Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday year B
The Price of true love
Once upon a time, some children were asked, “what is love?” one little girl answered, “Love is when your mommy reads you a bedtime story. True love is when she doesn’t skip any pages.”

Palm Sunday, otherwise known as Passion Sunday is a true love story in which Christ deliberately undertakes the journey to Jerusalem where he will suffer and die for love of sinful humanity.  The price for this  unfathomable love is so evident in the prayer and agony in the garden of Gethsemane where  sweat fell off Jesus’ face like great drops of blood(Mtt 26:37) He is literally crushed like grapes from which wine is produced.   Gardens are supposed to be meeting places for lovers in the Scriptures. Unfortunately, in this case, all his supposed ‘lovers’ rejected him just when he needed them most. What a betrayal! Here in the garden he foresees how Judas would betray him for love of money; here in the garden he sees how the crowd would prefer a thief to him, an innocent man; there in the garden he foresees how Peter would deny him three times; there in the garden he sees how the crowd jeers at him; there in the garden he sees how Peter, James and John fall asleep when they were supposed to be awake in prayer.  Alas, a bitter pill to swallow! No doubt he cries out in prayer, “Father if it is possible, take this cup away from me, but not my will, but your will be done”(lk 22:42).
The suffering is intense because it comes from his own friends and kinsmen, the same people for whom he is offering his life. The psalmist rightly says, if it were an enemy, I could bear the insult, but it is you, my own friend, the one who shared my bread, and now you turned against me(Ps 55:12)  How else in the world can a man show proof of his love? There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn 15:13)
Whenever I reflect on God’s love, my elementary school song comes to mind: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so, little ones to him belong, they are weak, but he is strong. Yes Jesus loves me.” The love of God has not changed one bit after the passion story. He still loves us with an everlasting love.   He loves you, he loves me, to the point of shedding his blood for you and for me. Nobody loves you more than Jesus. He is telling you, John, Mary, Christine, I love you and I am going to die for love of  you. Once, a pastor approached an elderly lady and asked why she always prayed for long hours after mass on Sundays.  “Because God’s attention is divided when the church is full” she replied. She is gravely mistaken! God loves you as if you are the only one who matters.  His love is unconditional, it doesn’t fade away with age, with familiarity, with infirmities. No, it is a heart to heart love that is not based on some kind of physical attraction or make- up, but on who we are, humans!  He loves you just as you are; it doesn't really matter whether you are tall, short, fat, slim, long hair, short air- he loves you so.

If he loves us so much, what should be our response?  First we owe him a deep gratitude for loving us despite the ugly things we do, and second, we should love him back because love should be reciprocal. This is where we often fall short-we don’t love our Savior as much as we should.  Sometimes our love is seasonal, as in Christmas and Easter.
How painful, when true love meets with betrayal! Imagine how hurting it is when a spouse or a friend you love so much, betrays you. It is not different between Jesus, his disciples and his fellow Jews. But this is  not time to apportion blame on  those who  crucified him, it is rather time to reflect on  how you and me still fall short of true love for him.

Let's look at Pilate. He knew that Jesus was sinless, yet in order to protect his job, he condemned him to die. He claimed to have washed his hands, but his hands were not clean at all!  How often do we trade our conscience for job security? Sometimes we bear false witness against our neighbor, remain silent in the face of evil or even encourage anti-life campaigns; all in a bid to secure our job or position.  

Peter was ashamed of himself not only because he broke an important promise, but the manner in which it happened. It was a little girl who frightened him. Peter, who, ordinarily would spank that little girl, became a coward in front of her. We make similar promises to God at baptism, in marriage, yet we broke them in the face of ‘little girls’. Every time we broke such promises, seen or unseen, we are betraying Jesus.  

Judas betrayed his master in the most shameful manner- with a kiss! A kiss is supposed to be a sign of love, but in Judas’ case, it was outright betrayal. So notorious that any form of dishonesty, cheating, pretense in a relationship is epitomized as Judas’ kiss. There are still people today who indulge not only in Judas’ kisses but also in casual kisses for very selfish motives. Judas has taught us that not everyone who kisses you loves you.   Let us not allow ourselves to be fooled.

The crowd was just being emotional. People easily act out of emotion in the crowd, and do things that don’t reflect their values. Social pressure has taken a better part of us as we get involved in this or that activity just because everyone does it. Is what I am doing right or do I just want to conform to the crowd? Or am I simply looking for human approval?  Is the additional stuff I am buying necessary, or I feel emotionally sick because I seem out of tune with fashion?

It was a jealous crowd; they praised him with their lips, but their hearts were full of jealousy and evil thoughts. The same people who hailed him, would shout ‘crucify him, crucify him.’ How often do we pretend to acclaim people when we don’t really mean it? Jealousy has a destructive force in our lives and among families and friends. When we back stab people, or wish them evil, because of jealousy, we are doing it to Jesus.

Let us seriously reflect on God’s goodness to us, and on how far away we have wondered from him because of lack of true love for God, our friends, our spouses, our church and our country. Let us then  resolve to journey with him during these few days with an open heart, that we may rise with him in newness of life at Easter.

Monday, March 23, 2015

5th Sunday of Lent, Year B
Jer 31:31-35; Heb 5:7-9:Jn 12:20-33
Salvation Economy of Loss and Gain
Ours is a profit-driven society. It is an economy in which business people and employers seriously consider what profit they would make before they can ever delve into any business venture. Similarly, employees do not only care about their income, but also look at how much profit they can make at a particular job. Rightfully, it is a worthy fore thought because we are expected to pay taxes, utility bills, insurance and so on.
However, when life becomes one mad chase for wealth, we would become profiteers; people who take advantage of every situation in the market or at the job to make profit, even to the detriment of the poor. This can affect our social and mental stability. Too much of a thing is always a disease. For example, we would not be able to have a restful vacation because our minds will constantly be working at one more gain. Because of this profit-driven mentality, it is hard to tell a genuine charitable act. A little girl asked her mum the sum of 10cents to give to an old lady at the Park. Her mom was very touched at the kindness of the girl and gave her the requested sum. Then she asked, “Does that lady not work anymore?” “Oh yes” came her reply, “she sells sweets”
The salvation economy of loss and gain is completely contrary to the capitalist system of profit and loss. In the former, gain is loss and loss is gain. It is about eternal rewards, not temporary gain. This is what we read in the gospel: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”
Christ’s death on the cross seemed like a loss, but it won for us the resurrection. The sufferings of Christ seemed like a loss, but all will eventually turn into joy. St Paul expresses this beautifully: “I consider everything a loss because of the supreme advantage of knowing Christ my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them as garbage, that I may know Christ (Phil 3:8).
It is only within this economy that Christians are able to make sacrifices. The church offers several opportunities for us to make sacrifices that will yield eternal reward: works of charity, participation in apostolic and action groups in the church such as Knights of Columbus, Choir Altar Sodality. Sacrificing our time, comfort, and convenience are all fine means of building our eternal credit score.
 Many people today are egocentric; it is all about ‘myself,’ ‘my time,’ ‘my convenience.’ A school boy was asked what parts of speech me and mine were. He said aggressive pronouns.  To this end, we have become victims of the I-technology-iPod, Ipad, Iphone, Myspace, selfie. Some of these have  created a gulf between us and “others”
The story of the rich fool in Luke 12 is worth reflecting upon: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.  He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops. Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
Though parable is an admonition against greed, its root lies in the desire for excessive gain. What then shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul (Mk 8:36). Meagher Patrick said “some people are so poor, the only thing they have is money.”
Let us always say the prayer: From earthy gain, which is heavenly loss deliver me O Lord.
When excessive pursuit of gain becomes the rule of life, we easily fall into the temptation of its unjust acquisition. “Whoever increases wealth by taking interest or profit form the poor, amasses it for another who will be kind to the poor” (Prov. 28:8) And, “To build your house with other people’s money is like collecting stones for your own tomb.
The story is told of an Attorney who died and went to heaven. As he approached the Pearly gates, he noticed an orchestra playing and all the angels cheering. “You are very special,” St Peter said, “We have never had anyone live to be 130 years before.” The Attorney was puzzled. “But I am only 65.” St Peter thought for a moment and said, “Oh we must have added up your billing hours.”
Billing hours are often exaggerated for want of excessive profit. Some billing hours can cost the lives of an entire family.
From earthly gain, which is heavenly loss, deliver me O Lord.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

                                                            Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B
                                                   2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23: Eph 2:4-10:  Jn 3:14-21
                                                                Walk in the Light of God
The presentation of a Lighted candle is an essential part of the baptismal rite and other liturgical ceremonies in the Church. This ceremony of the light is an invitation to the newly baptized alongside their parents and godparents to walk in the light of God all the days of their life. The lyrics of a common song which I usually chant as I invite parents and God parents to light their candles is: “The spirit lives to set us free, walk in the light, he died on the cross on Calvary, walk in the light; to save the lost like you and me, walk in the light…and walk in the light of God.

In the first chapter of his first letter, John presents God as light, and in Him there is no darkness (1Jn 1:5-10). Walking in the light is the opposite of walking in darkness. It means seeing reality for what it is and being controlled by desires that accord with God’s light. If God is light and in him there is no darkness at all, then he is the bright pathway to the fulfillment of all our deepest longings and desires. He is the deliverer from all dark dangers and obstacles to joy.

By calling all his disciples friends and showing us the way to the Father, Jesus means that we should walk in the light of God by a way of life that is free from all works of darkness.  “I am the light of the world, anyone who follows me will not be walking in darkness, but he will have the light of life”(Jn 8:12).

Despite this invitation to walk in the light of God, many still prefer darkness to light. No doubt, Christ speaks clearly in the gospel that he didn’t come to condemn the world but to save us, yet he insists:  “And this is the verdict,  that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”

If we say we have fellowship with God, yet we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth. We are living in darkness when we hate one another or some people in our communities and in our families. He who hates his brother or sister is in the darkness and he who loves his brother or sister abides in the light (1Jn 2:8-11). Walking in the light means being a loving person and walking in the darkness means being a person of hate.

As we have it in the first reading, the princes, priests and people of Judah added infidelity on infidelity. Similarly, such acts of infidelity are perpetuated in our day and age: lie-telling, unfaithfulness, cheating are all works of darkness. Darkness has more to do with evil and crime than with the hour of the day. How often do we feel happy when we emerge from vicious activities without being caught, yet we fail to realize that no one can play hide and seek with God; for the eyes of the Lord are ten thousand times brighter than the sun as we have it in Sirach 23:18-19: “the man who dishonors his marriage bed says to himself, who can see me? Darkness surrounds me, walls hide me…he doesn’t realize that the eyes of the Lord, ten thousand times brighter than the sun, observe every step taken and see into hidden corners. We can escape the clutches of security cameras and human eyes but we can’t escape the notice of God.

As we continue our Lenten journey and our sojourn here below in general, let us walk in the light of God. This light gives true freedom, hope and joy. Life for us will always be happier and peaceful if we live without skeletons in our cupboards. Let us keep in mind that “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open” (Lk 8:17).