Thursday 31 May 2012

If the Lord were to come to the tree of your life, would he find fruit or only leaves? Sirach 44,1.9-13; 1 Peter 4,7-13; Mk 11,11-26

In the first part of today’s text Mark uses what is known as a “sandwich construction”. This means that he begins narrating an incident, interrupts it by another incident, which is completed, and then the first incident, which was begun and left incomplete, is completed. There are various reasons for the use of this technique.
Here, Mark begins by narrating what is known as the cursng of the fig tree (11,12-14). Only Mark tells us that “it was not the season for figs” and yet, when Jesus did not find any fruit on the tree he cursed the tree. It is the only “miracle” that occurs within the Jerusalem section of the Gospel (11,1 -15,47) and the fact that it destroys nature does not fit the pattern of the other miracles of Jesus, which make people whole. Mark wants his readers therefore, to see the symbolic character of the miracle of the curring of the fig tree and associate its fate with the fate of the Temple, which is also not producing the fruit, it is meant to produce. 
Mark keeps in suspense what happens to the fig tree till much later (11,20-21), after he has narrated the incident that he places in the middle of the sandwich.  This is what is known as the Cleansing of the Temple (11,15-19). It is an incident that is narrated by all the four Gospels though John narrates it quite differently from the manner in which the Synoptics do and even within the Synoptics there are slight differences. Mark is the only one of the evangelists who tells us that Jesus would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple which indicates that for Mark, Jesus has the power to determine what activity is proper to the Temple. The teaching of Jesus is a combination of two Old Testament texts Isaiah 56,7 and Jeremiah 7,11.  The chief priests and scribes take affront when they hear about this incident and look for a way to kill Jesus.
Mark then continues the first incident (the cursing of the fig tree) and completes it (11,20-21). The fig tree has indeed withered. This is what will happen to the Temple if it continues in the way of the fig tree, namely if it does not produce the fruit required of it.
Peter is amazed that the fig tree has withered and comments on it (11,22). This gives an opportunity for the Marcan Jesus to teach has disciples about prayer (11,23-25).  The first saying about the mountain being thrown into the sea (11,23) brings out forcefully through a dramatic metaphor what is possible for one whose faith does not waver. The second saying (11,24) applies to the community the general principle of the previous verse, namely that there must be absolute confidence in prayer. The final saying (11,25) speaks about forgiveness as a condition to receive the forgiveness of God. This is because if there is unforgiveness in one’s heart it is not possible to receive the forgiveness of God. The unforgiveness acts a block to receiving God’s forgiveness.
Most doctors today are convinced that the larger majority of the illnesses we suffer are psychosomatic. This means that because our mind/heart/internal being (psuche) is affected, our body/external (sōma) will also be affected. Keeping grudges, harbouring feelings of revenge, nurturing anger and not forgiving are sure ways to spoil one’s health. Illnesses like acidity, hyper tension, fistula, piles, stress diabetes, high blood pressure, ulcers and many others can be controlled and even avoided if one removes the entire negative from one’s heart and mind.

Wednesday 30 May 2012

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery in “The Little Prince) Sirach 42,15-25; 1 Peter 2,2-5.9-12; Mk 10,46-52

This miracle of the healing of blind Bartimaeus is the final miracle in the ministry of Jesus. On hearing Bartimaeus the crowd attempts to silence him. However, he exhibits great faith and perseverance. The title that he uses to address Jesus: “Son of David” carries messianic overtones. This is the first time in the Gospel of Mark that such a title is used for Jesus. When he is called by Jesus, Bartimaeus goes to him throwing off his cloak, which could signify a throwing away of the old order to put on something new. After enquiring what he would like to be done to him and hearing his request for sight, Jesus heals him with a mere word. Jesus attributes the healing to the faith of Bartimaeus. Only in Mark are we told that after he was healed, Bartimaeus followed Jesus “on the way”.
We often imagine that we can see only with the eyes in our head and so judge people based on what we see physically. We must realise that this is only one way of seeing and sometimes it is more important to see with the eyes of our hearts. Though Bartimeaus was physically blind, he could recognise with the eyes of his heart who Jesus really was. 

Tuesday 29 May 2012

How would you define honour? What does your definition say about you? Sirach 36,1.4-5.10-17; 1 Peter 1,18-25; Mk 10,32-45

In this pericope Jesus predicts for the third and final time in the Gospel of Mark states that he is to suffer and die and be raised (10,32-34). It is the most detailed of all the three passion and resurrection predictions. Here too, like in the case of the two previous Passion and resurrection predictions there is a misunderstanding. This time it is on the part of James and John who want places of honour in the kingdom. In response to Jesus’ question of whether they are able to drink the cup that he must drink and be baptised in the baptism with which he must be baptised, they say that they are able. Jesus promises that they will indeed drink the cup and undergo the baptism, yet he cannot determine the position of places in the kingdom. That role is left only to the Father.
The other disciples who become agitated with the request of the brothers are in the same boat as they are, and once again Jesus has to teach them the way of the kingdom. Only those willing to serve others can hope to have a place of honour in the kingdom. The last verse of this section points to the Son of man who has come to show the way to the kingdom through his service.
The attitude of the ten towards James and John may be termed as confrontation. This often happens when one desires what the other person is striving for, and so feels jealous and envious of the other. It also leads to backbiting and thinking ill of the other like the ten did in the case of James and John. An alternative to confrontation is the attitude of “care-frontation” which would involve challenging the other person to rise above trifles and things which are not necessary. It arises out of a genuine concern for the good of the person. 

Monday 28 May 2012

What is the thing, which is the person, what is that event which is preventing you from working for the kingdom? Will you give it up today? Sirach 35,1-12; 1 Peter 1,10-16; Mk 10,28-31

In response to the statement of Jesus that it is impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, Peter states that they as disciples have left everything to follow Jesus. The response of Jesus is a reassurance that what they have given up will be replaced by the new bond that they will share with each other both in this life and in the life to come. It must also be noted that the Marcan Jesus also mentions persecutions as being part of the lot of the disciples. These are to be expected by anyone who is a true witness of the Gospel. The last verse of this pericope speaks about the reversal of status that will be part of the kingdom indicating that that the values of the world do not apply in the kingdom.
When we sacrifice something for a cause we must realise that our reward must be the sacrifice itself. The reason why we sacrifice is because we believe in the cause, whether it is helping the poor, reaching out to the needy or any other and we must gain our satisfaction from the understanding that someone has lived more fully because of the sacrifice that we have made rather than expect yet another reward.

Sunday 27 May 2012

Do I possess riches or do riches possess me? Do I use things or do things use me? Sirach 17, 24-29; 1 Peter 1,3-9; Mk 10,17-27

We now re-enter Ordinary Time after the Easter celebrations. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is a sign that now Jesus' disciples must continue the work that he inaugurated. Thus, we are in the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time.

This text for today is made up of two parts. The first is the story of the rich man who is unable to accept Jesus’ invitation to discipleship (10,17-22) and the second part contains the sayings of Jesus on the danger of riches (10,23-27).
The rich man addresses Jesus as “Good teacher” and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus shifts the focus from himself and makes God the focus. In Mark, Jesus cites six of the commandments of the Decalogue (Ex 20,12-17; Deut 5,16-21). The response of the rich man is to affirm that he has followed all of these. Only in Mark does Jesus look at the man and love him. This love results in the issuance of an invitation: the invitation to follow Jesus. The invitation is to forego even the privilege of alms giving for the sake of sharing Jesus’ life style by depending on God while at the same time proclaiming his kingdom. The rich man is devoted to God’s word, but cannot bring himself to accept the invitation. His riches become an obstacle to his following.
After his departure, Jesus turns to the disciples to instruct them on the danger of riches. Jesus uses a metaphor of a camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle. Even this, impossible as it might be to imagine, is possible and easier, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom. The amazement of the disciples while understandable also brings out powerfully the obstacle that riches can pose to seeing rightly.
We are living in a world, which keeps calling us to possess more and more. We are bombarded from every side with advertisements inviting us to be owners of land, property, houses, and electronic and other goods. While we must use things and plan properly for own future and the future of our children, we need to be careful that we do not become so obsessed with the future that we forget to live in the present.

Saturday 26 May 2012

PENTECOST - Acts 2: 1-11; 1 Cor 12:3b-7,12-13; Jn 20:19-23

In a world that is becoming more and more fragmented, the feast of Pentecost, with its stress on Unity, comes as a breath of fresh air. Pentecost is traditionally known as the Birthday of the Church and concludes the Easter season. It is celebrated just before the Church returns to Ordinary time. Pentecost, meaning "fifty days" after the Passover -- was originally the feast day on which the Jews celebrated the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. On this mountain, the different tribes of Israel entered into a covenant with God and with one another and thus, became the people of God and accepted God as their only God. God gave them the Ten Commandments as a guide to show them how to be a people.  Being people of God meant relating to God, and to one another, in a way that God Himself mapped out for them, not in a way that each one would decide individually. This was because they were meant to be one people, united to each other and to God.
The first reading of today, from the Acts of the Apostles, is one in which the disciples, speaking their own language, are understood by people representing the geographical boundaries of the known world.  This reading presents the starting point of the Unity which Pentecost symbolizes.  It also presents a reversal of the confusion of tongues at the tower of Babel.  That confusion was caused when humans tried to make a name for themselves, and be independent, forgetting in that process that, in front of God, they were totally dependent. However, the Spirit of God poured out on the Apostles reverses this confusion and transforms it into clarity and understanding. The Spirit of God transforms division into unity, fragmentation into wholeness, and disarray into order.
This Spirit that Jesus breathed on the disciples, as narrated by the Gospel text of today, results in their transformation. The act of breathing indicates that the disciples have now become a new creation and reminds us of the breath of God on Adam and the first creation. The fear that had taken hold of the disciples is transformed into fearlessness, the doubt that plagued their hearts and minds is transformed into certainty and their cowardice, which made them lock the doors even of their hearts, is transformed into courage and daring. They became a new creation filled with a new vision and a new hope. They who were previously terrified and scared stiff were now willing to go to the ends of the earth, thereby breaking geographical and ethnic boundaries, in order to fulfill the commission of Jesus to forgive and retain sin which meant to draw people to him by their preaching and action. This mission does not refer to the Sacrament of reconciliation but to the broader idea of making God known in Jesus. The mission of the disciples is to reveal Jesus in all that they say and do. They are not called to be arbiters of right and wrong, but to always do right and, in so doing, bring people to judgment. People must look at the actions of the disciples and realize, through them, how far they are from the kingdom made visible in Jesus.
This is done primarily by showing the unity that exists among the disciples. This unity is, according to Paul, despite the fact that there a variety of gifts, services, and activities.  All are from one Spirit and offered to one Lord. Just as one body has members, and yet is a single body, so the disciples of Jesus who, though different from each other, are one since they keep receiving the same Spirit, the Spirit of the Lord Jesus.
This same Spirit was given to us when we were baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus and confirmed in the power of the Spirit. It is the same Spirit that continues to be given to us, even today. If we received and keep receiving the same Spirit as the disciples did on that first Pentecost, why can’t we do the same marvelous deeds?  We can. We are assured by Paul that “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” When we respond to hate and violence with kindness and gentleness, we are doing the same marvelous deeds that the first disciples did. When we respond to greed and selfishness with moderation and selflessness, we are manifesting the working of the Spirit in our lives. When we respond to attempts to divide and segregate with efforts toward unity and integration, we reveal that we are graced by the same Spirit. When we thwart attempts at isolation because of caste, creed, and culture, and work for unity even in diversity, then we show that we, though different, are members of one body.
The Spirit that Jesus sent us from his Father is a Spirit of reconciliation, a Spirit that prevents us from holding grudges or nurturing vengeance. It is a Spirit of truth, a Spirit that directs us into lives of honesty and integrity. The world in which we live is in far greater need of reconciliation and truth than it is in need of the gift of tongues or other miracles and stupendous deeds. The Holy Spirit, the dynamic power of God, is bestowed on us and especially today in all fullness. And with the Spirit come the gifts that can transform the world. The first disciples had their day, and they seized it with a passion and zest that has been remembered down through the centuries. This is our day. We now have a chance to show to the whole world that we are a united, Spirit filled people of God.

Would Jesus point to you as a beloved disciple today? Why? Acts 28:16-20, 30-31; Jn 21:20-25

The first two verses of today’s text shift the focus from Peter to the Beloved disciple. Like he does elsewhere, with other characters in his Gospel, John reminds the reader of when the beloved disciple first appeared in his narrative. The question of Jesus to Peter in 21:22: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” has caused consternation. John already provides a correction of the misunderstanding that this disciple would not die and so, this is not what Jesus meant. By using a favorite word of his, “remain”, John points out what he means by Jesus’ seeming enigmatic words. This disciple will indeed remain through the words that he has written in his Gospel. Though he will die a physical death, he will continue to live in the witness that he has given to Jesus in his Gospel. Just as Peter will give witness to Jesus by dying a martyr’s death, the beloved disciple will give witness to Jesus by his Gospel.

The Gospel ends with a hyperbolic statement which also serves as a warning of how the Gospel and all of scripture must be interpreted. The Gospel is only a pointer and must be seen in that light. The person of Jesus is bigger than any writing or Gospel can ever contain and, no matter how much is said of Jesus, in the final analysis, it will always be inadequate. This does not mean that we must not say what we know. Rather, it means that, even as we say what we know, we must realize that there is much more that we do not know and so cannot say.

There is an obsession with so many today with prolonging life. These use all kinds of artificial means to try to look younger. They dye their hair black; get tummy tucks, nose jobs, and even plastic surgery to remove wrinkles. They imagine that they can cheat death and live forever. They hardly realize that what is important is not the length of time one lives, but how one lives in the time given to us. It is quality, not quantity, that is important. Jesus’ words about the beloved disciple are not about his living forever, or not dying, they are about the witness that endures even after he dies. This means that each of us, like the beloved disciple, has the ability to leave a legacy even after we are gone from this world. It is up to us to decide what kind of legacy it is going to be.

Thursday 24 May 2012

XLRI Jamshedpur

I leave for XLRI Jamshedpur tomorrow to give a retreat to 78 Jesuits. Of these 52 are Priests and 26 Scholastics. retreats to Jesuits are always a challenge and this will be an even greater challenge since there will be quite different age groups. However, as Ignatius says in the Spiritual Exercises - It is the Spirit that is the true Director - so I am unafraid and go into it confidently. Even so, I will need your prayers for the Jesuits and for myself. Thanks in advance.

Be careful of saying you are a friend of Jesus, he will call you to live and love for him. Acts 25:13-21; Jn 21:15-19

The first verse of today’s text links this section with the previous one (21:4-14) through the words, “When they had finished breakfast”. It is a continuation of the appearance of Jesus to the disciples at Lake Tiberius where, because they obey his instructions, they are able to haul in 153 fish.

The verses of today’s text narrate the conversation that Jesus has with Simon Peter. Some are of the opinion that the reason why Jesus asks Peter three questions is because Peter denied him three times. While this may be so, it is also important to realize that the questions are all different. The first question which Jesus asks is inclusive. It includes the other disciples, the boat, the nets, and the fish. Jesus is asking Peter whether Peter loves him more than he loves the other disciples and/or his livelihood. The second question is direct and involves only Jesus and Peter. Everything else recedes into the background. The spotlight shifts only to the two. Does Peter love Jesus? Though the third question seems similar to the second, it is really different because in it, Jesus asks Peter about friendship. It reads: “Simon, son of John, are you my friend?” This is a crucial change from the earlier question because, in 15:13, Jesus had explained the true meaning of friendship when he said: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” By affirming that Peter is, indeed, a friend of Jesus, he is affirming his willingness to die for Jesus.

This interpretation is confirmed by the fact that as soon as Peter affirms his friendship, Jesus invites him to lay down his life. This invitation begins with the double Amen in 21:18, and so marks the introduction of a solemn pronouncement. The saying of Jesus that follows explains how, when Peter was young, he fastened his own belt and went wherever he wished to go. This is an indication of the freedom that Peter experienced earlier. However, soon he will have to stretch out his hands and someone else will fasten his belt for him, and take him where he does not wish to go. This is seen as a specific reference to Peter’s death by crucifixion, and is confirmed by the explanation that John gives in parenthesis in 21:19: “(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.)”

The text ends with Jesus inviting Peter to follow him. Though this command of Jesus may be seen as a general invitation to discipleship, here it means a specific command to martyrdom and even death.

It is significant that the call to martyrdom to Peter is given only after his threefold confession of his love of Jesus, and he is given charge of the sheep only after he has confessed this love. It is thus clear that there is no coercion on the part of Jesus, but a call that Peter has accepted freely. Peter knows, even as he answers, that trials and difficulties are part and parcel of his commitment. He is aware that following Jesus is not going to be easy and that he will be called to make great sacrifices. He is ready, willing, and able.

The call to follow Jesus today is a call that will continue to be heard as long as there are people who dare to open their hearts to this call. While it will not always be a call to martyrdom by death, like it was in the case of Peter, it will always be a call to be a martyr or witness. This is because the voice of Jesus can only be heard today in his disciples and he can be seen and experienced only when those who profess to follow him reach out in love.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Are the troubles and difficulties of your neighbour as real to you as your own? Or do you regard their problems as of no consequence to you? Acts 22:30-23:6-11; Jn 17:20-26

In these last verses of the prayer, Jesus expands the circle of those for whom he prays to include believers of the future. Since Jesus did not come to make a limited revelation, but one that was meant to embrace the whole world, it is only appropriate that he pray also for those who will believe because of the disciples’ word and witness. The primary invocation that Jesus makes here is the all be one. It is a petition for unity. The reason for this petition is that Jesus wants all those who will believe in him to share in the same relationship that he shares with his Father. Just as Jesus and the Father are one, so, he prays, that all believers will also share in this mutual indwelling. When this unity is seen by those who do not yet believe, they, too, will be inspired to know and believe that Jesus was indeed sent by God. Unity of the community, which has as its source the unity of the Son and Father, will be the drawing force that will lead others to Jesus. By the unity that is shown in community, those who believe in Jesus will also be able to complete God’s work in the same way in which Jesus did.

In the last three verses of the prayer (17:24-26), there is a greater intensity. Petition changes to want. This is not to be interpreted as selfishness but rather, as audacity or confidence. Jesus is confident that his Father will give him what he wants and also, that this is his Father’s will for him and all believers. What Jesus wants is that God, he, and the believers, share in a mutual indwelling. What he wants is that all be one. This oneness and unity is expressed in the tangible reality of love.

Christianity was never meant to be, and can never be, a private religion. Everything about Christianity is both individual and communitarian. The seven Sacraments are beautiful examples of the communal dimension of Christianity. This is because Jesus did not come to make a private or esoteric revelation to only a small group of individuals but to make a revelation to the whole world. Thus, the community of believers today is faced with this challenge of showing the communal dimension or unity of the community and so, drawing others to believe. It is a tremendous privilege and responsibility. It is a privilege because we are called to continue the work of Jesus himself and so share in the mission entrusted to him by his Father. It is a responsibility because, as believers, we cannot be complacent and content with our private devotions or individual faith.  We must manifest it to everyone we meet. It is a faith that is to be shown in action, a faith that is to be shown in tangible love.

How do I measure my own success? Is my striving to “have more” or to “be more”? Acts 20:28-38; Jn 17:11-19

The prayer of Jesus continues with a prayer for the disciples. In the first verse today, Jesus prays for God’s protection for the disciples and the oneness that they must share. This unity must be like the unity that the Son, Jesus, shares with God, his Father. While Jesus was on earth, he was able to instruct his disciples on this unity and show it in his own words and actions.  Now that he is going to the Father, he entrusts this teaching to God. The “world”, with its own set of values and way of proceeding, will try to draw the disciples away from the teaching of Jesus, much like it drew Judas Iscariot. Yet, he was the one who decided that he wanted to break away from the community and align with the “world” and so, made his choice. The disciples need to be given the same strength that Jesus had and be sanctified in the truth.

It is so easy to be sucked in by all that the “world” has to offer. The lure of money, riches, and the desire to have more, are tempting and inviting. Success is often measured by how much a person has rather than by how much he/she is. This results in a striving to possess more and more even, if at times, it is at the cost of someone else having less than is their due. The prayer of Jesus for his disciples must be read today in this context and we need to constantly ask ourselves if, as his disciples, the prayer that he made is having its desired effect on us.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Does my prayer show in action? How? Acts 20:17-27; Jn 17:1-11

Chapter 17, from which we will read today, tomorrow, and the day after, is titled “The High Priestly Prayer” of Jesus. However, this may also be seen as a farewell hymn of praise to God. This farewell is not simply the death of Jesus, but is the “departure” from this world, a return to the Father, after completing the work entrusted to him. It is thus a prayer of thanksgiving and confidence. Since is the last prayer before the Passion Narrative, which begins in Chapter 18, it must also be interpreted with this in mind. The intimacy that Jesus shares with the Father shines through every sentence of the prayer. Jesus speaks in this prayer directly to God.

The prayer is divided into three parts. In the first (17:1-5), though it seems that he is praying for himself, what Jesus is really doing is giving thanks to the Father for his graciousness and love. In the second part (17:6-19), Jesus prays for his disciples and, in the final part of the prayer (17:20-26), Jesus prays for those who will believe because of the disciples preaching, i.e. future generations of disciples.

The prayer begins with Jesus adopting a formal posture of prayer, looking up to heaven, and addressing God as “Father”. On the one hand, this shows that Jesus now distances himself from his disciples and, on the other, indicates the intimate relationship that Jesus shares with God. The announcement of the “hour” at the beginning of the prayer points to the fact that the prayer will be directed to God, keeping this in mind. It is the “hour” of glorification because during it, Jesus will obey God completely, and in that obedience, God will be revealed and glorified. Jesus, as Son, has revealed God’s gift of eternal life to all who were willing to receive it. Jesus has completed this work on earth and now, he has to return to the Father in order to complete the work of glorification.

The work of glorification included making the name of God known to all. Jesus has revealed the Father as Father and God as a God of unconditional and bountiful love. The disciples have been able to see God revealed in Jesus and thus, have kept God’s revealed word. Since Jesus is not going to be in the world in the same way in which he was with the disciples, he prays for their protection. This protection is to be manifested in the oneness that the disciples will share to show those who do not yet believe, that Jesus has indeed come from God and is with God.

Prayer is not primarily words, but an attitude. This is what Jesus displays in his prayer. The manner in which one addresses God displays the relationship that one shares with him. “Father” was the most intimate term for Jesus to use and it shows the oneness that he felt with God. Each of us has to find our own intimate term with which to address God. It is important to realize that, after Jesus, God can never be looked at with fear or trepidation, but only with confidence, courage, and hope.

Prayer does not begin with “me” but with God and his glorification. However, the glorification of God is complete when love abounds, because where love is, there God is. The effect of our prayer has to be seen in tangible love, expressed in deeds, like it was in the life of Jesus.

When faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem today will you believe that you, like Jesus, will overcome? Acts 19:1-8; Jn 16:29-33

Though the disciples think that they have understood everything that Jesus has said, and that it is plain to them, they actually misunderstand. While Jesus has used many figures of speech to make his points, the disciples mistakenly think that he has used only one. They also do not realize that Jesus had spoken of a future time when he would speak plainly and when things would be clear, and erroneously think of that time as the present. Where Jesus was appealing to the heart, the disciples used their minds. Their knowledge is an intellectual knowledge and thus, focuses only on the present and not on the future. They forget that the whole story of Jesus can only be completed with the departure to the Father. This is why Jesus has to reorient them and remind them again of the “hour”. The “hour” here is the hour of death which will result in the scattering of the disciples. They will all abandon him at his death. Yet, Jesus will not be alone because he knows that the Father will be with him, even if no one else is. Thus, even when faced with the most difficult situation, namely death, Jesus can have peace and this is the peace that he will gift to the disciples. This peace will enable the disciples to stand up to all the trials and tribulations they will encounter.

The last words of Jesus here are words of confidence and hope: “But take courage; I have conquered the world.” Even as he goes to his death, Jesus knows that victory will be his. He will overcome, through his cross, all the negative powers that try to prevent his love from reaching the ends of the earth.

It takes courage to believe when we are faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles and difficulties of life. It is at times like these that our faith is tested and tried. It is at times like these when we have to ask ourselves whether we believe that God is still working for our good. To have courage in the face of adversity, to believe in the face of trials, and to trust and have faith when everything seems to be going wrong, is to have the confidence in the Father that Jesus had. This attitude can be ours if we open ourselves to God’s abundant grace and realize the impermanence of all that assails us. It is to know that, like Jesus, we too will overcome the “world”. The movement from present sorrow, pain and trial, to future joy, peace and hope, is possible and even guaranteed because Jesus has overcome.

Saturday 19 May 2012

THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD - THE END AND A NEW BEGINNING - Acts 1: 1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Mk 16:15-20

The Ascension of Jesus into heaven celebrates the fact that, after completing his work on earth, work that the Father had entrusted to him, Jesus returned to his rightful place at the right hand of the Father.  However, this is only one side of the story. The other side is that, before he ascended into heaven, he entrusted a commission to his disciples and to all who believe in his name. This commission was to proclaim to every living creature, till the end of time, God’s unconditional love for them.  This love was manifested not only in the sending of his only Son, but also in the Son’s rejection, crucifixion, and death. It was a love that was manifested, ultimately, in raising this Son on the third day and granting him his rightful place at the right hand of God.

The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, already sets the tone for the Universal Mission which the disciples are given. Here, they are commissioned to be witnesses, not only in Jerusalem, but to the ends of the earth.  However, even as they are commissioned, they are cautioned about two things. The first is patience. They must wait for the gift of the Spirit with openness and receptivity. The second is that it is not for them to know too many details about time, place, and the like. Their job is only to be witnesses. To use the words of St. Francis of Assisi, they are called to “Proclaim the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” They were meant to be those who could give evidence for what they had seen and heard. They could not be witnesses unless they had met the Risen Christ—unless their lives had been transformed by him. Their testimony was about him, not just about what happened long ago and far away. They were to give evidence about what they themselves had heard, seen, and experienced.
This idea is reiterated in the Gospel text of today which begins with the commission of the risen Jesus to his disciples to go out into the whole world to proclaim the Good News of salvation.  The Good News was that God had shown his unconditional love for the world by saving all people in Christ, his Son. The signs that would accompany this preaching and its acceptance were practical signs. These would be shown in action and could be summarized as Healing and Wholeness. The disciples followed the instructions of the Lord and continued the mission that he had inaugurated.
This Lord, whom the disciples obey, is indeed the Lord of the whole Universe. The second reading affirms that he has been given dominion over all persons, things, and situations and sits at the right hand of God. The Church, which he inaugurated, is his body which continues his work even today.
We need to ask ourselves some serious questions on the feast of Ascension. The first of these is whether we, as Church today, continue the mission of Jesus or whether we are still looking up at the sky like the disciples did, until they were reminded that the Mission had to be continued on earth. When we keep looking up to heaven for answers to questions that can be found on earth, we are still looking up to the sky. When we respond theoretically rather than practically to the problems of others, we are still looking up to the sky.  When we expect God to do everything for us rather than ask him for help when we are faced with insurmountable odds, we are still looking up to the sky.  We need to remove our gaze from the sky and bring it down to earth.
We also need to ask whether our focus is so much on the miraculous that we fail to find God in the ordinary events of life. While it is true that Jesus did promise his disciples that extraordinary signs would accompany belief in him, it is also true that he never used his miracles as proof of his divine identity. As a matter of fact, he consistently refused to give signs.  He wanted people to find him and to find God in the ordinary, humdrum, mundane, everyday activities of life. If we are not able to find God in all things and find all things in God, it probably means that we are focusing too much on the extra-ordinary and stupendous and not enough on the fact that God, in Jesus, is all and in all.
We need to ask ourselves whether, in our enthusiasm to spread the Gospel of God, we have been honest to it or whether we have mangled and distorted it so much that it has become our personal and often bigoted and biased interpretation rather than God’s Good News. When we find that we are spreading the Good News by dint of human might and craft and not by listening to God’s Spirit of openness and sincerity and, when we find that our intentions in spreading this news are selfish and self-centered rather than selfless and altruistic, then we are guilty of not being true to God, to his Good News and to ourselves.
The feast of the Ascension reminds us that we, as disciples of Jesus, are today his body, mind, and heart.  Jesus was true to himself and true to his Father.  We need to be true to Jesus and true to his Father.  If we are, then we can celebrate this feast with great joy knowing that, though the Lord is in heaven, he continues to be present on earth.

Friday 18 May 2012

Do you remember to add at the end of your prayer the words “not my, but your will be done”? Acts 18:23-28; Jn 16:23-28

The death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus will be the event that will enable the disciples to pray, not only in Jesus’ name, but like he prayed. Through this event, the disciples will enter into a new relationship with Jesus and with God through him. This relationship will be a relationship of love. As God showed his love for the world in sending Jesus, and Jesus showed his love for the world by accepting the cross, so the disciples have shown love for Jesus and God by accepting and believing that Jesus has come from God.

In the last verse of today’s text the entire mission of Jesus is summarized. Jesus has been sent by God and has come from God. After completing the mission entrusted to him, he is returning to where he has come from: God. The story of Jesus, which began with his coming from the Father ends, but also continues with his ascending to the Father.

Prayer in Jesus’ name and praying like Jesus means to believe, before we receive something, that it will be given to us. It is a confidence that God is on our side. We may not always be able to see at first glance how what we receive is for our good, much like the cross that Jesus carried. However, it means that we continue to trust and believe that all will be well because God is always in control of any and every situation.