Homily: Epiphany of the Lord - A

Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12

The Battle of Milvian Bridge was fought between Roman Emperors Constantine I and Maxentius in 312. On the evening of October 27, with the armies preparing for battle, Constantine had a vision. A most marvellous sign appeared to him from heaven. The famous sign in the sky was a cross of light, with the inscription, Conquer by this. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle.

Constantine delineated the sign on the shields of his soldiers, and proceeded to battle, and his troops stood to arms. Maxentius was defeated in the battle, and Constantine was acknowledged as emperor by the senate and people of Rome. Constantine’s victory brought relief to the Christians by ending persecution.

300 Years before Constantine, God’s sign appeared on the sky as a luminous star. It announced the good news that A Saviour was born to emancipate humanity from the clutches of evil. This sign was read by the simple shepherds and wise men. It led the wise men to Bethlehem.

Bethlehem was a little town six miles to the south of Jerusalem. Bethlehem had a long history. It had a prominent place in the mind of every Jew. It was there that Jacob had buried Rachel. It was there that Ruth had lived. It was the home and city of the great king, David. It was from the line of David that God was to send the deliverer, and He would be born in the city of David.

Isaiah visualized this glory:

Above you the Lord now rises
and above you his glory appears,
The nations come to your light
and kings to your dawning brightness.

The close of the First Century BC was the most expectant period in History. The Roman and Jewish historians recorded the great expectation of people for the birth of a Saviour. The wise men of that time had been calculating and reading the signs of time to see the realization of this hope. Then, some heavenly brilliance indicated to the Magi of the entry of an extraordinary king into the world. They were determined to search for Him. The star guided them to Bethlehem. There work of guidance completed, the star disappeared.

It reached the ears of Herod that the wise men had come from the East, and that they were searching for the little child who had been born to be King of the Jews. Any king would have been worried at the report that a child had been born who was to occupy his throne. Herod was troubled. He reacted instantly. The reaction of Herod was the reaction of hatred and hostility. He was afraid that this little child was going to interfere with his life, his power, his authority, his wealth and his influence. Therefore his first instinct was to destroy him.

History shows that evil forces joined hands many a time to annihilate Jesus and his redemptive work. The first of its series started with Herod. In his frantic attempt to destroy Jesus he slaughtered numerous innocent children. When Jesus started his mission, the religious authorities tried to silence him. Finally Pontius Pilot gave the verdict to crucify Him. But, the enemies of Jesus could not wipe Him out. He rose from the dead, and His disciples continued His work. Then the evil forces turned against them. St. Stephen was stoned to death. Matthew was slain with a halberd. James was beaten and stoned by the Jews. Mark was dragged to pieces by the people of Alexandria. Peter was crucified with his head down and his feet up. Paul was beheaded. For the next three centuries Mass persecutions occurred under many emperors, and thousands of Christians were put to death. Even today there are many who would do anything to destroy Jesus because they see in him the one who interferes with their interest, their beliefs, and their way of life.

There was the reaction of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. It was one of fear. They knew the cruelty of Herod. The people of Jerusalem knew well that Herod would not spare any one whom he suspected as a threat to his power. So he murdered his wife, Mariamne, and her mother. He assassinated three of his sons on the grounds of suspicion. So they were troubled and worried. This is the reaction of the people who would never want to give up their comforts in life. When their faith begins to place demands on them, they tremble, but never show courage to resist the evil.

There was the reaction of the chief priests and scribes. It was one of complete indifference. Herod summoned the chief priests and scribes. The scribes were the experts in scripture and in the law. The high priests were the priestly aristocracy. So, Herod summoned the religious aristocracy and the theological scholars of his day to know where the anointed one of God should be born. Herod’s revelation of the birth of the Anointed Messiah, whom they had been expecting for long, and whose birth they had been calculating, did not make any difference in them. They were totally engrossed in their Temple rituals and legal discussions that they completely disregarded Jesus. He meant nothing to them. Even today there are many among us who disregard Jesus. He is considered as a noble person to be worshiped and adored. But he is not given any role in their personal life.

There was the reaction of the wise men, the reaction of adoring worship, the desire to lay at the feet of Jesus the noblest gifts which they could bring. Wise men from the ends of the earth were gathered at his cradle. It was the first sign and symbol of the world conquest of Jesus. Their journey in search of the King of peace was heroic. Neither distance nor uncertainty of the destination could hold them back from their decision to find the new King. God lit their way; His light shone above them, and they followed it.

Mother Teresa once visited a poor man in Melbourne, Australia. He was living in a basement room which was in a terrible state of neglect. There was no light in the room. He did not seem to have a friend in the world. She started to clean and tidy the room. At first he protested, “Leave it alone. It is alright as it is.” But she went ahead anyway. As she cleaned, she chatted with him. Under a pile of rubbish she found an oil lamp covered with dust. She cleaned it and discovered that it was beautiful. And she said to him, “You have got a beautiful lamp here. How she said to him, “You have got a beautiful lamp here. How come you never lighted it?” “Why should I light it?” “No one ever comes to see me.”

Will you promise to light it if one of my sisters comes to see you?” “Yes,” he replied. “If I hear a human voice, I will light the lamp.” Two of Mother Teresa’s sisters began to visit him regularly. Things gradually improved for him. Every time the sisters came to visit him, he had the lamp lighted. Then one day he said to them: “Sisters, I will be able to manage myself from now on. Do me a favour. Tell the first sister who came to see me that the light she lit in my life is still burning.” (-M K Paul, "Inspiring Anecdotes and Stories" p.18)

The light that God lit to announce the coming of His son is still burning. The Magi followed the path of the great light and reached the cradle of Jesus. When they found Jesus they laid down their gifts before Him. For the last twenty centuries many have followed the footprints of the Magi. When they found Jesus they, too, laid down everything they had at the foot of Jesus just like the Magi made their offerings. Today, Jesus stands before us declaring, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”(Jn 8:12)

The spirit of God has always been there to guide those who have desired to walk in the light. So the Angel of the Lord guided the Magi to return to their own country, ‘by a different way”, and to a different life. The Magi’s meeting with Jesus brought about a total change in them. It lit their minds and removed the darkness from them. Jesus revealed Himself as their Saviour, and they accepted Him. Emperor Constantine was given a sign. He accepted it, and his acceptance gained him victory. When Jesus revealed Himself to Paul, he accepted Jesus, and his acceptance led him to change his way of life.

When we accept the light, the Spirit of God will be with us to guide us in all our endeavours. Thomas Guthrie wrote: “And let no man lose heart, and abandon a good scheme because he meets chopping seas and cross winds at the outset, since God may be thereby driving him on a better course, and toward greater ends than he ever dreamt of.”

Satish

Homily: New Year - A or Mother of God

Cycle A -New Year / Mary, Mother of God

Num 6:22-27; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21


One more year has been added to the pages of history. The year 2010 passed by leaving its joys, and pangs of grief. The earthquake in Haiti (in January) resulted in the deaths of 200,000 to 250,000 people. The floods which swept through Pakistan (in July) hit the country very badly. Fatalities in the floods reached almost 2,000 people, and further affected 20 million people. Torrential rains (in May) across Southern China resulted in over 3,000 fatalities, and over 1,000 people missing. The Earthquake in Yushu, Qinghai, China took away 2,698 people and 270 were missing. It left another 12, 135 people injured. The Chilean earthquake resulted in the deaths of 521 people. Natural disasters and human made disasters stole away the life of a quarter million people.

When we look back we find our own little sorrows too - the death of a dear one; loss of job; loss of wealth; sufferings due to illness, financial constraints, misunderstandings and so on. But along with them we have occasions of great blessings, too. The greatest blessing that we have received is that we are here today. While the dreams of a quarter million people faded away, we are given one more opportunity to leave our footprints on the sands of time.

Once a village blacksmith had a vision. An angel of the Lord came to him and said The Lord has sent me. The time has come for you to take up your place in his kingdom.’ I thank God for thinking of me’, said the blacksmith, ‘but, as you know, the season for sowing the crops will soon be here. The people of the village will need their ploughs repaired, and their horses shod. Do you think I might put off taking my place in the kingdom until I have finished?’ The angel looked lovingly, and vanished. The blacksmith continued with his work, and was almost finished, when he heard of a neighbour who fell ill in the middle of the planting season. The next time he saw the angel, the blacksmith pointed towards the barren fields, and pleaded with the angel. ‘Do you think eternity can hold off a little longer? If I don’t finish this job, my friend’s family will suffer.’ Again, the angel smiled, and vanished. The blacksmith’s friend recovered, but another’s barn burned down, and a third was deep in sorrow at the death of his wife. And the fourth… and so on. Whenever the angel reappeared, the blacksmith drew the angel’s eyes to where the suffering was. One evening, the blacksmith began to think of the angel, and how he had put him off for such a long time. He felt very old and tired, and he prayed ‘Lord, if you would like to send your angel again, I think I would like to see him now’. He’d no sooner spoken than the angel appeared before him. ‘If you still want to take me’, said the blacksmith, ‘I am now ready to take my place in the kingdom of the Lord’. The angel looked at the blacksmith, and smiled, as he said ‘Where do you think you have been living all these years?’ –(Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel truth!’).

In the New Year our resolution should be, to be the heralds of the Kingdom of God, by doing the little that we can to ease the pain, to bring peace in the family, to weld up the broken relation between our neighbours, to bring together the estranged husband and wife, and to lead back the children who have abandoned their parents. Little roses spread fragrance in a large garden, and make their presence felt. Likewise every act of kindness, however insignificant they are, will have their own importance. William Wordsworth wrote, "That best portion of a good man's life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love."

Mother Theresa worked with great dedication but she could not bring comfort to all the orphaned or abandoned children, She could not provide shelter to all the children living in poor housing conditions, she could not feed every child living in impoverished conditions and she could not provide education to all the children who lacked who did not attend school. Gandhiji dedicated his life for the nation (India), and he wanted to improve the life of the Harijans. But he could not elevate all the Harijans Martin Luther King sacrificed his life for defending the dignity of human beings, and fought against human prejudices, but he could not wipe out racial discrimination altogether. The little that they could do has become great. If we can help one in our life, our life is fulfilled. “Build a little fence of trust around today; Fill the space with loving deeds, and therein stay. Look not through the sheltering bars upon tomorrow; God will help thee bear what comes of joy and sorrow. Wrote Mary F. Butts.

Greater occasions are given to those who use the insignificant chances. The story of the Talents narrates: one is entrusted with one talent, another two, and the third five. The one who got one talent ignored it; others put their talents to work. If the one who had received one talent had put his talent to work, the response of the master would have been the same to him, too, “come and enter into the joy of your master”. The New Year is a gift for us to make use of the opportunities given to us to work among our brothers, to work with our brothers, and to work for our brothers. Remember the words of Mother Teresa "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other."

In an art class the students painted a large portrait. But the eyes looked very dull. The Art teacher dipped the brush into the white paint and put a small dot in the centre of the pupil. The portrait gleamed with life. The world is longing for our little strokes. Be not hesitant to act. The New Year is ahead of us prompting us to begin, and we should begin from ourselves.

"If there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person.
If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house.
If there is harmony in the house, there will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world."
- Chinese Proverb

Today we also celebrate the "Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God." Mary found out God’s plan for her through the daily events in life, through the people among whom she lived, and through prayer. Today’s Gospel reading emphasizes this fact with the statement, “As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Hence she was able to transform her life as God wanted. So, there was light in her soul, and beauty in her person. Our beloved mother, Mother of God, urges us also to begin with little strokes. In the New Year let’s all rally behind her.

May God bless us through the intercession of Mary, The Mother of God.

Satish

Anecdote

1) Smiling child and his mother: There is a beautiful, little story about a long, tedious train journey made, one Christmas day, by some elderly residents of a nursing home who were on their way to a vacation spot. At one station, a young mother with a small child entered the train. The child smiled at all the grim faces around him and began moving from one lap to another talking, shouting with joy and chatting with every one. Instantly, the grim and silent atmosphere in the train was changed to one of joy and happiness. Today we remember with joy and gratitude, how Mary and her Divine Son Jesus transformed a hopeless, joyless and sinful world into a place of joy and happiness.

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Cycle A - Feast of the holy Family

Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Col 3:12-21; Mt 2:13-15, 19-23

Exile, deportation and seeking asylum in other countries have been common in our history. Wars and civil strife have torn apart many families, and separated parents and children, brothers and sisters, or husbands and wives for many years, and, often, perpetually.

The story of Boris and Anna Kozlov is very touching. Boris and Anna Kozlov were married in 1946. After three days Boris had to ship out with his Red Army unit. By the time he returned, Anna was gone, consigned by Stalin’s purges to internal exile in Siberia with the rest of her family. Nobody knew where the family was, or what had happened to Anna... Boris became frantic. He tried everything he could to find his young bride, but it was in vain. She was gone.

After 60 years, one day, Anna Kozlov caught sight of the elderly man clambering out of a car in her home village of Borovlyanka in Siberia. There, in front of her, was Boris. An extraordinary coincidence leads them both to return to their home village on the very same day. 60 years of separation has made their reunion inexpressibly joyful.

In today’s Gospel we heard Mathew’s account that Jesus’ family had to be separated from their kinsmen due to Herod’s decision to annihilate Jesus. Joseph was asked to flee to Egypt with the child, and he obeyed the command of the Angel.

From His birth to the beginning of His public life, Jesus chose to experience all the aspects of human life. If Jesus was to help men, he must know what were men’s lives. He did not come to a protected life, but he came to the life that any ordinary man must live. He experienced the hardships of the people who are forced to leave their home and kinsmen; he experienced the problems of an ordinary workman, while working as a carpenter in Nazareth; and He experienced the pangs of death when his foster father died.

Just as every family has to face problems and overcome them, the Holy Family had to face and overcome their problems. The first problem encountered by the Holy Family was its flight into Egypt as refugees because Jesus’ life was in danger due to Herod’s murderous intentions. This is one of the experiences of many of the chosen men. When Abraham was called, he was commanded to leave his father’s house and go to an unknown land. Joseph was sold to the Egyptian traders and he was forced to leave his father’s house and go to Egypt. The choice of Moses was accompanied by his escape from the palace of Pharaoh and flight into an unknown land. This is an unconditional demand that was placed on the people who have found favour with God. Jesus was no exception to this. As a baby, Jesus grew up in an alien land without the company of kith and kin. When we have to leave our country for any reason, leaving our dear ones behind, remember that the Holy Family had the same experience before us; when we are abandoned by our relatives, remember that the Holy Family experienced it; when we are forsaken by our friends, remember that the Holy Family had undergone the same experience.

When instructed by the Angel Joseph returned from Egypt. But it was unsafe to go to Judea. So he was guided to go to Galilee. The Holy Family settled in Nazareth, a town in Galilee. The child hood of Jesus was spent in Nazareth.

In Nazareth Jesus was growing up to boyhood, and then to manhood, in a good home. A good home is a great gift. We are all here today, because God gifted us with good homes. The training of Jesus was initiated in a good home under the guidance of a good mother. George Herbert once said, “A good mother is worth a hundred school masters”. The mother’s approach to the children should be realistic, and their ambitions achievable. When mother’s become over possessive and demanding, children try to evade them.

(Joke)A mother overheard the following conversation between her young little daughter and a friend:
Jane: If you accept Jesus Christ as your personal saviour, you will go to heaven when you die!
Mary: How about my mommy?
Jane She can do the same! But if you don’t want her to go there, don’t tell her anything! (Randy Roberts’ Sermon Anecdotes II)

Home should be a place where children feel free to express their concerns and anxieties about personal, social and religious life. Dorothy Law Nolte wrote, “Children Learn What They Live”

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Children should be provided with a conducive atmosphere to grow in faith, truth and self-confidence. Parents’ example and life are a continual and powerful sermon, which is always seen by their children.

(Joke) One day, a little girl was sitting and watching her mother do the dishes at the kitchen sink. She suddenly noticed that her mother had several strands of white hair sticking out in contrast on her head. She looked at her mother and inquisitively asked, "Why are some of your hairs white, mom?" Her mother replied, "Well, every time that you do something wrong and make me unhappy, one of my hair turns white." The little girl thought for a while, and said, "Momma, how come that grandma’s head is full of white hair?”

In Nazareth Jesus was fulfilling the duties of an eldest son. He accepted the simple duties at home, and he honoured His father and mother. Every culture evidences the instinct to reverence ancestors, especially one’s own parents. But, in the fast pacing world, often, we do not have time to spare for the elderly people.

Today’s first reading, from the book of Sirach summarizes the relationship of father, mother and children. Sirach reminds children of their duty to honour their parents – even when it becomes difficult. He also mentions the two-fold reward which the Bible promises to those who honour their father and mother - “riches” and “long life”. These are two things we all wish for.

The Feast of the Holy Family teaches us to inculcate in our children the virtue of honouring the elders. As St Paul says:

"Bring them up in the training and instruction
of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4)

In Nazareth Jesus was learning the life of ordinary man. Jesus worked as a carpenter, and earned his livelihood. Jesus knew the world in which he was living. Jesus studied the people around Him. Jesus understood the people to whom He was going to announce the Good News. So he was called “one among them.” In our eagerness and anxiety to provide the best for our children we do not give them any chance to experience the world in which they live. We try to provide them the best education, so they ignore the illiteracy around. We struggle to provide them the best food, so they are unaware of the poverty that exists around them. We want to give them the best of everything, so they do not see the suffering in the world. Hence, there is no wonder if they behave like Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France.

A rioting mob, forced into violence due to starvation gathered outside the palace. The Queen asked what all the uproar was about. She was told: “They have no bread.” She said, “If they have no bread, let them eat meat.” The Queen who was living in abundance and luxury could not understand the lot of a starving man.

The Holy Family of Nazareth - Jesus, Mary and Joseph is put before us by the Church as a model for our families to imitate. In today’s second reading St Paul gives some practical suggestions to model our families like the Holy family:

“Wives, give way to your husbands,
as you should in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives
and treat them with gentleness,
Children, be obedient to your parents always,
because that is what will please the Lord.
Parents, never drive your children to resentment
or you will make them feel frustrated.

Satish

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Homily: Christmas

Cycle A. Christmas

Is 9:2-4,6-7; Tit 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-16

The winter of 1911 was very bleak in Ukraine, especially for Mennonites (The Mennonites are a group of Christians). The Russian Revolution was in full swing and Mennonites all over the country were living under the threat of violence. Every day stories of great atrocities circulated around the small community. Robbers rode in the night, demanding food and horses. They burned barns and destroyed crops. Women were assaulted and men were kidnapped. Apprehension permeated the entire area because people never knew when they would become the next target.

Amidst this violence and dark moments, the Krause family decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus. A musical Christmas tree stand was brought as a present for their parents. On Christmas Eve, the family gathered around the tree to watch it spin in the glow of the candles it had been adorned with. Suddenly the door burst open and a band of ruffians stormed in, all holding guns. Shock blitzed through the family. Silence and terror filled the air. Death hung over their heads as the sword of Damocles. Unexpectedly, the musical Christmas tree stand clinked away “Silent Night.” Miraculously the intruders stood still for a moment, and then backed out of the house and closed the door, leaving the room peaceful.

Their childhood memories of Christmas might have taken them back to the Silent Night when the Angels announced “Peace to all men of good will.” Those sweet memories softened their hearts, and they forgot violence for a minute.

The music of the Silent Night from the Christmas tree gifted life for the Krause family. Two thousand years ago, the song of the Angels in Bethlehem announced life for the entire humanity.

The promise that had been made through Isaiah is fulfilled. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and you will call Him Immanuel, God is with us.” (Isaiah 7:14).

The Biblical Account of creation tells us that God created Heaven and Earth, and all the beings in the sea, land and air in five days, and on the 6th Day God created man. According to the Biblical writer the entire creation took place in 6 days. From that time onwards God had been preparing the human race for the greatest manifestation of His love, the birth of Jesus.

The first promise was made in the Garden of Aden. Not long after Creation, God pronounced His judgment on the Serpent and promise to humanity, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed.”(Gen 3:15). The promise was renewed through the centuries. According to the biblical account, to be very precise in the words of Luke, God has been preparing humanity for 77 generations from Adam to Jesus. During these generations the Prophets gave a very clear Picture of the Messiah. His Lineage, His nativity, the hardships he would have to bear and the final triumph. In today’s first reading from the book of Isaiah, we are given the details of the names given to the promised saviour. He will be called:

Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God

Eternal-Father, Prince-of-peace.

"The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them." [Isaiah 9:2] These words from the prophet Isaiah told of the coming Prince of Peace, and of the light and life He would bring.

When Isaiah told of the coming of Prince of Peace, he spoke of light dispelling darkness. The image of light dispelling darkness is central to our understanding of the incarnation and its meaning. The metaphor of light makes sense only against a background of darkness. In the Bible, darkness is a rich metaphor that refers to evil and wilful blindness or sin.

Since sin pushed humanity into darkness, men dreaded the presence of Light, God. In God’s presence the people were terrified. When Adam heard the voice of God he hid himself behind the bush. In Mount Sinai the Israelites saw the glory of God and cried, “do not have God speak to us or we will die." When the shepherds saw the Angel, they were afraid. The angel spoke to them. "Do not be afraid. I'm here to bring you good news. Today in Bethlehem a baby has been born, He is the one that will save the world. "

The angel told the shepherds that “This event is to you,” and the shepherds’ response was immediate and practical: “Let us go to Bethlehem.” The angel’s message had power; it moved people. When Cicero addressed the Roman senate, everyone appreciated his eloquence and said, “How beautifully he speaks!” But they remained in their seats. Yet when Demosthenes addressed the Greek army, they leaped up, clashed spear upon shield and said, “Let us march!” Angels’ message of birth of Jesus moved men of peace and the forces of darkness alike. The shepherds rushed to the manger. The wise men set out following the star. At the same time Herod paced up and down all night worrying. His soldiers rode across the land in search of the infant. The soldiers never found the baby, because they were not searching for the light, but they were groping in the darkness. The shepherds met him, as they followed the light.

The shepherds required to come only a short way to meet Him, from the fields to the stable. But He came an infinite distance to meet them; from heaven to earth, from eternity to time, from infinite joy to suffering and death. The shepherds met in the manger the Universal healer without a doctor to attend to him, the king of kings without any sentry or attendant, the master of whole creation without a proper bed to lay his head, but the joy that prevailed in the manger was magnanimous.

Tonight as we share in the joy of Shepherds, we share in the joy of the angels, and we share in the joy of Joseph and Mary, it must move us to action. We should leave the way of darkness and follow the path of light, to meet the Saviour who has come from Heaven to Earth to meet us, and take us back to Heaven. St Athanasius wrote, "God became man so that man might become god"

Let us join the Angels and sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men of good will.”

Satish
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Anecdote 1) Christmas: God’s Presence and Word: A man narrates the story of how his father who was a telephone engineer sometimes worked away from home. At first, his father was away only a couple of days and this happened rarely, but then his absence became more frequent and also lasted longer. Eventually, his father never returned home. The telephone engineer had fallen in love with love distance and his son had to live his life in the felt absence of his father. There was no word, no contact—just silence and absence.

It is impossible to have a relationship with someone who is always absent and always silent. Usually we overcome our separation from those we love and miss by staying in contact with them—keeping in touch through phone or writing. And for us Christians, Christmas has become a traditional time for keeping alive old bonds of friendship by a word of greeting. At Christmas we celebrate the consoling truth that God did not fall in love with long distance but came among us through Jesus. –[M. K. Paul, “Inspiring Anecdotes and Stories”

"We'll all be home for Christmas.” Senator John McCain spent 5½ years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam in the1960s. During that time, he was frequently tortured or held in solitary confinement. He reports that his lowest point came on Christmas Eve 1969. McCain was giving up hope of ever getting out of Vietnam alive. To compound his homesickness, the captors played the song "I'll Be Home for Christmas" over the PA system. Just then, McCain heard tapping on his cell wall. This was the communication code the POWs used to communicate with one another. On the other side of the wall was Ernie Bruce, a Marine who had been imprisoned for four years already. In spite of his dire situation, Bruce was tapping out, "We'll all be home for Christmas. God bless America." These simple words of comfort restored John McCain's hope. ("The tapping on the wall" by Senator John McCain, Ladies' Home Journal, July 2002, pp. 107-111.) The message of Christmas is always one of hope. This world needs saving, but God began that process of salvation two thousand years ago with the birth of a babe in Bethlehem. There's something about Christmas that elevates us. Christmas is about hope of a better world to come.

Homily: 4th Sunday of Advent A

Cycle A 4th Sunday of Advent.

Is 7:10-14; Rom 1:1-7; Mt 1:1-25
 
Roger Chillingworth is a character in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, The Scarlet Letter. He is an old and lonely scholar in England dehumanized by a life of abstruse studying. He married a young wife and sent her, to the Puritan colony of Massachusetts, with instructions to live quietly until he arrived. Due to "grievous mishaps by sea and land," and over a year's captivity by Indians, his intended arrival was delayed. He finally arrived to discover his wife, Hester Prynne, holding the child of another man.


After Chillingworth arrived in Massachusetts, he slowly evolved from a man capable of love, to a man capable of, the greatest sin in the novel: Violating the sanctity of the human heart. Chillingworth imperiously bid her to name the father of her child. . He was disappointed that his hope of gaining his wife's affection upon arrival was destroyed and he hated the man who had gained that affection. He concealed his identity and introduced himself as a doctor, and was well received.

Chillingworth's quest to find out the partner of his wife’s sin changed him. At first, his expression had been calm, meditative, and scholar-like. Then, there was something ugly and evil in his face, which they had not previously noticed. Roger Chillingworth evolved from a man capable of love, into a devil who was only capable of revenge.

Today’s Gospel presents a contrast to this. Joseph was faced with a similar situation. He learned that his Wife was with a child. Being a man of honour he decided to divorce her secretly. He decided not to expose her publicly and humiliate her. So God sent His angel to the help of Joseph. The Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said:

“Joseph, son of David,
Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,
Because she has conceived by the Holy Spirit.”

We come across two categories of people. The great majority of humanity, like Hawthorne’s character, Chillingworth, put their trust in themselves; and the minority of just people, like Joseph, put their trust in the Lord.

Today’s first reading gives the story of king Ahaz, who put his trust in himself. The political situation in those days was that king Rezin of Aram and king Pekah of Israel (Ephraim) had joined together to invade Jerusalem. They threatened to invade Judah unless Ahaz joined them. Ahaz's advisers urged him to join Jerusalem against Rezin and Pekah. But Isaiah foresaw disaster in that path. Isaiah attempted to discourage Ahaz from going against Rezin and Pekah while providing him with the Lord’s encouragement in that situation. Ahaz rejected God's offer. So king Ahaz was given a warning.

“If you do not stand by me,
You do not stand at all.” (Is 7:9)

Instead of putting his trust in the Lord, he trusted his own cleverness, and appealed to the king of Assyria for help. With infinite patience God sent Isaiah to Ahaz again. To convince him that it was really Yahweh who spoke, Isaiah made an extraordinary offer; let the king mention any wonder he wanted,

“Coming either from the depths of the Sheol
or from the heights above.”

Since the king refused to accept God’s sign, he gave a sign for all mankind.

“The maiden is with child
and will soon give birth to a son
whom she will call Immanuel” (Is 7:14)

Like king Ahaz, people who put their trust in themselves, refuse to accept God’s message. On the other hand those who accept the message of God become inherent part of the process of man’s salvation. Abel accepted the message of God, and his sacrifice of the lamb demonstrated his belief that God would one day send a way to save them from sin. Enoch accepted the message of God, and he walked with God. Noah accepted the message of God and he prepared himself for the flood. Abraham accepted the message of God, and willingly left for an unknown land and trusted that God would keep his promise to make him father of a great nation. Finally Joseph and Mary unconditionally accepted the message of God, and became instruments for man’s salvation.

Trust in God’s promise is a great virtue. Prophet Jeremiah called the people who place their trust in the Lord as blessed;

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and has made the
Lord his hope and confidence." (Jeremiah 17:7)

"He who gives heed to the word will prosper,
And happy is he who trusts in the Lord,” Says the Proverbs (16:20)

Today the church reminds us that our call is to trust in God and accept the message of God; and like Joseph and Mary become instruments in the hands of God to radiate the message of God’s love for mankind. When we are willing to do it God will send us his support.

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go, I will
counsel you and watch over you.” Says the Psalmist (Psalm 32:8)

Those who put their trust in the Lord will certainly be capable of putting their trust in the fellow men too. When we are able to trust our fellow men we will not behave like Chillingworth, Hawthorne’s character. Instead of trying to expose the weakness of our friends, Like Joseph we will be able to tolerate the weakness of our fellow men in silence.

Jesus condemned the attitude of people to expose the weakness of his fellow beings. The crowd was happy when they caught a woman, the adultery. They were contended that they succeeded in exposing her weakness. With this attitude she was presented before Jesus. But Jesus could not approve of their hypocrisy. His judgment was:

"Let him who is without sin cast the first stone"

When we continue to see the mistakes of others, we demonstrate that our minds are full of discrimination, and we lack wisdom and compassion.

The Sutra of Hui-Neng: Grand Master of Zen taught:

He who treads the Path in earnest sees not the mistakes of the world;
If we find fault with others
We ourselves are also in the wrong.
When other people are in the wrong, we should ignore it,
By getting rid of the habit of fault-finding
We cut off a source of defilement.
When neither hatred not love disturbs our mind
Serenely we sleep.

Alexander pope prayed for the grace to hide the fault of others. He wrote:

“Teach me to feel another’s woe
to hide the fault I see;
that mercy I do others show,
that mercy show to me.”

When we ignore the fault of others, God will come to our aid. When Joseph decided to divorce Mary secretly, God sent His Angel for his aid. When we cast away our ego and show courage to ignore the fault of others God will be with us to guide us. Isaiah assures us:

“The Lord will guide you always, he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land. You will be like a spring whose waters never fail.”(Isaiah 58:11)

Satish

Anecdote 1) On Sunday, July 23, 2006, Indian army men rescued a 5-year old boy named Prince from a 60-feet deep tube well pit. The rescue operation, which lasted 30 hours, was watched by the whole nation with bated breath on TV. Prince defied death by staying in the pit for 50 hours. Assistant sub-inspector Amarnath of the Haryana Police finally reached the trapped boy inside the pit by descending through a parallel tunnel and pulling him out. Something similar happens in the incarnation. God descends into muck to save you and me.


Anecdote 2) Inaugurating the 2005 ‘year of the Eucharist’ Pope John Paul II exhorted Catholic encounter Emmanuel in the Eucharist whereby “in the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection, heaven and earth are united, and different peoples and cultures come together.” Today’s psalm proclaims, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof – Let the Lord enter!” (Ps 24). Emmanuel must enter for encounter. Sadly, Emmanuel is also countered. Evil often opposes Emmanuel, and, evidently, God-is-not-with-us in starving children in Haiti and Rwanda, in the suicides of farmers and the dehumanization of Dalits (former untouchables) in India and in wars among Christian rites and denominations, worldwide. –Fr. Francis Gonsalves “Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds”

Homily: 3rd Sunday of Advent - A

Cycle A 3rd Sunday of Advent

Is 35:1-6,10; Ja 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11

Sometime during the sixteenth century, in Velankanni, India, our Lady with her infant son appeared to a Hindu boy carrying milk to a customer’s home. Our Lady asked for milk for her Son and the boy gave her some. On reaching the customer’s home, the boy related the incident that occurred on his way and apologized for his being late, and the reduced amount of milk.  But, the man found the milk pot to be full and realized that something miraculous had happened.

That man wanted to see the place where the apparition occurred. When they reached the tank, Our Lady appeared once again. On learning that Our Lady appeared to the boy, the residents of the local Catholic community became ecstatic. Hearing about the miracle thousands of people visited to see the place, and the boy.

About two thousand years ago a message spread in Galilee that a man among them, Jesus of Nazareth, was performing miracles. The news became a sensation in and around Galilee. Thousands of people flocked around him, probably out of curiosity, to see him giving sight to the blind, making the deaf hear, helping the lame walk and curing the lepers. This has already been announced by Prophet Isaiah about 740 before the birth of Jesus.

“Look your God is coming.
then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
the ears of the deaf unsealed,
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy.”
 
Manny prophets of the Old Testament announced the Coming of the Messiah. Mica spoke about the birth of a king in Bethlehem, (Micah 5:2).  Isaiah announced that the Messiah would bring peace; John the Baptist announced the judgment of God.
 
When John the Baptist pointed out Jesus as the promised messiah, probably he visualized a transformation of the Physical world. People dreamt of redemption from the worldly suffering and perceived a second Exodus. Their hope was strengthened by the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah in Jesus.
 
But, greater hardships were in Store for John. He was imprisoned in the fortress palace of Machaerus. Machaerus was a fortified hilltop palace located in Jordan fifteen miles southeast of the mouth of the Jordan River. The hilltop, which stands about 1,100 meters above Dead Sea level, is surrounded on all sides by deep ravines which offer great natural strength.
 
John was leading a life of unbound freedom. He was the son of wilderness. Now he is confined to the four walls of the prison. He spent about 10 months in isolation and totally estranged from the world. Loneliness and suffering brought doubts to John. He grew impatient and sent his disciples to Jesus with the question,
 
 “Are you the one who is to come?
or have we got to wait for someone else….?
 
When doubts obsessed John, when loneliness had overtaken him, when darkness surrounded him, when hope seemed to fail, the only solution before John was to send a question to Jesus. We also experience such moments in our lives. There are moments when we have to face trials. There are moments when we are pressed down with illness. There are moments when we have to face persecution. There are moments when we are betrayed by our best friends. There are moments when we are disowned by those who have been the beneficiaries of our benevolence. There are moments when our own weakness overtakes us.  No matter what our sufferings are, no matter what trial we go through, no matter what disappointments we have, we can send our message to Jesus as John did.
 
Jesus’ answer to John was:
 
“Go back and tell John what you hear and see;
the blind see again, and the lame walk
lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear,
and the dead are raised to life
and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor.”
 
Jesus’ answer to John had a greater spiritual meaning more than that of the factual experience. The Gospels narrate a number of incidents where the blind receive sight from Jesus. Jesus cured one blind man outside the village of Bethsaida (Mk 8:22-26). Jesus cured two blind men in Galilee (Mat 9:27-31) Jesus cured the man blind since birth, near the Temple of Jerusalem (Jn 9:1-7).  Jesus cured blind Bartimaeus. But there were thousands at the time of Jesus, and millions after that, who have received their spiritual enlightenment.  The psalmist prayed: “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law (Psalm 119:18). The message of Jesus opened the eyes of the disciples and they left everything and followed Him.  When Jesus entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him. The Centurion declared at the foot of the cross that “Truly this was the Son of God.”

Today, the message of Jesus should open our eyes too, to the divine truths.  As people who had been blind to everything that was not material gain, began to see God’s love and discovered his plans for them, we should also discover God’s plans for us.

Deaf people regained hearing and dumb people spoke again. Jesus healed the deaf-mute boy (Mk 9:25-27). Jesus healed a deaf and dumb man (Mk 71:31). The message of Jesus brought about revolutionary changes during his time and during the last twenty centuries.  Zacchaeus listened to the teachings of Jesus and became a changed man. Mary Magdalene listened to the message of Jesus and expressed her grief in tears. The thief on the cross heard the forgiving words of Jesus and prayed for his mercy.  St Paul heard the voice of Jesus, and he left everything to follow Him. The voice of Jesus called St. Francis of Assisi, and he abandoned his ambition in order to follow Jesus. The words of Jesus fall on our ears, when we listen to the passages from the Bible, and when we listen to the preaching of the word of God. From our ears it should pierce into our hearts.

There is a story about St Thomas Aquinas. After he had finished Summa Theologica, being pleased with his meritorious work Jesus asked him what he desired. St Thomas replied, "Only you Lord. Only you”.  When the word of God reaches our very essence we will be able to give up everything and declare with St Thomas, I want nothing but you Lord!

These are the miracles that should happen among us today. So the church will be able to declare:

“The blind see, the lame walk
lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear,
and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor.”

Satish

Some useful Anecdotes for this homily.

1. Why are you outside? – Not involved: Henry David Thoreau was an American writer who authored the renowned essay ‘Civil Disobedience’. He championed the freedom of the individual over the law of the land. He distinguished between ‘law’ and ‘right’. He wrote: ‘What the majority passes is the ‘law’ and what the individual conscience sees is the ‘right’, and what matters most is the ‘right’ and not the ‘law’.” Once Thoreau was imprisoned for a night for his refusal to pay the poll-tax as a protest against the government’s support of slavery and its unjust war against Mexico presumably in support of slave trade intentions. When he was arrested, he hoped that some of his friends would follow his example and fill the jails, and in this way persuade the government to change its stance on the issue of slavery. In this he was disappointed. Not only did his friends not join him, one friend paid the tax on his behalf and got him released the very next day. When he was in the prison, Emerson, another American writer, came to visit him. He said to Thoreau: “Thoreau, Thoreau, why are you inside (jail)?” And Thoreau replied, “Emerson, Emerson, why are you outside?” Thoreau was a great lover of truth. He suffered because he spoke and stood for truth. Emerson said in his obituary of Thoreau, “He was a great speaker and actor of truth.” -John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’

2. Strengthen Weary Hands: Little Miriam and her daddy were crossing a narrow bridge over a river. Fearing for his child, Miriam’s daddy said to her, “Sweethear, please hold nmyhand so that you don’t fall into the river.” Miriam said, “No, daddy! You hold my hand.” Puzzled, her father asked: “What’s the difference?” “There’s a big difference.” Replied Miriam. “If I hold your hand and something happens to me, I may let go of your hand. But if you hold my hand, I’m sure that no matter what happens, you’ll never let go of my hand.” Like Miriam, the Israelites rested safe and secure in God’s Hnds. God’s hand –and their helping hands—signified hope.

3. The Hand of God: Former Director of School Education of Tamil Nadu, India, and ambassador of UNESCO, H. S. S. Lawrence’s autobiography is entitled ‘The Hand of God: My Life and Time’. Lawrence, a committed Christian, was instrumental in introducing the 10+2+3 system of education in Tamil Nadu and pushed for primary education in North-East India too. In the preface Lawrence writes: “I wish to present my life as a record of faith and surrender in our Lore Jesus.” What a wonderful way of ‘strengthening weary hands’ by illumining uneducated minds!

4. Unfinished play: Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American writer. When he died in 1864, he had on his desk the outline of a play he never got a chance to finish. The play centered around a person who never appeared on stage. Everyone talked about him. Everyone dreamed about him. Everyone awaited his arrival. But he never came. All kinds of minor characters described him. They told everybody what he would be like. They told everybody what he would do. But the main character never appeared. The Old Testament is something like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s play. It too ended without the main character putting in an appearance. Everyone talked about the Messiah. Everyone dreamed about him. Everyone awaited his arrival. But he never came. All kinds of prophets, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, told the people what he would be like. They told the people what he would do, But the Messiah never appeared. -Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’

5. Disillusioned or determined: In her book Return to Love, Marianne Williamson points out that a friend said to her, “Marianne, I’m so depressed by world hunger!” Marianne replied: “Do you give five dollars a week to one of the organizations that feed the hungry?” She goes on to say she asks this question because she has noticed how people who participate in solving problems don’t seem to be as depressed as those standing on the sidelines doing nothing. Application: Have we recently gone out of our way to help someone? -Gerard Fuller in ‘Stories for all Seasons’

Homily: 2nd Advent A

Cycle A 2nd Sunday of Advent.

Is 11:1-10; Rom 15:4-9; Mt 3:1-12

Alexander is one of the most fascinating personalities in human history. Although he was the son of a king and inherited an empire that included most of the Greek city-states, he set out to conquer an empire for himself. From 335 B.C. to 324 B.C., in 11 years, Alexander and his army battled their way across 22,000 miles; and founded some 70 cities in the lands he conquered and ordered them to be named after him.

He was one of the most successful military commanders in history, and was undefeated in battle. By the time of his death, he had conquered most of the world known to the ancient Greeks. He had conquered the Persian Empire, Anatolia, Syria, Phoenicia, Judea, Gaza, Egypt, Bactria and Mesopotamia and extended the boundaries of his own empire as far as the borders of Punjab.

But, the Macedonian empire didn't live much longer than Alexander. After his death his kingdom was promptly carved up into three pieces by his generals. The Macedonian people have never seen much peace or freedom. They've been under the feet of ambitious conquerors from the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Turkish Empire; and more recently, the country was affected by the world wars.

Establishing a vast empire with its frontiers extending up to the oceans had been the great desire of many emperors. They never lasted beyond a few years after the death of the founder, because they were founded by shedding blood, annihilating the opponents and by employing unfair means. Prophet Isaiah announced the establishment of an empire that is just contrary to what the world had ever experienced.

“A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse,
A scion thrust from its roots:
On him the Spirit of the Lord rests,
A spirit of wisdom and insight,
A spirit of counsel and power,
A spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord."

Prophet Isaiah made this announcement to a nation that was torn by continuous wars; to a nation from where almost all the people were carried off as slaves; to a nation that was plundered and laid waste.

He promised that this saviour will establish a kingdom founded on peace and harmony. The long lost harmony would be restored by him. In his kingdom,

“The wolf lives with the lamb
The panther lies down with the kid,
Calf and lion-cub feed together
With a little boy to lead them.
The lion eats straw like the ox.
The infant plays over the cobra’s hole
Into the viper’s lair
The young child puts his hand.

He will be able to re-establish harmony between God and man; harmony between man and man; and harmony between man and nature. This extraordinary harmony will be founded on wisdom and the fear of the Lord. Once men come to know God, sin, the cause of disunion, will disappear and peace will set in.

The Gospel of today shows John the Baptist inviting the Jews to “Repent, for the kingdom of God is close at hand.” The emergence of John was like the sudden sounding of the voice of God. He fearlessly denounced evil wherever he found it. John Rebuked Herod; He criticized the Pharisees; He condemned the ways of the Sadducees, and he challenged the religious leaders. He was well aware that his message would offend the leaders; his warnings would hurt the public; and his denunciation would displease the authorities; but he had the courage to condemn evil. He condemned evil and called the people to repent.

Today we are entrusted with the same mission. We have to carry out the prophetic warning and denunciation of evil. As prophets we cannot close our eyes against, corruption, against injustice, against exploitation and against the evils in the society. When we tell the truth it may hurt others. “The truth is like the light to sore yes,” said Diogenes. But for fear of offending others if we keep silence, it is ignoring our social obligations. When Diogenes criticized the society he was rejected; when Socrates raised his voice against the authorities he was silenced by death sentence; when John the Baptist rebuked Herod, he was beheaded; when Gandhiji questioned the British in South Africa he was imprisoned. But their prophetic voice bore fruit. As Diogenes puts it, “He who never offended anyone never did anyone any good.”

Repentance was the very centre of the Jewish Faith. All the prophets called people to repent. But John’s call to repent was combined with a promise... The coming of the Messiah and the establishment of a kingdom of peace and harmony.

In the season of Advent the message of the church, too, is “Repent, and turn away from evil.”

[(Joke) The children were lined up in the cafeteria of a Catholic elementary school for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. The nun made a note, and posted on the apple tray:

"Take only ONE. God is watching."

Moving further along the lunch line, at the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. A child posted a note, "Take all you want. God is watching the apples. ]

The essence of repentance lay in a thorough change of mind that will bring about a change of life and a change of conduct. Then like John we will become the heralds of a Kingdom that will be established on love and understanding; and will wipe away hatred, disunity and selfishness.

Often we are pushed into passivism and take refuge in the attitude that our actions are insignificant and we cannot effect any positive change.

Once a little girl was on the beach one day after the tide had rolled out. Hundreds of starfish washed up on the shore. The little girl picked them up one by one and threw them back in the sea. “You can’t make a difference, for there are thousands on the beach,” said an onlooker. She looked at him as she threw another one in the sea and said: “It made a difference to that one.”

Even the smallest effort is not lost; each wavelet on the ocean lost, aids in the ebb-tide or the flow; each raindrop makes some flowers grow; each struggle lessens human woe. Each action of ours can make a difference. God never intended for an individual to solve all of life’s problems. But he did intend for each one of us to use whatever resources and gifts He gave us to make a difference where we are. Then unlike the world empires, the kingdom that prophets dreamed, the kingdom that John announced, the kingdom that Jesus came to establish, the kingdom to which we are invited will last for ever, and we can sing with the Psalmist:

“In his days justice shall flourish
and peace till the moon fails.”

Satish

Anecdotes for the Homily.

1) Renounce Everything for the Love of the Supreme: A ticket collector in a train found an old worn out wallet in a compartment full of people. He looked inside to find the name of its owner. There was no clue. All that there was in it was some money and a picture of Jesus. He held it up and asked: “To whom does this wallet belong to?” An old man said: “That’s my wallet, sir, please give it to me.” The ticket collector said: “ You’ll have to prove that it is yours. Only then can I hand it over to you.” The old man, with a smile said: “It has a picture of Jesus in it.” The ticket collector said: “That is no proof; anyone can have a picture of Jesus in his or her wallet. What is special about that? Why is your picture not there like most normal people?”

The old man took a deep breath and said: “Let me tell you why my picture is not there in it. My father gave this wallet to me when I was in school. I used to get a small sum as pocket money then. I had kept a picture of my parents in it. When I was a teenager I was greatly enamoured by my looks. I removed my parents’ picture and put in one of my own. I loved to see my own face and my thick black hair. Some years later, I got married. My wife was very beautiful and I loved her a lot. I replaced my picture in this wallet with a picture of her. I spent hours gazing at her pretty face. When my first child was born, my life started a new chapter. I shortened my working hours to play with my baby. I went late to work and returned home early too. Obviously, my baby’s picture occupied the prized position in my wallet.”

The old man’s eyes brimmed with tears as he went on. “My parents passed away many years ago. Last year my wife too left her mortal coil. My son, my only son, is too busy with his family. He has no time to look after me. All that I had ever held close to my heart is now far, far away from my reach. Now I have put this picture of Jesus in my wallet. It is only now I have realized that He is the eternal companion. He will never leave me. Alas! If only I had realized this before, if only I had loved the Lord all these years, with the same intensity as I loved the Lord all these years, with the same intensity as I loved my family, I would not have been so lonely today!”

The ticket collector quietly gave the wallet to the old man. When the train stopped at the next station, he went to a book stall at the platform and asked the salesman: “Do you have any picture of God? I need a small one to put in my wallet!” –M K Paul “Inspiring Anecdotes and Stories”

Homily: 1st Advent Sunday A

Cycle A 1st Sunday of Advent

Is 2:1-5; Rom 13:11-14; Mt 24:37-44

On a mountain of Northern Vietnam, there is a rock that appears like the image of woman bearing a child in her arms looking toward the horizon like waiting for someone. This image is especially striking at sunset and sunrise, bringing about indescribable emotions to all who have ever looked up to that mountain and admired the waiting woman.

This rock became a source of inspiration for several legends in Vietnam about women waiting for husbands.

A Long time ago, in a small village, there was a young couple who had been living happily together. The young wife had just given birth to a child when a large army invaded their land. The King then called for all young men to join the military to fight the invaders. The young husband, complied with the order of the King, went to the frontier. The young wife waited for her husband to return. Months and years passed but her husband never came back. She decided to climb up to the top of a mountain to watch for her husband. There she stood, the small child in her arms, looking toward the frontier, expecting her husband to return. She stood there days after days and nights after nights. Rivers and mountains near and far heard of her story and pitied her. They wanted to counsel her to return home so they went in flock to visit her, forming a long mountain range that now runs throughout Vietnam (the Trường Sơn mountain range). As years passed by time set her body into stone. But her soul lived on and there she stood waiting forever.

History of salvation is a story of promises and the long and continuous waiting for the fulfilment of the promises.

When Adam and Eve defected the Paradise God promised a mediator. He promise to save Noah and his family from the flood (Gen 6:18). He promised to Abraham that He would make Abram into a great nation. (Gen 12:2). He promised to Israelites that He would deliver them from the bondage in Egypt. He promised the wandering Israelites a land flowing with milk and honey. Once they were settled, He promised them a King, and a temple to worship Him. He promised to David that his kingdom would be established for ever. The promises continued through the prophets. He promised through the prophet Jeremiah a New Covenant. (Jer 31:31-34), and the great promise of a saviour came from Prophet Isaiah. “This young woman will give birth to a son. She will name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14).

The year of the liturgical calendar starts with the season of Advent. The season of Advent is a season of expectant waiting. The Latin word “adventus” means “coming”. So in the season of Advent we are waiting for the coming of some one. The coming of the saviour.

All the three readings of today describe the manner how our waiting should be! The waiting of a Christian is not a passive waiting devoid of any creative activity. It is not a waiting in laziness. But this waiting is an invitation to walk in the ways of the Lord – the way of justice, the way of charity, the way of forgiveness, the way of simplicity and the way of altruism.

In the first reading we hear the invitation of Prophet Isaiah:

“Come let us go to the mountain of the Lord,
To the temple of the God of Jacob
That he may teach us his ways
So that we may walk in his paths.
O House of Jacob, come,
Let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

So, Advent is a time of invitation to walk in the light.

For St. Paul night time is the symbol of nefarious activities, and day time stands for the time when we do good. St Paul wrote to the Christians of Rome:

“Let us live decently as people do in the daytime;
No drunken orgies,
No promiscuity or licentiousness
And no wrangling or jealousy.”

Secondly, Advent is a time of invitation to be engaged in action. In the mind of Paul the whole life of a Christian is waiting to meet Jesus. It is not a call to be passive and do nothing. But it is a call to be actively engaged in the daily affairs of life. To be instruments in the hands of God. God worked among His people through the medium of chosen people. Moses was chosen to be an instrument to lead the Israelites from the bondage in Egypt to freedom. Ehud was sent to protect them from the Moabites(Judges 315).Samson was an instrument at the hands of God to deliver His people from the oppression of the Philistines. Nehemiah was sent to rebuild the temple. Today we are the instruments at the hands of God. So, Advent is an invitation to constantly strive to achieve our goal. As Robert William Service puts it, “Striving is strength: with all that's in me I will not falter in the fray.”

Do not allow passivity to creeps into our lives and falter in the fray. .An idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” says the proverb.

John F. Kennedy is said to be very fond of a particular story. During his 1960 presidential campaign he often used it to close his speeches. It is the story of Colonel Davenport, Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives back in 1789. One day, while the House was in session, the sky of Hartford suddenly grew dark and gloomy. Some of the representatives looked out and thought that was a sign that the end of the world had come. Uproar ensued with the representatives calling for immediate adjournment. But Davenport rose and said, “Gentlemen, the Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. Therefore, I wish that candles be brought.” Candles were brought and the session continued.

Thirdly, Advent is an invitation to be vigilant. In today’s Gospel passage Jesus insists on watchfulness.

“Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

The Lord’s coming will be a surprise for many, as the “thief in the night.” But for those who heed the warnings of Scripture, the “Day” will not overtake them as a thief, because they will be ready for His coming, though we don’t know when it will be.

In the season of Advent the Church wants us to go through life, watchful, active and joyful.

Satish

**************

Anecdote 1) Change and Renewal are Laws of Life: When winter comes, the trees must sigh in sadness upon seeing their leaves failing. They say, “We will never be the same as before.” Of course, or else what is the sense in renewing themselves? The next leaves will have their own personality, they belong to a new summer that approaches and which will never be the same as the one that has passed.

Living is changing—and the seasons repeat this lesson for us each and every year. Changing means passing through a period of depression, we still do not know the new, and we have to forget all that we were used to. But if we have a little patience, spring finally comes and then we forget the winter of our despair. Change and renewal are laws of life. Better to get used to them instead of suffering from things that only exist to bring us happiness. –Fr M. K.Paul

Anecdote 2) Conscious Preparation: Once upon a time there were two eighth grade girls, Lois and Ella Mae, who were both sensational volley ball players. Lois was the captain of the team and the best player on the team. Ella Mae was co-captain and the second best player on the team. They were also “best friends” and were together all the time even when they weren’t playing volleyball. Ella Mae didn’t mind being second best and Lois didn’t think being best was all that big a deal. There was one difference between them, however, and I bet you know what it is. I wouldn’t want to say that Lois was lazy exactly, but she was just a big deficient in the work ethic area, know what I mean? Ella Mae on the other hand was almost compulsively committed to practice. Hardest working player in the whole school, including the boy athletes. Lois used to tell herself – and everyone else who would listen to her – that Ella Mae had to work hard because she didn’t quite have all the talent at a co-captain ought to have.

Well, the team won their section and their division, and their region. They were really good, Lois was the best spiker in the city and Ella Mae never gave up on what looked like a lost point. Finally they came to the city championship against their traditional rivals, St. Adelbert. Ella Mae wanted to practice every day the week before. Lois said two days was enough. After all, there was more to being in eighth grade than volleyball. You know what happened? Sure you do. They lost to St A by one point because they were just a little bit out of condition. Don’t cry, Ellie, Lois said to her friend in the local ice cream store where they were eating pink pistachio peppermint ice cream. We’ll have lots of championship games in high school. BUT, Ella Mae sobbed, we’ll never have an eighth grade championship game again.

Anecdote 3) Cry the Beloved Country: Alan Paton was a South African writer. Among the books he wrote was the haunting story, Cry the Beloved Country, which poignantly described the situation in South Africa under apartheid. Paton had a dream. He dreamt of a new day for his beloved South Africa, a day in which there would be justice and equality for all. For this reason he entered into politics, and fought to end the iniquitous system of apartheid. For decades he followed his dream, and worked generously and courageously to make it a reality. It was a dream that many said would not be realized. Yet it was. Unfortunately, Paton did not live to see it. He died before the dawn. The prophet Isaiah had an even bolder dream, a dream of universal brotherhood and peace. Isaiah’s vision was a splendid one. It would only be realized by the coming of the Lord Jesus. (Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’)