Jan 28, 2018

Terms of Surrender


Although, the people who encountered Jesus did not know Him as yet as “God with Us”, the demons knew. They even shouted out in horror and fear, for they knew that through the eyes of Jesus of Nazareth, God was looking right at them!
You see, the devil and his demons are theologians with true knowledge about God. They are not atheists!  They know that God exists.  In fact the devil is very spiritual. He knows about the complexities of the soul - his demons know the hidden fears of the human heart, the thirst and hunger each person has for God.  They are theological and spiritual experts. But they are without faith, forever obstinate, forever stubborn in their refusal of God. This fallen angel is a perpetually burning furnace of pride and arrogance.

When Christ came upon those possessed by evil spirits and demons, what did he actually see? What did God see through the eyes of Christ? Did He see demons before Him like frenzied hyenas with blood-red eyes and razor sharp fangs and claws, dark creatures with flattering bat-wings?
I would say no.  The gaze of God saw, first and foremost, children with diseases, men and women suffering from sickness and epidemics, those enslaved by addictions and deep wounds.  In short, God saw first and foremost our injuries and our ailments. God looked at us through the eyes of Jesus and His gaze was one of compassion, not revulsion - His gaze was one of mercy, not disgust. The loving and tender gaze of Christ, like a powerful sword, cut through the devil's suffocating cloud. His word evaporated the demonic hold.  
God saw right through them and saw you and me, in all our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities and our broken spirits. God gives "us" the attention, not the demons. He doesn't even allow them to speak theology.  Christ will instead patiently wait for us to surrender to Him, not out of fear, but from faith in His strength and out of need of His love.
What does this tell us? We can not pride ourselves in simply having the true knowledge about God.  The devil, in fact, knows more than we do!  Instead, we should not be afraid to look at Christ, and to look at Him eye to eye.  But to do so takes great courage on our part, for we must, in a way, “capture” His gaze - allow it to purify us of any pride, selfishness and recklessness. Christ gaze is disarming - it can be frightening and we might experience a battle of wills.
But by laying down our arms, of all the things we often hide behind, and submitting to Him, then only can we will find true liberation.  
So that we may see the face of God and live (cf. First Reading) may our preparation for Holy Communion with our Lord always begin with a careful examination of our souls, not simply in the light of our knowledge of the faith, but also and in particular, under the gaze of Christ’s patient mercy and healing, so generously made available in the Sacrament of Confession.
Never be afraid of Confession. It reminds us, as St. Paul spoke in the second reading, that before anything or anyone else in this world, Christ claims you and me first. If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart. Stop fighting, surrender and claim the prize of victory, and peace of body and soul is assured.

Jan 21, 2018

2D to 3D Conversion


Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, were well-seasoned fishermen. I wonder how long our Lord watched them casting their nets into the sea; how many times He went down to the the shore watching them, day in and day out, predictably and right on cue, pushing their boats out, setting the sails, throwing their nets over, dragging them through the water, hoisting them up into the boat, inspecting the catch, then sailing out deeper, again throwing their nets over, dragging them through the water, bundling the catch, hoisting them up into the boat, inspecting the catch. Then sailing out deeper, again throwing their nets over, dragging them through the water, bundling the catch, again, and then again, the again.  

For some, a life of routine might be boring, for others, exciting, others still a reason to get up in the morning. Maybe for some this is the only thing they ever know, a rhythm, a pattern of life that they have been doing, for some they having been doing it generation after generation without question, maybe even passed down through the family. 

For the fishermen, Simon Peter, James and John, there was probably a security in their daily routine, a loyalty to what their forefathers had done and passed on to them. They lived, worked, and probably prayed in the same manner as generations before them had. And if they experienced hard times, they probably expected themselves to simply make more sacrifices, work more harder and pray harder still until the storms passed when they could return back to their daily rhythm of life. And then, maybe they hoped that, like their father Zebedee, they would enjoy retirement one day to sit around the harbor, telling stories of younger days, and keeping out of the wife’s hair, by busying himself mending fishing nets as his own father and grandfather had also probably done before him in retirement.

It’s a safe picture I have just painted. And maybe for many of us, we too can spend a whole lifetime looking for a pattern to life, a predictable rhythm of life, or if enduring hardships and making personal sacrifices to do so for the sake of a future nest egg we might dream about for the future.

But Christ is walking by. As with the fishermen, He has been watching you and me, day in and day out. All our history, our movements, our daily pattern of life is known to Him.  And maybe the question He asks, “What motivates you? Why do you do what you do? Do you even know?”

And then, “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. When you hear these words, especially when a preacher uses them, the first impression one might have is being told “Stop sinning and take up your bible, start reading it and doing what it says”. 

As important and as necessary as that might be, when we interpret “Repent and believe in the Gospel” that way alone, for the most part we think, ‘okay, I have to work on these particular sins to cut them out of my life, so that I can be a nicer person and be a better Christian.” 

But repentance is not just cutting out particular sins and faults as if you’re trying to remove a stain for from the clothes you wear every day so that you can better live with yourself and be more presentable to God and the world. Repentance is not spiritual cosmetics. It is changing everything, breaking out of a pattern, or a predictable way of living. 

One repents, not because you are bored and you need a change, a new start or a fresh break. It comes from the realization, an awakening, that everything you had presumed gave you a reason to live, or a sense of certainty, or the feeling of security, as important as it might be, is, in itself, no longer a valid reason to live. In fact, Repentance, is an epiphany that you have to break free or you will die of boredom or exhaustion. 

But, I’ve thrown you a curveball! Our Lord did not first say “repent and believe in the Gospel”. That would be like Him going up to you and saying, I want you to smash your smartphone with a hammer!”  Rather, Christ first said “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand”. Maybe it would be more like Christ saying to someone like Simon Peter and Andrew who were living their life inside a two dimensional world - almost like living inside a comic script or picture book - He says to them, to us, “You have been searching. But I have searched for you. Follow me, I can complete you. Not your family, as important as they are, not your work as essential as it is, but follow me, do my work”. Particularly clear in this Eucharistic meal, the Mass, Christ calls out to us. He says, “I am your deepest hunger. Now is the time to be full, complete. The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

Christ is the true fisherman. If we recognize that He is substantially present in this Sacrament of the Altar and respond to His voice, then we risk being hooked for life upon a secure line that will pull us onwards and upwards towards the shores of heaven. Take the bait!

Jan 14, 2018

Course Correction


St. John the Baptist had attracted many people by his message of repentance and the need for conversion in preparation for their encounter with Christ. Now as the Lord has entered into the scene, John points his own followers in the direction of Christ. John, having attracted thousands of people now retreats back into obscurity. He has fulfilled his mission, to prepare the way for the Lord. 

He could have joined Christ, and the two of them could have been a powerful force together, but no. Because John was a man of prayer, a man who was not afraid of self-denial, a man who would not allow himself to be distracted by the false comforts the world offered, John was graced to authentically know himself, and was therefore happy to accept the God-given purpose of his life.  

There are times, when we are asked by God to take the "back seat", to sit something out, to change gear.  None of us likes to be told we are dispensable. Indeed the graveyard is full of indispensable people!  Our roles and responsibilities can often change, even when we least expect. Parents are often faced with this when, for example, their children grow up and leave home and become independent. Roles change.  Or when, for example, if you have a particular expertize in something or maybe you might be expecting something like a promotion, and you are passed over. 

Or it could be that having reached a point on your life, you are forced to realise that we are not as young and strong as you thought you were!  St. John the Baptist can encourage us to see that God's grace and peace in our lives does not depend on the great things that we do ourselves. Inner peace and grace from God comes from not allowing our ego to get in the way of God's plan - that God does not need to ask my permission for the unfolding his plan.  He doesn't need my advice, even though I am often quick to give it!  "Here I am Lord, you come to do my will" .

Whereas St. John the Baptist was graced early on in his life to know what is God-given role and purpose in life was, for most of us, God does not tell us what he needs of us in such a direct manner.  Neither does the Almighty God bully us to submission or intimidate us with this all-powerfulness so that he can have us accomplish his will. 

Instead, he plants deep in our hearts a holy longing to seek him out, a restlessness of the soul.  Getting to know Him, takes time - often a whole life time, and so it is never on our own terms or according to our own agenda. The portion of the Gospel we have listened to spells this out: just when we get used to following Christ, he will turn around and ask us what we are looking for?  He does not allow us to follow him on cruise control.  He asks us to examine our conscience and our intentions.

How do we do this practically? Regular preparation for the Sacrament of Confession allows us to respond to Christ's question, "What are you looking for?".  It allows us to examine our conscience, to discern if we have unwittingly or on purpose put another savior before Him. The grace of Confession allows us to ask Christ, with genuine interest and childlike curiosity, "Where are you staying - where do you live?"  and to then hear His voice - "Come and See". This is Christ's invitation - to spend time with Him.  (In preparing couples for marriage, I will often tell them to spend time, waste time with each other, be curious, never be content that you think you know everything about them, and that you have nothing more to offer, no more sacrifices you can make).  

Don't be afraid of wasting time in prayer, getting to know Christ deeper and deeper. During the coming months, we will talk more about prayer, about finding the right words to talk to God with, and at times, using no words at all - simply spending time in His presence, allowing him to reveal more and more of himself - relationships are always two way.  And of course, our Blessed Mother will help us. If we come across her, she will always point us to where Christ is staying and give us good directions how to get to His house. She knows Christ intimately. And she is happy to share him.

Jan 3, 2018

Family


Having celebrated the birth of Christ, the Church now reflects that his birth was not “out of the blue”. Christ was born into a family – a family with true and real felt relationships. Christ experienced the relationship between Joseph and Mary as a husband and wife. As a child he grew up experiencing the sacred and natural bond one would expect between a mother and a child. And let’s not forget St. Joseph his legal father, his foster father. St. Joseph’s influence on the child helped Jesus to grow into an appreciation of the duties of manhood, the responsibilities needed to protect, provide and serve the family.
And let’s not forget the extended family of Joseph and Mary. Too often we only picture them as a threesome. This is hardly the experience of family life in the Middle East. Much like life family life in Hispanic or Mediterranean cultures, and indeed many cultures throughout the world, it is worth meditating that Christ had aunts and uncles, and cousins, first, second and third cousins who were all like brothers and sisters to him growing up. Let’s not forget his grandparents – Joachim and Anne, Mary’s parents. And from Joseph’s genealogy as recorded in St. Matthew’s gospel, Jesus also had a grandfather called Jacob.
A Christian “writes” the account of the family life of Jesus by the environment of their very own family life and home.  You can have Christ himself a part of all your family joys, sorrows, tensions and celebrations. That is what family that prays together accomplishes.
But I understand too the great challenges the modern family faces every day. The fragmentation of time and the greater efforts demanded of parents because of long work hours, the intrusion of electronic media, the inability or reluctance to incorporate family prayer into daily life, the challenges of deployment, families separated by state lines and national borders, children who have abandoned the faith, marriages and relationships that are challenged by fighting and frustrations  – this all takes it toll and looking for encouragement through difficult times often seems fought with one's reluctance to appear weak and vulnerable.
God could have simply appeared among us in the form of a strong and independent Jesus Christ. But he didn’t. Out of his love and concern for us, he was born weak and vulnerable into a human family challenged by circumstances beyond their control; he grew up within true and genuine relationships with all their joys and tensions.  It was from Mary and Joseph, that God first experienced in his humanity, the tenderness of human love and the necessity of family life – so much so that even from the cross, He has asked us to take His mother into our safekeeping – Mary becomes our spiritual mother!
As children of God and brothers and sisters to each other, let us pray for the strengthening of our family bonds, for the healing of relationships and the renewal of our identity as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. May St. Joseph be always watchful over us and the angels and saints, the family of heaven, encourage and guide us.

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