Saturday, 5 December 2020
To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 40:1-5,9-11; 2 Peter 3:8-15; Mk 1:1-8
Our God is coming. He is coming to save and redeem. The time of exile – the long separation of humankind from God, from one another and from nature because of sin – is about to end. This is the good news proclaimed in today’s liturgy.
The second Book of Isaiah begins at Chapter 40 and is known as the Book of Consolation. It was written at a time when Israel was still in exile in Babylon. Isaiah is speaking to a captive people. Israel’s Babylonian captors were conquered themselves by Cyrus and Persia. Cyrus celebrated his victory by releasing the peoples who had been conquered by the Babylonians. So when Isaiah spoke of comfort and the glory of the Lord being revealed, the captives celebrating their release could readily imagine a return to the better days of their history when God had felt closer. God had indeed come not to scatter but to gather, as a shepherd gathers his sheep. Isaiah saw Cyrus as God’s instrument to release his people from captivity and allow them their freedom.
The Psalmist, like Isaiah, celebrates God’s initiative in redeeming his people and proclaiming peace upon them. He is confident that God’s initiative will result in the whole of creation bringing forth plenty.
This, however, was seen by the first Christian community as only one of many acts in a long line of saving acts that would culminate and find its fulfillment in the decisive act of sending his only Son. The Gospel of Mark begins by announcing this fact in the first verse itself. Mark’s Gospel is a Gospel not only about Jesus Christ, the Son of God but also Jesus’ Gospel or good news. This good news is that in him God will save all peoples everywhere. This salvation will be not merely from the physical bondage of being oppressed by foreigners in a foreign land but will touch every aspect of life. It will be a kind of salvation never experienced before.
In order to prepare for this salvation, John the Baptist comes into the wilderness and begins his proclamation like Isaiah had done centuries before. In the Bible the desert or wilderness means a place of encounter with God. It was in the desert that the people of Israel met God and learnt the ways of God. There they became God’s own people and the Lord became their God. Jesus, before beginning his public ministry, spent forty days and nights in the desert or wilderness. It was a time of discovering and deepening his personal relationship with God. By calling the people into the wilderness desert), John was calling them to let go of their false hopes and securities and learn to hope and trust in God alone.
Isaiah and John did their task. They did what they were required to do. They have completed the mission entrusted to them. They prepared the way of the Lord, they made his paths straight.
The disciples of Jesus continued the mission of preparing the way of the Lord, as is evident in the second reading of today in which Peter exhorts his readers to continue to prepare for the coming of the Lord. They must not be discouraged at the delay in the coming of the Lord. This delay is simply to give his people time to repent. As they look forward to the coming of the Lord it must not be a looking forward with fear or anxiety, because creation will be transformed in a ‘new heaven and new earth’, in which all the things that are held dear will be filled with the righteousness, or incomparable goodness, of God’s ways. The Lord is patient and understanding and wants all to be saved.
These images of hope, promise, and renewal remind us that human obedience, walking in the way of the Law, is a proper response to God’s grace. We do not build the highway and then wait for God to come. God has already drawn near to us before we repent. Our repentance is not a condition but a consequence of God’s drawing near to us. The readings make it clear that we are preparing for no less than the coming of God’s son yet again into our world and our lives. During this Advent season, we need to repent that we humans have not responded to God’s offer, as we should. Therefore peace, justice and security remain illusive. Dishonesty, corruption and greed still beset us. This is why we care called to make the kingdom that he inaugurated a reality even today. That is what we prepare for and work for, today, and every day, here, and wherever we are.
Yet God continues to come into such a world much like he came two thousand years ago. He continues to challenge us to remain as positive as we can be. He continues to call us to selflessness, generosity, honesty and love even amidst the negative of this life. He was not recognized by most of the people when he first came, will we recognize him when he comes now?
Friday, 4 December 2020
Saturday, December 5, 2020 - Will you speak an enhancing word today? Will you perform a healing action today?
The text of today begins with what is known as a Summary statement. It states succinctly the ministry of Jesus which is both word and action. It forms an inclusion with a similar summary in 4:23 and thus brackets what comes between, namely the Sermon on the Mount (Chapters 5-7) and the Miracle Cycle (Chapters 8-9). Through this Summary, Jesus is portrayed as Messiah in words and deeds. This Summary statement and Jesus’ observation of the crowd, who appear to him as harassed and helpless sheep without a shepherd, serves also as an Introduction to the Mission Discourse in Matthew (10:1-42) which is the second Discourse in the Gospel of Matthew. By placing this Introduction at the beginning of the Mission Discourse, Matthew succeeds in conveying that the Mission of the Disciples is at one with, is continuous with, the Mission of Jesus. Like Jesus, they, too, are called to say and do. They, too, are called to word and action. They, too, are called, like Jesus, to make the Kingdom that they proclaim a tangible reality.
The disciples’ mission is not voluntary activity initiated by them; rather, they are chosen, authorized, and sent by God through Christ. It is his authority with which they are sent. They are to speak and act in Jesus’ name. The content of their missionary proclamation is that the kingdom of heaven has indeed come. This is a kingdom that is not theoretical but extremely practical and down-to-earth. This is why the verbal proclamation has to be accompanied by action. The actions they perform are actions of healing, of making whole. Since the kingdom of heaven is given by God freely and gratuitously, their proclamation and actions must also be done freely and without charge. God’s kingdom cannot be purchased and need not be purchased, since it is God’s free gift.
The mission that Jesus inaugurated continues even today. It is, even now, a mission that must consist of both word and action. The word that is spoken must be a word that enhances and builds up. The action that is performed must be an action that heals and makes whole.
Thursday, 3 December 2020
Friday, December 4, 2020 - Have you tried seeing with your heart instead of only your eyes? What difference does it make?
Chapters 8 and 9 of the Gospel of Matthew are known as the “Miracle Cycle” of Matthew, because in them we find ten miracles in series of three miracles each. The fact that the Miracle Cycle follows immediately after the Sermon on the Mount and that both are framed by a summary statement in 4,23 and 9,35 is an indication that Matthew’s intention is to show, through such placement, that Jesus is the Messiah, in words (through the Sermon on the Mount) and in deeds (through the Miracle Cycle).
Many regard this story as a doublet of the healing of blind Bartimaeus found in Mk 10:46-52. Matthew’s story, however, has the healing of two blind men and does not name them. A similar story of the healing of two blind men is found in Mt 20:29-34, and since, in both cases, the one blind man of Mark has become two blind men in Matthew, he pieces the story together with details and elements from his own sources.
The story begins with the blind men following Jesus. While on the one level, this will mean walking behind Jesus, on the deeper level, it means that they are doing what disciples are called to do. Their address for Jesus: “Son of David” (this is the first time in the Gospel that Jesus is called “Son of David”) and “Lord” indicates that they are believers. They have faith. Though physically blind, they are able to see who Jesus is and see the extent of his power to heal them. This faith is the reason why they receive their sight.
The command of Jesus to the blind men not to tell anyone what he had done is disobeyed by them. While some see the command as retention of Marks’ messianic secret (the Markan Jesus tells some of those whom he heals not to make it known, since he does not want people to mistake the kind of Messiah that he has come to be), others see it as an illustration by Matthew that not everyone who says “Lord” obeys the will of the Father manifested in Jesus. These have faith, they themselves say, but yet they do not do.
Blindness is not only an external ailment or limitation. The fox says to the Little Prince in Antoine Saint De Exupery’s book “The Little Prince”: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” There is, thus, also blindness of the heart. As a matter of fact, in many cases, blindness of the heart is worse than blindness of the eyes. Heart blindness closes itself to another point of view. It is a blindness that refuses to look anew at things, events, and people. It prefers the pessimistic and dark side of life. Heart blindness can only be healed when one turns in faith to God, manifest in his Son, Jesus.
Wednesday, 2 December 2020
Thursday, December 3, 2020 - St. Francis Xavier SJ (1506-1552) - Will I in imitation of Francis Xavier keep on keeping on or will I give in and give up at the slightest sign of trouble?
To read the texts click on the texts: Zeph3:9-10,14-20; Rm 10:8-17; Mt 28:16-20
The baptismal name of Francis Xavier was Francisco de Jaso y Azpilicueta and he was born on April 7, 1506. In 1525, having completed a preliminary course of studies in his own country, Francis Xavier went to Paris, where he entered the Collège de Sainte-Barbe. Here he met the Savoyard, Pierre Favre, and a warm personal friendship sprang up between them.
It was at this same college that St. Ignatius Loyola, who was already planning the foundation of the Society of Jesus, resided for a time as a guest in 1529. Ignatius soon won the confidence of the two young men; first Favre and later Xavier offered themselves with him in the formation of the Society. Four others, Lainez, Salmerón, Rodríguez, and Bobadilla, having joined them, the seven made the famous vow of Montmartre, on August 15, 1534.
After completing his studies in Paris and filling the post of teacher there for some time, Xavier left the city with his companions on November 15, 1536, and turned his steps to Venice, where he displayed zeal and charity in attending the sick in the hospitals. On June 24, 1537, he received Holy orders with St. Ignatius. The following year he went to Rome, and after doing apostolic work there for some months, during the spring of 1539 he took part in the conferences which St. Ignatius held with his companions to prepare for the definitive foundation of the Society of Jesus. The order was approved verbally on September 3, 1539, and before the written approbation was secured, which was not until a year later, Xavier was appointed, at the earnest solicitation of the John III, King of Portugal, to evangelize the people of the East Indies. He left Rome on March 16, 1540, and reached Lisbon about June. He remained there for nine months, and was noted for his apostolic zeal.
On April 7, 1541, he embarked in a sailing vessel for India, and after a tedious and dangerous voyage landed at Goa on May 6, 1542. The first five months were spent in preaching and ministering to the sick in the hospitals. He would go through the streets ringing a little bell and inviting the children to hear the word of God. When he had gathered a number, he would take them to a certain church and would there explain the catechism to them. About October, 1542, he started for the pearl fisheries of the extreme southern coast of the peninsula, desirous of restoring Christianity which, although introduced years before, had almost disappeared on account of the lack of priests. He devoted almost three years to the work of preaching to the people of Western India, converting many, and reaching in his journeys even the Island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
Many were the difficulties and hardships which Xavier had to encounter at this time; yet he persevered and never gave up. In the spring of 1545 Xavier started for Malacca. He worked there for the last months of that year, and although he was successful, he was not as successful as he would have liked to be. About January 1546, Xavier left Malacca and went to Molucca Islands, where the Portuguese had some settlements, and for a year and a half he preached the Gospel to the inhabitants of Amboyna, Ternate, Baranura, and other islands in that area. It is claimed by some that during this expedition he landed on the island of Mindanao, and for this reason St. Francis Xavier has been called the first Apostle of the Philippines.
By July, 1547, he was again in Malacca. Here he met a Japanese called Anger (Han-Sir), from whom he obtained much information about Japan. His zeal was at once aroused by the idea of introducing Christianity into Japan, but for the time being the affairs of the Society of Jesus demanded his presence at Goa, and so he went there taking Anger with him. During the six years that Xavier had been working among the people, other Jesuit missionaries had arrived at Goa, sent from Europe by St. Ignatius; moreover some who had been born in India had been received into the Society. In 1548 Xavier sent these Jesuits to the principal centres of India, where he had established missions, so that the work might be preserved and continued. He also established a novitiate and house of studies, and having received into the Society Father Cosme de Torres, a Spanish priest whom he had met in the Malucca. He started with him and Brother Juan Fernández for Japan towards the end of June, 1549. The Japanese Anger, who had been baptized at Goa and given the name of Pablo de Santa Fe, accompanied them. They landed at the city of Kagoshima in Japan, on August 15, 1549. The entire first year was devoted to learning the Japanese language and translating into Japanese, with the help of Pablo de Santa Fe, the principal articles of faith and short treatises which were to be employed in preaching and catechizing. When he was able to express himself, Xavier began preaching and made some converts, but these aroused the ill will of the Bonzes, who had him banished from the city. Leaving Kagoshima about August, 1550, he penetrated to the centre of Japan, and preached the Gospel in some of the cities of southern Japan. Towards the end of that year he reached Meaco, then the principal city of Japan, but he was unable to make any headway here. He retraced his steps to the centre of Japan, and during 1551 preached in some important cities, forming the nucleus of several Christian communities, which in time increased with extraordinary rapidity.
After working about two years and a half in Japan he left this mission in charge of Father Cosme de Torres and Brother Juan Fernández, and returned to Goa, arriving there at the beginning of 1552. He then turned his thoughts to China, and began to plan an expedition there. During his stay in Japan he had heard much of the Celestial Empire, and was anxious to spread the Gospel there. In the autumn of 1552, he arrived in a Portuguese vessel at the small island of Sancian near the coast of China. While planning the best means for reaching the mainland, he was taken ill, and as the movement of the vessel seemed to aggravate his condition, he was removed to the land, where a hut had been built to shelter him. In these poor surroundings he breathed his last.
One can only wonder at the apostolic zeal of Francis Xavier who in the short span of ten years traversed so many seas and visited so many countries to preach the Gospel. He is regarded as the Patron of Missions primarily for these reasons. He was canonized with St. Ignatius in 1622.
The Gospel text of today is taken from the last Chapter and last verses in the Gospel of Matthew and is commonly known as the “Great Commission”. The risen Jesus meets his disciples on a mountain in Galilee and after making a revelation to them issues a command. The command is to “make disciples” which in Matthew is not done merely by baptising, but primarily by teaching people to do what Jesus has done. This is what Francis Xavier. The assurance that Jesus gave his disciples of his abiding presence is the assurance that motivated Xavier to persevere. It must also be our reason for perseverance since Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.