30 January 2016

LOVE = UNDERSTANDING+ACCEPTANCE+APPRECIATION = HOME

IV SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; 1 corinthians 12:31—13:13; luke 4:21-30

«love is made up of three unconditional properties in equal measure: acceptance; understanding; and appreciation. remove any one of the three and the triangle falls apart. 
which, by the way, is something highly inadvisable. think about it – do you really want to live in a world of only two dimensions? so, for the love of a triangle, please keep love whole» 
(vera nazarian, «the perpetual calendar of inspiration»).


often in relationships and families, «the triangle falls apart»… and most often the missing dimensions are understanding and accepting a person as he/she is.

JESUS experienced this when he returned home to nazareth. he had left nazareth after 30 quiet years as a simple artisan. after his baptism, life changed: he received a prophetic anointing, and began ministering to people. then he returned home, and pointed to himself as the fulfilment of the text from isaiah: «the spirit of the LORD is upon me…»
and his people’s reaction? their first reaction is appreciation and astonishment, but then they remember his identity. they do not allow his wisdom to interfere with their memories of him. he may be the anointed one, may preach and teach, may perform miracles, but for them he is still the carpenter.
perhaps his people had a vested interest in focusing on the past. it’s better having a carpenter than a prophet; it’s better getting broken furniture fixed than getting challenged to fix broken lives. 

home is the place where there is love… acceptance, understanding and appreciation in equal measure. is my home/community such a place? do i accept, understand and appreciate my loved ones as they are?
st paul gives a description of love in the second reading: love has a tough programme… it accepts all. do i «love»? 

23 January 2016

THE MESSIANIC MISSION: BRINGING GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR

III SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; 1 corinthians 12:12-30; luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21

a franciscan monk was assigned to be guide to mother teresa on her visit to australia. thrilled at the prospect of being close to this great woman, he dreamed about all he would learn from her. but the friar never managed to say one word to mother teresa; there were always other people to meet her.
finally, tour over, she was to fly to new guinea. in desperation, the friar spoke to her: «if i pay my own fare to new guinea, can i sit next to you on the plane so i can talk to you and learn from you?» mother teresa looked at him and asked:. «you have enough money to pay airfare to new guinea?»
«yes,» he replied eagerly. she said: «then give that money to the poor. you’ll learn more from that than anything i can tell you.»

mother teresa understood that JESUS’ ministry was to the poor. this is the thrust of today’s liturgy.

the gospel describes the beginning of JESUS’ ministry with his inaugural sermon in nazareth. he entered the synagogue, stood up to read, unrolled the scroll of isaiah and found the passage about the «anointed one». he was searching for this passage! he read two verses and delivered, perhaps, the shortest homily in history: «today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing»! 


with this loaded one-liner, JESUS announces that he is the «anointed one» whom GOD has sent to bring good news to the poor. the second verse he read specifies the content of the good news.
right through his gospel, luke will present JESUS fulfilling this mission to the poor. several events/parables found only in luke’s gospel (restoring to life the son of the widow of naim, forgiving the «sinful woman» in simon’s house, healing a crippled woman on the sabbath, the parable of lazarus and the rich man, the cure of the lepers, the encounter with zaccheus…) are instances of this mission.

JESUS’ mission is our mission. through baptism and confirmation, the spirit of the LORD is upon us. we, too, are called and sent to proclaim the good news to the poor.
how will i proclaim the good news to the (materially, spiritually, emotionally…) poor and broken-hearted today? in what way can i free the «captives»? when will i be able to say «this scripture is fulfilled»?

16 January 2016

THE FUTURE IS NOW!

II SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 62:1-5; 1 corinthians 12:4-11; john 2:1-11

«the future is now»—a 1955 short film—went inside government research laboratories to showcase some of the products that would be used in the proximate future: computerized assembly lines, nuclear- and solar-powered batteries, industrial uses for television, video telephones, gadgets for instant home movies, irradiated food, fully automated kitchens… well, the future is now (and has been for decades already)!

that title could well apply to the readings of the day!

the first reading is situated in the period after the exiles’ return from babylon. their hopes were dashed by the massive task before them—of the physical rebuilding of jerusalem and the spiritual renewal of the people. 
isaiah looks beyond the present to the future, to the end-time, when israel will be «a glorious crown in the hand of the LORD.» he sees that day as a wedding, a time of celebration and rejoicing, with GOD as the bridegroom and israel as the bride.


in the gospel, by making the turning of water into wine the first of JESUS’ signs, john announces that the future has arrived. 
JESUS worked the sign in the context of a wedding. in the bible, weddings symbolise the era of salvation (isaiah 54:4-8, 62:4-5; matthew 8:11, 22:1-14; luke 22:16-18). 
further, JESUS gave an abundance of choice wine (120 gallons!). the old testament describes the end-time as an era when there is an abundance of wine (amos 9:13-14; hosea 14:7; jeremiah 31:12). thus, the sign signifies the arrival of the era of salvation… the future is now!
and JESUS changed the water meant for the jewish purification rites into wine. he transformed those unwieldy symbols of the old way into harbingers of the new. the time for ritual cleansing has passed; the time for celebration has begun… the future is now!

but wait a sec! if the future era of celebration and rejoicing is here, why is there so much suffering and sadness? why is there so much desolation?
perhaps, we do not allow the LORD to enter our lives, we do not allow him to touch us. he transforms whatever and whomever he touches. 
may you and i let him into our lives and allow him to touch us. then, for us, too, the future will be now!

09 January 2016

EXPERIENCING UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; acts 10:34-38; luke 3:15-16, 21-22

i don’t remember the first time i walked, but it was probably something like this: i stood with my mother; my father was three steps away. i set out, wobbling and stumbling, but made it from one set of arms to the other on my own. then perhaps my father lifted me high in the air with great joy as if i were the first human to walk. after numerous hugs and exclamations, i must have felt like the most loved, greatest boy in the world.
after some time i could walk with more assurance and grace… but i didn’t receive much praise. in fact, i can’t remember the last time someone praised me for walking across a room. so i had to do other things to get back to that feeling of being valued, of being picked up with delight, of being affirmed and loved [cf. martin copenhaver, «whispered in your ear»]. 

so it goes on through life! we don’t have too many experiences of unconditional love, and so we try to create conditions which will make people love us. but we forget that if people love us for our achievements, it is not love! 


on the feast of the LORD’s baptism, we celebrate the unconditional love of the father for his beloved son. 
the gospel ends with the words: «you are my beloved son; with you i am well pleased.» since it comes at the beginning of JESUS’ ministry, this affirmation is not conditioned upon JESUS’ achievements, but is a sign of the father’s total and unconditional love for his son.
the first reading is one of isaiah’s servant songs. GOD calls, forms and commissions the servant for a specific mission. but the emphasis is not on the mission but on GOD’s love for his chosen. 

the father who loved and affirmed his son unconditionally at his baptism does the same for us, his beloved sons and daughters, at our baptism. GOD values you and me not because of our achievements, but because we are his beloved. all that we have to do is to listen to him affirm us!
having said that, human as we are, we need to hear this declaration of love often (JESUS needed to hear that affirmation again at the transfiguration). you and i need to love and affirm one another. this is a concrete way of living out our baptism… by sharing and communicating our experience of GOD’s love for us.

am i aware that i am a beloved son/daughter of GOD? have i experienced GOD’s love for me in a concrete and tangible way? and do i share that experience with others so that they, too, may experience his love for them?

02 January 2016

A SURPRISING ENCOUNTER

THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD
isaiah 60:1-6; ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; matthew 2:1-12

a religious sister, travelling from chennai to guwahati, got off at kolkata to change trains. exhausted after the long journey in summer, she fainted. when she revived, she found herself lying on a bench. her luggage was by her side; so was a porter, wiping her forehead with a damp cloth. he brought her a cup of tea and some biscuits, and waited till she had recovered. she thanked him and gave him some money; he brushed it aside, saying: «sister, it is nothing. you would’ve done the same for me.»
she had tears in her eyes because she knew that wasn’t true; she had encountered GOD in an unexpected place and person. a surprising encounter!

today we celebrate a surprising encounter between CHRIST and the magi. this encounter involved two moments: GOD’s initiative and human response. 


the coming of the magi to bethlehem was a response to GOD’s initiative. it is not we who search for GOD, but GOD who searches for us, reveals himself to us, and draws us to an encounter with him. 
GOD makes use of the most surprising ways to draw us to him! GOD drew the magi to himself by a star. it was something they understood, something that was part of their culture and religion, and therefore, a part of their lives. he used it draw them to him. GOD uses parts of our lives to draw us to him. 

today’s gospel presents three responses to GOD’s invitation: herod’s response of fear and hostility; the total indifference of the chief priests and scribes; the adoring worship of the magi. 
the magi followed the star despite many hardships, came to bethlehem, and «saw the child with his mother.» we can get so used to this story that we underestimate the faith of the magi. what did they see: a palace with courtiers? visible signs of power? they saw simply «a child with his mother». yet, they adored… no questions asked. the result: they were filled with great joy. matthew is emphatic: «they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.»

GOD uses surprising, unlooked-for ways to draw us to himself: a star, a motley group of fishermen, the seemingly insignificant bread and wine… 
how does GOD come to you and me today: through my loved ones, through a concerned person, through a liturgy that suddenly struck home, maybe even through strangers? am i open to his surprising ways? or am i so sure of the way he comes… that i fail to recognize him when he comes in unexpected ways? 
we need to discern the «star» in our lives!