Saturday, 31 August 2013
Sunday, September 1, 2013 - Twenty-Second Sunday of the year - We must do the good we do because it is good to do good.
To read the texts click on the texts:Sir3:17-20,28-29; Heb 12:18-19,22-24a; Lk 14:1,7-14
“Humility is a funny thing. Once you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it.” Humility is a major theme of the readings of today. If the first reading from Sirach begins with the advice to perform one’s tasks with humility, in the Gospel text of today, Jesus advises choosing the lowest place as a practical way of performing one’s tasks.
At the cursory level, one might assume that Jesus is giving a lesson on table manners, or providing a strategy by which one can gain honour. This is true, but is only a small part of the story. A deeper reading reveals that there is much more. Since Jesus is not asking his listeners to choose a lower place but instead, the last place, the point he is making is more than just strategy. He is advocating humility.
Humility is possible only when a person realises that his/her true worth does not come from external recognition but from within. If one is convinced in one’s heart that one is worthy, special, and unique, then one will not need to compare oneself with another or try to be better than another. One is content with one’s self. Like happiness, humility is an inside job.
Humility is without guile. It does not seek to bring others down. Rather, it seeks to raise others higher. This the humble person can do because he/she is secure in him/herself. The humble person expects no compensation, no recompense, and no reward. Such a person is able to follow Jesus’ instructions and invite those who cannot repay. Such a person can invite those who do not have the capacity to do anything in return. Such a person can act in a manner that is free and liberating. Such a person acts from the heart.
We live in a world that judges mainly by externals. One reason why cosmetic companies are so successful is because most people lay too much stress on the externals. How one dresses, what clothes one wears, what perfume one uses, are questions of extreme importance for so many. Many want, not only to be recognized but also, to be commended, applauded, and praised. Some will go to any extent to seek and search for this. There is, in most of our relations, a quid pro quo or, something for something. We are good to others if they are good to us. We do favours for others in the hope that they will return the favours when we need them. We reach out to others in the hope that we will be noticed and in the hope that they will, in turn, reach out to us. We live artificial, false, empty lives in the hope that we will be given the importance and value we seek. Those of us who live in this manner have already received our reward.
The call and the challenge of the readings of today are to a different way of life. The readings call us first to live from within, to live from our hearts. They call us to rest assured in the fact that each of us, no matter how tall or short, no matter how fair or dark, and no matter how thin or fat, is a unique, special and precious person. We each have our special place in the world and no one can take that place. Thus, we have simply to be ourselves and accept ourselves fully. We do not need to compare ourselves with others or try to usurp the place of someone else. We do not need to do good deeds in the hope of those deeds being returned to us or in the hope of receiving a reward. We must do the good we do because it is good to do good.
This is possible for those of us who profess to be disciples of Jesus since he has shown us how. The second reading from the letter to the Hebrews makes abundantly clear that, in Jesus, we are blessed. In Jesus, we have come, not to a blazing fire that cannot be touched or to darkness or gloom or tempest. Rather, we have come to one who, through his death on the Cross, has shown us the true meaning of humility. We have come, in Jesus, to one who has shown us how we can do good for others without any expectation of reward. We have come, in Jesus, to one who has shown us what it means to take the last place, and to be exalted even in our humility.
Friday, 30 August 2013
Saturday, August 31, 2013 - What are the talents that God has given you personally? How will you use them for his greater glory today?
To read the texts click on the texts: 1Thess 4:9-11; Mt 25:14-30
A talent is a large sum of money, equal to the wages of a day labourer for fifteen years. (In Luke 19:12-28, the figures are much smaller. There are ten servants and each receives a “mina” which was only one sixtieth of a talent, and worth 100 denarii and translated “pound”) In Matthew, however, there are three servants and they receive different amounts. The first receives five, the second two, and the third, one. The first and the second use the money to earn similar amounts in return. The third, buries it in the ground. The point that the parable seems to make here is that we are called not merely to “passive waiting” or strict obedience to clear instructions, but active responsibility that take initiative and risk. Each must decide how to use what he/she has been given.
Often times, our understanding of Christianity has been one in which we are content if we have not done “any wrong”, but rarely ask whether we have done “any right”. We are content like the third servant to give only grudgingly, and not with the freedom that we are meant to have.
Thursday, 29 August 2013
Friday, August 30, 2013 - Is there enough oil in the lamp of your life? If not what will you do about it today?
To read the texts click on the texts: 1 Thess 4:1-8; Mt 25:1-13
In the parable of today we will hear of the ten bridesmaids, five of whom were prepared and five unprepared, five of whom had oil and five of whom who did not. We are told that five were foolish and five were wise right at the beginning of the parable, because we cannot tell this just be looking at them. All ten have come to the wedding; all ten have their lamps burning; all ten presumably have on their gowns. The readiness is what distinguishes the wise from the foolish.. Five are ready for the delay and five are not. Five have enough oil for the wedding to start whenever the bridegroom arrives; the foolish ones have only enough oil for their own timetable.
It is easy to be good for a day if goodness is seen only as a means to an end. It is easy to be merciful for a day if mercy is seen only as a means to an end. However, if we see goodness and mercy and everything that is positive as an end in itself, then it is possible to be good and merciful and positive always. We are called then to be like the wise ones with our lamps always burning so that we will then be able to welcome the Lord whenever he comes.
To read the texts click on the texts:Jer 1:17-19; Mk 6:17-29
Mark’s Account of the beheading of Saint John the Baptist by Herod Antipas is more elaborate than that of Matthew and Luke. According to Mark, Herod had imprisoned John because he reproved Herod for divorcing his wife (Phasaelis), and unlawfully taking Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Philip I. On Herod's birthday, Herodias' daughter (traditionally named Salome but not named by Mark or the other Gospels) danced before the king and his guests. Her dancing pleased Herod so much that in his drunkenness he promised to give her anything she desired, up to half of his kingdom. When the daughter asked her mother what she should request, she was told to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Although Herod was appalled by the request, he reluctantly agreed and had John executed in the prison.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus also relates in his Antiquities of the Jews that Herod killed John, stating that he did so, "lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his [John's] power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), [so Herod] thought it best [to put] him to death." He further states that many of the Jews believed that the military disaster which fell upon Herod at the hands of Aretas his father-in-law (Phasaelis' father), was God's punishment for his unrighteous behaviour.
While Mark has mentioned Herodians before (3:6), this is the first time in his Gospel that he mentions Herod. Herod, here is Herod Antipas who was the son of Herod the Great who is the one referred to in the narrative of the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 2:1-23), and had been appointed by the Roman as the ruler of Galilee and Perea (Lk 3:1). He was never “king” as Mark mentions in his story, and Matthew corrects this by referring to Herod as tetrarch (Mt 14,1). The story of the death of John the Baptist in Mark is sandwiched between the sending of the Twelve on Mission (6:7-13) and their return from Mission (6:30-34).
Mark mentions three opinions about Jesus said to be circulating at that time. Some believed that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead; others believed that Jesus was Elijah, while still others believed that Jesus was one of the prophets of old. Herod, however, is quite clear in Mark that Jesus is John the Baptist raised. This profession of Herod leads Mark to narrate the story of the death of John the Baptist as a flashback. According to Mark, the reason why John was put in prison was because he objected to Herod’s violation of the purity code, which forbade marriage of close relatives and to a brother’s wife while the brother was still alive (Lev 18:16; 20:21). Mark seems to lay the blame for the death of John on Herodias who manipulates Herod into executing John. The daughter of Herodias is not named here or anywhere in the Bible, nor does the Bible give her age. According to Mark a drunken Herod is trapped into fulfilling a rash vow and so has John beheaded.
Though in Mark’s narrative it is Herodias who is directly responsible for the death of John the Baptist, Herod cannot disown responsibility. He could have decided if he had the courage not to give in, yet he made the choice to have John beheaded. Each of us is responsible for our own actions though we may sometimes blame others or even circumstances. The sooner we accept responsibility for who we are and what we do, the sooner we will grow up. The legend of John the Baptist shows us that justice and truth are the ultimate victims in such situations.
Wednesday, 28 August 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: 1Thess 3:7-13; Mt 24:42-51
We will hear for the next few days’ readings from Chapters 24 and 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, which are known as the Eschatological Discourse. The word Eschatological comes from the Greek word “Eschaton” that means “the last things”, “the things of the afterlife”. In these chapters, Jesus speaks to all the people about how they must behave in the present, if they are to expect to be judged with mercy in the future.
In the text of today, the disciples are asked to “stay awake”, because no one knows when the hour of departure will be. The disciples are called to be busy with the assigned mission not with apocalyptic speculation. The wise servant is the one who obeys not calculates.
Some of us regard being good as a burden. This is because we may associate goodness with being serious and sombre and not enjoying every single moment of life. On the contrary, goodness means exactly the opposite. It means that one is in the present moment and so living it as fully as possible. It also means that for a person who does this there is no need to worry about the day or hour when he/she will be called simply because such a person is always ready.
Tuesday, 27 August 2013
Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - Your clothes may be in the right place, your hair might be in the right place, but is your heart in the right place?
To read the texts click on the texts: 1 Thess 2:9-13; Mt 23:27-32
The text of today contains the sixth (23:27-28) and seventh (23:29–36) woes begun in 23:13. The sixth Woe concerns “whitewashed tombs”. As a public service, tombs were whitewashed to make them more obvious, since contact with the dead and with graves, even if unintentional, transmitted ritual impurity (Num 19:11-22). This was especially important to pilgrims at Passover time, who would not know the places they visited. The point that Matthew makes is “ostentatious exterior, corrupt interior”. The seventh and final Woe extends the tomb image and modulates into the concluding theme: The rejection of the prophets God has sent.
The challenge then to each one of us is to bother less about what we ought to do and think more about what we ought to be, because if our being were good then our works would shine forth brightly.
Monday, 26 August 2013
Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - If your being is good, then all you do will also be good. How will you ensure that your being is good today?
To read the texts click on the texts: 1Thess 2:1-8; Mt 23:23-26
The fourth (23:23-24) and fifth (23:25-26) woes against the Pharisees are about focussing on the insignificant matters and externals while forgetting what is significant and internal. The Pharisees were extremely particular about tithing and to ensure that they did not err in this regard, tithed even small garden vegetables used for seasoning which Matthew mentions here as mint, dill and cumin and probably in order to correspond with justice and mercy and faith.
Gnat and Camel, which the Matthean Jesus contrasts in 23:24, were the smallest and largest living things in ordinary experience. While the Matthean Jesus does not state that what the Pharisees are doing is wrong, his critique is that while focussing so much on these insignificant items, they lose sight of the larger picture.
Too much focus on the external can also lead to forgetting the internal. What is on the outside is merely a reflection of what is within.
Sunday, 25 August 2013
Monday, August 26, 2013 - How often has the impression of others over your own values, determined the way you behave?
To read the texts click on the texts: 1 Thess 1:1-5,8-10; Mt 23:13-22
The text of today contains the first three of the seven Woes that Jesus pronounces against the Pharisees of his time, because they gave more importance to human laws, rules and regulations than to the law of God, which was the Law of Love. The polemic is against placing too much value on the way one appears to others, which can be a form of idolatry. So understood, hypocrisy is not merely a transgression, but represents a lack of trust in God, a turning away from God toward what others think as the point of orientation of one’s life. This was the reason for their single-minded focus on the law and it blinded them to all else that really mattered. Consequently, the human person was relegated to the far extreme. Jesus seeks to correct their understanding and ours, by asking them and us to focus not so much on law but on love, not so much on self but on God.
The first of the three woes (23:13) is also found in Luke 11:52, but whereas the Lucan Jesus pronounces the owe because the Pharisees “take away the key of knowledge”, The Matthean Jesus pronounces the woe because they “shut the kingdom of heaven against men”. They do not enter themselves, nor do they allow others to enter.
The second woe (23:15) is exclusive to Matthew, and continues the imagery of the first woe. Here the Pharisees are accused of converting others to their beliefs, but this results in the converted being worse than they were before.
The third woe (23:16-22) accuses the Pharisees of trying to find loopholes in the law in order to suit themselves. They interpret the law to suit their convenience.
Saturday, 24 August 2013
Sunday, August 25, 2013 - Twenty First Sunday of the Year - Will you live one moment of one day at a time with no regrets of the past or obsession with the future?
To read the texts click on the texts:Is66:18-21; Heb 12:5-7,11-13; Lk 13:22-30
The late Anthony de Mello, in one of his seminars, made a very telling statement: “It is the very people who do not know what to do with this life who are concerned about the next”. Concerns about the next life or what will happen after death are issues that so many are worried and anxious about. In many cases, this leads to not being able to live fully the present life which has so much to offer.
This seems to be the background to the question that Jesus is asked at the beginning of the Gospel text of today; “Lord, will only a few be saved?” In his response to the question, Jesus does not state whether few or many will be saved. Rather, he asks all those who listen to him to live fully in the present. The present will determine the future and so we are not to be concerned with the future but with the here and now. Now is the time when the effort must be made. Now is the time when life must be lived. Now is the time to prepare for what is to come.
What does it mean that one must strive to enter by the narrow door? The text answers this question, though not directly. There are three reasons why many will not succeed in entering. Some will be excluded because they will try to get in when it is too late. Others will be excluded because they will not have acted on the instructions of Jesus. Still others will be excluded because they performed evil and not good actions. Those who did not act will have assumed that words alone would suffice to get them through, but they will be mistaken. These are the ones who will weep and gnash their teeth and for those who have not teeth, a set will be provided.
On the other hand, people will come from all corners of the world and gain entry into the kingdom. These will have gained entry, not on their antecedents or background but because they did strive to enter by the narrow door. They were ready on time, they acted on the instructions of Jesus, and their actions were good. They, who were considered last by many, will indeed be first. This is the group mentioned in the first reading of today who will come from all nations. This is not an exclusive group. Their works and thoughts are known to God and through them, they have declared God’s glory. These are the ones who are invited to the feast in the
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Thus, it is not merely being familiar with the teachings of the Lord that is important or even knowing the Lord by name. What is important is action. To be sure, one’s good action alone is not the determining factor, since the grace of God and God’s choice is also instrumental in the final list that is made. However, even as this is true, one’s action is imperative, even vital, to gain entry into the kingdom. This further indicates that the religion that Jesus urges people to practice is not merely one which is content to recite a set formula of prayers, or to participate passively in rituals, or even to proclaim aloud that Jesus is Lord. No. The religion to which he invites his listeners is one which will show itself in action. It is one in which prayers, rituals, and proclamation will be informed and influenced by the loving actions that one performs and not the other way round. The prayers of praise to God are the result of the actions that show this praise.
This kind of religion is not easy to practice, as the second reading of today points out. There will be numerous trials that have to be endured and often, there will be the temptation to give up. It will seem so much simpler to simply say, rather than do. It will be so much simpler to mouth empty prayers, rather than act on the Lord’s commands. What is called for, however, is a steadfastness, a resoluteness, and a sense of purpose. What is called for is not worry about the future and its outcome but to keep one’s eyes, mind, heart, and whole being, fixed on the present. What is required is to know that the present determines the future.
We, as Christians, are in special danger of not heeding the instructions of Jesus. This is because, all too often, Christianity has been understood as a sterile and theoretical religion. Many of us are content with fulfilling “obligations” and with reciting prayers. We are content to give occasional alms and to separate the practice of our faith from our lives. Some of us think that, because we have been baptized, we are sure to enter the kingdom. However, the readings of today point out that this is far from true. None of us can take for granted that we will gain entry into the kingdom. It is precisely for this reason why it is important for us, as disciples of Jesus, not to be too concerned about the next life but to concentrate on the present one and to live it fully. If we know how to live fully in this life, we will be able to live fully in the next.
Friday, 23 August 2013
Saturday, August 24, 2013 - St. Bartholomew - Will you have the courage to first believe in order that you might see?
To read the texts click on the texts: Rev 21:9-14; Jn 1:45-51
Bartholomew was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, and is usually identified as Nathaniel (mentioned in the first chapter of John's Gospel). According to the Gospel of John, he was brought to Jesus by Philip. It is Nathaniel whom Jesus calls “an Israelite in whom there is no guile”. Though Nathaniel is not mentioned in any list of the Twelve, Bartholomew is mentioned by all the Synoptic Gospels and also the Acts of the Apostles. One reason why Bartholomew is identified as Nathaniel is because is all the lists of the Twelve Bartholomew is named in the company of Philip.
Unlike the first two disciples who followed Jesus (1:35-40), here Jesus invites Philip to discipleship. Even more significant that the call of Philip, is what happens to Philip as a result of his call. He cannot remain silent about it and wants another to know and encounter Jesus. Thus, he finds Nathanael and bears witness about Jesus. This he does in two ways. He first points Jesus out as the fulfilment of all scripture and then he refers to him as “Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.” This witness seems to bring out both divine and human origins of Jesus and once again reminds us of the mystery that Jesus is and continues to be. Immediately after Philip’s testimony, there is resistance on the part of Nathanael, yet Philip does not argue but responds in the words that Jesus had used to invite the first two disciples: “Come and see”.
Though having an opinion about where the Messiah would come from, Nathanael remains open to another revelation. Though sceptical, he is willing to be convinced. Jesus addresses Nathanael as an “Israelite” which signifies his faithfulness to the law and is used here in a positive sense. He is without guile because though he has questions and even doubts, he is open and receptive and willing to learn. Jesus’ intimate knowledge of Nathanael and the revelation that he makes to him leads to a transformation in Nathanael and he comes to faith. He responds to Jesus with a confession and though he begins with Rabbi, he moves on to recognizing Jesus as Son of God and King of Israel.
However, Jesus responds by pointing out to Nathanael that this is only the beginning of the revelation that Jesus makes. If he continues to remain open he will experience even greater things. By means of a double “Amen”, Jesus points out to Nathanael and to others there that he will be the bridge between heaven and earth. He will be that place and person in whom the earthly and divine encounter each other. He as Son of man will make God known.
Scepticism and cynicism are common among many people. While this is not a problem in itself, what causes the problem is when these lead to a closed attitude. In a world in which we refuse to believe unless we first see, Jesus seems to be saying to us like he said to Nathanael “First believe than you will see”.
Thursday, 22 August 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: Ruth 1:1,3-6,14-16,22; Mt 22:34-40
Matthew has written Mark’s story (Mk 12:28-34) and made what was a scholastic dialogue in to a controversy. Unlike in Mark where the scribe is friendly, here the “lawyer” (the only occurrence of “nomikos” = lawyer in Matthew) is hostile, and the question is asked to “test” Jesus (only the devil and the Pharisees are the subject of the verb, “test”). The lawyer addresses Jesus as “Teacher”, which is an indication of insincerity, because in Matthew, believers address Jesus as “Lord”. The rabbis counted 613 commands (248 positive and 365 negative), and some regarded all commandments as equal. The question of the lawyer may have been intended to draw Jesus into a debate and get him to make a statement that could be interpreted as disparaging toward the Law.
In his answer, however, Jesus brings together two Old Testament texts that existed separately and in different books of the Bible. The commandment to love God alone was found in Deut 6:4-5 and the commandment to love neighbour was found in Lev 19:18. These two, Jesus brings together into one, making them dependent on each other. This combination is distinctive of the Synoptic Jesus.
In his first letter John makes a telling point when he says that the one who says that he/she loves God whom they cannot see but cannot love their brother/sister whom they can see are liars (1 John 4:20).
Wednesday, 21 August 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 9:1-6; Lk 1:26-38
Pope Pius XII established the feast of the Queenship of Mary in 1954. However, Mary’s queenship also has roots in Scripture. At the Annunciation, Gabriel announced that Mary’s Son would receive the throne of David and rule forever. At the Visitation, Elizabeth calls Mary “mother of my Lord.” As in all the mysteries of Mary’s life, Mary is closely associated with Jesus: Her queenship is a share in Jesus’ kingship
In the fourth century St. Ephrem called Mary “Lady” and “Queen.” Later Church fathers and doctors continued to use the title. Hymns of the 11th to 13th centuries address Mary as queen: “Hail, Holy Queen,” “Hail, Queen of Heaven,” “Queen of Heaven.”
This feast is a logical follow-up to the Assumption of Mary (celebrated on August 15) and is now celebrated on the octave day of that feast. In his 1954 encyclical To the Queen of Heaven, Pius XII pointed out that Mary deserves the title because she is Mother of God, because she is closely associated as the New Eve with Jesus’ redemptive work, because of her preeminent perfection and because of her intercessory power.
It is fitting then that the Gospel text chosen for the feast is the Annunciation of the birth of the Lord to his mother. Through his mother and her courageous YES, Jesus became a human being. The point of the Annunciation is to stress that Jesus did not come down from heaven as an “avatar” but rather that in every sense of the word; he was totally and completely human. Another related point is that God “needs” the co-operation of human beings to complete the plans god has for the world. One of the most beautiful examples of co-operating with God is that of Mary and her unconditional Amen.
Mary though betrothed or engaged to Joseph, who was of David’s family, had not yet lived with him. This she would do only after marriage, which would be one year after the betrothal. The angel greets Mary as the recipient of God’s grace. She has opened herself to the promptings of God’s Spirit. While Zechariah was gripped with fear at the very appearance of the angel, in the case of Mary, it is the angel’s greeting that perplexed her. The angel reassures Mary and makes the announcement, not only of Jesus’ birth, but of who he will be and all that he will accomplish.
In response to this announcement Mary, like Zechariah, asks a question. While both questions seem similar, it is clear that Zechariah’s question expressed doubt and asked for a sign, as is evident in the angel’s words before Zechariah is struck dumb. Mary’s question, on the other hand, is a question asked in faith. Mary did not question the truth of the revelation like Zechariah did. She asked only for enlightenment on how God would accomplish this wonderful deed. This will be accomplished in Mary through the work of God’s spirit. This is why the child will be called holy. Luke probably also intends to convey here that it is not merit on Mary’s part that obtained for her what she received, but God’s generous gift in the Spirit.
The evidence that what the angel has announced will indeed take place is the pregnancy of Elizabeth, for nothing is impossible for God. Mary responds, not merely with a Yes, but by asking that the Lord work in her to accomplish all that he wants. The annunciation would not have been complete without Mary’s trusting, obedient response.
Today, many assume that those whom God favours will enjoy the things we equate with a good life: social standing, wealth, and good health. Yet Mary, God’s favoured one, was blessed with having a child out of wedlock who would later be executed as a criminal. Acceptability, prosperity, and comfort have never been the essence of God’s blessing. The story is so familiar that we let its familiarity mask its scandal. Mary had been chosen, “favoured,” to have an important part in God’s plan to bring salvation to God’s people, but it is unthinkable that God would have forced Mary to have the child against her will. Mary is an important example, therefore, of one who is obedient to God even at great risk to self.
When we think of or reflect on Mary, the one word that comes to mind to describe her whole life is the word, AMEN, a word which may be translated, “so be it”, “your will be done”, “do whatever you want to do in my life”. This was, indeed, Mary’s constant response to every situation in her life, especially when she could not understand why things were happening the way they were. The text of today is, then, a call and challenge to each one of us, that we, too, like Mary, might be able to say YES to all that God wants to do in our lives. It is a challenge to be open and receptive to the Spirit of God, so that we, too, might be able to give birth to the Saviour in our hearts.