28 December 2013

CARE FOR ONE ANOTHER

THE HOLY FAMILY
ecclesiasticus 3:2-6, 12-14; colossians 3:12-17; matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

during an audience, pope paul vi spoke about an experience he had when he was archbishop of milan. he was visiting families in a parish and he found an elderly woman living alone. «how are you?» he asked her. she answered: «not bad. i have enough food, and i’m not suffering from the cold.» «you must be reasonably happy then?» he said. «no, i’m not,» she said and started to cry. «my son and daughter-in-law never come to see me. i’m dying of loneliness.» and the pope concluded: «food and warmth are not enough; people need something more. they need our presence, our time, our love. they need to be touched, to be reassured that they are not forgotten.»

this «something more» is what a family ought to provide! a family provides not merely material needs but also and especially emotional and spiritual needs... it provides warmth which comes not from things but from persons.

the gospel graphically describes how joseph and mary leave home and possessions, family and homeland to preserve their son from herod’s wrath. they step out of their comfort zone, and live in a country they did not know, with languages and customs not their own, to meet their son’s need for safety and security.
in a family, children, too, have obligations. the first reading exhorts children to honour, respect and obey their parents, and to help them in their old age. it promises blessings on those who keep the fourth commandment.
and paul in his letter to the colossians suggests attitudes and virtues for the whole family: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness... and above all, love. he urges us to «let the peace of christ reign in our hearts.»

today’s feast of the holy family and the readings give us a blue-print for family life: each member of the family has a responsibility to reach out in love and service to the other members... in and through the difficulties, struggles and tensions of human life and relating.

how will reach out to the other members of my family? will i become aware of their needs and get out of my comfort zone to meet those needs? will i put on compassion, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love, and foster peace??

24 December 2013

NO ROOM IN THE INN; SPACE IN THE STABLE

CHRISTMAS

readings for the eucharist at midnight
isaiah 9:1-6; titus 2:11-14; luke 2:1-14

readings for the eucharist during the day
isaiah 52:7-10; hebrews 1:1-6; john 1:1-18

eve bunting’s picture book «we were there: a nativity story» tells a simple story of a snake, a toad, a scorpion, a cockroach, a bat, a spider and a rat on a journey. each creature introduces itself and says: «i will be there.»
the story ends with the nativity scene: lambs, donkeys and cows in the stable around the manger in which the babe lay; and in a corner, unnoticed, is the small gathering of the snake, toad, scorpion, cockroach, bat, spider and rat, who have followed the north star across the desert to witness the arrival of the babe.

bunting graphically reminds us that JESUS came to embrace the good, the bad and the ugly. while there may have been no room in the inn, there was plenty of space in the stable for all GOD’s creatures... even the small and the unloved.
this is the heart of the christmas story (which begins in the manger and reaches its climax on the cross): GOD came to embrace all of humankind and all of reality. those who allowed him room in their lives were the small and the unloved... symbolised in the infancy narrative by the poor shepherds and the gentile magi. right through the christ story, it is the sinner and the outcast who makes room for emmanuel... till on the cross, it is a repentant thief who has words of comfort for the crucified JESUS.

«am i there» in the nativity story and around the manger?
is my heart and home an inn with no room or a stable with plenty of space? is there space, in my life, for JESUS... and for the small and the unloved, the sinner and the outcast??

21 December 2013

EMMANUEL GOD-WITH-US... THE REASON FOR THE SEASON

IV SUNDAY OF ADVENT
isaiah 7:10-14; romans 1:1-7; matthew 1:18-24

a teacher asked her students how they celebrated christmas. pat, the first kid, said: «me and my brothers go to midnight mass and sing carols. then we come home and wait for santa to come with toys.» all the replies were similar: sing carols – wait eagerly for santa claus!
there was a jewish boy in the class. not wanting to leave him out, the teacher asked him: «isaac, what do you do at christmas?» isaac replied: «we go for a drive and we sing a christmas carol.» surprised, the teacher said: «tell us more!» isaac went on: «well, it’s the same thing every year. we all get into dad’s mercedes and drive to his toy store. we look at all the empty shelves (which santa has emptied to give toys to pat and the other kids) and we sing, ‘what a friend we have in JESUS.’ then we drive to the airport to go for our annual holiday; one year it’s singapore, another it’s malaysia…»

it might be interesting to ask ourselves the same question!
on the last sunday before christmas, the church asks us: what do we do and celebrate at christmas? what is the reason for the season?
in the second reading, paul tells us the thrust of his letter to the romans: the good news of what GOD has done for us in his son, JESUS. this is what we celebrate at christmas. JESUS CHRIST and his birth is the reason for the season. the gospel and the first reading remind us that the child is emmanuel (GOD is with us).

the story of christmas is also a story about mary and joseph.
this gospel emphasises that joseph, despite not knowing the future, let justice, love and openness to GOD guide his decision about his pregnant betrothed. mary, despite not understanding «how can this be», said «yes» to GOD’s plan. their cooperation with GOD’s action was needed for the birth of JESUS!

we ask ourselves – in the light of scripture – what will i do at christmas: will i prepare my heart and home for emmanuel? will i cooperate with GOD is his plan for me and the world… so that GOD can continue to be «emmanuel»?

14 December 2013

JESUS BRINGS RENEWAL AND WHOLENESS

III SUNDAY OF ADVENT 
isaiah 35:1-6a, 10; james 5:7-10; matthew 11:2-11

at a street meeting, a man was testifying about how JESUS changed his life. a heckler in the crowd yelled: «shut up and sit down. you’re just dreaming.»
the heckler felt a tug on his coat. it was a little girl who said: «sir, that man is my daddy. he used to be a drunkard, and spent all the money he made on whisky. sometimes he would hit my mother. my mother would cry most of the time. i didn’t have shoes or a nice dress to wear to school. but now look at my shoes. see this pretty dress? my daddy bought these for me… see my mother over there? she’s the one with the bright smile on her face. she sings even when she’s doing the ironing.» she added: «sir, if my daddy is dreaming, please don’t wake him up.»

this anecdote could well symbolise the story of countless people who have experienced renewal after encountering JESUS. it’s a story that sums up the thrust of this sunday’s readings: JESUS brings renewal!
in isaiah, the abundant flowers that bloom in the desert, the feeble hands that are strengthened and the weak knees that are made firm, and the joyous return of the babylonian exiles announce GOD’s arrival. in james’ letter, the coming of the LORD is likened to «the precious yield of the harvest.» in both, renewal is emblematic of the newness GOD’s advent brings.
this renewal is evident in the gospel, too. JESUS answers john’s question («are you the one?») in the language of isaiah: «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.»

what should our attitude be? 
in the words and attitude of st james: we ought to «be patient» and wait with «hearts firm» like «the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth». and taking a cue from the gospel, we ought to open ourselves to allow HIM to work in us.
when we do this, the LORD will bring renewal and wholeness in his time and on his terms… and to the rest of the world, it will seem that we are dreaming!

until then, we wait… patiently for the coming of GOD in our midst.

a quote from an unknown writer to end.
«socrates taught for forty years, plato for fifty, aristotle for forty, and JESUS for only three. yet the influence of CHRIST’s three-year ministry infinitely transcends the impact left by the combined 130 years of teaching from these men…
every sphere of human greatness has been enriched by this humble carpenter of nazareth. his unique contribution to humanity is the salvation of the soul… JESUS breaks the enslaving chains of sin. he speaks peace to the human heart, strengthens the weak, and gives life to those who are spiritually dead.»

07 December 2013

NEEDED… A HEART TRANSPLANT

II SUNDAY OF ADVENT 
isaiah 11:1-10; romans 15:4-9; matthew 3:1-12

billy graham, the great evangelist, had these comments about the disease in our world: «we’re suffering from only one disease in the world: our basic problem is not a race problem… not a poverty problem… not a war problem; our basic problem is a heart problem. we need to get the heart changed, the heart transformed.»

john the baptist, the great prophet, had the same message (much more succinct, though): «repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!»

what is repentance? 
repentance is a radical change of heart: it is a turning away from sin (anything that breaks my relationship with GOD, others, myself and nature) and a turning to GOD; it is moving from selfishness to love, from the defence of oneself to the donation of oneself; it is returning «home»!
what matters is not our ancestry, religious affiliation, social status («do not presume to say… ‘we have abraham as our father.’»)… not even our spiritual situation. we ought to produce good fruit, and live justly—in harmony with one another and in total dependence on GOD.

why should we repent?
through this transformation, we will co-operate with GOD in the realization of the ideal realm—which isaiah foretold—and of the kingdom of heaven—which JESUS brings and where justice, peace and harmony reign.

where do i need conversion and change of heart in my life?
how can my family/community and i foster peace, justice and harmony… and so co-operate in the realization of the kingdom?
«peace (and justice) on earth to people of goodwill» is not just the song of the angels; it ought to become a program of life for me, my family/community and my church.