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Monday, 31 October 2011

ALL SAINTS DAY - Rev 7:2-4,9-14; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12a


“I want to be in that number when the Saints go marching in”. These words from the popular spiritual song “When the Saints Go Marching In” can be regarded as one of the two important reasons why we celebrate the feast of All Saints.
In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III consecrated a new chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter to all saints on November 1, and he fixed the anniversary of this dedication as the date of the feast. In the ninth century, Pope Gregory IV extended the celebration of All Saints for the entire Church and since then, the Church celebrates the feast of all Saints on this date.
While the celebration of this solemnity may be seen on the one hand as a remembrance or memorial of the numerous courageous men and women who lived lives of selfless love, it may also be seen as an event which makes each of us aware that we, too, as those who have gone before, are capable of living such lives. It is a celebration of possibilities, potential and promise. They could, we also can.
This possibility and potential is brought out vividly in the first reading from the Book of Revelation. While on the one hand there are the chosen one hundred and forty four thousand made up of twelve thousand each from the twelve tribes of Israel, there is also the great multitude from every nation and tribe and language. This great multitude is a demonstration that the possibility of being included is a very real one and that everyone who desires it can receive it. While it is true that the choice is made by God, we as humans can desire it by being willing to be washed in the blood of the lamb. This means the willingness to undergo persecution, trials and tribulations and resisting the pressure to conform to values of the “world” which include selfishness and self centeredness.
This willingness not to conform is precisely the reason why, in the Gospel text of today, Jesus can declare as “blessed”, those who in the eyes of the world might seem as those who are cursed. This declaration is a confident assertion of the reality that is now and here. The beatitudes are not a “wish list” nor a projection of the future state of what is to come. They are not conditions for discipleship or preliminary requirements for an initiate. Rather, they describe those who belong to the community of the Lord. They describe the Saints.
The nine pronouncements, or declarations, are thus not statements about general human virtues. Rather, they pronounce blessing on authentic disciples in the Christian community. All the beatitudes apply to one group of people. They do not describe nine different kinds of good people who get to go to heaven, but are nine declarations about the blessedness, contrary to all appearances, of the eschatological community living in anticipation of God’s reign.
“Poor in spirit” definitely includes being economically poor, but goes further than literal poverty. It refers also to an absence of arrogance and the presence of dependence. It refers to an absence of ego and a presence of awareness that one’s true identity is found only in God.
The “mourning” of disciples is not because of the loss of something personal or because of the death of a loved one. It is a mourning that is outward in that the mourning is because things are the way they are. The mourning is because God’s will is not being done and represents also a desire to do it. It is mourning because of what is not and also because of what can be.
 Meekness in the third beatitude represents not a passive attitude of endurance or as is sometimes understood: gullibility. Rather it is an active disposition that will refuse to use violent means. This refusal does not represent inability, weakness or impotence. It represents instead a deliberate choice of one’s way of proceeding.
This is also what is meant by the desire or hunger for righteousness or justice. It is the courage to do God’s will here and now with the confidence and optimism that the kingdom is indeed now and here.
The disciples are pure in heart or have a single minded devotion to God and will not be swayed by things that are temporary and passing. They will not be divided or serve two masters. They will serve the Lord and the Lord alone.
This single minded service of the Lord will also enable them to work for peace and reconciliation. They will bring together people of different experiences, races, religions, and languages not through any kind of coercion or force, but through the example of consecrated and selfless lives. All this they will do with a deep sense of joy, because they know that this is really the only way to live fully and completely the life that God in his graciousness has bestowed.
It is the same God who calls them his children and to whom he is Father. The disciples know that this is indeed what they are because they live lives that are in keeping with their call.
The elder who invited John to identify those robed in white continues to invite us not only to identify them today, but also to have the confidence that, if we dare to live as Jesus has lived and shown us and as the Saints who have gone before us have lived, then we too can be counted in that number.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

St. Alphonsus Rodriguez SJ


Alphonsus Rodriguez was born in Segovia Spain on July 25, 1533. Alphonsus’ first contact with the Jesuits was when Peter Faber (one of the first companions of St. Ignatius of Loyola) went to Segovia to preach and teach catechism to children. He was sent to the Jesuit school at Alcala when he was twelve years old. He returned after his schooling to run the family cloth business, and was married when he was twenty-seven years of age. He had three children, Gaspar, Alphonsus and Maria. He was very happy with his family life and was a good husband to his wife and father to his children. However, in quick succession his son Gaspar died and then his daughter Maria. Shortly thereafter his wife died, and finally his son Alphonsus. He looked to the Jesuits for spiritual help and direction. After much discernment he presented himself as an applicant for the priesthood. However, since he was already thirty-five years old at that time, it was recommended that he join the Society as a coadjutor brother. On January 6, 1571, at the age of thirty-seven, Alphonsus entered the Jesuit novitiate. He pronounced his first and perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience on April 5, 1573, and took on various positions at the Jesuit College of Montesion in Palma on the island of Majorca off the coast of Spain. In 1579, he was appointed as the doorkeeper of the College. As doorkeeper his duty was to receive visitors and take messages for the professors and students. On his way to the door he would repeatedly say, “I am coming Lord!” and greeted everyone with same warm smile that he would have reserved for the Lord. Legend has it that Our Lord and His Blessed Mother did appear to Alphonsus when he opened the door one day. He worked in the same position for fifteen years. When he was sixty-one years old his health began to decline, and he was appointed as assistant to the new porter, and worked in this position till he was eighty-two years, and from 1615 he was confined to his bed and could rise only occasionally. Finally on October 31, 1617 with the name of Jesus on his lips, he went to God.
He was beatified by Pope Leo XII on June 12, 1825, and canonized by Pope Leo XIII on January 15, 1888.
Since the text chosen for the feast of today includes 14,1,which spoke of a Sabbath setting, this text must be seen in that light. The text is set in the context of a meal, and contains instructions on behaviour to guests who were invited. Meals were important social ceremonies, and very little was left to chance. In his instructions, Jesus advocates what may be termed as practical humility, with words from Prov 25,6-7. It must be noticed that when the host asks the guest to move down from the place of honour, no term of address, respect or affection is used, whereas when the host invites the guest to move up, the guest is addressed as “friend”. The future tense that is used in 14,11 “will be humbled”, “will be exalted”) points beyond the immediate situation to the reversal of values that is characteristic of the economy of God’s kingdom. When one realises that God accepts one unconditionally, the result is practical humility.

St. Alphonsus Rodriguez SJ


Alphonsus Rodriguez SJ (1533-1617) was the spiritual director of St. Peter Claver who is known as the slave of slaves. It was the influence of Alphonsus that inspired Peter to give himself so completely to God in his service of slaves.
Alphonsus’s early years in Segovia, Spain, was a story of tragedies. When he was fourteen, his father died and he left school to help his mother run the family business. At twenty-three he married, but his wife died in childbirth three years later. Within a few years his mother and son also died. On top of this, his business was failing, so he sold it. Recognizing a late vocation to religious life, he applied for admission to the Jesuits at Segovia, but was refused because he was not educated. Undaunted, Alphonsus returned to Latin school, humbly bearing the ridicule of his adolescent classmates. Finally, in 1571, the Jesuit provincial accepted him as a lay brother. He was sent to Montesione College on Majorca, where he served as doorkeeper for forty-five years.
Whenever a visitor rang the bell of the College, Alphonsus would go to admit the visitor with the words, “Yes, Lord I am coming”. Legend has it that on one occasion Jesus and his mother Mary did actually appear to him.
His post allowed him to minister to many visitors. And he became the spiritual adviser to many students. He exerted wide-reaching influence, most notably in guiding St. Peter Claver into his mission to the slaves.
Alphonsus adhered to a few simple spiritual guidelines that navigated him through his troubles and trials. For example, a method for finding joy in hardship:
“Another exercise is very valuable for the imitation of Christ—for love of him, taking the sweet for the bitter and the bitter for sweet. So, I put myself in spirit before our crucified Lord, looking at him full of sorrow, shedding his blood and bearing great bodily hardships for me.
As love is paid for in love, I must imitate him, sharing in spirit all his sufferings. I must consider how much I owe him and what he has done for me. Putting these sufferings between God and my soul, I must say, “What does it matter, my God, that I should endure for your love these small hardships? For you, Lord, endured so many great hardships for me.” Amid the hardship and trial itself, I stimulate my heart with this exercise. Thus, I encourage myself to endure for love of the Lord who is before me, until I make what is bitter sweet. In this way learning from Christ our Lord, I take and convert the sweet into bitter, renouncing myself and all earthly and carnal pleasures, delights and honors of this life, so that my whole heart is centered solely on God”.
In his old age, Alphonsus experienced no relief from his trials. The more he mortified himself, the more he seemed to be subject to spiritual dryness, vigorous temptations, and even diabolical assaults. In 1617 his body was ravaged with disease and he died at midnight, October 30.
The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins sums up the life of Alphonsus in these words:
Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went

Those years and years by without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

THIRTY FIRST SUNDAY OPF THE YEAR - Will you let people hear what you do rather than what you say? How?

Moses’ seat is a metaphorical expression representing the teaching and administrative authority of the synagogue leadership, scribes and Pharisees. Jesus condemns only the practice of the scribes and Pharisees and not their teaching. Matthew makes three points. The first is that they say but do not do, the second is that they burden while failing to act themselves and the third is that they act for the wrong reasons: to make an impression on others. “Phylacteries” is the term Matthew uses for the tephillin, which were small leather boxes containing portions of the Torah (Exod 13,1-16; Deut 6,4-9; 11,13-32) strapped to the forehead and arm during the recitation of prayers in literal obedience to Deut 6,8. The “tassels” were attached to the prayer shawls, and the most important seats in the synagogue refer to the place of honour at the front facing the congregation, occupied by teachers and respected leaders. The term “Rabbi” was a title of honour.
The point that the Gospel reading of today makes is that there must be a correlation between our words and our actions. It is easy to say, but difficult to do, it is easy to preach but difficult to practice. The way to ensure that there is a correlation between the two is to first do and then say, or better to let people hear not what you say but what you do.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Do you agree with this statement, “Humility is a funny thing, once you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it”? Why? Romans 11,1-2.11-12.25-29; Philippians 1,18-26; Lk 14,1.7-11


Since the text of today includes 14,1,which spoke of a Sabbath setting, this text must be seen in that light. The text is set in the context of a meal, and contains instructions on behaviour to guests who were invited. Meals were important social ceremonies, and very little was left to chance. In his instructions, Jesus advocates what may be termed as practical humility, with words from Proverbs 25,6-7. It must be noticed that when the host asks the guest to move down from the place of honour, no term of address, respect or affection is used, whereas when the host invites the guest to move up, the guest is addressed as “friend”. The future tense that is used in 14,11 (“will be humbled”, “will be exalted”) points beyond the immediate situation to the reversal of values that is characteristic of the economy of God’s kingdom. When one realises that God accepts one unconditionally, the result is practical humility.