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.

15 August 2015

OUR CHOICES AFFECT OUR DESTINY

XX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
proverbs 9:1-6; ephesians 5:15-20; john 6:51-58

there are two birds that fly over deserts: the vulture and the hummingbird. the vulture thrives on the rotting meat; the hummingbird looks for colourful blossoms. the vulture lives on the past, and fills itself with what is dead; the hummingbird lives on the present, and fills itself with life. each bird chooses its food, and finds what it is looking for. we all do! 


this is the thrust of today’s readings.

the first reading portrays wisdom as a woman who sends her servants to invite people to her banquet. subsequent verses describe dame folly who invites passers-by to her meal of stolen bread and water of deceit. banqueting at the feast of lady wisdom brings life and new perception; eating at the table of dame folly brings death.

in the second reading st paul gives the ephesians three «be-attitudes»: be wise, be sober, and be thankful. 
on this justice sunday, these are «be-attitudes» we need to choose: be wise to understand that the cause of injustice and lack of peace in our world lies in our selfish quest to grab more for ourselves; be sober in using the goods of the world so that there is an equitable distribution of the world’s resources; be thankful for his blessings. 

the gospel contrasts the manna in the desert with the bread that JESUS gives: the manna that was not eaten within the day had to be thrown away; it was no longer any good. after JESUS fed the five thousand, twelve baskets of fragments were gathered and saved. with him things are different: he gives (and is) bread which lasts. moreover, the manna belongs to the past. JESUS is the new manna, the bread from heaven that lasts forever and nourishes us with everlasting life. «whoever eats this bread (a choice!) will live forever.»

on the bicentenary of don bosco’s birth, we ought to remember the choice he made: working for poor and abandoned youth versus accepting privileged positions elsewhere!

what are the choices i make: 
do i like the vulture seek a culture of death or like the hummingbird seek life?
am i wise, sober and thankful? 
am i satisfied with the junk food with «empty calories» the world offers or do i feast on JESUS the living bread?
may you and i make the right «dietary» choices; they affect our destiny! shalom!

08 August 2015

BREAD FOR THE JOURNEY

XIX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
1 kings 19:4-8; ephesians 4:30—5:2; john 6:41-51

a senior citizen went to a restaurant every day for lunch, and always had soup. one day the manager asked him how he liked his meal. he replied: «it was good, but you could give me more bread. two slices isn’t enough.» 
the next day the manager told the waitress to give the man four slices, and then eight slices. still not enough! so the manager told the waitress to give him a whole loaf. but the senior citizen wanted more! 
the manager wanted to satisfy this customer. so the next day, he ordered a huge loaf of bread from the bakery, cut the loaf in half, and laid it out right next to the bowl of soup. the senior citizen came for lunch, and devoured the soup and the huge loaf. the manager—hoping he had finally satisfied the man—asked: «how was your meal today, sir?» he replied: «it was good, but i see you’re back to serving only two slices of bread!» 

bread was important for this senior citizen… like it was for elijah and the people of israel.
in the first reading, elijah—fleeing from queen jezebel—was exhausted. he came to a broom tree, sat under it and asked GOD to take his life. but GOD had more in store for elijah, and fed him with bread. strengthened by that bread, elijah walked forty days and nights (symbolizing a life span) to mount horeb. GOD gave him bread for his journey. 
in the gospel, the people—concerned only about physical hunger and material bread—follow JESUS even after he has satiated their physical hunger. he tells them there are other hungers which need to be satiated and which he alone can satiate. he is the bread of life that sustains them on their journey of earthly life and also on their journey to eternal life.

bread is vital for us. GOD knows the journey that each of us travels. he knows that—like elijah—we often have to flee from forces that seek to destroy us: addictions and sicknesses, materialism, the pressures and pretensions of a godless society… he knows that often that we feel like elijah under the broom tree; we want to say: «this is enough.» and GOD sustains us and nourishes us with bread for the journey. 
in moments of «exhaustion» and when i say «this is enough», will i allow GOD to touch me and strengthen me? will i eat the bread of life and journey to my mount horeb?

01 August 2015

SEARCHING…

XVIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; ephesians 4:17, 20-24; john 6:24-35

ali hafed owned a large farm with orchards, grain fields, and gardens. he was a contented man.
one day someone told hafed that he would be wealthier if he owned a diamond mine. hafed went to bed that night poor… because he was discontented. craving a diamond mine, he sold his farm, and travelled the world over searching for the rare stones… till he became so broken and defeated that he committed suicide. 
sometime later, the man who purchased hafed’s farm led his camel to the stream to drink. as the camel drank, the man saw a flash of light from the bottom of the stream. he dived in and pulled out a glistening stone. he had discovered the diamond mine of golconda! 
had ali hafed remained at home and searched in his own garden, he would have had acres of diamonds instead of death in a strange land.

hafed is a symbol for every man/woman who constantly searches for his/her needs… and wants. this search is the basis of joys and hopes, disappointments and frustrations.


hafed is a symbol for the israelites during their journey to the promised land. they yearned for food and water; they grumbled against moses and aaron… and GOD. when yahweh provided them with manna and quails and water… they craved novelty and continued their grumbling. the story of the israelites is a story of searching and craving, and a dissatisfaction with what they had.
in the gospel, the crowd «came… looking for JESUS» searching for more bread that would fill their daily hunger. JESUS led them gradually to the truth that their search finds fulfilment in him and his teaching. but like their ancestors, they remained dissatisfied with what he offered them, and sought further signs.

for what do i search? am i content with what i have or do i crave more? does my hunger for contentment and meaning find fulfilment in JESUS the bread of life? do i search for «diamonds» everywhere when the greatest treasure is with me?