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Father's Homilies

Fifth Sunday of Easter

On the First Sunday of Easter we were astonished by the wonder of the resurrection. The Second Sunday we paused to discover the presence of the Risen One. On the Third Sunday we recognized ways in which the Easter proclamation was heard and known. Last Sunday we saw that the fruit of the proclamation is salvation. And this weekend we see that salvation brings an ecclesial community into being. This community is joined to Jesus as branches are part of the vine; it is a multi-ethnic community which is devoted to good works and prayer.

“I am the true vine, you the branches” (cf. Jn 15:1). And every branch that is not joined to the vine ends up dying, it bears no fruit; and then is thrown away to feed the fire. Today’s gospel presents us with Jesus using the beautiful image of a vine and its branches to speak about the relationship that must remain between Him and those who follow Him. 

Members of the Christian Community who detach from Jesus, who do not abide in Him, become Christians in name only, but not in life; they become dead Christians that bear no fruit, as a branch that is cut off from the vine.

This conversation between Jesus and his disciples happened on the night He was betrayed. The disciples are about to lose the physical presence of Jesus. Fear, anxiety, despair, and confusion would come to them. And some may end up detaching themselves from Jesus. Jesus’ intention, by bringing the image of the vine and the branches, is to teach his disciples that like the branch of the vine, the life of the community is guaranteed, as long as it remains attached to Him. And this -remaining in Jesus- can be tested – by the fruit the community bears.

Many today ask, “Why should I go to church? Why can’t I just worship God in my own way? Isn’t religion just about my personal relationship with God?” From the earliest times, following Jesus was never just a private, personal matter. Christians came together to live in community, to profess their faith in Jesus Christ, to witness to His resurrection, and to live by his teachings.

The profound reason for this is given to us by Christ himself when He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” The vine and its branches are one. There is a mutual interdependence of branch and vine, and branch with branch. Dear friends, to say, “I will follow Jesus but not the Church,” is to separate Jesus from the Church. It is to cut off the branches from the vine.

The first disciples of Jesus saw Him, they ate with Him, and spoke with Him after His resurrection. As a consequence, they had a deep sense of connectedness with Jesus, a connectedness from which they drew great strength. Jesus had chosen them. He had made them His friends and sent them out to bear the fruits of forgiveness, compassion, charity, and love.

Dear friends, it is by bearing the fruits of compassion, forgiveness, charity, and love, and by the care we show for one another that everyone will know that we are living branches of the Vine, Jesus Christ. As members of the vine of Jesus, the Church, may we always strive to care for one another, no matter what color skin we are, what social status or cultural background we belong to, what language we speak, or what political party we lean to. Amen

 

Third Sunday of Easter

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord.

Many scenes from his life flashed across the sky. For each scene, he noticed two sets of foot-prints in the sand, one belonging to him and the other to the Lord.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of foot-prints. He also noticed that it happened at the lowest and saddest times in his life. This bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it.

“Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most difficult times in my life there is only one set of foot-prints. I don't understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.”

The Lord replied, "My child, I love you and would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of foot-prints in the sand, it was then that I carried you.”

Today’s gospel presents us with the very end of the journey of the two disciples going to Emmaus. The Emmaus disciples did not recognize Jesus when He walked beside them. Perhaps that was because they were so involved in their own hurt, sorrow, and disappointment. Dear friends, this can sometimes happen to us, as well.

The journey to Emmaus has some special characteristics. It begins in blindness, gloom, disillusionment, and despair and it ends with the warming of the disciples’ hearts, the opening of their eyes, and their return to Jerusalem. Their encounter with the Risen Christ made them see the events in Jerusalem from a new perspective. Instead of looking at Jesus’ death as the end of their aspirations, they now view it as the beginning of a new life in the Risen Christ.

All of us, at some point in our lives, have also been on the road of disappointment, failure, sorrow, grief, and broken dreams—a road of work and worry, of doubt, confusion, and fear. But we are not alone on this road. The Lord is also walking with us as He did with His disciples.

Today’s gospel invites us to reflect about our personal journey of faith and how we recognize the presence of Jesus in it. Jesus always wants to meet us where we are, not where we would like to be or where we think we ought to be. He comes to us in ordinary life situations, but he never forces himself on us.

One interesting fact about the journey of the two disciples to Emmaus is not that the disciples finally recognized Jesus at the end of their day journey, but that they failed to recognize Him as He walked with them. How often do we, like the disciples, fail to recognize the presence of the risen Christ in the midst of us, in our daily Christian life? How often do our doubts and fears blind us to the reality of his love and grace?

Let us remember that without the Lord’s presence with us we certainly will feel lonely and defeated. Without His presence we will not be journeying to a destination, we will be simply wandering. Amen

 

Second Sunday of Easter

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst.” There are two moments in today’s gospel that caught my attention. First, the day when Jesus’ appearance happened and secondly, the absence of Thomas at the first appearance.

In last Sunday’s gospel and in today’s gospel we notice that the resurrection of Jesus as well as His first two appearances to his disciples, happened on the first day of the week, which is Sunday for the Jews. This means that the first day of the week has become the day of the Lord. It has become the day of glory, the day of renewal, and the day where everything starts anew. Previously, the last day of the week, the sabbath, had religious meaning, now the focus was on the first day of the week which marks the beginning of a kingdom of life, peace, and joy.

"Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." Thomas, by not being with the others when the Lord first appeared to them, was called to believe without seeing. This moment in the life of Thomas should serve as a warning to us.  It is difficult for us to believe when we do not strengthen ourselves with the fellowship of other believers. Thomas, therefore, represents all of us who are called to believe in the testimony of others.

"Have you come to believe because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." Jesus very much said to Thomas, “you needed the eyes of sight to make you believe; but the days will come when men will see with the eyes of faith and believe. Dear friends, this moment in the life of Thomas reminds us that faith is not about believing with our minds or looking for proof. Faith is found only in our living relationship with the risen Jesus.

Thomas, the so-called doubter, should be remembered not because he was absent or because he doubted but because, like us, he was called to believe in the word of others.

How has our belief in the risen Jesus touched our lives and how has that touch transformed us? How is our faith? Let us not forget that we are not called to live a one-way-faith, a faith that receives but does not give, a faith that accepts the gift but does not give it in return.

Dear friends, as we have received mercy, let us now be merciful. For if love is only about us, faith becomes dry, barren and sentimental. Without others, faith becomes invisible. Without works of mercy, faith dies. May we be renewed by the peace, forgiveness, and wounds of the merciful Jesus. Let us ask for the grace to become witnesses of mercy. Only in this way will our faith be alive and our lives unified. Amen

 Resurrection of the Lord

“He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him.”

Today’s gospel invites us to go to Galilee where the Risen Lord has gone ahead of us. But what does it mean ‘to go to Galilee’?

“To go to Galilee means to begin anew. For Jesus’ disciples it meant going back to the place where the Lord first sought them out and called them to follow him. [. . .] He said to them: “Let us start over from where we began. Let us begin anew. I want you to be with me again, in spite of everything”. In the going back to Galilee, we learn to be amazed by the Lord’s infinite love, which opens new trails along the path of our defeats.

 “Going to Galilee also means setting out on new paths. It means walking away from the tomb. [. . .] Many people experience such a “faith of memories”, as if Jesus were someone from the past, an old friend from their youth who is now far distant, an event that took place long ago, when they attended catechism as a child. A faith made up of habits, things from the past, lovely childhood memories, but no longer a faith that moves them, or challenges them. Dear friends, going to Galilee means realizing that faith, if it is to be alive, must get back on the road. It must daily renew the first steps of the journey, the amazement of the first encounter.”

Let us never forget that faith is not an album of past memories; Jesus is not outdated. He is alive here and now. He walks beside each and every one of us daily, in every situation we are experiencing, in every trial we have to endure, and in our deepest hopes and dreams.

“Galilee is the place where Jesus began his mission. In Galilee He brought His message to those struggling to live from day to day, the excluded, the vulnerable, the marginalized, and the poor.”

Galilee is where everyday life is set. Dear friends, Jesus, the Risen Lord, loves us without limits and is there at every moment of our lives. Having made Himself present in the heart of our world, He invites us to overcome barriers, banish prejudices, and draw near to those around us every day to rediscover the grace of everyday life. What is the Galilee Jesus invites you and I to go to every day to experience healing, restoration, and newness?

“The Easter message for all of us is that it is always possible to begin anew, because there is a new life that God can awaken in us in spite of all our failures. [. . .]

“Dear friends, if on this night/day we are experiencing an hour of darkness, a day that has not yet dawned, a light dimmed, or a dream shattered, let us open our heart with amazement to the message of Easter: “Do not be afraid, He has risen! He awaits you and I in Galilee.” If we walk with Jesus, our expectations will not remain unfulfilled, our tears will be dried, and our fears will be replaced by hope. For the Lord goes ahead of us, He walks before us. And, with Him, life begins anew.” Happy and Blessed Easter to all of you. Amen 

 

Fourth Sunday of Lent

The words of Jesus to Nicodemus have the double meaning to Jesus being lifted up on the cross and then in His resurrection. The upright cross, once the sign of curse and disgrace, became the instrument of healing and grace.  It was like the unusual story of Moses and the snakes. The people found themselves in the midst of poisoning serpents and were dying. Moses told them to fashion a bronze serpent and to raise it up. And all who looked up at the serpent of bronze were cured of the effects of snake’s poison. The story of Moses, though unusual, was a symbol of healing.

The Evangelist John uses the story to illustrate how Jesus came to lift up and help our sick world and that the power behind all this healing is God’s love for the world.

The love of God reaches down to us in our sick and hurt world and invites us to rise up with Jesus to share in His divine life. On the cross Jesus took the forces of evil and hatred upon Himself. But He did not react in bitterness or a return of hatred. He conquered through divine love. So, the cross of disgrace, the tree of death, was changed into the tree of glory and life.

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). Jesus did not come to condemn. People were already condemning themselves.

Last Sunday we saw that Jesus did not come to destroy the temple system. The temple system had already been destroyed and needed to be replaced.

People are often troubled by the question of how a loving God can condemn anybody. It is not God who wants to condemn. People condemn themselves according to the way they accept or reject the way of Jesus Christ. And the clear observation is added that everyone who does wrong hates the light and avoids it.  Light hurts the sore eye. It is only to be expected that those who have fallen away from the Christian way will hate the light of the Church of Christ.

Let us remember that God called us and continues to call us to step out of the ways of darkness into the light of Christ. In today’s gospel, John reflects with sadness that, “though the light came into the world men have shown they prefer darkness to the light because their deeds were evil.” Those who refuse the morals and standards of Christian life have already condemned themselves to the way of death. They remain prisoners of vengeful thoughts, uncontrolled anger and lust, gluttony, and every other form of selfishness.

This year’s Lenten gospels call us to leave behind the way of darkness and sin so as to rise with Christ in newness of life. The love of God reaches out to our fallen world to raise us up with Christ’s rising.

Dear friends, we are invited by God to come and be lifted up in healing and glory with Him. May we always be willing to cooperate with God’s economy of salvation by allowing Him to shine His restorative and healing light in the dark corners of our life. Amen

 

Third Sunday of Lent

Today’s gospel presents us with Jesus cleansing the temple which had become a market place. During the journey of Lent we are invited to reflect about conversion, renewal, and transformation. As the cleansing of the temple invites us to reflect about our own bodies as temples of God and how clean we keep them for His dwelling, I want to speak to you about “The Four Last Things.”     

Have you heard before about the four last things, the four last stages of the soul in life and the afterlife? Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.   

How often do you think about death? How often do you think about Purgatory? How often do you think about hell? I would say, probably not often and I am certain that most of us never think of Judgment.

Death. Bodily death not eternal death. This death is merely the separation of our soul from our bodies. Our bodies will die because of sickness, old age, decay, but our souls will continue to live.

Judgement.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that at the moment of death, all will receive their particular (or individual) judgment (#1021, 1051). Each person will receive his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven – through a purification in purgatory, – or everlasting damnation.” (CCC #1022)

St. Paul tells the Corinthians that we must all be judged by Christ, “so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Universal judgement: also called the last judgement takes place when Christ returns in glory (CCC 1040). and reveals “even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his or her earthly life” (CCC #1039).

Purgatory: 1 Cor 3:15 says: “But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved,* but only as through fire.” Reference to purgatory.

If we die in God’s grace and friendship but still have the need to be purified (due to temporal punishment), we will go into a “place” of purification. Those who are in Purgatory are on their way to Heaven because Purgatory is sort of like entering Heaven through the laundry room.

Hell: Hell is what we refer to when we speak of “eternal death”. This is where we do not want to go. The Church does not teach that “God banishes people to Hell”, rather that people willfully choose Hell. This is an option. This is why we also believe that we can't say for certain that anyone is in Hell, nor, in the same way, can we say for certain that no one is in Hell.

Heaven: This is where we belong and where we want to go. This is Plan A. I don’t think it needs much explanation:

“Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they 'see him as he is,' face to face.” (CCC #1023)

I often hear people say, father, people who are atheist or those who do not care about God, or faith, or church, they also go to heaven, right! Because God is merciful and loving. That they go to heaven or not, it is not mine to say. I do not know for certain. Let me bring an example: one has been invited to a party but in order for one to attend the party, one needs to drive or walk to the place where the party is being held. One will not be able to participate in the party if he decides not to go. He will not suddenly appear at the party. So, if one does not build a journey towards heaven, how can he get there?   

We often hear people say; good people go to heaven. What do they mean by “good people?” Do they mean that they are not Hitler, or a serial killer, or a dictator and so on?

Sacred Scripture does not say “good people go to heaven.”

Sacred Scripture says: “The gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.  How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” (Matt 7:13-14)

In the Bible there are 4 conditions to get to heaven:

1.   John 3 says: “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”

Baptism

2.   John 6 says: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life.”

Eucharist

3.   Romans 10: “if you confess* with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Faith

4.   Matthew 7: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Do the will of the Father in heaven

So, none of these say, “good people go to heaven.” These are the four things we need to have or embraced to enter the blessedness of heaven.

Thinking about heaven should help us re-orient our lives toward Jesus. If we do not re-orient our lives towards Jesus, then we go the other way.

To finish my homily, I want to read the passage from the gospel of Luke 23: Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

At that moment, this criminal crucified all his sins on the cross of Jesus. He died to all his sins when admitting them before Jesus, and by asking for forgiveness and love, he gained heaven. Dear friends, this means that there is hope for you and I. God wants us in heaven. He offers heaven to us, but it is up to us to embrace it or to reject it. 

May we reflect deeply about the gift of heaven which has been offered to all of us by His Son Jesus Christ and strive every day to gain it by living the Christian life according to the Gospel invitation. Amen

 

First Sunday of Lent

Last Wednesday, with the penitential rite of the ashes, we began our Lenten journey. Today, the first Sunday of Lent, God’s Word shows us the path to living fruitfully in the 40 days that lead to the celebration of Easter. It is the road Jesus traveled, which the Gospel of Mark summarizes, saying that before Jesus began his preaching, He withdrew into the desert for 40 days, where he was tempted by Satan.  He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.” (Mark 1:12-15).

There are different elements in today’s gospel that are relevant to the life of a disciple: desert, angels, and wild beasts.

The desert is presented as a natural and symbolic environment. It is the place where God speaks to the heart of humankind, and also the place where the answer to prayers flows from, that is, the desert of solitude.

In the desert of solitude, the heart detaches from other things and opens itself to the Word of God. However, the desert is also the place of trial and temptation, where the tempter, taking advantage of human frailty and needs, whispers in our ear with his lying voice to seduce us and to make us see another road, the road of deception.

The Church’s fathers say that the human being combine in themselves both, angels, and wild beasts. We often find ourselves in the middle of angels and wild beasts. In the middle of the physical and spiritual worlds. In the middle of a battle between good and evil. The secret to overcoming the tempter and his deceiving voice is to never have a dialogue with him.

In his life, Jesus never had a dialogue with the devil. Either He banishes him from the possessed or He condemns him, or He shows his malice, but never a dialogue. But in the desert, it seems that there is a dialogue because the devil makes three proposals and Jesus responds. Jesus does not respond with His words. Jesus answers with the Word of God quoting the passages of Scripture. We should also do the same when the deceiver’s voice comes to whisper in our ears. Let us keep in mind and heart that no dialogue is possible with the devil, only the Word of God. Remember that Eve’s failure occurred when she entered into dialogue with the devil.

Dear friends, during the Season of Lent, the Holy Spirit drives us, like Jesus, to enter the desert. It is not, as we have seen, a physical place, but rather an existential dimension in which to be silent and listen to the word of God.

Let us approach the desert of solitude with no fear, seeking out more moments of prayer, of silence, to enter into ourselves. May we strive to walk always in God’s footsteps, renewing our Baptismal promises: renouncing Satan, and all his works and seductions. As we begin this journey of Lent, let us entrust ourselves to the maternal intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Amen

 

Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jesus said to the leper: “Be made clean!” According to the ancient Jewish law (see Lv 13-14), leprosy was not only considered a disease but also the most serious form of ritual “impurity”. It was the duty of the priests to diagnose it and to declare the sick person unclean, who then had to be isolated from the community and live outside the populated area until his eventual and well-certified recovery. Therefore, leprosy constituted a kind of religious and civil death, and its healing a kind of resurrection.

Stretching out His hand, He touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” That gesture and those words of Christ contain the whole history of salvation. They embody God’s will to heal us, to purify us from the illness that disfigures us and ruins our relationship with God. In that contact between Jesus’ hand and the leper, every barrier between God and human impurity, between the Sacred and its opposite, was pulled down. This was not of course to deny evil and its negative power, but to demonstrate that God’s love is stronger than illness, even in its most contagious and horrible form.

From today’s gospel we learn that God is not indifferent, that God does not keep Himself at a safe distance. Rather, He draws near to our lives, He is moved to compassion because of the fate of wounded humanity and comes to break down every barrier that prevents us from being in relationship with Him, with others, and with ourselves.

The man’s illness in today’s gospel was considered a divine punishment, but, in Jesus, he is able to see another aspect of God: not the God who punishes, but the Father of compassion and love who frees us from sin and never excludes us from His mercy.

Dear friends, as Jesus healed this man from his leprosy and restored his relationship with God, He is also willing to heal us always from the different leprosies that continue to affect our relationship with God and others, mainly the leprosy of pride, passions, and self-justification. For this is Christ’s victory which is our profound healing and our resurrection to new life.

May we always open our heart to the cleansing touch of Jesus and treat our brothers and sisters with the compassion and love which Jesus has for us. Amen

 

Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jesus restores life for service. After having participated in the celebration of Saturday in the Synagogue, Jesus went to Peter’s house. There he found Peter’s mother-in-law sick with a fever. He took her by the hand and raised her up and the fever left her. At the time of Jesus, the sick were thought to be under the influence of the power of death.

The gospel says that once she was healed, she gets up, with her health restored; she begins to serve. The service she offers after being cured means more than traditional women’s domestic work. It represents ministry or service within the community. Here we see that Jesus does not only cure her, but He cured and restored her in such a way that she immediately begins to think of others and not of herself. She begins to serve. This is such a significant point because it is the sign of true health - The one who is released from the power of death, must go about ministering to others.

Dear friends, Jesus’ entire mission is symbolically portrayed in this episode. Jesus, coming from the Father, visited peoples’ homes here on earth and found a humanity that was sick, sick with fever, the fever of ideologies, idolatry, and forgetfulness of God. The Lord Jesus came to give us all His hand, to lift us up, and to heal us.

Throughout the history of humankind, the Lord has been restoring his people. He continues to restore us today. Let us not forget that the Lord is always so willing to take us by the hand and heal us from the enemy of ideologies and forms of idolatry. Through the sacraments, He wants to take us by the hand and heal us from the fever of our passions and sins through absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

From today’s gospel we learn that Jesus Christ came not to bring us the comforts of life but to bring the fundamental condition of our dignity, to bring us the proclamation of God, the presence of God, and thus to overcome the forces of evil. Jesus indicated this priority with great clarity: I did not come to do miracles – I perform miracles, but only as a sign. I came instead to reconcile you with God. God is our Creator, God has given us life, our dignity; and it is above all to Him that we must turn.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary, our heavenly Mother, help us to always allow Jesus to heal us daily through His word– we all need this, everyone – so that we might in our turn be witnesses to God’s healing tenderness and love. Amen

 

Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

“Eli said to Samuel, "Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening." Today’s first reading presents us with the calling of Samuel. Samuel had been born in response to a mother’s prayer. To show her thankfulness, Samuel’s mother dedicated him to the Lord.

One day, when sleeping at the temple, Samuel heard a voice calling him. Even though it is described as being an outside voice, it may well have been inside himself. Dear friends, voices can be very dangerous. People have done horrible things while claiming that a voice told them to do such things. It is very important to pay close attention to the voices which speak to us.

Let us not forget that voices have the power to manipulate our lives. One needs to be able to distinguish between the good voices that can lead to peace, comfort, and joy and the negative voices that lead to confusion, discomfort, anger, and the losing of peace.  Therefore, today’s first reading tells us that there is always need for discernment in our daily lives.

The gospel says that, “John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God." The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.”

As in the Feasts of the Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord, so too today’s Gospel proposes the theme of the manifestation of the Lord. This time it is John the Baptist who points Him out to his disciples as “the Lamb of God” and invites them and also us to follow Jesus. Dear friends, the One whom we have contemplated in the Mystery of Christmas, we are now called to follow in daily life. Therefore, today’s Gospel introduces us perfectly into the season of Ordinary Time, a time that helps to revitalize and sustains our journey of faith in ordinary life.

Today’s gospel indicates the essential characteristics of the journey of faith. The journey of the disciples and ours too, beginning with the question that Jesus asked the two disciples who, urged by the Baptist, set out to follow Him: “What do you seek?”

This is the same question that the Risen Jesus asked Mary Magdalene on Easter morning: “Woman, whom do you seek?”  Each of us, as a human being, is seeking: seeking happiness, seeking love, and a good and full life. God the Father has given us all this in his Son Jesus. So it is in the Lord Jesus in whom we find true happiness, true love, and true fulfillment in life.

In this search, the role of a true witness — of a person who first made the journey and encountered the Lord Jesus — is very fundamental. In the Gospel, John the Baptist is this witness. For this reason, he is able to direct the disciples toward Jesus, who engaged them in a new experience, saying: “Come and see.” And those two disciples would never forget the beauty of that encounter, to the extent that the Evangelist even notes the time of it: “It was about four in the afternoon.”

Only a personal encounter with Jesus engenders a journey of faith and of discipleship. We will be able to experience many things, to accomplish many things, to establish relationships with many people, but only the appointment with Jesus, at that hour that God knows, can give full meaning to our life and render our plans and our initiatives fruitful.

May the Virgin Mary be with us in this journey of seeking and following Jesus so as we hear Him asking us often: what do you seek? We are able to answer Him clearly, you and only you Lord of love, happiness, and peace. Amen

 

Fourth Sunday of Advent

In today’s Gospel, the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she has been chosen to be the mother of God.

The visit of the angel to Mary reminds us of the visit of God to different women of the Old Testament such as: Sarah, mother of Isaac (Gen 18: 9-15), Anne, mother of Samuel (1 Sam 1: 9-18), and the mother of Samson (Judg 13: 2-5). All of them announced the birth of a son with an important mission in God’s plan.

The angel said to Mary, “Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favor, the Lord is with you!”  Mary is surprised at the greeting and tries to understand the significance of these words.

Then the angel said, “Do not be afraid Mary!” These words are the same ones used by the Angel when he came to Zachariah to announce the birth of John the Baptist. So what we see here is that the first greeting of God is always: “Do not be afraid!”

Mary is aware of the mission which she is about to receive; however, she does not allow herself to be drawn by the greatness of the offer. She tries to understand the angel’s message before accepting the invitation. "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?"

The angel explains that the Holy Spirit, present in God’s Word since the creation (Gen 1: 2), is able to realize things which seem impossible. This is why the Holy One who will be born of Mary will be called Son of God.

Dear friends, the miracle of the incarnation repeats itself right up to today. When the Word of God is accepted by us, something new happens, and it happens thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit! Something new and surprising such as a son born of a virgin or a son born to a woman of advanced age, like Elizabeth, whom was known as barren.

The response of the angel clarifies everything for Mary, and she surrenders: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary’s response is full of trust and humility. In spite of her faith there is no doubt that she was aware that the fulfillment of her promise might result in suspicion, shame, divorce, reproach, and even death sentence; however, she did not allow the thoughts of these terrors to deter her from humbly submitting herself to the Will of God.

As we approach the celebration of the Lord’s Nativity; let us be thankful to God not only for giving us His Son Jesus, but also for giving Mary, His Mother. It is because of Mary’s “yes” that salvation came to the world. Mary did not ask the angel for time to reflect about it before giving an answer; no, she did not. She trusted in the angel’s words and gave a strong yes. A “yes” that changed the world.

May Mary’s “yes” be an inspiration for all Christians as the symbol of faith. Amen

 

Third Sunday of Advent

“The Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to John the Baptist to ask him, ‘Who are you?’” Scholars say that by the time John’s gospel was written, a group of men, followers of John the Baptist’s teaching, had given the Baptist a position far higher than John himself had claimed. They were preaching about John as if he would be the Messiah.

The Evangelist purposely clarified this problem by highlighting John the Baptist’s teaching about himself and about Jesus.  “I am not the Christ…” “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’”

In today’s gospel we are presented with two kinds of people who came to John to question his authority and to know who he truly was.

First, there were the priests and the Levites. Their interest was very natural, for John was the son of Zachariah, and Zachariah was a priest. In Judaism the only qualification for the priesthood was descent. Aaron was a high priest in the Old Testament and only those who were descendants of Aaron’s lineage could become priests.

In the eyes of the authorities John the Baptist was in fact a priest; therefore, it was very natural that the priests should come to find out why he was behaving in such an unusual way. 

Second, there were emissaries of the Pharisees who behind them were probably members of the Sanhedrin. One of the tasks of the Sanhedrin was to deal with any man who was suspected of being a false prophet. John attracted many people through his preaching and baptism and the Sanhedrin felt that it was their duty to check up on this man in case he was a false prophet.

As John neither conformed to the normal idea of a priest nor he conformed to the idea of a preacher, the ecclesiastical authorities of the day looked upon him in a very suspicious way.

The Pharisees asked John: “If you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet, why then do you baptize? Pharisees were deeply puzzled about one specific thing – what right had John to baptize? If he had been the Messiah, or even Elijah, or a prophet, he might have the right to baptize, but why is he baptizing? So John’s baptism was what made the matter still more strange for the Pharisees, Priests, and Levites.

Let us remember that, at that time, baptism at the hand of men was not for Jews at all. Baptism was only for incomers from other faiths. A Jew was never baptized for he was God’s already and did not need to be washed. But Gentiles had to be washed in baptism. John was making Jews do what only Gentiles had to do. He was suggesting that the chosen people, the Jews, also had to be cleansed as much as any Gentile.

Dear friends, as John was only, as he saw it, a finger pointing to Christ, inviting both Jew and Gentile to be baptized and to repent; may God give us the grace to always remember the promises made in baptism and the need to repent. So we may experience daily God’s cleansing touch in our lives. Amen

 

Second Sunday of Advent

“John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…” People “were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.”

Ritual washing was not something unfamiliar for the Jews. They knew it well. The book of Leviticus chapters 11 to 15 gives details of the different ritual washings which the Jews followed.

Gentiles were considered by the Jews as unclean for they had never kept any part of the Jewish law. Therefore, when a Gentile converted to the Jewish faith, he had to undergo three required things.

First, he had to undergo circumcision, for that was the mark of the covenant people. Second, he had to offer a sacrifice because he stood in need of atonement and only blood could atone for sin. Third he had to undergo baptism, which symbolized his cleansing from all the pollution of his past life.

So the Jews knew and were very familiar with baptism. However, the amazing thing about John’s baptism was that he, a Jew, was asking Jews to submit to a baptism which only a Gentile was supposed to need.

John had made the tremendous discovery that to be a Jew in the racial sense was not to be a member of God’s chosen people. According to John, a Jew might be in the same position as a Gentile. Therefore, not the Jewish life, but the cleansed life belonged to God.

Another aspect of John’s baptism is that it was accompanied with confession. The gospel says; “they were being baptized by him…as they acknowledged their sins.” In any return to God confession must be made to three different people.

First, a man must make a confession to himself. It is a part of human nature that we shut our eyes to what we do not wish to see, and above all to our own sins. There is no one in all the world harder to face than ourselves.

Remember the parable of the prodigal son? when the son left home he thought himself a fine and adventurous man. However, before he took his first step back home he had to take a good look at himself and say; “I will get up and go home and say that I am a terrible sinner.”

Second, a man must make confession to those whom he has wronged. It will not be much use saying to God that we are sorry until we say we are sorry to those whom we have offended or hurt. The human barriers have to be removed before the divine barriers can go up.

Dear friends, it can often be the case that confession to God is easier than confession to men. But how can there be forgiveness without humiliation?

Third, a man must make confession to God. let us remember that the end of pride is the beginning of forgiveness. It is when a man says, “I have sinned,” that God gets the chance to say, “I forgive.” It is not the man who desires to meet God on equal terms who will discover forgiveness, but the man who kneels in humble contrition and whispers through his shame, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

Today’s Scripture readings invite us to reflect about repentance and forgiveness as we continue to prepare the way for the Lord to come again not only into our lives, but also into the lives of many through us. Amen

 

Solemnity of Christ the King

This is one of the most vivid parables Jesus ever spoke, and the lesson is very clear: that God will judge us in accordance with our reaction to human need. God’s judgement does not depend on the knowledge we have accumulated, the fame that we have acquired, or the fortune that we have gained, but on the help that we have given.

 “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you…, or ill or in prison, and visit you? 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

Those who helped did not think that they were helping Christ and thus piling up eternal merit. They helped because their hearts moved them to help without thinking about gaining a reward. While, the attitude of those who failed to help was; ‘If we had known it was you we would gladly have helped, but we thought it was only some common man who was not worth helping.’ The sin of omission led them to be judged by the Master.

In the saints and Church Fathers we have a lot to learn about virtues and vices. It is not enough to just avoid vice, or sin, but to also work toward attaining virtue and virtuous behavior. To do no harm is not the same as to help. This is what we are called to do: to not just avoid doing wrong or harm, but to go out of our way to do good as well.

There is a story about St Martin of Tours. He was a Roman soldier and a Christian. One cold winter day, as he entered a city a beggar stopped him and asked for alms. Martin had no money, but the beggar was blue and shivering from the cold, and Martin gave what he had. He took off his soldier’s cloak, and cut it in two, and gave half to the beggar. That night he had a dream. In it he saw the heavenly places and all the angels and Jesus among them, and Jesus was wearing half of a Roman soldier’s cloak. One of the angels said to Him, “Master, why are you wearing that battered old cloak? Who gave it to you? And Jesus answered softly, ‘My servant Martin gave it to me.”

Today’s parable and the story of St Martin of Tours teach us that it is precisely the attention we give to those who are less fortunate than we are that becomes the determination of our future.

The kingdom of God is an inclusive kingdom and criteria for membership is not only based on obedience to the commandments or on conformity to sacramental obligations, but also on the covenant bonds that unite us to one another.

Mis amigos, assistance is given whenever and wherever there is need. It is given in ordinary acts: in giving food and drink, shelter and clothing; in spending time with someone who might be lonely or afraid, in patiently waiting for an elderly person, and in thanking people for their service.

Let us examine our hearts today and deeply reflect about how, in our daily life, we are building God’s Kingdom.

Let us always remember that the kingdom of God is established, brick by brick, through simple acts of kindness, mercy, and love. And if this is the kingdom we establish during our lifetime, this will be the kingdom into which we will be welcomed at its end. Amen

 

Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary TIme

“Lord, open the door for us. But he said in reply, Amen, I say to you, I do not know you. Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour…” As we approach the end of the Liturgical Year, the Church, through the gospel, invites us to contemplate the end – the end of our lives and the end of the world.

The conclusion to be drawn from today's gospel is that the time of the arrival of our Lord as judge of the universe, the day on which the eternal wedding feast of Christ with his elect will begin, is as uncertain as the arrival of the bridegroom. A follower of Christ cannot afford to be casual and unprepared for that moment.

The ten virgins in today’s gospel represent the disciples who are waiting for the coming of the bridegroom which is the return of Christ Jesus. The wise ones brought both their lamps and extra oil. The unwise ones brought only their lamps. While they were waiting the lamps of the unwise virgins began to go out. Mis amigos, for one who is unwise and therefore unprepared, it means that his faith and love has grown cold and his good works are fading.

“Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out… No, for there may not be enough for us and you.” The wise virgins cannot lend their ‘oil’ of faith, love and good deeds to others. Each disciple has to take personal responsibility for his or her faith and salvation. The teaching here is that the wise disciple, whose love, faith and good works do not grow dim, is recognized by the Lord and takes their place in God’s Kingdom.

A disciple needs to remain alert, vigilant and prepared for the ‘day of salvation’ by continually growing in a faithful and loving relationship with God which bears fruit in good works for neighbors. Mis amigos, that is what it means to be hearers and doers of God’s Word.

“Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’”

we can say in the context of today’s parable that the 'oil' of loving service is not transferable to others. No one can say 'Yes' to Christ on my behalf. So, while the foolish virgins went off to make up for lost and wasted time, those who were ready went into the wedding hall. Then the door was locked. All are invited, but not all get inside. This is not due to any partiality on the bridegroom's part but because of the tardiness of some in responding to the invitation.

The locked door means that access to Jesus is not automatic or to be taken for granted. That is precisely the warning in today's parable - “Therefore, stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.”

May the Blessed Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, help us to stay awake and be prepared, living an active faith with shinning lamps, so we can pass through the night beyond death and reach the great feast of life. Amen 

 

Solemnity of All Saints

In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches his disciples and the crowd that gather by the Sea of Galilee about the beatitudes as the way that leads to holiness and to life eternal in heaven (cf. Mt 5:1-12).

Often when people think of holiness they think of keeping 'the Ten Commandments' and perhaps some other requirements of the Church like going to Mass on Sundays or fasting during Lent. What we often tend to forget is that the Ten Commandments really belong to the Old Testament and are part of the Jewish law. Of course, they are still valid, and Jesus said clearly that he had not come to abolish the Jewish law but to fulfill it. We might then say that the Beatitudes are an example of that fulfilling.

In Matthew’s gospel the Beatitudes have a central place. The Beatitudes is a summary of Jesus' teachings. They are a kind of mission statement saying what kind of person the good Christian will be.

The Gospel says that particularly blessed are: Those who are poor in spirit; those who are gentle; those who mourn; those who hunger and thirst for what is right; those who are merciful; those who are pure in heart; those who make peace; and those who are persecuted in the cause of right.

This is the kind of Christian we are all called to be. It is these qualities which made the saints, and which will make saints of us too. They go far beyond what is required by the Ten Commandments. If taken literally, the commandments can be kept and not with great difficulty. Many of them are expressed in the negative, 'You shall NOT…' so we can observe them by doing nothing at all! 'I have not killed anyone… I have not committed adultery… I have not stolen…' Does that make me a saint?

Being a Christian is a lot more than not doing things which are wrong. The Beatitudes are expressed in positive terms. They also express not just actions but attitudes. Be poor in spirit; be gentle; hunger and thirst for what is right; be merciful; be pure in heart; be a maker of peace and so on.

They leave no room for self-righteousness and self-justification, the kind of self-righteousness and self-justification the Pharisees had in keeping the Law. The Beatitudes are a true and reliable recipe for sainthood.

The celebration of today’s solemnity is an occasion for great rejoicing and thanksgiving. It is altogether reasonable to think that many of our family, relatives and friends who have gone before us are being celebrated today. We look forward to the day when we, too, can be with them experiencing the same total joy, happiness and peace.

Today is also a day for us to pray to them – both the canonized and the not-canonized – and ask them to pray on our behalf that we may live our lives in faithfulness so that we too may experience the same reward.

May their intercession help us to walk always on Jesus’ path and to obtain eternal happiness promised to us by God.  Amen

 

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary TIme

Juan Arias, a Spanish priest, wrote a book entitled ‘The God I Don’t Believe In.’ His interesting title came from a remark made by a bishop on television. It was a panel discussion. This bishop sat there in silence as the Church and religion in general were attacked. Eventually the TV host asked the bishop to reply to the points made. He began by saying: ‘The God I have heard about here tonight is the God I do not believe in.’

In Jesus’ day, long before TV panels, there was no shortage of religious debates. There were many who put all their heart, all their energy and all their mind into talk about religion. One of the debaters now attempted to draw Jesus into the confusing midst of words and arguments.

‘Which is the greatest commandment of the law? At that time, they had turned the 10 commandments into 613 precepts – small laws.  Was there one of these precepts which was the key to all the others? It was a question which had supplied endless hours of arguments among debaters.

Jesus cut through the web of opinions and commentaries in a simple and challenging answer. Religious laws and prophets’ sermons mean nothing if they are not pointed towards total love of God and love of one’s neighbor as oneself.

Love of God and love of neighbor were not new precepts. But Jesus emphasized the necessary connection between the two as no one had ever done before. You cannot have one without the other. Love of God whom we cannot see, is fake if it is not expressed in love of the people whom we do see. And love of people is incomplete unless it is infused by love of God. In this remarkable answer given to the Pharisee by Jesus, he very much said, like the bishop on TV, ‘Yours is the God I do not believe in…yours is the religion I have no time for.’

Mis amigos, Jesus has no time for the religion of barren debate and unproductive words. Nor did St Paul have time for such empty discussion as he very much said to the Thessalonians in today’s second reading: ‘Have nothing to do with pointless philosophical discussions. They only lead further and further away from true religion.

Jesus has no time for round table discussions and panels on social justice issues which lead those involved in them to do nothing for the most vulnerable.

Jesus has no time for one whose mouth has all the nice words about God, heaven, grace, prayer, sacraments, fasting, novenas and so on, but the heart harbours bitterness, retains barriers between people, and remains socially insensitive. 

Dear friends, the religion Jesus did favor totally hung together on love. The laws, the sermons, theologies, debates, institutions, and social plans have lost their direction if they are not helping us towards loving God with our total energy of heart, soul, and mind; and loving our neighbor with an extension of the love which we ourselves have received from God.

Let us remember that if our rituals grow out of and express our sincere love for God and neighbor, then they have value. We must avoid the risk of putting rituals above the practice of love. Amen