Homily: CycleC04

Cycle C 4th Sunday in ordinary time

(Jer 1:4-5,17-19; I Cor 12:31-13:13; Luke 4:21-30)

Have courage to change the things that we can, and to accept the things we cannot change

On a fine morning with the rising of the sun the streets of Jerusalem were filled with the echo of a determined footstep. They saw a man walk straight into the presence of the King of Judah. He stopped before the throne and proclaimed boldly, O King of Judah, who sits on the Throne of David, Do justice; Do not do wrong to the alien Do not shed innocent blood.”

The listeners were taken aback by this proclamation. It came from a man whom they knew, the son of Hilkijah; a timid fellow who protested that he was a mere youth. He never dared before to speak in the public. Where did he get this vigour, strength and courage to walk into the palace of the king and warn him? This intruder was Prophet Jeremiah, sent by God to announce his message. He was empowered by God, and God’s power worked in him. His divine appointment wiped away his fear and equipped him with strength to carry out his mission.

The Lord told him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you came to birth I consecrated you;
I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.”

Prophet Jeremiah’s divine calling to announce the message of God is the theme of today’s first reading. Like Jeremiah, St Paul too was set apart. He wrote to the Galatians: “God chose me from my mother’s womb to preach the Good News” (Gal 1:4, Acts 9:15). And Jesus’ mission was revealed at the moment of his baptism.
“This is my beloved son, whom I have chosen.” All these passages show that from eternity there has been an election on God’s part. And each servant of God receives a definite call.

Prophet Jeremiah preached contrasting message. It was the tragic element of his life to constantly prophesy judgment, destruction and captivity. So he was contradicted by everyone: by his own family, by the religious leaders, by the king and the common people; he was accused of treason and put in jail. Such severe ill treatment forced him to say, I will not speak anymore in His name, but his faithfulness to God made him go ahead with his task.

Today’s Gospel presents us with another example of not wanting to hear the truth. We see that Jesus was well received at His inaugural address in His home town Nazareth. They marveled at the words that came from his lips. But when Jesus reminded them of two historical events in Jewish history about Prophet Elijah and Elisha they suddenly changed. During the long years of famine and drought Prophet Elijah was sent to a non Jewish widow, in a Sidonian town. Though there were several lepers in Israel, Prophet Elisha cured Naaman, a Syrian.

This was all terribly painful for the Jews of the time of Jesus because they believed that they were God’s chosen and that God’s love and favour were manifest only in and among Jews. Jesus’ words at Nazareth offended the Jews, because he was reminding them that their belief about God’s exclusive favour was baseless. They grew furious. They rejected Him violently, they attempted to throw Him over a cliff.

The people of Nazareth rejected Jesus because He had challenged their belief. History testifies that whoever has questioned what they commonly believed as truth was never accepted. Socrates, the great Greek philosopher tried to teach the people to think independently and find truth for themselves. It was unacceptable to the authorities and he was condemned to death. About 2000 years later Copernicus, A polish Astronomer made a great discovery that would challenge the belief of centuries. It was believed that the earth was the centre of the solar system and the sun and the planets revolved around the earth. But when he discovered that the Sun is at the centre and the earth and planets circle around the sun, nobody was ready to accept that. One hundred years after him, Galileo showed this fact to the people with the help of his telescope but he was arrested and silenced, because he upset their way of thinking and belief. They didn’t want to accept the truth.

Dear friends, our calling coincides with that of Jeremiah, with that of St Paul and above all with that of Jesus.

Revelation of truth will take place through natural events, through our fellow beings or through personal experiences. But we should have openness to accept them.

Francis Bourgia was a high ranking Official at the court of Emperor Charles V. He was very much impressed with the beauty of Empress Isabella of Portugal. At her death he convoyed the corpse to her burial place in Granada. When he saw the effect of death on the beautiful empress he was shocked. He realized the futility of serving mortal masters. This lead him renounce all worldly titles and enter the Society of Jesus. St Francis Bourgia spent the rest of his life at the service of the Lord.

When our beliefs are challenged; when we are confronted with truth that requires us to change, to change our attitudes towards people, to change the way we live, to change our approach to people and to change our attitude to work we should have the courage to do so.

Let us pray with Reinhold Niebuhr
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things that I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference

Homily: CycleC03

Cycle C 3rd Sunday in the ordinary time
(Neh 8:2-6,8-10; I Cor 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4,2:14-21)

“The stranger” is a famous novel of a French Novelist Albert Camus. Meursault, a young man commits a murder. The dramatic prosecutor theatrically denounces Meursault to the point that he claims Mersault must be a soulless monster, incapable of remorse and that he thus deserves only to die for his crime. Although Meursault's attorney defends him and later tells Mersault that he expects the sentence to be light, Meursault is alarmed when the judge informs him of the final decision: that he will be decapitated publicly. Now the young man stands at a cross road. He has only two ways open in front of him. One accept the message of peace, repent and get exonerated. The other is to perish in his obstinacy.

Dear friends, God’s laws instruct us, educate us and lead us forward. Finally we are placed in a situation where only two roads are open before us. There we have to make an ultimate choice. To follow God’s precepts and attain freedom or to discard them and end up in doom.

The first reading presents before us a beautiful scene. Ezra the priest read the law of the Lord to the people. Upon listening the law they were compelled to make a decision to follow the precepts of the lord. The passage from Ezra proclaims loud the importance of reading the word of God. He read the law of the Lord to a generation which was born in captivity, and was not aware of the traditions, customs and religious practices of the Jews.

The passage reminds us of the importance of reading the word of God especially at home. Read the word of God to your children and grand children, let them be imbibed in the deep spiritual treasure that the religion gives them.

The word of God demands an immediate response.

When the word of God reached King David, he became aware of him sin and repented. When the prophets announced the word of God to the people, they became aware of their sinfulness and repented. When the Israelites listened to the reading of Ezra, they wept and expressed their repentance.

The word of God gives great hope.

In today’s Gospel we see that when Jesus finished reading “all the eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him.” The words of Isaiah gave a great hope of the promised messiah. The words of Amos proclaimed Social Justice. The words of Mica proclaimed liberation for the captives. The words of the apostles were listened to with great hope. Whenever Jesus spoke there was great expectancy in the people.

The word of God is Shocking.

It challenges the attitudes and values. When Jesus announced “this text is fulfilled today even as you listen” it shocked the Jews. When Jesus taught them to follow a new law in the place of “eye for an eye”, i.e., show the right cheek to the one who strikes on the left it shocked his hearers. When Jesus announced that the poor, the down trodden and sinners will be accepted into the Kingdom of God it shocked His listeners.

The word of God demands humility from us.

As Christians, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, we are commanded to clothe ourselves with humility. [Col. 3:12] Whoever becomes humbles like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven . [Mt. 18:4] He who humbles himself before the Lord, the Lord shall exalt him. [Jas. 4:10] For God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. [1 Pet. 5:5-6]

The word of God demands unity.

Today's Second Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians revealed to us how important it is for the members of the Body of Christ to be united. Each of us has been called to serve the Lord Jesus. While I serve as a priest, you may serve in the choir as a musician or as a singer. Some are called to be Deacons, others as Extra-Ordinary Eucharistic Ministers. Still others may serve as Altar Servers, as Gift Bearers, as Lectors, as Ministers of Hospitality, as Secretary, as Knights of Columbus, etc... And let us not forget those who have the spiritual gifts of healing, speaking in tongues, of interpretation, of leadership, etc... With each calling comes spiritual gifts to equip each and everyone of us for the benefit of the Body.

Cycle C Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

(Isaiah 62:1-5; I Cor 12:4-11; John 2:1-12)
God Chooses Insignificant Things for His Great Works.
Changing of water into wine is the first miracle that Jesus performed at a wedding in Cana when they ran out of wine Jesus turned water into wine.
As with all of the miracles and parables of Jesus, this story is rich in revelation and symbolism. Jesus used two insignificant things to perform a great miracle. The City, Cana and six stone jars.
Jesus chose a small city that was very insignificant for the Jews, to be the venue for His first miracle. Cana was about 14 kilometres away from Nazareth. Though human settlement took place in Cana at about 2200 BC, the city was destroyed completely in 732 BC. Again the city was repopulated in the Hellenistic periods. But the Jews did not attach any importance to this city.
There were six stone jars, meant for the ablutions that are customary among the Jews; each could hold twenty or thirty gallons. Stone jars were not used to store wine. Wine was stored in wine skins. Stone jars were used for keeping water for washing their hands and for other purification purposes. But Jesus asked the servants to fill these jars.
God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important (Cor 1:2).
God’s choice is always different from that of men. A little peasant girl from France was chosen to liberate France. This teenager led the army in battle, while veteran warriors rallied behind her. She led the army to victory. That insignificant, but chosen instrument of God was Joan of Arc. God worked wonders through her, and revealed His glory.
Throughout the Bible we see that God has used the insignificant for many great things. When God delivered the Israelites from Medinites’ oppression He used an army of three hundred men to defeat a vastly larger army. David, a shepherd boy was chosen to defeat Goliath and free Israel from their attacks. Prophet Amos, a peasant from the Northern Kingdom, came with powerful predictions of misery, as they broke the moral code. God chose ordinary men as his messengers. Jesus chose His disciples from among the ordinary men. He compared the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. So God uses the insignificant to achieve great works.
Jesus said to the servants:
“Fill in jars with water”, and they filled them to the brim.
The jars were filled to the brim and there was no space left.
Whatever God chooses must be surrendered totally and unconditionally.
Rabindranath Tagore describes the reward for total surrender in Gitanjali. The beggar went from door to door in the village path. Then he saw the golden chariot of the king in distance. His hopes rose high and he thought his evil days were at an end, and he stood waiting for alms. The chariot stopped where he stood. The king came with down from the chariot with a smile. The beggar felt that the luck of his life had come at last. Then suddenly the king held out his right hand and asked, ‘What hast thou to give me?”. The beggar was confused and then from his wallet he slowly took out the least little grain of corn and gave it to him. At day’s end he emptied the bag on the floor he found a little grain of gold among the heap. He regretted that he had not given the whole thing to the King.
Dear friends whatever is submitted to God is turned into something precious. The insignificant city, Cana, the stone jars, the insignificant people at Cana all became significant with the presence of Jesus. “The only condition is to fill them to the brim”- total and unconditional submission without any reservation.
Today’s first reading from the Book of Isaiah too conveys the same message. Isaiah speaks about the chosen city,
“You are to be a crown of splendour
In the hand of the Lord
A princely diadem in the hand of your God.”
God bestows the gift of Spirit on the chosen ones and set them above the world. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians that The Spirit works in different ways in different people, and distributes different gifts to different people just as he chooses.
The only response demanded of us is an unconditional acceptance of the responsibilities entrusted to us. Then our lives will be transformed into little grains of gold.
"In accepting what God wills for us do we find our peace?" Dante
"Look! The power of God and the life of his Son are manifested in your weakness. Look! The life of Jesus is flowing through you into the lives of other people." -
John Piper

Sunday Homily: Baptism of Our Lord

THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD – First Sunday in Ordinary Time.

(Sunday after Epiphany)

Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22)

During the Second World War there was a man who went about doing good to the people. He provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in his friary in Niepokalanów. .

On 17 February 1941 he was arrested by the German Gestapo and imprisoned. After a few months the deputy camp commander decided to pick 10 men to be starved to death. One of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, lamenting his family, and a man volunteered to take his place.

During the time in the cell he led the men in songs and prayer. This is the story of Maximilian Kolbe, who went about doing good to the humanity.

The mission that Jesus accepted at his Baptism and entrusts to everyone at baptism is to do good to humanity.

In today’s Gospel we read the account of Jesus’ baptism.

St. Luke emphasizes three points:

First point is, “After baptism Jesus was in prayer.”

Prayer is communion with God. Through the symbol of baptism Jesus has re-established man’s relation with God. In Paradise, when sin entered into the life of man he became estranged from God. Man dreaded the presence of God. In Genesis (3:8–10) we read: “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, 'Where are you?'

He answered, 'I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

Again in Exodus (20:18–20) we see that man trembles at the presence of God. “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear.”

Whenever man was in the state of sin he was frightened to approach God. In Baptism Jesus re-establishes man’s communion with God.

The second point is, “Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove.”

In the religions of early man, doves were revered as the sacred companions of the gods. The first archaeological evidence depicting doves as a spiritual animal dates back to 5000 BC, with the Sumerians. In Assyria the dove was a royal bird. The ancients considered the dove as a bird of the gods. A dove, therefore, used to be often pictured above the heads of the gods. For the Syrians and Phoenicians the dove was a divine messenger. Several ancients believed that the human soul was in the form of a dove. Many tombs in countries like Greece, therefore, had the dove engraved on them.

A white dove is generally a sign of peace in Judaism too. In Genesis (1:2) the life giving Spirit is compared to the bird hovering over the water. It was a dove that brought the message of peace to Noah’s ark after the floods (Gen. 8:8). Deuteronomy (32:11) compares Yahweh, who stirs the people of God for the new exodus, to a bird. The dove was referenced to several times in the books of Psalms and Songs of Solomon, and is depicted as graceful, pure and lovely.

The dove is an apt symbol to indicate many of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23.) Virtues like innocence, love, meekness, peace, purity and simplicity are symbolised by the dove. These virtues are the treasure of every Christian baptised in the Spirit. Through baptism the Holy Spirit sets his permanent seal on us (Eph 1: 13; 4:30; 2 Cor 1:22). The baptism by water indicates the birth in the Spirit (Jn 3:5).

The Third point is God’s declaration:
“You are my son, the beloved
My favours rest on you.”

The Jews had not the slightest doubt that in God’s economy there was a favoured nation clause. They strongly believed that a son of Abraham was exempt from judgment. But, John the Baptist gave them a shock by his preaching that racial privilege meant nothing, that life not lineage was God’s standard of judgment. St Peter in today’s first reading reiterates the preaching of John that God does not have any favourites, but that anybody of any nationality, who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to Him.

Through baptism we have become his chosen ones. As God declared at the baptism of Jesus, “You are my Chosen one”, today these words are repeated at the baptismal pond whenever a child is baptized. When our baptismal vow is renewed God declares, ‘You are my chosen one”.

St Peter asserts that as the chosen one Jesus went about doing good, because God was with him. Now it is our privilege to do good to the people.

Swami Vivekananda gives the key to blessedness: “We may all be perfectly sure that it will go on beautifully well without us, and we need not bother our heads wishing to help it. Yet, we must do good; the desire to do good is the highest motive power we have, if we know all the time that it is a privilege to help others.

Sir Philip Sydney was lying wounded in the battlefield, and felt severe thirst on account of much loss of blood. He asked for a cup of water to quench his thirst. But finding another soldier in a similar distressing predicament by his side, Sir Philip offered the cup to the soldier instead of taking the water himself, saying: “Thy need is greater than mine.”

Dear friends, we get a lot of opportunities in our daily life to do good to others: just postpone one of our needs, sacrifice one of our conveniences, forego a meal, give up an entertainment for the sake of our brothers. And we will be counted among the chosen ones of God.


Sunday Homily: Feast of Epiphany

Feast of Epiphany

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

Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Greek word epiphany means “Manifestation” (or appearance).

God has manifested to mankind in various ways.

Bible gives many accounts of God’s manifestation. Moses was tending his flock in mount Horeb (Ex 3:1-7). Then he saw a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. The bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And God called him out the bush, and said: “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” God manifested to Abraham in the form of fire on mount Horeb

Again we find God manifesting to the people of Israel in thunder and lightning. Israelites gathered together at the foot of Mount Sinai. There appeared thunder and lightning, and God appeared in the clouds and descended on Mount Sinai in fire, and God spoke “I am the Lord your God” (Ex 19).

We have a number of Biblical accounts of manifestation of God to mankind.

Finally God has made himself known to us most dearly in Jesus Christ. St Paul in his letter to Hebrews writes that Christ is “the perfect picture of God (Heb 1:3)

Man reacted differently to the manifestation of God. When Moses witnessed the presence of God in flames, he was taken up with wonder. He wanted to go closer to understand the secret of the mysterious flames. When God appeared to the Israelites in thunder and lightning they were overcome by fear and they fell on their face.

When God revealed himself in Jesus, the shepherds flocked together to the manger to have a look at the new born babe. The wise men saw the sign of God’s messiah in the sky and followed it to the manger with their gifts.

Today’s first reading gives an account of the prophecy of Isaiah.

“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 wealth of the nations comes to you

Everyone in Sheba will come

Bringing gold and incense.

In today’s second reading we listen to St Paul that the mystery that was unknown to any man in the past generation has been revealed now. Jesus is God’s mystery and that has been revealed to everyone now. St Paul found the mystery and he walked to the sword to bear witness to the mystery. St Peter had a profound experience of the mystery and he willingly embraced the cross and accepted martyrdom to bear witness to Jesus. St Thomas went to the East bearing the mystery in his heart to be martyred there. So did all the Apostles, Saints and Martyrs.

Science has empowered man to cross the gravitational field of the earth and leap into the space. Human beings roamed in the space, they circled around the planets, and they walked on the surface of the moon. Great achievement of human intellect and industry. Even there one of them declared "I looked and looked and looked but I didn't see God."

To search for God it is not necessary to cross the boundaries of the earth. God manifests himself in his creation. The rhythmic movement of the numerous galaxies, countless solar systems, planets and satellites manifest God’s wisdom and love. Newton wrote, “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. He is eternal and infinite, omnipotent and omniscient; that is his duration reaches from eternity to eternity; his presence from infinity to infinity; he governs all things, and knows all things that are or can be done. We know him only by his most wise and excellent contrivances of things.”

Secondly God manifests himself to us in other people, in our parents, who gave us life; in our brothers and sisters, who love us; and in our friends, who stand by us in our struggles.

Then, God makes himself known to us in every event of our life. Oscar Hijuelos’ Mr. Ives’ Christmas is a wonderful novel. Edward Ives had an aptitude for drawing, he grew up and met his future wife in Art classes, he became a commercial artist. His wife gives birth to a son and a daughter. One afternoon, as he is walking on Madison and Forty-First Street in Manhattan, he has a full-blown mystical vision---the sidewalks under him lift, the buildings waver, the skyscrapers bow to him, he feels euphoric, the world’s goodness spins around him.

Mr. Ives is a devoutly religious man. But he doesn’t tell anyone else about his vision.

The next Christmas his son is senselessly murdered on a street corner. At some point the question becomes whether he can or should forgive the man who killed his son. If only he had a sign.

The world is filled with signs of God’s presence. But in our spiritual blindness, our hardness of heart, our deafness to the Voice we fail to recognize them.

Once we discover God for us, we have to transform ourselves into another star in the vast expanse of the universe. Our life, our acts of kindness, our sympathy and our selflessness will fall on others as powerful rays that radiate the warmth of our experience of God.

Like the star of Bethlehem that led the shepherds and the wise men to the manger, we will shine as guiding stars in our homes and wherever we go.

Satish Email: admin@oois-dxb.sch.ae