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Monthly Archives: December 2016

MARY, THE HOLY MOTHER OF GOD The Octave Day of the Nativity

1It is a week after Christmas and we turn the page on a new calendar year. The reading invite us to re-collect the blessings of the past week, as we look forward to a new year.

In them the shepherds act upon the message they receive from the angel and go to find Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem. In their visit to the manger, the shepherds find things just as the angel had said. The shepherds’ visit, therefore, is a moment of fulfillment, manifestation, and the beginning of the salvation we receive through Christ.

In the context of today’s Solemnity, this reading also helps us focus on Mary as the Mother of God. Mary’s faithfulness to God is evident in all three of these things. Her reflection upon the events in her life indicates that she was a person of prayer. This prayer made possible her obedience to God and God’s will, even if the outcome was not clear. Finally, her faithfulness to a community of faith grounded her relationship with God and enabled her to participate in God’s plan of salvation.

Because of Mary’s faithfulness to God, she was able to receive the gift of God’s Son and accept her role in God’s plan for salvation. By doing so, she models for us the path of discipleship and is also called Mother of the Church.

The songs we sing and the cards we write extol the babe of Bethlehem as Emmanuel, God-with-us. He is so with us that after Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin of Nazareth, the Divine Word can never again be divided from our humanity. Indeed, Although the Gregorian calendar established January 1 as New Year’s Day as far back as 1582, in England it was not until 1752 that it replaced March 25 as the beginning of the new year. March 25, of course, is when the church celebrates the feast of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear the Christ child.

Today we remember not simply who this baby is around whose manger we gathered just a few short days ago, but more importantly, who he is. “…you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

We are here today and some of us every day, not because we love babies but because we know our need to be saved. We know our need to be saved from doubt or despair or depression; from jealousy or anger or rage; from panic or prejudice or presumption; from fear or fantasies or failures; from what we do or say or feel about others, and sometimes what we do or say or feel about ourselves. We are here today because at some time or another, at one moment or another each one of us recognized our need of a saviour. We discovered we could not do it alone and it was at that moment the heavens were torn open and we found ourselves terrified like those shepherds listening to the song of the angels who brought “good news of great joy for [us and] all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

We are here today on this Feast of the Mother of God, not to remember a baby, but to remember our need and to discover that the God whose name is unpronounceable, unspeakable and ultimately unknowable, is the same God who comes to us in the person of Jesus who knows us, and loves us and ultimately saves us.

Today is a day to remember, at the beginning of a new year, that his passionate desire to come into my heart continues today and every day of my life.

Our call to discipleship in return includes these three aspects. First, discipleship means prayer and reflection on the events of our lives that we might see God’s presence and work in our lives. Second, discipleship means obedience to God and God’s will. Third, discipleship includes fidelity to a community of faith.

Looking back, we can move forward, praising the name of Jesus who invites us to be servants of his own mission this new year.

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Posted by on December 30, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

CHRISTMAS DAY

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In the Gospel of St Luke, when an angel appears to shepherds, we are not surprised they were terrified. That not only seems to be the common response to angels, but also the way we would likely feel in the same circumstance.

But I wonder if not only the angel scared the shepherds, but by the other thing the text mentions. The thing not pictured in our nativity scenes because there’s no easy way to depict it: the glory of the Lord.
The glory of the Lord surrounded the shepherds. Original readers would have been shocked by the scene that has become so familiar to us.

The glory of the Lord rarely appeared to people. And when it did, it was frightening in its otherness. When the glory of the Lord appeared in the temple, the priests dared not even enter. When the glory of the Lord appeared on the mountain, the Israelites compared it to a consuming fire. And now this fire, this otherness, this glory, was surrounding shepherds.
Shepherds, who were considered religious outcasts. Whose profession made it virtually impossible to follow the oppressively detailed religious laws. Whose duties in the field duties kept them away from religious festivals. Shepherds, who were lowly. Whose job kept them away from society and gave them little money in return.

At the birth of Jesus, God tore the distance between heaven and earth and ripped apart human expectations of who was worthy to be in His presence.

God sent His glory to outcasts. His fire was no longer restricted to the mountaintop or the most holy place; it was sent to the hearts of all.
One of the wonderful things about Christ is He never withdraws His offer. It is always there. If we lose track of this Christmas, we will have another chance next Christmas, as well as all the months and days between now and then. It’s true that life is made of moments, but is it also composed of a lifetime.

I’ve often heard stories of how the innkeeper missed his chance to partake in the miracle and wonder of the first Christmas. But I don’t know if that’s a helpful thought. Yes, he did miss that one moment. But he had the rest of his life to find Christ. He didn’t lose the opportunity forever when he missed the moment before him.

Maybe 30 years later, the people of Bethlehem heard stories of a miracle worker, teacher, and prophet who was born in their town. Maybe it triggered memories of how the sky shone unusually bright one night about that many years ago, maybe someday they could find the peace, hope, and fullness of life with Immanuel. They may have missed it that night, but they might not have missed it forever.

Christmas comes every year. Perhaps this Christmas needs a do-over for you, but that’s okay. Christ is still here, and He will always be here, offering you His fullness and peace.

There’s this effort every year to make the Christmas story new. We pressure ourselves to see it with fresh eyes, so that we can feel it, really feel it, this time around.

It’s difficult to marvel at something so familiar.

At the first Christmas, the shepherds weren’t forced to share all the fantastic things that had happened to them, they were compelled. We would feel that way too, I think.

Many times, it feels like we are trying to drum up amazement for the Christmas story. It just feels forced, at least it does to me. Our efforts to ring the bell of excitement often don’t work. But I think that’s okay.

Because sometimes it does work. Sometimes a church service or a song or a book or a sermon or even just a drive down a street aglow with lights captures our hearts and we remember. We remember the story really is true. God does exist and He surely does love us. And maybe, we even feel it in those moments. Jesus was born not only to save you from the darkness of sin; he was born because he loves you!

And I know I, at least, can use a taste of God’s love as often as I can find it.
So, let’s continue to seek out and share those moments that stir our hearts. We never know when the Holy Spirit might use them to break through our clutter.

Pope Francis said in a Christmas homily: “Christ opened the path to us. He is like a roped guide climbing a mountain who, on reaching the summit, pulls us up to him and leads us to God. If we entrust our life to him, if we let ourselves be guided by him, we are certain to be in safe hands, in the hands of our Saviour.

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD (CHRISTMAS)

 

1-7Few lives were darker or more miserable than those of first century Palestinian shepherds. People made fun of them – they thought they were stupid, dirty. The religiously orthodox despised them because they could not keep the detailed ceremonial law. If they came into town from the fields, people would avoid them. Life was hard for them. They would spend whole nights huddled together on bleak hillsides, against the often intense cold. We can imagine those shepherds in the middle of the night in the cold dark fields below Bethlehem.

But suddenly, the black darkness was shattered by a blazing light. A messenger from God appeared to those despised shepherds, and they were terrified. But the messenger told them, ‘Don’t be frightened. I bring you good news of a great joy. For to you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.’ And those shepherds went to see. And they were the first of all the people who went to see. They were the first to see Jesus. “We have seen his glory; glory of the only begotten Son of God.”

What an extraordinary thing, that God should have chosen poor outcasts to be the first to come and set eyes upon Jesus. But perhaps not so strange. The Bible makes it clear that God has a special love and concern for the poor – the ‘anawim’, as the Old Testament has it. So much so, that the Gospels tell us that unless we become poor ourselves we will not be able to see Jesus. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God.’ Blessed are you when you become poor; when you put your trust in God, when you do not trust in your wealth, your achievements, your reputation; blessed are you when you humble yourself, and become like a little child. Then you too will see God. You too will be able to kneel with the shepherds and gaze upon the Christ child. Those shepherds were at the bottom of the pile. They had no proud walls of respectability and achievement to hide behind. They knew their need of God, and in their poverty of spirit, they were the first to see Christ. ‘We have seen his glory; glory as of the only Son of God.’

For us, it is often very hard to admit our weakness, our need for God. It hurts our pride. We’d rather strengthen our image of success and respectability. It can often be the shock of a loss, the breakdown of a relationship, the loss of a job, an unrealized ambition, with the blow to our pride – often something like this which opens up a crack in our defences, through which God can reach us, through which the light of the Gospel can shine, offering us God’s forgiveness and renewal.

Those who have been to the Holy Land will know the great and ancient Church of the Nativity, one of the oldest in the world, which stands over the site of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. It is a huge and yet, the entrance into the church is less than 1.2m high! Local Palestinians, rich Western tourists, bishops and every kind of pilgrim, whoever they were, rich or poor, important or lowly, each had to bend down very low to get in through that door.

And I believe that is true for all of us, if we want to see Jesus this Christmas. He said we must become poor in spirit to see him. He said we must become like children to see him. We should put away our pride and become small. To get through that door we must become small, like children, and approach him in trust and humility. Christmas is for children: for you and me.

On this holy night, in the year of our Lord 2016, we come again to celebrate the birth of Christ, the Light of the World, who shines eternally and triumphantly amidst the darkness. As you come to receive him in bread and wine, bow your head in humility, before this great and mighty wonder, ask Christ into your heart, that he may be born in you again, to be the light and the love of your life.

And may you have a truly joyful and blessed Christmas.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT

 

1The mystery kept secret for ages, promised through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, is today revealed. This is the “Gospel of God” that Paul celebrates in today’s Epistle—the good news that “God is with us” in Jesus Christ. The sign promised to the House of David in today’s First Reading is given in today’s Gospel. In the virgin found with child, God has brought to Israel a saviour from David’s royal line and the spotlight falls on Joseph. On this last Sunday of Advent, before we gather to celebrate the birth of Christ, we have this story about an ordinary, quiet, faithful man named Joseph. Joseph might have been uncomfortable in the spotlight. But our gospel asks us to look closely at him, because through the quiet faith of this ordinary man, God was accomplishing extraordinary things.

Joseph is almost never front and centre. In paintings of Mary and the child, Joseph is often absent. If he is present, he seems set off to one side. In Christmas pageants, we all know who the star is: Mary. When you think of Christmas pageants the images that probably come to mind are of Mary and the baby Jesus, the three kings bearing gifts, shepherds and angels, maybe even oxen and sheep. Joseph almost seems like an afterthought.

If Mary was the first to hear the good news of the birth of Christ, Joseph must have been the second. But for Joseph, the news that Mary was pregnant was anything but good at first. In fact, it must have been quite a shock, because he knew the child could not be his. Our gospel says, “Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child.” Joseph, like any man in his position, might have felt hurt, humiliated, disappointed and even angry. But Joseph must have been a man of few words. At least, Matthew does not tell us what Joseph was feeling.

But Matthew tells us that Joseph was a righteous man, which means Joseph loved God and tried to follow God’s law. In all things, a righteous man will try to follow the commands of God. So, when Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant, he turns to God’s law for guidance. According to the law, he has two options. His first is to bring charges against Mary he could publicly accuse her of the sin of adultery. The penalty is death. His second option is to divorce Mary privately. In the presence of two witnesses, he can write out a paper of divorce and present it to her. In this case, there would be no public charges against Mary. There would be no penalty.

Because Joseph was a righteous man, he had to choose one of these options. He could not put his own will above the will of God revealed in the law. He was a righteous man. But as Joseph surely knew, God’s righteousness is always tempered with mercy. He decides to dismiss Mary quietly. Righteousness tempered with mercy.

Then something extraordinary happens to this ordinary, righteous man. Joseph has a dream, and in this dream an angel of the Lord says, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’

So, how does Joseph respond to this extraordinary news? Matthew’s narrative fits exactly the character of Joseph.

The young Mary, when she had heard the announcement from the angel naturally asked, “How can this be?” But Joseph was older. The fruit of a lifetime of devotion to God’s law are eyes and ears attuned to the Lord. Joseph would have known the passage from Isaiah: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us. When Joseph awoke after the angel of the Lord told him he should take Mary as his wife and name their child Jesus, that is exactly what he did. No extra words. No extra explanations. Joseph, an ordinary man, a faithful man, a man of few words, did what the Lord commanded him to do. He had been doing it his entire life.

The wonder of this story is that through the faithfulness of an ordinary man, God was doing something extraordinary. The amazing news that God is sending his son to be born of a virgin, to be the Saviour and Redeemer of the world, is working itself out in the faith and obedience of a man like Joseph.

The angel proclaims the miraculous news that God is coming among us as a little baby, and unlike Mary, who responds with joyful exuberance by saying, “my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,” Joseph speaks no great words. Joseph was not a big talker. He was a carpenter, a practical man and a faithful man, but he didn’t need to make a big show of it. He listened for God’s word, and he followed it.

And when God spoke Joseph got up and did all that the Lord commanded. He married Mary. He got them to Bethlehem. He named the child Jesus. And through his faithful response, God was working out his plan for the salvation of the whole world. And this is amazing!

Just as God promised to be with Joseph, he promises to be with us, to always be with us. God’s word was enough for Joseph—is it enough for us?

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Posted by on December 16, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

 

1We are into the third week of the Advent season. Advent is a season of waiting, expectation, and preparation for the coming of the Messiah. But who is this Messiah? John the Baptist seems to have certain ideas.

In today’s Gospel, after hearing what Jesus did, John sends his question to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” But John the Baptist knows perfectly well who Jesus is. So, why is he questioning? Well, remember, John is in prison! The Messiah is not saving John from prison, and the one who is supposed to take away the sin from the world is not taking away the sin away from Herod. Would you blame John the Baptist or anybody to doubt in such situation?

After hearing the question, Jesus does not answer directly but tells John’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” (Matthew 11:4-6) We see that the doubt of John the Baptist is pointing people to pay attention to see and hear Jesus.

We can be like John the Baptist. When we are moved by the Holy Spirit, we vow to follow God. Or when we receive blessings, we are sure Jesus is our Saviour. When we face disasters, we question if Jesus really is the Saviour. We question why bad things happen, why God is not there for us, and doubt even if God really exists. We tend to think God only exists when we are in good times. That is our preconceived idea of our Saviour and why we are in doubt when things do not go our way.

Nevertheless, being in doubt may get us closer to God. John the Baptist may be in doubt but his questioning calls the people to pay attention to hear and see, find God’s grace and bring back the good news of Jesus to the doubter.

Doubting is part of our spiritual journey. Sometimes we do have to wait in uncertain, and anxious moments before the truth comes out.

Today is chaos in different parts of the world. War and the threat of terrorism invade our consciousness.  We have our fair share of chaos causing disappointment, anxiety, fear, and anger in our own country right now. Many people question the presence of God.

Will we be able to share what we see and hear about the presence of God?

As Christians, during Advent we need to reflect on what it means to be followers of Jesus our Lord, and our seeing and hearing of our Lord.

In a sense, we all have experienced what Jesus said: The blind receive their sight. The lame walk. The lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised. The poor have good news brought to them.

Truly, if we keep our eyes and ears open, we will hear and see plenty of God’s work literally and metaphorically even in bad times. We will be able to go and tell.

Advent and this time of the year is a special time for us to share the good news and hope with others especially with those who are in doubt.

During the first Holy Week after he was elected, Pope Francis raised a few eyebrows and opened many eyes. On Holy Thursday, he visited a prison for young people where he celebrated the annual washing of the feet. Not only did he wash the feet of Catholics, he included Muslims and women. This was a big surprise for many Catholics. During the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Pope initiated a custom of going out of the Vatican one Friday a month to perform some “work of mercy.” In August, he went to a home for women recovering from prostitution, many of whom had been victims of trafficking. This, too, was an eye-opener for many people.

If someone were to ask Pope Francis, “Are you the Holy Father who was chosen for the church?” could he not answer in words much like Jesus’? We see in Pope Francis the works of love and mercy that we saw in Jesus.

For inspiration, this Advent, we need only look to examples set by Jesus and by Pope Francis. Their actions have brought comfort and healing to countless people. Their love and mercy have brought hope and joy.

What if someone were to ask us the question put to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” How would we answer?

Jesus ascended to the Father when he had completed his work on this earth. He left it to us to continue his work here. The hungry will be fed, the homeless will be sheltered, the lonely will be visited … and all will find a cause for great joy when each baptized person continues the ministry and compassion of Jesus.

As we prepare for the trip to Bethlehem, let’s perceive with Isaiah the things that make the desert seem to be a garden. People are no longer blind as they see the work of Christ in their midst. People are no longer left behind since all are welcome. Let’s begin expressing and living life with a recognition of the joy that God has brought to us this season of Advent. Then perhaps we too can be like John the Baptist – we can be a messenger sent by God to prepare others for the coming of the Lord.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

advent_candles_wk_2We meet John the Baptist at the beginning of each of the gospels – today in Matthew 3:1-12. He comes bearing news. But only if one’s heart is in the right place. John wants to see everyone around him benefit from what he has to offer. As we read about John the Baptist’s preaching, it’s very clear that he wasn’t concerned about being Mr. Popular, we see he was a straight talker, no filler words or smooth talking with John; and he wasn’t afraid to offend people to tell them the truth.

We hear John tell his listeners in verse 8, “if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit.” That is, if you repent, then there must be something to show for it. It MUST affect the way you live.

It might be helpful in this great season of our Church, to ask ourselves the question, what fruit are we bearing in this Advent season?

“producing the appropriate fruit” means that our lives reflect a lifestyle, action, and choice pattern which are consistent with having repented of sin – that is – with having made a declaration against the destructive things of this world in favour of aligning ourselves with the things of the Kingdom of God.

We are all being called to bear fruits that are worthy of the gift of repentance. The New Living Translation of the Bible breaks it down a little more for us, it says “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones.” (Luke 3:8)

John the Baptist is telling us to live in such a manner befitting of having repented. Repentance is an integral part of the Christian life. Repentance is not a onetime act of confession or a onetime recital of a certain prayer or creedal statement.

Repentance is the attitude of the heart, which is thankful for the grace of God…
The season of Advent marks a time of preparation and hope for the coming of Christ. So how do we prepare? Well John has laid the foundation for us. One of the first steps will be to repent. And because God isn’t through with any of us, we might have to do it several times a day.

Preparation takes various forms. Some include praying, staying grounded in the Word of God because you can’t live by it if you don’t know it. One cannot practice what’s not embedded in them.

The second thing we can learn from John – is to seek God. None of us are entitled to God’s grace, favour and mercy. John reminds us ever so profoundly that God could chose whomever God wants.

We heard in last week’s gospel “That two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. And we are charged to keep awake for we do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” If we are seeking God daily, we don’t have to worry.

Preparation and continuously seeking God helps with the third thing John teaches us today and that is humility. John remained humble in his ministry recognizing that he was not Jesus; and that his purpose was significant and different from that of Jesus. John exemplifies humility in the leadership he provided as Jesus’ forerunner.

When we prepare ourselves and consistently seek God daily we live lives that reflect a humble attitude of gratefulness to God for God’s love and mercy. And we become more able to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God!

We at the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass or in the confessional are each offered an opportunity to repent. We are offered the chance to turn back from those thoughts and habits and actions that take us out of step with God. We are invited to move back again in harmony with God’s vision for us and for our world as we remember the saviour who died for our sins and rose again and will come again.

One carol sings, “Love Came Down at Christmas.” Along with that love comes the kingdom of heaven. Both are joined together as our God turns toward His creation and His people. Now, the season of fruitfulness is at hand.

The Holy Father, Pope Francis, put it this way: “Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to seek God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others.” The Baptist spoke of this mystery as producing good fruit as evidence of our repentance. It is our God who has turned toward us in Emmanuel; now we can bear the good fruit that is a sign of the kingdom of heaven come near. Come and heal us and forgive us, and nurture us with the Bread of Life, that our lives and all your Church may bear those good fruits of your eternal love.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2016 in Uncategorized