Homilies

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time-Year C-2019

FIRST READING Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8

SECOND READING 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

GOSPEL Luke 5:1-11

 

My Encounter with God

The central theme of the Liturgy of the Word this Sunday is about the Encounter with God. The First reading from Isaiah 6:1-8 and the Gospel text Luke 5:1-11 describe to us the encounter of two individuals with God, and what happens to them in that encounter.

In the Gospel text of today, God in the person of Jesus encounters Simon in the place of his work. Jesus often meets us where we are, just as he encountered Zacchaeus on top of a tree (Lk. 19), the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn. 4), and Cleopa and his companion on the road (Lk 24). Jesus always meets us wherever we are. I do not know where did Jesus meets you? One thing is certain is that Jesus meets us wherever we are even in hiding.

Having fished the whole night and caught no fish, Simon and his companions were tired. They decided to wash their nests and make it ready for the next night. Here comes Jesus, a carpenter by formation or training. He tells them to go deep in the waters and cast their nests. You can imagine the feeling they had and their hesitation to cast the nest especially daylight.

What follows then, my dear brothers and sisters, is a theophany: a revelation of God. A great catch of fish at an untimely hour. The fisherman knows what it implies. This is not a coincidence. It is a miracle. Miracles are signs. After all this is not just a Carpenter. He is divine! This experience shakes up Simon. God overwhelms him.

It is not different from the God-experience of other men in the Old Testament. Abraham encounters God several times (Gen 12:7-9; Gen 18:1-33). Jacob encounters God in the wilderness (Gen 28:11-18) and in his wrestling with the ‘angel’/God (Gen 32:25-32). Moses encounters God in the burning bush (Ex 3:1-6), and again on the mountain (Ex 33:18-34:35).

In the first reading of today (Is 6:1-8) we heard the narration of the encounter between the Lord God and the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah insists that this experience was historical with his reference to the year (Is 6:1): “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord God…”

The encounter with God helps us to know our selves, to accept ourselves and to be transformed. Hence the three stages which help us to encounter God are:

1. Self-awareness: due to the action of the Grace of God in me I begin to see who I am in the depth of my being. There are many ways of knowing myself – through psychology, for instance. There is a whole battery of tests that you can take to know what type of personality you are, and what psychological disorders you suffer from. These are still very peripheral. The self-knowledge that is possible in an encounter with God is deep. It is about the core of my self – in terms of your intentions, feelings and tendencies. This knowledge is direct and undeniable. This self-knowledge calls for humility, yes! But not discouragement and depression, because I can hear God telling me, “Do not be afraid. I am with you. I am going to make someone out of you.” Know yourself who you are, your weakness and your strength.

2. Self-acceptance. The Grace of God gives me the strength to own up my true self. This is what we hear from St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (15:9) as we heard it in our 2nd reading: “For I am the least of the apostles and am not really fit to be called an apostle…”

We need to accept ourselves first before accepting others. After knowing who we are, we need to accept ourselves. This builds the self-confidence in us.

3. Alchemy is the transformation of a lower element to a higher element. At this level, Abram becomes Abraham (Gen 17:5). Jacob becomes Israel (Gen 32:29). Saul becomes Paul (Acts 13:9). And Simon becomes Peter (Lk 5:8; Mt 16:18). This transformation in prayer is not like a New Year resolution. But it is a conversion. A metanoia! Again we hear St Paul telling us in the 2nd reading (1Cor 15:10): “…but what I am now, I am through the grace of God, and the grace which was given to me has not been wasted. Indeed, I have worked harder than all the others — not I, but the grace of God which is with me.”

We shall never encounter God and remain the same. Life needs to change for the better after encountering God.

3rd Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21

Good News to the poor

Jesus in Today’s Gospel gives us his personal vision for life. In other words, He gives us his manifesto or his mission statement.

The gospel text of today, specially edited for the occasion, begins with the prologue of the Gospel in which Luke addresses Theophilus and states the purpose of his writing: “so that your Excellency may learn how well founded the teaching is that you have received” Lk 1:4.

Then the gospel text in today’s liturgy jumps to Luke 4:14, enumerating the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus.  Jesus officially begins his mission on earth.  He begins with a manifesto.  Jesus borrows his mission statement from the Prophet Isaiah (chapter 61): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me….”  But he personalises those words.  In fact, there is a big difference between the words of Isaiah and that of Jesus, as Jesus makes an addition to the proclamation in his ‘homily’ that follows: “This text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening” (Lk 4:21).   Based on this statement, let us reflect on the core of today’s gospel text, which, I think, was also the core of the mission of Jesus here on earth: “To bring the good news to the poor.”

Let us reflect on two questions: 1. who are the poor?

  1. What is the good news?  I would rather rephrase these questions in a bizarre manner:  What does it mean to be poor?  And, who is the Good News?

What does it mean to be poor? 

The expression ‘poor’ occupies a central place in the Gospel of Luke.  Luke’s understanding of the poor is not much different from that of the Old Testament, where the word ‘poor’ was often elaborated as ‘the stranger, the orphan and the widow’ (Deut 24).  Yes, the poor are the materially deprived, the destitute, the afflicted – the most vulnerable people of any given society.  In line with the repeated theme of the book of Psalms, Luke wants to portray Jesus as one who hears the cry of the poor (Ps 22:24).  He has Jesus deliver his ‘Beatitudes’ from the plains (Lk 6:17), and he would have Jesus admire the little offering of the widow (Lk 21:1-3).

Luke also goes beyond the material understanding of the word. Situating himself in a traditional society, he sees women as poor.  The Gospel of Luke is full of stories of women.  He would balance almost every man’s story with that of a woman: annunciation to Zechariah is followed by the annunciation to Mary (1:5-38). At the presentation of Jesus in the temple, Luke would bring in two elderly people: Simeon and the 84-year old Anna (Lk 2:25-38). In Chapter 8 Luke has a list of women disciples; in Chapter 15, the story of the man who lost his sheep is followed by the story of the woman who lost her coin.  These are but a few examples.

People who are vulnerable are poor. The elderly are poor. Children and youth are poor too. In Lk 18:15-17, Jesus would say, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

People who are afflicted by every kind of infirmity are also poor.  In Luke 7, when John the Baptist sends his disciples to find out if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus tells them, “Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see again, the lame walk, those suffering from virulent skin-diseases are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

So, who are the poor in our context today? Beside materially poor we can find in our society, the poor are those who are in need of the help of God; those who are open to the plan of God in their lives; those who are simple hearted; the humble. In short, being poor simply means being open to God. It is to those who rely on God that the Good News is proclaimed.  It is to us that the Good News is proclaimed. We are the poor.

What is the Good News or who is the Good News?

Often we simply say, the Gospels are the Good News. True, but not quite! Or we say the message of Jesus is the Good News.  True, but not quite yet!

If we consider the Good News as a message, then, we run the risk of comparing it to other many messages we receive from our telephones or that we listen in radio or watch on television. So Good News is not a set of information.  It is an experience! Again, the Good News is not just an experience in the abstract.  It is the possibility to experience God in the person of Jesus.  Jesus Christ is the Good News. When a person is capable to stand in front of the congregation and testify what Jesus has done in his or her life that is the Good News. That is Jesus Christ being alive in our life.

This is what actually stirred the hearts of those listeners in the synagogue, as Jesus said: “This text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening” (Lk 4:21). In other words Jesus was saying, “The times that Isaiah prophesied are here.  It is possible to experience the Good News in my person!” 

Are we ready to be stirred too – stirred to respond to the possibility of experiencing God in the person of Jesus? Let the Good News then become an experience for us today even as we participate in this Eucharist.

 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

 

Believing and Belonging: "We saw someone who is not part of us..."

 

(Mk 9:38, and Num 11:27)

 

Many people believe in God without belonging to a particular institution or religion. Others belong to a particular religion but still don't believe in what the church teaches.

This invites us to ask ourselves – the believers who belong to the Catholic Church - several questions: Why do we belong to this church? How do we look at someone who does not belong – someone who is not one of us? What if this someone-who-is-not-one-of-us believes, shows a greater commitment to Christian values, and even has some visible gifts of the Holy Spirit? Do we exaggerate our psycho-social need to belong by inventing an in-group/out-group rhetoric even in the name of religion and salvation? Do we want to capture the God of the Universe in our little enclosures (both physical and social) and not allow the Spirit to blow as it wills? (see Jn 3:8)

The Liturgy of the Word on this 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time offers us two stories of the struggle between believing and belonging: one from the time of Moses and the other from the time of Jesus. The first story (Num 11:25-29) tells us of two men who had stayed back in the camp while the Lord God descended in the form of cloud on the Tent of Meeting: one was called Eldad and the other Medad. Even though they were not among the seventy elders initially chosen by Moses, the Spirit descended on these two men and they began to prophesy. Moses is magnanimous enough to discern the Will of God here, and add the two to the seventy to make the total number of elders to 72 (six elders each for the 12 tribes of Israel; Jesus in the Gospel of Luke would appoint 72 disciples – Lk 10:1). Through this event Moses is able to recognise the universality of the action of the Spirit. When Joshua wants to see the action of God within the institution headed by Moses, Moses himself has a broader perspective: “Moses replied, 'Are you jealous on my account? If only all Yahweh's people were prophets, and Yahweh had given them his spirit!'” (Num 11:29).

In a similar situation presented in the gospel story of today, when John (an apostle who was close to the heart of Jesus as Joshua was to Moses) says, “Master, we saw someone who is not one of us driving out devils in your name, and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him” (Mk 9:38). Jesus emphatically tells him, “You must not stop him; no one who works a miracle in my name could soon afterwards speak evil of me” (Mk 9:39). Jesus reminds us that his Kingdom is not about territories, it is not about institutions, it is not even about the in-group (the churched) and out-group (the unchurched), but it is about hearts of people. And God has the possibility to work within hearts of people, as He desires. Let us Allow God to be God – even outside the Church we belong to.

In conclusion to our reflection, we could ask ourselves a basic question: what is our attitude towards people who are outside the visible confines of the Church? These people could include those we so pejoratively refer to as “the pagans, the irreligious, the Protestants, and even the un-churched”.

In a sense, who are we humans even daring to say who is saved and who is not saved? What we can meaningfully do is only to keep sharing our own experience of God with others, as we also take time to wonder how marvellously God works even in their lives. Yes, “God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right, is welcome to him” (Acts 10: 34-35).

 

 

2nd Sunday of the Year C – Ordinary Time

Where there is God, there is abundance! (Jn 2:1-11)

 What I have always admired in wedding feasts is the spirit of abundance!  There would be a lot of noise, plenty of food, and overflowing drinks. Of course, singing and dancing would not be wanting.

Today we begin the Sundays in Ordinary Time of the liturgical year.  This year, generally we would listen to the gospel readings from the Gospel of Luke.  However, this Sunday we read from John – as is the case on the 2nd Sundays every year.  And the gospel text narrates to us a wonderful and dramatic story of a wedding.  What a way to begin this season of the year!  And what an amazing way in which Jesus himself begins his public ministry!  In the gospel text of today I clearly see two distinct parts – two epochs, in a sense: one, Before Christ; and another, After Christ. The first scene that John paints for us is one of emptiness, and the second, on the contrary, is marked by abundance.  And what brings about the difference between two phases is the intervention of Jesus.  I would like us to reflect on these two epochs, and see where we ourselves are!

Before Christ: Emptiness, Chaos and Gloom

“And they ran out of wine, since the wine provided for the feast had all been used…” The marriage feast had ground to a halt!  Wine is a symbol of celebration, happiness and mirth.  They ran out of wine:  they had no joy.  There was gloom!  The mother of Jesus discerns this situation. “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3), she informs the New Adam.  The mother of Jesus is presented here as the New Eve. The first Eve found herself in a situation of abundance in the garden, but she initiated a breakdown of that paradise. The New Woman (Jn 2:4) seems to reverse this situation.  She is here in Cana at the beginning of the new creation, she will be there again at Calvary at the climax of the new creation (Jn 19:25).

Back in Cana, “There were six stone water jars standing there, meant for the ablutions that are customary among the Jews: each could hold twenty or thirty gallons” (Jn 2:6).  The stone jars had tremendous capacity, but they stood empty.  The old religion carried a great promise, but it stood empty.  The number of stone water jars was six – one short of seven. Six is a symbol of chaos, imperfection and evil (Rev 13:18).  Such was the situation at the wedding feast in Cana.  Fortunately, for them and for us, Jesus also there (Jn 2:2) and his mother discerns that his hour had come (Jn 2:4-5).  The New Eve believes in the Second Adam!  She recognizes him as the Son the God!  So Jesus takes over.

After Christ: Abundance, Cosmos and Celebration

Jesus asks the stewards to fill the empty jars with what they have – water.  “And they filled them to the brim” (Jn 2:7).  There are signs of fullness, but the miracle is not yet. They drew some out and offered it to the president of the feast, “he tasted the water, and it had turned into wine.”  In a sense, the transformation takes place as the president drinks the liquid.  And it was the best wine!  The celebration can resume!  There is abundance, order and celebration.

We could attempt to estimate the amount of wine that was there in the six jars at the wedding in Cana:  Thirty gallons [times] six jars [times] 3.8 litres = 684 litres!!! A standard bottle of wine in most countries these days is 750 ml.  So, in contemporary rendering, that would add up to about 900 bottles of wine! Remember, wine is a symbol of joy, mirth and celebration. And there was plenty of it.

When Jesus would multiply bread on the shores of Galilee, there would be a similar situation (Jn 6). They begin with a situation of scarcity: Philip is realistic, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough to give them a little piece each” (Jn 6:5).  Andrew is able to identify five loaves and two fish (that adds up to seven) and the miracle happens.  And they gather 12 baskets full of left-overs!!  Elsewhere, Jesus declares: “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10).

Yes, the presence of Jesus makes all the difference: at the wedding in Cana, at the shores of Galilee, in our own lives! The word of God on this Sunday, at the beginning of the year, invites us to recognize the presence of Jesus in our lives.  It invites us to recognize him as the Son of God!  Then we will be able to share in the fullness of life: “These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name” (Jn 20:31). Always believe in Jesus and you will remain in abundance both spiritual abundance and physical abundance.

Second Sunday after Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)

First Reading (Acts 4: 32-35). The first reading gives us a picture of how the first Christians lived community life by sharing not only the word of God but also what they had as materials.

Second Reading (1 Jn 5: 1-6). As children of God and Christians, we show our love of God by keeping his commandments.

Gospel (Jn 20: 19-31). Thomas’ doubt turned into faith as soon as he touched the wounds of Christ.

 

Homily

Faith in the risen Lord is the most precious thing in the world. But it is exposed to this modern world, a world full of doubt and uncertainty. Unless I see, I wouldn’t believe. This is actually the slogan of the modern world. Forgetting that what is essential in life is mostly invisible.

“Unless I see, unless I touch, I will not believe” so said Thomas. It is quite reasonable and logical of him to say so. That is the rational approach so much in vogue in our world today. We can explain everything rationally. There is nothing wrong with that as we need and must listen to the voice of the reason, but we must also listen to the heart. There are some aspects of our lives which cannot be explained by purely rational means. Science is not everything. If we adopt Thomas approach of seeing things, we will be condemning ourselves to living in a purely material world.

The visible world is only part of a greater world which includes invisible realities from which the visible world draws its significance. If we rely too much in seeing and hearing, we might be prevented from thinking, feeling and imagining. When a person really knows something, he or she doesn’t have to argue about it or prove it. Today, we are no longer sufficiently aware of the importance of what we cannot know intellectually, and which we must know in other ways. And this leads to a loss of faith in the Lord. At this present age, can we really think of atheists? I don’t think so. The so called atheists have the knowledge and the understanding of notion of God but because they live so much in a material world, the notion of the heart and the spirit is lost. Shall we really call them atheists or half atheist.

Nevertheless, we can sympathise with Thomas and our brothers and sisters who have lost their faith in the risen Lord or who even don’t have faith in God. Thomas (and also our modern brethren) was merely echoing the human cry for certainty. We cannot have as human beings an absolute certainty about God and spiritual realities. Faith in the Lord takes us where our senses cannot go.

My reflection in today’s readings sounds more philosophical than spiritual. Why? It is to show the divine mercy and generosity of our Lord towards us. It’s to demonstrate that faith and reason are not enemies rather sisters and friends who walk side by side and complement each other. We cannot have faith and lose reason vice versa. Let no one do unreasonable things in the name of faith or do ungodly things in the name of reason. Jesus strengthened Thomas’ faith without condemning his reason.

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