30 April 2016

PEACE IN THE MIDST OF STORMS

VI SUNDAY OF EASTER 
acts 15:1-2, 22-29; revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; john 14:23-29

a wealthy man commissioned an artist to paint a picture of peace. 
the artist painted a beautiful country scene: cattle in green pasture, birds in a blue sky, and a quaint village in the distance. the patron was disappointed, and told the artist: «this isn’t a picture of true peace. try again.»
the artist returned to his studio, thought for several hours, and then painted a beautiful woman holding a sleeping baby, and smiling lovingly at her child. «surely this is true peace,» the artist thought, and hurried to give the picture to the wealthy man. the wealthy man refused the painting.
the artist returned home… tired, discouraged, angry. he thought. he prayed for inspiration. then, he had a «eureka» moment. he rushed to the canvas and began to paint. when he finished, he hurried to the wealthy man, and gave him the painting. the patron studied it for several minutes and exclaimed: «this is a picture of true peace!»

what was this picture? it showed a stormy sea pounding against a cliff, the dark sky filled with the power of the thunderstorm. the artist had captured the fury of the storm. and in the middle of the picture, under a cliff, was a small bird, safe and dry in her nest snuggled safely in the rocks. the bird was at peace midst the storm that raged about her.


this is the kind of peace that JESUS gives… not the peace of a spot in nature – beautiful and serene; not the peace of a mother and child – tender and gentle; not the peace of a calm sea – where there are no storms or violent waves… but rather the peace of knowing that in the midst of turmoil there is a rock which can shelter us, a power that can spread its wings over us and keep us safe.
how is this peace accomplished? through a presence, here and now, that comforts us: the presence of the SPIRIT… the presence of GOD.

the first reading from the acts of the apostles is a good example of the way in which the SPIRIT brings peace. it details one of the first controversies in the church: «must a gentile become jewish first in order to become a christian?» the council of jerusalem decided that gentiles would not have to become jews in order to be full members of the church. 
peace is not the absence of conflict. it is the resolution of conflict through the presence of the SPIRIT.

is there conflict in my life? is there turmoil; are there storms? let me surrender myself to the SPIRIT and allow his peace to fill my heart… a peace that comes from being «at one» with GOD, with my neighbours, with myself, with nature.

23 April 2016

LOVE: THE MARK OF A CHRISTIAN

V SUNDAY OF EASTER
acts 14:21-27; revelation 21:1-5a; john 13:31-33a, 34-35

the renowned artist paul gustave dore lost his passport while travelling in europe. he hoped the guards at the border crossing would recognize him and allow him through. the guard, however, said that many people attempted to cross by claiming to be persons they were not. dore insisted that he was the man he claimed to be. said the official: «all right, we’ll give you a test, and if you pass it we’ll allow you to go through.» handing him a pencil and a sheet of paper, he told the artist to sketch several peasants standing nearby. dore did it so quickly and skilfully that the guard was convinced he was indeed who he claimed to be. 
his actions confirmed his identity.

what is the «test» of a christian? 
in his farewell discourse to his disciples, JESUS gives them an identification mark… not external habits and uniforms; not the way we dress; but the way we live: «i give you a new commandment, that you love one another. just as i have loved you, you also should love one another. by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another» (john 13:34-35). love is the christian identification mark. 


note that the LORD’s command is not that we «like» one another. the love of which JESUS speaks is not an emotion; it is a decision a way of acting towards one another that says: «no matter what, i wish/will good for you.» in the christian sense, love is not a feeling word; it is an action word… it is a verb!
a second thing to note: JESUS also gives us a standard to measure this love: «as i have loved you.» that is a broad and lofty standard indeed! 

SUNDAY SNIPPETS: EASTER SUNDAY V
LOVE: THE MARK OF A CHRISTIAN!
acts 14:21-27; revelation 21:1-5a; john 13:31-33a, 34-35
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/042416.cfm

the renowned artist paul gustave dore lost his passport while travelling in europe. he hoped the guards at the border crossing would recognize him and allow him through. the guard, however, said that many people attempted to cross by claiming to be persons they were not. dore insisted that he was the man he claimed to be. said the official: «all right, we’ll give you a test, and if you pass it we’ll allow you to go through.» handing him a pencil and a sheet of paper, he told the artist to sketch several peasants standing nearby. dore did it so quickly and skilfully that the guard was convinced he was indeed who he claimed to be. 
his actions confirmed his identity.

what is the «test» of a christian? 
in his farewell discourse to his disciples, JESUS gives them an identification mark… not external habits and uniforms; not the way we dress; but the way we live: «i give you a new commandment, that you love one another. just as i have loved you, you also should love one another. by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another» (john 13:34-35). love is the christian identification mark. 

note carefully that the LORD’s command is not that we «like» one another. the love of which JESUS speaks is not an emotion; it is a decision... a way of acting towards one another that says, «no matter what, i wish/will good for you.» in the christian sense, love is not a feeling word; it is an action word.
a second thing to note: JESUS also gives us a standard to measure this love: «as i have loved you.» that is a broad and lofty standard indeed! 

how am i going to love those around me… in my family and in my community… as JESUS loved me? do i bear the christian identification mark?

16 April 2016

LED BY THE SHEPHERD

IV SUNDAY OF EASTER 
acts 13:14, 43-52; revelation 7:9, 14b-17; john 10:27-30

in her book «the preaching life», barbara brown taylor narrates a conversation she had with a friend who grew up on a sheep farm. he contends that sheep are not dumb at all: «the cattle ranchers are responsible for spreading that ugly rumor, and all because sheep do not behave like cows. cows are herded from the rear by hooting cowboys with cracking whips, but that will not work with sheep at all. stand behind them making loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you, because they prefer to be led. you push cows, but you lead sheep, and they will not go anywhere that someone else does not go first—namely, their shepherd—who goes ahead of them to show them that everything is all right.»


JESUS knew what he was saying when he used the shepherd-sheep analogy! 
in palestine, shepherds place several flocks in one sheep-fold. but sheep and shepherd know each other. when the shepherd calls out, the sheep of his flock will sort themselves and follow him; they follow their shepherd only. shepherds not need brands to recognize their sheep.

GOD has placed in a sheep-fold called the world. many voices call out to us: the voices of materialism and consumerism, of regionalism and communalism… 
if you and i are his sheep, we will allow him to lead us. we will not let our passions and fears drive us; we will not let the hooting and loud noises of the world and its values drive us.
how do we discern the voice of the shepherd? we form our conscience and listen to it… that is the voice of our shepherd within us! this is what our visible shepherd, pope francis, is urging us to do in «amoris laetitia», his latest apostolic exhortation.

what happens when we follow our shepherd? 
three things: we have eternal life; we shall never perish… through sorrow and suffering, we will survive; we will always be in the hands of JESUS and the FATHER! what more can we want? what more do we need?
will i listen to my shepherd’s voice and follow him?

09 April 2016

GO FISHING!

III SUNDAY OF EASTER 
acts 5:27-32,40b-41; revelation 5:11-14; john 21:1-19-31

sue bohlin, bible teacher, wife and mother, writes: i was cleaning the grungy bathtub of a family that wouldn’t notice and would never acknowledge or thank me even if they did. i was getting madder by the minute, throwing myself a pity party, when the LORD broke into my thoughts. he quietly said: “i see you. i appreciate what you’re doing.” whoa! that totally changed everything. suddenly, i was able to do a menial job—and later on, more important ones—as a labor of love… it forever changed my view of work.»

what sue experienced while cleaning a bathtub, JESUS’ disciples experienced on the sea of tiberias! they encountered GOD in their workplace (so did moses, gideon, paul…!).


the gospels portray the disciples as very human… they are often bewildered and frustrated, seldom understand JESUS’ ways and do their own thing. and that continues after the resurrection.  
JESUS has appeared to them a couple of times. but he’s not with them constantly; he comes and goes, and he hasn’t told them what to do. they don’t know what lies ahead. so they do what they’ve always done and know how to do: they go fishing! they know JESUS is not far from them and will come to them. 
and he does! they encounter him in their workplace. with his guidance, they catch a large haul of fish, and he provides breakfast for them… on the beach.
this encounter in the workplace renews them and they can go back to being fishers of men… and missionaries of the gospel (as the first reading attests).

often we find ourselves in the disciples’ position. we aren’t sure what to do. JESUS seems to come and go from our lives, or we from his. it’s then we have to keep doing what we do. we work faithfully and wait patiently… for an encounter with the LORD… who asks us what we have caught, or who sees and appreciates what we are doing! 
when i am at the crossroads of life, let me «go fishing»! may i encounter GOD in my work and may this encounter strengthen me for his mission for me.

02 April 2016

NO SHORT-CUTS!

II SUNDAY OF EASTER  
acts 5:12-16; revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; john 20:19-31

robert johnson, ex-chairman of johnson & johnson, was known to be a terror when he inspected his plants. on one visit, the plant manager had a fortunate 30-minute tip prior to his arrival. hastily he had things spruced up by ordering several large rolls of paper transported to the roof of the building. when johnson arrived, he was furious. his first words: «what in the hell is all that junk on the roof?» how was the manager to know johnson would arrive in his personal helicopter!


as every home-maker knows, there are no short-cuts to sprucing up a home! it is the same with life and especially with faith. there are no short-cuts to faith! faith comes from a personal experience of GOD, and grows through doubt and difficulty.

this is the thrust of today’s gospel. thomas is absent when JESUS appears to the apostles. and though the others testify that they have seen the LORD, thomas refuses to believe «unless i see… and place my finger… and place my hand.» 
thomas will not take a short-cut to faith. he is not content with a second-hand faith. he refuses to say that he can believe in the resurrection when he cannot; and is brave enough to express his doubts (in fact, thomas is no different from the other apostles. the apostles did not believe the testimony of mary magdalene or the «emmaus disciples»; it is only after JESUS appeared to them that they believed! for them, too, there is no short-cut to faith).
eventually, what brings thomas to belief is not the proof he demanded but an experience of the risen JESUS. then he affirms the divinity of JESUS and acknowledges him as his personal saviour: «my LORD and my GOD.»

when we use our GOD-given intelligence, we will have doubts and questions about our faith. like thomas, we need to be honest about our doubts. 
will i boldly face and express my doubts, and seek a response to them? or will i be happy with a short-cut to faith? will i be content with a second-hand faith?