Jul 25, 2016

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Watching him pray, his disciples could see that Our Blessed Lord was intimately in touch with heaven. In a way it was “written all over his face”, but this was more noticeable when the Lord would go to "certain places" to be alone in prayer. 

For example, this is what you do when you come in early and sit in the church, when you look around and gaze at the sacred images wondering how they might reflect a little glimpse of heaven in our direction. Prayer is when we light a candle, and our focus becomes, not inward, put a reaching out through the darkness of this world to the beyond.  Prayer is following the trail of incense as it drifts upward to heaven. It is the words of scripture, which are presented in the selected passages from the bible, or have been weaved together into conversations with God, which we have come to know by heart, or try to make our own.  Prayer is the raising of the heart and soul, reaching out to heaven.

The first place for prayer is actually not here in the church building. It’s at home in your own house.  We come to the church to give thanks to God for all the blessings we have received during this past week, and we offer our prayers and sacrifices to him God for our own good and the good of all his holy Church as we begin another week.

But, every day, our homes are sacred places.  It is there we are to find a place to pray every day. But increasingly our homes can become noisy places, cluttered places, and busy places.  This is why it is always good that there be a sacred space in your home, a place you can withdraw to, to bring the family around, to pray especially the familiar sacred words that have been passed down to us from generation to generation, and where our minds can focus on the sights and sounds of heaven. And even to ask,  “Lord, teach us to pray”.

Christ does teach us how to pray. In fact, he gives us a formula, a template, words to say. “Our Father, who art in heaven…” - Listen to them as if the Lord himself where teaching you these words, asking you to ponder on the deep meaning that each verse has for all of us and every time we bring these divine words to our mind and lips, to allow them to sink deeper and deeper into our soul.

As we ask Christ to teach us to pray, consider who taught him! As he grew up, Mary would have helped him to say his first words, how to read the scriptures, how to pray according to the tradition of the Chosen People.  In her teenage years her own words to the angel, “Be it done unto me, according to thy will”, seem to echo through the verse of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. And when Christ was alone in the garden of Gethsemane, hours, I’m sure he though of his mother and her words to the angel message thirty years ago he himself prayed to his Father, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

Prayer is not a nicety of Christian life; it is allowing Christ to pray through us, so that his words become our own.  In this Holy Mass, let our prayer be united with Calvary in the greatest prayer that ever reached heaven.   

Jul 15, 2016

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The image that comes to mind after reading the Gospel which speaks of the two sisters Martha and Mary is that of one who is concerned with the needs of guests and the other who sits at the feet of the Lord listening to his voice. When the Lord told Martha that she was anxious about too many things and her sister Mary had chosen the better part by listening, the Gospel does not share with us how she reacted. If we presumed by the tone of Martha’s complaint to the Lord that there was tension between the two sisters over the demands of catering for visitors we would miss the point.

Instead, to offer us a greater insight into a bigger picture to contemplate, the Church has given us an appetizer, so to speak, in the form of the First Reading – the visitation of the three mysterious guests to the tent of Abraham (Gn. 18:1-10a). On the surface one can easily recognize the demands of hospitality and generosity evident as a theme to this Old Testament event. This may also provide us with a reflection on the corporal works of mercy demonstrated by feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty. 

But for the Christian when we look back to these events through the lens of faith, we can see in Abraham’s remarkable hospitality and Sarah’s listening attentively behind the scenes, a “dress rehearsal” for the Annunciation when the Virgin Mary was told by the angel she would bear a son whose name would be Jesus. (CCC 489, CCC 2571, Comp. CCC 536)

When the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus, God was “enfleshed” (i.e. incarnated) in humanity in every way except sin. God experienced human hunger and thirst. We saw this spelt out clearly when Christ was in the desert fasting. We are told that he was hungry. Now, we find him being fed by the love and generosity of family and friends. 

Imitating her, Martha provides a valuable service to God. It is by her sacrifice and acts of charity that she nourishes the Lord’s body, providing him with the necessary sustenance so that he might continue his journey. This gives Christ the strength of mind and body in order to accomplish his mission. He will need this strength in order to carry the cross. But when Martha complains that she finds herself alone in her work, Christ reminds her, as he does us, in more words than one, that a time will come when there will be no need to feed the physical body – a time will come when it will be transformed feed by the very presence of God. 

Remember Christ’s words while he was being tempted by Satan in the desert, “Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”. However, Mary the sister of Martha also provided us with a glimpse of hunger, not of a body for food, but of a soul hungry for God. In the words of St. Augustine, Martha’s sister “was eating the one she was listening to…because he was the one who said ‘I am the Bread come down from heaven’. This is the bread which nourishes and never diminishes”.

After the consecration, what we perceive with our natural eyes as bread and wine, the heavenly angels from their perspective see the glorious body of the living Christ. It is for this reason that this Blessed Sacrament is called the “Bread of Angels”. Today’s Gospel allows us to imitate Martha’s generosity in preparing the table and the offerings needed to celebrate this holy banquet and accomplish works of charity. Martha’s sister, Mary, will then show us how our attention must be drawn, not to our own kindness or anything that we can do or accomplish, but to Christ’s who, out of his eternal sacrifice and generosity, gives us himself as the true Bread that has come down from Heaven. And there is enough food for everyone to feast on!

Jul 9, 2016

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Who actually is the Good Samaritan?

The parable of the Good Samaritan is well known. Its language, images and the story itself can appeal to so many people. It can cut across cultures and even religions, so powerful the moral of the story is. Often it is cited as an example of accepting the stranger, loving our enemies and caring for those society leaves behind. In an obvious way, its meaning can be easily appreciated by all.

Yet, for the Christian, this parable has a deeper level. It must also move us towards developing within our Christian character particular virtues. What we traditionally call the seven corporal works of mercy, are examples of “a concrete witness to the preferential love for the poor which characterizes the disciples of Jesus.” (The seven corporal works of mercy: 1. Feed the hungry. 2. Give drink to the thirsty. 3. Clothe the naked. 4. Shelter the homeless. 5. Visit the sick. 6. Visit the imprisoned. 7. Bury the dead.)

So often, we have tried to be the Good Samaritan and have tended to see Christ in the victim, reminded by his words, "Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me".

However, so that our doing good does not distract us from our own need for healing, we should never be afraid to also see ourselves in the one who is lying in the middle of the road. Think of it like this.

The man on the journey is you and me. We have left Jerusalem. In other words, we are far from where God lives.

In this way of retelling the parable (allow me to use the second person to better illustrate the reflection), the road takes you to Jericho, a symbolic place of being far from heaven.

On this lonely road, hostile forces easily prey upon and overpower you, robbing you of your dignity and your treasure. You might as well be dead.

The Jewish priest and Levite might represent religious ritual and legalism. In itself, it has no power to bring us to our feet.

The Good Samaritan is Christ himself who leaves the heavenly Jerusalem and travels the road searching us out.

We are far from home. Christ sees our wounds, our sins.

He is not repulsed by them, regardless of how deep the wound is in our soul.

Instead, he reaches out and touches them, bandages them with the sacraments of healing, which are confession and the anointing of the sick.

Oil poured upon wounds can comfort, as Christ’s presence ultimately does. But Christ, the Good Samaritan, also pours wine over the wounds. That can hurt and even sting for a while as does Christ’s words when spoken in judgment even to a Christian, so as to draw out into the open a poisonous infection which if left untreated can kill even the soul itself.

Christ then reaches down to lift you up, to carry you to a safe place. The refuge of the inn, we should look upon as the Church and the innkeeper is a shepherd of the soul. In other words, within the security of Christ’s Church the wounded can be brought to full health, always under the watchful eye of the a pastor who has received treasures from Christ (the two silver coins) and the responsibility to spend it towards salvation. (cf. John 21:15, “Christ’s words to Peter, “Feed my lambs”)

The Samaritan tells the innkeeper that he will return. Christ has told us that he too will return and we must be ready to give a full account of the gifts he has given us.

Too often we do not realize that we are on a dangerous road that can take us further and further away from God.

Weakened in body and wounded in soul by sins along the way, it is sometimes good fortune to collapse halfway on the journey rather than arriving at some point of no return.

Christ’s Church is like the Good Samaritan’s inn. It is a unique place where God’s mercy, through the sacrament of reconciliation, is celebrated and full recovery is sought.

Within its walls, the innkeeper will also provide, when the traveler is strong enough, a meal – this is, of course, the Holy Eucharist, Christ’s resurrected Body and Blood, the divine remedy for the tired body and wounded soul, the strength we need to continue the journey - this time not down hill picking up speed, but on to the road that leads us up the hill towards the heavenly city. For all of us, it demands vigilance, a helping hand, and a sure and steady companion and guide along the way.

Jul 3, 2016

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 10: 1-12

The Gospel today reflects the public dimension of discipleship within the mission of the Church. In the same way as Christ appointed twelve apostles for a particular mission, we also see the Lord in the Gospel today, assigning particular public duties and responsibilities to a certain seventy two “others”.  What we see reflected in the New Testament Scriptures, is the Church becoming organized, visible and structured, reflecting a recognizable order, not for the sake of efficiency like a global corporation, but "in order" to bring to humanity to the Good News of Jesus Christ. And we accomplish this, not as independent practitioners or specialist experts or professionals. Rather, as brothers and sisters of a unique family bond together by a common blood - that of Christ's which must always flow through our veins. (It is no accident that July is dedicated to Christ's Precious Blood).

Granted, family members do not always get on with each other, and at times our relationships can sometimes be strained, even distant, for various reasons, not excluding our our own sins and faults. That is why it is often necessary to step back and appreciate the grace that is always present within the family we call the Church.

Because "blood is thicker than water", the Church, from God’s perspective is a “divine spiritual reality which can only be seen with the eyes of faith.” (Comp.CCC 151) It is with these eyes of faith that allow the sacraments of the Church to be seen clearly as expressions of Christ’s invisible life, which despite our own shortcomings, is present in and fuel the mission our Lord entrusted to the Church.

Therefore as family members of the Church, Christ has given each one of us a unique role and responsibility in and for the salvation of the world. Today’s Gospel reminds us that a disciple cannot be camouflaged, nor a secret agent! We are called by Christ to be light of the world and salt of the earth! Yet the harvest is always indeed rich and the laborers are always few. (Comp. CCC 172-173)

This is not academic theological talk! When you love someone, when you find meaning in your life because of a family you have bonded to, you are never silent in good times, as well as bad times.  Christ never intended his Good News to be a cryptic code to be unlocked by a team of trained specialists, nor his Good News confined to an hour on Sunday and kept separate from the world, discreetly swept under the carpet or avoided in polite conversation.  Christ's Good News, like salt in right measure - it seasons and flavors our everyday conversations, our attitudes and our daily work.

For a number of years, a group of 12 parishioners (our brothers and sisters) have been systematically visiting the local homes and neighborhoods within our parish. They have knocked on the doors of over 9,000 homes asking if there are any baptized Catholics in the household. Maybe not surprisingly, there are hundreds of non-practicing Catholics in our neighborhoods. For the majority, the visit we made to them was the first invitation they ever received to “come home” – the assurance that they are still part of the family. Too often, our own failure has been our silence.

We all organize our lives, socially and privately, around that which we know to be our ultimate priorities in life. For the Christian, our own ultimate priority is to live and lead our lives in a way that will make visible the Kingdom of God "on earth as it is in heaven". Let us never be afraid to invite into our home, in whatever shape its takes, our distant family members, especially those who are hungry and thirst for Christ's Good News. After all, he suffered and died on the cross, not just for me and my salvation and but for every single person of the world - the whole family of humanity. (cf. Comp. CCC 177).  As we responded to the todays Psalm "Let all the earth cry out to God with joy!" (Psalm 66)

Jun 25, 2016

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 9:51-62

The Gospel for this Sunday sees Christ “resolute”, “determined” to reach the city of Jerusalem. Nothing can distract or sidetrack him. This is a man on a mission. However, notice his temperament. He is not like a bull let loose, or a like a galloping horse heading towards the finish line.  Instead he knows, there will be delays and obstacles; there will be disappointments and letdowns.  He knows what ultimately awaits him in a city where he will be opposed, betrayed and rejected by his own people. As Christians, we are to follow in his footsteps and respond to the evil around us in the same manner as Christ did.  

In the gospel, his excitable disciples encounter their first test of what to do and what not to do when their own message is rejected. Calling down fire from heaven every time they met opposition is no way to convince a reluctant people of the goodness of God. Christ’s disciple is called to be patient, and even exhibit “longsuffering and gentleness, not revengeful. They must not be given to wrath or savagely attack those who offend them” (Cyril of Alexandria, Homily 56).   In short, Christ rebukes any of his disciples who exhibit religious fundamentalism or impatience - the toxic combination of fear and anger. 

During first three hundred years of Christianity, when the imperial government policy was to actively thwart the efforts of Christians, accusing them of trying to influence the masses with their “doctrine” and “ideologies”, the Gospel was proclaimed most effectively and convincingly, not by the apostles calling down fire from heaven, but by the efforts and the example of ordinary, if not reluctant disciples like Simon of Cyrene who found himself compelled to help Christ carry his Cross, or like Veronica, as the story is told, who wiped blood from the face of Jesus as he made his way to Calvary. Or the soldier who stood by the cross of Christ and beheld the manner which Christ offered his life for the salvation of the world. 

The cross of Christ must be first embraced fully if a disciple is to experience completely the victory of the resurrection!

It is Christ himself who invites you and me, not only to become his disciples but also to journey down the road that same road. He is always the one who takes the initiative. We follow his lead.  It is the Lord who marks out the road we must travel by traveling it himself, “resolutely” and “determined”. 

And along that long road from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, “Jesus shares the life of the poor, from the cradle to the cross; he experiences hunger, thirst and privation. Jesus identifies himself with the poor of every kind and makes active love toward them the condition for entering his kingdom.” (CCC 544) 

What brought many a pagan to the faith, was not the theological arguments but, instead, something completely illogical – the Cross.  “See how these Christians love one another”. “See how they face persecution and death, not with anger or fear – but with an inner joy and peace – a peace that the world can not give.”

As we pass by on our way to the heavenly Jerusalem, let us pray that, faithful to our discipleship, we will accept a piece of Christ's cross, and by doing so, to attract many to journey alongside us, embracing the truth that sets us free, the One who alone can provide fulfillment for every human thirst and hunger. (cf. CCC 1741) This Holy Eucharist provides us with Christ as “food for the journey”.

Jun 18, 2016

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 9:18-24

I would like us to meditate on some of the lines from the Gospel we have just listened to. This is to help us go deeper than the ink on the page, deeper than the page of the book.  In fact, when we open the Scriptures, God asks us, invites us to enter into his mind and his heart. How does he do this with this portion of the Gospel we have just listened to?

Consider the first line!  “Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him…” Does this not seem, at first a bit odd? How can you be in solitude, and there’s people around you, looking at you, watching your every move, wondering what you are thinking?

Maybe it’s easier than we think.  We can slip into our own little world.  You can sit in the bus or the rain and put on your earphones.  You can sit in the middle of the classroom and daydream.   You can “veg” in front of the television.  You can create your own little virtual world around you.  For most of us, our “solitude” is an escape, not an encounter. Jesus was not escaping from anywhere!

“Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him…” This is a parish church.  Would it not be easier to pray in solitude if we were in a monastery, or a convent?  Granted, our Lord would every so often climb a mountain top alone or go off into the wilderness alone. And it is necessary for us to find quiet places to refresh our bodies and souls, every so often.  But when he walked among us, most people did not go looking for him on mountaintops or in the desert. He found them. Where? In the middle of their ordinary lives, their everyday lives.

It can happen here. It does happen here.  Even though this church can be filled with a thousand people, and we see everything around us, we hear the voices of others, we walk up and down the aisle, a baby starts crying, a cell phone goes off, someone starts coughing, a door slams, someone sneezes, you hear prayers going on here and there, you see people shuffling in and out of the confessional, then others are up and down to the restroom, a child then acts up, a parent gives restless kid a clip on the ear, someone drops their prayer book… are you able to be like Jesus and pray in solitude with all the disciples around you?  Yes.

When we pray, we do not escape to a world that we have dreamt up, or built up from our own thoughts and resources.  When we pray we meet God, we can find him here and there, as he continues to still walk into our lives, we just have to give him the attention he deserves as our God and the time he seeks so that he can share his life with you and me.  He sees us in the crowd. We see him in his solitude. And when we look in his direction, our eyes meet in the crowd.  Even from what seems to be a distance, there is the joining of hearts.  We recognize that it is him, that he is listening, that he is speaking, and that he is looking at us.  And in that encounter, everything around us fades into the background.

Now, we have only meditated on one line from the Gospel.  Dare we move on to the second?  Not now or we will be here all day and evening! Instead, that one line from the psalm that we repeated again and again, might do us well to repeat again and again throughout the day in the solitude of our hearts and souls; “My Soul is thirsting for you my God”.

Jun 11, 2016

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The recent massacre of fifty young people and the injury of countless others in Orlando, Florida, has rightly provoked us to turn to God in prayer. It is a cause of much anguish and even anger.  It drives home the reality that as our world is becoming more saturated with the evil of rage, violence and blatant disregard for the beauty and purpose of God's gift of life, we cannot help but feel afraid and vulnerable. 

The reason we have been gifted with life is so that we might have the time to search for, find and know God as our merciful and loving Father.  To rob anyone of their opportunity to fully realize this ultimate goal is to collaborate in the work of evil which wants only to divide and distract us away from union with God. 

To all our brothers and sisters who met an untimely death, it is up to us, while acknowledging our own sins and unworthiness, to pray to our merciful and compassionate God on their behalf and for their families and friends. Added to this, Our Lord reminds us through the example he uses of the Good Samaritan, we have a duty to help heal wounds and look after the injured, the forgotten and abandoned, and hopefully at the expense of our own personal prejudices and despite cultural differences.  

Today's Gospel message should help us, once again, examine our own conscience before God.

Gospel: Luke 7:36-50  Humility and Mercy Meet

Psalm 32, which we responded to, captures beautifully the central message of the Readings and the Gospel this morning. The psalmist declares, “I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt I covered not. I said, ‘I confess my faults to the LORD,’ and you took away the guilt of my sin.”

Let us look at who is who in the Gospel passage we have just listened to. First, there is Jesus, who has accepted the invitation to dinner from an important religious official by name of Simon the Pharisee.  If we read the Gospel accounts of his life, it would seem that Our Lord was never shy of accepting invitations from anyone.  One might be tempted to think that our Lord kept away from nice restaurants or fine dining, so that he could be with the poor all the time. But, Christ was with the poor all the time.

Simon the Pharisee was poor, not in material things, not from what he had or had not in his refrigerator or stored in his garage.  Simon was lacking in other necessities of life. He might have lacked compassion, gentleness, and patience. Maybe, he was one of those people who had all the nice things in life, enjoyed good company, good food and even prided himself in the nicer way of praying, all the eloquences and ritual, but without much depth.  Even Christ himself, was probably for him, just a holy picture, nice to look at and more of a conversation piece.

Then everything is disrupted by the intrusion of this woman of ill repute. She barges into the dinner, disrupting everything, sending everyone into a panic – except Jesus. She goes straight to Jesus.  By doing so, it seems she knows who Jesus is. She has done her homework.  She does not target our Lord because she wants to make a point. Something much deeper is going on inside her mind, indeed her heart.  When Christ would preach out in the open, in the towns and cities, she must have secretly listened to his words. Even when she hid in a crowd of hundreds, she allowed Christ’s words, his presence to reach her.  Now she was responding, reaching out to Christ.

For she was the type of person who was very much like Simon the Pharisee.  Simon might have endeared himself to others through his social position and through his eloquent dinner table; this woman of ill repute endeared herself to others also through seduction of the senses and lustful appetites. Both the woman and the man, even though coming from two different angles share the same vulnerability – “looking for love in all the wrong places”.

But the woman, who no doubt lived a life of vulnerability, allowed herself, trusted herself, in the safe hands of Christ. Only in Christ presence, can our love be purified, made real.  Only in the light of God do we see the truth of how we seek to love and be loved and of how often we miss the mark, get distracted and often chase after sentimentalism or extravagance in its place.

Christ wants us to find a way into his heart. His heart is always open, waiting, longing to be united with our own. This demands on our part, self-reflection, humility, the courage to see ourselves truly as we are and not to be like Adam and Eve who, after sinning, hid and covered themselves up.

Acknowledge our sins and to do so before the Lord, “is the movement of a “contrite heart” (Psalm 51:19) drawn by divine grace to respond to the merciful love of God” (Comp. CCC 300).

In short, regardless of the depravity of our sins or the lavishness of our lives, let us listen to the Lord from the depth of our heart, so that we might acknowledge truly our sins, confess our faults to him, trust in his guidance and allow him to lead us to the freedom that brings us peace of mind, body and soul.