Feb 6, 2016

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lk 5:1-11

The language of fishing in the gospel is not a simple observation of particular events. In the light of our faith it is a metaphor for the work of Jesus and a picture of what God is doing through His Church. 

There is a long history of the Church being described as a large boat. We are not a museum ship, nor are we board this mighty tied up old vessel that has seen better days. Christ Himself is still gives orders to set sail. Whether he stands on the shoreline and calls out to us, at rest in one of the cabins, or at the helm, there is work to be done, places to go, battles to fight, new worlds to be discovered. Reflecting on the Gospel this Sunday, what course does Christ plot for us. We are to be "fishers of men". 

"Catching men alive". How? Christ gives us the grace to attract.  That grace of attraction is manifested in so many beautiful ways: through the preaching of the Gospel, through the beauty of the liturgy, through the gentle power of the sacraments, but especially, through the witness of men and women, of families whose lives are lived with a sense of hope, that Christ is with us every part of the journey.  Admittedly, we can find ourselves naturally afraid to what lies beyond the horizon. Sometimes, be might be afraid of storms, getting lost, even encountering pirate ships (!) Maybe we would prefer staying closer to land.  But the first prayer we made in public during the Mass was: "Keep your family safe, O Lord, with unfailing care, that relying on the hope of heavenly grace, we may be defended always by your protection" (Collect)

Christians we should not be afraid, nor dwell in fear. We are told by Christ to go out into the deep waters in the same way as Noah took his ark into uncharted territory. Each one of us has a responsibility for the salvation of each other, even of the world.  Be courageous, Christ is with us, not only in the valley of darkness, but also when we must enter into the storm. Remember, Christ can walk on the water, and so can we, as long as we keep Christ always in view, and never despair.

And this brings us to the example of St. Peter the fisherman.  Peter was reluctant to change his ways. He had a system of fishing that was, for him, predictable and well rehearsed.  But, we also discover through the reading of the New Testament Scriptures, that we was not a very good fisherman in the traditional sense. It was Christ Himself who did all the fishing for Him!  If Peter allowed his pride to get the better of him, he would have blatantly disobeyed Our Lord when He instructed him to sail out into the deep water and prepare for a catch of fish. Underneath his rough exterior, Peter allowed the voice of Christ to penetrate his heart. And although Christ was telling him to goes against his natural instincts and what the text book said, Peter obeyed the voice of the Lord, even though he did not, for him, make sense.

Did Peter and the fishermen apostles know what would be their future work and responsibilities? Could they have even dreamt of their lives beyond their little village? We get a hint when Saint Peter, overwhelmed at the thought of what would be expected of him, presumed wrongly that he must carry the burden all by himself and fears he does not have the strength. Standing in the light of God, even in His shadow, our own unworthiness, helplessness becomes so obvious. St. Peter needs, like you and me, to be assured that Christ will never abandon us.

To be a Christian, to be on board with the Church and to heed to the direction Our Lord steers us, we have to be courageous, daring, trusting. What does this mean?  Maybe it is to leave behind at times, our little well rehearsed lives and, at the Lord's command to venture our into the unknown - whatever that might be.  

Maybe to go out into the deep waters is a call to a more deeper prayer life, leaving superficially behind. Maybe, it is the call to not be lazy or complacent in our family duties and responsibilities to our brothers and sisters. To go out, at the Lord's command, into the depths of the ocean, might be to finally open up in confession to a sinful past that we want to leave behind. God's mercy is bigger than the vastness of the oceans. His love reaches even the darkest, murky waters of our lives. And for this reason, Christ tells us not to be afraid - to have faith in the grace He gives us and in the strength of His Church, a sacred vessel that can hold the entire world and still never be overwhelmed. 

Let us pray for courage, strength and endurance, with the assurance that God's mercy and grace will always endure.

Feb 1, 2016

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 4:21-30

Today’s gospel continues where we left off last week. Our Blessed Lord has entered into this hometown and has announced the beginning of a new era in the relationship between God and humanity, a new initiative. Jesus announces the Kingdom of God and that the very words he had spoken were being fulfilled right in front of their eyes.

However, his town folk, although impressed with the eloquence of his delivery and, no doubt, proud in a certain way that he had returned home (they had heard stories of his ministry and miracles in the surrounding towns and how crowds were following him with great hope and expectation), they started to have second thoughts. Jesus had just read from the Old Testament prophecy what the Messiah would do. Now he adds, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”.

“The Israelites used to say that the prophecies concerning the Messiah were fulfilled, either in the persons of some of their more glorious kings [such as King David] or at least in the prophets [such as the prophet Elijah]”(St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Homily 12]).

His own townspeople could not fathom that the Scriptures, which spoke of the coming of the Messiah would actually be happening right before them. Regardless who they thought Jesus truly was, the evidence of something wonderful was happening all around them. They heard the reports of the miracles being worked by Jesus. This they did not doubt. But they preferred to keep the action of God’s involvement in the world tied up to past events in times remote and distant.

We must be careful not to fall into this trap also, of securing God to events in the past, failing to believe that our Lord can and does work in the here and now and is alive, active and still carrying out his mission and ministry in and through the Church, albeit in an invisible and hidden way.

The violent attitude and actions which Jesus witnessed when he stoke the truth is still very much manifested today and is typical of many reactions when the Holy Spirit speaks through the Church with conviction and without fear. The people of Nazareth, rather than listening and reflecting, quickly changed the subject by pointing to members of his family. Too often, if one does not believe in God or that God could possibly reveal his mind to humanity, the message and teachings of the Church especially with regard to family life, marriage and the protection of the unborn child, are often met with the same hostility and anger Jesus also experienced. Rather than accept the possibility that God might be speaking to us (which would mean they we would have to listen and do what He says), and even though it be announced through unworthy ministers of his Word, it seems easier to shot or attempt to embarrass the messenger, change the subject or not take it seriously, move the goal posts or walk out and slam the door.

During this early episode in his ministry an angry lynch mob surrounds Jesus and, dragging him to the top of a cliff, they were intent to throw him to his death, silencing him for good. Notice how he is saved. He doesn’t plead with them, nor does he try to rationalize. His friends do not save him nor does the law of the land protect him. Our Blessed Lord saves himself through his divine power as God and walks away from the hostility. Why? Jesus will not be forced into giving his life away. His life is his own, and he will wait for the right time to give it freely and offer his life for his people, not because he had to, but because he freely choice to. (Cf. St. Ambrose, Exposition of the Gospel of Luke)

At the end of his public ministry, when our Blessed Lord was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, he could have walked away. When he was to be brutally abused and tortured by the Roman soldiers, he had it within his power to switch off any feeling of pain or agony. When he was slowly crucified, he could have easily come down from the cross and brush off from his body in an instant, all the injuries and scars. No one can take Christ’s life away from him. He freely gives his life and does so out of the most intensive love unimaginable considering you and me worth the suffering, the pain and the sacrifice he offered.

May our Blessed Mother, who pondered all these things in her heart, help us to appreciate the Good News of our salvation and the sacrifice our Blessed Lord freely offered so that we might experience lives of true freedom and authentic love.

Jan 24, 2016

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21

When Jesus entered the synagogue of his home town and announced the beginning of his ministry as God's Anointed One, we are told that "the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him." We must do likewise. As important and necessary it is to see the face of Jesus in others, how easy we can disappoint each other when we are not Christ-like and we can become obstacles to others who sincerely seek the face of God.

As important as our Christian witness should be, all who seek Christ must seek Him above all and everyone. We set ourselves up for disappointment and disillusionment when we judge Christianity by her members. We are sinners. It is difficult for us all, indeed for all who seek Him to look directly into the eyes of Christ. We know He sees everything that we are – there are no secrets from His gaze. And His look into our eyes can be as beautiful as it can be so frightening to behold.

This present year in the Church’s calendar will very much focus on the Gospel according to St. Luke. How does this evangelist invite us to look at Jesus? St. Luke, as the beginning of this written Gospel first explains, interviewed eye-witnesses who could tell him about the historical life of Jesus. ‘With them we are back to ground level, because, because they did not become disciples as a result of what they heard from others. Rather they were eyewitnesses and servants of God the Word” (St. Athanasius, Festal Letter 2.7). We are thus able to be invited into the events of the Lord’s life and ministry, to see Him as those who were His friends and disciples saw Him.

And how did his disciples see Him? In the early Church, the symbol for the Gospel according to St. Luke was an ox. During the time of Jesus, the ox was the choicest sacrifices one could make in the temple of Jerusalem. St. Luke sees Jesus as that choice sacrifice. He sees Him as strong, able to carry the great burden of the worlds sins on His shoulders. He sees Him as the offering on the altar of sacrifice so to take away the sins of the world. But because He does so freely, we see Jesus as the priest as well as the offering itself. We see the face of the Mercy of God.

Because we see the Mercy of God for the world in the sacrifice Jesus offers on the cross at the beginning of His public ministry, Our Lord is able to proclaim liberty to captives and sight to the blind. Our own sins have made us blind - blind to God's mercy, blind to the great sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for you and me to free us from the captivity of fear and death.

It is for this reason that we must constantly ask that the Holy Spirit will help us, not only to see ourselves as we truly are, but to have the courage to look into the eyes of Christ and see the Merciful One who loves us to the point of sacrificing everything so that I might be set free from all forms of slavery and darkness. I

St. Luke had a most close and beautiful relationship with Mary. Through her, the evangelist was given a unique window into the events of Christ's infancy, not shared with the other gospel writers. St. Luke must have been able to look into the eyes of Mary as she told him who the angel came to her, how she traveled to Bethlehem, how she reared Our Lord as her child, and how she saw him leave home to begin His public ministry.  As she told him the stories that she, no doubt pondered and reflected on for so many years, St. Luke, must have seen Jesus through her eyes.

And so must we.  Never close your eyes to Our Lord, and tell the story of His life so that with Mary and so many others, we too can be eye-witnesses of the great things that God has done for us too.

Jan 18, 2016

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Wedding Feast of Heaven and Earth

The wedding celebration at Cana provides a unique opportunity for us to take note of how God interacts in ordinary events of human life, and changes the ordinary into the extraordinary.

At this stage in Jesus' growing up he has left home, Nazareth - a very conservative and traditionally religious and isolated town. Jesus went to Capernaum, a lakeside fishing resort that attracted people of every walk of life. He mixed with the local fisherman - that's where he meets up with Peter and Andrew. There are also Roman soldiers, merchants, Jews and Greeks, tourists and businessmen, pagans and tax collectors. Could any place be so far removed from the quiet and prayerful Nazareth?

The small village of Cana, located between Capernaum and Nazareth, was hosting a wedding party. Both Mary and Jesus were invited. Jesus come arrives from Capernaum with his new disciples. Mary arrives from Nazareth with the extended family.  They would bring together two parties who would have been strangers to each other.  No doubt, at that wedding, Mary was introduced to every one of her Son’s new friends.  Jesus also introduces us to her. Having accepted us all now as part of the family, it would be at the foot of the cross on Calvary that her Son would tell us to take her into our own home – to make Mary a part of our families.

The choice of the story of Wedding Feast of Cana is not so much given to us as a reminder of the events of Christ’s early life, or his first sign. Cana was only the beginning of Christ’s miracles, miracles that continues right to this very day and into this very hour. This Mass is Christ's Wedding Banquet. The Gospel we have just listened to is an appetizer to this event here and now.

In this Holy Mass, we are the invited guests of the wedding feast of the Lamb where heaven and earth embrace. The priest is the stand-in for Christ the bridegroom. Even the servers and the ministers can be seen to take the place of his groomsmen.  And a miracle also takes place here, in the presence of the disciples and the invited guests.  At that event in the village of Cana, water had been changed into wine.  At the event of this Mass, the bread and the wine is changed into the eternal body and blood of Christ- Christ the bridegroom who gives himself to the bride, his Church. 

This is the wedding between heaven and earth and we have been invited, not only to attend, but also to participate. Christ the bridegroom gives his life for the Church his bride in the one eternal sacrifice of Calvary, where Mary is likewise in attendence. When we enter into this "joining",  our vows to Christ are renewed. Like the changing of water into wine – our own lives can also be changed, to take on a new rich character. Like any wine-tasting event, we don’t stop with an admiration of the label.  We have to open the bottle. We have to drink of God’s grace so that what is natural in our own lives can be fortified with enduring supernatural realities.

May our presence at and our participation in this Mass in the company of our mother Mary, give us a foretaste of the Banquet of Heaven where we hope to look upon the face of God in Jesus Christ our Lord, our hunger satisfied or thirst quenched in his presence forever.

The Baptism of the Lord

Ritual And Reality

When we talk about the baptism of the Lord, what immediately comes to mind is a church baptism – typically a baby, parents and godparents. 

The word baptism hears “to dip, immerse in water”. When St. John was baptizing people in the river, he was using the water as a symbol of cleansing. Those willing to leave behind their old lives, repenting of their offenses against God, could now formally recommit themselves to God and they could “see” their sins being washed away down stream.  No, of course, they did not literally “see” their sins floating away down the river or dissolving in the water.  But the ritual was very important.  

Rituals seek to communicate what sometimes words cannot. We remember the event of a ritual. It helps us place something that is personally important for our interior lives, within the timeframe and history of our public life. 

For any ritual to be authentic, what is being communicated visibly must be genuinely happening invisibly within our heart and souls.  That’s the difference between a ritual and a performance.  In a simple performance, we learn our lines, we understand our role and do what we are expected. And after the performance is over we go back to the same type of life we were living before the play.  

However, when we perform a ritual, we seek to express publicly through our actions, what is happening invisibly to our souls. Whether we can understand it or not, our senses tell us that the ritual communicates something that is authentic, meaningful, sacred.

Christ was sinless. He did not need to have his sins washed away. He didn't have any.  Why then was be baptized? Did he just go through all the motions? Was it just a performance? No.

Consider the crowds of people who came to the waters seeking to turn away from sin and wanting to express this by having their sins symbolically washed away.  Consider that this was taking place in the desert, and that the villages upstream were using this river for water, for washing, for laundry and also for waste disposal.  Now you are downstream. What color would that water be when it reached the desert? How clean would it be?  Now consider that this water was being used to symbolically wash away sins. Not only at this stage was the river unhygienic, but also because John was using it to baptize, the water was symbolically polluted with sins, the sins of the whole world.

Now consider what Christ does. The Son of God, the embodiment of all purity and innocence, freely steps into, immerses himself into the dark and murky waters of our sins – he is literally “up to his neck in it!”.   In order to save us from our sins, Christ dives into the deadly waters to free us, to takes upon himself all the sins of the world, so that he would make safe the waters for us and we can emerge alive.

Unlike our own baptism which, when you think about it, is accomplished almost in an instant – we could say it happened in a “splash”, Christ’s baptism is a tsunami - it’s powerful, it generates waves that spill out in every direction through time and history, into the past, the present and to the future and beyond – a shockwave that rattles even heaven itself!

A Christian is someone who has been immersed with Christ into his life, death and resurrection. This is ritually communicated through our baptism.  But the waters of baptism can become stagnant and foul.  For this reason, when we turn back to God, our heavenly Father sends his Holy Spirit to breath upon the dark and deep waters of our souls, stirring our heart to repentance.  Through the sacrament of Confession, Christ in his love and mercy, filters out our sins and infuses oxygen once again into the waters of our baptism.

Keep the waters of baptism fresh, clean and full of life.  Express this with the simple ritual of blessing yourself with holy water every time you enter the church.  Fill up a bottle with holy water from the baptismal font and mark it as such. Every time you feel vulnerable to sin use it.  Have it close by when you are in danger. Bless yourself with it before you close your eyes into the darkness of sleep.  

Water is the most natural of all the elements, used by God himself in a ritual to communicate the most supernatural gift he offers us, the cleansing of our sins and the abundance of life in abundance. With God’s grace, let us keep this precious and life-giving gift fresh in our lives, free from the pollution of sin and safe from the decay of death and darkness.

Jan 3, 2016

The Epiphany of the Lord

With the intervention of God in human history through the Christmas event creation also plays a role in announcing, manifesting these episodes. The star announced the birth of Christ. An eclipse of the sun and earthquake proclaimed his death. As humanity cries out to its messiah for healing so too does all of nature groaning for salvation. The mystery of life and death, time and eternity still unfolds and spills over backwards and forwards, even to this day. So when we celebrate today the Epiphany - the event that "show forth" God's plan of salvation for the whole world, we try to take in the bigger picture, the implications, the universality of the Christ event for the whole world.

The mysterious magi, the visitor to Bethlehem from the Orient - we call them the "wise men from the East", or the three Kings - who they actually where, what lands did they really come from - that is not too important. What their arrival on the scene of the birth of Jesus revels is the countless multitudes of peoples, nations and cultures searching for God. “Their coming means that pagans can discover Jesus and worship him as Son of God and Savior of the world only by turning towards the Jews and receiving from them the messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament.” CCC 528

Which path leads us to Christ? It is never the road of presumption. St. John Chrysostom comments that the chief priests and scribes knew the Hebrew Scriptures inside out, even concerning the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem but they are unmoved, and the birth of Jesus seems uninteresting to them (Gospel of Mathew, Homily 6.4). And St. Gregory the Great reminds us that Herod represents all those, who with false devotion seek Christ without actually finding him (Forty Gospel Homilies 10.2).

Today's celebration of the arrival of the Magi, demonstrate that the journey, and where our life's journey ultimately takes us to, can never truly be predictable. In a society where we are so used to being in control of our destinations, setting our goals and accomplishing the tasks we set out to do, this important celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord can remind us that we must also be humble before mystery and learn to step back in wonder and awe when we sense that there is something greater than ourselves.

My dear friends, in our celebration of the Mass, we enter into mystery - a mystery that cannot be contained by our human understanding or knowledge. When the wise men, who represent all humanity, encounter Christ, they did not arrive with a complete revelation as to the plan of God for them or the world even though their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh represented gold for a king, incense for the worship of God and the bitter herb myrrh, a reminder of suffering and sacrifice. They not doubt left Bethlehem, not with disappointment that all their own questions were not answered, but more likely, with a sense of wonder and amazement that all is not what meets the eye.

Christian Faith does not provide quick answers and remedies, or scientific proofs or explanations. Rather, it offers the believer a sense of true mystery and beauty, which, because we cannot control it, can be as painful as it is mysterious.

In this sacred mystery we celebrate here each Sunday we approach Christ through the veil of the Eucharist, hidden behind what we perceive from the outside as bread and wine. We arrive at the house where Christ waits for us, but we must not do so empty handed but bearing our own gifts. When we accept and encounter the unfathomable mystery of his life, death and resurrection, we can not return by the same road we arrive for when we do so we can never look at the world in the same way.

The Holy Name of Jesus

The Gospel is very short. Practically, it is one sentence, it is the most powerful revelation in the whole of the Scriptures. Simply put, it tells us that the child of Mary was given a name, a name

The name of God was so sacred to God’s Chosen People that it was blasphemy to pronounce it. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) the high priest entered the Holy of Holies of the Temple, and sprinkled the covering of the Ark of the Covenant with the blood of sacrifice. He then pronounced the name of God. This signaled the forgiveness of all sins committed during the entire past year. This was the only time when it was legitimate (and holy) to pronounce the name of God. Even today, Jews will not pronounce the name of God. When they write God or Lord or the name of God, they omit the vowels in order to show the sacredness of God.

When God became incarnate, enfleshed in the child of Bethlehem, God was given a human name. A name is not simply for identification. A name was chosen to reveal something about the child, how this child would live their vocation. The name of the baby of Bethlehem was not picked out of a book or given to him by his parent. The Gospel reminds us that this name was, instead, revealed to Mary and Joseph by heaven itself. The Angel told Mary that the child to be born of her would be called “Jesus”, a name which means “God saves” and that is what God does through Jesus, “God saves”.

In the Introit entrance song we are reminded “that at the name of Jesus every knee should genuflect”, not just by us, but also in heaven – so sacred the name of the Lord is. It is a name that has the power to save. This we acknowledge in the opening prayer, the collect. But because this name revels what God does, he saves, we pray that this saving name of Jesus will be effective in our lives.

An example of this is given to us in the first lesson from Acts of the Apostles. St. Peter recounts a miracle whereby he healed a cripple. He did so, not in his own name, but in the saving name of our Lord. When someone gives us permission to act in their name we become their representatives, we do as they would do. We extend their presence. We bring them close. In the Gradual and Alleluia verse, we hear the song of the people of Israel who, calling upon God by name, know that he is with them, even in the face of danger.

In the sacrifice that we now give to heaven, the mystery of our salvation and the power of the saving name of Jesus Christ continues to bring healing power to all who will accept and give reverence to the “name which is above every other name”. And so the celebration today of the Holy Name of Jesus, teaches us not only to respect and give reverence to his sacred name, but also the confidence with which we should be inspired by it.