Jesus name – Amen.” Today inspired by the teaching of Jesus and the assurance of God’s unfailing love and divine providence in the Eucharist to care for us all the time, let us pray the serenity prayer: “O God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Is 49. 3: 5-6; I Cor 1: 1-3; Jn 1: 29-34
Theme: Jesus – the Lamb of God
Lamb of God at the top of the church: A tourist visited a church in Germany and was surprised to see the carved figure of a lamb near the top of the church’s tower. He asked why it was there and was told that when the church was being built, a workman fell from a high scaffold. His co-workers rushed down, expecting to find him dead. But to their surprise and joy, he was alive and only slightly injured. How did he survive? A flock of sheep was passing beneath the tower at the time, and he landed on top of a lamb. The lamb broke his fall and was crushed to death, but the man was saved. To commemorate that miraculous escape, someone carved a lamb on the tower at the exact height from which the workman had fallen. That expresses a tiny bit of what John means when he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world” The same sense is indicated in Isaiah’s prophecy of one “who will bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”
John the evangelist does not speak about the infancy narrative or the baptism of Jesus but through the witness of John the Baptist, the evangelist answers the questions: who is Jesus? And what is he going to do (his mission)?
The Baptist spoke about Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (v. ), he is filled with the Holy Spirit (v. ) and he is the Son of God (v. 34). Jesus as the lamb reminds us of the lamb that saved the life of Israel in the Exodus journey from the land of slavery and sin to the land of freedom and promise. It was the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the doors of the houses of the Israelites that saved their lives from the wrath of God. In the same, way, Jesus offered himself on the Cross to redeem the world. To save our wounded humanity estranged from God, Jesus came as a lamb sacrificed on the Cross (1Cor 5:7) as a sin offering on our behalf. With his blood, he has cleansed us from our sins and reconciled us with the Father.
In this way, we have become a consecrated people to God in Christ, called to be holy and blameless before him.
As Isaiah had foretold, “He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins and upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole; by his stripes we ere healed” (Is 53:5; Jer 11:19).
The self sacrifice of Jesus as a lamb is not a cultic sacrifice. He is a victorious lamb, through his death and resurrection and to him we offer praise, honor and glory (Rev 5:6-7).
This Jesus is filled with Holy Spirit which implies new creation. God’s Spirity in the beginning created a new world out of chaos. Now Jesus, the Son of God brought about the new creation of God’s people through the sacrifice of himself as a lamb and taking our sins.
Jesus’ offering himself is not a cultic ritual done in the past rather he continues to offer himself fr us in the Eucharist, and thereby his new creation of on-going salvation continued. That is the reason priest in every mass proclaims, “This is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
John the Baptist was witnessing to this identity and mission of Jesus. He was aware of his call to reveal the anointed one to Israel and to the whole world. As we consecrated to God in Christ, we have to be aware of our call to be holy to the Lord and preach the redemption to our world accomplished by Jesus.
Here we need to recognize Jesus as the lamb who takes away the sin of the world. In our efforts to bear witness to Christ and to the mystery of our redemption, we will receive grace and peace (1Cor 1:3) which implies God’s favor and reconciliation with God and neighbor.
Are we aware of our identity like John the Baptist as a consecrated people in Christ? What is important is not be mere Christians but to bring Christ to our world. How do we bear witness to Christ in a given situation of our life?
Qualities of the lamb: simple, meek, obedient and no protest – OT image: paschal lamb (Ex 12:21-27) – the blood of the paschal lamb saved the lives of Israel – daily offerings: Ex 2938-42 – the two lambs offered in the morning and the evening as a thanksgiving to God who consecrated the people saying, “I will be their God and they will know that it is I who brought them from the land of Egypt” (Ex 29:42) – it is also a symbol of the Lord’s servant from prophet Isaiah giving his life for his people.
The first reading: Bible Scholars have called this and three similar passages from this section of Isaiah (chapters 40-55), the “Songs of the Suffering Servant.” Today’s selection is from the second Servant Song. In the original author’s mind, the servant was probably a figure for the people of Israel, or for a faithful remnant within the people. The Gospels clearly show that the “suffering servant” is Jesus. The early Church, saw aspects of Jesus’ own life and mission foreshadowed in the Servant Songs, and the Church today refers to all of them throughout the liturgical year.
The second reading is the beginning of Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. The letter is for all members of the Church at Corinth. Corinth was a bawdy seaport in cosmopolitan city in Greece. The vices of every seaport, plus the philosophical ferment of ancient Greece, were part of these peoples’ lives and gave rise, in part, to the need for this letter. Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are “sanctified and called to be holy,” like all who call on the name of Jesus in faith.
John the Baptist gives testimony to Jesus by pointing out that he is the Lamb of God (vv 29, 36); a man who was before me (v 30); the one on whom the Holy Spirit remained (v 33); and the Son John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the Jews as the “Lamb of God” on the second day (Jn 1:29). He repeats it on the third day. “Lamb of God” is the most meaningful title given to Jesus in the Bible. It is used 29 times in the book of Revelation. It sums up the love, the sacrifice and the triumph of Christ. John’s introduction probably brought five pictures of the “lamb” in the mind of his Jewish listeners.
1) The Lamb of Atonement (Lev. 16: 20-22). A lamb was brought to the Temple on the Day of Atonement. Placing his hands over its head, the high priest transferred all the sins of his people on it. It was then sent into the forest to be killed by some wild animal.
2) The Lamb of Daily Atonement (Ex. 29: 38-42; Numbers 28: 1-8). This was the lamb sacrificed on the “Black Altar” of the Temple every morning and evening to atone for the sins of the Jews.
3) The Paschal Lamb (Ex. 12: 11ss), whose blood saved the first born of the Jewish families in Egypt from the Angel of destruction.” This lamb reminded them also of the Paschal Lamb which they killed every year on the Passover Feast.
4) The Lamb of the Prophets which portrayed One who, by His sacrifice, will redeem his people: “The gentle lamb led to the slaughter house” (Jer. 11: 19), “like a lamb to the slaughter” (Is 53:7). Both refer to the sufferings and sacrifice of Christ.
5) The Lamb of the Conquerors. This was the picture of a horned lamb on the Jewish flag at the time of Maccabaean liberation war, used as a sign of conquering majesty and power. The great Jewish conquerors like Samuel, David and Solomon were described by the ancient Jewish historians as “horned lambs.”
Is 8:23-9:3; 1Cor 1:10-13, 19; Ps 29; Mt 4:12-23
“The people who sat in darkness have seen great light” (Is 9:3)
Theme: Re-orientation in life
Once there was a university professor who was seeking for the wisdom to live a happy and meaningful life. After several years of seeking desperately, he finally came to a holy hermit and asked to be enlightened. The holy man happily invited the guest into his simple hut and served him a cu of tea. He filled the cup of his guest and still kept pouring into the cup which was overflowing and the tea was dripping onto the floor. The professor watched the overflow of tea until he could no longer restrain himself, and said, “Stop! The cup is full. No more will go in.” Now the hermit looked at him and said, “Like this cup, you are full of self-righteous attitudes, preconceptions and perfectionist ideas. Unless you empty yourselves, you cannot learn the wisdom to live your life happily and meaningfully.” Spiritual emptiness is a call to renewal in personal and communal life.
Jesus began his Galilean ministry with a proclamation, “Repent! The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mtt 4”19). The message of this messianic proclamation contains first the call to conversion and re-orientation in life, and secondly, the reason for the invitation is the definitive display of God’s power and establishment of his rule being inaugurated in the ministry of Jesus. “Repent” means change of mind – a radical returning and reconciliation with God and others. It is a grace-filled experience of re-orientation in one’s life as a proper response to God’s kingdom.
The content of Jesus’ preaching was neither himself nor the Church but the kingdom of God. What does “the kingdom of God” mean? It signifies the realization of total human and cosmic liberation when all human alienation and all evils (physical or moral) would be overcome; when the consequences of sin like hatred, prejudiced division, unjust oppression, pain and death would be destroyed. In other words, it can be said that God’s kingdom means total, structural transformation of our world. In this way, God’s saving activity restores the foundations of all creation.
The healing miracles of Jesus (Mtt 4: ) confirm the realization of God’s kingdom and validate the power of the proclaimed message (v. 23). It is not mere human compassion that urged Jesus to heal the people of their diseases. It is the proclamation of God’s kingdom in action. The power of Jesus’ word inspired, motivated, and attracted the fishermen to follow Jesus. This shows that where God reaches out, there the world becomes whole. In order that such liberation from sin and all its personal and cosmic consequences be realized. Jesus makes tow fundamental demands: personal conversion and restructuring of our human world.
Personal conversion does not mean pious exercises but rather inner renewal which is a new mode of thinking and acting before God and others. This renewal is to be life-giving. It involves leaving our boats on the shore. It implies that the work of darkness that disturbs our happiness in the families and communities and obstructs our human growth should be left behind.
St. Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian community to be united in Christ ((1Cor 1:10) is in fact a call for renewal. As disciples of Jesus, they must leave on the shore the boat of division and disunity, groupism and factions among them and be committed to live a meaningful Christian life with a renewed perspective to realize God’s reign.
The immediate response of the first disciples to the call of Jesus conveys the message that they left on the shore not only their material boats but also their past life encircled by personal comfort zones and riches, and thereby launched into a greater mission of human salvation for all. This is how they continued Christ mission of total human liberation.
This is the mission of everyone baptized in Christ to bring the Gospel of faith to the doubting, hope to the despairing, strength to the weak and comfort to the afflicted. In this way, we become a light in our dark world. This mission of realizing God’s rule among us involves on-going renewal and new direction in our life. There is no coming of God without being expected and willingly accepted in faith. There is no realization of God’s rule among us without transformation and re-orientation in life. Therefore, the call to repentance precedes the call to salvation. We need to realize and leave on the shore the boat of our own dark moments such as discouragements and failures, anger and misunderstanding, negligence and apathy. Then, we will be able to work for the realization of God’s kingdom and experience the total liberation inaugurated by Jesus.
Zeph 2:3, 3:12-13; Ps 146; 1Cor 1:26-31; Mtt 5:1-12
“God chose what is weak in the world” (1Cor 1:27)
Theme: Beatitudes – Believers’ New way of Life
God gave ten commandments to Israel through Moses, defining a way of life for them to lie faithfully as Gods chosen people (Ex 20: ). Jesus, the Son of God gave the Sermon on the Mount, defining a way of life for the believers who are the new Israel. After the call of his first disciples at the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus proposed a life of values that are highlighted in the sermon on the Mount. It forms the heart of Jesus’ preaching. The beatitudes taken together give the picture of a perfect disciple of Christ, and the nature of the life style of God’s people. It invites the believers to live a life of values in order to be perfect and compassionate as our heavenly Father is perfect and compassionate (Mtt 5:48). Being a disciple of Christ implies total availability to God’s will and open to his gift of love. Opting for simply life style makes sense only in this background.
The kid of people mentioned in the beatitudes, namely, the poor, the meek, the humble, the suffering, and the persecuted are the cursed and despised ones in the eyes of the world but they are the blessed and the privileged people in the eyes of God because he is the source of their happiness. Therefore, the beatitudes do not function as “the entrance requirements” but rather as delineation of the characteristics and actions of God’s people who will receive appropriate eschatological rewards. Those who possess the virtues listed in the beatitudes will receive the fullness of life in God’s kingdom. Here two things are very clear: first, the believers’ attitude of trust and total surrender to God both in poverty and prosperity. Zephaniah says, “The humble will take refuge in the Lord and no one shall make them afraid” (3:13. Such an attitude deepens our confidence in the power of God and creates within us a positive and optimistic approach to face the ordeals in our daily life. Secondly, we are blessed because of God’s solidarity with us through his preferential option for the poor and the oppressed. St. Paul says, “God chooses the weak and the meek to shame the strong” (1Cor 1:30), because God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1:230).
The beatitudes do not encourage purely material poverty or the lack of basic necessary things to live with human dignity for God himself does not will such a life of damnation. What is required of us as Disciples of Christ is the inner disposition of total dependence on God and positive attitude in faith toward life. If God has found solidarity with us I spite of our human ordinariness and unworthiness, then we are to adopt a life style to continue the Lord’s saving activities in our world.
Once there was a young priest. He was very talented, dynamic and well educated. After his ordination, his bishop appointed him as a pastor of a remote village parish. He went there with great zeal and enthusiasm. He had a great expectation and a master plan to being out a total renewal in the parish. When he went to the parish, he found that the picture of the current realities there were totally different and disappointing for him. There was no rectory. The church was in very dilapidated condition. The people were so poor and unwelcoming. They were busy with their own problems. They did not corporate with his plan. The mass attendance of the people was very poor. Seeing all these sad situation of the parish, he was so much frustrated with his ministry within a few months. The new pastor finally realized that he came with right vision to a wrong people. As a result, he decided to ask for transfer. One morning as he was praying in the church reflecting about his decision, he noticed on the crucifix, Jesus was hanging there naked and abandoned his body full of blood and crowned with thorns. Below the feet of Jesus, there was an inscription that read, “Follow me.” This scene struck him with a new insight and there he realized the meaning of his call to priesthood and where God wants him to serve. So he decided to make a preferential option for the poor and continued to serve God’s people in that parish.
Such is the life style that Jesus proposes and that must be our way of life too. Do we find the message of the beatitudes relevant for us today? What do we do to make our life of faith meaningful in our world? Let us pray for God’s grace to make a preferential option to serve and care for the poor, the suffering and the despised people in our families, communities and society that we will be able to continue the Lord’s saving activities in our world.
Is 58:7-10; Ps 112; 1Cor 2:1-5; Matt 5:13-16
“You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world” (Matt 5:13-14)
Theme: To make a difference
Once the Master asked the disciples, “How can you find out that the day has dawn for you?” One of the disciples replied, “When we hear the sound of the birds and see the rising of the sun, then we can say that the day has dawned.” “No,” the Master said. Another disciple answered, “When we see something at far and able to recognize whether it is an animal or a tree, then we can say that the day had dawned.” “. No. Not exactly,” the Master replied. The disciples anxiously asked him, “When can we say then that the day has dawned for us?” The Master answered them, “When you are able to see in others your own brother or sister, then the day has dawned for you. Until then, you are in darkness.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us, “You are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world.” Here “earth and world” refer to all human beings and all creation.
Becoming disciples of Jesus has universal and cosmic meaning and relevance. The function of the disciples is illustrated by the metaphors “salt and light which are essential elements in our everyday life. Salt gives flavors to things and preserves them from being decayed. Light gives dynamism to life by dispelling the darkness and revealing the hidden things. At the same time, if we don’t use them diligently and prudently, they would cause destructive effects. So also the disciples are called to give force, add dynamism and bring meaning to our human life. It is a life of faith in action. How should it be done? As Isaiah says, “By giving bread the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked and supporting the afflicted, you light shall break forth like a noon day. The Lord will hear your cry for help and answer, “Here I am” (Is 58:2-10). This is the true worship. It is the exemplary life rooted in faith.
As the Apostle St. Paul says (1Cor 2:3), “Though the disciples are weak and insignificant, they are called to communicate the love of the Father through simple means. Our good works and concrete expressions of faith are not meant for seeking personal glory but rather to reveal the goodness and love of our heavenly Father to the world. Therefore, Jesus says, “Others may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16). In this light, the grace of becoming a disciple of Jesus is personal, powerful and demanding call. This is how the disciples can make a difference in the world and lead others to Jesus. SFS says, “We don’t need great opportunities to show our love for God. Simple means of our everyday life is enough to experience God’s love for and manifest our love for him.”
To be the salt and the light of this world means that believers are to improve the quality of human existence and serve as a beacon of light in our dark world in order to protect human life from all forms destruction. In this way, we are challenged as disciples to let the light of our goodness shine brightly in a given life situation as a witness to the life giving light of Christ. Today, we need to ask ourselves the question: how can I become the salt and the light of God’s love and kindness within my living situations?
When we speak of salt and light, we need to realize that these elements by nature lose their personal identity to give value and add meaning to other things. In the same way, our life as followers of Jesus involves a triangular relationship: God – I – others. Therefore, it is fundamentally human concern and care for each member of our families and communities. Our relationship with God will be jeopardized if we exclude others from us. In this perspective, our life has universal implication. When our life of faith becomes the salt and the light of our broken world, then a new say has dawned for us. A day of total liberation has dawned for the whole creation.
As SFS says, we should not wait for better things or greater opportunities to live our faith or for God to act. Every moment of our life is an opportune time for us to shine out our light of faith and to make a difference in our world. Hence, husbands and wives are to be the light to their children in the family through their life commitment and fidelity to each other. The young people can be the salt of their world by clinging on to their faith values with optimistic vision of life. As believers, we can reveal the light of Christ to the world by making use of the ordinary means of our life in the work places and in the believing community and by fulfilling our responsibilities in honesty and dedication. Our Eucharistic celebration reveals the mystery of Christ Jesus as a light for all who grope in the darkness. So it inspires us to be the salt and the light of the world to make a difference from our living situations.
Sir 15: 15-20, I Cor 2: 6-10, Mt 5: 17-37
Theme: “Disciples’ higher righteousness”
Once a disciple asked the Master, “What shall I do to love my neighbor?” “Stop hating yourself.” The disciple pondered seriously on these words for long and came back to say, “But I love myself too much, for I am selfish and self-centered. How do I get rid of that?” “Be friendly to yourself and your self will be contented and it will set you free to love your neighbor” (Anthony de Mello, One minute wisdom, 131).
Everyone is obliged to strive for the perfection of Christian life, because our Lord commands that we be perfect (Mt 5:48) and St. Paul says the same (2Cor 13:11). Perfection of Christian life consists in conforming our will to that of our good God, who is the sovereign standard and norm for all actions. So in order to acquire perfection we must always consider and recognize what God’s will is in everything that concerns us, so that we can flee what he wants us to avoid and accomplish what he wants us to do (SFS, Letters of Spiritual Direction, 105).
St. Peter (2Pet 1: 10) says, “Brothers and sisters, you have been called and chosen; work all the more harder to justify it.”
As we heard from the first reading today (Sirach 15:15-20), the author, exposed to the pervasive influence of Hellenistic culture against his religious values, exhorted his Diaspora Jews that there should be no compromise with the prevailing culture in following God’s law. Our God never forces us to do good or evil. It is our freedom of choice to obey or disobey God’s laws. However, we must be responsible for our own choices and decisions in living our faith. In the second reading (1Cor 2:6-10), the Apostle Paul advises the Christians to seek true wisdom in God’s revelation instead of indulging in worldly wisdom.
Jesus came to give the Torah its full meaning: The Jews believed that the Torah (Law given through Moses), was the eternal and unchangeable Self-revelation of God. Jesus, and later Paul, considered the oral Law as interpreted by the scribes a heavy burden on the people and criticized it, while honoring the Mosaic Law and the teachings of the prophets. Today’s Gospel passage, from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” presents Jesus as giving the highest compliments to the Mosaic Law, although he himself would be condemned later and crucified as a Law-breaker. Jesus says that, as the word of God, the Old Testament has a divine authority, and it deserves total respect. For the Scribes and the Pharisees, the external fulfillment of the precepts of the Mosaic Law was a guarantee of a person’s salvation. For Jesus, justification or sanctification is a grace from God. Man’s role is one of cooperating with that grace by being faithful to it. Jesus then outlines the new moral standards for his disciples and explains the real meaning of three Mosaic laws concerning murder, adultery and false oaths.
Respect life in all its stages in words and deed: Jesus explains that the fifth commandment means respecting life in all its stages by honoring others in words and deeds. This means that we have to control our anger because it is the rawest, strongest and most destructive of human emotions. Describing three stages of anger and the punishment each deserves, Jesus advises his disciples not to get angry in such a way that they sin. 1) Anger in the heart (“brief stage of insanity” Cicero), has two forms: a) a sudden, blazing flame of anger which dies suddenly. b) a surge of anger which boils inside and lingers so that the heart seeks revenge and refuses to forgive or forget. Jesus prescribes trial and sentencing by the Village Court of Elders. 2) Anger in speech: Using words which are insulting (“raka“=“fool”), or damaging to the reputation (“moros” meaning a person of loose morals). Jesus says that such an angry one should be sent to the Sanhedrin or Jewish religion’s Supreme Court for trial and sentencing. 3) Anger in action: Sudden outbursts of uncontrollable anger often result in physical assault or abuse. Jesus says that such anger deserves hellfire as its punishment. In short, Jesus teaches that long-lasting anger is bad, contemptuous speech or destroying someone’s reputation is worse and harming another physically is the worst.
Jesus’ teaching on sexual sins: In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlines a new moral code for his followers, which is different from the Mosaic moral code. He insists that adultery, the violation of the sixth commandment, is also committed through willfully generated evil and impure thoughts and desires which remain in the mind. Our hands become causes of sin according to what we touch and how we touch, in lust or greed or violence. Our eyes become agents of sins according to what they look at. When Jesus recommends mutilation of eyes and hands he is not speaking literally, because we have more sins than we have body-parts. Besides, even if all offending parts were removed, our minds — the source of all sins – would still be intact, causing us to sin by thoughts and desires. So Jesus teaches us that, just as a doctor might remove a limb or some part of the body like an infected gall bladder, inflamed appendix, etc., in order to preserve the life of the whole body, so we must be ready to part with anything that causes us to commit grave sin or which leads to spiritual death. Hence, these warnings are actually about our attitudes, dispositions, and inclinations. Jesus recommends that our hands become agents of compassion, healing and comfort and that our eyes learn to see the truth, goodness and beauty around us.
Jesus’ clear teaching on divorce: According Matthew’s version, adultery is the only ground for sanctioning divorce. Based on the NT teachings given in Mk 10:1-12, Mt. 5:31-32; Mt. 19:3-9; Luke 16:18; and 1 Cor 7:10-11, the Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a sacrament involving both a sacred and legal contract between a man and a woman and, at the same time, is a special covenant with the Lord. “Divorce is also a grave offense against the natural law. Besides, it claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death…… Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society” (CCC nos. 2384, 2385). (Fr. Tony)
Be men and women of integrity and character: According to the teachings of the Jewish rabbis, the world stands fast on truth, justice and peace; hence, liars, slanderers, scoffers and hypocrites will not enter heaven. The rabbis classified two types of oaths as offensive to God: 1) frivolous oaths using God’s name to support a false statement because this violates the second commandment. 2) evasive oaths using words like heaven, Jerusalem, my head because God is everywhere and He owns everything. Jesus interprets the Mosaic Law on oaths to mean that we should be righteous men and women of integrity and character. If one is honest in his or her words and deeds, there is no need for one to support his or her statements and transactions with oaths or swearing. How forceful are honest words! (Job 6:25). An oath is a solemn invocation of God (So Help Me, God!) to bear witness to the truth of what one asserts to be the case or to the sincerity of one’s undertakings in regard to future actions. It is necessary and admissible to ask God’s help in the discharge of an important social duty (e.g., President’s oath of office), or while bearing witness in a court of law (“I will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth … “So help me, God.”). Jesus teaches, “Say yes when you mean yes and say no when you mean no” (Mt 5:37). That is, he invites us to live in truth in every instance and to conform our thinking, our words and our deeds to the truth.
Is 2: 1-5; Ps 122: 1-2, 4-9; Rom 13: 11-14; Mt 24: 37-44
“Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” (Matt 24:42)
Theme: “The Future is already in the Present”
Visitation and preparation, invitation and expectation are our everyday life experiences. We invite someone and we anxiously expect that person’s coming. When someone visits us, we will be well prepared and earnestly wait for that person. At the beginning of the Advent season, the liturgy of the word today emphasizes on the need for watchfulness and ever preparedness for the Lord’s coming. When that will be? No time table is given. It would be sudden and surprise. As believers, we believe that the Lord had already come, he is coming daily into our lives, and he will come again in glory. But until then, what are we to do? The liturgy of the word today offers us the answer that we have to be ever watchful and well prepared by living our present life meaningfully more than worrying about the exact time table of the Lord’s coming. It implies that the Lord’s future glorious coming is already implied in his present day visitation. St. Bernard speaks about three comings of Jesus. In his first coming Jesus took the human form in flesh and lived among his people. His second coming will be in glory and majesty. His intermediary coming in the in-between-time is in spirit and in power. Inspired by his first coming and encouraged by his second coming in hopeful expectation, as disciples of Jesus we are to beware of his daily coming into our life. It involves attitudes of readiness and prayerfulness that we will have the strength to withstand the challenges and tribulations, and stand blameless before the Lord.
Furthermore, we must know that the meaning of Christmas determines the importance of Advent season. If Christmas has little value for us, then Advent means nothing except as a routine change of another liturgical season. If Christmas is about the reception of the greatest gift of God’s salvation in Jesus (cf. Rom 13: 11), then Advent becomes an important season of watchfulness and readiness. In this light, Advent is rightly understood as a season of heightened awareness and inner awakening. We are reminded during every Advent season to be aware of God’s gift of blessings and new life through Jesus’ first coming by which he became human as part of our human history (cf. Jn 1: 14) to make us divinized. We are truly privileged to experience God’s love, forgiveness and eternal life as God’s children. At the same time, we have to be also aware of the Lord’s daily coming into our life, that is, Jesus’ continued presence in every experience of our life, empowering and guiding us in our faith journey. God is never absent from our life abandoning us. It is we who are at times go astray from God unaware of his life-giving presence.
As a grace-filled season, Advent enlightens us to evaluate our faith response to God’s unconditional love in Jesus. It involves the spiritual journey of examining our attitudes and approaches toward life and people, renewing our relationship with God and one another. By going through this process of life-changing and world-shaking personal conversion, we grow in our faith conviction ready to accept Jesus as our eternal peace (cf. Eph 2: 4) and become peace makers (cf. Mt 5: 9). This inner awakening will prompt us to rise above our daily cares and concerns, anxieties and worries, taking a fresh look at our life of faith with its peaks and valleys, promises and disappointments. As Isaiah says, by our life of heightened awareness and watchfulness we will be able to follow the way of the Lord and make concrete decisions to walk in his light (cf. Is 2: 3, 5), joyfully welcoming Jesus’ daily involvement in our present life. To live with the attitude of ever preparedness and inner awakening means, as the Apostle Paul instructs, “to wake up from sleep and cast off the works of darkness and we have to put on the armor of light (cf. Rom 13: 11-12). It is not the armor that creates violence, conflicts, disharmony, despair and death but the armor of Jesus Christ who came among us as the light of the world (cf. Jn 1: 3, 8: 12), establishing peace, offering joy, ensuring justice, and creating unity and solidarity among people and thus transmitting life to everyone. Such a life of hope-filled watchfulness implies that we are to be actively involved in our present life fulfilling all its responsibilities and commitments with positive attitude and trust in God. We cannot remain passively expecting Jesus’ future coming with a fixed time-table which we are uncertain about. He might surprise us with his sudden and unexpected coming. Until then, we must stay awake by fulfilling our daily faith commitments, building bridges between people to overcome hatred and disharmony. In this way we will be ready to encounter joyfully and experience Jesus in his daily coming through the members of our families and communities. Then, whenever the Lord comes, we will be ever ready and watchful to welcome him and experience his blessings of salvation.
It is said that yesterday is history. Tomorrow is but a promissory note. Today is the only reality. Live then as though each day is your last and someday you’ll be right. You learn how to die if you learn how to live. (Mitch Albon). Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating and recreating yourself. St. Francis de Sales that in order to journey steadily, we must apply ourselves to doing well the stretch of road immediately before us on the first day of the journey, and not waste time wanting to do the last lap of the way while we still have to make it through the first. Remember this well: we are sometimes so busy being good angels that we neglect to be good men and women. Our imperfections are going to accompany us to the grave. We can’t go anywhere without having our feet on the ground; yet if we fall, we don’t just lie there, sprawled in the dust. Our imperfections force us to acknowledge our misery, give us practice in humility, selflessness, patience, and watchfulness; yet, notwithstanding, God looks at the preparation of our heart and sees that it is perfect (Marie Thibert, Golden Counsels of SFS, 13-14). Therefore, let us keep listening to the words of Jesus, “Stay awake, for you do not know when your Lord will come (Mt 24: 42). Our Eucharistic celebration reminds us that as the Lord’s future coming is already implied in his daily visitation, our present life of watchfulness must be with joy-filled hope toward the future fulfillment of Jesus’ promise.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for reminding me to be always awake and ready for the sudden coming of the final day. Guide me, Lord, with your grace to understand the importance of your present day visitation in my life that I will stay alert and awake with the attitude of ever preparedness appreciating giftedness of the present life and live my faith life meaningfully to welcome you whenever be that day.
Is 11: 1-10; Ps 72: 1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17; Rom 15: 4-9; Ps 72; Matt 3: 1-12
“Bear fruits worthy of your repentance” (Matt 3:8)
Theme: “Renewed life – the fruit of true repentance”
There is a saying, “I changed my attitudes and so everything is changed.” This is the message of today’s liturgy of the word that focuses on the change of one’s attitudes and approaches toward life as a result of true repentance. Once, a tourist said to his guide, “You must be proud of your town and the people. I am so impressed and touched by the number of churches in your town and amazed at the devotion of your people. Surely, this shows vividly how much the people love the Lord.” The guide replied cynically, “Very well, they may love the Lord, but sure indeed they hate each other as hell.” (Song of the Bird, 149). Through his preaching, John challenged the various groups of people inviting them to go through the process of renewal in life. By calling publicly the honorable religious leaders “brood of vipers” (Mt 3: 7), he directly challenged their natural claim of social honor and their biological claim to Abraham as their Father (v. 9). Instead he urged them to have moral basis by sincere repentance for such claims. So, the Baptist said, “Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance” (v. 8). John’s simple clothing, ordinary food and austere life style symbolically linked him with the Old Testament prophets who resisted injustice among people and preached about the revolutionary model of personal and societal renewal. Thus, John’s preaching of repentance entails renewal in one’s personal life as well as radical reform in the society of God’s people.
People’s acceptance of John’s baptism through repentance was their radical turning away from disloyalty to faithful obedience to God. When they came to John for baptism they realized their sinfulness, believed in God’s forgiveness and resolutely decided to make a turning toward God as a sign of their new life. Their turning away from sinfulness is a reversal of human standards and adoption of divine standard of living as the result of having been restored to the original state of grace. Isaiah beautifully envisioned this perfect order of grace: “The wolf and lamb shall live together; the leopard and the child will play together, the calf and the lion will sleep together; the child will play with cobras. There shall be no harm or ruin on the Lord’s holy mountain” (Is 11: 6-9). There shall be no enmity and hatred, no vengeance and violence, no manipulation and destruction. There would be only peace and joy, unity and fraternal solidarity, blessings and prosperity because of God’s reign among us. This reflects the original order of grace at the beginning of creation prior to the experience of sin by Adam and Eve (cf. Gen 1: 3:1-7). There was complete ease, perfect harmony and delight in the world of nature. That is why it was called paradise. As this state of harmony and grace is disturbed and distorted in our world, the ideal life of grace in the messianic age will be restored by the coming of the Messiah.
Jesus as the long expected Messiah inaugurated this new age by his incarnation among us. As believers we are called to work together in hope for the realization of this happy balance in our world and journey toward its final fulfillment. Today, we hear the slogan, “If you want peace, prepare for war using any means.” Such situations show that God’s perfect order of grace and peace is manipulated and distorted in our personal life, in our families and communities. That is why we are exhorted to go through the process of true repentance bearing fruits of new life as our human response to God’s saving presence among us in Jesus. As our life of faith is determined on the basis of our actions as a response to Jesus’ call, there can be only wheat or chaff, acceptance or rejection. There can be no middle path. What is our response to Jesus’ call to repentance? The ax is already at the root of the trees that do not produce good fruit (v. 10). It is a prophetic warning for us to get awakened and listen to the voice of Jesus. Are we ready to live a renewed life of repentance by living in hope-filled attitudes, igniting the light of our faith to burn brightly? As a sign of our renewed life we must love and welcome one another as Jesus our Savior has welcomed us into God’s one family (cf. Rom 15: 4-9).
We must deepen our reflection by asking ourselves, ‘In what way have I contributed to the distortion of the order of grace and peace in my families and faith communities? What do I do to live a renewed life as the fruit of true repentance? It is true that as humans, we have contributed personally and collectively in one way or another to the existence of sin and evil in our world that continue to disturb and destroy the perfect order of harmony in God’s creation. Our acts of repentance must lead us to live a new life of goodness and kindness oriented toward the restoration of the perfect order of harmony and peace among us. We should practice reconciliation and forgiveness toward each other, and thus overcome the barriers that separate and divide us from God and others. St. Francis de Sales: persevere in overcoming yourself in the little everyday frustrations that bother you; let your best efforts be directed there. God wishes nothing else of you at present, so don’t waste time doing anything else. Don’t sow your desires in someone else’s garden; just cultivate your own as best you can; don’t long to be other than what you are, but desire to be thoroughly what you are. Direct your thoughts to being very good at that and to bearing the crosses, little or great, that you will find there. We all love what is according to our taste; few people like what is according to their duty or to God’s liking (Marie Thibert, Letters of Spiritual Direction, 112). What is our focus in life and response to Jesus’ call? During this Advent season, let us ask ourselves: “The Messiah is around here; when did I see him last?” Let us allow this question to resound in our hearts and minds that will lead us to live a renewed life as a fruit of true repentance.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for the prophetic voice of John the Baptist bolstering me to renew my life and bear fruits of true repentance. Help me with your grace to practice reconciliation and forgiveness toward others that I become worthy to welcome you in my life and joyfully celebrate your birth in our midst.
Is 35: 1-6, 10; Ps 146:6b-10; James 5: 7-10; Matt 11: 2-11
“Be strong, do not be afraid” (Is 35: 4)
Theme: “Proclaiming the message of Hope”
While confronting hardships and trials in life and being beaten up by storms of problems and frustrating moments, we long for words of comfort, and someone to stand by us with gestures of consolation and encouragement, inspiring us to have hope of new possibilities. Once, the spiritual Master kept saying to everyone, “God loves his people in their suffering as much as in their success. If God loves us in the worst, then we are the living Gospel of hope.” This sums up the thrust of today’s liturgy of the word which comes as good news of hope to those who are afflicted and in despair. When Israel was defeated and taken into exile in Babylon, they asked the questions, “Is our God Yahweh powerful or weak? If he is a powerful God, how can he be silent allowing such a terrible tragedy to happen to his chosen people? They wondered whether God would restart all over again to bring them liberation from exilic suffering. This expresses the intensified pain and agony of their suffering and hopelessness in life and their attitude of despair. At times, this seems to the experience of life for all of us. To the discouraged and fearful people in exile, the prophet proclaimed the message of hope that Yahweh had not forgotten them. In fact, he would lead them back home. This journey of coming back from exile would be their second exodus into the home land of success and prosperity, joy and happiness. Thus, the despised and the discouraged people would witness the unexpected display of God’s concern for them.
Here four categories of people are singled out, namely, the deaf, the blind, the lame, and the dumb. These categories underline the pitiable condition of God’s people (cf. Is 43: 8). However, the disenfranchised people of God have their claim on him and he will surely defend and protect them. The basic motive for such a marvelous display of God’s concern is his unconditional love (cf. Is 43: 4). Therefore, the prophet proclaimed the word of hope, “Be strong; do not fear. Here is your God; he comes to save you” (Is 35: 4). This saving act of God is demonstrated very concretely by Jesus. So he answered to the disciples who carried the question from John the Baptist in the prison, “Go and tell John what you hear and see; the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them (cf. Mt 11: 3-5). By doing the activities of the Messiah, Jesus proved his identity that he is the prophesied Messiah, “the one who is to come” (Mt 11: 3). Thus, he inaugurated the time of salvation for all. Pope Benedict XVI says, “With the angel’s greeting to Mary-‘kaire’ in the Greek, which means ‘be joyful’-the New Testament begin. We could say that the first word of the New Testament is ‘be joyful,’ ‘be happy,’ in other words, ‘joy.’ This is the true meaning of Christmas: God is near us, so near that He became a child. We realize that today’s world, where God is absent, is dominated by fear, and uncertainty. Nonetheless, “the words ‘be joyful because God is with you and with us,’ truly open a new time.”
As Messiah, he gives life to those lifeless and offers hope to those who are groping into the darkness of despair and meaninglessness. We witness in our world today that in spite of tremendous growth and enormous wealth, millions of our brothers and sisters suffer poverty, and corruption, ill-treatment and various diseases. People become innocent victims of violence, injustice, oppression, manipulation and subjugation. We can find people around us vulnerably bearing the pain of hurt feelings, exclusion and separation. In such situations of pain and suffering, God’s word comes to us as a word of hope: “Be strong; do not be afraid. The Lord comes to save you.” Truly, the season of Advent is a grace-filled season stirring up our hope motivating us to incarnate hope in our daily lives by concrete actions of kindness and compassion. We cannot be mere recipients of the good news of hope. We also must become messengers of hope for our world. Jesus’ teachings and actions of love and compassion mark the eruption of God’s reign in the present age. As believers, we are called to continue the proclamation of the good news of hope through our liberating words and actions: by enabling and inspiring people to see life realities in the light of faith with positive attitudes, encouraging the discouraged, strengthening the weak with words and gestures of affirmation, and supporting in fraternal solidarity the cause of the poor and the vulnerable.
In this way, we will know that God loves us through Jesus in our suffering and struggle as much as in our success. Then we will be able to believe and announce the presence of God’s reign among us and understand that he is coming to save us. In this journey of joyful expectation and meaningfully living our faith, we need to develop the attitude of “patient endurance’ (James 5: 8) without giving up at any cost that Jesus will lead us to be messengers of hope in our world. St. Francis de Sales says: “You should never get discouraged. All that you are expected to do is to have a courage that is gentle and patient and take your time and all the care needed to heal and comfort your heart in the wake of the assaults it has endured. Have courage. Let us do our best, all we possibly can, and God will be happy with us. It is one thing sometimes to be beaten and quite another thing to be vanquished” (SFS, Conf. XVI, 63; VI, 378 from The Art of Utilizing Our Faults, 47, 49). Jesus comes to us as our Savior to be the source of our joy and hope. But, how do we proclaim the good news of hope that God is actively present among us? Do we create a situation of hopelessness and vulnerability for people around us or make efforts to proclaim the message of hope?
Is 7:10-14; Ps 24:1-6; Rom 1:1-7; Matt 1:18-24
“He was unwilling to dispose Mary to be disgraced” (Matt 1:19)
Theme: “Human response important for diving response”
The development of any society depends on the response of its leads and people; the well-being of a family depends on the response of the parents and children; the success of an individual depends on his/her response to life. The liturgy of the word today brings us the message that human response is important for the divine response to work out human salvation. The scripture teaches us that God has acted in the salvation history depending on the faith response of people. Abraham (Gen 12: 1-4), Moses (Ex 3: 10-12, 4: 18-20), the prophets (1Sam 3: 3-10; Is 6: 8-9; Jer 1: 4-10), and the Apostles (Mk 1:16-20; 2:13-14; Matt4:18-22; Rom 1:1) responded to God’s call freely and in total surrender for the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation. Joseph and Mary too responded to God’s call without resistance and reservations that resulted in the incarnation of Jesus as Emmanuel (cf. Matt 1: 25). Thus, they all made a difference. Such human response involves radical leap of faith in total surrender to God.
Daniel and Dennis were newly married couple. Daniel had a good job as a manager in a bank. He felt life for him was a blessing with a beautiful wife, nice job and good money. They were a very good and faithful Catholic couple. They began their married life with so much of happiness and joy, having a lot of hopes and dreams. Days and months passed. They began to face problems. Daniel’s parents created problems for his new wife, and she in her part didn’t adjust with his parents and family members. He was struggling to take a stand between his parents and his wife. He feeling had to maintain peace and reconciliation in the family. In the course of time, Dennis became pregnant and time came for her first delivery. Dan hoped and prayed that when his wife comes with a new baby, things will get better in the family. Dennis went to her parent’s house for delivery. Unfortunate, the sad news was that it was a pre-matured delivery and the baby had already died in the womb. The young mother was mentally affected unable to face such a terrible lose of her baby. Dan was asked by the doctors to be with his wife assisting her for three months. He didn’t have holidays and so could not take leave from the bank because of various commitments. Again he struggled between carrying on with his job or to be with his wife. He prayed about it and discerned God’s will for him. Finally, he resigned his job to be with his wife in the most difficult time of her life. Someone asked, “Why didn’t you make alternative arrangements?” Dan replied, “Yes, I could have done it but my wife needed at that time my love, comfort and personal presence.” Later, some other bank offered Dan a better job. God’s blessings may be hidden in the darkness of our troubles and trials. Joseph and Mary also had such experiences but they discerned God’s will for them, supported and cooperated with one another to find meaning and happiness in life.
The Gospel narrative toady about the birth of Jesus the Messiah focuses on the faith response of Joseph. He is presented as a righteous man (cf. Mt 1:19) who observed in loyalty the Law and his Jewish religious traditions. In the OT, a righteous man is the just one who listens to God’s word, and lives according to the divine will, fulfilling the law in faithfulness. He/she is the ideal human person by his/her wisdom, kindness and piety. Joseph resembles such a righteous person. As he was deeply religious and committed to his faith values, he must have expected God’s blessings in abundance when he began his family life with Mary. But unfortunately, everything began to take a surprising turn in his life. God’s divine plan for the salvation of humanity was revealed to him that the expected Messiah Jesus would be born from Mary through the Holy Spirit, and Joseph was called to play a responsible role in the fulfillment of this plan. However, when God’s divine plan for the salvation of humanity was revealed to him, Joseph had in front of him only two options either to accept God’s plan for the birth of the Messiah by accepting Mary with her pre-marital conception or to dispose her to disgrace. For Joseph, this was a crucial moment of decision making. He had to go through the agony of wrestling with such a difficult moment in deciding for or against God’s plan. Joseph being a righteous person did not want to put others into trouble and so he tried to come out of this problem by quietly divorcing Mary (Matt 1:19b). His deep faith in God seemed to have brought him more troubles than blessings. Yet, Joseph’s faith struggle informs us that trouble surrounds us when God enters into our life.
From our experiences we also know that our sincere commitment to God and neighbor may bring with it sometimes stings and arrows of even outrageous and unexpected troubles and hardships. We might struggle like Joseph in all such moments. However, God comforted and guided Joseph in his struggling moments assuring, “Have no fear in accepting Mary as your wife; it is by the Holy Spirit, she is conceived” (Mt 1: 20). Surely, God’s blessings may be hidden in the darkness of our troubles and trials. Moreover, when Joseph realized the divine plan for the salvation of the world, he responded freely and played a responsible role. Here he displayed his human character of concern for the weaker ones. Pope Benedict XVI says, “Joseph’s silence in the Gospel does not demonstrate an empty interior, but rather the fullness of faith that he carries in his heart. Let’s allow ourselves to be ‘infected’ by the silence of St. Joseph! Silence is so lacking in this world which is often too noisy, which is not favorable to recollection and listening to the voice of God. In this time of preparation for Christmas, let us cultivate interior recollection so as to receive and keep Jesus in our lives.”
St. Francis de Sales says: “It is very true that in order to surrender ourselves unreservedly to divine providence, we ourselves to be very trusting. But it is also true that when we let go of everything, our Lord takes care of all and manages all. If we hold back anything–this shows a lack of trust in him–he lets us keep it. It is as if he said, “You think yourself wise enough to handle this matter without me; I allow you to do so; you will see how you come out in the end” (Marie Thibert, Golden Counsels of SFS, 20). By accepting Mary with her pre-marital conception, Joseph totally surrendered himself to God’s will and made a difference. Thus, Joseph contributed to the coming of the promised Messiah which is the definitive high point in the salvation history. In the same way, God can come to us more powerfully in the midst of our own troubles promising us divine guidance, provided we respond to God’s will like Joseph in uncompromising faith and trust. Through his free response in faith, Joseph made possible the emergence of God’s nearness in Jesus as Emmanuel. This shows that our God is a God of great surprises. When we follow him in total surrender and commit ourselves to fulfill his divine plan, God would surprise us in an amazing way through unexpected display of many blessings as happened to Joseph and Mary. It might happen in many different ways and through various people and life events. How do we accept and respond to God’s plan for us? Do we follow Jesus in complete trust even in the darkest moments of our life?