Apr 30, 2016

Sixth Sunday of Easter

If there was one line in the gospel we have just heard and is worth remembering again and again, it is this. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27)

Our Lord have left us a gift. But this gift is not placed on a shelf to be discovered, looked at with admiration or curiosity. Nor is it placed somewhere remote or hidden and then we are asked to search for it -  like a game of hide and seek.  Nor is it something like an online gift registry where Our Lord highlights certain essential items he has chosen for us to make our lives more meaningful and all we have to do is scroll down the list and check off what we are in need of!

Instead, he tells us that he "leaves" us this gift, and then immediately tells us he “gives” it to us. In other words, Christ personally gives us this gift, right into our hands. He leaves it in our safekeeping. He trusts us with its ownership. It has been given!

Of course, his gift is the gift of peace. But let’s be careful. When we think of peace we are often tempted to think of it only in terms of what happens “after” a period of violence, anger or hostility - like the calm “after” the storm. That type of peace is more often a “relief”, a cherished opportunity to catch one’s breath again, an opportunity to begin to restore what was broken or destroyed. Of course, these opportunities must be continually welcomed.  

But Christ clarifies - the origin of his gift of peace does not come from defeating the enemy, or negotiations, compromise or settlements, important as these elements may be in particular circumstances. “Not as the world gives, do I give it to you,” Christ reminds us. In other words, the peace Christ gives belongs to him - it is his, it is a gift  of himself to you and me. This gift comes directly from the heart and soul of God himself!

Particularly during this special jubilee year, we have become very familiar and exposed to the gift of Divine Mercy - the cleansing purity of God’s love channeled through the heart of Christ to each one of us - the joyful experience of freedom through God’s forgiveness of our sins.  With Divine Mercy, let us also be familiar and embrace “Divine Peace”, who is also Christ himself.  

He “leaves” this gift of divine peace to the Church for her to be a constant witness to the world of his Gospel message. He continually “gives” us this divine gift of peace, every time we reject the ugliness of anger, revenge, violence and war, “while” turning to him as the source of true peace and justice on “earth as it is in heaven”.

As Our Lord sought to assure his disciples, he assures us now, “Do not let your hearts be troubled”. Yes, we can easily let ourselves be troubled by the direction we sometimes see the world going. But by allowing “our hearts” to be troubled, (for the heart is where Christ speaks to us), we can easily be caught up in the same wave of self-destruction we seek to avoid, and we no longer become credible witnesses of the Gospel of Christ.

As a pastor of souls, I would therefore suggest, seek out places where you can hear Christ gently speaking to you. Find time to be quiet, away from the noise and pollution of the world (and do not be afraid to switch off the computer and put away the smartphone!) Christ walked along the roads and pathways of this world, he didn’t run around putting out fires or responding to everyone who wanted attention! How can our hearts be troubled if we allow Christ to guide us through the valley of darkness at “his own pace”, allowing us to be attentive to his gentle, unhurried voice?

Finally, Christ assures us through today’s Gospel that the Holy Spirit will remind us of everything he has said. This is accomplished at every Mass, through the words that follow the Lord’s Prayer when we ready ourselves for Holy Communion: We hear again Christ’s words, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you”.  We will then be asked to extend to others, to be instruments, not of our own understanding of peace, but the gift of divine peace that comes from the heart of Christ.

So, do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. Reclaim and accept the gift of peace that is of God’s own making, always finding the time to rejoice and give thanks that our heavenly Father so very much loved the world (even in its sinfulness) that he sent his Son to live among us, walk with us and guide us along the right path.

Apr 23, 2016

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35

Stain begone! Keeping your whites white!

This portion of the Gospel we have listened to begins with the departure of Judas from the Upper Room and his descent into the darkness of the street. His mind made up to betray the Lord. Christ remarks “now is the Son of Man glorified”. Is not Christ glorified while he performed the miracles, in his cross, or by his resurrection? Why “now”, with the simple departure of Judas from the Upper Room?

Keep in mind the second reading, from the Book of Revelation (John 21: 1-5) when we hear that John “saw a new heaven and a new earth.” Now that the traitor Judas had left the sacred company of the other apostles and had departed that sacred space where the Church would gather to celebrate the sacrament of Christ’s priesthood, now it is finally possible to “taste” the glory that awaits the whole world on the great day of Judgment. On that day when all enemies of God will be cast away, the glory of the Lord will shine without distraction.

Even liturgically we spell this out. When we gather together in this sacred place where heaven and earth are renewed, do we not first confess our sins – sending “Judas” out into the darkness, so we can celebrate this sacrament of love in all its glory and without distraction?

Notice what we do before baptism.  We first reject sin, then embrace our faith, and then one is baptized. Keeping our baptismal garment clean is a lifetime event!

How do we do this? Christ gives us a “new commandment” to love one another. Is that new? Is that not an old commandment?  It is a new commandment because Christ tells us to “love one another as I have loved you”. It is new because Christ tells us to imitate his love, which is not a natural love. It is supernatural. It is sacrificial. It is a love that endures through good times and bad. It is a love that gives life, sometimes painfully – but always beautifully. That’s the Cross and resurrection.

Let us ask our blessed Mother Mary, to encourage us to love as Christ did. But not only this. To bear the name of Christian is to be mistaken for Christ, by the way we choose to live, by the decisions we make.  May the cleansing power of the Sacrament of Confession and the strength of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ keep the flame of our Christian charity burning brightly through the grace of compassion we have for the world and the salvations of souls.

(Note - Here it will be helpful to study and reflect on the virtue of charity, modeled perfectly in Christ. Para 1822 - 1829 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is particulary helpful.)

Apr 16, 2016

Good Shepherd Sunday

John 10: 27-30

The image of Christ the Good Shepherd is truly endearing. In a certain sense it provides a level of comfort, protection and belonging. These are noble sentiments and this enduring picture of Christ can evoke on the surface much of these associations.

Yet, on a deeper level, when we listen to, reflect and meditate on Our Lord’s words in this portion of Scripture, there is a deeper level of understanding His identification of Himself, not as any shepherd, but as “the” Good Shepherd. When you hire someone to do the job of looking after a flock they are paid to do good. Yet with Jesus, “His goodness is His own nature and not some added extra gift.” (St. Gregory the Great).

Whereas an ordinary overseer of a flock would get to know the sheep by careful observation, the Good Shepherd knows His flock – Our Lord knows us inside out, He knows what we are made of, what our fears are, our hopes and deepest desires, our dreams. It is this intimate unity, the oneness with Jesus, which helps us understand the term “communion”.

It is this “communion” which the Church enjoys with the Good Shepherd. But many wolfs ceaselessly try to tear apart the flock or scare the unsuspecting sheep into a certain direction where a hidden trap is waiting, even dividing the family, and often, in our own society, trying, as wolves would do in the wild, to force mothers from their lambs, be they born or even in the womb. Wolves too, go after the sick and and elderly. Wolves in sheep's clothing can easily sing Catholic songs, sell Catholic merchandise and appear as angels of light!

A good shepherd knows this. This is why the shepherd's staff is not only to pull back one of the sheep, but like the young David, the shepherd might have a slingshot in his back pocket. He would use this, of course against the wolf, but also to clip the heel of wayward lamb!

If we are to be role models to others, whether we are pastors, teachers, parents or even grandparents, it is not enough to do the good. We have to be goodness itself. Goodness, by its own nature unmasks the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and secures the family through every hardship and danger.

Jesus tells us that He will lay down his life for His sheep. Our Lord does not compare himself to a hero, battling a wolf to the death. What would happen to the remaining flock, their defender having been slain?

In this season of Easter, we are asked to contemplate the Shepherd who alone can lay down his life in death in order to take it up again. In short, this is death and resurrection. A shepherd may get killed for defending the vulnerable. But the Good Shepherd willingly sacrifices His life in order to destroy the greatest predator of humanity – death itself. The Resurrection of Jesus from death gives us the assurance of the ultimate victory of humanity, but that is if we should, of course, wish to share in it.

The upcoming month of May is traditionally dedicated to our Blessed Mother Mary. One of Mary’s titles is “Our Lady of Trust” by which she shows us our proper attitude towards her Son, the Good Shepherd. We remember how the angel greeted her when he announced that she would become pregnant and give birth, “Do not be afraid”.

Mary points us to her Son the Good Shepherd, who in turn tells us “Do not be afraid”. Let us pray that, even in the midst of a world of conflict and division, we can still hear the voice of the Good Shepherd guiding us closer to His heart, which is goodness itself, protecting us under his loving and careful gaze.

Apr 9, 2016

Third Sunday of Easter

John 21:1-14 

On the last week of May in 1940, nine months into the beginning of World War Two, and a year and a half before the United States joined the Allied Forces against Hitler’s invading armies, one of the greatest rescues in military history took place on the shores of France at the beachhead of Dunkirk.  400,000 British and French troops were trapped and pinned down by the advancing German armies. The coast of England was only 50 miles across the sea.

But because of the shallow waters, the large British warships could not reach the men safely to rescue them. The hundreds of thousands stranded on the breaches came under continual fire and bombardment from the enemy forces all around them.  Only some who were brave and strong enough to battle the raging sea made it out to the distant Allied ships. Likewise, many who attempted, drowned or gave in to hypothermia and perished.

A desperate call went out to every shipbuilder and boat owner around the English coast. Messages were sent to secret contacts up the coast in Belgium and Holland to get every vessel they could find and sail to Dunkirk to help rescue the nearly half a million men who were fighting for their lives. 

During the course of ten days, under constant fire, over 700 small vessels - made up of fishing boats, private yachts, coastal lifeboats - came to the rescue and helped evacuate 338,000 stranded men, bringing them out to the Allied Command ships waiting in the deeper waters to receive them.

Consider how this event, historical and epic as it is, applies to us here and now and our experience of being members of the Church.  When we look at the big picture, we can easily compare the Church to a large and mighty ship, navigating her course through time and history amid the raging sea around her, often under fire by hostile forces. Within her, she carries men, women and children of every culture, from every land and every race - the young and the old, clergy and parishioners, the married couples, the single, the young and the children. There is room on board for everyone, for the future of humanity depends on their safety.

Maybe, it is no accident that much attention has been given, during these past days, to the pope’s recent exhortation on the challenges of marriage and family life. It underscores that we are not simply one, huge family, only united in our common faith and understanding of the life of grace. We are also a flotilla of little boats, an armada of ships of different sizes and circumstances, taking on the challenges and casualties of the world.  In the Gospel, it took Peter with all his strength to haul in all the fish himself and secure it at the feet of Our Lord. And maybe, this is what Peter has done again - through Pope Francis - to spread out before the feet of Christ the many different circumstances and challenges of every married couple and their family life.

As he also did in the Gospel, Christ stands again on the shoreline, directing us, asking us to recuse and to help secure the salvation of every member of our common family. Our little unarmed boats in the great ocean, often feeling the stresses and anxieties of life on every side, need the Church’s protection. For within these little boats, the tired and the wounded, the brave and the weak, the stranger and our brothers and sisters are to be brought home

Let us pray for the openness to hear the voice of Christ, and the courage to come to the rescue to help bring on board and welcome with gladness those who fear they have been abandoned and forgotten. There is room for everyone who needs safe passage home, there is also a medic on board and a quiet place for healing, so that when you have regained your strength, there's a place at the table waiting for you in the company of the family of saints.

Responsorial Psalm 30

“I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.”

I will extol you, O LORD, for you drew me clear
and did not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O LORD, you brought me up from the netherworld;
you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.

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