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.