Sunday, May 24, 2015

Feast of Pentecost- Year B
                                                Acts 2:1-11; Gal 5:16-25;Jn 20:19-23
Different Gifts, the same Spirit.
Today the universal Church celebrates with great joy the feast of Pentecost. This feast is traditionally known as the birthday of the Church. As we have it in the first reading, when the Holy Spirit descended upon people of different races and nations, they were able to understand each other, though they spoke in their various languages. What an amazing experience! That the people Pamphylia, Phrygia, Asia, Mesopotamia, Edumea could understand each other. This is the special Charisma of the Church. The church speaks the language of all peoples under heaven. The miracle is in the fact that the foreigners all heard the proclamation of God’s wonderful deeds in their own language. God wants us to worship him without losing our cultural identity. That is why inculturation is an integral part of the liturgy. The binding force of believers is the love of Christ.   The common Hymn by Reinale says it all: “In Christ, there is no East or West, In him no South or North; but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth; join hands then, members of the faith; whatever your race maybe!”

The church as a family of God is open to all peoples without racial prejudice. No one is required to purchase a ticket or code to have access into the church as the case may be, for instance, with the baseball match. There are no reserved places in church on account of longevity of service. This is because at Baptism and Confirmation we all receive the same Spirit and it is by the power of the Spirit that we are able to call God Father, and Jesus, Lord.  There is one body, one sprit, and we are called to one hope (Eph 4:4).  

After having received the Holy Spirit, the people began to praise God for His marvelous deeds. This is usually the natural response whenever and wherever the Spirit is at work among a people; there is life and joy, songs of praise and thanksgiving. When Mary conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, she started to sing a song of joy, the “Magnificat”.  Similarly, about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened(Acts 16:25-26).

Unfortunately, as the Christians continued to praise God after having received the Holy Spirit, those who didn’t  understand the powerful effect of the spirit began to laugh and said, they were drunk. But Peter vehemently declared that the Christians were not drunk, for it was only 9 O’clock in the morning. Then he went on to tell them about the fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel. “On the last days, God says I will pour out my Spirit on mortals. Your sons and daughters will speak through the Holy Spirit; your young men will see visions and your old men will have dreams(Jl 3:1)
Whenever we gather together as the Body of Christ, the Holy Spirit can work wonders, that is  if we invoke him with the disposition to let him melt and mold us like the apostles did together with Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Holy Spirit blows wherever it pleases, He is not limited to a particular moment at Mass. It blows! It blows!

It is therefore an anomaly for Christians to complain about this or that liturgical activity as being boring. Someone once said if Christians fall asleep in church, it means the preacher needs to wake up. This is not necessarily true. What kind of spirit do we bring with us to Church?  What were you doing just before coming for mass? Are you coming as a spectator or with an expectation? Here is a hymn in Music Issue 657, worth meditating upon in preparation for Mass:
O breathe on me, O breath of God,
fill me with life anew that I may love
the things You love, and do what you would do.

O breathe on me, O breath of God,
until my heart is pure;
until my will is one with Yours,
to do and to endure.  
O breathe on me O breath of God, My will to yours incline, until this selfish part of me, glows with your fire divine. 

If we deeply love him who is present in our celebration; if we attune our wills to his, we would always come to church with great expectation. If we invoke the Holy Spirit prayerfully in this song he will purify our lips and take away the lustful passions of impurity, immorality, idolatry, sexual orgies, rivalry (Cf Gal 5).  Indeed we are imbued with the Holy Spirit at baptism and at confirmation, but what is that if we don’t let the spirit guide our lives from day to day.  The priest or the choir cannot just infuse the Spirit in you if you are not ready for it. A little boy was asked by his mom after mass, ‘how did you like the mass?’ He said the music was good, but the commercial was too long. We can’t afford to always make it short with things of the Spirit. Our liturgical celebration is not a concert where the audience depends on the actors for animation. No, it is time when we want the Holy Spirit to fill us, so that the fruits may shine forth in our lives:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5).  

We rejoice today for the manifold gifts that the members of our community have received from the Holy Spirit. The talents of our children in school, their success in examination, special prices, our singers, supporters from the background, those who just smile and encourage us and so on. All these gifts come a long way to build our community. Once at the end of the academic year, I asked a young boy: “How was your result?” He said “my conduct was good.” All is not lost even when we don’t do well in exams.  Some may be brilliant, but may lack a good conduct.  

The different gifts we have received are meant to complement each other’s, and not to compete with each other. And every gift is given for the benefit of the community, the school, the family, the society or the church. All gifts are equally important just as all the parts of the body are. The eye can’t say I am more important than the ear. There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord(1Cor 12:3). Without the choristers, the choir directors can’t do it with the benches, and without us, even with our crooked voices, the cantor can’t do it alone.

Let no one boast of his or her talents; neither should we expect the world to revolve around us because we have been blessed with a much needed talent. Because it was given to you without charge, do well to be generous with it, lest it be taken away. No matter how gifted we may be, always give others the chance to do their own part. We should never overestimate ourselves, desiring to do everything so as to receive all credits. God alone is all-knowing.
As we celebrate this feast,  I pray that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit may have an effect in our lives  this day; that the same Holy Spirit, the advocate should come to the aid of all who are in any kind of physical or spiritual need. Come Holy Spirit, fall afresh on us and enkindle in us the fire of your love.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord-Year B
                                                      Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Mk 16:15-20
God is not dead
The other day, a fifth grade student of Our Lady of Sorrows School approached me and asked  whether I have had the opportunity to watch the movie “God’s not dead.”  She asked this question because of my usual greetings “God is good all the time” which she thought I got from the movie.  When I told her I haven’t watched the movie, she gave me a gist  and recommended that I watch it.  I am extremely thankful to little Emily and some of her classmates who recently narrated that movie to me. In brief,  Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), an evangelical college student, enrolls in a philosophy class taught by Professor Jeffrey Radisson (Kevin Sorbo), an atheist, who demands that his students sign a declaration that "God is dead" to get a passing grade. Josh is the only student in the class who refuses to sign and is then required by Radisson to debate the topic with him, with the class members as jury.

Radisson gives Josh twenty minutes at the end of the first three lecture sessions to argue that God exists. In the first two debates, Radisson has counter arguments for all of Josh's points. Josh's girlfriend Kara (Cassidy Gifford) tries to convince him to either drop out of class or follow Radisson's rules, fearing that standing up to Radisson will jeopardize their academic future. She eventually breaks up with him when he refuses to disown his belief in God. Ultimately, it comes down to the third and final debate between Radisson and Josh, who again both make compelling points. Josh then halts his line of debate to pose a question to Radisson: "Why do you hate God?" 

After Josh repeats the question thrice, Radisson explodes in rage, confirming he hates God for his mother's death that left him alone despite his prayers. Josh then casually asks Radisson how he can hate someone that does not exist. In the end, Martin (Paul Kwo), a foreign exchange student whose father had encouraged him not to convert to Christianity so he can stay focused with the class, stands up and says "God's not dead." Almost the entire class follows Martin's lead, causing Radisson to leave the room in defeat.

The feast of the ascension which we celebrate today, forty days after the resurrection is the proclamation of the power of God that is at work in Jesus Christ. It buttresses Jesus’ claim to be equal with the Father: Everything that the Father has is mine (Jn 16:15). In other words he is invested with supreme authority. By taking his seat at the right and of God, Christ has assumed authority as Lord of heaven and earth. The right hand position signifies ruler, power, dominion, authority.  He is now on the throne. The scriptures tell us, “God mounts his throne with shouts of joy. The LORD, with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises; Sing praises to our King, sing praises.… the Lord ascends with trumpet blast( Ps 47:5-6).

The psalm calls us to rejoice and be glad because he is our Lord, intercessor and our defender. Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians: “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”(Phil 2:9-11).

 Moreover, the gospel today speaks of the power of his name: “All who believe in his name, they will pick up serpents with their hands and, if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them, they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover, they shall trample underfoot serpents and scorpions and they shall not be harmed because he is with them.” It is for this reason that our prayers are always concluded “through Christ our Lord who lives and reigns forever and ever.”

It is evident in Psalm 37: 5, that if we commit our life to the Lord and trust in him, he will do it for us! But why don’t we use that name to drive away the demonic influences on our lives when he has asked us to do so? In this regard, we can say: In the name of Jesus, depart from me, spirit of overeating! In the name of Jesus, depart from me, spirit of Lie-telling; in the name of Jesus, depart from me, spirit of lust; In the name of Jesus, depart from me, spirit of laziness; In the name of Jesus, depart from me, spirit of bitterness!

God is not dead.  When we look at the alarming rate of evil, disasters, accidents, godless ideologies, in our day and age, we are sometimes moved to wonder whether God still reigns. The same questions are raised in the second Psalm: why do the nations conspire? Why do the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth waging wars against the Lord and his anointed.” The psalm continues, “But the Lord is on the throne watching, and he laughs.”  Indeed, He is a patient king, he is not quick to pass judgment. Nonetheless, he is the Alpha and Omega, all time, all power belong to him. Life then is like a movie; it is only at the end that you can distinguish the hero from the villain.

God is not dead even when bad things happen to good people. It is not usually a pleasant experience when I pray over someone whom I want God to heal, yet I see clearly that the person is passing way. Similarly, it bothers us to see innocent ones perishing in a disaster, or diagnosed with a terminal disease or going through pain. What is life all about when an innocent child is born to grapple with an infirmity his entire life?  And what about the young mom who doesn’t live to see her one month old baby because of cancer? A little boy who had just lost his Dad asked me: “Father, why does God allow good people to die? He went on, “instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why can’t God just keep the people he has made?”  We can’t pretend to offer answers to all the tragedies of life.

Even as a priest, I had to come up with a philosophy of life when I couldn’t understand the mysterious ways of God. And since then, I am able to cope in whatever situation life has to offer- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here it is: “God knows why!” In everything that happens, I am consoled with my motto: “God knows why.”

There is a telling conversation between God and a man which I would like to share with you. Perhaps some of you have come across it. It goes thus:
Man: God can I ask you a question?
God: Sure
Man: Promise you won’t get mad…
God: I promise
Man: Why did you let so much stuff happen to me today?
God: What do you mean?
Man: Well, I woke up late
God: Yes
Man: My car took forever to start
God: Okay
Man: At lunch, they made my sandwich wrong and I had to wait
God: Hmmmm
Man: On the way home my phone went dead, just as I picked up a call.
God: All right
Man: And on top of it all, when I got home, I just wanted to soak my feet in my new foot massager and relax. But it wouldn’t work! Nothing went right today! Why did you do that?
God: Let me see, the angel of death was at your bed this morning and I sent one of My Angels to battle him for your life. I let you sleep through that.
Man: (humbled) Oh
God: I didn’t let your car start because there was a drunk driver on your route that would have hit you if you were on the road.
Man: Ashamed
God: The first person who made your sandwich today was sick and I didn’t want you to catch what they have, I knew you couldn’t afford to miss work.
Man: (Embarrassed) Okay
God: Your phone went dead because the person that was calling you was going to give false witness about what you said on that call, I didn’t even let you talk to them so you would be covered.
Man: (softly) I see God
God: Oh and that foot massager, it had a shortage that was going to throw out all of the power in your house tonight. I didn’t think you wanted to be in the dark.
Man: I am sorry God
God: Don’t be sorry, just learn to trust me…in all things, the good and the bad.
Man: I will trust you.
God: and don’t doubt that my plan for your day is always better than your plan.
Man: I won’t, God. And let me just tell you God, Thank you for everything today.
God: You are welcome my child. It was just another day being your God, and I love looking after my children.

Dear friends, God is not dead. He knows what He is doing. When things seem to go on a downward slope in our lives, families and community, let us never forget that God is on the throne. His Ascension is eloquent proof that he is constantly watching over us. Like Josh in the movie, let us be his witnesses in a society that proclaims daily by godless ideologies that God is dead. We can’t afford to trade our faith for grades, graduation, money, etc.  If we don’t stand for something, we will fall for anything.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1Jn 4:7-10; Jn15:9-17
Love one another as I love you

When I was growing up, I ran into serious trouble when I wrote  my  first love letter. My friend, Eric and I hid our letters under a stone behind our house while looking forward to the right moment to dispatch them. Unfortunately, my Dad found out, and punished us:we were asked to pick a pin, after which he gave us six strokes of the lash each. Our letters were well crafted with phrases like- “I cannot live without you…every time I see you, my heart jumps…” I came to realize later in life that we were merely trying to play act what we watched on movies and listened to, in love songs.

Our story is not outmoded because our day and age is saturated with all kinds of love songs, movies and expressions, yet it is hard to find relationships where true love subsists. It would seem  our Lord was aware that his followers would encounter challenges in the world on the true meaning of love-so he decided not only to show the example, but made it a commandment: “a new commandment I give you, love one another as I have loved you.”(Jn 13:34)  His was unconditional love. And the main crisis cutting across every fabric of society- Christian families, friendships, marriages, communities is the lack of unconditional love.

Jesus’ unconditional love means he loves us in spite of our sins and ugly behavior. He loves us not because of what we do or who we are, but he loves us in spite of what we do and who we are. It is not easy to die for a good man but he died for us while were still sinners. He still loves us even when we are not nice to him.

It is the same unconditional love to which couples commit themselves when they make the solemn promise: “I take you for better for love, in sickness and health…till death do us part. There is no conditional clause like, “I will love you till further notice”. To love unconditionally is a risk! By this this token, we open up our hearts to each other, and we can either lose the one we love or we can be hurt by the very ones we love. Consequently, we can’t expect to love without being vulnerable to a wounded heart. Anyone who wants to love without experiencing  wounds can as well parcel his or heart and keep it.

Unconditional love is not found on pretty looks. People who are attracted to you because of your pretty face and nice body won’t be by your side forever(Young girls looking forward to getting married should pray that no man  should  be attracted to them  just because of their beautiful face or skin). But the people who can see how beautiful your heart is will never leave you. Beauty without a good heart is like performing cosmetic surgery on a corpse. Someone once said “the friendship that ends never was.” This refers to people who get together with a distorted notion of love-perhaps infatuation or lustful attractions.  It is like love at first sight which ends with divorce at first sight. The truth is that true love never dies!

 If we aren’t ready to love as Christ loves, we should not disguise selfishness in the name of love. It is a grievous sin to walk in and out of people, playing with someone’s emotions without the slightest intention to love. Don’t say “I love you” if you don’t mean it. It takes time, sometimes a life time to mend broken hearts.  Let love be without pretense, do what is good and avoid what is evil(Rom 12:9).

Nevertheless, whenever  relationships fail, don’t be quick to blame the other person, but ask yourself about what attracted you to that person, and, what  you did on your part as a Christian to keep the love of Christ alive in your relationship. As we can see, the “Ex-data” is going out of proportion-Ex boyfriend, ex-wives, ex- husbands. What legacy are we leaving behind for the younger generation?

However, no matter how painful one’s love experience may turn out to be, we should never stop  loving. Don’t bear a grudge, don’t nurture hate feelings. Let those who hurt you carry the burden. Frederick Buechner says: “you can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time, you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you don’t live in a world, but a world lives in you. ”By the way, keep in mind that people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

Christ insists that if we want our joy to be complete we should love one another. The reality here is that we should not always expect to get back what we give out in love. Learn to take things with a grain of salt; praise, criticisms, good treatment or ill treatment should not make you give up being what God wants you to be. If we ever let others determine our love by what they say and do to us, we will never be joyful. Rather we will spend our entire life fighting against people instead of living for love.

Life is what it is-we all expect the ideal, but we must face the reality. We would be disappointed if we always expect people to be nice to us. Humans are who they are, humans! It is better to always be disposed for the worst. There is no logic in love, else Christ would not have died on the cross. We can rightly take offense when we are hurt or disappointed, but at the end of the day, don’t make a fuse of it, because you are neither the first nor the last. Christ already predicted it when he said, if the world hates you or treats you badly, remember it hated me first(Jn 15:18-25). It is important to learn to love people without any expectation.  Let us love because we want Christ to remain in us.  

Mother Teresa’s poem titled “Do good anyway” is worthy of consideration here: People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.  If you are kind, people may often accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.  What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.  If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.  Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway. In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

My dear people, let us love one another because God is love. Anyone who claims to love God yet hates his brother or sister is a liar, because the only image of God that we have seen is that of our neighbor (1Jn 4:20). He made man in his own image, as we have it in Genesis. Owe nothing to anyone--except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God's law(Rom 13:8). Let us spend some time with our loved ones because they are not going to be around forever. Parents should stay close to their families, speak kind and loving words to the little ones who look up to you because they will soon grow up and leave your side. Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for some day that person will not be there again.

May I use this opportunity to wish all mothers a very Happy Mother’s Day! There are countless reasons for which we should thank our mothers, and if we dare dwell on them, every day should be Mother’s Day. But today, we thank them for carrying us in their wombs for nine months! May God bless all mothers,  both the living and the dead.