27 December 2014

SEMPER FI - ALWAYS FAITHFUL

THE HOLY FAMILY
genesis 15:1-6, 21:1-3 or sirach 3:2-6; 12-14; hebrew 11:8, 11-12, 17-19 or colossians 3:12-21; luke 2:22-40

on 23 october 1983, a bomb explosion at the marine barracks in beirut killed 220 us marines and 21 other personnel, and wounded several others.
a few days later, paul kelly, marine corps commandant, visited the wounded in hospital. among them was corporal jeffrey nashton. he had suffered a broken leg, collapsed lungs, a crushed arm and a fractured skull. as kelly neared him, nashton motioned for a pen and piece of paper, wrote briefly, and passed the paper to his commandant. it had but two words: «semper fi» (always faithful), the motto of the marines. 
with those two words nashton spoke for the millions who have remained faithful despite and in the face of adversity. later, nashton said he didn’t know why he did it, but his wife said: «he thought he was dying and he wanted to make contact with another marine, to tell him not to give up, not to lose faith.»

semper fi! two words which sum up the thrust of today’s readings, and speak for each character in them.
the first and second readings extol the faith of israel’s first family. GOD promises abraham many descendants. abraham, though old and childless, «put his faith in the LORD.» GOD asks abraham to leave his homeland, and to sacrifice his son. abraham is unconditionally and forever faithful.
the gospel recounts the faith of the holy family. joseph and mary, who present their son in the temple «just as it is written in the law of the LORD.» they did and would undergo difficult times, and their son—simeon tells them—«is destined for the fall and rise of many in israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted.» they remain forever faithful. 
simeon and anna are idealized portraits of the faithful remnant of israel awaiting the messiah’s coming.


semper fi! that’s the challenge to our families today… despite all the pressures, tensions and crises—political, economic, social and peer—we face. 
further, we need to widen the boundaries of our family: the homeless, the sick and dying, the lonely, the battered, the drug addict, the prisoner… and the hindu/ muslim/ jew/ zoroastrian/ sikh/ jain/ buddhist/ atheist/ agnostic… are all children of GOD and members of our family. 
will you and i remain faithful to GOD and to one another despite and in the face of troubles?

24 December 2014

TRANQUILLITY AMIDST TURMOIL; CELEBRATION AMIDST CHAOS

CHRISTMAS
mass during the night: isaiah 9:1-6; titus 2:11-14; luke 2:1-14
mass during the day: isaiah 52:7-10; hebrews 1:1-6; john 1:1-18

a city commissioned two artists to paint their conception of peace. a panel of distinguished judges would select one to display in the city square.
the first artist unveiled his painting: a beautiful family scene with a farmer back home after a hard day in the fields, with his wife by his side, and his children playing around the hearth; all at peace in a beautiful home. 
the judges decided that the picture depicted peace but looked at the other rendering anyway: it was a raging waterfall under dark skies! in a nook in the craggy rocks there was a tiny branch. on the end of the branch was a bird’s nest with a mother bird, covering her fledglings with her wings and singing in the midst of the turbulence.
the judges thought for a moment, then said: «this is peace and celebration in the midst of turmoil.» 

that picture is a portrayal of peace; it also realistically depicts christmas!
christmas is the birth of the prince of peace… but the peace that JESUS brings is not the quiet of an ideal and idyllic home; it is peace despite and amidst problems.
that’s the reassurance we and our world need right now: the coming of GOD brings tranquillity in the midst of turmoil—he covers us with his wings—and that’s reason to celebrate in the midst of chaos.

what we experience today—brutal violence, the killing of innocents, fear—is reminiscent of what happened in bethlehem two millennia ago.
after the birth of JESUS, the angels announce «on earth peace to people of goodwill.» but soon an angel tells joseph to «take the child and his mother, flee to egypt,» and herod orders «the massacre of all the boys in bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.» 
peace on earth? then? now?

yes! peace on earth! we believe—and we must proclaim—with st john: «what came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race… and the darkness has not overcome it.»
AND we must live as people who have seen the light, as people who live by the light, as people whom «he gave power to become children of GOD.» we cannot live in the darkness; we cannot surrender to and imitate the darkness; we cannot relinquish our privilege and our duty to love.


we need christmas right now, but the christmas we need is the courage to live as children of the light, and as brothers and sisters of the prince of peace. the christmas we need is the courage to oppose violence and injustice with a love that comes from GOD.
may you and i and our world experience tranquillity amidst turmoil and celebration amidst chaos. amen.

20 December 2014

GOD’S MYSTERIOUS AND INEXPLICABLE CHOICES

IV SUNDAY OF SUNDAY
2 samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; romans 16:25-27; luke 1:26-38

long ago, a prince yearned to win the heart of a princess. he had everything—looks, fame and fortune—and tried everything but failed in his quest. the princess had her eyes and heart fixed elsewhere, and married a penniless woodcutter who did nothing to win her favour! the princess chose the woodcutter because of the mysterious preference of her love.

oh yeah… that happens only in fairy tales! right, it happens in fairy tales and in GOD’s tales! the first reading and the gospel highlight GOD’s choice of people.

in the first reading GOD reminds david of his transformation from shepherd to king through GOD’s choice and grace: «i took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people.» it was a mysterious choice! jesse did not even line him up before samuel; david, the youngest, was tending sheep! but GOD knew whom he was choosing, and did great things through david.
the gospel recalls GOD’s choice of mary as the mother of his son. again, it was a mysterious choice! mary lacked the credentials one would think are needed for such an important task; everything was against her: age, gender, marital status, power. GOD knew whom he was choosing; his grace transformed mary from maiden to mother of GOD.
GOD’s choice required of david and of mary a simple «yes»… which st paul, in the second reading, calls «the obedience of faith.» 

GOD makes another mysterious choice today: he chooses you and me! he chooses us to be a part of the project of which mary was a part; to be entry points for his love into the world. he transforms us as he transformed david and mary. it might sound like a fairy tale; it’s not. it’s GOD’s story… of his mysterious choice.
am i willing to say «yes»? am i willing, like mary, to be the servant of the LORD? to allow the holy spirit to overshadow me and transform me? to believe that nothing is impossible with GOD and that he is indeed with me?

13 December 2014

REJOICE IN THE LORD

III SUNDAY OF ADVENT
isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; 1 thessalonians 5:16-24; john 1:6-8, 19-28

a king instructed his gardener to plant trees to represent prosperity, beauty, victory, strength, duty and joy to show the world that the king had made his reign fruitful. the gardener planted a palm to symbolise joy.
when the king saw the palm, he said: «i thought you would typify joy with a flowering tree like the tulip or magnolia. how can the palm symbolize joy?»
the gardener replied: «flowering trees get their nourishment from open sources in orchards or forests. i found this palm in a desert; its roots had found some hidden spring far beneath the burning surface. then, thought i, highest joy has a foundation people cannot see and a source they cannot comprehend.»


how true that is! the foundation and source of our joy is GOD.
that’s the emphasis of the readings on «gaudete sunday» which urges us to rejoice… in the LORD.
the first reading from isaiah invites us to rejoice in GOD because he clothes us with salvation and justice. this invitation is heart-warming because we are the broken-hearted GOD heals; the poor who receive the glad tidings; the captives he liberates.
in the second reading, paul urges the thessalonians to rejoice because the one who calls them is faithful. 
in the gospel, john’s response to the pharisees highlights the primary reason for our joy: JESUS has already come into our world as our saviour.

the readings also give us a mission: to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and—above all—to testify to the light.

what is the source of my joy: the pleasures of the world or GOD and his liberating and healing love? will i rejoice in the LORD and joyfully testify to his presence in my life? or will i give in to a sense of unworthiness? 

john gipson was listening to his car radio. a singer was belting out «i can’t get no satisfaction.» gipson didn’t like the song. he changed the station but thought about the many people who cannot find satisfaction and joy; and wondered whether they even know where to look.
we know where to find joy! let us rejoice in the LORD!

06 December 2014

PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD

II SUNDAY OF ADVENT
isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 peter 3:8-14; mark 1:1-8
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/120714.cfm

we are one week into advent, and many of us are preparing for christmas. our facebook walls have photographs of cribs and home decor, announce carol-singing events, advertise cakes and cookies…
but that’s not quite the preparation scripture and the advent liturgy recommend!

isaiah, in the first reading, assures the exiles in babylon that their desperate wait for freedom is almost over; GOD will lead them, like a shepherd, back home. but the exiles have a task: to prepare the way of the LORD, in the desert, by the filling the valleys and levelling the hills.
mark, in his gospel, has the same message and task. john the baptist invites the people to straighten the pathways of their lives.

in the second week of advent, we need to put the c’s (cribs/carols/cakes/cards) on the back-burner and focus on the s’s: spend time in the «wilderness/desert» of our lives; straighten the pathways in our hearts; and share the glad tidings that our GOD is coming with power to care for us.

will i spend time in the «wilderness»? what areas of my life need straightening: what are the valleys that need filling; which are the mountains that need levelling? how and with whom will i share the good news of the LORD’s coming?

a collegian failed all his college work. he texted his mother: «failed everything; prepare papa.» his mother texted back: «papa prepared; prepare yourself.»
this is the our advent task: our «papa» is prepared (with his loving mercy); we need to prepare ourselves for the coming of GOD in our midst.