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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

All Saints Day - This means each one of us


If you wish to read the texts click here:  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.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

St. Alphonsus Rodriguez SJ (1533-1617) - The Saint for whom humility was as natural as anything.


If you wish to read the texts click here: Eph 6:10-18; Lk 14:1,7-14

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 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 (1844-89) summarized 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.

The Gospel text chosen for the feast is from the Gospel of Luke and is set in the context of a meal. It 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. This is what Alphonsus realised already in his life and now in his afterlife.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Have you sometimes been tempted to give in to despair when you look at the injustice, corruption and negatives around you? Will these parables help give you hope?



 If you wish to read the texts click here: Eph 5:21-33; Lk 13:18-21

In the two parables that make up the text of today, we once again find the mention of a man and a woman. While in the first parable of the mustard seed, it is a “man” who sows, in the second parable of the yeast; it is a “woman” who mixes it. The parable of the mustard seed is found also in Mark and Matthew, whereas the parable of the yeast is in Matthew but not in Mark.
The Lukan version of the parable of the mustard seed is the shortest of the three. It lacks the description of the mustard seed as the smallest of all seeds (Mt 13:31; Mk 4:31) or the mature plant as “the greatest of all shrubs” (Mt 13:32; Mk 4:32). The point that Luke seems to be making by omitting these details is that rather than compare the kingdom to a mighty cedar, be describes it is terms of an insignificant seed. The emphasis is not on future glory, but on the present sign of its presence, even though it cannot be seen as clearly as some would like to. In Luke, it is a parable of the beginnings of the kingdom and not on its final manifestation. The people expected a spectacular, extra-ordinary cedar, but Jesus preferred to bring the kingdom as insignificantly as a mustard seed.
The point of the parable of the yeast in Luke is not the same as the point being made in the parable of the mustard seed. In this parable it is a clearly a case of small beginnings contrasted with great endings. While the quantity of yeast is not specified, the use of the word “hid’ indicates that it is an extremely small quantity. In contrast the three measures of flour that are leavened are the equivalent of fifty pounds of flour, enough to make bread for about 0ne hundred fifty people. The kingdom like the yeast will eventually leaven the whole of humanity.
While the parable of the mustard seed dramatises the presence of the kingdom in its insignificant beginnings, the parable of the yeast reminds us that even small beginnings are powerful and eventually change the character of the whole.
When we realise that with the motley crew that Jesus chose he could achieve so much in the world, then we realise that his words in the parable are indeed true. The kingdom does have insignificant beginnings, but even this insignificant or small beginning has resulted and will continue to result in great endings.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Has your adherence to rules and regulations sometime blinded you from love?


If you wish to read the texts click here: Eph 4:32-5:8; Lk 13:10-17

In Luke, scenes involving a man are often balanced with scenes involving a woman. The healing of a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years which is our text for today is paralleled with the healing of a man with dropsy (Lk 14:1-6). Like this healing that one too occurs on the Sabbath, and in both there is a controversy with a leader of the synagogue. In both miracles there is a pronouncement as well as a healing, and in both Jesus invites his opponents to reason what they should do for a fellow human being from what they would do for an ox. This is the last time in Luke that Jesus enters a synagogue, though he will continue to teach even in later chapters. In this incident, the main point that is made is that concern over the suffering of fellow human beings takes precedence over obligations related to keeping the Sabbath. Love takes precedence over rules and regulations. The number eighteen (the number of years for which the woman was sick) does not seem to have any special significance except that it is a long period of time and is probably to link this scene with the previous one in which eighteen persons perished when the tower of Siloam fell (Lk 13:4). Jesus heals the woman by both a pronouncement and a laying on of hands. The latter may also be taken to indicate the conferral of a blessing on the woman. The leader of the synagogue does not address Jesus directly, but speaks to the crowd and expresses his indignation that a healing took place on the Sabbath. His focus is not on the wholeness of the woman but on the breaking of the law. Jesus too, in his response addresses the crowd and challenges his opponents to reason from the lesser to the greater. Since a bound animal would surely be unbound even if the day were a Sabbath, a human person who had been bound would most definitely be unbound. The result of Jesus’ pronouncement is that all his opponents were put to shame. It seems that while the woman was only physically crippled, the leader of the synagogue was spiritually crippled.
It is possible that because of our myopic vision we might sometimes lose sight of the larger picture. While it is good to have our own point of view, we must also keep in mind that ours is one point of view and there will be others, and therefore ours will not necessarily be the correct one.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Bartimaeus received physical sight and spiritual insight. How about you?


If you wish to read the texts click here: Jer 31:7-9; Heb 5:1-6; Mk 10:46-52

The promise of a return to the Promised Land is one of many instances in The Old Testament in which God’s deliverance is seen as belonging to the real and material world of human existence.  It is a promise in time and space and is not limited only to a spiritual realm. While this is seen clearly in the First reading of today, it is even clearer in the Gospel text in which Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus. If, in the words of Jeremiah, God is shepherd and keeper of his people, for Mark, God is one who restores wholeness.

The tone of the reading from Jeremiah is one of sheer joy, hope, and confidence. It is not the strong whom God will gather but the helpless and the weak. The ones gathered are those who are unable to take care of themselves and those who depend on the Lord for their salvation. These will be led by a smooth path and they will not stumble because it is the Lord himself who will go ahead of them.

The privilege of being led by God is a blessing, not only for the covenant people, but through them, for all the earth. Something in the very heart of God is moved by suffering, and hurt, and pain, by the plight of the mocked and the ridiculed, the lonely and the desolate, the besieged and the afflicted. The Lord will not let the uncared for remain that way.  He will not let the taunts of the mockers go untended. This is what we know to be at the very center of the revelation of the love of God—in both the story of Israel and particularly, in the story of Jesus Christ. The grace of God always triumphs over the judgment of God.

This fact is made absolutely clear in the Gospel text of today when we read how blind Bartimaeus is healed. This is the last miracle before Jesus can enter Jerusalem to suffer and to die and thus, is significant. Though the crowd tries to silence him, Bartimaeus will not be silenced. His faith in the power of Jesus to make him whole prompts him to keep pleading. Bartimaeus’ faith is rewarded by Jesus and Bartimaues is able to see again. It is significant to note that, though physically blind, Bartimaeus is able to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. This is evident in the title that he uses to address Jesus – “Son of David”. However, Jesus is not merely Son of David; he is also Son of God. The plea of Bartimaeus – “have mercy on me” is an indication of the fact that the mercy of God is given generously and freely to those who ask. God wants to give. What is lacking is not his desire to give, but our perseverance in asking.

This God, who wants to give, was made manifest in Jesus.  Jesus, a God who knows completely the sufferings and trials of the human race. As a matter of fact, Jesus becoming human enables him to understand every aspect of human life, its ups and downs, its highs and lows, its good times and bad times. This is why he is able to deal gently with those who go astray and with those who are in need of healing and wholeness.

The God revealed in Jesus goes even further than God went with the people of old.  The God revealed in Jesus promises not merely a return to a promised land but a return to new life itself. This he does through the very tangible action of giving himself over to death on a Cross. He died so that we might live and live fully.

To be sure, blindness, deafness, lameness, paralysis, and other illnesses, continue to plague humanity.  We are still a long way off from the wholeness that Jesus proclaimed and brought to those around him. Yet the fact remains that this is what we, as disciples of Jesus, are called to continue to proclaim and to bring. Do we lack the power to bring healing and wholeness to others today? No.  Does God not want to make people whole? No. We are unable to bring healing and wholeness to others because we lack the will to ask and the determination to believe. We give up even before we can try. We do not persevere. The negatives around us have taken such a hold of us that they dominate our lives and do not allow us to be optimistic and positive. The problems that we encounter sometimes overwhelm us and do not allow us the courage to hope.

The remnants who are brought back to the Promised Land and Blind Bartimaeus offer us a lesson in hope, faith, and perseverance. Their hope, faith, and perseverance helped them to receive the blessing that God wanted to grant them. It helped them to return to the Promised Land and to be restored to wholeness. Our hope, faith, and perseverance can help us to achieve healing and wholeness as well.


Friday, 26 October 2012

Thanks Kate

Thanks to Kate for her comments on the New look.  All the other regulars are also welcome to comment.

If you were given only one more day to live, what are the things that you would do? What is preventing you from doing these today?


If you wish to read the texts click here: Eph 4:7-16; Lk 13:1-9

The warnings and admonitions regarding the coming judgement that began in 12:1, reach their conclusion here with a call to repentance. Jesus uses two sayings to make the same point. The first is about the calamity that occurred when Pilate slaughtered a group of Galileans and when the tower of Siloam fell and killed eighteen people. Though no other historical reports narrate these incidents, there may be some historical background to the first one, Josephus the Jewish historian does narrate many incidents, which confirm that Pilate shed much blood. In the incidents that Jesus narrates, however, he makes clear that what is required on the part of the human person is not the focus on sin and its consequences but on repentance, which means the acquisition of a new mind, a new heart and a new vision.
Near Eastern wisdom literature contains stories of unfruitful trees and the story of the barren fig tree is similar to the stories found there. While in the story as told by the Lucan Jesus there is mercy, it is still a warning of the urgency of repentance.
Each new day brings with it new hope and a new opportunity to right the wrongs that we may have done, to say the kind word that we ought to have said and to do the good that we ought to have done.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Where in the scale of “attention to detail” does your devotion to the teachings of the Lord rank?



 If you wish to read the texts click here: Eph 4:1-6; Lk 12:54-59




The warnings about the coming judgement continue in the Gospel reading of today. The text contains two clusters of sayings addressed to the crowds. They are charged with hypocrisy in the first of the two clusters for not being as observant of the signs of the coming judgement as they are of the weather. If they pay attention to the slightest sign of change in the weather, then they must also pay attention to the present time, which is the time of Jesus and his works and words.
In the second they are warned to make every effort to settle accounts so that they may be blameless when they are brought to court.
While we must keep in touch with what is happening around us so that our responses to different situations can be adequate, it is also important to keep in touch with what is happening in us. This means that while we need to take good care of our physical and material well being, we must not do it at the cost of our spiritual well being.
Compromise is often better than confrontation. When it is not a matter of one’s principles or when one is not called to do something against one’s conscience then it is better to compromise when some conflict arises. This approach saves energy, time and money.