31 December 2016

RESOLVING TO LIVE AS GOD’S CHILDREN

MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
numbers 6:22-27; galatians 4:4-7; luke 2:16-21

a video i saw last week has a four-year old say she has «problems with new year resolutions»! ah! doesn’t she speak for all of us? 
but the wise one says resolutions are problems not because she’s «bad at them» but because «most people think that’s it… it’s the one time to change.» yes! resolutions are not about that «one big moment» but working through several little ones. 

what could be a good new year resolution?
in the second reading, paul recalls a fundamental truth of our faith: the incarnation has freed us and enabled us to be adopted as sons and daughters of GOD. a good new year resolution (and one we need to make every year) is to realize more fully this new life as children of GOD.


how do we do this?
the gospel presents mary as a model of this new life! mary said «yes» to GOD. but she did not understand the immensity and implications of that «yes»… which was not restricted to that «one big moment» but involved several little (and difficult) yeses. 
how did mary live her mission? the gospel tells us after the shepherds narrated what the angels had said, «mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.» after the boy jesus was found in the temple, we read again «his mother treasured all these things in her heart.» 
mary treasured the word of GOD, and pondered it to discern what GOD’s will for her at every stage in her life as the handmaid of the LORD.

for us, too, life’s choices are rarely clear. we often cannot understand what GOD wants of us. the example of mary shows us how to live out our calling as children of GOD.
let me today resolve to listen more to the voice of GOD, to treasure his word and ponder it in my heart. then shall i be able to realize my new year resolution of a new life in union with GOD.

24 December 2016

UNNOTICED – UNRECOGNIZED – IGNORED

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

it was a friday in january 2007 in washington. a young man in jeans, tee-shirt and baseball cap came out of the metro, pulled a violin out of its case, threw a few dollars into the open case, and begin to play.
a rich sound filled the air. an occasional passer-by dropped a few coins in the case, but for the most part, people ignored the musician. sixty-three people passed by before anyone noticed the musician at all; only seven people stopped to listen to the master musician; 1,070 neither looked nor stopped. twenty-seven people gave money… $32 and change in donations.
the fiddler standing outside the metro was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made: joshua bell playing a 3.5-million-dollar instrument hand crafted in 1713 by antonio stradivari. 
three days earlier, bell filled boston’s symphony hall, where the seats went for $100 upwards; two weeks later there would be standing room only at the music center at strathmore!

on that cold january morning in 2007, a master musician went unnoticed, unrecognized and ignored. on a cold december night two thousand years ago, the master musician showed up. he, too, went unnoticed, unrecognized and ignored.
for the same reasons that people ignored josh bell, they ignored jesus: they were too busy and too caught up in their own worlds. they didn’t expect the messiah to be born as a baby, and in a dirty manger in an obscure town. 


the christmas day readings emphasise this situation.
to a people in captivity, isaiah brings glad tidings that GOD will come to save them. the letter to the hebrews stresses that GOD, who has spoken in partial ways through the prophets, has spoken through his son.
john’s prologue tells us that the son who is GOD and who is with GOD is now with us, «but the world did not know him… but his own people did not accept him.»
the coming of jesus was announced. he came and dwelt in our midst. but he went unnoticed, unrecognized and ignored.

today jesus is born again and comes in different ways, in varied unexpected forms.
will i expect jesus today in the unexpected? will he go unnoticed, unrecognised and ignored?
will the statistics be different this time, in my life, in my home and society? it’s up to me and you!

17 December 2016

LISTEN – OBEY – COOPERATE

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

elisabeth elliot (who worked for several years with the huorani in ecuador) tells of two adventurers who came to see her. they were loaded with equipment for their adventure in the andes. they sought no advice, just a few phrases to converse with the indians!
she writes: «sometimes we come to GOD as the two adventurers came to me—confident and, we think, well-informed and well-equipped. we know what we need… a yes or no answer to a simple question. or perhaps a road sign. something quick and easy to point the way. but has it occurred to us that with all our stuff, something is missing? what we ought to have is the guide himself.»


i guess joseph would identify with elliot’s experience!
when joseph discovered that mary was pregnant, as an observant jew, he would need to denounce mary as law/custom required. but «since he was a righteous man, and unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.» he decided to go beyond law/custom; he let justice and compassion guide his decision. 
but GOD intervened and made clear to him that although the child in mary’s womb was not his (and of the holy spirit), he would have to recognize it as his own. joseph «did as the angel of the LORD had commanded him». he goes even beyond justice and compassion; he allows GOD to guide him. 
in doing so, he cooperated with GOD. this human listening-obedience-cooperation with GOD’s action results in the birth of jesus (mary does the same. paul, in the second reading, is another example of this divine-human dynamic: he, too, listened to GOD and facilitated the birth of jesus in the new churches).

in moments of dilemma, do i rely on my own strength to arrive at decisions and do i seek merely GOD’s approval? or do i listen to his voice, obey his will and cooperate with his plan for me? 
in moments of difficulty, do i discreetly extricate myself from problems? or do i see myself involved in a work of the holy spirit?

GOD’s coming in our world still depends on «josephs» and «marys»men and women of humility and docility. may you and i listen-obey-cooperate, and make christmas still happen!

10 December 2016

HE MAKES ALL THINGS NEW

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

dr verghese kurien, the milkman of india, helped establish the amul cooperative. today it is india’s largest food brand. his brain-child «operation flood» became the world’s largest dairy development program, and transformed india from a milk-deficient nation to the world’s largest milk producer. more important, dr kurien helped dairy farmers improve their financial and social well-being—his work lifted millions out of poverty (three-fourths of the price you pay for an amul product goes to the producing dairy farmer)—and contributed to the transformation of rural india. 


what dr kurien did for the dairy farmers of india, jesus does for all peoples: he transforms us. he makes all things new.
in isaiah, the coming of GOD causes abundant flowers to bloom in the desert, strengthens feeble hands, makes firm knees that are weak, and brings back the babylonian exiles.
in james’ letter, the coming of the LORD is likened to « the precious fruit of the earth.» 
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 we do while we await his coming? in the words of st james, we ought to «be patient» and wait with «hearts firm» like «the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth». a farmer waits «productively»!
when we do this, the LORD will make all things new in his time and on his terms.

will i wait patiently and productively for the coming of GOD? do i believe that he can and does transform my reality… or do i look for another (because his action does not meet my expectations)? how can i be his instrument of transformation?

03 December 2016

«UN-TATTOO YOU»

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

in 1981, plastic surgeon karl stein did a few free tattoo removals for former street gang members in los angeles. it prompted several hundreds of young people to approach the surgeon, and led to a documentary on tattoo removal. 
the documentary features young people who share the reasons they got tattoos, the problems their tattoos caused, and why they now want the tattoos removed. it also highlights the dangers of amateur tattooing and the difficulties in removing tattoos. the title of the documentary: «un-tattoo you»!

the story behind the film illustrates an important reality: all of us have done things in our past that we regret and would like to erase: poor decisions, unkind words, wrong acts… it’s part of being human, and sometimes we wish we had an un-tattoo program.

advent offers us an «un-tattoo you» time and program... summarised in the call of john the baptist: «repent… make straight his paths». 


repentance is removing the tattoos, erasing the marks of sin. it is turning away from sin (whatever breaks my relationship with GOD, others, myself and nature) and turning to GOD. it is moving from selfishness to selflessness, from defending oneself to donating oneself.
our ancestry, religious affiliation, social status («do not presume to say… ‘we have abraham as our father.’») do not matter. what matters is bearing good fruit; we ought to live justly, in harmony with one another and in total dependence on GOD.
when we repent, we collaborate with GOD in the realization of the ideal realm (which isaiah foretold in the first reading) and of the kingdom of heaven (which JESUS brings and where justice, peace and harmony reign).

what «tattoos» do i need to remove? how can i foster peace - justice - harmony… and so collaborate 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.

26 November 2016

HOPE CHANGES EVERYTHING

I SUNDAY OF ADVENT
isaiah 2:1-5; romans 13:11-14; matthew 24:37-44

a school helped children stay abreast with their academics during hospital stays through tutoring. once, the school gave a tutor a boy’s name and hospital room number, and told her to teach him nouns and adverbs, which the class was studying at that point. the boy had been seriously injured in an accident.
when the tutor went to see him, she was unnerved by his state, and stammered: «your school sent me to help you with nouns and adverbs.» the next day, a nurse asked her: «what did you do to that boy?» the teacher thought she had done something wrong and began to apologize. the nurse said: «no, no! since yesterday, his attitude has changed; he’s fighting back, responding to treatment. it’s as though he’s decided to live.»
later the boy explained that he had given up hope until the tutor arrived. everything changed when he realized that «they wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy!»


hope changes everything!
isaiah (first reading) writes during a period of wars and intrigue, alienation and division. in this time of discouragement, his is a message of hope: our faithful GOD is with us and is bringing us together; he predicts a time of unity and peace.

this is the message we need today!
no matter where we live, there is uncertainty, violence, upheaval. we need to hope… and make it change everything. in paul’s words to the romans, we need to throw off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; we need to live upright lives.
the gospel, too, is a hopeful reassurance that the LORD will come. we need to stay awake and be prepared.

GOD doesn’t send his son into a «dying» world!
during this advent season, will i hope and make it change everything? will i allow light into places of darkness? will i work for reconciliation and unity in my family/ community/ society? what swords do i need to beat into ploughshares and what spears into pruning hooks?

19 November 2016

THE POWER TO FORGIVE AND TRANSFORM

CHRIST THE UNIVERSAL KING
2 samuel 5:1-3; colossians 1:12-20; luke 23:35-43

in the notre dame cathedral, the archbishop of paris shared this story:
thirty years earlier, three young tourists—rough, rude and cynical—came into the cathedral. two dared the third to make up a confession. this young man went into the confessional, and arrogantly made his confession. the confessor said: «for your penance, stand before the crucifix, look into the face of the crucified christ and say, ‘all this you did for me, and i don’t give a damn!’» 
the young man went out and bragged that he had completed the dare; but the other two insisted he finish the dare by doing the penance. 
so he re-entered the cathedral, stood before the crucifix, and began: «all this you did for me and i… i… i don’t… i don’t give…» he couldn’t continue.
at this point, the archbishop leaned over the pulpit and said: «that young man stands before you to preach today» (cf. burton f. blair, «amid his pain he said…»).
this is the power that our king has: the power to forgive and transform through love and the cross. on the cross, stripped of everything—clothes, strength, dignity—jesus retains 
- his kingly power to forgive: he forgives his persecutors and executioners, and the repentant thief.
- the power to change hearts: he transforms the repentant thief, the centurion, and the people through love.
paul’s hymn to the colossians (second reading) emphasizes that in jesus, all things hold together; in him, we have redemption; through him and his cross, all things are reconciled. 

in a world which gives importance to territory, power, wealth, rhetoric, pomp and show…, jesus is a king
 whose kingdom has no boundaries and goes beyond nationality/clans; 
 whose crown is compassion; 
 whose throne is the crib and the cross; 
 whose authority is that of humble and loving service; 
 whose only law is love;
 whose speech is silence;
 whose citizens are the poor, the lost, the marginalized;
 whose life and death was among sinners.

is jesus really my king? if so, do i accept him and his way/values? do i allow him to transform me with the power of his love and cross? 

12 November 2016

LIVE FULLY... NOW

XXXIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
malachi 3:19-20; 2 thessalonians 3:7-12; luke 21:5-19

a warrior was struck by a poisonous arrow. as he lay on the ground he mused: «i wonder of what kind of wood this arrow is made? from what birds the feathers come? i wonder what type of man shot this arrow?» his companions cried out in frustration: «for heaven’s sake! stop speculating and pull out the arrow!»


in the gospel, there is the speculative warrior in the people: they live in a present which is tense, and they want to know when the end will happen and what signs will indicate the end.
JESUS lists three phenomena which people might assume are indicators of the end: persecution; the appearance of false-messiahs; disasters. but he indicates that it is pointless to speculate when and how the end will happen. it will happen «whenever». 
what should our response be? we need not be afraid. we ought not to be attached to transient structures. we need to «pull out the arrow»: to live fully with and for GOD always, to lead lives of perseverance. and then, it will be future perfect! «there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays» (first reading) and «not a hair on… [our] head will be destroyed» (gospel). in the second reading, st paul gives us another response: hard work.

am i going to allow the speculative warrior in me to «wonder» about the future and the end of the world or will i «pull out the arrow» by working hard and living a full life? 
as joan borysenko writes: «the question is not whether we will die, but how we will live!»

05 November 2016

LIFE IN «A WHOLE NEW WORLD»

XXXII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR 
2 maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14; 2 thessalonians 2:16—3:5; luke 20:27-38

in the film «aladdin», aladdin sings the song «a whole new world». the last verse of the song—«a whole new world… a wondrous place for you and me»—sum up the thrust of the readings of today.


in the gospel, the sadducees—who do not believe in the resurrection of the dead—attempt to reduce this belief to absurdity using a far-fetched example of seven brothers, who are married successively to the same woman and die before having children. 
jesus draws a sharp distinction between this world and «the coming age». the latter is not just an extension of this world; it is a whole new world, a world in which a human being is a child of GOD and not a piece of property.
in «the coming age», we enter into new relationships with GOD and with people; we will have a new way of being… «like angels»: we will live forever in the fullness of our person (the whole «me»: the physical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual aspects, and my whole personal history).

the basis for our hope in this new world is GOD!
the first reading is a narrative of seven brothers and their mother who are killed for their faith in the GOD of life. they believe that he will raise them to a higher life because they have lived faithfully on earth. 

the way to prepare ourselves for the new world is by living in this world without making ideas, things, persons and relationships into gods. we need to nurture our rootedness in GOD and live faithfully by his values and ideals.

an anecdote to end. a little girl and her father were walking on a clear, starry night. she turned to him and asked: «if the wrong side of heaven is so beautiful, what will the right side be like?»
we’ll leave it up to GOD! we’ll do our part of living right on the wrong side of heaven!

29 October 2016

ALLOWING GOD TO FIND ME

XXXI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR 
wisdom 11:22-12:2; 2 thessalonians 1:11-2:2; luke 19:1-10

john powell, renowned author and professor at chicago’s loyola university, writes about tommy—a student in his theology of faith class. tommy, powell writes, was the «atheist in residence». at the end of the course, he asked: «do you think i’ll ever find GOD?»  powell said: «no!» and then added:  «tommy! i don’t think you’ll ever find him, but i am absolutely certain that he will find you!»  tommy left powell’s class and life.
years later, tommy was diagnosed with terminal cancer. he returned to powell to tell him that GOD had found him: «one day i turned around and GOD was there. he didn’t come to me when i pleaded with him… apparently GOD does things in his own way and at his own hour. but he was there. he found me. he found me even after i stopped looking for him.» 
tommy found GOD when he opened his heart to love his own father and the people to whom he was close. he discovered «that the surest way to find GOD is not to make him a private possession, a problem solver, or an instant consolation in time of need, but rather by opening to love.» 


the story of zaccheus is similar to tommy’s. zaccheus went in search of jesus the wonder worker… and GOD found him. rather, he allowed GOD to find him when he opened his heart to love the poor: «half of my possessions, LORD, i shall give to the poor» and to more than make restitution to those he had defrauded: «if i have extorted anything from anyone i shall repay it four times over.» 

two questions!
why does GOD wait till we allow ourselves to be found? we have a response in the first reading: «you have mercy on all… and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent. for you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made…»
why do we take so long to allow GOD to find us? perhaps because GOD challenges us to change. luke probably intends the story of zaccheus as a contrast to the story of the rich young man (18:18-23). both are rich and look for jesus. the young man has kept the commandments from his youth; zaccheus is a tax collector. the young man is saddened by jesus’ challenge to sell his possessions and follow him; zaccheus responds with joy and repentance to jesus’ invitation to stay at his house.

will i allow GOD to find me? will i change my life and open my heart to love? 
may you and i do this… so that the LORD can say: «today salvation has come to this house»!

22 October 2016

HOLINESS IS NOT ABOUT WHAT I DO

XXX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR 
sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; 2 timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; luke 18:9-14

a man boasted to a spiritual master that he had achieved a high degree of holiness:  «i rise early in the morning; i fast from food and drink; i work tirelessly and i even discipline myself with a whip.» the spiritual master walked with him through a field and pointed to a mule.  he said: «that mule rose early in the morning. it hasn’t been fed or given a drink. it has worked tirelessly, and has been whipped.»  he asked the supposedly holy man: «what makes you any different from that ass?»

we could pride ourselves on our efforts and assume that we make ourselves «good christians» primarily through them: good deeds, sacrifices and penance, and prayer and the sacraments.
today’s gospel tells us that there’s more to being a good christian or a spiritual person! 


the pharisee in the parable did all the good practices he listed. and these practices have their merit. then where’s the problem? 
the problem is his «holier-than-thou» attitude: «i thank you father that i am not like other people!» the problem is his «prayer» is actually an advertisement for himself, where the subject is himself and not GOD. the problem is that he thought he did not need GOD’s grace/mercy and love, and his actions would justify him! 
the tax collector knew that he was a poor sinner and that he needed GOD’s grace/mercy and love to help him.

jesus speaks «this parable to those who were fully convinced of their righteousness»! holiness or righteousness is not about what we do and achieve. it is about recognizing our need for GOD. it is what happens when we bring our emptiness before GOD and let him pour his love into us. it’s only then we—like the tax collector—are justified, that is, set right with GOD.

do we tell GOD what we have done for him? do we compare ourselves with others? or do i stand humbly before GOD, with full awareness of my nothingness, and acknowledge his goodness, love and mercy to me?

15 October 2016

PRAY ALWAYS

XXIX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
exodus 17:8-13; 2 timothy 3:14–4:2; luke 18:1-8

perseverance is a trait that is admired in society, and finds examples in scripture—from jacob (who wrestled with an angel until he received a blessing) to paul (who experienced persecution, imprisonment and shipwreck, and yet persisted in preaching).

at first glance, the gospel seems to be an example of the link between perseverance and blessing. the lesson in the parable of the persistent widow seems clear: persevere and you will be blessed.

there are two problems with this lesson! 
first, we believe in a GOD who freely gives his people what they need. how can we assert that if we pray hard enough or pester GOD he will give us what we want? 
second, it could create guilt in some (and pride in others). when we don’t get that for which we prayed, does it mean we haven’t prayed enough? how can we tell a person who is terminally ill or who has lost a child, those in haiti and parts of the usa affected by hurricane matthew, those suffering persecution in the middle-east… that they haven’t prayed enough?
persevere and be blessed is not «good news»!

what is today’s good news? jesus tells his disciples this «parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.»
jesus contrasts GOD and the judge: if a corrupt judge renders justice because the plaintiff is persistent, how much more will our loving and caring GOD answer us? jesus challenges us to pray always… refusing to give in to appearances, and trusting that GOD will act in his way and in his time to bring the justice we seek and the blessing we need. 
in the first reading, we have the example of moses who prayed always (despite becoming weary) while the israelites battled the amalekites.


today, we have the example of mother teresa who «prayed always» despite enduring spiritual doubt, despair and loneliness for nearly fifty years; and of pope john paul ii who «prayed always» though he suffered greatly because of parkinson’s disease.

in moments of trial and tribulation, do i still trust GOD? do i pray always without losing heart? or do i abandon GOD and prayer when things don’t happen as i think they should?
we pray not because we have to beat a path to GOD’s door before he will open it, but because until we beat the path, maybe there’s no way of getting to our door (cf. frederick buechner). 

08 October 2016

BE GRATEFUL… IT PAYS!

XXVIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
2 kings 5:14-17; 2 timothy 2:8-13; luke 17:11-19

recently, i came across two studies on the effects of gratitude.
one study examined the effects of writing letters of gratitude on happiness, life-satisfaction, and depression. the results indicated that writing letters of gratitude increased participants’ happiness and life satisfaction, and decreased depressive symptoms [cf. journal of happiness studies, «letters of gratitude: further evidence for author benefits»].
in the second study, participants were assigned to one of three experimental conditions: hassles, gratitude listing, and neutral life events. they kept daily/weekly records of their moods, coping behaviours, health, physical symptoms, and overall life appraisals. the gratitude-outlook group exhibited heightened well-being across several outcome measures [cf. personality and social psychology journal, «counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life»].
the bottom-line: being grateful has emotional benefits; gratitude pays!

this evidence from experimental psychology confirms similar evidence from scripture! the first reading and the gospel are stories of the healing and gratitude of two lepers.
acting on the word of elisha, naaman, the syrian afflicted with leprosy, is cured. he returns to give elisha thanks and a gift. when elisha refuses the gift, naaman takes back some earth to build a shrine to the LORD. he recognises not only the healing but also the healer. 
acting on the word of jesus, ten lepers are cured. only one, a samaritan, returns «glorifying GOD in a loud voice» to thank jesus. 
the gratitude of both «foreigners» is more than a simple act of politeness; it is an authentic profession of faith in the saving power of GOD. 


this time, the anecdote at the end! 
a man, seeking refuge from a storm, stumbled upon a barn. he discovered that this was the devil’s storehouse of seeds. he was curious! he lit a match and began exploring. the majority of the bins were labelled «seeds of discouragement.»
just then one of the devil’s helpers arrived to pick up a load of seeds. the man asked him the reason for the abundance of discouragement seeds. the helper laughed and replied: «they are very effective and they take root quickly.» the man asked: «do they grow everywhere?» the devil’s helper said in sullen disgust: «no! they never grow in the heart of a grateful person.»
this may be just a legend but it points to a pay-off: grateful people are seldom discouraged.

am i grateful to GOD (and to his instruments/mediators) for his numerous blessings and graces? how do i manifest gratitude to GOD and others? for what am i grateful today?

01 October 2016

FAITH IS A GIFT AND A TASK… NOT MAGIC!

XXVII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-42; timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; luke 17:5-10

a family i know is going through difficult times. some members of the family have major illnesses; some face professional/career uncertainty… it is rather overwhelming.
and the «good christians» around them have been questioning the strength of their faith: «if their faith were stronger, they wouldn’t have all these troubles»!! 

what is faith? a mantra to recite or a magic wand to wave… and whoosh… problems solved?! i wish it were, but i think not!

this sunday’s readings help us to understand what faith is.
habakkuk (first reading), writing in a time of turmoil, dares to question GOD about his apparent silence. GOD persuades habakkuk to wait patiently for deliverance for «it will surely come». 
st paul reminds timothy (second reading) that GOD has gifted us «a spirit of… power and love and self-control» and invites him to bear hardships «with the strength that comes from GOD.»
jesus instructs his disciples that it is the quality* (and not quantity) of their faith that matters. he urges them to do their duty, that is, to serve GOD unconditionally without counting the cost. 

faith, then, is a gift of the spirit - that moves us to wait patiently and humbly - while steadfastly doing our tasks - in the knowledge and hope that GOD’s will and word will be fulfilled. 
the catechism of the catholic church affirms: «to obey in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard… abraham is the model of such obedience… the virgin mary is its most perfect embodiment» (144). didn’t they have problems and difficulties?! through all their ordeals, their faith never wavered. 

what kind of faith do i have? 
may the LORD increase my faith: steadfast fidelity through (and despite) difficulties.

* the size of faith doesn’t matter because GOD is the one doing the moving!  
if my faith moved the mountain, then the bigger the mountain the more faith i would need to move it; the bigger the obstacle the more strength i’d need to climb it; the more serious the illness a faith even greater would be required to overcome it… such thinking may make sense, but that’s not how faith works. GOD does the work through faith (cf. vince gerhardy, «faith the size of a mustard seed»). 

24 September 2016

FAILING TO SEE THE LITTLE ONES

XXVI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
amos 6:1, 4-7; 1 timothy 6:11-16; luke 16:19-31

a botanist was observing heather-bell (a tiny flower native to western europe) through his magnifying glass. a shepherd approached and asked him what he was doing. rather than explain, the botanist invited the shepherd to observe for himself. when the shepherd saw the wonder of the flower, he exclaimed: «my gosh, and i have been tramping on them all my life!» 
with his eyes blinded by the cares of his world, the shepherd had failed to see the tiny flower; it took a special lens to see it.

that was the sin of the rich man in the gospel parable! blinded by his life of luxury, he failed to see the homeless and non-descript lazarus lying at his door. dogs noticed lazarus, the rich man did not. 


after death and in torment in hades, he sees lazarus! it takes the lens of suffering for him to see lazarus. 
but even in hades, the rich man clings to the illusion of his superior status, and «commands» abraham to send lazarus with water to cool his tongue! like the leisured upper classes in jerusalem at the time of amos, who were incapable of imagining the collapse of joseph (cf. first reading), the rich man cannot grasp the reality of his situation and persists in thinking that he can secure his family’s future. 
the parable highlights the apathy that riches can cause… an apathy and numbness that neither moses nor the prophets nor even the one who rises from the dead can penetrate.

who are the lazaruses that i fail to see in my life? what is it that blinds me to them?
what lenses do i need to see the tiny and non-descript people in my life and stop «tramping» them?

17 September 2016

KAL PAR CONTROL

XXV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR 
amos 8:4-7; 1 timothy 2:1-7; luke 16:1-13

this thursday, india begin another cricket series versus new zealand. with home advantage and after a series win in the windies, india should win. should they lose (or when they lose next), the knives will be out again! the couch critics’ analysis will be simple: «this had to happen when these guys spend time endorsing products instead of practising.» the cricketers’ rejoinder is equally simple: «our playing days are limited; we have to secure our future.»

perhaps one can’t blame them for getting «life insurance»! think of the time we spend checking which bank gives the best interest rates, in which shares/mutual funds to invest, which courses to do that improve our market-value… we are trying to ensure «kal par control».

that is what the steward in today’s gospel parable does: when given the pink slip, he does everything—even cheat—to secure his future. 
however, the parable has nothing to do with the steward’s honesty/dishonesty; it challenges us to be resourceful and committed to secure our future… with GOD. 
jesus gives us sound investment advice: «make friends for yourselves with unrighteous mammon» (the aramaic «mammon» is related to «emet», the word for faithful; it stands for something upon which one depends). we think that our security lies in material possessions. jesus tells us to exchange these for bonds of appreciation and to use our resources to build relationships, because people—as the steward knew—are more important than money; real friends last longer than money.
jesus asks his disciples to imitate «the children of this world» who are totally committed to a single cause and serve only one master. 

what am i going to do to gain «kal par control»? in whom/what will i invest my time and resources?
will i use the resources that GOD has given me, and serve him with all the shrewdness, effort and resources that i put into other areas in my life?

10 September 2016

LOST – FOUND – FORGIVEN

XXIV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; 1 timothy 1:12-17; luke 15:1-32

an ocean liner was headed to the middle east. nine hundred miles out to sea, the crew sighted a sail on the horizon. as the liner drew closer, they saw that the boat had run up a distress signal and a flag asking for its position at sea; the small vessel was lost. for nearly an hour the liner circled the little boat, and gave its crew its correct position. there was a great deal of interest in the proceeding among the passengers of the liner. a boy of about twelve was on the deck watching all that was happening. he remarked aloud to himself: «it’s a big ocean to be lost in.»

it is a big universe to be lost in, too. and we do get lost! we make mistakes, we break relationships with GOD, others, self and creation. we deserve the wrath of GOD.
and that is what the pharisees and scribes of jesus’ time maintained. but what we get is a search and rescue operation, and GOD’s caring and forgiving love!


through the three lost-and-found parables—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son(s)—jesus emphasizes that GOD is like a shepherd who cares for every single sheep; like a poor widow who treasures all her coins, and searches in the dark for that one lost coin; and above all, is a father who cares for his children and yearns to have them close to him (but respects their freedom).
the thrust is similar in the other readings. in the first reading, though israel’s sin of worshipping a molten calf calls for GOD’s wrath, he relents and forgives her. in the second reading, paul acknowledges that GOD has mercifully treated him who «was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant», and this mercy is an example of GOD’s patience. 

the readings communicate the good news that no matter how lost we are, GOD searches for us, waits patiently and eagerly for us to «come to our senses» and return home; he delights when he finds us and forgives us.

when i am lost, will i allow GOD (and his search party!) to find me? will i return home trusting in his caring and forgiving love? 
may this year of mercy help me realise that i will never fall into the «lost forever» category, that the FATHER never tires of forgiving me.

03 September 2016

DISCIPLESHIP: COUNT THE COST AND COMMIT

XXIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
wisdom 9:13-18; philemon 9-10, 12-17; luke 14:25-33

some time ago, a priest invited me to preach a retreat for his school boys. since he is a dear friend, i said yes without any hesitation. i did not consider my community and province responsibilities; i did not consider my health or that i’d have to manage a hundred boys. and i struggled. before, during and after! and i wished—quite often—that i had not said «yes»!

have you ever felt that way?! we take up invitations/ tasks/ responsibilities… without realizing their demands, and then fail/ struggle to honour them. 


we cannot do the same with christian discipleship! we need to know the cost of discipleship, and consider whether we have the resources to meet it (notwithstanding grace which is an absolute need!) before we commit ourselves. 
jesus uses two parables to stress the point: before beginning construction, a builder would work out the cost of his defence tower; before battle, a king would consider whether his outnumbered army would be able to face the enemy. 
the advice is clear: take time. sit down and look at the demands. figure out whether you can honestly meet them. jesus’ demands total and unconditional commitment expressed in strange terms: «hating father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters…» 
in aramiac, «hate» is not a feeling word! it is a priority word: to say that i love one and hate another means that i choose to carry out my commitments to one in preference to the other when these commitments are in conflict. no commitment, however important, can come before our commitment to GOD. 

the second reading gives us the cost of discipleship for philemon!
were philemon not a christian, he could have killed onesimus or punished him so severely that he would never again consider running away. but as a christian dealing with a christian, he had to accept the runaway slave... as a brother!

what is the cost of discipleship for me? 
do i have to give up my hatred/resentment against those who hurt me? my attachments to people and things? what are the commitments and relationships that i have to «hate» so that i can commit myself to jesus?

27 August 2016

KINGDOM ETIQUETTE...

XXII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a; luke 14:1, 7-14

someone asked leonard bernstein, the conductor of the new york philharmonic orchestra, to name the most difficult instrument to play. without hesitation, he replied: «the second fiddle. i can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm—that’s a problem. and if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.»

most of us want to be in the spotlight. this sunday’s readings challenge us to be humble, and to be willing to play second fiddle
jesus notices guests at a sabbath dinner jockeying for positions of honour. he uses a parable to challenge them to humility; he echoes the wisdom of sirach in the first reading: «humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favour with GOD.»
in kingdom etiquette, status—which society confers—counts for nothing. our status is measured not by our rank or occupation, but by the quantum of love we offer GOD through service. our status depends not on how others look at us, but on the care and compassion with which we look at them.
in the second part of the gospel, jesus shifts focus from guest etiquette to host etiquette. through his preferred guest list, he reminds us of his preferential option for the poor. throughout his ministry, jesus sought the least, the lost and the forgotten. further, he wants inclusion, not exclusion; he has opened wide the narrow door of last week to let all people in.


do i jockey for position in church and in society? 
am i humble: do i acknowledge my strengths and shortcomings, and recognize others’ feats and forgive their failures? is there place in my heart/life for the world’s «nobodies»... the least, the lost and the forgotten?
may you and i learn kingdom etiquette!

20 August 2016

EVERYONE’S INVITED

XXI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 66:18-21; hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; luke 13:22-30

a few years ago, paul roediger, an american, was beaten up for entering the jagannath temple in puri. outside a place of worship in south india hangs a signboard that reads: «no entry for dogs and christians.» shocking indeed!
but, there are other places with equally shocking «no entry» signboards even if these are less obvious and sometimes invisible: some churches in india do not allow dalit christians. in anumanthanpatti in south india, they have a separate cemetery and an exclusive hearse.


it was similar in biblical times! the jews, especially the pharisees and scribes, had a «no-entry» sign on the gate of heaven: «no-entry» for non-jews, for tax collectors and prostitutes, for those broke the smallest of the commandments… the kingdom of heaven was exclusively for the «chosen ones».
this attitude prompts the question we hear in today’s gospel: «will those who are saved be few?»
jesus, typically, does not answer the question. he refuses to speculate on who’s in and who’s out. rather, he looks forward to the time when people will come from east and west and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom. he looks forward to the fulfilment of isaiah’s vision (in the first reading, isaiah foretells a time when people from all nations – and on all modes of transport – shall come to jerusalem).

the «no-entry» signs are off; jesus’ signboard reads: everyone’s invited; there are neither reserved places nor favoured people. but there is the fine print: entry is restricted to those who choose the «narrow gate»! we have to walk his way of the cross and keep his commandment of love.

all of us have «no-entry» signboards! 
what are the «no-entry» signs in my life? whom do i exclude from my circle of life, from my circle of relationships?
what does the «narrow gate» mean for me? am i ready to choose the discipline of the narrow gate?

13 August 2016

JESUS BRINGS DIVISION

XX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; hebrews 12:1-4; luke 12:49-53

«the robe» (the 1942 lloyd c. douglas’ novel, which henry koster directed as the epic film) explores the experiences of the roman tribune marcellus gallio. 
marcellus won jesus' robe after the crucifixion. he set forth to find the truth about the robe… a quest that took him to the roots and heart of christianity. he and his slave demetrius became christians, and missionaries with st peter! eventually, marcellus’ father disowned him as an enemy of rome, and demetrius’ physician denounced them to the authorities. 
«the robe» captures the division that jesus brings about within families… a division that he predicted and experienced! this division is not about religion; it arises because of a conflict of values. 


to understand the meaning of division, we look at the peace that jesus says he gives («not as the world gives»): it is not a compromising, anything-for-a-quiet-life peace; it is a peace that comes from living according to GOD’s will and kingdom values. recall jesus’ experience: each time he does his father’s will, it divides him from those who won’t take the step with him, and it moves him deeper into a peace that comes from being true to oneself. when we can understand the meaning of the «peace» that jesus talks about, the «promise» of «division» no longer seems strange! division is almost the price of peace. 
further, we forget how unconventional and counter-cultural jesus was! a samaritan was the hero of his story; the return of the prodigal son is celebrated; he asked the disciples to share their cloaks and tunics… literally all they wore, and to love their enemies! his open-hearted approach divided him from those with closed and hard hearts.

in the first reading, jeremiah experiences his own people’s rejection and condemnation. for fearlessly speaking the word of GOD, he is left in a muddy cistern—without food and water—to die. the one who rescues him is a cushite, a foreigner!

living by kingdom values—love, justice, peace—will bring us into conflict those who do not accept such values…  even when they are family. 
will i live by the values - lifestyle - choices of the kingdom (and my convictions)… even at the risk of division in my family? will i do GOD’s will and become the person he wants me to become… even if it means going against my own?

06 August 2016

BE PREPARED FOR THE FINAL TEST

XIX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
wisdom 18:6-9; hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; luke 12:32-48

it was exam time during my second year of theology. i was studying after supper. there was a knock on my door. it was my scripture teacher! 
he said: «i know your exam is day after tomorrow. i have a ‘must-attend’ meeting in the morning and i will reach late for your time-slot. can you appear for your exam earlier?» i was stumped: «earlier? i have another exam tomorrow!» «can you come now?» 
now! i wanted some time to dress appropriately and to glance through my notes. but the teacher said: «just come as you are!» i had no choice but to close my books and my door… and go for the test!


all of us will have to face a much more important—and dead-cert—test at the end of our lives. we do not know when jesus—the «teacher»—will call us for the test; he tell us it will be «on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour.» 
in this sunday’s gospel, through the parable of the vigilant servants, jesus advises his «little flock» to be ready for this final test. 

an attitude that will help us be prepared for the final test is commitment to the task/mission GOD has entrusted to us. jesus calls the disciples to be «faithful and prudent stewards» who loyally and responsibly administer their owner’s assets. when we do this, we are always ready for the teacher and we need not fear the final test. 
there is another—more important—reason for being unafraid: jesus tells us that we are a flock loved by the father, chosen and intended for the kingdom. like abraham, our father in faith, we need to trust GOD’s loving providence which sustains us always and in unexpected ways (cf. second reading). 

am i ready for the final test? am i a «faithful-prudent-vigilant steward» committed to my GOD-entrusted mission? do i trust in divine providence?