Water… Walking or Sinking
by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.
in Ordinary Time
the office door of the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung (1875-1961), hung a stone plaque inscribed with the words: Called
or Not, God is Present. Jung’s sign encapsulated in a few words what the joint testaments of Judaism and Christianity
have put forth in hundreds of thousands of words for centuries, namely, that the transcendent almighty God chooses to be with
humankind, to commune with us, to love and move among us, to be near, to abide, to be present whether called or not, in peace,
as well as in panic.
is so much part of our lives like our own body that we tend to take His presence for granted, as we do with our body. When
we are wrapped in our joy or pain, we miss God’s presence so easily. Today’s Readings from
I Kings as well as the Gospel of Matthew invite us to reflect on how easily and how often we miss SEEING God.
Elijah, the prophet, had challenged the prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mount
Carmel, proved them wrong and exterminated them. Hence, Elijah had incurred the wrath of Jezebel, the queen and ran
away from the country. The first part of chapter 19 of I Kings gives us a picture of Elijah who preferred to die rather than
live in fear. God invited him to his mountain, Horeb. Our reading today is a sequel to this episode, where God invites Elijah
to come out of the cave to meet Him. (1 Kings 19:11-13)
When Elijah saw the powerful wind, earthquake and fire he would have felt happy and secure
that his God had come with might to fight his cause against the queen. His expectation proved wrong. God came in a gentle
whisper. To belie our expectation is the beauty of God – the God of surprises.
The same lesson is reiterated in today’s Gospel as well. The miracle of Jesus walking
on the water is given in three gospels – Matthew, Mark and John. The opening lines of today’s gospel are quite
Matthew 14: 22-23
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into
the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on
a mountainside by himself to pray.
This is a sequel to the miracle in which Jesus fed more than 5000 people. Soon after that
miracle, Jesus was very keen on dismissing the crowd and forcing his disciples to leave the place. Why this hurry? John’s
gospel gives us a clue.
After the people
saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus,
knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
The Israelites who had been under the tyranny of the Romans were very much attracted by the
words of Jesus. Now they had seen him work a major miracle. (Remember… feeding the multitude is the ONLY miracle that
is recorded six times – twice in Matthew and Mark and once in Luke and John.) In an over-enthusiastic crowd even a tiny
spark is enough to create a huge frenzy. I guess someone in the crowd must have shouted: “This is the King we have been
waiting for!” or some such thing. Knowing how a crowd can be swayed by emotions, Jesus wanted to leave that place. He
wanted to be by himself in order to pray!
closing line of the gospel passage quoted above (John 6:15) goes like this: Jesus withdrew again
to the mountain by himself. The word ‘again’ is noteworthy. Jesus was going to
the mountain by himself again and again. What for? Not just to escape from the crowds… but to spend time with himself
and with his Father. To pray, to reflect, to regain perspective on his otherwise busy life. If only our leaders – political,
religious leaders – follow Jesus, at least in this regard? A wishful thinking, indeed!
Jesus did not lock himself up in prayer. He came down to help his disciples struggling with
wind and waves. He came to them walking on the sea. This was a symbolic act. In many world religions the sea stands for a
power usually in opposition to the divine. Monsters abide in the sea. Many divine beings are depicted as conquering this power.
Jesus walked on the sea to prove a point: When the people
offered him an earthly crown, he declined it. His mission was not to fight the Roman empire alone.
His mission was to fight all the evil powers.
disciples failed to recognise Jesus walking on the waters. Not only that… they mistook him for a ghost. When our whole
attention is on the troubles around us, we tend to miss God or mistake God for a ghost! Here is a lovely poem, titled ‘Footsteps’ by
Jennifer Jill Schwirzer about how mistaken our perception is while we are in trouble:
I had a dream last night of footsteps in the sand
God and I were walking—it must have been hand in hand
For there were two pairs of footsteps in the sand
His footsteps and my footsteps in the sand
And in the dream I had, we walked the peaceful shore
It seemed that we would walk that way, hand in hand forevermore
Two pairs of footsteps in the sand,
His footsteps and my footsteps in the sand.
And then the crashing waves of a wild and angry sea
Broke upon the shoreline of my life
Things I could not control were like churning, turning tides
And angry winds of strife
And when I was almost beaten and needed a helping hand.
There was just one pair of footsteps in the sand.
“You stayed when all was peaceful, but then where did
Perhaps You’d had enough
When fortune fled and friends too, but oh, I needed You
When times got so rough.”
And then He said so gently as patient fathers do:
“When trouble stormed the shoreline, my child, I carried
I had a dream last night of footsteps
in the sand
Jesus bore my burden when I could
no longer stand
One pair of footsteps in the
Just His pair of footsteps in
While Mark and John round off this miracle with Jesus approaching
the disciples and getting them ashore, Matthew has one more interesting addition – that of Peter trying to walk on the
sea. The impetuous Peter! “If it is you, Lord, then let me also walk on the sea like you.” We
can hear the child in Peter speaking. Jesus was game for it. He says, “Come.” Peter
leaves the security of the boat and his friends to venture into the unknown. Soon, he is engulfed by terror and begins to
In one of the websites, the homilist gives this interesting
insight. Jesus could have easily calmed the storm and the waves before asking Peter to step out of the boat. But He did not.
That is what happens in life. We cannot wait till every storm and every wave has subsided. We need to step out of the boat,
out of the familiar to the unfamiliar, fixing our gaze on Jesus. Peter began his adventure well, looking only at Jesus. But
soon his attention was drawn to the waves and the storm and his own ability or inability to cope... He lost his footing. He
began to sink.
Peter sinking in water is quite unthinkable, especially when
we know that he had been a fisherman all his life and he must have seen quite a few storms in the Lake of Gennesaret.
Hence, why did he sink? Perhaps to let us understand that our own skills and efforts may desert us occasionally. A similar
thought is shared by Fr Ron Rolheiser when he reflects on this episode under the title –
WALKING ON WATER AND SINKING LIKE A STONE:
Faith isn’t something you ever simply achieve.
It’s not something that you ever nail down as a fait accompli. Faith works this way: Some days you walk on water and
other days you sink like a stone. Faith invariably gives way to doubt before it again recovers its confidence, then
it loses it again.
see this graphically illustrated in the famous story in the gospels of Peter walking on water… Peter is immediately
buoyed up in his faith and asks Jesus to let him too walk on the water. Jesus invites him to do so and Peter gets out of the
boat confidently and begins to walk on the water. But then, realizing what he was doing and the incredulous nature of it,
he immediately starts to sink, cries out for help, and Jesus has to reach out and rescue him from drowning.
What we see illustrated here are two things that
lie at the heart of our experience of faith, namely, that faith (literally) has its ups and downs and that it works best when
we don’t confuse it with our own powers.
Fr Rolheiser closes his reflections with an anecdote:
Donald Nichol, in his book, Holiness, shares a story
of a British missionary working in Africa. At one point, early on in his stay there, the missionary
was called upon to mediate a dispute between two tribes. He had no preparation for this, was naïve, and totally out of
his depth. But he gave himself over to the task in faith and, surprisingly, reconciled the two tribes. Afterwards, buoyed
by this success, he began to fancy himself as mediator and began to present himself as an arbiter of disputes. But now, however,
his efforts were invariably unhelpful. Here’s the irony: when he didn’t know what he was doing, but trusted solely
in God, he was able to walk on water; as soon as he began to wrap himself in the process, he sank like a stone. Faith works
like that: We can walk on water only as long as we don’t think that we are doing it with our own strength.
This Sunday we receive these invitations from God:
Come out of the security of the cave and meet Me in unexpected
ways… Step out of the security of the boat and come. If you focus on Me, you can walk on water even when it turns into
a stormy wave!
The Feast of the Transfiguration
by Rev. Fr. L.
X. Jerome S. J.
It must be one of the strange and sad accidents of history
that the first atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, which marks the annual Feast of the Transfiguration. We can be sure that
Harry Truman (the then President of the U.S.) and his team would not have given
any thought to this Feast, while planning their ‘disfiguration’ of the human family. This accidental coming together
of Transfiguration and ‘disfiguration’ invites us to reflect on these two events and draw lessons for our life.
The phrases used in the Transfiguration narrative (Matthew
17: 1-9) seem uncannily, or, eerily similar to the phrases used by those who survived the bomb. Matthew uses phrases like
‘shining like a sun’, ‘bright cloud’ and a ‘voice from the cloud’. Hiroshima survivors
have spoken of ‘sun falling to the ground’, ‘bright cloud’, ‘roar like thunder’ etc. While
the light, cloud and voice of the Transfiguration brought hope to those who witnessed it, the light, cloud and noise of the
atom bomb brought destruction and despair not only to those who witnessed it, but for future generations as well.
Every year, at the beginning of the month of August, haunting memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
flood our memory. The gory details of this human massacre are well-known. So, let us not go over those statistics. They can
only feed our curiosity. Has Hiroshima and Nagasaki become
only museum pieces to be visited once a year or, are they schools where
we can learn a lesson or two?
am afraid that even Japan is treating this tragedy as a ‘treasured
museum piece’. Why do I say this? If Japan had treated Hiroshima and Nagasaki as
schools, then ‘Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster’ (March 2011) would not have happened. After Fukushima nuclear
threat, Japan began to close down its atomic plants one by one.
I was so happy about it that I announced this news in Vatican Radio with full gusto. Unfortunately, my happiness was short-lived. Japanhas
begun reopening its atomic power plants once again!
Sadly, Japan as well as the
whole world are madly… MADLY… in love with nuclear energy still. On a day like this, we need to focus on our
tragic-romance with nuclear energy. The cenotaph at the Hiroshima Peace Park is
inscribed with an ambiguous sentence: "Let all the souls here rest in peace; this mistake
shall not be repeated." (Wikipedia) But from Hiroshima to Fukushima nuclear
mistakes have been repeated – all over the world!
are mistakes repeated? There could be hundreds of reasons. But, I wish to focus on two of them. The
first is… when mistakes are covered up with falsehood and made to look like the right thing, they tend to be repeated. The
mistake of the U.S. was well covered up. Delayed information,
distorted information, downright lies accompanied the dropping of the atomic bombs. As I was going through many details of
this historic tragedy, something struck me hard. When the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima,
it was 8.16 a.m. on August 6th in Japan. It was still
night in the U.S. and the people there were asleep. One can
see that this nation is still struggling to wake up from this sleep and find out the real truth.
After the Hiroshima bombing,
Truman issued a statement announcing the use of the new weapon. He stated, "We may be grateful to Providence"
that the German atomic bomb project had failed, and that the United Statesand
its allies had "spent two billion dollars on the greatest scientific gamble in history—and won". (Wikipedia
– Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki)
When we read this statement, we wonder what Truman or the U.S. had
really ‘won’. This brings to mind the famous saying of Jesus: For what will it profit
a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? (Mt. 16:26)
It is interesting to see that Jesus made this famous statement just before the Transfiguration
when he told his disciples, for the first time, what type of death was awaiting him. Then he went on to challenge his disciples
to take up their crosses as well. In this discourse of challenges, he also posed the great question of gaining the whole world
and losing one’s life. This question of Jesus had enlightened hundreds of Saints down the centuries (including St Ignatius
of Loyola and St Francis Xavier) to look at life’s achievements in proper perspective. When we read the triumphant statements
of President Truman, these words of Jesus come to our minds.
mistakes are not covered up in lies, we can surely learn from those mistakes, since truth will always set us free. But, unfortunately,
every government in the world is dishing out lies as far as nuclear warheads are concerned. As if the threat of nuclear warheads
is not enough, every country is moving towards nuclear plants. On this front as well, lots of lies have been told about the
safety of a nuclear plant and about the different accidents that have happened in nuclear plants. Hence, here is my simple
(you may call this ‘naive’) conclusion: Nuclear energy can thrive on the seedbed of
If you wish to read more truth,
kindly read the news feature: HIROSHIMA, NAGASAKI BOMBINGS
WERE AVOIDABLE by David Krieger, President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. (IDN-InDepthNews –
August 3, 2012)
Why are we so madly in love with nuclear energy? Is there
no other alternative? I am not a scientist and hence my answer to this question cannot be scientific. But I am a believer.
My belief says that our world can survive, in fact, flourish in safer environment if we depend on other natural sources of
energy – wind, water, sunlight… My belief says that the universe is designed in such a way that it can sustain
itself when we are able to tap the natural resources appropriately. The catch words are: tap and appropriately…
Unfortunately, our present generation has not tapped natural sources of energy but
has exploited them indiscriminately!
Our natural sources of energy can surely sustain the whole
of humanity, provided we decide to satisfy our need and not our greed (Mahatma
Gandhi). Since nature could not satisfy our mad rush for more and MORE, we looked for artificial sources of energy. Look,
where we have landed up… We have landed on a planet that is waiting to explode any time.
Our unbridled greed has exploited mother earth and we are leaving a ‘tattered globe’
for the future generation. This brings us back to the event of the Transfiguration.
When Jesus was transfigured on Mount Tabor his face
shone like the sun, and when he came down the mountain a little boy was healed — a boy who had been thrown into fire
and water by a demon. When “Little Boy” (the name given the bomb) shone like the sun over Hiroshima,
thousands of little boys and girls were burned in atomic fire and poisoned by radioactive rain. The bombing of Hiroshima is
the anti-Transfiguration. (Hiroshima: An Anti-Transfiguration
- Brian Zahnd)
One of the little girls who died
a slow death due to radioactive rain, is Sadako Sasaki. Here is an extract on Sadako as given in Sadako
Sasaki’s Cranes for Peace:
Sadako Sasaki was two years old when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
Ten years later, she was diagnosed with leukemia, and informed that she had only one year to live. Sadako’s friends
reminded her of a Japanese legend: that if you make a thousand paper cranes, you get one wish. Sadako spent the remainder
of her life folding paper cranes – but had only reached 644 when she died. After her death, her friends continued making
her paper cranes, and raised the money to build a monument in her honour. Now, children from all over the world fold paper
cranes to be placed beneath her statue in commemoration of the atrocities suffered in Hiroshima.
We are aware that paper cranes don’t fly. But the dreams and desires of thousands of
children who made those paper cranes can fly beyond human made boundaries and create a world without war. May Sadako and millions
of children, killed in senseless wars, plead before the throne of God to bring lasting peace to our war-torn planet. May the
paper cranes fly high!
At the scene of the Transfiguration, a
voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen
to him.” Our Heavenly Father extends the same invitation to all of us. If we are willing
to listen to Jesus, more challenges await us, challenges that call for a self-sacrificing life. On the other hand, if we prefer
a self-centred life, we need to support our selfishness by listening to the lies of the ‘merchants of death’.
We shall be forced to build temples for our ‘atomic demons’!
"Have we lost our hearing?"
by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.
in Ordinary Time
Once there was a man who dared God to speak.
"Burn the bush like you did for Moses, God and
I will follow.
the walls like you did for Joshua, God and I will fight.
Still the waves like you did on Galilee, God and I
so the man went and sat by a bush, near a wall close to the sea and waited for God to speak.
And God heard the man , So God answered.
He sent fire, not for the bush, but for a church.
He brought down a wall, not of brick, but of sin.
He stilled a storm, not of the sea, but of a soul.
And God waited for the man to respond.
And he waited ...
And waited ...
But because the man was looking at bushes, not hearts;
bricks, not lives; seas and not souls, he decided that God had done nothing.
Finally he looked at God and asked, "Have you
lost your power?"
God looked at him and said, "Have you lost your hearing?"
(A story by Max Lucado, from A Gentle Thunder : Hearing God Through
"Have you lost your hearing?" is the question posed
by Jesus in today’s Gospel (Matthew 13: 1-23). Jesus poses this question as an invitation or as a warning: “He
who has ears, let him hear.” (Mt 13:9) All of us know that the mere fact of having ears, does not guarantee hearing.
We know of people who have eyes, ears and mouth but, unfortunately, do not have the ability to see, hear or speak. Jesus is
not talking about these unfortunate ones. His concern for them was special. Here Jesus is concerned about us who have the
physical ear as well as the capacity to hear and yet do not wish to hear! He quotes Prophet Isaiah who was also concerned
about such ‘deliberately deaf’ people.
Matthew 13: 11,14-15
And Jesus answered them, “With them indeed
is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says:
‘For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy
of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand
with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.’”
Our decision to ‘turn a deaf ear’ can come from different situations. For example,
in our modern day world, we are so saturated with ‘noise’ (meaning, the flood of information that reaches us every
day via our tools of communication), that we ‘switch off’ and find shelter in our isolated, ‘sound-proof’
self. Having got accustomed to protecting ourselves from this onslaught of ‘noises’, we tend to use the same technique
to the Word of God, especially when it challenges or threatens our cozy, comfortable self! This is the warning given by Jesus
Let us try and heed to this warning of Jesus and open our
ears to listen to the Parable of the Sower. This being the first Parable recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, there is a discussion
on the reason and relevance of parables. “Why do you speak to them in parables?” was the question addressed to
Jesus in today’s Gospel. He did not give any lengthy treatise on God and His Kingdom. Most of his teachings have been
clothed in stories, imageries and parables. The religious leaders of his times presented God as a cold, distant God represented
by the ‘stony laws’. Jesus, on the other hand, brought this God close to the people, as a loving Father, through
His stories. To understand why Jesus spoke in parables, we turn to Fr Anthony de Mello, S.J. In his book ‘One Minute
Wisdom’, there is a lovely story:
The Master gave his teaching in parables and stories, which his disciples listened
to with pleasure - and occasional frustration, for they longed for something deeper.
The Master was unmoved. To all their objections
he would say, "You have yet to understand, my dears, that the shortest distance between a human being and Truth is a
time he said, "Do not despise the story. A lost gold coin is found by means of a penny candle; the deepest truth is found
by means of a simple story."
this Sunday onwards till the Feast of Christ the King in November, we shall be journeying through 20 Sundays of the Ordinary
Time in the liturgical cycle. Of these 20 Sundays, 10 Sundays present us with 10 parables of Jesus recorded in Matthew. We
begin this ‘parable series’ with one of the most famous parables of Matthew - the Parable of the Sower.
When I use a phrase ‘the most famous’, I am conscious
of the danger it entails. Anything ‘famous’ tends to become ‘ordinary’ due to over-exposure. We tend
to feel that ‘we have seen that and heard that’! The famous quotes and parables of Jesus are no exception to this
danger. As if forestalling the danger, resulting from this ‘taken-for-granted’ attitude to the words of Jesus,
He gives the famous warning: “He who has ears,
let him hear.” Jesus wants us to pay attention… But, attention to
what? The sower, the seed or the soil?
Traditionally we have focused almost exclusively on the terrains where the seed falls, in
order to look at what is our attitude as we listen to the Gospel. However it is important to pay attention to the sower and
his way of sowing.
Jesus begins the parable with a matter-of-fact statement
: A sower went out to sow. The sower scatters seeds
‘along the path’, ‘on rocky ground’ and ‘upon thorns’. This action of the sower brings
up the question: Was he careless or was he generous? If we reflect on this action with the idea that the seed represents God’s
word, then it is better to attribute ‘generosity’ rather than ‘carelessness’ as the intention of the
sower in ‘scattering seeds everywhere’.
That’s how Jesus sowed his message. They saw him go out every morning to announce the
Good News of God. He sowed his Word among the simple people who welcomed it, and also among the Scribes and the Pharisees
(hard rocky ground) who rejected it. Jesus was keen on scattering seeds to those surrounded by thorns of sin and sickness.
He never got tired.
By depicting the reckless generosity of the sower, Jesus
says that those of us who are over-cautious and calculative in sowing the seeds only on well-ploughed and watered lands, (in
other words, only ‘worthy’ lands) are doing a disservice to the word of God. With all the available lessons on
efficiency from the management gurus, we tend to measure our every effort in sowing God’s word. In spite of all our
caution, God’s word still manages to fulfil its mission. This is ascertained in today’s first reading from Prophet
Isaiah 55: 10-11
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
God, the word of God does not depend on our plans! In fact, the reckless generosity with which Jesus scattered God’s
word has been followed by many generous followers. Let me finish these reflections with a lovely story that talks of how generosity
There was once a farmer who grew
award-winning corn. Each year he entered his corn in the state fair where it won first prize. One year a newspaper reporter
interviewed him and learned the farmer’s strategy for growing winning corn. What was it? Simply this: the farmer shared
his best seed corn with his neighbours.
“How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbours when they are
entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.
“Why” said the farmer, “don’t you
know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbours grow inferior corn,
cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbours grow
Source: reported in James
Bender How to Talk Well (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1994)
Sowing the seed ‘along the path’, ‘on rocky
ground’ and ‘upon thorns’ is a real challenge. The challenge becomes tougher when we are asked not only
to sow on the fertile ground under our care, but also share good seeds with our neighbours! May we open our eyes and ears
as we journey in the parables of Jesus in the following weeks!
A final note would be to break the narrow view of ‘sowing
the seed’ as ‘preaching the word of God’. Sowing the seed is more often and more effectively done by the
way each one of us lives God’s word in our lives. That way, this parable does not refer to the sower as those who ‘preach’,
but all of us who ‘practice’!
Soothing, yet challenging invitation
by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Apollo 13 was the seventh manned mission in the Apollo space program and the third intended
to land on the Moon. The craft was launched on April 11, 1970, from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, but the lunar landing
was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded two days later, thus bringing to a premature end to the lunar mission. With
their oxygen almost gone, their electrical system out, their spaceship plunging toward lunar orbit, it appeared that the astronauts
would be marooned hundreds of thousands of miles from the Earth. Despite great hardship caused
by the limited power, the crew returned safely to Earth on April 17, 1970, six days after launch.
The mission was commanded by James Lovell with John Swigert and Fred Haise as the team members.
The efforts of the three astronauts were duly acknowledged. In a news conference, Lovell was
asked, "Were you worried?" Such an obvious question drew snickers. But then Lovell gave a surprising answer. "No,
not really." he said. "You see, worry is a useless emotion. I was too busy fixing the problem to worry about it.
As long as I had one card left to play, I played it."
All of us would agree with Lovell’s statement that ‘worry is a useless emotion.
Still, we spend quite a lot of time worrying. To all of us who tend to accumulate worries, Jesus gives a challenging invitation: “Come
to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) These
words of Jesus have given millions of people, down these 20 centuries, courage and strength to face the burdens of life.
When we hear these words today, they sound more like a ‘spiritual-pacifier’
than real life solution. We seem to think that there are many ways to get rid of our ‘heaviness’ – be it
physical, mental or psychological. We, the so-called grown-ups, seem to think that we have better solutions to get rid of
stress than the promise of Jesus. As if knowing our line of thought, Jesus, in
the first part of today’s Gospel, prefaces his simple, soothing, and yet challenging invitation with words of caution:
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank thee,
Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to
babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.” (Mt. 11: 25). This
is another form of the caution given elsewhere by Jesus that ‘unless we become like children, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God’
(Mt. 18:3). We seem to place more trust in the ways suggested by the world to conquer our burdens.
The world offers many so-called remedies to the problem of stress: - Get away - Run away
- Fly away - Take a pill to ease your nerves - Take a drink to drown your sorrows - Take a shot to kill the pain - Get drunk,
take drugs, sleep a lot. But the truth is… most of them don’t work. How misleading the world can be! Here
is a parable:
Have you heard about the farmer
who went to a government bureaucrat specializing in animal health? The farmer sought help from the “expert” because
ten of his chickens had suddenly died. The government expert instructed the farmer to give aspirin to all the surviving chickens.
Two days later, however, the farmer returned. Twenty more chickens had died. What should he do now? The expert said quickly:
“Give all the rest castor oil.” Two days later, the farmer returned a third time and reported 30 more dead chickens.
The government expert now strongly recommended penicillin. Two days later a sad farmer showed up. All the rest of his chickens
had now died. They were all gone. “What a shame,” said the expert, “I have lot more remedies!”
As against the false, quick-fix solutions offered by the world, Jesus gives us a firm promise.
He does not tell us to run away from the problems. He does not promise a magic touch by which all our worries would vanish.
He promises ‘rest’ and his own presence in our stress-filled life.
The imagery of the yoke which he uses in this context is
a master stroke. Here are the words of Jesus: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt.
words of Jesus, “Take my yoke upon you…” lead us into deeper reflection. Let us first think of the ‘yoke’.
As we know, the yoke is used to align two oxen for the purpose of ploughing. The yoke that sits on the neck of these two oxen,
though painful, is a useful instrument for a productive task. In using this imagery, Jesus is calling us to face pain for
a productive purpose.
When Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you…”
he seems to be saying two different things. He may be saying “Take the yoke I have prepared for you” or “Become
a partner in my yoke, namely, the yoke I am already carrying”.
William Barclay makes the following statement in his commentary
on this passage of Matthew: “There is a legend that Jesus made the best ox-yokes in all Galilee,
and that from all over the country men came to him to buy the best yokes that skill could make. In those days as now, shops
had their signs above the door; and it has been suggested that the sign above the door of the carpenter's shop in Nazareth may
well have been: ‘My yokes fit well’. It may well be that Jesus is here using a picture from the carpenter's shop
in Nazareth where he had worked throughout the silent years.”
Keeping this commentary of Barclay in mind, we can interpret the words of Jesus ‘Take my yoke upon you’, as “Take
the yoke I have prepared for you. It will fit you well”.
second interpretation seems to make more sense to me, namely, Jesus is inviting us to ‘become a partner in the yoke
he is already carrying’. Jesus has already taken this yoke on himself and asks us to join him. We are in this together
– Jesus and us! That is the reason Jesus says with so much assurance: For my yoke is easy,
and my burden is light. (Mt. 11: 30) Jesus knows that a
sorrow (burden) shared is halved!
accept these words of Jesus we need to become like children. For a child, no burden is great when the parent is around. This
child-like trust was evident in the life of Good Pope St John the XXIII. During the Second Vatican Council days, Pope St.
John XXIII used to submit all his anxieties to God by this prayer every night: “Lord, Jesus, I’m going to bed.
It's your Church. Take care of it!”
The President Dwight David Eisenhower knew about that inner rest derived from submitting
daily lives to God. He had it even while he was the leader of armed forces in World War II. His every decision during that
awful conflict had monumental consequences. How did he deal with the pressure? He shared with his former pastor, Dean Miller,
that he didn't try to carry his burden alone. Some nights when the strain became too great, Eisenhower would simply pray,
"Lord, with your grace I've done the best I can. You take over until morning."
All of us are pilgrims on earth carrying our load of worries. We have a knack of gathering
more and more burdens as we go along this earthly journey. When we consider the famous invitation of Jesus, “Come
to me, all who labor and are heavy laden…”, we can ask for two graces: First
– that we may be able to distinguish between ‘necessary’ and ‘unnecessary’ burdens that we accumulate,
so that we can ‘off-load’ unnecessary baggage sooner than later. Second – that we trust this invitation
of Jesus not simply as a ‘spiritual-pacifier’ but as a more realistic solution. In addition, we pray that God
gives us enough light to understand that Jesus is with us to share the burden!
May we, like children, heed to the loving invitation of Christ
with a heart filled with trust: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I
will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for
your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Christ, sitting on our lap
The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Most of us would have received our First Holy Communion while in elementary school. At that
time, either our Parish Priests or some kind-hearted Nuns would have helped us prepare for this great moment. Part of this
preparation takes the form of the catechism class, usually filled with stories. If we have not out-grown these stories, we
are blessed indeed! I do remember quite a few of these stories.
I do have very many lovely memories of the way Corpus
Christi processions were held in my parish and, later, in other
places during my Jesuit life. All these stories and all these memories fill my mind as I reflect on this Feast – the
Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
This Feast is probably THE MOST SIGNIFICANT FEAST to tell us what God’s love is all
about. While we are engulfed by love, the best response we can give is to let go… enjoy the experience. If one were
to raise questions about love - the how and why of love, then we would almost lose love. Still, human mind is a workshop constantly
churning out questions and we cannot avoid this. Let us try and answer some of the questions that creep into our minds about
this Love Feast.
Last week when we reflected on the Feast of the Holy Trinity,
we said: If at all we wish to understand the great mystery of the Holy Trinity, then we need to raise the proper questions.
Not trying to understand the ‘how’ of
the mystery, as St Augustine tried,
but more in terms of the ‘why’ of
the mystery of the Triune God.
again, it is much better to raise the ‘why’ question than the ‘how’ question. How is Christ present
in the two species – bread and wine? Quite a few treatises have been written on this question. We shall turn our attention
to the other question, namely, why is Christ present in bread and wine? Here is my simple answer to this question: First,
bread and wine are the simple food of the Israelites, accessible to everyone, including the poor. Jesus wanted to be present
in forms that were easily available to all. Second, once food is taken, it gets integrated as our own body and blood. As food
is integrated in one’s body, Jesus would like to become integrated with human beings. These answers may not be considered
a ‘treatise’; but it makes sense to me.
guess it is better to leave theoretical explanations on this great Feast and get back to some of the inspiring incidents related
to Christ’s Real Presence in the lives of great souls.
Fr Pedro Arrupe S.J., who
was the Superior General of the Society of Jesus for fifteen years, narrates how he had personally met Jesus and decided to
Pedro was a brilliant student
of medicine, winning first prizes in his studies at the University of Madrid…
In October 1926, nineteen year old Pedro went to Lourdes as a volunteer. One day he accompanied the procession in front of the Grotto, walking
beside a mother who was pushing a wheel-chair in which sat her 26 year old son, a polio victim, his body crippled and completely
deformed…. Then the Bishop came with the Blessed Sacrament, and made the sign of the Cross with it over the boy. At
that instant, the boy leapt from his chair completely cured.
Pedro said: “I returned to Madrid;
the books kept falling from my hands. My fellow students asked me: ‘What’s happening to you? You seem dazed!’
Yes, I was dazed by the memory which upset me more each day; only the image of the Sacred Host raised in blessing and the
paralyzed boy jumping up from his chair remained fixed in my heart”
Three months later Pedro gave up his medicine studies and
entered the Novitiate of the Society of Jesus at Loyola, to a life of ‘distinguished service as a Jesuit’. (Hedwig
Lewis S.J., - At Home with God)
The first atom bomb on August 6, 1945, destroyed Hiroshima.
The Jesuit novitiate in a suburb of that city was one of the few buildings left standing, though all its doors and windows
had been ripped off by the explosion. The novitiate was turned into a makeshift hospital. The chapel, half destroyed, was
overflowing with the wounded, who were lying on the floor very near to one another, suffering terribly, twisted with pain.
In the midst of this broken humanity, the novice master,
Fr Pedro Arrupe, celebrated Mass the very next day of the disaster. “I can never forget the terrible feelings I experienced
when I turned toward them and said, ‘The Lord is with you’. I could not move. I stayed there as if paralyzed,
my arms outstretched, contemplating this human tragedy… They were looking at me, eyes full of agony and despair as
if they were waiting for some consolation to come from the altar. What a terrible scene!” (Hedwig Lewis S.J., - At Home
St. Isaac Jogues, S.J. was a Jesuit priest, missionary and martyr, who travelled and worked among the
Iroquois, Huron, and other Native populations in North America.
During his missionary work in North America, he had a chance to escape from the cruel clutches of the native people and return
to France. While there, he wanted to celebrate Mass. Under
Church law of the time, the Blessed Sacrament could not be touched with any other finger except the thumb and the forefinger.
Jogues was unable to follow this law after the loss of both these fingers due to the tortures he endured in Iroquois captivity.
In order to celebrate Mass, he required a special dispensation from the Pope. He was granted a dispensation to say Mass by
Pope Urban VIII. Pope Urban's judgement that "it would be shameful for a martyr of Christ not to drink the blood of Christ"
renewed the zeal of Isaac to work among the Indians.
Isaac Jogues, Fr Pedro Arrupe have been drawn to the Eucharistic Lord, not via lengthy theses, but via simple faith in the
Real Presence of Christ. To achieve this level of holiness, one needs to become a child. Last week we saw how a child taught St Augustine how
to approach the Triune God. This week, again, we learn from a child how the Eucharistic Lord is ever present with us. This
child is four year old, chosen by Professor Leo Buscaglia (Love Doctor), for the best act of love.
Professor Buscaglia was asked to judge which child had shown
the greatest love. The episodes of different children were presented to him. Leo chose a child of four years. Let us call
him Prince. What did Prince do?
A senior citizen (Let’s call him Robert) lived next to the house in which Prince lived.
Robert, aged 85, had lost his wife the previous week. They had spent well over 50 years together. Robert sat in his easy chair
one evening. Tears were rolling down his cheeks. Prince, who saw this from his house, walked up to Robert. Without saying
a word, Prince climbed on to Robert’s lap and sat down. After 15 or 20 minutes, Prince came back home. His mother who
was watching all this, asked Prince, “What did you tell grandpa when you were sitting on his lap?” Prince replied:
“I said nothing. I just sat there to help him weep more.”
Professor Buscaglia decided that Prince had shown the greatest
Love, as we know, can be expressed in myriad ways…
through words, deeds, gifts… The best way to show love is to be ‘present’ with someone. Prince did exactly
that. Christ has done the same in choosing to be present in bread and wine. Let us set aside questions and theories about
the Blessed Sacrament and try to experience the great love of Christ through this Sacrament. Let us celebrate the Loving,
Abiding Presence of Christ in our lives!
we close, let us turn our attention to June 18, this Sunday, and June 20, coming Tuesday. Every year on June 20 we observe
(I dare not say… ‘We celebrate’ since there is nothing to celebrate here!) World Refugee Day. This Sunday,
which happens to be the third Sunday of June, we celebrate Father’s Day. The second Sunday of May and the third Sunday
of June are celebrated as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
World Refugee Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s
Day seem to have something in common, in as much as elderly Mothers and Fathers are made to live like refugees, cut off from
their roots – either within the four walls of their own houses or in the home for the aged!
Isn’t a tragedy that Mothers and Fathers are assigned
just two days in a year when they should be celebrated all through the year? Similarly, when millions of our brothers and
sisters are tossed about in the stormy sea of violence as refugees day after day, what is the purpose of remembering them
on just one day? Questions that pierce our hearts!
May we celebrate the loving presence of the Eucharistic Lord, by making our presence and
the presence of our near and dear ones, especially our aged parents, more meaningful in our families.
God is ‘essentially’ a family
The Holy Trinity Sunday
We have entered the ‘Ordinary Time’ of the liturgical year. This implies
that we have been having a ‘special time’ till now in our liturgical cycle. Yes, right from the start of the Lenten
season through the Easter Season we have had a special time. Today’s feast, the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, is like
a crowning event of this special season. This crowning feast does not warm our hearts like, say, the feast of Christmas or
Easter. This feast seems more ‘intellectual’. When I think of the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, I get more of
the image of an international conference than a festive gathering.
The Holy Trinity is a mystery to be contemplated than a concept to be discussed. Most of us remember a very old and
much-repeated story about St. Augustine, one of the intellectual giants of
the Church. He was walking by the seashore one day, attempting to conceive of an intelligible explanation for the mystery
of the Trinity. As he walked along, he saw a small boy on the beach, pouring seawater from a shell into a small hole in the
sand. "What are you doing, my child?" asked Augustine. "I am trying to empty the sea into this hole,"
the boy answered with an innocent smile. "But that is impossible, my dear child,” said Augustine. The boy stood
up, looked straight into the eyes of Augustine and replied, “What you are trying to do - comprehend the immensity of
God with your small head - is even more impossible.” Then he vanished. The child was an angel sent by God to teach Augustine
a lesson. Later, Augustine wrote: "You see the Trinity if you see love." According to him the Father is the lover,
the Son is the loved one and the Holy Spirit is the personification of the very act of loving. This means that we can understand
something of the mystery of the Holy Trinity more readily with the heart than with our feeble mind. Evagrius of Pontus, a
Greek monk of the 4th century said: "God cannot be grasped
by the mind. If God could be grasped, God would not be God."
Many of the deep realities of life and the world are there simply as a gift to
be admired and a mystery to be contemplated than an idea to be dissected and labelled into packages. An incident from the
life of Franklin D.Roosevelt (FDR), the well-known president of the U.S.,
is worth remembering here. FDR and one of his close friends, Bernard Baruch, talked late into the night one evening at the
White House. At last, President Roosevelt suggested that they go out into the Rose Garden and look at the stars before going
to bed. They went out and looked into the sky for several minutes, peering at a nebula with thousands of stars. Then the President
said, "All right, I think we feel small enough now to go in and go to sleep." The wonder of the power and wisdom
of God puts things in perspective for us humans. Being the President of the U.S.can
easily turn an individual into a megalomaniac. FDR must have stayed sane by seeing himself in the proper perspective. How
we wish some of the present Presidents and Prime Ministers of various countries learn this lesson of ‘proper perspective’
When we think of the mystery of the Most Holy
Trinity, one is easily reminded of the famous quote from the Bible: "Be
still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalm
46:10) This brings to mind the famous saying of a great scientist:
“The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It
is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavour in art and science. He
who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To
sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity
reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices
to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there
is.” - Albert Einstein, The World As I See It (1949)
If at all we wish to ‘understand’ the great mystery of the Holy Trinity,
then we need to raise the proper questions. Not trying to understand the ‘how’ of the mystery, as St
Augustine tried, but more in terms of the ‘why’ of the Triune
God. Why is our God a Triune God? To instil in us the simple but profound truth that relationships are very important, rather,
they are the most
important aspect of human life. The important question for us to ask today is: What does the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity
tell us about the kind of God we worship and what does this say about the kind of people we should be?
God does not exist in isolated individualism but in a community of relationships.
In other words, God is not a loner or a recluse. This means that a Christian in search of Godliness (Matthew 5:48) must shun
every tendency to isolationism and individualism. If our God exists in a ‘family’, then our Christian roots begin
with family bonding. This day calls us to examine our attitude to relationships in general and, in particular, our attitude
towards family relationships. Quite often, our priorities get a bit topsy-turvy when we place more stress on wealth and fame
than our relationships. We pray that the Triune God helps us to re-organise our priorities.
Last week we reflected on the Coming of the Holy Spirit on June 4,
immediately followed by the World Environment Day on June 5. This week, the Feast of the Holy Trinity on June 11, is followed
by the World Day Against Child Labour on June 12. Once again,
we are staring at a day that cannot be celebrated right now. I wish we do have a chance to CELEBRATE this day when child labour
is totally eradicated from the world.
I would like to reflect on the Feast of the Holy Trinity and the World Day Against Child Labour together. The Feast
of God’s Family Day is followed by a day when we think of children suffering from lack of family love. The proximity
of the Feast of the Holy Trinity and the World Day Against Child Labour, seems like a God-given chance for us to reflect on
children who have to face a difficult childhood, children who do not have a childhood or lose their childhood very early in
Day Against Child Labour is an ILO (International Labour Organization)
–sanctioned holiday for the purpose of raising awareness and activism to prevent child labour in both economic and military
fields. It is currently held each June 12. The ILO created this observance in 2002 and it has been held annually since then.
It is painful
to note that the world had taken 20 centuries to take note of a horrible crime committed against children. It is more painful
to see that in the past few decades children are forcefully employed in the military. The adult world is already guilty of
waging senseless wars. To add insult to injury, we have got children also involved in this insanity of the adults.
This day offers us another opportunity to seriously
think of this problem and muster up enough courage to eradicate such a crime from the world. We pray that the Triune God,
who, in essence, is a ‘family’, may give us the precious gifts of wisdom and courage to guide our children out
of their slavery and help them re-enter the human family as their rightful place.
The Holy Spirit moving over Creation
by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.
Today, the Feast of the Pentecost, is celebrated on the fiftieth
day after Easter. The word ‘Pentecost’ means the fiftieth day. In the last 50 days we have celebrated quite a
few festivals, starting from Easter. We celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday, the Good Shepherd Sunday, Ascension Sunday and now
Pentecost Sunday. Celebrations continue with the Holy Trinity Sunday next week and the Corpus
Christi Sunday the week after. Whenever we use the word ‘celebrate’,
we do have certain notions about it. How were the first Easter, Ascension and Pentecost – the core events of our Christian
Faith – ‘celebrated’? Were they ‘celebrated’ at all? I wonder…
The commercial world would insist that the first Easter should have taken place in full splendor,
with blaring trumpets and dazzling pyrotechnics. But, it was a non-event, judging by the standards of celebration set by the
world. The first Ascension, once again, was a very quiet affair with Jesus spending quality moments with the disciples on
a hillock, before being taken up into heaven. The first Pentecost too was simply the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Mother
Mary and the disciples gathered in prayer in the upper room. These events are not even a pale shadow of what is defined as
‘celebration’ by the world.
of ‘celebration’ according to the commercial world is pretty clear… Grand, Glamorous, Great, Gigantic…
Even if there is nothing to celebrate about, the commercial world would invent reasons to celebrate. The frills are more important
than the core in these celebrations. In most of these celebrations ‘what’ is celebrated is less important than
the ‘how’ of it. When I think of these commercial celebrations, I am reminded of the famous Shakespearean line
from Macbeth: ‘sound and fury signifying nothing’. Such celebrations are fleeting, leaving no lasting impact on
the individual. Perhaps it leaves one empty!
his disciples defined ‘celebrations’ in a totally different way. They were more interested in the ‘what’
of the event than the ‘how’ of the event. This ‘what’ left a lasting, life-long impression on the
disciples. The ‘what’ of these celebrations has left a deep impression on human history for the past twenty centuries.
They have become the tenets of our Christian Faith!
of ‘celebrations’, we need to talk about ‘non-celebrations’ too. While the commercial world invents
reasons for ‘celebrations’, we are sadly reminded of the darker side of the world, where there are issues that
are seemingly impossible to celebrate. One such issue is the issue of our Environment. June 5, coming Monday, is the World
Environment Day. Although we wish to ‘celebrate’ this Day, it has left us with anxious feelings.
On June 1, last Thursday, the President of the United
States, Mr Donald Trump, said that his country was pulling out of the Climate Change accord reached in Paris in 2015. This is one more instance to show how powerful individuals can ‘play
God’ and can make or break our planet! Such decisions puts interests of individuals or specific groups over and above
the care of our Common Home – the Planet! (Laudato Si)
It is significant
that this year the Feast of Pentecost is followed by the World Environment Day. The Bible, in its opening lines introduces
us to the Holy Spirit saying, that “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) The
Holy Spirit is the prime-mover in the creation history. Human beings have pushed aside the Spirit of Creation from the face
of the earth and have put themselves as creators.
Environment Day invites us to look at ourselves as creatures living in harmony with other created beings. Every year the World
Environment Day is observed (I am hesitant to say ‘celebrated’) on June 5. It was the day that the first United
Nations Conference on the Human Environment began in Stockholm in 1972. Although the World Environment Day, established in 1972, is completing
45 years of its existence, the human family has not treated our environment as a 45 year adult would! We have not made much
progress in learning how to protect our environment. 25 years back, a 13 year old girl tried to teach the world some lessons.
The Earth Summit 1992 held in Rio, Brasil was swept away by Severn Cullis-Suzuki, a 13 year old girl from Canada.
The six minutes talk that she gave in the summit is still doing enough rounds on the internet. The full text is available
Here are some excerpts from Severn Suzuki’s talk:
“Hello, I'm Severn Suzuki
speaking for E.C.O. - The Environmental Children's Organisation. We are a group of twelve and thirteen-year-olds from Canada trying
to make a difference… We raised all the money ourselves to come five thousand miles to tell you adults you must change
your ways. Coming here today, I have no hidden agenda. I am fighting for my future…
I am afraid to go out in the sun now because of the holes in the ozone. I am afraid to breathe
the air because I don't know what chemicals are in it. I used to go fishing in Vancouver with my dad until just a few years ago we found the fish full of cancers…
Did you have to worry about these little things when you were my age?
All this is happening before our eyes and yet we act
as if we have all the time we want and all the solutions. I'm only a child and I don't have all the solutions, but I want
you to realise, neither do you!
- You don't know how to fix the holes in our ozone layer.
- You don't know how to bring salmon back up a dead stream.
- You don't know how to bring back an animal now extinct.
- And you can't bring back forests that once grew where there is
you don't know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!
my country (Canada), we make so much waste, we buy and throw away, buy and throw away, and yet northern
countries will not share with the needy. Even when we have more than enough, we are afraid to lose some of our wealth, afraid
days ago here in Brazil, we were shocked when we
spent some time with some children living on the streets. And this is what one child told us: "I wish I was rich and
if I were, I would give all the street children food, clothes, medicine, shelter and love and affection." If a child
on the street who has nothing, is willing to share, why are we who have everything still so greedy? I can't stop thinking
that these children are my age, that it makes a tremendous difference where you are born, that I could be one of those children
living in the Favellas of Rio; I could be a child starving in Somalia; a victim of war in the Middle East or a beggar in India.
I'm only a child yet I know if all the money spent on
war was spent on ending poverty and finding environmental answers, what a wonderful place this earth would be!
At school, even in kindergarten, you teach us to behave in the world. You teach us:
- not to fight with
- to work things out,
- to respect others,
- to clean up our mess,
- not to hurt other creatures
- to share - not be greedy.
Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do?
Do not forget why you're attending these conferences, who you're doing this for -- we are your
own children. You are deciding what kind of world we will grow up in. Parents should be able to comfort their children by
saying "everything's going to be alright", "we're doing the best we can" and "it's not the end of
the world". But I don't think you can say that to us anymore. Are we even on your list of priorities? My father always
says "You are what you do, not what you say."
Well, what you do makes me cry at night. You grown ups say you love us. I challenge you, please
make your actions reflect your words. Thank you for listening.”
One of the most powerful lines from this speech was: “If
you don't know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!” If
only we could listen to our future generations and stop breaking the universe, the environment and the human family…
If we cannot leave a wholesome universe for our next generation, let us at least leave a broken world instead of a completely
devastated one for them!
bells do ring now and then about this impending devastation… the last one being from Fukushima, Japan. The earthquake and the tsunami in Japan were loud warning bells indeed. But, the consequent fear of leakage of the atomic
radiation is a warning we cannot afford to ignore.
The theme for the World Environment Day 2017 is: “Connecting People to Nature”!
We pray that the Holy Spirit comes down in a special way to renew the face of the earth and help us
connect with nature, so that we can truly celebrate both the Feast of the Pentecost as the World Environment Day meaningfully!
of the Apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima
by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.
5th Sunday of Easter
May 13, this Saturday, we celebrated the Feast of Our
Lady of Fatima. More than that, this year was the First Centenary of the Apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima. Hence, Pope
Francis made a flying visit to the Shrine of Fatima this Friday and Saturday.
Centenary celebrations come only once in 100 years. The next Centenary of Fatima Shrine will be celebrated
in the year 2117. I don’t plan to be stay on till then. Hence, I wish to reflect on this Shrine and what Our Lady of
Fatima wishes to teach us today.
The first European War, also known as World War I broke out in 1914. Wikipedia says: World
War I … began on July 28, 1914 and lasted until November 11, 1918. The war lasted exactly four years, three months
and 14 days. Most of the fighting was in Europe, but soldiers from many other countries took part, and it changed the
colonial empires of the European powers. Before World War II began in 1939, World War I was called the Great War, or the 'war
to end all wars'.
In fact, this war, instead of
ending all wars, inaugurated many other wars, including World War II and also, as Pope Francis says, World War III ‘fought
piece-meal’ in the world today.
Although I am not
a great fan of statistics, I must record here that this war resulted in the death of more than 9 million soldiers and more
than 7 million citizens. Pope Benedict XV branded this as a ‘useless massacre’ and ‘the suicide of civilized Europe’.
Pope Benedict XV, who was elected on 3 September 1914, a month after the outbreak of
World War I, tried to stop the war but in vain. The first public speech Pope Benedict XV gave after the Conclave
which elected him as Pius X’s successor on 3 September, marked the start of his mission to end hostilities, convincing
the great powers to resolve pending questions through dialogue and negotiation. This was the spirit of his first four public
wartime speeches. On 8 September 1914 Benedict XV “repeated his predecessor’s call to people to pray for an end
to the war,” urging powers to put down their weapons. But his calls fell on deaf ears. (Vatican Insider)
When the war
was raging, Our Lady appeared to three shepherds in Fatima on May 13, 1917 with the same appeal to the people, namely,
to pray for peace. When we think of Our Lady appearing in Fatima, our minds naturally think of the apparitions in Lourdes,
Guadalupe and Velankanni. When we put all these apparitions together, the first thing that strikes us is the fact that Our
Lady chose very, very simple people to become his messengers.
If Our Lady wanted to drive home the message of peace in the world, she should have appeared to the European leaders,
or, to the Church leaders and through them spread the message of peace. But, she chose the poor, illiterate shepherds. She
knew well that only the poor, and pure of heart can see the divine with ease (Cf. Mt. 5: 3,8).
Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, just before leaving for Fatima, gave an interview to Vatican Radio where he spoke
about the choice made by Mary:
of the Magnificat, the Lady of the Rosary, did not appear to the rich, did not appear to the powerful, did not appear to the
influential people but appeared to children. We could, in a sense, consider them 'the last of society, to use the terminology
of the Pope, almost the "scraps" of society. The Madonna of the Magnificat gave Fatima Shepherds a counter-current
message. We were in war time, so the discourse was one of hate, revenge, hostility, and clash - "the useless massacre"
of Benedict XV; Madonna, on the other hand, speaks of love, speaks of forgiveness, speaks of the ability to sacrifice oneself
and to make oneself a gift to others. So, a total reversal of the values that were, at that time, prevailing in society.”
Mary made this choice since she
was totally in tune with the choices made by God the Father as well as her Son Jesus. God chose simple shepherds like Moses
and David to lead His people. Jesus chose simple shepherds near Bethlehem to become the messengers of His Birth.
(We reflected on this last week!) Jesus went on to choose simple fishermen and a tax collector to become his Apostles. Hence,
it is no surprise that Our Lady chose simple people to receive important messages for humanity.
Of the three
shepherds – Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta – chosen by Our Lady, Francisco and Jacinta were canonized on May 13,
by Pope Francis at the Shrine of Fatima. The miracle that helped in this canonization process is the miraculous cure of Lucas,
a boy from Brazil. His father João Batista, along with his wife Lucila Yurie met the journalists on May 11, Thursday,
in Fatima. In recounting the story of their son’s healing in the face of almost certain death, João Batista
and his wife Lucila Yurie could not hold back tears. Here is a report from Catholic News Agency – CNA/EWTN:
“On March 3, 2013, before 8:00 pm, our son Lucas, who was playing with his little
sister Eduarda, fell out of a window from a height of 20 feet. He was five years old,” related the boy's father.
“His head hit the ground and he sustained a very serious injury, which caused a
loss of brain tissue,” Batista said during the press conference at the Fatima Shrine.
Teetering between life and death, “he was given medical care in our city, Juranda,
and given the severity of his condition, he was transferred to the hospital in Campo Mourao, Parana.”
“When we got there, Lucas was in a deep coma. His heart stopped twice, and they
performed an emergency operation.”
It was at that moment
that “we began to pray to Jesus and Our Lady of Fatima, to whom we have a great devotion,” Batista said.
“The next day we called the Carmelite convent of Campo Mouro to ask the sisters
to pray for the boy,” he said. But the community was observing a period of silence, and so the message did not get to
As the days went by, Lucas became worse, his father recounted. On March 6, the doctors considered transferring
him to another hospital, since their facility did not have the necessary care for a boy of his age.
“They told us that the chance of the boy surviving was low, and if he did survive,
his recovery would be very slow,” likely dealing with “severe cognitive disabilities or even remaining in a vegetative
On March 7, Batista said, “we called the convent
again.” That time, they were able to get their prayer request to the sisters.
“One of them ran to the relics of Blessed Francisco and Jacinta, which were next to the tabernacle,
and felt the impulse to pray the following prayer: ‘Shepherds, save this child, who is a child like you’…she
also persuaded the other sisters to pray to the little shepherds to intercede for him.”
“And so they did,” Batista said. “In the same way, all of us, the family,
began to pray to the little shepherds, and two days later, on March 9, Lucas woke up and began to speak, even asking for his
little sister.” On the 11th, he left the ICU and was discharged from the hospital a few days later.
time, Lucas “has been completely well and has no symptoms or after effects,” the child’s father said. “He
has the same intelligence (as he did before the accident), the same character, everything is the same. The doctors, some of
them non-believers, said that his recovery had no explanation.”
“We thank God for the cure of Lucas and we know with all the faith we have in our hearts, that this miracle was
obtained through the intercession of the little shepherds Francisco and Jacinta.”… Batista said.
Mass celebrated by Pope Francis on Saturday, Lucas (now, 8 years old) walked up to the altar along with the whole family and
gave a big hug to the Holy Father. It was a moment to be cherished. We pray that through the continual intercession of Saints
Francisco and Jacinta, Lucas too becomes a messenger of peace to the world!
Jacinta and Francisco, both died before age 12, have become the youngest non-martyrs to be canonized. Sister
Lucia, the third visionary, lived much longer, dying in 2005 at the age of 97. The Church is currently examining documents
and collecting testimonies for her beatification cause.
May Our Lady of Fatima continue to guide this world, torn apart by the ‘Third World
War’, in the path of peace and reconciliation.
A tail piece on reconciliation and peace that comes to us from South Korea:
On May 10, last Wednesday, Mr Moon Jae-in was sworn in as the new President of South
Korea. He is the second Catholic to become the President of South Korea after Kim Dae-jung who was President from 1998 to
2003. Mr Moon Jae-in has spoken about resuming talks with North Korean government, instead of pursuing confrontation and conflict.
This message that comes three days ahead of the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, tells us that peace is still possible in this
world, if we try honestly. What the Korean Church appreciates in the new president is the already announced
approach of opening and negotiating relations with the North. The observers relate it to the "Sunshine Policy",
of his predecessor Catholic Kim Dae-jung who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (Kim Dae-jung was the 8th President of South
Korea…He was sometimes referred to as the "Nelson Mandela of Asia". – Wikipedia)
The Revolution of Tenderness
by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.
Pope Francis has completed his Apostolic Visit to Egypt (April 28,29) and has returned to Vatican.
I wanted to add the word ‘successfully’ to the previous sentence… That is, Pope Francis has ‘successfully
completed’ his Apostolic Visit to Egypt etc. In this context, the ‘success’ refers to him not being the
target of the senseless violence by the terrorists.
We are aware of the bomb blasts that rocked Egypt on Palm Sunday. Soon after those attacks, Pope Francis made it clear that he would
not change the dates of his journey to Egypt and
that he would not opt for bullet proof vehicles during his visit to Cairo.
Keeping all this in mind, I said that his trip was a ‘success’. Still, those 27 hours that Pope Francis spent
in Cairo must
have been tense moments for thousands of security personnel.
very first talk in Cairo delivered
at the International Peace Conference at the Al-Azhar conference centre in Cairo,
he spoke about violence, masquerading as a religious obligation:
“As religious leaders, we are called, therefore, to unmask the violence that masquerades
as purported sanctity and is based more on the “absolutizing” of selfishness than on authentic openness to the
Absolute. We have an obligation to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify
every form of hatred in the name of religion, and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God: Holy is his
name, he is the God of peace, God salaam. Peace alone, therefore, is holy and no act of violence can be perpetrated
in the name of God, for it would profane his Name.”
after addressing this conference, when he met the civil authorities of Egypt,
he once again spoke of violence unleashed in the name of God and religion:
“In the fragile and complex situation of today’s
world, which I have described as ‘a world war being fought piecemeal’, it needs to be clearly stated that no civilized
society can be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism that presumes to suppress others and
to annihilate diversity by manipulating and profaning the Sacred Name of God…
All of us have the duty to teach coming generations
that God, … can neither demand nor justify violence; indeed, he detests and rejects violence (‘God… hates
the lover of violence’: Ps 11:5)… It is our duty to dismantle deadly ideas and extremist ideologies, while upholding
the incompatibility of true faith and violence, of God and acts of murder.”
While Pope Francis spoke about the God of love and peace, leaders from countries like North
Korea, South Korea and
the United States spoke
of war. They have been ‘showing off’ their power in terms of weapons of destruction. A statement from North
Korea said that 2 or 3 nuclear bombs from their arsenal are
enough to destroy the whole world. What bravado! What madness!
games played around North Korea brings
to mind the recent talk given by Pope Francis - TED Talk, Vancouver, Canada, 25 April 2017. It is worth reading the full text of
this talk. But, I would like to quote some excerpts from this talk where the Pope talks of how power corrupts and absolute
power corrupts absolutely!
allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more
responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other.
There is a saying in Argentina:
‘Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.’ You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you
will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness.
Through humility and concrete love, on the other
hand, power – the highest, the strongest one – becomes a service, a force for good.
In this wonderful talk, Pope Francis talks about the ‘the revolution of tenderness’ that
all of us can take up: “Yes, tenderness is the path of
choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women. Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity,
the path of humility… The future of humankind isn't exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big
companies. Yes, they do hold an enormous responsibility. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who
recognize the other as a ‘you’ and themselves as part of an ‘us’.”
This ‘revolution of tenderness’ brings us to this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 24: 13-35) where the Risen Jesus,
reaches out with tenderness to two of his disciples. Last week, we saw Jesus meeting Thomas who doubted his resurrection.
This week Jesus meets two other disciples who, once again, were so caught up with their disillusionment that they paid no
heed to the good news of resurrection shared by the women. In short, they too doubted Jesus’ resurrection and walked
away from Jerusalem.
The Gospel says that the distance between Jerusalem and Emmaus is 11 k.m. With a heavy heart, those two disciples must have been ‘inching’
their way. It is also said that they were ‘talking with each other about all the things that happened’. (Lk. 24:14)
It was not simply a sharing of information. They were sharing their disappointments. Pope Francis, in the Mass celebrated
on Saturday in Cairo, speaks about these two disciples
as persons who experienced ‘death’.
Death. The two disciples are returning, full of despair and disappointment, to life
as usual. The Master is dead and thus it is pointless to hope. They feel disappointment and despair. Theirs
is a journey of return, as they leave behind the painful experience of Jesus’ crucifixion...
They could not believe that their Master and Saviour,
who had raised others from the dead and healed the sick, would end up hanging on the cross of shame. They could not
understand why Almighty God had not saved him from such a disgraceful death. The cross of Christ was the cross of their
own ideas about God; the death of Christ was the death of what they thought God to be. But in fact, it was they who
were dead, buried in the tomb of their limited understanding.
Then Pope Francis applies the predicament of these disciples
to our situation: How often do we paralyze ourselves by refusing to
transcend our own ideas of God, a god created in the image and likeness of man! How often do we despair by refusing
to believe that God’s omnipotence is not one of power and authority, but rather of love, forgiveness and life!
Jesus joins these heart-broken ‘kids’ with motherly care and tenderness. He takes the
liberty to admonish them and also enlighten them. As a climax, he breaks the bread with them. In the breaking they recognized
Jesus. While talking of this, Pope Francis invites us to break all the moulds we have created for God:
The disciples recognized Jesus in the “breaking
of the bread”, in the Eucharist. Unless we tear apart the veil clouding our vision and shatter the hardness of
our hearts and our prejudices, we will never be able to recognize the face of God.
The two disciples who left Jerusalem,
completely broken, and totally preoccupied with their own misery, now return to Jerusalem on a mission. Pope Francis concluded his homily in Cairo with an invitation to the people gathered for the Mass. He also extends the same invitation to us:
“So now, like the disciples of Emmaus, filled
with joy, courage and faith, return to your own Jerusalem,
that is, to your daily lives, your families, your work and your beloved country. Do not be afraid to open your hearts
to the light of the Risen Lord, and let him transform your uncertainty into a positive force for yourselves and for others.
Do not be afraid to love everyone, friends and enemies alike, because the strength and treasure of the believer lies in a
life of love!”
Let this Easter Season be an opportunity to begin our ‘revolution
Mercy – always unmerited
by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S.
In our reflections on Palm Sunday (April 09),
we spoke about the Holy Week. There we raised serious doubts about calling this week Holy, since nothing holy took place during
the first Holy Week. Betrayal, denial, mock trial and violent crucifixion do not have an iota of holiness in them. Unfortunately,
last year, and, this year, the Holy Week, once again, witnessed many unholy violent incidents.
This year, on April 9, Palm Sunday, two Coptic
Orthodox churches were the targets of suicide bombers. 47 people who had come to take part in the liturgical celebrations
of Palm Sunday were killed and more than a hundred were wounded. On April 15, Holy Saturday, innocent people, fleeing from
the war zone in Syria, were killed by bomb blasts.
126 died, out of whom more than 70 were children.
year, at the start of the Holy Week, on March 22, Tuesday, Brussels was devastated by terrorist attacks. On Easter Day, there was a gruesome attack
aimed at Christians in a public park in Lahore, Pakistan…
This year, a suicide bomber was tackled by the Lahore police, before he could attempt to blast himself during the Holy Week services.
Every tragedy raises more questions than providing
answers. When we hear of such tragedies in which innocent people are killed, our minds are filled with the main question –
WHY? Most of the times, the Christian response to tragedies, especially tragedies caused by human beings, is forgiveness and
prayer. The famous words of Jesus uttered on the Cross for his executioners become the touchstone to examine our willingness
to forgive and pray for the perpetrators of violence.
must say that it was a God-sent opportunity for me to come across the homily written by Fr Ron Rolheiser for Good Friday (March
21, 2016). It was titled: The Understanding and Compassion of Good
Friday. This homily, written for Good Friday, also helps us to understand the meaning of this Sunday – the
Divine Mercy Sunday. I am quoting extensively from this homily of Fr Rolheiser:
As Jesus is being crucified he utters
these words: “Forgive them, they know not what they do.” It is not easy to say these words and it is perhaps even
more difficult to grasp them in their depth. What does it mean, really mean, to understand and forgive a violent action against
are various approaches here: For example, in a tragic note, shared countless times on Social Media, a man who lost his wife
in the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015 (Antoine Leiris
lost his wife Helene in the Bataclan theatre in Paris.) wrote these words,
addressed to those who killed his wife:
“On Friday evening you stole the life of an exceptional person, the
love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred. I don’t know who you are and I don’t want
to know, you are dead souls. If this God, for whom you kill blindly, made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my
wife is a wound in his heart. So no, I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you. You want it, but to respond to hatred
with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that made you what you are. … We are only two, my son and I, but
we are more powerful than all the world’s armies… every day of his life this little boy will insult you with
his happiness and freedom.”
While this response is wonderfully heroic and virtuous, it does not, I believe,
go deep enough in its understanding and compassion. Virtuous as it is, it still carries a note of moral separateness, of a
certain superiority. Further still, it lacks all admission of being itself somehow complicit in the unfortunate circumstances
of culture and history that helped bring about this horrible act because it avoids the question: Why do you hate me? It is
a very positive and helpful note in its refusal of hatred; but, I fear, it may have exactly the opposite effect upon those
whom it accuses. It will further enflame their hatred.
Contrast this with the letter the Trappist Abbott, Christian de Cherge, wrote to
his family, just before he, himself, was killed by Islamic terrorists. He writes:
“If it should happen one
day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners
living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this
country. I ask them to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. … I ask
them to be able to associate such a death with the many other deaths that were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference
and anonymity. … I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the
world, even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a clear space which would allow
me to beg forgiveness of God and of all my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one
who would strike me down. … I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice if this people I love were to be accused
indiscriminately of my murder. It would be to pay too dearly for what will, perhaps, be called “the grace of martyrdom,”
to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.
I know the scorn with which Algerians as a whole can be regarded. I know also the caricature of Islam which a certain kind
of Islamism encourages. It is too easy to give oneself a good conscience by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist
ideologies of the extremists. … This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills—immerse my gaze in that
of the Father, to contemplate with him his children of Islam just as he sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the
fruit of his Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion
the likeness, delighting in the differences. … And you also, the friend of my final moment, [my executioner], who would
not be aware of what you were doing. Yes, for you also I wish this “thank you”—and this adieu—to commend
you to the God whose face I see in yours. And may we find each other, happy ‘good thieves,’ in Paradise,
if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen.”
Ah, to have grace and compassion, to hope
to have a drink one day with our enemies in heaven, laughing together at our former misguided hatred, under the loving gaze
of the same God!
The closing lines of the letter of Fr Christian
de Cherge talking about ‘good thieves’, enjoying one another’s company in heaven, helped me to imagine that
Jesus not only invited the ‘good’ thief into paradise, but also the ‘other one’… in fact, all
the ‘others’ who were responsible for his cruel death, when he said: “Father, forgive them!” This
forgiveness that Jesus prays for, is not an alms given to them out of pity, but an honest sharing of His heritage in heaven!
How would we react if we meet Pilate, Herod,
the Chief Priests, Pharisees as well as Judas in Heaven? Isn’t it high time we prayed for these ‘friends’
of ours that they may share in the Eternal Banquet? I see this as the better option when faced with the violence of ISIS and other mis-guided (or, should I say, differently-guided) groups! “Forgive
them, they know not what they do.”
homily of Fr Rolheiser, written for Good Friday, serves as an apt reflection for the Divine Mercy Sunday too. Jesus, the ‘wounded
healer’ comes to show his wounds to Thomas in order to heal him and win him back. Showing the wounds is not a gesture
of celebrating the victory of Jesus. It is rather a reminder to the disciples to overcome all the wounded feelings they have
accumulated during the Passion. It was an invitation to forgive the Romans and the Jewish Leaders of all the wounds they had
inflicted on the disciples and would continue to inflict on them. Jesus invites Thomas, his other disciples and us to feel
with him, to suffer with him – the literal meaning of ‘Compassion’.
Called out of our tombs
Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.
Jeremy was born with a twisted body, a slow
mind and a chronic, terminal illness that had been slowly killing him all his young life. Still, his parents had tried to
give him as normal a life as possible and had sent him to St. Theresa's elementary school. At the age of 12, Jeremy was only
in second grade, seemingly unable to learn.
His teacher, Doris Miller, often became exasperated with him. He would squirm
in his seat, drool and make grunting noises. At other times, he spoke clearly and distinctly, as if a spot of light had penetrated
the darkness of his brain. Most of the time, however, Jeremy irritated his teacher.
One day, she called his parents and asked
them to put Jeremy in a special school. While the mother was trying to hold back her tears, the father spoke: "Miss Miller,"
he said, "there is no school of that kind nearby. It would be a terrible shock for Jeremy if we had to take him
out of this school. We know he really likes it here." Doris let Jeremy stay on in the school.
Spring came, and the children talked excitedly
about the coming of Easter. Doris told
them the story of Jesus, and then to emphasize the idea of new life springing forth, she gave each of the children a large
plastic egg. "Now," she said to them "I want you to take this home and bring it back tomorrow with something
inside that shows new life. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Miss Miller!" The children responded enthusiastically - all except
for Jeremy. He just listened intently; his eyes never left her face. He did not even make his usual noises. Had he understood
what she had said about Jesus' death and resurrection? Did he understand the assignment?
The next morning, 19 children came to school,
laughing and talking as they placed their eggs in the large wicker basket on Miss Miller's desk. After they completed their
math lesson, it was time to open the eggs. In the first egg, Doris found a flower. "Oh yes, a flower is certainly a sign of new life," she
said. A small girl in the first row waved her arms. "That's my egg, Miss Miller," she called out. The next
egg contained a plastic butterfly, which looked very real. Doris held it up. "We all know that a caterpillar changes and turns into a
beautiful butterfly. Yes, that is new life, too" little Judy smiled proudly and said, "Miss Miller, that one is
Then Doris opened the next egg. She gasped. The egg was empty! Surely it must
be Jeremy 's, she thought, and, of course, he did not understand her instructions. Because she did not want to embarrass him,
she quietly set the egg aside and reached for another.
Suddenly Jeremy spoke up. "Miss Miller, aren't you going to talk about my egg?"
Flustered, Doris replied,
"But Jeremy - your egg is empty!" He looked into her eyes and said softly, "Yes, but Jesus' tomb was
empty too!" Time stopped. When she could speak again, Doris asked him, "Do you know why the tomb was empty?" "Oh yes!"
Jeremy exclaimed. "Jesus was killed and put in there. Then his Father raised him up!" The recess
bell rang. While the children excitedly ran out to the school yard, Doriscried.
The cold inside her melted completely away.
Three months later Jeremy died. Those
who paid their respects at the mortuary were surprised to see 19 eggs on top of his casket, ….. all of them empty.
From “An Emotional Easter Egg Story”
As we approach Easter, we are given a glimpse
into the life after. Jeremy’s lesson is highlighted in today’s Gospel – John 11: 1-45. This Gospel passage
talks of one of the most popular miracles of Jesus – the Raising of Lazarus from the dead. Jesus had raised quite many
people from the dead; but the case of Lazarus was special. In the other cases (the son of Nain’s widow or the daughter
of Jairus) Jesus was present soon after the person died. In the case of Lazarus, Jesus came to Bethany after four days. Among the Jews there was a belief that the soul of the buried
person lingered on for three days in the grave and on the fourth day it departed forever and the body began to decay. So,
when Jesus arrived at Bethany, it was really too
late. Lazarus had begun to decay.
many times in our lives we have felt that God came too late, or did not come when required! Mary
and Martha expressed this to Jesus… “If
you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11: 21,
32) We expect God to come in a particular way and in a particular time; but God comes at an unexpected time and in the most
unexpected way. One of the most beautiful aspects of God is… Surprise… the God of Surprises!
We can pay attention to the words of Jesus
spoken in front of the tomb of Lazarus. The first command of Jesus was: “Take
away the stone.” (Jn. 11:39) To
roll away the stone was not a big deal for Jesus. A word or, even a thought from him would have accomplished the task. But,
Jesus wanted the people around him to do that. God would like us to do what we can, and not expect God’s intervention
at every moment in our lives. The faith proclaimed by Martha
began the process of this miracle. “Lord,”Martha
said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever
you ask.” (Jn. 11: 21-22)Jesus wanted to instill such
a trust in the people standing around the tomb, who had given up on Lazarus, since it was already the fourth day. Jesus wanted
to tell them, “Whether it is four days or four thousand years, God can open the graves and bring out miracles, if only
a trust is expressed by Prophet Ezekiel in the first reading given in today’s liturgy:
This is what the Sovereign LORD
says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit
in you and you will live, declares the LORD. (Ez.
37: 12-14) Ezekiel speaks these inspiring words after
his famous vision of the valley in which dry bones get clothed in flesh and skin and turn into a mighty army. (Ez. 37: 1-11)
Opening the grave or rolling away the tomb
stone is our job and giving life is God’s work. But, there was a problem with the rolling away of the stone. Martha
expressed this problem directly to Jesus: “But, Lord,”
said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time
there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.” (Jn. 11:
39)Martha, although a very practical lady, was still living in the past and Jesus invited her to live
in the present and in the future. Martha is an example for many
of us who wish to live in the past, especially with the past hurts, unpleasant memories… We tend to carry around the
dead weight of the past.
I am reminded of a story… a repulsive
story, perhaps… but one with a very good lesson. In Virgil,
there is an account of an ancient king, who was so unnaturally cruel in his punishments that he used to chain a dead man to
a living criminal. It was impossible for the poor wretch to separate himself from his disgusting burden. The carcass was bound
fast to his body -- its hands to his hands; its face to his face; the entire dead body to his living body. Then he was put
into a dungeon to die suffocated by the foul emissions of the stinking dead body…
(http://www.cbcisite.com/Sunday%20Homily.htm) The story is surely very repulsive. But quite many of us live with such repulsive habits… the habit of carrying the
past with us… especially past hurts!
second command of Jesus was: “Lazarus, come out!” (Jn. 11: 43) Lazarus
who was buried for four days came out just as he was buried. We can surely learn to believe that many of our dreams buried
deep within, can come alive if only we could hear God’s call. We need to be sensitive to hear this call echoing in the
tombs we have built over our dreams and hopes.
third command of Jesus was: “Take off the grave clothes
and let him go.” (Jn. 11: 44) Even
though Lazarus could walk out of the tomb, he still needed the help of others to set him completely free. We need to learn
how to untie the knots and chains people are bound with. If we fail to do so, there is every possibility that these persons
would not be able to emerge out of their graves.
can easily see that we live in a culture of death. From womb to tomb, life is not respected. The daily massacres that go on
in Syria, especially of innocent children, is just
an example to show how our present world respects life. As Pope Francis has repeatedly told us our world is suffering from
the Third World War, fought in bits and pieces. In this ‘war zone’ which is turning the world into a vast graveyard,
we need to become apostles of life and messengers of Resurrection.
people from the dead is surely not within our power… that is left to God. But we can surely do our bit… We can
roll the stone away, we can untie the people who have managed to come out of their graves. If in case we are buried, we can
hear God’s call and come out of our tombs.
mudslide to messenger of God
By Rev. Fr. L. X.
Jerome S. J.
3rd Sunday of Lent
Woman swept away by mudslide in Peru,
but claws her way to safety… Amazing footage: Woman escapes
raging mudslide in Peru … Watch a Woman's Dramatic Escape From Mudslide… were some of the headlines of the news
from Peru that captured the attention of world media and the social network last week (March 16 and 17). It was accompanied
by an amateur video showing a young lady emerging from the, swirling, fast-moving mudslide to safety.
Evangelina Chamorro Diaz crawled and stumbled through debris as she tried to reach onlookers for help
in Punta Hermosa, about 40km outside of the capital Lima. The 32-year-old
said she survived by grabbing on to tree branches and trying to build a makeshift bridge to drag herself out of the mud. (Sky News)
Evangelina serves as the starting point of our Sunday reflection today. She is Evangelina (meaning ‘good news’)
and she fought against the mudslide that was carrying her to her certain death. Swimming against the tide in water is very
difficult. Here, Evangelina was swimming against the tide in swirling mud. She must have had extraordinary physical and mental
stamina to do this! From the mudslide emerges ‘good news’! She, thus, reminds us of the Samaritan woman who meets
Jesus in today’s Gospel (John 4: 5-42). Being a woman, a Samaritan woman was tough. This lady, living with the sixth
man, must have been smeared with mud most of the days. Figuratively speaking, she was surrounded by mudslide all the time.
From this mudslide, Jesus saves her and makes her an evangelist! Thus, Evangelina, the Peruvian woman, reminds us of the Samaritan
This Sunday as well as the
next two Sundays, the gospel texts will put us in touch with three of the most significant spiritual symbols of our Faith:
water, light and life, symbols closely connected with Easter. Today’s gospel revolves around the well in Samaria,
with a discourse on water. Next Sunday it will be the curing of the visually handicapped person, with thoughts on light. The
third week – the final week before the Holy Week – it will be the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead and
the discourse on life. All the three passages are taken from the Gospel of John, which, as we know well, is not a simple narrative
of Jesus’ life but a theological treatise as well.
The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is one of the longest (if not the longest) conversation recorded in the four gospels. This conversation is a good
example of the inward journey taken by a person (Samaritan woman) who, ultimately, makes this journey towards Jesus and God.
Quite often we tend to feel that we know enough about self, Jesus and God and thus lose out on newer insights. We forget that
we are all pilgrims on this world, constantly called to journey. With a false surety that ‘we know everything’
about self, others and God, we tend to stay put and stagnate! Only when we venture out, we shall encounter surprises about
ourselves and about God. ‘The God of Surprises’ is one of the basic, beautiful attributes of God!
Today’s gospel gives us a picture of Jesus who not only surprises us, but,
shocks us. He voluntarily initiates a conversation with a Samaritan woman who comes to the well at mid day. The woman’s
late visit to the well (women, usually, gathered at the well early in the morning) may suggest that she was an outcast in
the village, even among the Samaritans, because of her questionable living situation! Jesus begins this discourse expressing
his need for water.
When a Samaritan
woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (John
4: 7) A simple request for water opens up quite many
issues and ultimately ends on sublime themes related to God and worship. Here is the first lesson from today’s gospel:
that no place is alien to talk about God. We know that in villages, the well, the tea shop and the tree in the village square
are good spots for gossips, political opinions and even philosophical thoughts. Jesus shows us that a conversation near a
well can also be profoundly divine!
The initial reaction of the Samaritan woman is a grim reminder of how the human family has not progressed in
certain areas even after centuries. The Samaritan
woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4: 9) You-and-I
distinction even in the case of a basic need. Thirst knows no caste and religion. Hence, it would be highly impossible for
any one to refuse water to the one who is thirsty. But, with water becoming more and more a private property and hence scarce
and costly, it is becoming more and more delicate to request water and to share water even in dire situations. Due to its
rich business proposition, water has come to be called ‘blue gold’ in our days!
On March 22nd, Wednesday, World Water Day 2017, Pope Francis will inspire a global
conversation. His address from the Vatican will
help shift how the world values and understands its single most precious resource: water. Immediately following the Papal
address, at 10:30 a.m. CET, 400 thought leaders from around the world will convene at WATERSHED. These policy makers and academics,
together with students, artists, business leaders and men and women from the most at-risk populations will begin an unprecedented
dialogue around the value and values of water. The conference is co-hosted by the Vatican’s
Pontifical Council for Culture and the Club of Rome.
Pope Francis has warned that we could be moving toward “a major world war for water.” He did so when
addressing participants at the concluding session of an international seminar on “the human right to water,” held
at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Feb. 23 and 24, 2017.
“I ask if in this piecemeal third world war that we are living through, are we not going toward
a great world war for water?”, the pope said, departing from his prepared text. Specialists in
the field have already predicted that some of the major armed conflicts in the future could be over the possession of or access
to water, but this is the first time that Francis has spoken in these terms. (America Magazine)
The great Indian environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna, has expressed
similar sentiments when he said: “Nations all across
the world are facing a water crisis that is deepening with the passing of each day… This situation demands immediate
notice and remedial measures from our governments and policymakers. Otherwise, mankind has to face the wrath of an inevitable
third world war on the issue of water.”
The thirst of Jesus and the hesitation of the Samaritan woman still echo in different parts of the world. The great
natural gift of God – water – has, unfortunately, been used as a political and caste weapon, dividing people.
The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman also highlights another division among people. Not only the gifts of
God, but God himself / herself is divided under various pretexts. Jesus is rather emphatic in saying that true God and true
worship do not divide the people: “Woman,” Jesus replied,
“believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they
are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
(John 4: 21-24)
I don’t think that any one could make this clearer and easier than Jesus. Curiously, Jesus begins this statement
with a request… almost a plea: “Woman, believe me…” It is hard for us to believe that God can be worshipped in such simplicity. But,
that is the true worship that ‘the Father seeks’.
Lenten season is a call to conversion. Let us be converted to using God’s
gifts (especially water) properly without avarice and monopoly. Let us be converted not to divide God into various human slots,
but allow God to be God and try to worship God in Spirit and in Truth.
My closing thoughts go back to Evangelina emerging from the mudslide in Peru.
We pray that women all over the world hold on to hope while swimming against the mudslide created by the male-domination!
The dam of selfishness preventing ‘change’
by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.
This Sunday, which happens to fall
on March 12, takes us back by 40 years to a small town in El Salvador.
On March 12, 1977, Fr Rutilio Grande Garcia, a Jesuit priest, was gunned down by the ‘death squad’ of El
Salvador, along with his parishioners - Manuel
Solorzano, 70, and 16-year-old Nelson Rutilio Lemus. Fr Grande’s body was riddled with a dozen bullets. He was a marked
man right from the time he took up his priestly ministry among the poor in his hometown, El Paisnal.
Grande was a passionate preacher and an inspired organizer, who constantly feared that the church was not walking with the
people but in front of them. His prophetic ability to hear the cry of the poor, challenged the government, the military, wealthy
landowners and even his own church leaders. In one homily, delivered before El Salvador’s president and military leaders,
he courageously proclaimed: Many baptized in this country have not
accepted the postulates of the Gospel that demand a transfiguration, and therefore, those same people are not transfigured
in their mind and in their heart and they put a dam of selfishness in front of the message of Jesus our Savior, and the demanding
voice of the official witnesses of Christ through the church, the pope and his bishops! (America Magazine)
is an excerpt from the Catholic News Service - dated March 8, 2017:
Forty years after his death,
Father Grande has powerful admirers in the church. Fellow Jesuit Pope Francis is said to have asked a member of the commission
pushing for the beatification of Father Grande whether there was yet a documented miracle attributed to the Jesuit's intercession.
When the answer was no, the pope said he knew of one: Archbishop Romero.
is popularly believed something inside the Archbishop changed when he saw the brutal manner in which Father Grande and his
parishioners were killed. Before the killings, he hadn't publicly spoken about the deteriorating social situation in the country
or abuses against the poor.
Witnesses said that as Father Grande's body was carried
toward his parish, it practically came apart because of the many wounds. The incident, along with other cases Archbishop Romero
knew about involving the killing of unarmed civilians, led the Archbishop to take up Father Grande's voice in defending the
Romero who continued where Fr Grande left, was silenced by a single bullet fired at the heart, while he was celebrating Mass
on March 24, (the eve of the Feast of the Annunciation), 1980. The Vatican beatified Archbishop Romero in 2015 after determining he was killed out of hatred
for his Catholic faith. This year marks the first Centenary of Blessed Romero’s birth – August 15, 1917. Today
(March 12) is the 40th anniversary of the brutal killing of Fr
It is significant that both Fr Grande
and Archbishop Romero were killed in March, during the Season of Lent. Both these martyrs were advocating change in the society
as well as in the Church of El Salvador. Change, as we know, is the key theme of Lent.
Sunday we have two reasons to
reflect on ‘Change’. The Liturgical Readings present us with the theme of ‘Change’. That is the
first reason. Today’s Gospel (Matthew 17: 1-9) talks of the change in Jesus – his Transfiguration. The
First Reading (Genesis 12: 1-4) talks of Abraham being invited to change from the known to the unknown. In simple terms, he
was asked to leave his hometown and move to a strange place. When Abraham was invited to make this change, he was 75 years
old! (Gn. 12:4)
Four years back, in March, a Bishop who was 77 years old, was invited to
make a similar change. This is the second reason for
us to reflect on ‘Change’. Yes, when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was invited to leave Buenos
Aires, and take up the leadership ministry of the Holy Catholic Church, he was 77 years old – old enough
to retire from active ministry! In all probability, he would have already tendered his resignation from his ministry as Archbishop
of Buenos Aires, when he was asked to take up his ministry as the Bishop of Rome!
Monday, March 13, 2017, Pope Francis will be completing his fourth year as the Bishop of Rome. Ever since Pope Francis took
up this role, expectations ran high as to how he would CHANGE EVERYTHING in VATICAN and in THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH as a whole. On quite a few occasions, he has made
it more than clear that changes in the Church will have to begin with changes from the individuals. As a person, he has lived
up to what he was saying… namely, change at the personal level.
since he appeared on the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica around 8 p.m. on March 13, 2013, he had changed our perspective
on who the Pope is. Pope Francis, appeared on the balcony, wearing a simple white cassock with a simple crucifix – no
red mozzetta (red upper piece covering the shoulders up to the waist), and no golden, ornamented crucifix. Talk of first impressions!
followed in the next 20 to 30 minutes confirmed that the Pope was one of us. The first words he spoke to the world at large
were: “Fratelli e Sorelle, buona sera” – Brothers and Sisters, Good evening! It was like listening to a
Parish Priest chatting with his parishioners. The distance between the Pope and the people dissolved that instant!
followed was a defining moment of CHANGE which is etched deep in the minds of thousands of people who were watching him directly
as well as on TV. Pope Francis requested the people to pray for him. He said: And
now I would like to give the blessing, but first I want to ask you a favour. Before the bishop blesses the people I ask that
you would pray to the Lord to bless me – the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer – your
prayer for me – in silence.
Pope Francis, the Supreme Pontiff
of 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, bowed down before the people and asked for their prayers. That gesture was a supreme
testimony of the type of person we have as our Holy Father. The silence that prevailed in Peter’s Square would have
left lasting impression on millions around the world. If the Pope can bow down in prayer before the world in the full glare
of all the media, then we can be assured of many blessings!
am sure many of us have prayed for Popes and their intentions many times in our life. None of them, as far as I know, have
made this request to me personally. Here was a Pope who was doing it personally. That one gesture erased all the distance
between the Pope and the people. All through these four years, he has repeatedly asked people to pray for him. Even on the
First Anniversary while he was making his Annual Retreat, he had tweeted saying: “Please pray for me.” This was
a refreshing CHANGE, indeed!
In these four years of his leadership
ministry, Pope Francis has brought in many changes on the personal level:
- In the House of St Martha where he continues to stay, he serves his own meals and sits
down in any available chair, with other members of the community.
- He keeps calling people directly over the phone and gives them pleasant surprises. For the First Anniversary,
the Vatican Publishing House has published a book titled: “Pronto? Sono Francesco. Il Papa e la rivoluzione comunicativa un anno dopo”
(Hello? This is Pope Francis. The Pope and the Communication
Revolution one year later) written by Massimo Enrico Milone.
- In the interviews he has given to quite a few newspapers and magazines,
he has mentioned that, like any other person, he has his own moments of doubts and darkness of the soul etc.
back on these four years of Pope Francis in Vatican,
one can easily think of the many ‘revolutions’ he has made. Many of them have been highlighted by the media worldwide.
To me these are not important. There are so many other ‘revolutions’ initiated by Pope Francis that have not grabbed
the attention of the media, but have made significant changes in the lives of people.
- Persons who have left the Church for many years have returned to the Church after seeing
- The simplicity of Pope
Francis has set in motion changes in other ‘leaders’ of the Church, who have begun to see themselves not as leaders
but ministers (meaning, servants).
idea has become more focussed and clear as to how their pastors and bishops should be – in terms of their residence,
their dress, and the vehicles and gadgets they use. Bishops in some parts of the world have been ‘pulled up’ by
the people for being pompous and extravagant!
if Pope Francis does not achieve anything significant as the Bishop of Rome, the very fact that he had made the Pope an accessible,
ordinary human being, is a very big achievement, indeed. I call this a very BIG achievement since I believe that this ‘accessibility’
will set in motion many other changes in Vatican and in the entire Church, perhaps extending its influence even to the rest
of the world. If the Pope is an ordinary human person, then, naturally, the others – namely, the Cardinals, the Bishops
and the Priests are human beings as well. They cannot hoist themselves on pedestals and build protective walls around them.
When walls and pedestals break down, fresh breeze can come in! The Church seems to be undergoing a ‘transfiguration’
with the help of a wave that is sweeping over Vatican.
always move forward. They are not stagnant nor go back! Waves are a good sign of life and change! Let ‘Pope Francis
Wave’ which was set in motion on March 13, 2013, continue to create ripples!
The desert-school of Jesus
by Rev. Fr.
L. X. Jerome S. J.
Once upon a time a certain mother
was tempted to quit – quit her job, quit her family, quit her parish, quit everything. When the parish priest suggested
she read about the temptation of Jesus, she said that she had already and that all the demands which were made on her, presumably
with God’s approval and even connivance, were about the same as being asked to jump off the parapet of the temple. How
was she supposed to do everything in the family – bring in money, cook the meals, clean the house, worry about the kids,
help with the home work, keep an eye on the TV the kids were watching – when no one else seemed worried about these
things? She loved her job and she loved her family, but she was tired and all she wanted to do was quit. Well, said the parish
priest, why not go on strike. The woman thought about that and decided she would.
contracted a case of blue flu – too sick to go to her job, too sick to take care of the house, too sick to help with
homework, too sick to worry about the kids, too sick to do anything but lie in bed and watch TV. The doctor was summoned and
suggested that she needed a long rest. You know what happened then? The mother found that it was all BORING. The daytime soaps
were particularly BORING! So she improved rapidly, especially when everyone promised that they would help (which they did,
but often just made the mother’s task more complicated). Temptations,
said the mother, look a lot better before you give into them than afterwards. (Homily
from Fr Andrew M. Greeley)
Temptations come in different shapes
and sizes… mostly very attractive. Only after they take root in our lives do they show their true colours. Every year,
the First Sunday of Lent invites us to think about temptations. Today’s first reading talks of the temptation faced
by our first parents. (Genesis 2: 7-9; 3: 1-7) The Gospel talks of temptations faced by Jesus. (Matthew 4: 1-11) EVERY human
being was, is, and will be tempted. No exceptions. Not even Jesus.
years back, I was discussing this topic with a friend of mine with a view to prepare the homily. The moment he saw the theme ‘temptation’, he began singing an old Tamil film song that
talked of the hero being beset with trials - Sothanai mel sothanai podhumadaa
saami. (In Tamil we generally use the word ‘sothanai’ for trials and temptations.) The hero of the film pleads
with God not to send him more temptations.
God send temptations? Every now and then we feel that way. When we are deep in trouble, we raise our eyes to heaven and blurt
out something like this: Oh, God, why do you send me such trials and temptations? The opening verse of today’s Gospel
gives us some sort of clarity as to who sends us temptations. Then Jesus
was led up by the Spirit into
the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Mt.
The devil tempted Jesus and the Holy Spirit led Jesus into this situation,
probably, whispering words of encouragement and support. This seems to explain what we experience! The devil is ever ready
to tempt us. In such a situation, it is God who stays close and seems to ‘permit’ the evil one to tempt us. This
is the theme of the Book of Job. This is what we see in the Garden of Eden.
we go through Chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis (Our first reading is taken from these chapters), God created a lovely garden; planted
all sorts of trees; placed Adam (and later Eve) in that garden. Till then the story is a fairy tale. Then came the commandment
that they should not touch a particular tree in the garden. It also looks odd that he created the serpent (we assume that
this was the devil) more cunning than other creatures (Gn. 3:1) and allowed the serpent to interact with Eve. Why plant a
tree in the first place and then forbid the First Parents from even touching it?
only God had not planted that particular tree…
If only God had not created the serpent
If only God had not allowed the serpent to interact with Eve…
only… Well, we are generous in our counsels to God.
Sometimes we feel that we have better
ideas than God as to how things should have been done.
is exactly the beauty of God’s love. While he gave all the other living beings the simple command – “Be
fruitful and multiply…”, he gave the human beings the special command of ‘making proper choices’.
If only God had not given this capacity to human beings, we would all be ‘programmed’ to follow God’s will
to the minutest detail. No choices, no problems, no evil…
No Original Sin… Wow! If the whole world functioned as
a well-oiled machine, there would be no factions, no frictions, no failures… But that would be the world of the ‘robots’.
God created human beings and not pre-programmed robots. God placed human beings, including His beloved Son, in the midst of
trials and temptations. This is how I understand that ‘the Spirit
led Jesus to be tempted by the devil’!
the three synoptic gospels talk of this experience of Jesus. The temptation-event in the life of Jesus is different from the
other events. While there were quite a few witnesses to the other events, Jesus was the only eyewitness to this event. Why
did Jesus, who shunned all publicity, tell His disciples about this personal experience he had all alone in the desert? Why
did the three evangelists record this ‘struggle of Jesus’ for posterity? Perhaps Jesus wanted us to learn quite
a few lessons from this most common of all human experiences.
first lesson is that temptations are very attractive.
I am sure many of us have seen the Life of Christ enacted on stage. In almost all these stage plays, the scene of the devil
tempting Jesus is a must. It would be a dramatic scene with the devil usually clothed in black, with the face painted also
in black, with protruding teeth, with two horns and with a loud, scary voice entering the stage. If Satan comes in this fashion,
then all of us would flee the scene, or, drive away this horrible creature from our sight. All of us know that Satan comes
clothed in light… And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades
as an angel of light. (II Cor. 11:14)
the three temptations that Jesus faced were ‘good’ temptations, very logical. This is the
second lesson we need to learn about temptations – that they
are very logical. Jesus was hungry; therefore He
was asked to turn the stones into bread. Jesus wanted to begin his public ministry; therefore He was asked to begin his ministry with a bang… by jumping off the pinnacle
of the Temple. Jesus wanted to gain the whole world
for His Father; therefore He
was asked to make compromises with the devil. All the three ‘therefore’s sound very logical.
also uses an opening salvo to ‘hook’ Jesus into doing his bidding. “If
you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.” On the one hand, this looks like a childish challenge. Kids throw such challenges
at one another “Hey, Tom, if you are so brave, why don’t you climb this tree? Why don’t you do this…
and why don’t you do that?” etc. But, a closer analysis of these ‘childish challenges’ also gives
us a clue that the Satan was trying to define what the Son of God must be like. If Jesus was the Son of God, He must use His
powers to gratify himself, to make a spectacular entry into human history, to make compromises with evil forces even to the
point of total surrender to them… In short, this is a short cut… a path of least resistance… an unholy,
Jesus tries to respond to these challenges
in his own style. He rewrites the definition of the Son of God. If someone uses his / her special powers to satiate one’s
own needs or to seek popularity, he or she is a magician and not the Son of God. Jesus, who refused to use his power to satiate
his own hunger in the desert, used his special powers to feed thousands in another ‘deserted’ place. Jesus, who
refused to surrender to the Satan with a strong rebuttal: “Away from me, Satan!”, was willing to surrender to
the Father while He was in his most vulnerable moment on the Cross. These are some of the lessons Jesus tries to teach us
Are we listening? Lenten season is a good time to learn from the desert-school
Serving God, money and worry
by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.
Sunday in Ordinary Time
We have been reflecting on the different
sections of the Sermon on the Mount for the past four Sundays. Today, we conclude this ‘mini-series’. Reflecting
on the Sermon on the Mount - where Jesus has constantly challenged us to change our perspective and direction in life - is
an excellent preparation for the Lenten Season which begins coming Wednesday.
Few Buttons Missing” is a book written by James T.Fisher and L.S.Hawley in 1951. Fisher, a psychiatrist by profession,
talks about the Sermon on the Mount in his book:
"If you were to take the
sum total of all authoritative articles ever written by the most qualified of psychologists and psychiatrists on the subject
of mental hygiene--if you were to combine them and refine them and cleave out the excess verbiage--if you were to take the
whole of the meat and none of the parsley, and if you were to have these unadulterated bits of pure scientific knowledge concisely
expressed by the most capable of living poets, you would have an awkward and incomplete summation of the Sermon on the Mount.
And it would suffer immeasurably through comparison. For nearly two thousand years the Christian world has been holding in
its hands the complete answer to its restless and fruitless yearnings. Here ... rests the blueprint for successful human life
with optimum mental health and contentment."
Harry S.Truman, the 33rd President of the U.S. paid this compliment on the Sermon on the Mount: I
do not believe there is a problem in this country or the world today which could not be settled if approached through the
teaching of the Sermon on the Mount.
world leaders and great thinkers agree that the Sermon on the Mount is indeed a rich resource of happy, healthy living. In
today’s Gospel passage (Matthew 6: 24-34) Jesus gives us sharp insights as to how to lead uncompromising
lives worthy of Christians. Unfortunately, today’s world has made the attitude of compromise as the norm and uncompromising,
noble ways as the exception and, sad to say, eccentric!
Jesus’ idea of uncompromising
life comes through in some of his statements - call them suggestions, advice, challenges - in today’s Gospel:
- You cannot serve both God and money.
- Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about
your body, what you will wear.
- Do not
worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
these statements sound very ideal and out-of-this-world. But, on
deeper analysis, they can be seen as very down-to-earth. They are
not exceptional or eccentric! It is a question of perspective!
begins today’s Gospel with the opening salvo: “No
one can serve two masters”. While reading this line, my mind instinctively thought of politicians. They
would easily serve several masters at the same time, not letting any of them know where their true allegiance lies. Their
ultimate master is money. They would do anything; go any distance to serve their great master - Mammon. Jesus makes a specific
reference to this in the very next sentence: You cannot serve
God and money.
What did Jesus mean by this? Depending
on which word we lay the emphasis, the meaning would change as well. I would like to emphasise the word SERVE. A true disciple
of Jesus cannot SERVE God and money.
For Jesus, there is nothing wrong with money, provided it is kept
in its proper place. One can earn, save, and share money; but cannot SERVE money. I was struck by Jesus putting money on par
/ in competition with God. Can money compete with God? Unfortunately, yes… and, worse still, it seems to be winning
the race, mainly in the world of politics and business where money has assumed a divine status.
worry or not to worry is a crucial human question. In the second part of today’s Gospel, Jesus answers this question
in his own style. Erma Louise Bombeck was an American humorist who achieved great popularity for her newspaper column that
described suburban home life from the mid-1960s until the late 1990s. Bombeck also published 15 books, most of which became
best-sellers. She once wrote about a little guy named Donald. Donald was
worrying about going to school. Here is how he expressed his anxieties. “My name is Donald. I don’t know anything.
I have a new underwear, a loose tooth and I didn’t sleep last night because I’m worried. What if the bell rings
and a man yells, ‘Where do you belong,’ and I don’t know? What if the trays in the cafeteria are too tall
for me to reach? What if my loose tooth comes out when we have our heads down and are supposed to be quiet? Am I supposed
to bleed quietly? What if I splash water on my name tag and my name disappears and no one knows who I am?”
am sure most of us smiled reading the list of worries enlisted by poor little Donald. If we pity poor Donald, we need to pity
all of us! Inside every one of us there lives a Donald. We tend to drown in a teaspoon of worry. To worry or not to worry?
Does Jesus tell us simply to brush aside worries; sweep them under the carpet; pretend that there is no care in the world?
What does Jesus mean by saying ‘do not worry about your life’? I would like to see this as a sequel to the previous
section of today’s Gospel, where Jesus had indicated how money can replace God. Here Jesus indicates that we can be
drowned in worries so much, that God would disappear from our life. Once again God is put in competition with worries.
today’s Gospel, Jesus tries to tell us in a very simple but elegant way that God is much bigger than our worries. Unfortunately,
when we are beset with worries it is much harder for us to believe these words of Jesus. Our worries seem much more tangible
and over powering than God. Granted. But, by just worrying about actual and imagined things – like poor Donald –
what do we achieve? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to
your life? This challenge of Jesus is pretty simple and straightforward.
Borkovec, a professor of Psychology at Penn State University, is (like many of us), an expert in the field of
worry. The key difference is that Dr. Borkovec makes his living by diagnosing what other folks are worried about. He has determined
that the single most common source of worry is not the fear of war, financial disaster, holes in the ozone layer, AIDS, cancer,
loss of a job, divorce or any of those other topics that one might place atop a traditional worry list. Instead, Dr. Borkovec
claims that the single most frequent source of worry is other people's opinions of our lives. "If this happens, what
will they think? What will people say? Will I be laughed at? Will I be excluded?"
placing ‘others’ as the centre of our worries, and anxieties, we get drowned in them. Jesus says that by placing
God at the centre of our lives, we can come out of the ocean of worries. The closing words of Jesus in today’s Gospel
are truly golden words: Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow
will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Mt.
I am not sure whether these words
of Jesus inspired Marijohn Wilkin and Kris Kristofferson to write that famous song – ‘One Day at a Time’.
When we tend to be submerged with worries about tomorrow, about what to eat, drink, wear, etc., we can surely pray these lines
which help us take life ‘one day at a time’. Here are the lines of this famous song / prayer:
only human, I'm just a man/woman
Help me believe in what I could
And all that I am
me the stairway I have to climb
Lord for my sake, teach me to take
day at a time
One day at a time sweet Jesus
all I'm askin' of you
Just give me the strength
do every day what I have to do
Yesterday's gone sweet Jesus
tomorrow may never be mine
Lord, help me today, show me the way
day at a time
Do you remember when you walked
Well Jesus you know
you're lookin' below, it's worse now than then
Pushin' and shovin' and crowdin'
So for my sake, teach me to take
day at a time
Showing the other
cheek, sowing peace
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
giant truck eased into the parking lot of a highway motel. The driver went in and ordered a steak. Before he could eat it,
in walked a motorcycle gang, with dirty leather jackets and long, unkempt hair. They took the man's steak, cut it into six
pieces, and ate it. The driver said nothing. He simply paid the bill and walked out. One of the gang members said, "That
man couldn't talk. He didn't say a word." Another one said, "He couldn't fight, either; he didn't lift a hand."
A waiter added, "I would say that he couldn't drive either. On his way out of the parking lot, he ran over six motorcycles
crushing all of them." Something in us loves that story. We tend to support what the truck driver had done – namely,
‘teaching a lesson’ to the motorcycle gang. We love stories and film scenes that present the ‘eye for an
eye’ theme, in subtle and explicit ways.
‘Eye for an eye’, ‘tooth
for a tooth’, ‘tit for tat’ etc. are not Christian ways, says Jesus in today’s Gospel. Some commentators
say that the passage we have for this Sunday’s liturgy (Matthew 5: 38-48) is the core of the Sermon on the Mount. Let
us try to understand the depth of the challenge proposed by Jesus in this passage. Jesus, not only challenges us, but challenges
the Law of Moses.
Moses, taking a cue from the Hammurabi
codes, instructed the Israelites to follow tit-for-tat retaliation, rather than to wreak total destruction upon their enemies.
That is, instead of mutilating or murdering all the members of the offender’s family or tribe, they should discover
the offender and only punish him/her with an equal mutilation or harm. This was the origin of the ‘an eye for an eye’
and ‘a tooth for a tooth’ law. Jesus challenged this law. “You
have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.
If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt,
hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and
do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew
In this passage, Jesus makes a specific
mention of getting slapped ‘on the right cheek’.
Here, Jesus is not speaking only about the physical abuse of slapping, but also the insult one suffers by getting slapped
on the right cheek. This is a clear case of adding insult to injury! Most of us are right-handed. So, when a person slaps
another with the right hand, the slap lands on the left cheek. Only when the person who slaps, uses the back hand, he or she
could slap another on the right cheek. This was usually the treatment given to the Jews by the Romans.
Penley, a Bible schlar, has written an article titled: “Turning
the Other Cheek”: Jesus’ Peaceful Plan to Challenge Injustice. Here he reflects on the words of Jesus
in the cultural context of the Roman occupied Israel.
Jesus’ day Roman soldiers strutted arrogantly around Israel.
The Jewish land was Roman occupied territory. There was no love lost between the occupying soldiers and the Israelite population.
When a soldier decided that he needed a Jew’s goods or services, resistance was futile. The Jewish subject better be
quick to fetch water, strong enough to carry a load, and ready to give away his shirt or else. If the subject could not perform
the request to the soldier’s liking, then a quick backhand to the face was not far behind. This was the situation Jesus
addressed in the Sermon on the Mount.
“If someone slaps you
on the right cheek, turn the other cheek toward him.” … Why would Jesus indicate that the first blow will come
to the right cheek? Why would he instruct someone to offer the left cheek to an attacking Roman soldier?
answer is simple. Roman soldiers tended to be right-handed. When they struck an equal with a fist, it came from the right
and made contact with the left side of the face. When they struck an inferior person, they swung with the back of their right
hand making contact with the right cheek. In a Mediterranean culture that made clear distinctions between classes, Roman soldiers
backhanded their subjects to make a point. Jews were second-class.
Jesus tells fellow Jews to expose the left cheek, he is calling for “peaceful subversion.” He does not want them
to retaliate in anger nor to shrink in some false sense of meekness. He wants to force the Roman soldiers to treat them like
equals. He wants the Jews to stand up and demand respect. He wants to make each attacker stop and think about how they are
mistreating another human being. It is the same motivation behind his command to “go an extra mile” after a soldier
forced you to carry water for the first mile (Matt 5:41). It is intended to activate the soldier’s conscience.
command to “turn the other cheek” is ultimately a call to peaceful resistance. It is the mantra of great men inspired
by Jesus like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr… “Turning the other cheek” is not blanket acceptance of
brutality. It is a strategy for motivating others to change. If you meet evil with evil and blow for blow, the cycle of vengeance
will never end.
“Peaceful subversion” is one among many of
Jesus’ plans for changing the world.
idea of peaceful resistance, of restoring justice at the cost of one’s own pain, captured the imagination of Gandhi
and Martin Luther King Jr. They were inspired by these words of Jesus to lead their non-violent resistance.
is a scene from the movie ‘Gandhi’! In this scene, Gandhi is shown walking with a friend Chalie Andrews who is
a Presbyterian minister. The two suddenly find their way blocked by young thugs. The Reverend Andrews takes one look at the
menacing gangsters and decides to run. Gandhi stops him and asks, "Doesn't the New Testament say if an enemy strikes
you on the right cheek, you should offer him the left?" Andrews mumbles something about Jesus speaking metaphorically.
Gandhi replies, "I'm not so sure. I suspect he meant you must show courage; be willing to take a blow, several blows,
to show you will not strike back nor will you be turned aside."
I was ‘googling’ with the phrase – ‘turning the other cheek’ – I came across very many
life events that inspired me. These events are not simply stories of forgiveness. They are stories where the ‘enemy’
was won over by the ‘disciple’. Here is one of them:
Short Lesson on Turning the Other Cheek - With Stories That Show How it is Better!
was 8:30pm and over a hundred men and some women partners were all gathered in a park eating a really lovely meal served up
to the poor and homeless in Sydney, Australia. One of my friends had finished his meal and was standing chatting when a big
angry man came up and smashed him on the cheek with a punch. Nick, my friend, recovered from the shock and said, "Do
you need to do that again?" The thug hit him with another hard punch and he got the same reply from Nick, "Do you
need to do that again?" The thug hit Nick, who was a black belt in his own right, four times and four times Nick asked
the same question. The heart of the thug was broken through this and he began to weep. He said, "Why won't you ring the
police and put me in jail?"
Nick realized that this man was having a real hard time being out
in free society after being locked up in the jail routines for too many years. Nick put his arm around him and said, "Do
you want to come with me and have a nice brewed coffee and we will have a good chat?"
events do happen day after day around us. Only a few get the attention of the media. Unfortunately, our media seems to revel
more often in stories of ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth’. We are aware of the famous quote: “An
eye for an eye will make the whole world blind,” attributed
to Gandhi. There is also a Chinese Proverb which says: “Whoever
pursues revenge should dig two graves; one for the avenged and one for himself.”
formula has made our world more of a graveyard than a nursery where love can be grown. Against such a formula, there are millions
of us, ordinary humans, who still sow seeds of love. Here is one of us – Gladys Staines! Gladys Staines is the wife
of Graham Staines who was burnt alive along with his two sons Philip and Timothy in Orissa, India (22nd January, 1999). When Dara Singh, who was convicted of these murders, was sentenced
to death, Gladys made a plea to the court and to the government to commute the death sentence. She also made a public statement
that she had forgiven those who had committed this crime. She believed that only in forgiveness can hope survive. Let us grow
in courage and hope to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile to win over persons suffering from hatred!
Challenges keep coming…
by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.
Sunday in Ordinary Time
For the third week
in succession, we are reflecting on the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount. Last week we considered two imageries
used by Jesus – Salt and Light. This week we begin our reflections with the imageries of Fire and Water. These imageries
are given in the first reading from the Book of Sirach. The passage given today is very direct and lucid. Here it is:
SIRACH 15: 15-17
If you will, you can keep the commandments,
and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water: stretch out your hand for whichever
you wish. Before a man are life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him.
Fire and water are placed before us and we are asked to stretch out our hand
to take whichever we wish to choose. In the same way, life and death are before us and we are asked to choose. It is simple
common sense that between fire and water we would stretch out our hands only towards water. Between life and death, we would
choose only life. But… wait a moment! Things are not that simple and clear in life. Common sense does not guide all
our choices all the time. There are other factors like habits, emotions and situational pressures. We can surely think of
moments when we stretched out our hands towards fire. Dancing flames, though dangerous, are attractive. When a child, attracted
by dancing flames, moves closer to the fire, we do not allow the child on this dangerous expedition… But, as grown
ups, haven’t we undertaken such expeditions? Haven’t we played with fire?
Water and fire are in themselves lovely gifts from God, provided we use them properly. It is here that we, as a human
family, have not learnt our lessons – especially the lesson of sharing these lovely gifts. We have ‘played with
fire’ over the issue of equitable sharing of water resources. All of us know the anxiety expressed by very many knowledgeable
people that ‘the third world war will be fought over water’.
report "Water Cooperation for a Secure World" published (2013) by Strategic Foresight Group concludes that active water cooperation between
countries reduces the risk of war. This conclusion is reached after examining trans-boundary water relations in over 200 shared
river basins in 148 countries. (Wikipedia – Water conflict)
Sirach also talks of the choice between Life and Death. The
famous Jesuit, Walter Burghardt, focused in on the phrase, ‘Before a man are life and death, whichever he chooses shall
be given to him.’ He goes on to state that to the ancient Hebrews, life meant far more than the period between conception
and death. Life was what proceeded from loving and obeying God. And death was not just that which followed the
last breath on earth. To the ancient Hebrews, death was the rejection of the living God. “Seek the Lord and you
will live,” the prophet Amos tells the people. He was not just speaking of eternity. He was speaking of
living life to its fullest right now. And, conversely, isolate yourself from the love of the Lord, and you will join
the living dead. (Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino)
Hence, for a faithful Hebrew, life was not measured in terms of quantity - the number of years, but in terms of the quality of life, spent in loving and obeying God. Unfortunately, the idea of loving and
obeying God was reduced to following the Laws of Moses. Even here, the Israelites tended to follow the ‘letter’
of the Law than the ‘spirit’, since they were misled by the religious leaders. Jesus makes a subtle reference
to this when he says in today’s Gospel: “For I tell
you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5: 20)
The contrast between the ‘letter’ and
the ‘spirit’ of the Law is the main theme of today’s Gospel passage – Matthew 5: 17-37. Jesus differentiates
between the letter and spirit in two formulas… “You
have heard that it was said … But I say unto you.” For
the Jews who heard Jesus speak this way, this must have sounded too presumptuous. A carpenter’s son from Nazareth trying to be greater than Moses and the Prophets? Unthinkable! Hence, Jesus begins
today’s discourse with a clarification:
Do not think that I have come to abolish
the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth
disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything
is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be
called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom
of heaven. (Matthew 5: 17-19)
Jesus is not setting aside the Law; but sets it up on a higher plane. He challenges
his listeners to follow the spirit of the Law and live rather than follow the letter of the law and become living dead. The
challenge of Jesus can be understood better if we take one set of the Laws – the laws prescribed for temple offerings.
The Mosaic Law prescribed many details about the type of offering to be made for different occasions. For instance, minute
details were given as to how old must the sacrificial lamb be and that it should be without blemish etc. (cf. Lev. 22:21)
The Laws dealt mostly with external requirements. They did not speak much on the internal requirements. Jesus brings
the latter into focus. He says: “Therefore, if you are offering
your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in
front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew
This passage is a favourite one of mine in the Sermon
on the Mount. It gives us a very high standard of reconciliation. Imagine the scene painted by Jesus, in these verses: You
are at the altar to offer your gift. There you remember… Remember what? Remember that you
have something against your brother or sister? NO… Remember that your
brother or sister has something against you… This is
the benchmark. Even when your brother or sister has something against you and you happen to remember it, then you cannot proceed
to offer your gift. Your first duty is reconciliation; only then comes the offering.
I was just wondering
what would be Jesus’ response, if I asked him, “What if I had something against my brother or sister?” I
can well imagine Jesus responding this way: “Well, if that is
the case, forget about bringing any gift to the altar. Your first job is to be reconciled even before approaching the altar.” This is a very great challenge for us. If this challenge of Jesus is taken very
seriously, then most of our Sunday Masses will have to come to an end by the time we come to the offertory. Almost all of
us, including the priest who celebrates Mass, will have non-reconciled relationships. They need to be mended before offering
the gifts. We need to become a better gift internally, before we can offer the external gift at the altar.
Throughout today’s gospel, Jesus offers us quite a few challenges. In fact the whole Sermon on the Mount is
very challenging. It makes us wonder whether such a life is possible here on earth. It makes us hunger and thirst after such
a life here on earth. Such wonder, such hunger and thirst are steps to the altar of holiness where we can offer ourselves
as a worthy Offering.
The challenge to live as Salt and Light…
by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.
in Ordinary Time
Use of imageries in one’s talks and
writings is a special talent. Pope Francis seems to feel at home in this art. His homilies, talks, and writings have been
quoted right, left and centre… mainly because of the rich images he has used. Here are just a few samples taken from
the first few months of his Petrine ministry:
end up sad – sad priests - in some sense becoming collectors of antiques or novelties, instead of being shepherds living
with ‘the odour of the sheep’. This I ask you: be shepherds, with the ‘odour of the sheep’, make it
real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men.” This was the homily given to the Priests during the Chrism Mass
on Maundy Thursday morning – two weeks after he was elected Pope.
- “But who is this God you believe in? An ‘all-over-the-place-god,
a 'god-spray' so to speak, who is a little bit everywhere but who no-one really knows anything about?” was the question
posed by Pope Francis while celebrating the morning Mass at Santa Martha.
- An exclusive interview of Pope Francis, conducted
by Fr Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal, became very famous
due to its candour and rich imageries used. During the interview Fr Spadaro asked Pope Francis: “What kind of church
do you dream of?” The Pope answered: “I see the church as a field hospital after battle.” This interview
was published on September 19, 2013.
- On the same day (September 19) Pope Francis met the newly appointed Bishops who
had come to Vatican for a
meeting. Towards the end of his talk, he made an earnest appeal to the Bishops, which, once again, caught the attention of
the media: “Espouse your community, be profoundly bonded to it!” the Pope said concluding his address. “I
beg you, please, to stay among your people. Avoid the scandal of being 'airport bishops'!”
Imageries such as – ‘smell of the sheep’, ‘god-spray’,
‘the church as a field hospital’ and ‘airport
bishops’ – have become some of the most quoted phrases of
Pope Francis in the first year of his ministry in Rome.
Jesus, as we know, was a master story-teller who used rich imageries in his preaching. Due to this, his messages
have withstood the test of times and still make a lot of sense. The layers of meaning one can find in his parables and imageries
seem unending. Matthew has collated most of the teachings of Jesus in one section (Chapters 5, 6 and 7) as the ‘Sermon
on the Mount’. We began with the ‘Beatitudes’ last Sunday. As an apt preparation for the Lenten Season,
we reflect on the famous passages from this Sermon today as well as the following three Sundays.
In today’s gospel passage - Matthew
5: 13-16 - Jesus uses the famous imageries of Salt and Light. Both
have become universal imageries. A deeper analysis of just two of the sentences from this Sunday’s Gospel would be enough
for this Sunday’s reflections. “You are the salt of
the earth… You are the light of the world…” Jesus
did not say that we must be or need to be the
salt or the light of the earth. Nor did he say we shall be the salt or the light. He simply said: “YOU ARE the
salt and the light”. This is not a condition or a future prediction. This is simply the present reality. You and I,
dear friends, are already the salt of the earth and the light of the world. To be salt and light is the defining quality of
every disciple of Christ… of every Christian. Hence, it would be helpful to understand what is meant by ‘being
salt’ and ‘being light’.
The very first
quality of salt that comes to mind is its ‘purity’, because it is white and it comes from the combination of two
great gifts of nature, namely, the sun and the sea. Salt was the most primitive of all offerings to the gods.
Jewish sacrifices were offered with salt. The Orientals made their oaths with salt to ratify them.
Salt is an essential ingredient of food; but, it cannot become one’s food. It needs to be added in small quantities
to food to provide the necessary taste. Just because salt is an essential part of food, it cannot be added more than necessary.
An overdose of salt makes the food unpalatable and it is thrown away. Salt also preserves food and has some healing qualities,
as in the case of sore throat.
Similarly, a true disciple is an essential part of
this world. He or she cannot stand aloof from the world but needs to mingle with this world in a proportionate way. When this
proportion is lost, then the world becomes fit for the garbage along with the disciple. When the disciple is present in the
world in the proper way, the world can be preserved and, if needed, healed.
The moment Jesus talks of us as salt of the earth, he comes up with a warning. What if we lose our saltiness?...
Salt diluted beyond the limit, over exposed to elements of nature or exposed to other forces like electricity… can
be some of the reasons by which salt can lose its taste. Once again, the parallel between salt and a disciple is clear. The
salt that has lost its taste, ‘is no longer good for anything, except
to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.’
The image of salt getting trampled underfoot,
brings to my mind some sections of humanity who, like salt, serve as the essential part of the world and still get trampled
by society all the time. I am thinking of those labourers involved in cleaning our roads, toilets etc. I am thinking of the
agricultural labourers who toil hard to put food on our tables. If these labourers stop working just for a day, it would almost
choke life out of the world. These very same labourers who are the life-line of the world, are denied their life-line and
the necessary respect they deserve! They are trampled underfoot!
You are the light of the world… is
another sentence replete with meaning. Once again, we need to look at the main traits of light. The moment we think of the
word ‘light’, the word ‘darkness’ comes to mind. Even if the darkness is overpowering, a tiny lamp
is enough to drive away darkness. A lamp does not draw attention to itself, but brings to light all things and persons around
it. A lamp – whether it is a candle, an oil lamp, or an electric lamp – is able to spread light only when it burns
its energy. All these and other characteristics of ‘light’ can be applied to a true disciple.
How to become a light to the world is eloquently answered in today’s first
reading from Isaiah:
you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf
of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become
like the noonday.”
Both the metaphors of salt and light have
something very important in common. If it stays isolated in a shaker, salt doesn't do anything. Only when it enters
into contact with food and dissolves in the food can it give flavour to what we eat. The same thing happens with light.
If it stays closed up and hidden away, it can't illumine anything. Only when it is in the middle of the dark can it illuminate
and guide. A Church isolated from the world can be neither salt nor light.
Pops Francis has been sending out warnings about the Church that lives closed in on herself, paralyzed by fear, and
all too distant from problems and sufferings, thus keeping it from giving flavour to modern life and from offering the true
light of the Gospel. The Pope's response to the ‘closed-up’ Church is: "We need to go out to the fringes".
In his Apostolic Exhortation, ‘Evangelii Gaudium’, he has, as if, given
a mission statement of the Church: "I prefer a Church that is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on
the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want
a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures."
Pope Francis, in one of his first interviews conducted in person by Fr Antonio
Spadaro, S.J., gives us an idea of how the Church can serve as salt and light in today’s context. During the interview
Fr Spadaro asked Pope Francis: “What does the church need most at this historic moment?... What kind of church do you
“I see clearly,” the pope continued, “that the thing the church
needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see
the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and
about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds,
heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up.”
While some world leaders are busy building walls and excluding people based on their race and religion, Pope Francis
insists on building bridges and creating a culture of encounter resulting in an inclusive community.
Let us be the Church that is able to heal the wounds (Salt) and to warm the hearts
(Light) in the world, which is a battle field, waging ‘the third world war’ in bits and pieces!
ever old and ever new
by Rev. Fr.
L. X. Jerome S. J.
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
This Sunday onwards until we begin the Lenten season, for five Sundays, we are given a special treat during the Sunday
Liturgy – namely, the Sermon on the Mount. Today’s Gospel gives us the opening section of this great discourse
of Jesus, namely, the famous ‘Beatitudes’! Since most of us are familiar with the ‘Beatitudes’, let
us turn our attention to the setting of this discourse – namely, the mountain, as well as Jesus, the Giver of Blessings.
Today’s Gospel passage (Matt. 5: 1-12) begins with the words: When
Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them,
saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…”
Jesus chose the mountain for his discourse… Mountains hold a great magical charm on human beings from time
immemorial. We have heard of great sages who had gone to mountain tops seeking ‘enlightenment’. The great silence
of the peaks, the pure air and water on mountain tops have been sources of attraction for human beings. From the top of a
mountain, our view becomes more enlarged. The lovely aspects of silence, purity and broader vision have prompted many religions
to ascribe mountains as the abode of gods.
Harold Kushner, the Jewish Rabbi, and the author of many interesting books, speaks of two cultures – the ‘mountain
culture’ and ‘tower culture’ in his book “The Lord is my Shepherd”. He refers to a book titled ‘The Ecology of Eden’ written by Evan Eisenberg, where these two cultures are discussed. “In mountain cultures, people live in God’s world. They regard
the world of nature with reverence, the kind of heart-filling feeling we get when we gaze at a mountain range… By contrast,
in tower cultures, people live in a man-made environment. They regard nature as raw material awaiting their efforts to reshape
and improve it. They spend a great deal of time admiring the work of their own hands, and, as a result, God is hard to find.” (Harold Kushner) People from the tower cultures, in their quest to build higher
towers (from Empire StateBuilding to the Burj Dubai) have chipped away mountains. With the disappearance of the mountain
– the abode of God – the presence of God is diminishing in the world.
So, when we hear of Jesus going up the mountain and sitting down with the people, we are invited to join the people
belonging to the ‘mountain culture’. The list of Beatitudes that Jesus gives is about the people from this mountain
culture, depending on God and living harmoniously with nature and other human beings.
The second aspect we can dwell on from today’s Gospel is – Jesus, the Giver of Blessings. I shall rely
heavily on Fr Ron Rolheiser, the Oblate Priest, writer and professor of theology. He has spoken of Jesus as operating out
of a ‘Blessed consciousness’. Let me quote extensively from Rolheiser:
There’s a Buddhist parable that runs something like this: One day as the Buddha was sitting under a tree, a
young, trim soldier walked by, looked at the Buddha, noticed his weight and his fat, and said: “You look like a pig!”
The Buddha looked up calmly at the soldier and said: “And you look like God!” Taken aback by the comment, the
soldier asked the Buddha: “Why do you say that I look like God?” The Buddha replied: “Well, we don’t
really see what’s outside of ourselves, we see what’s inside of us and project it out. I sit under this tree all
day and I think about God, so that when I look out, that’s what I see. And you, you must be thinking about other things!”
There’s an axiom in philosophy that asserts that the way we perceive and judge is deeply influenced
and colored by our own interiority. That’s why it’s never possible to be fully objective and that’s why
five people can witness the same event, see the same thing, and have five very different versions of what happened. Thomas
Aquinas (whose feast was celebrated on January 28) expressed this in a famous axiom: Whatever is received is received according to
the mode of its receiver.
If this is true, and it is, then, as the Buddhist
parable suggests, how we perceive others speaks volumes about what’s going on inside of us. Among other things, it indicates
whether we are operating out of a blessed or a cursed consciousness.
begin with the positive, a blessed consciousness: We see this in Jesus, in how he perceived and in how he judged. His
was a blessed consciousness. (Fr Rolheiser)
Right from the moment when the Angel Gabriel came to the young lady Mary to talk
about Jesus becoming a human, words of blessings were shared: “Hail full of grace…” (Lk. 1:28) was the
first blessing that Mary received from the Angel. Later, her cousin Elizabeth heaped more blessings on Mary: “Blessed
are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Lk 1: 42) Hence, right from the moment of conception Jesus
As the gospels describe it, at his baptism,
the heavens opened and God’s voice was heard to say: “This is my blessed one, in whom I take delight.” And,
it seems, for the rest of his life Jesus was always in some way conscious of his Father saying that to him: “You are
my blessed one!” As a consequence, he was able to look out at the world and say: “Blessed are you when you are
poor, or when you are persecuted, or suffering in any way. You are always blessed, no matter your circumstance in life.”
He knew his own blessedness, felt it, and, because of that, could operate out of a blessed consciousness, a consciousness
that could look out and see others and the world as blessed.
many of us, the opposite is true: We perceive others and the world not through a blessed consciousness but through a cursed
consciousness. We have been cursed and because of that, in whatever subtle ways, we curse others.
If any of us could play back our lives as a video we would see the countless times, especially when we were young,
when we were subtly cursed, when we heard or intuited the words: Shut up! Who do you think you are! Go away! You aren’t
wanted here! You’re not that important! You’re stupid! You’re full of yourself! All of these were
times when our energy and enthusiasm were perceived as a threat and we were, in effect, shut down.
And the residual result in us is shame, depression, and a cursed consciousness. Unlike Jesus we don’t
see others and the world as blessed. Instead, like the young soldier looking at an overweight Buddha under a tree, our spontaneous
judgments are swift and lethal: “You look like a pig!”
is received is received according to the mode its receiver. Our harsh judgments of others say less about them than they say
about us. Our negativity about others and the world speaks mostly of how bruised and wounded, ashamed and depressed, we are
– and how little we ourselves have ever heard anyone say to us: “In you I take delight!” (Fr
The Blessings that Jesus articulated on the
mountain, have inspired thousands of great souls. One of them is Mohandas Gandhi, who later on became Mahatma Gandhi. For
him, as well as to great stalwarts like Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and Archbishop Romero, the Beatitudes were the
manifesto of non-violence. It is apt that on the eve of Gandhi’s assassination, which took place on January 30th, this
passage is given to us for our reflection.
This passage also
has inspired many more to come up with modern-day Beatitudes. Pope Francis on his apostolic trip to Sweden,
celebrated Mass on November 1, the Feast of All Saints. The best description of the saints, their “identity card”,
the Pope said, is found in the Beatitudes from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, which is given as the Gospel for this Feast.
In his homily, Pope Francis said that new situations required new energy and a new commitment, and then offered a new list
of Beatitudes for modern Christians. Let us close our reflections with the Beatitudes given by Pope Francis:
- Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their
- Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalised and
show them their closeness.
- Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also
- Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home.
- Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others.
- Blessed are
those who pray and work for full communion between Christians.
Celebrating People’s Power…
by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
In the past week, the largest two democracies of the world, namely, India and the U.S., have grabbed media
attention for different reasons. Let us come to the U.S. later.
First, it is India. In India,
especially in Tamil Nadu, the youth have taken up a peaceful protest with utmost control, thus telling the Indian government
that people’s power can achieve results. Although the Republic Day of India is celebrated only on January 26, in my
opinion, Tamil Nadu had begun its Republic Day Celebrations from January 17.
Republic Day –
the special day when the people of India gave
themselves the power to rule themselves – calls for celebrations. India does celebrate Republic Day… But, unfortunately, for the last 20 years or
more, the Parade in New Delhi is
projected as THE CELEBRATION of this wonderful day. This parade does portray the various cultures of the people of India…
sure! But, unfortunately, this parade has become more of a show of (show-off) Indian military power to the world! This is
VERY UNFORTUNATE… to say the least! The Republic Day Parade
is more of a ritual than a real celebration of the Indian Republic – the People’s power. This power is being celebrated in Tamil Nadu
by the youth protesting against the ban on ‘Jallikattu’, the bull-fight.
Hats off to the youth
of Tamil Nadu, who have not sought the support of any political party as well as the support of the tinsel world. They have
taken care not to be divided on lines of caste, religion, political allegiance, fan club etc. They have not resorted to any
violence and have gone from strength to strength. To me, this is truly a people’s movement, where no individual steals
the limelight. The Central and State governments as well as various MNCs have been forced to take note of this event, and
also take stock of their dubious, underhand dealings with people.
This Sunday’s Liturgy invites us to consider another people’s ‘movement’ inaugurated
by Jesus – namely, the Kingdom of God! Today’s
Gospel talks of the way in which Jesus inaugurated his public ministry… by proclaiming his first message and by calling
his first disciples. Today’s liturgy gives us an opportunity to think of inaugurations – their style and content.
The style of inauguration: In
today’s Gospel, Matthew describes the inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry with the imagery of light. This imagery
was already spoken of by Prophet Isaiah as we hear it from the first reading. The imagery of light for inauguration is a lovely
metaphor. I am thinking of two kinds of light, symbolising the spectacular but empty inaugurations and the silent, meaningful
ones. The two kinds of light are - lightning and sunlight. Inaugurations as proposed by the commercial, political world can
be compared to lightning. Flash, bang… gone. Theoretically speaking, the
average lightning bolt contains a billion volts at 3,000 amps, or 3 billion kilowatts of power, enough energy to run a major
city for months. (http://www.mikebrownsolutions.com/tesla-lightning.htm) Till date, lightning has caused more damages than being useful. Commercial, political inaugurations can be compared to lightning.
As against this, imagine what sunlight can do and, actually, does to the world. Sunlight comes up not with a bang,
not abruptly like a lightning, but very silently, imperceptibly. But, we know that without sunlight nothing can survive on
earth. Jesus’ public ministry is compared to the sunlight. “The
people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9: 2; Matthew 4:16)
Another aspect of inauguration is the content: When
great leaders appear before the public for the first time, what they say and do count. Their words and actions would almost
define what type of a leader he or she would be. My mind goes back to January 20, 1961, when John F.Kennedy was sworn in as
the 35th President of the United
States. He began his inaugural address with these words: “We observe
today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom – symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning – signifying
renewal, as well as change.” Towards the end of this inaugural
address, he said: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your
country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” – a well-known quote. JFK was one of the youngest presidents of the US and hence was looked upon as
a much needed change in the U.S. political
history. His inaugural speech defined him, in a way!
This brings to mind the inauguration of Donald Trump
as the 45th President of the U.S.,
on January 20. We have to wait and see whether this ‘inauguration’ is a lightning, ready to cause more damages
than a dawn of sunlight that can do wonders!
The inaugural words
of Jesus in his public ministry were: “Repent, for the kingdom of
heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4: 17). His first action was to
gather a few fishermen with an invitation: “Come, follow me.” Repentance and following of Jesus are two key aspects of Christian life. All of
us would easily agree that each Christian is called to repentance; but many of us would hesitate to affirm that every Christian
is called to follow Jesus. We would think that ‘following Jesus’ is a privilege of the Religious and Priests.
Repentance and following of Jesus are basic to Christian calling and both are intrinsically connected. Repentance
calls for some radical changes. Change is usually challenging. It is easier when these changes are external – like change
of one’s profession, abode etc. But, when the change is internal like the one demanded by Jesus, it needs support. We
are ready to change for a person whom we love. If we are drawn towards Jesus by love and if we are ready to follow Him, then
we would be willing to change from within, even if this is very difficult. We have the examples of Simon, Andrew, James and
John, the first Disciples of Jesus, who were willing to change their entire life, giving up their livelihood, their boats,
nets… even their father.
Change is the cry of
the hour… especially in India! Three years back, as India was facing the general elections and just before the Republic Day, the Hindu published
an article about some youth who were questioned on what change they would want in India…
They had mentioned the changes required at every walk of life from the government as well as from people. The title of the
article hits the nail on the head: “Let’s be the change” (The Hindu, Bangalore Edition, Jan.24, 2014). This
was the ‘mantra’ of Gandhiji too, namely, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Let the change begin from…. Each of US!
God is not a private
The Epiphany of Our Lord
Let us begin our reflection with an anecdote cited by Fr Ron Rolheiser, the Oblate theologian, in his weekly column: Recently, at an academic dinner, I was sitting across the table from a
nuclear scientist. At one point, I asked him this question: Do you believe that there’s human life on other planets?
His answer surprised me: “As a scientist, no, I don’t believe there’s human life on another planet. Scientifically,
the odds are strongly against it. But, as a Christian, I believe there’s human life on other planets. Why? My logic
is this: Why would God choose to have only one child?”
Why would God choose to have only one child? Good logic. Why indeed would an infinite God, capable of creating and
loving beyond all imagination, want to do this only once? Why would an infinite God, at a certain point, say: “That’s
enough. That’s my limit. These are all the people I can handle and love! Anything beyond this is too much for me! Now
is the time to stop creating and enjoy what I’ve done.”
We have heard many stories (news) about UFOs and outer space intelligence. Whenever I read any such news, my curiosity
was aroused. I had hardly reflected on God’s role in such ‘outer space beings’. When I read this passage
from Rolheiser, it helped me to ‘theologize’ on outer-space beings. Such a reflection brings to mind a God who
is capable of and possibly is creating other beings. Such a thought is very liberating and helps us to let God be God, without
imposing our limitations on God.
is the liberation given to us by the Feast of the Epiphany, which we celebrate this Sunday. This
Feast tells us one basic truth about God. God is not a private property of any human group… not even of the planet
earth. As far as God is concerned, the larger the family, the better… the more, the merrier!
This idea must have shocked quite a few orthodox Jews. They were very sure that
the one and only true God was theirs, EXCLUSIVELY. God must have laughed at this idea; but in His/Her parental love, God would
have allowed them to hold on to this ‘exclusivism’. God waited for the opportune time. By inviting the wise men
from the East to visit the Divine Babe at Bethlehem, God had broken the myth
of exclusivism! God is a true iconoclast, indeed!
be the exclusive treasure of any human group. This message is still very relevant to us, especially in the light of all the
divisions created by various individuals and groups who have used God and religion as a political weapon. God is surely not
party to any divisive force! Unifying, reconciling… these are God’s ways. Let us pray on the Feast of the Epiphany
that the whole human family may live together as one inclusive, divine family. As pilgrims who have traversed the Extraordinary
Jubilee of Mercy, let us pray that we become ‘merciful as God’ and learn to embrace the whole human family without
Although this feast is mainly about Jesus revealing
Himself to the whole world (that’s the meaning of the word ‘Epiphany’), still, popularly, this feast is
about the so called ‘Magi’. Very little is given about these persons (Kings? Wise men? Astrologers?) in the Bible.
Only Matthew’s Gospel talks about these persons (Matthew 2: 1-12).
introduces these open minded seekers, as ‘wisemen from the East’. There is not even a mention of the number. Tradition
has made them not only Kings, but also made them THREE KINGS because in Matthew’s gospel three gifts (gold, frankincense
and myrrh) have been mentioned. Keeping this traditional point of view, we can say that today’s gospel talks of FOUR
kings – three from the East and one, residing in Jerusalem, namely,
Fr Ron Rolheisser makes a lovely observation
on these four persons.
The wise men follow the star, find the new king, and, upon seeing him, place their
gifts at his feet. What happens to them afterwards? We have all kinds of apocryphal stories about their journey back home,
but these, while interesting, are not helpful. We do not know what happened to them afterwards and that is exactly the point.
Their slipping away into anonymity is a crucial part of their gift. The idea is that they now disappear because they can now
disappear. They have placed their gifts at the feet of the young king and can now leave everything safely in his hands. His
star has eclipsed theirs. Far from fighting for their former place, they now happily cede it to him. Like old Simeon, they
can happily exit the stage singing: Now, Lord, you can dismiss your servants! We can die! We're in safe hands!
We can add to this list, St John the
Baptist, who proclaimed “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30), St Paul the Apostle who said: “It
is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20), as well as millions of Saints down the centuries.
In contrast to this glorious band of witnesses, we have Herod who did not
wish to give an inch to God. Fr Rolheiser talks about Herod thus: And
Herod, how much to the contrary! The news that a new king has been born threatens him at his core since he is himself a king.
The glory and light that will now shine upon the new king will no longer shine on him. So what is his reaction? Far from laying
his resources at the feet of the new king, he sets out to kill him. Moreover, to ensure that his murderers find him, he kills
all the male babies in the entire area. An entire book on anthropology might be written about this last line. Fish are not
the only species that eats its young! But the real point is the contrast between the wise men and Herod: The former see new
life as promise and they bless it; the latter sees new life as threat and he curses it.
We have just begun a new year. Do we see the New Year as a blessing or a threat?
The media have heaped on us a depressing account of the past year. It has also managed to slip in some anxieties about the
New Year. Are we so dumb as to go along these lines and begin the New Year with trepidation? Or, are we ready to drench in
the shower of mercy that comes from above? Are we willing to surrender to the divine and then joyfully slip away into anonymity?
Or, are we going to cling on to our own stardom – whether recognised as such by others or not?
Every New Year opens with promises and resolutions. It is one thing to make resolutions
and quite a different thing to put them to practice. When the wisemen decided to follow the star, they must have faced quite
many questions and ridicules. But, they did not give up. Their journey must have been torturous. Following a star is possible
mostly at night. Stars are not visible during the day. This means that these wise men must have done most of their journey
in the night – not an easy option given their mode of transportation etc. It must have been very difficult to gaze upon
one little star among the hundreds on a clear sky. What if the sky was not clear? Then they would have to wait until clouds
and mist clear. So, their journey must have taken nights, many nights. Relentlessly they pursued their decision to follow
the star. This alone is reason enough to celebrate!
January 6, last Friday, the Feast of the Epiphany was celebrated in Vatican.
Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St Peter’s Basilica. He spoke about the journey of the wisemen in the following words: These men saw a star that made them set out. The discovery of something
unusual in the heavens sparked a whole series of events. The star did not shine just for them, nor did they have special DNA
to be able to see it. As one of the Church Fathers rightly noted, “the
Magi did not set out because they had seen the star, but they saw the star because they had already set out” (cf. Saint John Chrysostom).
Their hearts were open to the horizon and they could see what the heavens were showing them, for they were guided by an inner
restlessness. They were open to something new.
‘star’ is used to indicate someone or something special. Unfortunately, the commercial world uses this term very
generously and frivolously… It creates too many stars – mega stars, super stars – mainly from the entertainment
world and the sports field! It is also unfortunate that lots of people ‘follow these stars’ and reach nowhere.
The less said about this, the better.
For us living in the 21st century,
real stars in the sky are rare to see. With our city lights blinding our eyes, and the smog constantly spreading a blanket
over our heads, it is hard to see clear skies and stars. To see the stars, we must get out of our cities… and there
seems to be no time for that. We have no time to look up. We are dazzled and even blinded by too many artificial stars and
hence real stars have receded from our view. We hardly look up.
thought on ‘following a star’ is this: When we begin to follow a star, let us look for real, inspiring stars even
if this means lots of challenges and lots of hardships.
“This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
"The Impossible Dream"
MAN OF LA MANCHA (1972) written by Joe Darion
A New Time-piece to register only Good Things
January 1 - Mary, the
Mother of God
“The Lord bless you and keep
you: The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give
you peace.” (Numbers 6: 24-26)
How blessed we are, to hear such a blessing on the first day of the New Year during the Liturgy. What is special
about this blessing is that it was ‘taught’ by God to Moses and through him to Aaron and his sons.
The first day of January, is a Quadruple
Festival. Yes, we have four good reasons to celebrate this day. The first reason… this is the beginning of another year in the Gregorian calendar. This is accepted
as the New Year Day in most countries. We also have various other calendars that specify different dates as the New Year Day
– the Chinese, the Tamil, the Telugu… etc. It would surely help the human spirit if each of the 365 or 366 days
of the year is celebrated as ‘first days’. A fresh beginning helps to revive the human spirit.
When we think of the New Year Day, we surely associate this with thoughts of ‘beginning’. We need to
reflect whether the New Year ‘begins’ within us or outside of us. The media has been busy for the past few days
on ‘looking back’ on 2016 as well as projecting 2017. Especially in India,
there is the discussion on what the stars foretell for 2017! It is so easy to let outside forces to lead us and govern us
than to take the responsibility for our own life.
On the New Year
Day, someone wrote a short prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your New Life,
a New Year… I want to ask you, Lord, to give me a new timepiece, too. One that will keep time only when your love passes
through me, reaching out to others; the time I spend listening, sharing joys and sorrows. Give me a watch that will set my
mind and heart in the present moment – that’s ‘you’, being born again each day. Let it be my alarm
clock, waking me up from the sleep of my daily routines and making me available to give my time and heart to others. Thank
You, Lord, for the gift of time that I hope I’ll share generously with others.
A mother heard her son saying the night prayers on the eve of the New Year. He was telling God what he planned to
do the next year and how God could help him do this and that. The mother interrupted, saying, “Son, don’t bother
giving God instructions; just report for duty.”
The New Year invites
all of us to express good intentions and resolutions. “Just report for duty!” Each new day is “a miniature
eternity”- 24 hrs, 1440 minutes, 86.400 seconds. During that time, there are blessings to be received, there are opportunities
to be grasped, challenges to be accepted, internal peace to quiet nerves, etc.
‘Reporting for duty’ is what we hear in today’s Gospel (Luke 2: 16-21) The shepherds reported
back for duty; Mary “kept pondering in her heart.” We,
too, are here to report for duty and we need to learn what things to treasure, time to reflect. The time is now. Time is not
the problem! It’s a matter of priorities! What are our priorities? Once these priorities are clearly lined up, then
the whole year can be spent in relative peace and serenity. This does not mean our life will be a highway strewn only with
flowers of bright colours. There would be crosses planted along the way.
There’s a story about Auguste Rodin, the great sculptor whose most famous work is called ‘The Thinker’.
It seems that one day Rodin noticed a large crucifix that had been discarded in a pile of trash. Although it was terribly
marred and defaced, Rodin perceived that it could be restored to its original beauty. Consequently, he and some companions
carried the cross to his home, but the cross was too big for the house. What did Robin do? Rather than returning it to the
trash heap, Robin decided to knock some walls and raise the roof of his house to make room for the Cross!
Sometimes we have to welcome a cross into our homes – or each of us could
be that cross! Let’s try to restore it. It’s the ‘Way of the Cross’ that leads us to HIM.
The Church is not a travel agency taking us on a conducted tour, all comforts and perks guaranteed. We travel not by
sight but by faith: by going the extra mile, more than once in a while, turning the other cheek, more than once in a while…returning
good for evil, more than once in a while, loving the enemy, more than once in a while… Thus, we can see, that there
are enough challenges presented to us on New Year’s Day!
reason to celebrate January 1st is that this is the
eighth day after Jesus’ birth. On this day, according to the Gospel of Luke (Lk. 2: 21), the child was taken to the
temple for circumcision and he was given the name Jesus. Although the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus is shifted to January
3rd, we can celebrate the Divine Child being given the special name, Jesus!
The third reason is that the
first day of the year is now dedicated to praying for world peace. Although world peace is still a distant dream, we can surely
celebrate this dream and pray fervently that this dream may be realised sooner than later.
This year is the
50th anniversary of the World Day of Peace begun by Blessed Pope
Paul VI on 1st January, 1968. For this year, Pope Francis has published
his message with the title: Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace. The moment we hear of the words, Politics, Peace and Nonviolence, we tend to think
of politicians, peace negotiations and non-violent movements. But, the message of Pope Francis emphasizes clearly that peace,
and nonviolence must be born within each of us. Here is an excerpt from Pope’s message:
lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for “it
is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (Mk 7:21)… Whoever accepts the Good News of
Jesus is able to acknowledge the violence within and be healed by God’s mercy, becoming in turn an instrument of reconciliation.
In the words of Saint Francis of Assisi: “As you announce peace with
your mouth, make sure that you have greater peace in your hearts”. (No. 3)
The fourth and last reason, the
Feast of Mary, the Mother of God – the official Feast of January
1. Of all the four reasons, this stands out as the prime reason given by the Catholic Church. Of all the four reasons, this
one seems the most intriguing. The very reason the Church gives as a reason for celebration, would have been a reason for
condemnation in Mary’s time. She became a mother defying not only natural laws, but also the laws of her Jewish society.
This is an example to tell us that we can discover or invent reasons to celebrate life against all odds.
Christmas and New Year is a peak season for sharing greetings. Millions of greetings
fill our communication lines. We greet those we love and admire. Here is a greeting to Mary in the form of a letter:
Dear Mother Mary,
I wish to pen these few lines to show you how much we love and admire you for
being such a great Mother. On the very first day of the calendar year we wish to think of you as the Mother of God and celebrate
it. But, I was just wondering whether it was possible for you to celebrate this very same fact – becoming the Mother
of God. For you, the days following your meeting with Angel Gabriel must have been quite fearful and uncertain.
The land in which you lived is still surrounded by fear and uncertainty. We realise that it is not easy for people
to live in war zones – especially for young girls. You lived as a young lady in Roman occupied territory. You must have
spent days and even nights in constant fear.
Today we celebrate your Motherhood and we have
even built great basilicas in your name. Some of these basilicas are marvels in marbles and granite stones. But, if the people
of your times had learnt that you had become a mother before your wedding, they would have used stones for a different purpose.
It is possible for us to build thousands of churches in your name since you had built yourself into a temple of God trusting
only on God.
Rightly has William Wordsworth written lovely lines about you:
Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
With the least shade of thought to sin
Woman! above all women glorified,
nature's solitary boast;…
Not only Wordsworth,
but thousands upon thousands of artists have been inspired to sing your praises through their masterpieces of art. You are
such an inspiration for all of us, Mom!
With love and admiration,
Your fortunate children.
by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.
4th Sunday of Advent
Christmas is just around the corner… Next Sunday we celebrate Christmas.
‘Around the corner’ is a lovely expression to add excitement and expectation. I am sure thousands are children
are spending these last few days and nights dreaming of their Christmas gifts. They are also dreaming of Santa Claus bringing
these gifts to them. Of course, some grown ups are trying the kill these dreams of children, calling those dreams dangerously
childish. In general, adults look at dreams as childish. Imagine a world without dreams! It would be unimaginable!
When I began thinking of this week’s reflection, a news headline captured my attention. Terminally-ill
boy, five, dies in Santa Claus' arms after fulfilling one last wish to see him from
Mail Online. It was reported as happened in a hospital in Tennesse, U.S.A. But later reports raised doubts about the veracity of this news story. Still, the
news of a five year old boy dying in the arms of Santa Claus (a gentleman by name Eric
Schmitt-Matzen) was moving as well as uplifting. I had to reluctantly
delete this story from my reflection.
was equally grabbed by another news items that appeared in various news papers.
“Indian businessman spends daughter's marriage budget on 90 houses for the homeless”
Ajay Munot, a wealthy wholesale trader of cloth and wheat in the Aurangabad district of eastern India, had
planned to spend Rs 70-80 lakh — the equivalent of more than £93,000 — on a lavish wedding for his daughter.
But instead, Mr Munot decided to instead spend the money on helping the region's poor. He built 90 houses for the homeless
poor. His daughter Shreya and her husband handed over the keys of the houses to the poor. Shreya said that that was the best
wedding gift her Dad had given her and that the blessings she received from the poor no money could buy!
When I read this news, I was pleasantly surprised, even stunned to believe it.
Why was I stunned? Because, things like this do not happen in the normal world. ‘Normal’ is the catch word! What
is normal? To spend lavishly on the wedding is normal, while spending money on such noble deeds sound more like a dream-stuff.
After reading the news, I also glanced through the comments left by readers. The comments began with positive appreciation.
Here is a specimen: There is hope for humanity yet! Good luck to the
newly weds. What an admirable start!
But, within a few hours, there were comments
Marriage ends in divorce anyway.
house units wasting precious land and infrastructure is the wrong way to go anywhere in the world!
I have visited this place. He hand picked Hindu families. He completely ignored the Sikh, Christian
or Muslim families.
When we read
the occasional positive news from our otherwise negative media, our minds and hearts get elated. But soon the ‘adult’
in us begin to impute reasons and pass judgements, sometimes, very uncharitable. The ‘adult’ in us seems to be
fettered by the so called ‘normal’, negative day to day world and refuse to take flights of fantasy or dare to
We are talking of dreams today – dreams
of an adult! Yes, today’s Gospel talks of Joseph meeting an angel in his dreams. The New Testament identifies Joseph
as ‘the just man’. Joseph is a silent saint. No word of his is recorded in the gospels. Indeed no word was needed,
since his whole life was a great Gospel!
Joseph is honoured by the Church as well by
popular devotion as the patron and guardian of so many aspects of human life. He is the patron of the Catholic Church, of
virgins, of families, of labourers, of immigrants, of holy death and many, many more... I wish to add one more to this list.
I wish to honour St Joseph as the guardian and patron of dreams. It is interesting that both
Joseph, the Patriarch (in the Old Testament) as well as Joseph, the Husband of Mary (in the New Testament) are portrayed as
Joseph is mentioned in Matthew’s gospel only on three occasions. In all of
them, he is portrayed as being visited by the angel of God in his dreams. One of those instances is given as today’s
Matthew 1: 18-24. Two other instances
where Joseph is mentioned, also speak of the angel visiting him in dreams: Matthew
2: 13-14 and Matthew
Analysis of these three passages will give us
good reasons to say that Joseph is indeed the guardian and patron of dreams. Joseph must have felt extremely happy to have
been betrothed to Mary, probably the most admired young girl in Nazareth.
But his joy was short lived. His dreams of having a glorious life with Mary,
came crashing down when he learnt that Mary was pregnant. It was left to him
to either make this public or solve this problem more quietly. He decided on the latter. He was a gentleman to the core. If
Joseph had decided on making this public, he would have been honoured; but Mary
would have faced death by stoning.
As Joseph was struggling to solve this problem,
the angel came to him in a dream. If Joseph was a selfish person thinking only of his honour and did not care about Mary,
the angel would have found it difficult to enter Joseph’s conscious or subconscious world. God would find it difficult
to enter a selfish person’s heart. The more selfless and sensitive a heart, the brighter the chances of divine interventions…
not only during waking hours but also during dreams!
15, last Thursday, Pope Francis met around 7000 persons connected with the famous ‘Child Jesus Hospital’ in Rome. During
his talk, he referred to the Sunday’s Gospel and elaborated on a life shaped by dreams:
“I would recommend two ingredients (for a Christian life). The first is to keep alive the dreams. Dreams are
never anesthetized, here anaesthesia is prohibited! God, I feel in Sunday's Gospel, communicates sometimes through dreams;
but above all God invites us to realize big dreams, even if difficult. … I like to think that God has dreams for each
of us. A life without dreams is not worthy of God; a life weary and resigned, without enthusiasm is not a Christian life.
“I would add a second ingredient, after the dreams: the gift. One can live chasing two different
goals: with primary emphasis on having or giving. … We are always faced with this dilemma: on the one hand to do something
for one’s own interests, to success, to be recognized; on the other, follow the intuition to serve, to give, to love…
Every day you can leave the house with the heart a little 'inward looking, or with an open heart, ready to meet, to donate.
It gives much more joy to live with an open heart than with closed hearts! Do you agree? I wish you a Christmas as well, to
live with an open heart, preserving this beautiful family spirit, and thank you so much.”
All human beings dream. Then why make Joseph the patron of dreams? I can think
of two reasons. There could surely be more.
Joseph was capable of interpreting his dreams as good news even during his agony. For many of us this may not be easy. When
we are hemmed in by trials all around us, we tend to lose our normal, day to day activities, especially our sleep. Even if
we manage to get some sleep, we may get more nightmares than dreams. Joseph must have been in such a predicament after learning
that Mary was pregnant. Still, he recognised his dreams as divine promptings and interventions. Only persons without deceit,
persons who are just, are capable of this. Don’t we wish we could be like Joseph?
Reason 2: It is easy to dream dreams; but not easy to act on them. In all the
three gospel passages we cited, Joseph woke up from sleep and followed the instructions from the angel. If these instructions
were easy, cosy things, then we won’t mind following them. Easy, cosy instructions are dictated to us through our ‘commercial
dreams’… a cream would change our complexion in a matter of days, or a toothpaste would make our friends flock
around us all the time. We tend to follow these dreams, don’t we? The instructions that Joseph received in his dreams
were demanding, tough decisions – taking a pregnant woman as his wife, taking a baby and his mother at night and travelling
to a strange land… Don’t we wish we could be like Joseph? Don’t we wish to honour St
Joseph, the Patron of dreams?
his dreams as divine promptings, and by taking concrete actions on his dreams, Joseph saved not only Mary and Jesus, but also
saved the world by letting the Saviour become ‘Emmanuel’ among us! May St
Joseph, the Patron of Dreams, help us dream dreams and be ready to pay the price to make them come true!
By Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.
The Second Sunday of Advent
"The old American Dream . . . was the dream of men and women content to accumulate
their modest fortunes a little at a time, year by year by year. The new dream was the dream of instant wealth, won in a twinkling
by audacity and good luck. [This] golden dream . . . became a prominent part of the American psyche only after Sutter's Mill."
This is a quote from The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush
and the New American Dream, written by Henry William Brands. The golden dream began on December 5, 1848. On that day,
in a message before the U.S. Congress, US President
James K. Polk confirmed that large amounts of gold had been discovered in California.
This rush for gold resulted in thousands dying even without seeing gold. This rush was also the reason for the massacre of
thousands of native Americans. The rush for gold, the dream of instant wealth, drives large number of people to the shores
of the U.S. even today.
Two fables related to gold come to my mind
and both have also been stories of avarice – Midas Touch and the Goose that laid Golden Eggs. The lessons from these
fables have very little impact on the commercial world which is always on the run, rushing to make hay whether the sun shines
Here is a news item
which was published a few years back in one of the Catholic news websites - Catholic News Service: Meaning
of season lost by rushing Christmas celebration, bishop says
SALT LAKE CITY (CNS)
-- Salt Lake City Bishop John C. Wester (Now,
Archbishop of Santa Fe) has urged Catholics to hold off celebrating the
Christmas season until it officially begins on the church calendar Dec. 24.
In his first
pastoral letter as Salt Lake City's bishop, he urged the state's Catholics
to keep true to the spirit of Advent -- a season of preparation which he said has been "neglected in many places"
and often "overshadowed by the holiday season."
In the letter, Bishop Wester described
the Christmas holiday season as one where many "rush from one thing to the next," stirring momentum "to get
all the decorations up, celebrate the event and quickly dismantle all the decorations" to move to the next event.
In today’s Gospel John the Baptist also speaks of ‘rushing’…
“The kingdom of heaven is AT HAND” is his warning. But his plea for making haste is for repenting and ‘straightening
things out’ and not for grabbing and accumulating as suggested by the commercial world.
Given the least chance, the commercial world would turn everything into a commodity. I would like to share with you
three world events which have been ‘commercialised’. These are simply random samples. When the Berlin wall came down in 1989, pieces of that wall were sold as souvenirs. I would not
be surprised if counterfeit pieces of Berlin Wall were sold! There have also been rumours of how the debris of World Trade
Centre, New York (Sep.11,
2001) were made into souvenirs and SOLD. When Bl.Mary MacKillop was made the first Saint of Australia (October, 2010), there
were very many news items as to who owned the copyright for the image of the new Saint. Berlin wall, WTC debris, St Mary Mackillop…
nothing is left out of the purview of the commercial world.
For the new generation
which is ‘wired’ all the time, the commercial world has come up with the invention called ‘virtual reality’.
75 years back, 1941, December 7, the Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbour.
It was a rude shock for the U.S. government
and they retorted by entering full swing into World War II. The ‘Newseum’ in Washington D.C. is offering a ‘virtual
reality’ show of "Remembering Pearl Harbor," an exhibit running from Dec.5 to Dec.11.
It is very disconcerting to see that the commercial world tends to turn all human experiences into ‘commodities’
– either selling them as tangible souvenirs or intangible ‘virtual reality’ experiences. It is a pity that
they have made all our Feasts – especially Christmas – into commercial ventures.
Let us come back to Archbishop Wester. For the commercial world, what the Archbishop said would be pretty ‘heretical’.
If the commercial world gets a chance, they would kidnap the Archbishop and keep him under check until Christmas sales is
over. But, they would not go to that extent, since they know how to drown out voices like that of Archbishop Wester,
with their sales messages. In the Gospel today, we meet John the Baptist who also challenged the easy going lifestyle of the
religious leaders and Herod. Although he was only ‘a voice in the wilderness’, he was quite loud and clear. Hence
he needed to be silenced before he became a greater threat. This was achieved sooner than later during the birthday party
The commercial world proposes very different
preparations for Christmas than the ones proposed by Archbishop Wester or John the Baptist. We need to turn away from these
commercial messages to the Gospel message that calls for mending our ways: A
voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” (Mt. 3:3) Once the path is set right, then decorations can start… not the
other way around, as the commercial world tells us.
My closing thoughts
are about the ‘fantastic’ dream of Prophet Isaiah given in the first reading for this Sunday. This passage is
inspiring and self-explanatory. I don’t think I shall spoil the beauty of this passage by trying to ‘explain’
or ‘interpret’ this. I would like to make one comment, though. I used the label ‘fantastic’ for this
dream since it sounds like a lovely fantasy, meaning, that this can only be a dream, or, can be a ‘virtual reality’
and CANNOT become a reality. But, on second thought, why not? So many dreams proposed by the commercial world are also fantastic.
If we can believe in those fantasies, why not give a fair chance to the ‘fantasy’ of Isaiah?
Isaiah 11: 1-9
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will
The Spirit of
the LORD will rest on him - the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD -
and he will
delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not
judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth...
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s
den, the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge
of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
Last week Isaiah
gave us the dream of swords being turned into ploughshares. This week we are given another dream to long for. Let good dreams
flow in and out of the human family as we prepare for Christmas!
Meeting Peace, peacefully
Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.
The First Sunday of Advent
some of my friends had sent me via Whatsapp, a picture
with a caption. The picture showed a snake displaying its seven-headed hood on a roadside. The caption below the picture said
that that snake was found in Honduras and
a seven-headed snake is a sign that the end of the world was imminent. On closer look, I could easily find out that the picture
was not taken in Honduras, but in India.
I made further ‘investigation’ into this picture and found out that this was the ‘cut-and-paste’ work
of a person who knew a bit of ‘photo-shop’, but done rather clumsily. What was more disturbing is the fact that
this picture has been doing quite a few rounds in the web for the past four to five years with many other captions. This time
it was ‘the imminent end’.
With our high-tech communication
gadgets and applications, we are flooded with pictures, videos and texts every day. This flood, I am afraid, sweeps us off
our feet and we add to this flood without a second thought. When we receive a message, we are keen on sharing it with others
immediately without taking time to verify its veracity, source etc. Thus we seem to spread enough unfounded rumours and cause
we witness ‘unusual’ events, our curiosity gets tickled more than our reason. We tend to give facile ‘interpretations’
to those events, especially labelling them as symptoms of the ‘end-times’ or ‘doomsday’ and pass them
on to others. What is our understanding of the ‘end-times’? This Sunday’s liturgy gives us an opportunity
to face this important question with calmness. This Sunday we begin the Advent Season and with that a new liturgical year.
The beginning of a liturgical year, paradoxically, talks of the end.
doomsday… these words flood our minds with doom and destruction. I am not sure when the world would come to an end.
It can be tomorrow or after a million years or it may not end at all. But, I am sure that my life, your life, all life will
come to an end. How do we look upon this end? Are we just going to vanish into thin air? Or, are we going to meet our Creator?
If it is seen as a meeting, then again, we need to ask another question whether this meeting is a joyous expectation or a
Great Saints and sages have shown
us the way as to how to face this end, how to face one’s death.
John Wesley, the co-founder of the Methodists, was asked what he would do if he knew that that was his last day on earth.
He replied, "At 4 o'clock I would have some tea. At 6 I would visit Mrs. Brown in the hospital. Then at 7:30 I would
conduct a mid-week prayer service. At 10 I would go to bed and would wake up in glory."
is an incident from the life of St.Philip Neri. (My friend told me that he had heard the same story attributed to another
saint. I guess all saints are of the same mould.): While Philip was playing cards with his friends, one of them asked him
what he would do if he knew that his death was imminent. Without any hesitation, Philip told him that he would continue playing
I can well imagine that if Philip
had died playing cards, he would simply continue playing cards on the other side of the grave as well. Only his companions
would have changed to… God and angles!
us beg of God to give us this enlightenment!
the final days of the world bring in only doom and destruction? Prophet Isaiah does not think so. Here is the first reading
for this Sunday.
Isaiah 2: 2-5
the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted
above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.
peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will
teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords
into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for
Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of
The last days can be seen as doom and destruction or as fulfilment.
The scene imagined by the Prophet is so comforting and soothing, especially the final verses where he thinks of a world without
war. Isn’t this what all of us long for?
The situation in most parts of the world is very volatile. Even a small spark is enough to set off a series of wars. Pope
Francis, on quite a few occasions have spoken about the ‘third world war’ being fought in bits and pieces all
over the world – the worst being in Syria.
words are very inspiring as well as challenging. He talks of how destructive efforts (war) can be turned into productive efforts
(agriculture). Swords into ploughshares… spears into pruning hooks (sickles). If we can convert all the war gadgets
into agricultural gadgets…? If there is no more war training that kills, but only training for nourishing life? This
is the desire, the challenge expressed by the Prophet. Swords and spears becoming agricultural tools is not a guarantee that
war would stop. We have known that even ploughshares and sickles have been used in caste wars in India.
Hence, ultimately, it is our will power which will pave way for peace and prosperity for all.
vision that Isaiah has portrayed is a good beginning for our Advent… the Season in which we look forward to the Coming
of Christ. “He comes, comes ever comes.” (Tagore) He comes in various forms and it is up to us to recognise his
coming, his presence in our daily life. Last week the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy came to a close. Starting from the Pope,
many Bishops and Priests have been insisting on the fact that the Jubilee may have ended but not Mercy. The Apostolic Letter
of Pope Francis – ‘Misericordia et misera’ speaks of this ‘continuation’ in powerful words:
what we have celebrated during the Holy Year, a time rich in mercy, … must continue to be celebrated and lived out
in our communities. Mercy cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the Church; it constitutes her very existence, through
which the profound truths of the Gospel are made manifest and tangible. Everything is revealed in mercy; everything is resolved
in the merciful love of the Father.” (MeM 1)
cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the Church; it constitutes her very existence…” Very powerful words that define the reason for the Church’s existence. Similarly,
mercy needs to become the heart-beat of not only the Christian world, but also of the whole world! May the Advent season we
have begun envelop the world with mercy!
Approaching the Throne of Mercy
Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.
Feast of Christ the Universal King
Loyola College, Chennai, can be proud of so many assets. The Church of Christ
the King, at the centre of the campus, is surely one of the best, if not THE best, among those assets. The larger-than-life-size
figure of Christ, standing above the main altar with his majestic robe is very impressive. A life-sized statue of the crucified
Christ is placed on the left of the altar at ground level. I have seen many students and others standing at the foot of the
cross, touching the feet of the crucified Christ and praying.
The Feast of Christ the King brings to mind these
two statues in Loyola Church.
While Christ the Crucified is so accessible, Christ the King stands beyond easy reach. There is, perhaps, a lesson to be learnt
in how these two statues are placed. I have an interesting fantasy: Suppose I take Jesus to Loyola Church and show him both
these statues and ask him which one of these two statues would be his favourite… or which one of them would truly represent
the Kingship of Christ… he would simply smile at me and ask, “Have you read today’s Gospel?”
Yes, dear friends, not only the Gospel for this year, but the Gospel passages
prescribed for the Feast of Christ the King in all the three cycles - A, B, and C - give us a clear picture of what this feast
is all about. Today’s gospel is a scene taken from Calvary (Luke
23: 35-43). Last year’s Gospel was the trial scene of Jesus with Pilate (John 18: 33-37) and next year’s Gospel
talks of the Last Judgement (Matthew 25: 31-46). In all the three Gospels, there is hardly a hint of pomp and glory. That
is the core of this Feast.
All through the life of Christ he avoided, like plague, the idea of being made a king. Right now five instances flash
across my mind. The first one
is from Matthew. Soon after Jesus was born, the wise men from the East came looking for the ‘King’. Although the
star was leading them, their own pre-conceived notions of a king must have taken them to Jerusalem and to Herod’s palace. The capital city and the palace of the king…
where else can one look for a king? They asked Herod: “Where is
the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew
2: 2) Their innocent question set in motion the massacre of the Holy Innocents.
The second instance
of Christ facing the danger of becoming a king is reported by John. Jesus had fed thousands of people through a miracle. After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely
this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force,
withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6: 14-15)
The third occasion
was on the streets of Jerusalem as
recorded in all the four Gospels. The next day the great crowd that had
come for the festival, heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They
took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed
is the king of Israel!” (John
Both in the second as well as the third instances
Jesus knew full well that his people were looking for quick solutions to their problems and hence were swayed by the frenzy
of the moment. Such ‘loyalty’, Jesus knew, would vanish at the first sign of a problem. It came within days of
the glorious entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The very same streets which resounded
with ‘Hosanna’, either fell silent or turned hostile with the chant of ‘crucify him’, prompted by
the Pharisees and the religious leaders. Talk of crowd psychology, where ‘loyalty’ is wafer thin!
The fourth instance of Jesus facing the idea of kingship was in front of Pilate. We reflected
on this passage last year. “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the
truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:
37) Jesus was trying to tell Pilate how he was mistaken in calling him a king. But Pilate was too pre-occupied with how he
should please his emperor, Caesar.
The fifth instance is given in today’s Gospel (Luke 23: 35-43). Jesus was hanging on
the cross. The inscription over his head read: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews! What an irony! What Jesus was running
away from, all his life, is now nailed along with him on the cross. On Calvary,
that day, his kingship was ridiculed by the Roman soldiers. These soldiers had a clear idea of a king or an emperor. They
had served quite a few of them. This man on the cross? A king? Tell me a better joke!… They must have laughed their
heart out, if they had one.
In the midst of such noisy ridicules and taunts, came the
feeble voice of one of the crucified persons with a petition to the King: “Jesus,
remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23: 42) When those around Jesus could not even recognise a human being in the form of the
crucified one, how come this man saw a King?
We have heard from history that some of the kings
and leaders, by the dignity they showed in times of great trials, even as they walked to their gallows, have earned the respect
of their worst enemies. Such was their nobility! They were truly kings! The magnanimity shown by Jesus on the cross must have
influenced the ‘good thief’ to submit such a beautiful petition to the King.
In all these five instances of the Gospels, we hardly see Jesus responding to any of them (except in the case of
Pilate… and since Pilate was scared of facing the ‘truth’, Jesus could not make any honest impression on
him!). In the last instance, on Calvary, Jesus responded to the ‘good
thief’… and, what a response! Jesus answered him,
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke
23: 43) Jesus exercised his regal power to assure the criminal of eternal redemption. When death beckons people, quite many
of them become enlightened!
Here is a lovely anecdote
on how a dying person gets enlightened by a movie:
The King of
Kings is a silent film directed by Cecil B.De Mille
in 1927. It is a religious movie about the last weeks of Jesus on earth. It was a production acclaimed by world-famed
scholars, the press and the public in the U. S. and
abroad, as the most ambitious presentation of the final years of the life of Jesus ever pictured on the screen. It was seen
by over a billion people all over the world. De Mille claimed that the most important tribute to the movie he had ever received
came from a woman who had only a few days to live. Her nurse wheeled her to a hall in the hospital to see the movie. After
viewing the whole movie she wrote to the producer De Mille: “Thank you sir, thank you for your King of Kings. It has
changed my expected death from a terror to a glorious anticipation.”
This dying woman shared the feelings of the good thief who heard the promise of Jesus: “Today
you will be with me in paradise.” Both of them were suffering,
both expected death and both received new hope from the dying King of kings.
The criminal gives us a lesson in how to look for Christ the King and his Kingdom in the most ‘un-kingly’
circumstances. We pray that God, the Eternal King, helps us become humble enough to learn the lessons given by the criminal.
Two little P.S.s: November 20, this Sunday, Pope Francis closes the Holy Door
in St Peter’s Basilica and thus brings to close the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Quite a few Cardinals and Bishops
who, last Sunday, officiated in the closing of holy doors around the world, have expressed the following idea in various ways:
Although we close the Holy Doors made of wood or metal, we need to keep the door of our hearts, made of flesh and blood, open,
since the Jubilee can end, but not Mercy!
November 20, is the
Universal Children's Day. November 14, the birthday of Jawaharlal Nehru, is celebrated as Children’s Day in India.
When we use the word ‘celebrate’ along with Children’s Day, some uneasiness creeps in. We are sadly aware
that millions of children have anything but ‘celebration’ in their life. On November 16, last Wednesday, Pope
Francis, during the General Audience, made a special appeal for children. Here are his own words:
to everyone’s conscience, to institutions and families, so that children are always protected and their welfare is protected,
so that they never fall into forms of slavery, recruitment into armed groups or mistreated. I hope that the international
community remain vigilant over these lives, ensuring every child the right to a school education so that their growth is serene
and they can look confidently to the future".
May Christ the King, born
in a manger and endured very tough childhood, and now seated on the Throne of Mercy, help millions of children to tide over
their insurmountable odds. May we continue to approach the Throne of Mercy to replenish our hearts, so that we can continue
the Jubilee of Mercy in the days to come, especially for the sake of needy children!
by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome
in Ordinary Time
October 29, 30 and 31, the Festival of Lights (Deepavali or Diwali) is celebrated by the Indians. Wish you all a meaningful celebration of the Festival of Lights. For the
past few weeks, there have been some instructive, short videos shared in social networks, on how to celebrate Deepavali in
a more mature way. One of them talked about abstaining from bursting crackers which disturb animals and birds. When I saw
this video, I was questioning within myself: why we don’t speak of babies, senior citizens, patients in hospitals and
pavement dwellers who get disturbed by the continuous noise of the crackers. How many huts go up in flames when the firework
from a nearby bungalow, ‘misfires’ and lands on a thatched roof. Perhaps there are other videos talking about
this and I did not get to see them.
of those videos caught my attention to a great extent. It depicts a young man who piles a few 100 Rupee notes on the pavement,
and sets them on fire. Another man, carrying bags of crackers, runs to him and asks him whether the young man is out of his
mind by setting fire to the currency notes. The young man points to the bag of crackers and says, “Do you think you
are sane in spending money on these things?”
The young man then goes on to explain how, with the money spent on crackers, which again amounts to burning money, he
could have bought food and clothing for a few poor people and made their Deepavali happier. As he says these lines, we see
the young man sharing packets of clothes and food items with some very poor people. Many of those poor, senior citizens bless
the young man whole-heartedly. What better joy can one get than this!
This short video
tells us how it is within our choice either to celebrate big festivals, putting ourselves in the centre or putting others,
especially the most deserving, in the centre. Hope this Festival of Lights helps us bring more light to the lives of people
living in darkness. On this Festival, it is coincidental or providential that we have a Gospel passage where we see Jesus
bringing a ray of hope to a person engulfed in the darkness of social segregation. Jesus invites himself to the house of Zacchaeus,
a chief tax collector - Luke 19: 1-10. It is no surprise that the Gospel of Luke, known as the ‘Gospel of Mercy’ is the only source where this
lovely event is recorded.
Time and again human history keeps telling us that God and Christ
have been and, can be, found in the most unexpected places. Today’s Gospel gives us one more proof of this. Zacchaeus
discovers Jesus on the branches of a tree. It is, rather, Jesus who discovers Zacchaeus.
Here is how I visualise this ‘miracle’. Jesus was walking along the streets of Jericho. His fame had
spread far and wide and so he was surrounded by a crowd. There were many reasons why the crowd followed Jesus. Curiosity…
Hope… Jealousy. Most of the poor people who followed Jesus, were hopeful that they would be saved by Jesus –
not only as individuals, but also as a nation. Those who came to Jesus, seeking a miracle, had to invent ways to tackle the
crowd. The friends of the paralytic sent him down from the roof (Luke 5: 17-26). The woman with the flow of blood had to approach
Jesus stealthily from behind (Luke 8: 43-38). Here is another method chosen by Zacchaeus. He climbed up the tree. A miracle
brought him down.
Before we go into the miracle part of it, we need to know who this
Zacchaeus is. He was a rich person. He was a tax collector. He was short. I see a connection among these three… Being
rich and being a tax collector were intrinsically connected. Being a tax collector and being short were also connected. Really?
Here is my theory.
Zacchaeus was born in
the family of tax collectors. Hence, from his birth, he had been receiving only hatred and curses from the people around him.
A child that grows up in hate-filled circumstances never really grows up – even physically! This was the case with Zacchaeus.
Why was he surrounded by hatred? The Jews hated the Romans. But they hated another group MORE - the group of Jews –
the tax collectors – who were the traitors. They were the sycophants of the Romans. They were simply, THE SINNERS! This
label which was stuck on Zacchaeus did not allow him to grow up.
curious to see Jesus. If Jesus could have come to the street where Zacchaeus lived, he would have happily stayed at home,
gone up to the terrace and seen Jesus and the crowd from the top angle. The top angle would have given Zacchaeus a powerful
position. Zacchaeus felt that Jesus would not come to where he lived, since Jesus preferred the poorer section of the city.
So, he ventured to meet Him. He feared the ridicule and scorn of the crowd around Jesus and, hence, he invented a new way
to encounter Jesus. He climbed up the tree.
Let us come back to the miracle part…
Jesus was walking along a road in Jericho. He saw Zacchaeus sitting on a tree. That was strange! A young person sitting
on a tree was acceptable. Why was a middle aged person sitting there? Was he mentally disturbed? He did not seem to be so.
Then why? So, Jesus turned around to those who were following him and asked them: “Who is that man?” Those around
Jesus looked at the person he was pointing at. “Oh, he is a thief, a traitor a sinner…” – the ever-available-ready-made
list of labels and accusations came out. Jesus, as was his wont, swept aside all those irrelevant trash and insisted on knowing
his name. After squeezing their collective memory for sometime, they begrudgingly revealed the name: Zacchaeus. Jesus registered
the name: ZACCHAEUS! (meaning, ‘pure’). Jesus went to the tree and called out: “Zacchaeus, come
down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” This was the first part of the miracle!
Some one called Zacchaeus by name… by his REAL, ORIGINAL
name. It was as if Zacchaeus was born again and he was ‘re-baptised’. A person, who came from his own tribe which
had refused to acknowledge his name and preferred to call him only by labels, called him by his sweet name.
Zacchaeus was called by name and a miracle happened. The miracle of complete transformation. The Bible and
our Christian tradition as well as many other religious traditions talk of persons getting completely transformed –
making a complete turn-around. Another popular term for this ‘turn-around’ is ‘conversion’. (Please
don’t waste your time and energy on ‘conversions’ that are being talked about by the Indian politicians.)
This is a much deeper and more meaningful term. We do talk about our own conversions… our New Year resolutions or the
resolutions we take after a retreat.
The conversion, the transformation of Zacchaeus is something to
reflect on. He does not proclaim very vague, general platitudes like: “Oh, Lord, I shall be good. I shall not harm others.
I shall give alms.” His statements are more powerful, binding commitments. Zacchaeus says: "Look, Lord!
Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four
times the amount." Half my possessions to the poor… pay back four times, those I have cheated.
Zacchaeus speaks in the ‘present, here-and-now’ language.
He is not speaking in futuristic terms – ‘I shall give…’. He is not speaking like a politician, for
whom there is always the escape route called ‘tomorrow’. If I come to power, I shall do this, and that and the
other. If these words remind you of some presidential candidates, I am not to blame!
The Gospel says that “Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord” during the dinner. He did not whisper this
to Jesus. This was a proclamation made from the rooftop, almost. When Zacchaeus stood up to speak, he was SHORT, still. But
when he finished saying those lines, he really STOOD TALL. When Zacchaeus climbed the tree, he was a crooked tax collector,
carrying a load of labels with him. But, he was brought down from the tree by Jesus as a human being first and, perhaps later,
as a saint. This great transformation took place since Jesus CALLED HIM BY NAME thus making him discover his original beauty.
Fr. James Gilhooley begins his homily on Zacchaeus, with these
words: “‘A thing of beauty,’ wrote John Keats in Endymion in 1818, ‘is a joy forever.’
Someone has written that as Christians we should love beauty. He went on to say that where beauty is apparent, we should enjoy
it. Where beauty is hidden, we should unveil it. Where beauty is defaced, we should restore it. Where there is no beauty at
all, we should create it.”
The Gospel gives us a proof of Jesus
restoring Zacchaeus to his original beauty. All of us are called to be co-creators of beauty in this world.
the temple to pray? to brag?
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
We begin this Sunday’s reflections with an interesting story that talks of narcissistic, self-worship: Girolamo
Savonarola was one of the great preachers of the fifteenth century. He preached in the great cathedral of Florence, Italy,
which contained a magnificent marble statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. When Savonarola started preaching at this great cathedral,
he noticed one day an elderly woman praying before this statue of Mary. He then began to notice that it was her habit to come
every day and pray before the statue. Savonarola remarked one day to an elderly priest who had been serving in the cathedral
for many years, "Look how devoted and earnest this woman is. Every day she comes and offers prayers to the blessed Mother
of Jesus. What a marvelous act of Faith!" But the elderly priest replied, "Do not be deceived by what you see. Many
years ago, when the sculptor needed a model to pose for this statue of the blessed Mother, he hired a beautiful young woman
to sit for him. This devout worshiper you see here every day, was that young woman. She is worshipping who she used to be." (Rev.Jones)
In a Church, in the presence
of God, Mother Mary and the Saints, is it possible to worship oneself? It is possible, says Jesus in today’s Gospel
– in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18: 9-14). In the 18th chapter, Luke presents
two parables together - the Unjust Judge and the Widow, which we read last Sunday, and the Parable of the Pharisee and the
The opening words of this parable, namely, “Two men went up into the temple to pray…” give
an impression that Jesus is teaching on prayer. But, Luke’s introduction to this parable gives us a clue as to the intention
of Jesus: Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised
others. (Lk. 18:9) Luke uses a similar introduction to the parable of the Unjust Judge and the
Widow: And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. (Lk.
When we take both these parables
together, what grabs our attention first is the ‘locus’ (the place of action) Jesus uses for both these parables.
We expect a parable on prayer to be situated in a place of worship. But, Jesus narrated this parable without mentioning a
temple. He spoke of the widow who kept pursuing the judge wherever he went – the road, the court, the judge’s
house, the market place… everywhere. While running from pillar to post, the widow must have raised her heart to God
in prayer in all these places. Although Jesus intended to use this parable to teach about perseverance in prayer, we can easily
see that Jesus was also teaching an indirect lesson that no place is ‘unfit’ for prayer.
The most fitting place for prayer, as most of us would agree, is the temple. But, Jesus uses the temple, not to teach
about prayer, but to teach about pride and/or humility. Jesus used the temple only as a backdrop, while he was concentrating
on what was going on in the heart and mind of his two characters – the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Jesus is telling
us indirectly that even in the holiest of places, we can end up worshipping ourselves instead of worshipping God.
When Jesus began the parable with the words: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee
and the other a tax collector”, his listeners would have already drawn their conclusions… namely, the
Pharisee would go home with God’s approval for his upright ways, while the tax collector would receive God’s condemnation
for his devious ways. These thoughts of the people came crashing down when Jesus dropped a bomb at the end of the parable: “I
tell you, this man (the tax collector) went down to his house justified rather than the other (the Pharisee); for every one
who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk. 18:14)
Humility, one of the cardinal
Christian virtues, is called the foundation of all the other virtues by Saint Augustine: “Humility is
the foundation of all the other virtues. Hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other
virtue except in mere appearance.”
C.S.Lewis, the famous British lay theologian, in his book Mere
Christianity wrote an article on pride with the title: The Great Sin. Here are some relevant
There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone loathes when he sees it in someone
else…There is no fault that makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves.
And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.
The vice I am talking of is Pride or
Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility… According to Christian teachers,
the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in
comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God
state of mind.
Pride is essentially competitive – is competitive by its very nature – while
the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of
having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they
are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others. If every one else became equally
rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud, the
pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.
I guess C.S.Lewis was thinking of the
Pharisee in the temple while writing these words, especially the latter half. The Pharisee was trying to impress God, not
by stating what he was, but what he was in comparison with others!
The cure for this sickness is the great virtue called Humility! Here is
an interesting quote by an anonymous person: “Humility is a paradox. The moment you think you've finally
found it, you've lost it. There has yet to be written a book titled, ‘Humility and How I Achieved It.’” The
second line of this quote about the book on humility made me laugh. With so many ‘Do-It-Yourself’ and ‘Made
Simple’ manuals available in the market, I was wondering when we would see a manual on ‘Humility - Made Simple’.
Humility seems like a simple virtue, but, in reality, it is much more complicated. It is so simple that one can take it for
granted and thus lose it.
Before we close today’s reflections, a word about this Sunday – the Mission Sunday. The Catholic Church
celebrates the Mission Sunday on the penultimate Sunday of October. Combining Mission Sunday with the gospel lesson
on humility, gives us an occasion to re-invent Mission Sunday in today’s world. The Catholic Church has been
celebrating the Mission Sunday with a subtle tinge of pride about the way we have sent missionaries far and wide into the
world and also have prayed for more young persons to take up mission work in the future.
Today it would make more sense if we celebrate the Mission Sunday by sending ‘missionaries’ to the peripheries
of human society – as often recommended by Pope Francis. We need to celebrate the ‘Missionary Church’
more as a ‘Field Hospital’ – the famous phrase of Pope Francis!
Pope Francis in his book ‘The Name of God is Mercy’ talks of the present day mission of the Catholic Church: “The
Church does not exist to condemn people, but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy…
I often say that in order for this to happen, it is necessary to go out: to go out from the churches and the parishes, to
go outside and look for people where they live, where they suffer, and where they hope. I like to use the image of a field
hospital to describe this ‘Church that goes forth’. It exists where there is combat. It is not a solid structure
with all the equipment where people go to receive treatment for both small and large infirmities. It is a mobile structure
that offers first aid and immediate care, so that its soldiers do not die.
“It is a place for urgent care,
not a place to see a specialist. I hope that the Jubilee [The Holy Year of Mercy] will serve to reveal the Church’s
deeply maternal and merciful side, a Church that goes forth toward those who are ‘wounded’, who are in need of
an attentive ear, understanding, forgiveness and love.”
Let us celebrate the Mission Sunday with this tenderness, mercy
gained on our knees
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 12, 2010. Midnight. Most of Chile was awake with anticipation. At 12.10 a.m. on October 13, a narrow tube like structure
emerged out of the rocks and out came Florencio Avalos, a 31 year old miner. His seven year old son and his wife ran to him
with tears streaming down their cheeks. Florencio embraced them and kissed them. The whole nation erupted in joy. This cheer
and joy continued every hour following this incident. The joy and pride of this nation matched the joy and pride of USA on July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Setting foot on the
moon was surely a great achievement for Armstrong, for USA as
well as for humankind. Equally great was the achievement of the 33 miners from Chile setting foot on the earth after 69 days.
On August 5, 2010, 33 miners entered their usual shift, 2500 feet below the ground level, in the copper and gold
mines in Atacama region. A landslide deposited 700,000 tonnes of rock to block the passage. All the 33 miners were literally
buried alive. Efforts at contacting them failed and hope began to dwindle. After 17 days, on August 22, they were located
and a note saying that all the 33 were alive was sent through a hole. Locating them after 17 long days of suspense, was the
first miracle. Initial calculations predicted that it would take anywhere between 3 to 4 months to rescue the miners. So,
the families were reconciled to be united to their loved ones for Christmas. The continual efforts bore fruit and all the
33 miners were saved in half the time predicted earlier.
The rescue operation in Chile has
a special significance to our liturgical readings today, especially the first reading from Exodus (17: 8-13) and the Gospel
passage from Luke (18: 1-8). Both the readings speak of the role of prayer in the midst of struggles we face in our lives.
Here is an extract from the article in Wikipedia titled: 2010 Copiapó mining accident.
Religious activities of trapped miners
When a shaft was completed to provide
relief for the men, they asked for religious items, including Bibles, crucifixes, rosaries, statues of the Virgin Mary and
other saints. Pope Benedict XVI sent each man a rosary which was brought personally to the mine by the archbishop of Santiago,
Cardinal, Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa. After three weeks in the mine, one man who was civilly married to his wife
25 years earlier asked her to marry him in a sacramental marriage in the Church. They set up a makeshift chapel in the mine,
and Mario Gómez, the eldest miner, spiritually counselled his cohorts and led daily prayers. When they were rescued
the miners were all wearing similar t-shirts. The T-shirts, sent down by a brother of one of the miners had "Thank you
Lord" on the front and "To Him be the glory and honor" on the back. The quotation was taken from the Book of
Psalms 95 verse 4: "...in his hands are the depths of the earth."
story in the Daily Mail put it "A deep religious faith powered this rescue; miners and families and rescuers alike believe
their prayers were answered." Both government representatives and the Chilean public have repeatedly attributed divine
providence with keeping the miners alive and the Chilean public has viewed this rescue operation as a miracle. Chile's
president Sebastián Piñera stated, "When the first miner emerges safe and sound, I hope all the bells of
all the churches of Chilering out forcefully, with joy and hope. Faith has
moved mountains." When Esteban Rojas, one of the miners, stepped out of the rescue device, he immediately knelt on the
ground with his hands together in prayer then raised his arms above him in adoration. His wife then wrapped around him a religious
tapestry with Mary on it as they hugged and cried. Though most of the trapped miners were Roman Catholic, three were Protestant
or Baptist, and two others were converted during the time.
The trapped miners praying together, while stuck in the belly of the earth, reminds
me of Jonah’s prayer in the belly of the whale as well as the early Christians holding underground prayer meetings.
Their faith was nurtured by these prayers as well as by the imageries their leaders provided them with. One such imagery often
used by early Christians is the mythic bird phoenix. It is significant that the tube like capsule used for bringing the Chilean
miners to the surface was named ‘phoenix’, to remind people of the legendary bird which rises out of ashes. The
whole operation was named ‘Operation St Lawrence’, the patron
of miners. The statue of St Lawrence was taken in a procession around the accident site.
Dire needs bring people to their knees, as it brought Moses. Once the needs are
fulfilled, do we forget prayer? The answer lies in the passages from Luke’s Gospel for today as well for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Luke
11: 1-13 and Luke
18: 1-8. In both these passages Jesus gives us lovely lessons on prayer, not as a lofty philosophical treatise,
but as simple life stories. Isn’t Christ telling us clearly, that prayer should become part of our life and not remain
as a subject of intellectual discussion or an antidote used only during emergencies and dire needs? Prayer is the air we breathe,
not an oxygen mask!
There are hundreds of stories about
the power of prayer. Here is one of them I received via email. It is titled: How
much does a prayer weigh?
Louise Redden, a poorly dressed lady with
a look of defeat on her face, walked into a grocery store. She approached the owner of the store in a most humble manner and
asked if he would let her charge a few groceries. She softly explained that her husband was very ill and unable to work, they
had seven children and they needed food. John Longhouse, the grocer, scoffed at her and requested that she leave his store.
Visualizing the family needs, she said: 'Please, sir! I will bring you the money just as soon as I can." John
told her he could not give her credit, as she did not have a charge account at his store. Standing beside the counter
was a customer who overheard the conversation between the two. The customer walked forward and told the grocer that he would
stand good for whatever she needed for her family. The grocer said in a very reluctant voice, "Do you have a grocery
list?” Louise replied "Yes sir" "O.K." he said, "put your grocery list on the scales and whatever
your grocery list weighs, I will give you that amount in groceries."
a moment with a bowed head, then she reached into her purse and took out a piece of paper and scribbled something on it. She
then laid the piece of paper on the scale carefully with her head still bowed. The eyes of the grocer and the customer
showed amazement when the scales went down and stayed down. The grocer staring at the scales, turned slowly to the customer
and said begrudgingly, "I can't believe it."
The customer smiled and the grocer started putting the groceries on the other side of the scales. The scale did not
balance so he continued to put more and more groceries on them until the scales would hold no more. The grocer stood there
in utter disgust. Finally, he grabbed the piece of paper from the scales and looked at it with greater amazement. It was not
a grocery list, it was a prayer which said: "Dear Lord,
you know my needs and I am leaving this in your hands." The
grocer gave her the groceries that he had gathered and placed on the scales and stood in stunned silence. Louise thanked him
and left the store. The customer handed a fifty-dollar bill to John as he said, "It was worth every penny of it."
It was sometime later that John Longhouse discovered the scales were broken; therefore, only God knows how much a prayer weighs.
Lessons from leprosy
by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S.J.
Sunday in Ordinary Time
There is an ancient legend about two angels who flew to earth to
gather people's prayers. Wherever people bowed in prayer by their bedside at night, in a chapel, or on the side of a mountain
the angels stopped and gathered the prayers into their baskets. Before long the basket carried by one of the angels grew heavy
with the weight of what he had collected, but that of the other remained almost empty. Into the first were put prayers of
petition. "Please give me this....Please I want that." Into the other went the "Thank you" prayers. "Your
basket seems very light," said one angel to the other. "Yes," replied the one who carried the ‘Thank-you'
prayers. "People are usually ready enough to pray for what they want, but very few remember to thank God when their requests
This is the experience of most of us, right? On a daily basis, we send our seemingly
endless list of ‘wants’ to God, whereas our note of ‘thanks’ seems very short and sent rarely. This
Sunday we are invited to reflect on one of the noble sentiments that human beings are capable of – that of being thankful.
We are invited to meet two leprosy patients who teach us this noble sentiment of gratitude.
In the first reading (2 Kings 5:14-17) we meet Na′aman, commander of the army of the king
of Syria, who comes to the house of Prophet Eli′sha to get cured of his leprosy. The opening lines of today’s
reading paints a very docile Na′aman: “So he (Na′aman) went down and dipped himself seven times
in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God.” (2 Kgs 5:14) The
background story is anything but docile. Na′aman came to the land of the Israel with a body infected with
leprosy and a heart filled with pride. He had to undergo a complete transformation – a rebirth, so to say, in order
to get healed. When he emerged from the river Jordan, “his flesh was restored
like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” says this passage. His
flesh could become that of a child, since his heart had become child-like before he could enter the river Jordan.
this miracle, he went back to thank the Prophet Eli′sha. The Prophet, who refused to meet Na′aman when he had
come before him in his full regal pride, met him when he had become a docile child. Na′aman requested Eli′sha
to allow him to carry two mules’ burden of earth from the promised land. We can be assured that for the rest of his
life, Na′aman would have remained a docile child, ever thankful to God.
We meet another leprosy patient
– a Samaritan – in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 17:11-19). This miracle of the cure of the ten leprosy patients is
recorded only in the Gospel of Luke. It is interesting that Luke, at every given opportunity, turns the spotlight on the Samaritans,
through a famous parable – the Good Samartan – as well as this miracle.
begin our reflections on a ‘miracle’ that was already taking place when the ten leprosy patients approached Jesus.
The opening line of the gospel passage gives us a clue to this ‘miracle’. On the way to Jerusalem he
was passing along between Samar′ia and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who
stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” (Luke
17:11-13) This means that this was a place where Jews and Samaritans were present.
From this area, ten leprosy patients met Jesus. Were they Jews? Were they Samaritans? Not sure. But, surely, they were leprosy
patients. That was their main identity. Due to this disease, both Jews and Samaritans banished them from their communities.
This rejection from the community brought them together, irrespective of their original identities – Jew or Samaritan!
This is a ’miracle’ by itself!
We can surely think of moments when pain, misfortune and disaster
bring people together irrespective of their caste and creed. I recall one such experience from my life. It was 1977 when one
of the Jesuit Colleges in South India - St Joseph’s College, Trichy, - was flooded. Those living around the college,
who had lost their houses, took refuge in the second and third floors of the college building. They were people from different
castes, religions, and class structures. For the next few days they shared the college building, shared the food packets distributed
by the government. The flood waters not only demolished the walls of their houses, but also the walls of their social structures.
Unfortunately, when the floods receded, they went back to rebuild, not only the walls of their houses, but also the walls
of social segregation.
Many of us still remember 9/11 of 2001 – the Twin Tower attack in New
York. Many write ups were published in the web about this tragedy. One of those write-ups was about how this tragedy brought
the people of New York and, perhaps, the whole of the US, together. Here is a passage written by Cheryl Sawyer,
As the soot and dirt and ash rained down,
We became one color.
As we carried each other down the stairs of the burning building,
became one class…
As we fell to our knees in prayer for strength,
We became one faith…
we gave our blood in lines a mile long,
We became one body.
we mourned together the great loss,
We became one family.
Pain and tragedy bring people
together. The artificial lines we draw within the human family are erased when we face a disaster. But, when the tragedy passes,
the old battle lines are re-drawn. This was the case among the ten persons afflicted with leprosy. They were sharing one identity
– leprosy patients – when they met Jesus. But when they were cured of their bodily leprosy, they contracted their
social leprosy! Nine of those ten were probably Jews who did not want to take the Samaritan along with them when they went
to meet the priests. The Samaritan, must have understood their predicament. He did not want to embarrass them in front of
the priests. So, he went back to Jesus. Jesus was both happy and sad to see the Samaritan. Happy, because he saw a grateful
person. Sad, because this Samaritan was, once again, isolated.
Let us turn our attention to the key theme of today’s liturgy,
namely, the idea of thanksgiving. The world has two classes of people – ones who are thankful and others who are not.
What is the proportion of these groups? One to nine… the Gospel tells us today. If we examine our daily thoughts, the
same proportion is maintained. Namely, when one thankful thought enters our hearts, there are nine other complaints that choke
this. When we examine our pattern of prayer too, we find out that for every one prayer of thanksgiving, there are nine prayers
of petition… give me this, give me that!
Let us close our reflection with an inspiring anecdote from Rev. John Kavanaugh S.J.
the most grateful person I've ever heard of was an old woman in an extended care hospital. She had some kind of a wasting-away
disease, her different powers fading away over the march of months. A student of mine happened to meet her on a coincidental
visit. The student kept going back, drawn by the strange force of the woman's joy. Though she could no longer move her arms
and legs, she would say, "I'm just so happy and grateful to God that I can move my neck." When she could no longer
move her neck, she would say, "I'm just so glad and thankful I can hear and see." When the young student finally
asked the old woman what would happen if she lost her senses of hearing and sight, the gentle lady said, "I'll just be
so grateful that you come to visit."
We have heard of people who are incorrigible optimists. This lady
is incorrigibly thankful. How happy our lives would become, if we can learn the art of becoming incorrigibly thankful!
Two quotes on thanksgiving are worth considering: Meister Eckhart wrote wisely, "The most important prayer in the world is just two words long: Thank you."
In our present society, these two words are being used less frequently, not only to God but to one another. Another quote goes this way: “God has two homes - one in heaven
and the other in a humble, thankful heart” - Izaak Walton.
WWV - World
in Ordinary Time
This Sunday’s reflection is about VIOLENCE, especially about
the spiral of violence that has been crushing Syria for the past five years. There are two reasons why we are called
to dwell on thoughts of violence today. The first reason – today, October 2,
is the International Day of Non-violence. As many of us know, October 2 is celebrated as Gandhi Jayanthi
(the Birthday of Gandhi) in India. We also know that Gandhi, born on October 2, 1869, practiced non-violence as the means
to fight against the British.
In the year
2007, this day was declared as the International Day of Non-violence by the U.N., as a mark of respect to Gandhi. When I read
about the efforts taken by the Indian leaders to make this day recognised by the U.N., I was wondering whether we, as Indians,
have taken enough efforts to showcase our nation as a model nation of non-violence! India is a country that takes
pride in ‘sloganeering’ non-violence in words… not ‘showcasing’ in deeds! October 2 is the
first reason to talk of violence today.The second reason to reflect on violence, comes from today’s
liturgical readings, especially the words of Prophet Habakkuk.
As against the
non-violent methods followed by Gandhi to gain political freedom for India, today politics relies mostly on violent,
armed conflicts. In countries like Syria, violence seems to be the only method followed. More than all other news in
the recent days, the news about the violence in Syria keeps haunting me. The news published by NY Times on September
27, 2016 was more than a simple news. It was a searing accusation of our present generation that has become so accustomed
to violence. The title of the news article is a question addressed to all of us: Why So Many Children Are Being
Killed in Aleppo
The article by
Rick Gladstone begins like this:
play, sleep or attend school. Increasingly, they cannot eat. Injury or illness could be fatal. Many just huddle with their
parents in windowless underground shelters — which offer no protection from the powerful bombs that have turned east Aleppo into
a kill zone.
Among the roughly 250,000 people trapped
in the insurgent redoubt of the divided northern Syrian city are 100,000 children, the most vulnerable victims of intensified
bombings by Syrian forces and their Russian allies.
The article carries many disturbing, graphic images of children being pulled out of collapsed buildings dead or alive.
Rick then goes on to remind us of other images which disturbed us in the past one year.
Though the world is jolted periodically by the suffering of children in the Syria conflict
— the photographs of Alan Kurdi’s drowned body and Omran Daqneesh’s bloodied face are prime examples —
dead and traumatized children are increasingly common.
The Viewpoint of Lina Sergie Attar
in BBC News, talks of the disturbing image of five year old Omran Daqneesh. The iconic image of a bloodied Syrian boy in an
ambulance (published on August 18, 2016) has sparked international compassion but, asks Lina, can it now transcend being just
a hashtag or viral moment and become a movement to end the war? We come to know in the article that Omran is a lucky child.
I was wondering how the author called this blood drenched child lucky. The answer came in another news which said that Omran’s
elder brother Ali (aged 11) was killed in the attack. Lina closes her article with these words:
This is not a hashtag moment. This is not a viral moment. This is a moment
that must become a movement to end the war. He (Omran Daqneesh) looks like a statue. He stares at the camera, at us, in complete silence. Literally shell-shocked.
As if he already knows that silence is the only appropriate response to what has just happened. A child's crushing silence
to match the world's deafening silence that Syrians know all too well.
found a permanent abode among human beings. As human beings, we have given various responses to violence. Let us try and reflect
on three of them. The first is the ‘eye-for-an-eye’ style of response. Although we keep reminding ourselves that
this is ‘old testament’, and the ‘eye-for-an-eye’ mode will make all of us blind, in some parts of
the world, it is still practiced as a form of justice! Here is a sample:
Saudi Arabia urged not to paralyze man - By QMI Agency, Last Updated: August 22, 2010
A judge in the northwest province of Tabuk in Saudi Arabia has allegedly sent
letters to hospitals in the country asking if they could sever a man's spinal cord as punishment for paralyzing another man
in a fight two years ago… So far, one hospital had said it was possible to paralyze the man through a medical procedure.
The BBC reported that 22-year-old Abdul-Aziz al-Mitairy told local
Saudi newspaper Oakz that the accused paralyzed him by stabbing him in the back with a cleaver two years ago and that the
man confessed to his crime in front of the police. He was sentenced to seven months in prison without any legal assistance.
Amnesty International said there is a chance that the court would not go through with it, instead sentencing the man to prison,
a fine or a flogging.
I thought that perhaps international pressure must have had some
saving effect in this case. But to my painful surprise, there was a report on 4 April 2013 in BBC:
Saudi paralysis sentencing 'grotesque' – UK
The UK has urged Saudi Arabia not to carry out a reported
sentencing of paralysis for a Saudi man as punishment for paralysing another man… Saudi media reports earlier said
the 24-year-old man could be paralysed from the waist down if he could not pay his victim £250,000 in compensation.
Ali al-Khawahir was 14 when he stabbed a friend in the back in the Eastern Province town of al-Ahsa. He has
been in prison for 10 years.
This is the
latest example of Saudi Arabia's fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law attracting international criticism. Amnesty
says the law has seen judicially approved eye-gougings and tooth extractions.
When I read about
this case in 2010, what was more disturbing to me was the fact that a hospital had responded to the query of the judge as
to how the man could be ‘surgically paralysed’. I can understand a judge, a single person, who could have gone
mad. But, to see that a hospital was trying to help such a mad person, was disturbing, disgusting. It is frightening to hear
people talking about how violence has become a lucrative industry these days. Wither human race? Eye for an eye is the first
type of response to violence!
The second type of response to violence is what we see in today’s
first reading from the Prophet Habakkuk. Habakkuk lived around 650 years before Christ. It was a time of violence.
Violence was suffocating human reasoning. Sounds familiar? Yes. All too familiar… As late as October 3, 2013, the day
after Gandhi Jayanthi – which is also celebrated as the International Day of Non-Violence – in the land where
Gandhi was born, 7 innocent Christians have been sentenced to life-imprisonment in Odissa, for a murder (of Swami Laxmanananda
Saraswati) they did not commit.
two decades have seen enough and more violence in India and elsewhere, unfortunately under the mask of religion
– not the real, true religion for sure! When such violence erupts and we have nowhere to turn to, the human mind turns
to the ultimate refuge: God. Prophet Habakkuk turns to God and says:
How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, "Violence!" but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. (Habakkuk 1: 2-4)
Every one of these words has come out of our mouths quite often. Every day, when we open the newspapers, or watch the
news hour on TV, our minds raise these very same questions. The response of the Lord is given in today’s liturgy.
Then the LORD replied: "Write down the revelation and make
it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and
will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. (Habakkuk 2: 2-3) The second response to violence is: appeal to God and await his intervention. This
waiting may take a long time; but, believe that IT WILL HAPPEN. A belief, even the size of a mustard seed, will be sufficient,
says today’s Gospel (Luke 17: 5-6)
The third response to violence is what
Jesus and many others have given. Most of them have given this response with their own lives. We have millions of examples.
I wish to draw your attention to just one of them: Archbishop Oscar Romero who was assassinated, while celebrating the Holy
Mass, for upholding love over hatred.
2004, a book was published with the title: THE VIOLENCE OF LOVE Oscar Romero, compiled and translated by James R. Brockman,
S. J. This book is a collection of various quotes of Archbishop Romero. Here is a quote from the opening page of this book:
“THE VIOLENCE we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood,
the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work.” (Oscar Romero, November 27, 1977)
When we talk of violence, most often we think of the violence that happens in the public forum – political or
other. The violence that happens in our homes, in the privacy of our houses - within the four walls, within closed doors are
more numerous and much deeper. Violence against our domestic helpers, against children, against women, against aged parents…
this list is long and the intensity, deep. Since they don’t get news-status, they tend to increase day after day. Only
when such cruelties go way beyond limits, they become news-worthy.
For a true Christian,
in fact, for a true human being, the one and only response to violence is the third type… the response of non-violence…
or, if you prefer, the ‘violence of love’ (if properly understood). Is this possible? Yes. If only we have faith…
In today’s Gospel Jesus says this: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this
mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.” (Luke 17: 6)
The Birthday of Gandhi, the personification of Ahimsa (Non-violence) which we celebrate today, October 2,
is followed by October 4, when we celebrate the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, who gave the world one of the most beautiful
prayers – ‘Lord, make me an instrument of your Peace’. May Gandhi, St Francis, and millions of others who
believed and still believe that human family can exist without violence and bloodshed, inspire us to follow the path of Ahimsa!
on riches… Depending on the Divine…
‘Wall Street’ is a Hollywood movie released in 1987. At one point in the movie, the hero Gordon
Gekko says: Greed is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence
of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward
surge of mankind.
In 2010 another
movie – possibly a sequel – was released with the title: ‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’. In this
movie, the same hero says: Someone reminded me I once said, 'Greed is good'. Now it seems that it's legal. Greed
has been idolized in various forms and at present it seems to have been legitimized. Such a trend seems to have seeped through
to the younger generations.
In May, 2013, Time magazine published a lead article with the title: ‘Millennials:
The Me Me Me Generation’ written by Joel Stein. It is an interesting article on the ‘Selfie’
generation that seems to have become more and more narcissistic. If I speak more on this generation, many of you will ‘trash’
me as ‘too old’. Hence, I stop here and turn my attention in the opposite direction. In contrast to this narcissistic
generation, let me present the story of an altruistic person – Albert Schweitzer!
30 year old Albert, already a Doctor in Philosophy and Theology, was at the peak of his
career as a professor in Vienna. He was recognized as one of the best concert organists in all Europe. Living in Vienna,
the ‘City of Music’, he was a well sought after artist. At the age of 30, he left all these and pursued medicine,
with a single purpose of going to Africa to help the poor. When people asked him why, the only answer he could give
was that the change was wrought by the famous parable of Jesus – The Parable of the Richman and Lazarus. Not only in
Albert, but in thousands of heroic persons, this parable has brought about radical changes. This Sunday, we are invited to
reflect on this parable. We hope that this parable stirs us out of our comfort zones!
We have heard of the different stages of human growth as proposed by Sigmund Freud, the first of which is the ‘oral
stage’. During the first months the infant’s palms are always closed. Whatever we extend, whether it is our finger
or a toy, the infant grabs it and takes it to the mouth. For the infant the whole world is there to be consumed. With much
care, we try to wean the child from this stage. We begin teaching things like sharing… “Tom, give the candy to
Jerry… No, don’t grab everything… Let your sister play with the toy for a while…” We tend
to ‘preach’ to the child, while we practice very different things. When a child sees the contradiction between
what the adults say and do, it tends to follow the deed rather than the word. For not helping our children grow up to be caring,
sharing adults, all of us need to stand accused. When we stand accused in the court of the world, the judgement from above
will sound similar to the words used by Amos in today’s first reading:
Amos 6: 1, 3-7
Woe to you
who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria …
You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on
choice lambs and fattened calves…
drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph. Therefore you will be
among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end.
an introverted look so that we never grow beyond our baby years, namely, the ‘oral stage’. Jesus warns us of this
‘all-for-me’ attitude in the famous parable – the Richman and Lazarus.
The detailed analysis of this parable will be quite long. We shall confine
our reflections only to the first few lines where Jesus introduces the two characters – the rich man and Lazarus.
Luke 16: 19-21
There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.
And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's
table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
We can identify eight elements in the
above lines, three to introduce the rich man and five to introduce Lazarus.