To hear the Audio Reflections of Mary, Mother of God, the giving of the name of Jesus and New Years day click HERE
Sunday, 31 December 2017
To read the texts click on the texts: Num 6:22-27, Gal 4:4-7, Lk 2:16-21
The first day of the New Year brings with it many thoughts, feelings and emotions. The fact that it is January and named after the Roman god Janus with two faces already indicates that it brings with it a looking back and a looking ahead.
Thus it is a day for retrospection and introspection and also a day for planning and goal setting. The retrospection must be with a view to help the planning and goal setting and not an exercise in condemnation of oneself or feeling regret.
It is fitting then that the first reading of today should speak of a blessing. The blessing is what is commonly called a Priestly blessing and pronounced on all the people of Israel. There are three pairs of verbs used in the blessing resulting in a threefold blessing. The first emphasizes concrete gifts—blessing and protection. The second stresses the hope that God will be well disposed toward the person and thus temper judgement with mercy and grace. The third asserts that God will pay attention and heed to his people thus providing fullness of life. The central message of the blessing is Peace, which must be translated as wholeness or completeness. The peace of God embraces every aspect of an individual’s life.
The idea of blessing is taken up in the Second reading of today. Paul in writing to the Galatians speaks of the blessing that God conferred not just on Israel but on the whole world when he sent his Son. The sending of the Son was for one reason alone, namely to reconcile the world to himself and through that to make each of us sons and daughters of God. The Son that God sent in to the world was not an angel but born of a woman, Mary who dared to say that unconditional yes to God’s invitation to be the mother of his Son.
This son whom God sent is human in every single aspect of the word and is therefore circumcised and given a name. The name that the child bears signifies his function. He is named Jesus because he will save his people from their sins. This child will be king, but a new kind of king. He will inaugurate a new world order, a world not like that of earthly kings but under the direction of God’s design for the redemption of all peoples. In this world, God’s Word is heard by all who remain open to that Word. In this world, there is hope for the oppressed, and those who heard what God is doing are filled with joy. God has not forgotten us or abandoned us to the brokenness we have created. God continues to be concerned and to make new and whole. The New Year thus, is for us as Christians, an announcement of hope. It is a call to continue to believe that God continues to be in control of all the events that will take place and that we only have to do what is required of us and leave the rest to God.
Thus the triple celebration of Mary Mother of God, the giving of the name of Jesus and New Year’s Day all close in on one theme: Hope. The past is over and forgotten; it is forgiven and absolved; it is pardoned and made new. The challenge is for us to respond like Mary did to what God is doing in us and in our world. If we like Mary are open and receptive to the working of God in our lives, if we like her are willing to let God do in us, if we like her are willing to say that unconditional and categorical Yes, then the saviour Jesus will continue to be made present all through the year.
The priestly blessing of peace pronounced on the people in the first reading of today becomes then a blessing pronounced on each of us as we begin the New Year. We must keep in mind throughout the year that like the Galatians we are no longer slaves but sons and daughters of God. This means living in a fearless and bold manner. It means being able to face all the vicissitudes and challenges of life with equanimity and confident in the knowledge that we are loved unconditionally by God and that God will be with us every step of the way in the New Year.
Saturday, 30 December 2017
To hear the Audio Reflections of Sunday, December 31, 2017 the feast of the Holy Family click HERE
To read the texts click on the texts: Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Col 3:12-21;Lk 2:41-52
The feast of the Holy Family is celebrated every year on first Sunday after Christmas. It is appropriate that such be the case, because for centuries Christmas has been regarded as a family feast. Not only do members of a family get together to celebrate the feast, but the themes of Christmas like the birth of a child, naming of the child, gathering together as a family to celebrate this event, all lend themselves to reflection on the meaning of family.
That family life, under threat today, does not need any kind of in depth analysis. ‘Single parent families,’ unwed mothers, the rampant rate of divorce, are all testimony to this fact. What can the feast of the Holy Family mean in the face of this threat? The readings of today offer a response.
The author of the letter to the Colossians begins by giving the foundations of a good marriage. In a word this may be summarized as “adjustment”. The Colossian Christians are called to adjust with one another in any and all circumstances. To adjust means first of all to have the ability to let go off one’s ego. As long as one holds on to one’s point of view there can be no adjustment and so what is required is an openness and receptivity to accept that one can be wrong, that one does not know everything about everything and that there is lot that is unknown. Secondly to adjust means to be flexible. Rigidity of any kind is a hindrance. There is not just one hand; there is also the other hand. This leads to the third meaning of what it means to adjust: forgiveness. Any community in which forgiveness is not an integral part will be a superficial one. And what is required for sustaining community is likely to be more than a single act of forgiveness; rather, the lives of the people in that community will be characterized by the continuing practices of forgiveness that draw their resources from the forgiveness already enacted by Christ and especially on the Cross. If one realizes that one is forgiven completely by God for any and all wrongs that one has committed then it is easier to forgive others. Encompassing all of these is the reality of love. Love it is which binds everything together and while there are numerous definitions of love, it seems to me that a good way of understanding love is to realize that in love there is no “I”. The other is always more important than self. The other is always placed before self. True and genuine love is not barter exchange but unconditional.
To be sure, the exhortation to wives to be submissive to their husbands in the second part of the text might be misunderstood as servility. Nothing could be further from the truth. In a marriage both the husband and wife are equal partners. There can be no higher and lower rank. There can be no greater and lesser. What there is in fact is complementarity. Males and females need each other to complete the other. If this is understood by both partners half the journey has already been completed.
It is also important to note the role of children and the relationship of children which all three readings speak about. In the first reading from Sirach, the focus is on instructions to children to show honour to their parents. However, in the second reading while children are asked to respect their parents, parents are also asked not to provoke their children. In this context, the words of the famous Christian writer and poet Khalil Gibran take on a depth of meaning. He says to parents that the children who come through them are really life’s longing for itself. Thus they do not really “belong” to their parents but to life which “goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday”. Children “dwell in the house of tomorrow” and so parents have to be like flexible bows that are willing to be bent so that their children like arrows “may go swift and far”. Parents have to learn to grow with their children and keep in touch with all the changes that are taking place around them. They need to learn to be relevant and if they cannot be then to be understanding and accommodating.
The parents of Jesus did not realize this when they looked for him. It was not that Jesus was lost but that Mary and Joseph were lost without their son. However, Jesus made them realize that he was a child not merely of his parents, but of life itself and so his parents had to let him go to do what he had to do. Parents today too need to realize this about their children for family life to be what it is meant to be. When this happens then the feast of the Holy Family will be just that: a feast of holy families which keep inspiring one another to live like the Holy Family of Nazareth.
Friday, 29 December 2017
Saturday, December 30, 2017 - Have you accepted the revelation that Jesus makes? How will you show this in your life today?
Luke is fond of pairing male and female figures in his narrative. The role of Simeon and Anna in the Temple at the end of the birth narrative balances the role of Zechariah and Elizabeth at the beginning of the narrative. Anna’s character and piety are emphasized, but not her words. She was a descendant of a family from the northern kingdom, and a devout widow, advanced in age. Anna evidently married young and was widowed seven years later. The reference to 84 years probably records her age, but may be read as the number of years she had lived as a widow.
Anna’s blessing, though not recorded, is characterized as praising God and speaking about the child. Since this description corresponds to the content of Simeon’s oracles, we can probably say that Anna’s prophecy matched his. Similarly, the reference to “all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” serves as an inclusion, balancing the description of Simeon as one who was “looking forward to the consolation of Israel” at the beginning of this scene. Simeon and Anna, who represent the pious ones, declare that Jesus is the one who will bring salvation for Israel, but not all would receive this salvation. Jesus himself would be rejected, and many in Israel would reject the gospel, but it was also meant for “a light for revelation to the Gentiles”.
Thursday, 28 December 2017
Friday, December 29, 2017 - How will you show that the presence of Jesus has changed your life for the better? What three actions will you perform to show that the coming of Jesus has made a difference to your life?
To read the texts click on the texts: 1 Jn 2:3-11;Lk 2:22-35
The text of today consists of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the purification of Mary and the Song of Simeon.
According to Jewish law a woman became ceremonially unclean on the birth of a child. During this time, she was not permitted to enter the Temple or touch any holy object. On the eighth day the child was circumcised, after which the mother was unclean an additional thirty-three days—sixty-six if the child was female. At the conclusion of this period, the mother offered a sacrifice, either a lamb or, if she was poor, two doves or two young pigeons. That Luke does not mention a lamb but refers to two turtledoves or pigeons may indicate that Jesus was born to the poor of Israel. In addition, the first son was to be presented to the Lord as a reminder of the Exodus, and then, bought back with an offering. Luke does not mention that Jesus was redeemed either because he was not aware of this requirement or because he wanted to convey that Jesus was constantly devoted or dedicated to the Lord. In this part Luke emphasizes that the law of the Lord was fulfilled in all respects at the birth of Jesus.
Simeon is introduced immediately after the presentation of Jesus and the purification of Mary. He too like Zechariah and Elizabeth is described as “righteous”. He is also “devout”. He looked forward to the restoration of the people and the fulfillment of God’s redemptive work. The Spirit, who had revealed to him that he would not see death until he saw the anointed one of God, is the same Spirit who rests on him and gives him utterance to speak.
His hymn of praise of God is known as the “Nunc Dimittis” (“Now Dismiss”). It is only loosely related to the occasion of the birth of Jesus. It declares the praise of God for faithfulness and the redemption of the people. Though some interpret “now you are dismissing your servant in peace” to mean that Simeon was now prepared to die, it can also mean that he recognizes that he is being released from his mission to watch for the coming of the Messiah because he has now seen the coming of the one who will bring salvation. His blessing relates the birth of Jesus to the fulfillment of the promise of salvation and looks ahead to the inclusion of all peoples in the experience of the blessings of God. Even as the parents of Jesus wonder at what is being said by Simeon, he blesses them and then addresses Mary, the mother of Jesus. He speaks about the coming rejection of Jesus. Not everyone will want to see the light, not everyone will want top receive the salvation by God for all peoples. Not everyone will recognize God coming in Jesus. Jesus will be rejected and treated as someone to be opposed. Even his mother will have to share in his sufferings.
Jesus came not to make us comfortable but to wake us up from our sleep and this is what Simeon had prophesied. He came to challenge our way of looking at the world. This challenge is not easy to accept because it means that many of our preconceived ideas and notions will have to be given up and we will have to start anew. It is easier and more comfortable to live the selfish and self-centered lives that we are used to rather than be concerned about others. It is easier to be caught up in our own small worlds, rather than get out of our wells and see that life is much more than simply having more.
Wednesday, 27 December 2017
To hear the Audio Reflections of Thursday, December 28, 2017, the feast of the Holy Innocents click HERE
Thursday, December 28, 2017 - Feast of the Holy Innocents - Will you perform one unselfish act today?
To read the texts click on the texts: 1 Jn 1:5-2:2; Mt 2:13-18
Matthew’s Gospel is the only one of the four which has the story of the killing of innocent children by Herod. A king is born, but a king is already here; and there is room for only one king. The birth of Jesus, the messianic king, precipitates a conflict with the kingship already present in this world.
It is not merely with the historical Herod with whom Matthew is concerned, however, but with Herod as a character in the story, who serves as a foil for the kingdom of God. When this Herod hears of the birth of the new king, he is “troubled”. Matthew is not describing Herod’s psychology but the clash of two claims to kingship that occurs in the advent of Jesus. Herod represents the resistance of this world to the divine kingship represented by Jesus. When “all Jerusalem” is troubled with him, this is not mere sympathy with or fear of Herod. Matthew is again looking ahead to the passion story and implicating Judaism’s capital city as a whole, not only its king, in the rejection of Jesus’ messianic claim.
When Herod asks the magi the chronological question “When?” to determine the time of Jesus’ birth, he acts hypocritically, claiming that he too wants to worship, but with murder in his heart.
Herod’s slaughter of the innocents is in character with the historical Herod the Great, who was ruthless in maintaining his grasp on power. There is no record of such an act among the detailed records of Herod’s numerous atrocities, nor is it reflected elsewhere in or out of the New Testament. The story seems to be part of Matthew’s Moses typology, with Herod cast in the role of Pharaoh.
Matthew does not sentimentalize the tragedy of the innocent victims or speculate on how the other mothers and fathers of Bethlehem might have interpreted the divine decision to warn one family. His attention is fixed on this event as a fulfillment of Scripture. Matthew does alter his usual formula in such citations of Scripture from his usual “in order that”, and thus avoids saying that the murders happened for the purpose of fulfilling Scripture.
Matthew’s third formula quotation in 2:18-19 is from Jer 31:15. In the New Testament only Matthew explicitly mentions Jeremiah. Jeremiah 31:15 pictures Rachel, matriarch of the tribes of Benjamin and Ephraim (but not of Judah) weeping at Ramah for her “children,” the Israelites, as they are led away captive to Babylon in Jeremiah’s time. Ramah (in the area of Benjamin, five miles north of Jerusalem) was chosen by Jeremiah because one tradition locates Rachel’s tomb there, at the site where Nebuchadnezzar’s troops assembled captives for deportation (Jer 40:1). Another tradition locates Rachel’s tomb at Bethlehem. Matthew combines these traditions to achieve the desired effect. The Jeremiah passage is in a context of hope; it is not clear whether Matthew interprets contextually or whether lamentation is the only note to be heard in this text. In any case, the child Jesus recapitulates the experience of Israel.
Like in Matthew’s day so in ours the war between the two kingdoms continues. Those who regard power as absolute will continue to massacre the innocent. They will continue to destroy others for selfish means. Our response has to be one of courage and hope. Though some will have to suffer because of the selfishness and egoism of a few, there are many more who live unselfish lives for the benefit of others. If each of us were to perform one unselfish act every day, the world becomes a better place for all.
Tuesday, 26 December 2017
To hear the Audio Reflections of Wednesday, December 27, 2017 the feast of St. John the Evangelist, click HERE
Wednesday, December 27, 2017 - St. John, Evangelist and Apostle - St. John proclaimed Jesus by writing a Gospel. How will you proclaim Jesus today?
To read the texts click on the texts: 1 Jn 1:1-4;Jn 20:2-8
Saint John whose feast we celebrate today is in the Gospels the brother of James. The brothers were sons of Zebedee and were fishermen. John along with his brother James and Peter were the trio who accompanied Jesus when he raised Jairus' daughter and also on the mountain at the Transfiguration and in Gethsemane.
The Beloved disciple who is a character only in the Gospel of John has often been associated with the disciple and evangelist John.
The Gospel text chosen for the feast is from the Gospel of John and in which the beloved disciple figures. The text speaks about the intuition and faith of the Beloved disciple. On being told by Mary Magdalene that the Tomb in which Jesus lay was empty, he along with Peter ran to the tomb. The beloved disciple saw and believed. He needed no proof. The empty tomb and the words of Jesus before his death were proof enough for him.
What the beloved disciple believed, is the evidence of the empty tomb: not merely that the tomb was empty, but that its emptiness bore witness that Jesus has conquered death and restored life.
Monday, 25 December 2017
December 26, 2017 - St. Stephen, Martyr - St. Stephen dared to die for his Lord. Will you dare to live for him?
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 6:8-10;7:54-59;Mt 10:17-22
St Stephen is regarded as the first Christian martyr. He was one of the seven deacons appointed by the Apostles when there was dissatisfaction about the distribution of alms. In the first reading of today, the Acts of the Apostles tells the story of how Stephen was tried by the Sanhedrin for blasphemy against Moses and God and also of speaking against the Temple and the Law. He was tried, found guilty and stoned to death.
The Gospel text for the feast of today is part of the Mission Discourse of Matthew. The sayings found in Matthew’s Mission Discourse here are found in the Eschatological Discourse of Mark (Mk 13:9-13). This is an indication that for Matthew, Mission is already eschatological and this is proved through the life and death of Stephen. The punishment, which is referred to here, is not random, but official punishment from members of organised authority. Even in this difficult situation the disciples are offered encouragement. They will depend not on their own strength, but on the Holy Spirit. They are to be missionaries even in the courtroom. Their imprisonment and trial must be regarded as an opportunity to make mission known. Mission takes priority even over family ties and if family ties have to be broken because of mission then so be it. The affirmation of the coming of the Son of Man is probably meant to provide succour to the missionaries in their distress.
Stephen had not read the Mission Discourse and yet had been influenced by the life, Mission and Death of his Master Jesus Christ. He was also confident of the resurrection and of victory even in the face of defeat and death. He knew that if he continued to stand for the truth, he would indeed be victorious.
It is important to note that Stephen did not go around looking for trouble nor did he desire martyrdom for the sake of dying for Jesus. However, he was unafraid to stand for the truth even if it meant giving up his life.
The Jesus who challenged Stephen is the same Jesus who challenges us today. He is not calling us here to be sadists and look for suffering, persecution and pain. Rather he is challenging us to go about doing what we have to do, to be as prudent as possible about it and if despite that persecution, suffering and pain come, to be prepared and ready for it and not to be afraid.
Sunday, 24 December 2017
To hear the Audio Reflections of Monday, December 25, 2017, Christmas Day, click HERE
In the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius has a meditation on the Incarnation (Sp. Ex. 102). The three Divine Persons, the Father, Son and Spirit are looking down on their beloved earth and are sad that things have turned out as they have. There is, they notice a triple alienation. Humans are estranged from God, from each other and from nature (Gen 3:14-15). In the course of their discussion they come to the conclusion that the only way in which the earth can be restored to its former state is by sending the Son down to earth. However, for the Son to be incarnated, human collaboration was required and this is why the angel was sent to Mary (Lk 1:26-38) and appeared in a dream to Joseph on three occasions (Mt 1:19-24; 2:13-15; 2:19-23) to invite them both to be those collaborators. Both respond with unbounded generosity and the Incarnation became a reality.
The Incarnation was and is really an earth shattering event. It was unprecedented, and an event that broke every boundary and shattered every wall. It could only have been the brain child of God and yet, even God could not make it a reality unless humans collaborated with God.
There are numerous implications of the Incarnation. We may reflect on three of these and their meaning for us today.
The first is the disponability or total self surrender of God. By choosing the Incarnation as the way to save the world, God put himself at the mercy of human beings. Since God would become totally human as a result of the Incarnation God had to depend on humans to make this a reality. Was there another way in which God could have saved the world? Surely! However, God chose the Incarnation because God wanted to be at the total service and mercy of human beings. This is unthinkable, unimaginable and beyond belief. Yet, it is a reality. What does this say about our God? It says that our God wanted to be like us so totally that he could feel with our feelings, think with our thoughts, act with our actions and in doing so, show us who we are really are. God wanted us to know that we are – even in our humanity – divine.
The second implication is that of human collaboration and co-operation. The two key figures who stand as models of what it means to be co-creators with God are Joseph and Mary. Matthew’s Gospel focuses on Joseph as the one whom the angel invites, and Luke’s Gospel focuses on Mary. However, in both cases, the response is total and absolute. Joseph’s obedience to the commands of God received in dreams (Mt 1:24; 2:14; 2:21) and Mary’s “let it be done to me according to your will” (Lk 1:38) are pointers to what God can do in and through humans if only they are courageous and dare to opt for God’s will rather than their own.
What would have been the situation if Joseph and Mary had said ‘No’ to God? In a word, the Incarnation would never have become a reality. The positive response of humans (represented by Joseph and Mary) is imperative for God to take flesh on the earth.
This leads to the third implication of the Incarnation. The possibilities that the birth of Jesus have opened up are innumerable. Through his Incarnation, Jesus has graced humanity and made it divine. No longer is humanity a disadvantage or limitation. No longer is it something to be looked down upon or be ashamed of. No longer is it a weakness. After the birth of Jesus, humanity takes on a new look, a new meaning. Now there are no limits. Now humanity need not be confined. There are no restrictions now to how far we can go and how much we can be. Jesus has shown the way.
We can because of the Incarnation and example of Jesus, love more, dare more, believe more, and be more. Nothing is now outside the scope of our humanity. Now only freedom and limitlessness are real.
The message of Christmas is thus a message of God with us, for us and in us. It is and will always be a message of hope even in a hopeless world, a message of joy in a sorrowful world, a message of peace in a world that is torn by war and strife and a message of love in a world that is filled with fear. In the midst of the Rohingya crisis where thousands of migrants are searching for a place to lay their heads, the multi-sided armed conflict in Syria and the desire to build walls instead of bridges the Incarnation and Christmas call us to look beyond our narrow selves and spare a thought and more for others.
Saturday, 23 December 2017
To read the texts click on the texts: 2 Sam 7:1-5,8b-12,14a 16; Rom 16:25-27; Lk 1:26-38
Referring to her first year as a volunteer in a home for unwed mothers, a young woman said to me, “I was depressed. What kind of God would let young women and innocent children suffer so much? Finally it got through to me…God is not going to come down and show us his love like he did two thousand years ago. We have to let God’s love work through us. As Mary did, we have to say yes to what God wants us to do.”
On the last Sunday in the season of advent, the Church invites us through the readings to move away from testimony to fact. We read the story of how God intervened in human history through the faith and courage of one woman. Confronted by the message of the Angel Gabriel that she would be the mother of the Messiah, Mary could only wonder aloud: “But how can this come about?” Humanly speaking, it was impossible for her to bear a child, since she was a virgin. But the Angel responded: “The power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow”. A seemingly impossible situation is about to be made possible by the intervention of God. But for this to happen, the Almighty God had to count on the cooperation of a humble woman named Mary.
In the family of David in which Jesus was born not everyone was as virtuous as Mary, Jesus was born of a family in which some people frequently misused their positions of power and authority and others gained their rights by means of deception, God chose a family not unlike our own families. In other words, the Incarnation occurred within the real world, a broken world, a world that was very much in need of healing.
The mystery, of which Paul speaks in the second reading of today, is not only the fact of the Incarnation, but also the means whereby it came to be. God chooses the weak of the world to confound the strong. He chooses the humble to bring down the mighty from their thrones. The weak, sinful family of David came to be seen as an avenue of God’s goodness to others. Born of this family, Jesus became the ultimate agent of God’s blessing for all. This is the mystery now revealed: This messy world of ours, the real world of human history, is now “charged with the grandeur of God.”
What happens in the first reading of today takes place just after David had defeated the Philistines and united the tribes of Israel. Flush with enthusiasm he proposes to build a house for the Ark of the Covenant which was a kind of throne for God, also containing the tablets with God’s commandments from Sinai. Gold reverses this proposal questioning how a humble human can build a shelter for God. After all, it is God who has sheltered David throughout his perilous career as shepherd, military commander, and leader of an entire nation. Instead God proposes to dwell among David and his ancestors: “I shall appoint your heir, your own son to succeed you. This announcement from God to David says that the Creator of the Universe, the Loving and Just God resides not in a special place but in people who believe. The presence of the Living God among people from Moses to David, and now to us is described by Paul as a “mystery revealed”.
This is the central meaning of Christmas for us. Of course God is always with us. But the birth of Jesus represents a unique moment when this awesome gift becomes especially apparent. Our Gospel passage today reminds us of how the presence of God ‘breaks the chains that bind us’, lifts up the poor, and makes us wonder, ‘Could the world be about to change?’
Through the annunciation made to Mary we are reminded that Christ is not born amid pomp or fanfare, riches or glory. Christ was born in a dark moment of history when people had every reason to be afraid. And still it is the places in our lives where oppression, illness, and injury reside that we are told to look for God.
As strange as that sounds it is perfectly in keeping with the Christmas spirit. It is in our woundedness, our fear, our shame, our callousness towards the poor that God visits us and turns the world around, yes, turns the world upside down. This is why we are told, “Do not be afraid”. People of humility and faith, who live simple lives of justice and love like Mary, are favoured by God, sheltered by the Holy Spirit, and fruitful. They will live forever. This is the promise that was made to David, to Mary, and now to us.
Saturday, December 23, 2017 - Does fear still rule the larger majority of your actions? What will you do about it today?
To read the texts click on the texts:2 Sam 7:1-5, 8-12.14.16; Lk 1:67-79
Zechariah’s song, which is traditionally called “The Benedictus” (Blessed), is the text which the Church reads on the day before Christmas. It may be seen to be divided into two parts. The first part praises God for his messianic deliverance and the second speaks of John the Baptist’s role in this deliverance. The progression of thought in the Benedictus shows that the true end of God’s redemption is not merely deliverance from political domination, but the creation of conditions in which God’s people can worship and serve God without fear. When people are released from external domination, they can worship in peace. The people of God are a covenant people, saved and rescued by the hand of God. God has thereby fulfilled the promises to Abraham and to David. Holiness and righteousness are to mark God’s people “all the days of our life”. The hymn comes to a climax as it describes the place of John in God’s redemptive work. John’s birth announced God’s new deliverance. John would be a prophet who would go before the Lord. Four infinitives outline the progress of God’s redemptive work. The first two describe the role of John the Baptist. The last two allude to the inauguration of the kingdom, “when the day shall dawn upon us from on high”.
The mark of the redeemed is that they live out of the knowledge of God that has been given to them. Darkness is dispelled by the revelation of God’s being and God’s grace toward us. Finally, through John’s call for justice and righteousness, and far more through Jesus’ unique ministry, God would “guide our feet into the way of peace”.
The Benedictus links the promise of salvation and redemption inseparably to the achievement of peace. God’s people cannot have redemption without peace, for each is necessary for the realization of the other. It affirms that God’s purposes are being fulfilled in the delivering of his people from the hands of their oppressors. Their feet are being guided in the way of peace so that they may worship without fear.
Friday, 22 December 2017
To read the texts click on the texts: Mal 3:1-4, 23-24; Lk 1:57-66
Two days before the birth of the Messiah, the Church invites us to reflect on the birth, naming, and circumcision of his precursor or forerunner, John the Baptist.
Luke does not give us too many details about the birth of John, and he narrates it with a short sentence. He focuses more on the events that follow the birth and, through them, show that God’s word spoken through the angel, Gabriel, is being fulfilled. Elizabeth does bear a son and the people rejoice at the birth because of the great mercy shown by God.
Circumcision of the child on the eight day was in accord with Gen 17:9-14 where God makes circumcision on the eight day a sign of the covenant with Abraham. It was the father who normally named the child and, in doing so, recognized the child as his own. Sometimes, the child was named after the father, especially if the father was a person who was highly esteemed. Objections were raised to the name “John” (“God had been gracious”), chosen by Elizabeth. That the people made signs to Zechariah to ask him what he wanted to name the child indicates that, besides being dumb, he was also deaf. The moment Zechariah writes the name “John” on a writing tablet, Zechariah regains his speech. Once again, God’s word comes to pass. The fear and amazement with which the people respond to these happenings is an indication that they experienced God’s awesome power. The question that the people ask, about what the child would turn out to be, is answered in summary form by Luke when he ends this narrative by stating that “the hand of the Lord was with him.”
God’s word is a word of power and will come to pass, no matter how many obstacles we may put in its way. It is a word that enhances and builds up, a word that gives life. To be sure, we may not always be able to understand and accept it for what it is, but in the final analysis, it is always a word that is for our good and for his glory.
Thursday, 21 December 2017
Friday, December 22, 2017 - What image do you have of God? Does your image lead you to have confidence in God? How does this show in your life?
To read the texts click on the texts: 1 Sam 1:24-28; Lk 1:46-56
The verses which make up the Gospel text of today are commonly known as “The Magnificat” or Mary’s hymn of praise. It seems to have been modeled on the prayer of Samuel’s mother, Hannah, in 1 Sam 2:1-10 and contains many Old Testament concepts and phrases. It communicates a picture of Mary as someone quite steeped in scripture. It reveals God primarily as a God of the poor. God is the one who will vindicate the poor by removing the rich and mighty from their positions and raising the lowly.
The hymn may be seen to be divided into four parts. The first part consists of praise to God for what he has done in and for Mary; the second part speaks of God’s power, holiness and mercy; the third part shows God acting as a Sovereign in reversing social conditions in favor of the poor and downtrodden; and the fourth and final part recalls God’s mercy and promises to Israel.
The hymn speaks of the effects of the Lord’s coming for all of God’s people. It begins on a note of salvation as Mary acknowledges her dependence on God. It was the grace of God that sustained and brought her to the position in which she finds herself. She has not achieved anything on her own, it is all a gift of God and thus, Mary acknowledges her humble state, referring to herself as God’s servant. She is to be called “blessed’ because God, in his mercy and goodness, had raised her to this level.
God has shown this mercy and goodness to the poor by showing the strength of his arm, by scattering the proud, and deposing the powerful. The poor, on the other hand, have been raised, and the hungry have been filled. God remembers not only those of old but also the present generation. He is a God not only of the past, but also a God of the present, the now.
The stress on God as a God primarily of the poor stands out in Mary’s hymn of praise. In a world where the rich seem to be getting richer and the poor, poorer, one wonders whether the Magnificat is a hymn that can make sense to the poor, to those of low degree. Yet, it is important to remember that God’s ways are not our ways and so, the poor must, in confidence, sing this song as their song. The confidence with which Mary sings this song runs through the entire hymn. She uses past tense to denote God’s future actions, thus expressing that God will indeed accomplish his will, and the poor will be vindicated. What is important for the poor to realize is that they, like Mary, need to continue to open themselves to all that God wants to do in them. They need to continue to acknowledge their dependence on God by doing all that is required of them and then, leaving the rest in his capable and strong hands.
Wednesday, 20 December 2017
Thursday, december 21, 2017 - Are you generally a happy person, or do you go about life as if the burden of the whole world is on your shoulders? Will you give up that burden today?
To read the texts click on the texts: Song 2:8-14; Lk1:39-45
The text of today, which concerns Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, is also the scriptural basis for the second Joyful mystery of the Rosary.
Since the angel does not ask Mary to visit Elizabeth, or even suggest it, the alacrity with which Mary goes to visit Elizabeth expresses clearly that Mary trusted the angel’s word. Mary’s greeting of Elizabeth results in a sign which is that the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. This could also indicate that the announcement of the angel to Zechariah that their child would be filled with the Holy Spirit is being fulfilled.
Being filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth is also able to utter an oracle which seems to have as its source, the Spirit of God. She recognizes Mary and the child in her womb as blessed. Not only has Elizabeth been blessed, because God answered her prayer for the gift of a child, she has also been blessed by a visit from the one who is called to be the mother of her Lord. The leap of the babe in Elizabeth’s womb was a leap of joy. John has already begun to fulfil his calling as one who would declare the Lord’s coming and prepare the way for him. Mary is blessed because she dared to believe in God’s word.
When joy or happiness is shared it is doubled; when sorrow or sadness is shared it is halved. The joy of Elizabeth and Mary on their respective vocations is shared by the other and hence, both experience a doubling of their joy. This joy is experienced by even the child in Elizabeth’s womb, because it is a genuine joy felt by its mother.
Life is too short to cry or be sad. Life is too short not to be happy or not to share in the joy of others.
Tuesday, 19 December 2017
Wednesday, December 20, 2017 - Will you say YES to all that God wants to do through you today even when you fully cannot understand why?
To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 7:10-14; Lk 1:26-38
The text of today’s Gospel relates a scene immediately after the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist and contains the announcement of the birth of Jesus. There are many similarities in the annunciations to Mary and to Zechariah. The angel Gabriel is the one who makes both announcements. Both Zechariah and Mary are called by name and exhorted not to be afraid. Both ask a question of the angel, and it is the angel who tells them what name each child is to be given. It is the angel who predicts what each child will turn out to be. However, even as there are similarities, there are differences in the narratives. While the announcement to Zechariah comes in the Temple and as a result of his fervent prayer, the announcement to Mary comes (apparently) when she is in her home and it is unanticipated. While Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth are advanced in age, Mary has not yet stayed with her husband, and so is a virgin. The birth of John to parents who are past the age of child bearing is a miracle, but even greater is the miracle of the birth of Jesus, who would be born through the Holy Spirit, and to a virgin. Even as John the Baptist goes with the spirit and power of Elijah, Jesus will be called “Son of God”. Luke clearly wants to show John as great, but only the forerunner of the Messiah, Jesus, who is greater.
Here, too, like in the case of the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist, God intervenes in human history. 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.
Monday, 18 December 2017
Tuesday, December 19, 2017 - Do you believe that God can do the impossible in your life? How will you show this belief?
To read the texts click on the texts: Judges13:2-7, 24-25; Lk 1:5-25
The text of today is unique to Luke and is about the foretelling or annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist. It begins by introducing Zechariah and Elizabeth and then moves to the temple where the announcement of the birth is made by an angel. Zechariah responds to this announcement in disbelief and leaves the Temple after being struck dumb. The announced child is conceived in Elizabeth’s womb fulfilling the angelic announcement.
In the first verses of today’s text, Zechariah and Elizabeth are introduced. Zechariah means “God has remembered,” and Elizabeth means something like “My God’s oath.” While Zechariah is a priest, Elizabeth is from a priestly family. By stating that they were childless (when barrenness was regarded as a tragedy, a disgrace, and even a sign of God’s punishment), despite the fact they were righteous and blameless, Luke probably wants to indicate that there is no connection between sin and punishment. That they were advanced in age, and so may have lost all hope of having a child, is to show the wondrous nature of the angelic announcement.
The priests were divided into 24 groups, and each group served twice a year for a week at a time in the Temple. On this occasion, Zechariah was chosen to enter the sanctuary and offer the incense. A sacrifice was offered twice a day, both on the outer altar and on the inner altar, inside the sanctuary. A list was compiled of those priests who had never been chosen to enter the sanctuary, and then lots were cast to determine the priests who would bring the sacrifice to the altar and clean the ashes off of it. This honour normally came only once in a lifetime. This was perhaps the most dramatic moment in Zechariah’s life as a priest. It was thus a significant moment for God to break into human history.
Zechariah’s immediate response to the angels’ appearance was one of fear and terror. The first words spoken by a character in the Gospel of Luke are by the angel and are an exhortation not to be afraid. The angel then announces, not only the birth of a son to Zechariah and Elizabeth, but also the greatness of the child. The name of the child is to be John, a name which means “God has shown favor” or “God is gracious”. Zechariah’s response is a direct quotation of Gen 15:8, “How will I know that this is so?” To Zechariah’s emphatic “I am an old man.”, the angel responds with an even more emphatic, “I am Gabriel.” Gabriel was sent to speak for God, but because Zechariah did not receive the good news, he would not be able to speak until the annunciation was fulfilled and the child was born. Though Zechariah was to pronounce a blessing on the people after he came out of the sanctuary, he could not do so since he had lost the power of speech.
The angel’s announcement comes to pass and Elizabeth conceives. She praises God for his graciousness to her.
There are numerous occasions in our lives when things do not go the way we want them to go. We try everything and nothing seems to work. We begin to think that God does not care for us or that he is punishing us for some wrong that we or our forefathers did. We might even stop praying at these times and lose faith. The text of today calls for exactly opposite attitudes to these and challenges us to cultivate them.
First, if things are not going the way we want them to go, it does not mean that God is punishing us for some past sins. There is very clearly no connection between sin and God’s punishment. To be sure, any kind of negative feelings that we harbor, any resentment that we hold on to, any sediments of anger residing in our hearts, can lead to blocks in our minds and bodies and can affect our health. Giving in to despair and desperation and losing hope can also lead to ill health.
The call is a call to hope. It is a call to continue to petition God, and to keep asking him for what we need, with confidence and courage. It is a call to continue to believe that God can do what is impossible and that nothing and no one is outside the scope of God’s power. He can, with a word, make all things whole.
Sunday, 17 December 2017
Monday, December 18, 2017 - When in a dilemma do you usually do the right thing or the loving thing? Would your life have been any different if Jesus had not been born?
To read the texts click on the texts: Jer 23:5-8;Mt 1:18-24
This text, which appears immediately after the genealogy of Jesus, and is the Gospel text for today, narrates the story of his birth. Since Mary and Joseph were engaged, they were legally considered husband and wife. Thus, infidelity in this case would also be considered adultery. Their union could only be dissolved by divorce or death.
Though Joseph is righteous or just, he decides not to go by the letter of the law and publicly disgrace Mary, but he chooses a quieter way of divorcing her. God, however, has other plans for both Joseph and Mary and intervenes in a dream. Joseph is addressed by the angel as “Son of David” reiterating, once again after the genealogy, the Davidic origin of Jesus. He is asked to take Mary as his wife and also informed that is the Spirit’s action that is responsible for her pregnancy. He is told that he is to give the child the name “Jesus". Jesus (Iesous) is the Greek form of "Joshua" which, whether in the long form yehosua, ("Yahweh is salvation") or in one of the short forms, yesua, ("Yahweh saves”), identifies the son, in the womb of Mary, as the one who brings God’s promised eschatological salvation. The angel explains what the name means by referring to Ps 130:8. The name “Jesus” was a popular and common name in the first century. By the choice of such a name, Matthew shows that the Saviour receives a common human name, a sign that unites him with the human beings of this world rather than separating him from them.
Matthew then inserts into the text the first of ten formula or fulfilment quotations that are found in his Gospel. This means that Matthew quotes a text from the Old Testament to show that it was fulfilled in the life and mission of Jesus. Here, the text is from Isa 7:14 which, in its original context, referred to the promise that Judah would be delivered from the threat of the Syro-Ephraimitic War before the child of a young woman, who was already pregnant, would reach the age of moral discernment. The child would be given a symbolic name, a short Hebrew sentence “God is with us” (Emmanu‘el) corresponding to other symbolic names in the Isaiah story. Though this text was directed to Isaiah’s time, Matthew understands it as text about Jesus, and fulfilled perfectly in him, here in his birth and naming.
This birth narrative of Matthew invites us to reflect on a number of points. Of these, two are significant. First, many of us are often caught in the dilemma of doing the right thing which might not always be the loving thing. If we follow only the letter of the law, we may be doing the right thing but not the most loving thing. However, if we focus every time on the most loving thing, like Joseph, it is surely also the right thing. Though Joseph could have done the right thing and shamed Mary by publicly divorcing her, he decides to go beyond the letter of the law and do the loving thing, which in his case was also the right thing.
Second, the story also shows us who our God is. Our God is God with us. Our God is one who always takes the initiative, who always invites, and who always wants all of humanity to draw closer to him and to each other. This God does not come in power, might, and glory, but as a helpless child. As a child, God is vulnerable. He is fully human and in his humanity, is subject to all the limitations that humanity imposes on us. Yet, he will do even that, if only humans respond to the unconditional love that he shows.
Saturday, 16 December 2017
To read the texts click on the texts:Isa 61:1-2;10-11; 1 Thess 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8, 19-28
The Third Sunday of Advent is called ‘Gaudete Sunday.’ Gaudete is Latin for “rejoice”. Rejoice is the first word of the Entrance Antiphon of today’s liturgy and is a call found in the second reading of today, where Paul invites the community at Thessalonica to rejoice always. It is a positive command, one that we are supposed to keep at all times and in all circumstances, not only when things are going well for us. The reason for this rejoicing is that it is the “will of God”. This means in other words that God has ordained that all peoples everywhere rejoice.
The reason for this rejoicing is the hope that fills the heart of those who believe. We are invited into a world of reversals, a world where captives are freed, where the hungry are filled, and where the rich are sent away empty. It is certainly a world where things are turned upside down. From the point of view of social order, such reversals could be considered antipathies. But from God’s point of view, they are the signs of transformation. In order to appreciate the strength of today’s message from Isaiah, we must remember that he was speaking to people who were dispossessed, people in need of a message of hope. It is God’s message of hope to the exiles. To these, the proclamation is the year of God’s favour and to the oppressors it is a day of vengeance. This is the reason why the exiles must rejoice and exult. As surely as what is sown in the earth sprouts, God’s faithful word will secure the growth of righteousness.
This righteousness finds its fulfillment in the one whom John proclaims in the Gospel text of today. John is the first witness to Jesus, who is the one who is to come. His preaching attracted such large crowds that the Jewish hierarchy in Jerusalem decided to investigate him. John did not seem to fit into any ecclesiastical category familiar to the Jewish authorities, and his unusual success demanded an explanation. In his response to those who enquire of him who he is, John makes clear that he is not the light but the one who points to the light. Though he is not asked whether he is the Christ, John emphatically states that he is not. Neither is he Elijah nor the prophet. Both Elijah and the prophet were figures upon whom some of the messianic expectations of Judaism came to rest. While Elijah was expected to return as the herald of the messianic age, the prophet was a figure like Moses who was expected to lead them in a new Exodus and overcome their enemies. John is neither. He is but a voice crying in the wilderness, the voice that prepares the way for the one who is to come.
In order to recognise this God who is to come, it is necessary to get rid of all stereotypes and preconceived notions that we may have of how he is going to come. These might prevent us from recognising him when he does come. The reason many could not recognise Jesus as the Messiah is that they had definite ideas on how the Messiah was going to come. The Messiah, they thought, would suddenly descend from heaven in his divine power and majesty and establish his reign by destroying the enemies of Israel. No one would know where he came from, humanly speaking, because he would come from God. So, when Jesus came, born of a woman like every other person, they could not recognise him. He was not the triumphant, conquering, aggressive Messiah. Rather, he was incarnate love and mercy, and came to transform the world through his message of unconditional and eternal love.
The basis of the preaching of John the Baptist is repentance. His message today is the same as last week: Make straight the way of the Lord! Get rid of any obstacle that might deter his arrival. It is a call to eliminate from our lives the greed that impoverishes others, the arrogance that set us above the rest, the power that makes us abusive, and the selfishness that turns us in on our concerns alone. Today we are all aware of the destructive evil that such attitudes have spawned. We suffer the consequences of their corrosive power.
But our faith reminds us that we do not have to remain victims of these forces. Change is possible. But the question, however, is: Are we willing to step forward? Or, are we afraid to have our world turned upside down? Are we the poor who will hear the good news of reversal, or are we the one responsible for their poverty? Are we the brokenhearted who will be healed, or have we broken their hearts?
Advent is a time to search our hearts, to discover where, both individually and as a community, we need to change. It is a time of expectation, for we are told that there is one who has the power to heal our personal brokenness, to heal our fractured families, to heal our troubled Church, to heal our bleeding world. His presence among us should make us rejoice; the saving power that he brings should give us confidence. If we open our hearts to this saving power, we can indeed transform our society; we can renew our Church, we can work toward peace in the world. We can turn our world upside down.