26 December 2015

INVEST IN FAMILY

THE HOLY FAMILY
1 samuel 1:20-22, 24-28 or sirach 3:2-6; 12-14; 1 john 3:1-2, 21-24 or colossians 3:12-21; luke 2:41-52

a little boy asks his father as he returns from work: «daddy, how much do you make an hour?» the father is surprised and says: «son, not even your mum asks that question!» the boy insists: «daddy, tell me please! how much do you make an hour?» the father gives up and replies: «about two hundred rupees.» the boys says: «daddy, could you loan me a hundred?» the father yells: «so that’s why you asked how much i earn! go to sleep and don’t bother me anymore!» 
later, the father starts feeling guilty. maybe his son needed to buy something. finally, he goes to his son’s room and asks: «are you asleep, son?» «no, daddy. why?» replies the boy. the father gives his son a hundred rupees. «thanks, daddy!» replies the boy, and then he reaches under his pillow and brings out some more money. «now i have enough! daddy, here’s two hundred rupees! could you spend one hour with me?» 

the greatest threat facing families today is we don’t spend (enough) time together. we are busy working or watching our screens, and we have little time for each other. today’s feast challenges us to spend more time with our families.


the holy family spent time together doing religious things: «every year the parents of JESUS used to go to jerusalem for the feast of passover» and «when he was twelve years old they went up for the feast as usual.» the distance between nazareth and jerusalem was over a hundred kilometres; most of the travelling was done on foot and the journey was dangerous. despite hardships, mary and joseph observed the prescriptions of their religion.
the holy family was one that came together at mealtime: «in the evening they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances.» on pilgrimage, men travelled in one group and women in another, and children with either group. but joseph and mary were particular that they should come together for the meal. 
further, when we realize that for every one year of his public life, JESUS spent ten years in family, we understand the importance and priority he gave to family.

may our celebration of the holy family challenge us to value our families, to invest in them, and to spend time together. amen.

24 December 2015

MY GROWN-UP CHRISTMAS LIST

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

yesterday, i was listening to «grown-up christmas list», which natalie cole first sang in the 90s. in the song, cole reminisces about sitting on santa’s lap and telling him her childhood fantasies. she is grown up now. but she still has dreams… nothing material; nothing for herself! this is what she wants for christmas now:
no more lives torn apart;
that wars would never start 
and time would heal all hearts.
every man would have a friend;
that right would always win
and love would never end
this is my grown-up christmas list.
what is this illusion called?

these are not clich├ęs! more than fifty artists have covered the song… peace and love and justice are on almost every grown-up’s (and child’s) list!

at the end of another year, these seem a distant dream: genocide by the isis and boko haram; civil war in syria, yemen, somalia and sudan; mass shootings in the us; religious and ethnic intolerance in india; forest fires in siberia, indonesia and california; floods in chennai and cuddalore. will we get what’s on our christmas list or will it remain an illusion?
well, it has not been all bleak this year. world leaders have reached consensus at cop21 paris; democracy is reborn in myanmar; humanity won in chennai and cuddalore when people reached out to help without bothering about caste-class-creed…

things get better… when we bridge gaps among ourselves, and when we think «other». and we find the way to bridge gaps in the miracle of bethlehem. christmas is GOD bridging the gap between him and us… by putting us first; by emptying himself and embracing weakness; by getting involved in our chaos; by pitching his tent among us. 

we can help make our wishes come true when imitate the miracle of bethlehem! empty ourselves. be humble (remember the manger!). be present in people’s chaos. and more: be reconciled with others. stand up for the truth. help heal wounded hearts. be empathetic. befriend the friendless. become more eco-conscious: be at peace with all creation (the manger again!); keep surroundings clean; reduce-reuse-recycle…

i pray that you and i can tick off things on our grown-up christmas list… with more peace - love - joy all around. happy christmas!

19 December 2015

THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS

IV SUNDAY OF ADVENT
micah 5:1-4a; hebrews 10:5-10; luke1:39-45

the breaking news this week: in politics, a bitter spat and a war of words between the centre and the delhi government after the cbi searched the office of the chief minister’s principal secretary. in governance, ten smart cities in maharashtra to cost rupees 32000 crores. in sports, after a calamitous run of results which leave them in danger of relegation, chelsea sack manager jose mourinho seven months after he led them to their premier league title.
to deal with issues, humans have recourse to strong means – authority, power, money.

how does GOD deal with issues?
to save our world and us, he becomes human and joins us in our weakness. he is the GOD of small things. 


this is the emphasis of todays readings.
in the first reading, the prophet micah announces GOD’s intention to raise a king to bring peace to his people. this king would come not from jerusalem, the capital, but from bethlehem, a little obscure town. bethlehem is small and obscure; but GOD will work through its littleness to raise a shepherd whose greatness would span the ends of the earth.
little bethlehem had within it a still littler life: a humble virgin who would give birth to the worldsaviour. the gospel shifts focus to ain karen. mary hastens to her cousin’s house—a long four-day trip on foot, over dirt paths, under the hot sun. the mother of the saviour, humbly and at a great cost and inconvenience to herself, goes to serve her elderly cousin.
our GOD is not a powerful king but a fragile infant born in a lowly manger. our GOD brings salvation not through power, authority and money, but with humility, obedience and service by his death on a lowly cross… as the second reading from the letter to the hebrews stresses. 

our GOD is the GOD of small things and he chooses to come among us in small ways.
how do i deal with the issues and problems of life: do i use power and authority or do i choose GOD’s little ways? do i strive for influence and money or do i allow GOD to work through my littleness and defects? do i believe in the GOD of small things?

12 December 2015

GET GOING - GET PREPARED... TO REJOICE!

III SUNDAY OF ADVENT
zephaniah 3:14-18a; philippians 4:4-7; luke 3:10-18

on 17 october 1989, moments before the third game of the world series in san francisco, there was an interruption during the telecast. television screens blinked and went blank. the telecast resumed with a special news bulletin. san francisco had experienced a major earthquake. the telecast showed scenes of the devastation. in one place, in the midst of the destruction, there stood a group of people looking at the rubble and watching fire-fighters try to put out a blazing fire. suddenly a cop came and yelled out to the group: «what are you doing just standing there? getting going! go home and fill your bathtubs with water. be prepared to live without city services for 72 hours. your time is running out. get going and get prepared.» 


roll back the clock two thousand years  to the region around the river jordan… and we have a similar scene. instead of a cop, there is a dishevelled john the baptist. but the situation is the same: there was no geological earthquake in israel, but definitely a political and moral one. there was destruction caused by foreign occupation, and rubble caused by moral and religious corruption. the message is the same: «why are you just standing there? get going and get prepared!»

today’s gospel continues from last sunday and has the people’s response to john’s call; various groups ask him: «what should we do?» john’s response may be summed up thus:
-  be loving by sharing our resources
-  be just and honest 
-  be content 
and when we are LJC (loving-just-content), we will be ready for the coming of LJC (our LORD JESUS CHRIST)!
john announces the coming of the LORD as a judgement… but one we can joyfully meet if we have loved, and have faithfully done our daily work. 

we find this theme of «joy in unlikely situations» in the first two readings, also. 
the prophet zephaniah invites israel to «shout for joy» and «sing joyfully»… against the background of the «day of wrath»! 
paul calls the philippians to «rejoice in the LORD always»… and he writes to them from prison uncertain whether he will live or die.

can one be joyful in situations in which it seems impossible to be joyful?
one can… because joy is a fruit of the SPIRIT. it comes – as zephaniah prophecies – because «the LORD is in our midst»; and – as paul writes – because «the LORD is near». our task is to get moving and prepare ourselves for the LORD’s coming.

let each one of us ask and answer the question: «what must i do?»
with whom will i share myself and my resources this advent? are there areas in my life in which i need to be just and honest? will i be content with what the LORD has given me?
may each of us get going and get prepared… so that we may experience the joy that the coming of the LORD brings. amen.

05 December 2015

PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD

II SUNDAY OF ADVENT
baruch 5:1-9; philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; luke 3:1-6

during the christmas rush, a man caused quite a stir among the shoppers in a mall. he asked some why they spent so much on christmas, and why they stressed themselves out over this tinselled holiday. to some he said: «christmas is about hope and love, isn’t it? the best gifts we can give are to give kindness and compassion to each other;» to others: «why don’t you forgive or reconcile with family or friends you’ve lost over the years? the spirit of the christ child should embrace the entire year, not just christmas.»
many nodded in agreement. some quit shopping and went home to be with their families. others bought an extra toy or clothes for charity. some even left to find a quiet place for a few moments of prayer.
word got out to the store managers about this man. they had security escort him from the premises. he wasn’t really hurting anyone, but he had to go, they said; he was ruining everyone’s christmas.

were john the baptist to appear today, he probably would ruin everyone’s christmas! he would remind us of the same things… and tell us that the coming of GOD among us means more than cleaning and decorating, shopping and cooking. it means preparing the way for the saviour.


the readings of today invite us to prepare the way of the LORD.
in the first reading, to the exiles in babylon, baruch offers a song of hope in GOD who will one day lead them home. an image his song evokes is that of road construction! GOD orders that mountains be levelled and valleys filled up for the building of a royal road on which «israel may walk safely in the glory of GOD.»
luke takes up the same image to interpret the message of john the baptist to a people victimized by corrupt priests, and by the collusion of herod and the romans. john offers hope that «all flesh shall see the salvation of GOD.»

the salvation promised by baruch and john is GOD’s work. ours is to repair the road for GOD’s coming. our task is to repent. recognise and admit that «i’m going the wrong way»; and then «change direction». repentance is awareness-admission plus action.

what are the areas in my life that need «repair»?
what are the obstacles that have to be removed? 
- there are mountains that need to be levelled: individualism, racism/communalism, sexism… 
- there are valleys to be filled: despair, loneliness, pain…
- there are crooked places to be made straight: perversity, abuse, immorality, violence…
- there are rough places to be made smooth: oppression, injustice…
let’s bring on the equipment… and get to work on our hearts to prepare the way for the LORD!

28 November 2015

WAIT... WITH REALISTIC HOPE

I SUNDAY OF ADVENT
jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 thessalonians 3:12–4:2; luke 21:25-28, 34-36

when mike got cancer, his oncologist gave him a 50/50 chance of recovery after surgery and chemotherapy. his counsellor gave him an 80/20 chance. for him, the person who could accept the reality and have hope had a better chance of recovery. he believed that mike had a very good chance because after listening to his doctor about surgery and further therapy, he had set up a game of golf on the first reasonable date. he was looking to the future realistically, and with hope.


look at the future realistically and with hope! this is the message of the readings today.
jeremiah is preaching at a time of national and personal distress: jerusalem is under siege and he is in prison. he recognizes that the destruction of jerusalem and the exile are imminent. but there will be an advent of life. jeremiah foresees that a «shoot» will bud from the old stalk of david. this «shoot» will be someone who will bring about peace with justice. there will be a total recovery of national and religious stability. the present is bleak; jeremiah looks at it squarely and looks to the future with hope.
JESUS predicts the total collapse of jerusalem, which has been the symbol of GOD’s eternal fidelity. but he encourages his disciples to stand firm, because he is the «shoot of david» who will re-establish order and recovery of identity. JESUS paints a grim view of the future not to paralyse his listeners with fear but to call them to faith, prayer, and hopeful waiting; he invites them to be attentive to their disorders.
st paul urges the thessalonians to grow in love for another and to grow in holiness during this period of waiting.

how will i spend this season of advent: 
will i lament the present or will i look at it realistically and at the future with hope? what are the disorders and dissipation i need to remove from my life? how will i grow in love and holiness?
may this advent be a time of preparation for the coming of JESUS… a time of hope-filled and realistic waiting-action.

21 November 2015

AN «ORDINARY» KING

CHRIST THE UNIVERSAL KING
daniel 7:13-14; revelation 1:5-8; john 18:33b-37

arthur was the first-born son of king uther pendragon of england. since they lived in troubled times, merlin, his wise magician, advised that the baby arthur should be raised in a secret place without anyone knowing his true identity. merlin sent arthur away to be raised in the countryside. and so the boy arthur grew up as an «ordinary» lad; he lived among his people… unspoiled and unsullied by the grandeur of royalty. that experience stood him in good stead; when he became king, he was kind and loving, and embodied loyalty, strength, boldness and faithfulness.

arthur is, perhaps, a legendary figure! but his story is similar to the story of the king of the universe: JESUS. 


JESUS was born to a humble carpenter and a lowly maiden in an obscure hamlet of nazareth; he grew up as an ordinary lad, and perhaps did the ordinary things that other ordinary lads did. for much of his life, few knew his true identity.
JESUS grew up to be king… but a king unlike any other. in his conversation with pilate, he clearly states: «my kingdom is not here». his kingdom was not for the nobles and the holy; it was for all people, especially the downtrodden, the forgotten, and the sinner. his kingship was not of power and domination; it was the way of powerless and freedom. he had no palace; he was born in a manger, had no place to lay his head during his public ministry, and he was buried in a borrowed tomb. he did not have servants waiting on him; he put on a towel and became a slave to his apostles when he washed their feet. his crown was made of thorns, his throne was the cross.

we are subjects of this «ordinary» king who is extraordinary. to be subject to him is to experience love and acceptance, liberation and peace. will i be his true subject? if so, how will i imitate this ordinary and servant king?

14 November 2015

STAY IN THE RACE

XXXIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
daniel 12:1-3; hebrews 10:11-14, 18; mark 13:24-32

in the movie ben hur, director william wyler decided that, for the race at the end, charlton heston should drive the chariot himself rather than use a stunt double. heston agreed, and started chariot-driving lessons.
a week later, heston told wyler: «i think i can drive the chariot all right. but i’m not sure i can win the race.» wyler replied: «charlton, you just stay in the race, and i’ll make sure you win.» 


we can feel with heston! given the situation of our lives and our world, we are not sure whether we can get through the race of life… forget about winning! to each one, GOD says: «you just stay in the race, and i’ll make sure you win.» this is the message of hope and consolation in the sunday readings. 

but where is the message of hope? the first reading from the book of daniel and the gospel from mark predict disaster! 
these are «apocalyptic» writings… symbolic and graphic descriptions that must not be understood literally. 
further, the prophesied disasters signal the painful advent of a new age. after the catalogue of disaster comes the good news of hope: the book of daniel talks about a chosen group which will overcome the disaster, and lead many to justice; in the gospel, JESUS speaks about his coming in glory when he will «gather his elect» from all over. both readings see beyond suffering-persecution-distress to a future of peace, and disciples are to respond with faith and hope.

the LORD invites you and me to remain steadfast through the turmoil in our lives. will i stay in the race trusting that the LORD will stay with me and see me through? will i look beyond the tribulation, and respond with faith and hope?

07 November 2015

POSSESS LITTLE AND GIVE IT ALL

XXXII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
1 kings 17:10-16; hebrews 9:24-28; mark 12:38-44

in the late 70s, a young man walked into church one evening with his first salary… a thousand green. after communion, the parish priest announced a collection for the new parish school. when the ushers reached the man, he put his salary envelope into the collection!
sharing about the incident a few years ago, he said: «fr vinod, i didn’t know from where my next meal would come. but i put my entire salary into the collection. i was reckless! today i make several times that amount. but i’m sure i won’t repeat that action.» he added a very profound statement: «when we possess much, we find it difficult to give it all.»

perhaps, that is true. the reverse is certainly true in today’s readings!
the widow of zarephath gave everything she had for GOD’s work: she gave her son’s and her last meal to a foreigner, the prophet elijah (whose GOD she did not even worship). she possessed very little—only a handful of flour and a little oil»; she gave everything. and GOD provided for her!
the widow in the temple offered two of the smallest coins in circulation. but in the arithmetic of the kingdom, the widow’s mite is worth more than all the other contributions. while the others gave from their surplus, she «contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.» GOD must have provided for her.


the two widows possessed almost nothing but gave everything they had… implicitly trusting that GOD would provide for them. 
if these poor widows could give everything to GOD, if a young man could give his whole salary for GOD’s work, what about me: what am i going to put into the «temple treasury» this sunday morning? will i be recklessly generous trusting in divine providence?

true generosity is measured not by what we give, but by what we have left over after we give.

31 October 2015

THE ORDINARY AND UNHERALDED CLOUD OF WITNESSES

ALL SAINTS
revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 john 3:1-3; matthew 5:1-12

during the world war ii, england had a great difficulty keeping men in the coal mines. it was a thankless kind of job, totally lacking in any glory. many joined the military… something that would give them social acceptance and recognition. 
to motivate these men to remain in the mines, winston churchill delivered a speech to thousands of coal miners stressing the importance of their role in the war effort. he told them to picture the grand parade that would take place when ve day came: first would come the sailors of the british navy, who had upheld the grand tradition of trafalgar. next would come the pilots of the royal air force, who had saved england from the dreaded german luftwaffe. the army that had stood tall at the crises of dunkirk would follow. and then would come a long line of sweat-stained, soot-streaked men in miner’s caps, who had helped those ahead of them stay in battle.

a portrayal of the grand parade at the end of time would be something similar: first would be the apostles, then the doctors of the church and the founders of religious orders… bringing up the rear would be thousands of «ordinary» men and women who lived lives of humility and service in JESUS’ name and for his sake. these are the «all saints» who make up the great «cloud of witnesses» and whom we honour today. 

the first reading from the book of revelation depicts this «parade»! st john has «a  vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue» who have «washed their robes… in the blood of the lamb.»
these unheralded and unknown saints are those who have lived the beatitudes… those who have discovered the blessedness of being poor in spirit, of hungering and thirsting for righteousness, of showing mercy and even of experiencing persecution because of JESUS’. 

today’s feast is a reminder that GOD’s call for holiness is universal; all of us are called to live in his love and to live the beatitudes. 
will i strive to be holy in my daily and ordinary life? will i live the beatitudes… in dependence on GOD?

24 October 2015

LORD, I WANT TO SEE

XXX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
jeremiah 31:7-9; hebrews 5:1-6; mark 10:46-52

in pastor steven albertin’s office, hung a modern picture… a maze of colours and shapes. he realized this picture contained some profound artistic message, but was never able to figure it out. 
one day, adam, a kindergartener, came to his office, saw the picture, and asked: «do you see what i see?» the pastor asked: «do you see something in that picture? i don’t.» «pastor, can’t you see him? it’s JESUS hanging on the cross.»
the pastor stared at the picture, tried to find the image of the JESUS hidden in that maze of colours and shapes, but couldn’t see JESUS anywhere. 
slowly adam moved his finger along the picture: «there, pastor, is JESUS’ face, his arms outstretched on the cross.» the image began to appear. there hidden «behind» the colours and the shapes was the image of the crucified JESUS. 
adam helped a blind pastor to see the suffering messiah.

in this sunday’s gospel, JESUS helps blind bartimaeus see the meaning of suffering! 
in mark’s gospel, this healing appears at the end of the section on discipleship… in which the main theme is suffering, and JESUS thrice predicts his passion and death. each time his disciples fail to understand; they remain blind. for instance, in the verses preceding this text, JESUS makes the third prediction, and immediately james and john ask to sit beside him in his glory. mark uses the bartimaeus' healing as a theological device to open the eyes of the disciples to the meaning of suffering.

mark contrasts the disciples with the blind «beggar». JESUS puts the same question to bartimaeus that he put to james and john in the preceding verses: «what do you want me to do for you?» but where james and john wanted to advance themselves, bartimaeus asks only to see. after his encounter with JESUS, he sees again, and follows him on the way… to jerusalem. bartimaeus—the paradigm of the ideal disciple—has understood the meaning of suffering in the life of JESUS and of a disciple. 


like pastor albertin, like JESUS’ disciples, we fail to see JESUS as the suffering messiah; we fail to understand that suffering is an essential part of discipleship. like bartimaeus, we sit by the side of the road of life and struggle to make sense of suffering. 
may we, like bartimaeus, call out to JESUS to heal us, and may we follow him on the way to jerusalem to life.

17 October 2015

LIVE THE MISSION

WORLD MISSION SUNDAY
isaiah 60:1-6; romans 10:9-18; matthew 28:16-20

at an international seminar on evangelization, participants spoke about their strategies to spread the gospel: preaching, printing pamphlets, distributing copies of the bible, social development work, and so on. one young african girl was quiet throughout the discussion. when all had finished giving their brilliant suggestions, she said: «when we think a village is ready to receive CHRIST, we send a good christian family to live in that village.»

living the mission… that is the «method» to spread the gospel! 
pope francis says as much in his world mission day message: «being a missionary is not about proselytizing or mere strategy; mission is part of the ‘grammar’ of faith.» he adds: «all… are called to proclaim the gospel by their witness of life… are called to live the mission. for them, the proclamation of CHRIST… becomes their way of following him.»

this is the fiftieth anniversary of the second vatican council document on mission (ad gentes). its now famous statement—«the pilgrim church on earth is missionary by its very nature»—reminds us that mission is not just for a few members of the church. all of us are called to be «on mission» wherever we are so that people can know and love CHRIST. we are all invited to walk the streets of the world with our brothers and sisters, proclaiming and witnessing to our faith in CHRIST and making ourselves heralds of his gospel.


does my life proclaim CHRIST… and make people know and love him? how will i live the mission?


10 October 2015

QUENCHING THE THIRST FOR «MORE»

XXVIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
wisdom 7:7-11; hebrews 4:12-13; mark 10:17-30
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/101115.cfm

in the success syndrome, steven berglas writes that individuals who «suffer» from success have a sense of aloneness. he cites the case of dennis levine, who was convicted of insider trading in the 1980s. levine’s wife asked him why he needed the money from insider trading; he had no answer… but said when he earned $100,000, he hungered for $200,000; when it was $1 million, he hungered for $3 million. 
berglas comments that people, who find that $200,000 did not make them happy, strangely never ask why they think $300,000 would make them happy… but keep craving for more. 


none of us are big-league cravers, but all of us are constantly seeking more. this desire for «more» is at the heart of today’s liturgy.
the young man in the gospel comes to JESUS seeking something more. he has kept the commandments, and led a righteous life. yet deep down he knows something is missing. how can he fill the void in his heart?
JESUS gives him the solution: «go, sell what you have, and give to the poor…; then come follow me.» 

the man goes away sad. he fails in his quest for «more» on three counts.
first, he had many possessions. the issue is not his wealth but his possessions and attachment to them. he is «rich» (vs. the biblical «poor») not because he is wealthy but because he is so dependent on himself and his resources. 
second, he lived selfishly. he was rich but was unwilling to share his resources.
third, he fails to understand the incomparable grace of following JESUS… a treasure which far surpasses all his possessions. 

all of us constantly want more. 
how do i fill this void: with things? with gadgets and gizmos? with habits and addictions? with people? 
what are my «possessions»? (it might seem strange but even clinging to my worries and frustrations; unhappiness and inferiority; my self-perception… could well be «possessions» which encumber me!)

steven berglas was asked to prescribe a cure for the success syndrome. he said: «what’s missing in these people is deep commitment or religious activity that goes far beyond just writing a check to a charity.» what’s missing, in a word, is GOD!
blaise pascal puts this beautifully: «there is a vacuum in the heart of every man [and woman]; a GOD-shaped vacuum which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by GOD, the creator, made known through JESUS»!

03 October 2015

STAYING COMMITTED

XXVII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
genesis 2:18-24; hebrews 2:9-11; mark 10:2-16

the elderly couple in the check-out line at the mall were talking about their upcoming golden wedding anniversary. the young cashier piped in: «i can’t imagine being married to same man for 50 years!» the wife replied: «well, honey, don’t get married until you can.»

this little exchange succinctly conveys what marriage is… two persons—not only imagining—but also and especially deciding and pledging to stay in a relationship forever. marriage is a commitment and covenant (and so is religious life and the priesthood!).

this is the core of today’s first reading and gospel.
in response to the pharisees question about the legality of divorce, JESUS argues that moses’ permission for husbands to divorce (cf. deuteronomy 24:1-4) was «because of the hardness of your hearts.» he, then, turns to the biblical ideal of marriage… as GOD intended it «from the beginning of creation».
in GOD’s original plan (cf. first reading), marriage is not about male superiority but about communion of love between complementary partners. this love—because it is a reflection of GOD’s love—is a commitment with a beginning and no end. 

there will be problems in marriage (and in religious life/priesthood). pope francis alluded to these: «families have difficulties. families will quarrel. sometimes plates can fly. and children bring headaches. i don’t want to speak about mothers-in-law… but difficulties are overcome by love.»


there are four p’s to overcome the mega «p»:
 be positive: appreciate and affirm the other; 
 be polite: show respect and courtesy for the other, being careful about what-how-where we say things;
 be playful: make fun and humour a mainstay in relationships;
 be prayerful: spend time praying together.

adoniram judson, the famous missionary wrote: «the motto of every missionary… ought to be ‘devoted for life’.» married couples are missionaries of love!

ps: on a lighter note: henry ford had some sage advice when asked on his fiftieth wedding anniversary for his rule for marital bliss and longevity: «just the same as in the automobile business, stick to one model.»

26 September 2015

STIFLING GOD’S/GOOD WORK

XXVI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
numbers 11:25-29; james 5:1-6; mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

a few years ago, during cricket australia’s tour of india, matthew hayden was not in the one-day international team, and was to return home after the tests. but he performed brilliantly in the tests, and the selectors added him to the one-day squad. some argued that he shouldn’t have been included because he wasn’t in the original team. but for team australia it didn’t matter that he wasn’t it the original team. what counted was that hayden was a good player in good form; they didn’t stifle hayden or his form… and it paid off.


this is a sound principle to build the team for the kingdom of GOD: it shouldn’t matter whether or not one is part of the «original team». the only criteria: how good is a person and is GOD’s spirit in him/her? the kingdom is not an «exclusive club» with a no-entry sign; it sports an «everyone’s invited» board!

the sunday liturgy invites to recognize that GOD’s spirit works in all people of good will, and to co-operate with it. 
in the first reading, joshua asks moses to stop eldad and medad from prophesying because they were not part of the «in-group». in the gospel, JESUS’ disciples tell him that they told a man driving out demons in his name to stop because he was not one of them. 
the answers of moses and JESUS are instructive! moses tells joshua: «would that all the LORD’s people were prophets.» JESUS tells john: «do not forbid him… for he that is not against us is for us.» 
moses and JESUS taught their followers to recognize GOD’s work within and outside the immediate community; kingdom work is not reserved to a few chosen ones, but is for all people of good will.

the world is saturated with GOD’s spirit. 
do i look at the church as an exclusive club? can i open my eyes to the good that others do and recognize GOD’s spirit working in them? do i recognize the way the spirit moves in my immediate family and community? 
may i cooperate with (and not stifle) the spirit and every person doing GOD’s/good work.

19 September 2015

REJECT SELFISH AMBITION; WELCOME LITTLENESS

XXV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
wisdom 2:12, 17-20; james 3:16—4:3; mark 9:30-37

a fisherman was carrying his catch of crabs back home in an open basket. a passer-by remarked: «aren’t you afraid the crabs will crawl out?» the fisherman replied: «no! do you know anything about the behaviour of crabs? watch!» 
as a crab crawled towards the top of the basket, the others pulled the climber down. this kept happening! the crabs would not allow the others to climb towards the top.

it’s not just crabs that pull one another down. we do the same because of jealousy and selfish ambition.

today’s readings address these two human foibles that destroy people.
in the second reading, st james writes: «where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice,» and lists the reason for war and conflict: unsatisfied craving.
the first reading from the book of wisdom is a rare, inside-view of how selfish minds work, and illustrates the extremes to which jealousy and selfish ambition can lead a person when confronted by a «righteous man». 
it’s the same in the gospel. the religious leaders are jealous of the righteous man called JESUS; his virtue is an examination of conscience for them! he predicts that they will hand him over to torturers. 

jealousy and selfish ambition destroy people and community.
JESUS smells these foibles enter his fledgling church! he has just instructed his disciples on his coming passion. but suffering does not fit into their perspective of the kingdom; they cannot comprehend the powerlessness that JESUS maps out for himself. they are busy discussing their great positions in the kingdom. 
JESUS nips this one in the bud. he puts a child in their midst and challenges the twelve to welcome that little child. when they can welcome «littleness,» they welcome him.
in effect, JESUS compares himself to the little child who cannot resort to power tactics when threatened. on the road to jerusalem, in the face of suffering and death, he can only turn to his father in trust. this makes him vulnerable; unless the disciples can accept vulnerability they will never understand his way.


when we are righteous and live upright lives, we can be sure that people will pull us down. the challenge before us: 
will i give in to jealousy and selfish ambition? will i resort to power tactics or will i welcome the vulnerability of a little child?
how will i welcome and accept the child part of my personality, and become less power conscious and success oriented?

12 September 2015

WHO IS CHRIST? WHO IS A DISCIPLE?

XXIV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 50:5-9a; james 2:14-18; mark 8:27-35

before joining an organization, prospective members need to know two things: the identity and the mission of the organization; and their job profile. 
likewise, to belong to the «organization» of JESUS, disciples need to know his identity and mission; and what being a christian entails.


today’s readings unambiguously answer these questions.

the gospel is the mid-point of mark’s gospel.
the first part of mark’s gospel reveals JESUS as the messiah who mediates GOD’s power by teaching and healing with authority, and reaches its climax in peter’s faith-declaration: «you are the CHRIST». 
the second part reveals the kind of a messiah JESUS is: a messiah who must suffer, be rejected and be killed. «must»… there is a certain necessity about his suffering and death. he is not a glorious messiah; not a david-like figure; not a military leader. he is the suffering servant. 

the first reading expresses the suffering of yahweh’s servant; he resolutely and unflinchingly faces the suffering that necessarily comes his way as GOD’s prophet.

but there is no place for suffering in peter’s idea of the messiah. he objects and rebukes JESUS, who tells peter to take his place as a disciple… behind the master! 
getting behind JESUS entails taking up the cross and following him on his way to jerusalem. being a disciple necessarily involves suffering.
but messiahship and discipleship is not only about suffering. JESUS is convinced that he will be raised on the third day, and promises his disciples that if they carry their cross, they will find their real life in communion with GOD.

we are not prospective disciples. we already are JESUS’ disciples, but we need to be clear about his identity and our profile. 
who is JESUS for me? is he merely a wonder-worker? a healer? someone whom i ask to take away my problems to smoothen my life? 
how do i see discipleship? a coupon for blessings and graces? or a taking up of my cross to follow JESUS along the via dolorosa? am i willing to accept suffering… the grief of life i can do nothing about and the suffering that comes from living as a disciple? 

05 September 2015

LACKING COMMUNICATION AND COMMUNION IN A COMMUNICATION ERA

XXIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 35:4-7a; james 2:1-5; mark 7:31-37

in ancient greece, it was customary for hawkers to cry out: «what do you lack?» to let people know they were in the vicinity. people would come out to see what the hawker was selling. it might be something they lacked and/or needed. 

what did the people of JESUS’ time lack?. 
throughout his ministry, JESUS pleaded with people to listen to his word. they lacked the ability to listen: the disciples couldn’t understand his teachings, the crowds wanted only wonders, his own people wouldn’t accept him, the religious leaders saw him as a threat. mark presents group after group with their spiritual lack.

what did the man in today’s gospel lack?
he «was deaf and had an impediment in his speech.» he couldn’t communicate his feelings/needs. he could do nothing for himself. 

JESUS took the man aside, away from the crowd. he spent time with him. he communicated with him through touch, a language he could understand,  and gave him back his ability to communicate. 

this is more than a wonderful healing story. 
first, there is a parallel between the deaf-mute and JESUS’ disciples. the man could neither hear nor speak; he needed healing. the disciples couldn’t understand JESUS’ message, and therefore couldn’t proclaim it; they, too, needed healing.
second, this healing indicates that the messianic age has dawned. it fulfils isaiah’s prophecy to the exiles (cf. first reading). 

what do we lack?
today, in a communication-filled age, we lack the ability to communicate: we hear but we do not listen, and fail to comprehend what people say; we speak but we seldom communicate. 
the great tragedy we face in a world of sophisticated communication: we have the faculties and the means but very little communication; we have hundreds of social-network friends but very few real life friends; we are experts in virtual communication but failures in personal communication and communion.

what must i do to restore communication and communion with people, especially my loved ones? will i allow the LORD to take me aside from the multitude to touch me? will i spend time with my loved ones away from the crowds (of people and gadgets) and communicate in a language they understand?

29 August 2015

IS MY HEART IN IT?

XXII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; james 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

one sunday, jim and JESUS were walking around in heaven. JESUS showed jim the earth below… and his church at home where the eucharist was being celebrated. jim watched for a while; then something began to puzzle him: he could see the priest move his lips; he could see lectors read, the choir sing, and the organist thump the keyboard. but he couldn’t hear a sound. was there something wrong with heaven’s amplification system or with his ears? he turned to JESUS… who explained: «we have a rule that if they don’t do things on earth with their hearts, we don’t hear them here at all!»

we «do» many things as part of our «religious practices»… often without our hearts.
the readings of today remind us that religion is not about externals and obligations; religion is living GOD’s word from and with our hearts.


in the first reading, moses urges the people to be faithful to GOD’s laws, which expressed their relationship with GOD, and were to be a source of life and wisdom. but over the years, the elders added regulations to govern every action and situation of life. the focus moved from love of GOD and neighbour to the exact external fulfilment of the law.
it is one of these numerous «traditions» that the disciples broke: they ate without the ritual washing of hands. the dialogue that ensues between the pharisees and JESUS highlights an essential difference between two mind-sets: for the pharisees, religion was a performance, a meticulous carrying out of external regulations sans any concern for attitudes. for JESUS, religion was a matter of the heart, and about love of GOD and care for one’s fellow humans. this is also the thrust of the second reading: true religion is listening to and acting on GOD’s word, and caring for the weak and oppressed.

like the jewish elders, i can make religion a ritual while my heart is far from GOD and neighbour. the attitudes that motivate my actions, the way i associate with my neighbour… this is the heart of religion.
i need to undergo a «heart test» to check who and what i really am before GOD and neighbour. to what do i give importance: clean hands or clean heart; ritual or relationship? is my heart in all that i say and do? bring on the heart sanitizer!

22 August 2015

STAYING COMMITTED TO MY CHOICE(S)

XXI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; ephesians 5:21-32; john 6:60-69

1924. a few weeks before the paris olympics. the favourite in the four-man canoe race: the us of a. one team-member, bill havens, faces the toughest decision of his life: his wife is expecting their first child about the time of the event… should bill go to the olympics or be with his wife? a very tough choice! bill’s wife urged him to go but he decided to be with her. 
the us won the gold medal. and ironically, the child was born much after the due date. bill could have competed in the event, and returned in time for the birth. but he had no regrets. he had made a commitment to be with his wife always; he was faithful to that commitment.

bill havens’ story is a story of one man paying a high price to fulfil a commitment. it is a story that illustrates how we should be committed to our choices.

the first reading describes the covenant renewal at shechem before the israelites entered the promised land. joshua gathered the people together, declared his choice to serve the LORD, and asked them to make their choice: to follow the GOD of their ancestors or the gods of the land. the people made their choice: «we will also serve the LORD, because he is our GOD». every generation (and every person) must freely choose to live up to its commitment.

in the second reading, st paul urges husbands and wives to be faithful to their marriage commitment. this fidelity is based on CHRIST’s fidelity and love for his church. 

the gospel, too, features commitment! JESUS offers his disciples the choice to be with him or to join the ranks of the unbelievers. he had been a popular man: the wonder worker; the healer; the feeder of the 5000! but then he started talking tough; many disciples are first confused at his teaching (about the bread of life), then find it intolerable/unacceptable, and finally choose to leave him. we have one of the saddest lines in the gospels: «many of his disciples drew back and no longer went with him.»
then, JESUS gives the twelve the choice: to remain with him or to leave; to be the faithful minority or to follow the majority! peter – the spokesperson of the twelve – tells JESUS that they cannot turn to anyone else. they have made their choice and remain committed to that choice.

the word of god challenges us to make our choice for GOD and to be committed to that fundamental choice… every day.

do i remain faithful to GOD in times of difficulty and trials… when my integrity is tested? or do i «no longer go with him»? do i opt for him in the daily choices i make? am i faithful to my commitment to my family? in what aspects do i need to renew my commitment to GOD and my family?

ps: there is a sequel to the story of bill havens. 
twenty eight years later, bill received a cablegram from his son, frank, from helsinki, the venue of the 1952 olympics: «dad, i won. i’m bringing home the gold medal you lost while waiting for me to be born.» frank havens won the gold medal for the united states in the canoe-racing event, a medal his father had dreamed of winning but never did because he lived his commitment.
there is a sequel to our acts of commitment too! may we stay committed our fundamental choices, to GOD and to one another.