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The courage to follow the Good Shepherd

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The courage to follow the Good Shepherd

by Rev. Fr.L.X. Jerome S. J. 

 

4th Sunday of Easter – Good Shepherd Sunday

 

A recent headline (April 18, 2018) from the BBC website caught my attention: Autistic teen's Lego Titanic replica on display in US. Here are some excerpts from this news: A 26ft-long (8m) Lego cube model of the Titanic built by an autistic boy from Iceland has been unveiled at a Tennessee museum. Brynjar Karl Birgisson, 15, used actual blueprints of the doomed ship to decide how many Lego bricks it would require. The massive model ship took him over 700 hours and more than 65,000 Lego bricks to assemble.

Mr Birgisson says the model, which has travelled across Europe, helped him with his condition. "The whole journey has helped me out of my autistic fog," said Mr Birgisson, who built the ship when he was 10 years old. "I've trained myself to be 'as normal as possible', whatever normal means." (Source: BBC)

 

Although ‘Titanic’ sank more than one hundred years ago, (April 15, 1912) it still floats across the imagination of many. The word ‘titanic’ originally means ‘of exceptional strength, size, or power’. Based on this meaning, the ship ‘Titanic’ set sail from Southampton, England, with an aura of ‘unsinkable assurance’. Four days after leaving Southampton, Titanic collided with an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic Sea.

Although this tragedy leaves us with lots of questions, quite a few remarkable incidents of courage and sacrifice that emerged on board, leaves us also with a sense of admiration and wonder. One of them is about three priests – Fathers Thomas Byles, Juozas Montvila, and Joseph Benedikt Peruschitz. These three priests declined the offer of getting into the life-boats and stayed on with the people, stranded on the ship, offering them final absolution and praying with them as the ship plunged into the icy waters of the Atlantic. The bodies of the three priests were never recovered.

 

Born as the eldest of seven children of a Congregationalist minister, Fr Thomas Byles converted to Catholicism. Ordained a priest in 1902, he was assigned to be the parish priest at Saint Helen’s in Ongar, Essex in 1905.  The parish was poor and had few parishioners, but Father Byles was devoted to them and served them generously until 1912 when he left for New York, to bless the wedding of his brother (who also converted to Catholicism).

Father Juozas Montvila was a 27 year old priest from Lithuania fleeing Tsarist oppression.  He had been ministering to Ukrainian Catholics and he had been forbidden to do so any longer by the Tsarist regime that was attempting to force Eastern Rite Catholics into the Russian Orthodox Church. Father Montvila planned to serve the numerous Ukrainian Catholic immigrants in the United States.

Father Joseph Benedikt Peruschitz was a 41 year old Catholic priest from Germany. He was on his way to join the faculty at Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. Although all the three priests set out with ‘private missions’, they joined hands in the common mission of becoming shepherds of the abandoned people on board the Titanic.

 

Father Byles did not view his trip on the Titanic as a vacation from his priestly duties. He spent Saturday April 13, hearing confessions, and on Sunday April 14, he said two masses for the second and third class passengers. When the Titanic struck the iceberg, Father Byles was walking on the upper deck reading his breviary. He immediately sprang into action. He assisted many third class passengers up to the boat deck and onto the life boats. As the ship was sinking, he said the rosary and heard confessions. Near the end, he gave absolution to more than a hundred passengers trapped on the stern of the ship after all the lifeboats had been launched.

Like Father Byles, Fathers Montvila and Peruschitz went among the passengers, praying with all, Catholic and non-Catholic, and granting absolution. Also like Father Byles they were offered seats in the lifeboats and declined them, realizing that the place for a priest was on board the Titanic with those who were about to die. Like the good shepherd described by Jesus in today’s Gospel (John 10: 11), all the three laid down their lives for the sheep. A stained-glass window placed in the church of St Helen as a memorial to its former Parish Priest, Fr Byles, depicts Christ the Good Shepherd.

 

When the Centenary of the sinking of the Titanic was commemorated in 2012, it reopened some of the ‘wounds’ in our collective consciousness. One of them being, the pride of the owners that their ship can never be sunk. Due to this pride, they did not stack up life-saving equipments for all those on board. Life boats and life vests only for 700 were carried on the ship, in which more than 2,200 persons travelled. The pride that declared that Titanic was ‘unsinkable’ sank to the bottom of the Atlantic, dragging along with it, the life of more than 1,500.

This year marks another centenary of another tragedy, namely, the I World War. Since that war lasted four years, (1914 to 1918), this year marks the final year of these commemorative years. Centenary commemoration of the First World War, once again, brought to our minds the ‘senseless’ massacre of hundreds of thousands of lives due to the pride and selfishness of some leaders.

 

Many leaders who have been the cause of many massacres, and battles have not been the victims… Only innocent people have died in millions. These leaders have crowded the pages of past history as well as the present. These selfish megalomaniacs have been referred to as ‘thieves and hirelings’ by Jesus in today’s Gospel (John 10: 10, 12-13).

 

The recent explosion of rage in India over the rape and murder of 8 year old Asifa Bano, brings to mind these ‘thieves and hirelings’. In this case, the ‘shepherds’ themselves (those who play responsible roles in society) became ravenous ‘wolves’. It is sickening to talk about this atrocity done to Asifa. But, talk we must, since this is a clear instance to showcase how ‘bad shepherds’ turn into ‘wolves’.

One of the accused in Asifa’s case, is a 60 plus years old person who is the custodian (or priest) of a temple. He had made use of the temple for this atrocity. What can be more sickening than this! At least one of these accused is a police inspector. A temple priest and a police officer, who are usually considered as ‘shepherds’ to protect the sheep, have become wolves. What is more disturbing is the fact that one of those accused is a young man of 19 years (first reported as 15 years old). What type of a society will such young men create, is anyone’s guess, rather, nightmare!

 

We tend to point fingers at others and then… walk away, feeling good. We do this more often when political and religious leaders are on the other side of our pointing finger! Every time we do this, we are also brought to realise the hard truth that there are other fingers pointing towards us. These fingers pointing towards us tell us that these ‘wolves’, did not drop down from the skies all on a sudden. They have been part of a family, a school and a community. Hence, these leaders have been formed by parents, elders, teachers, and friends like us. As we look around in families and other circles of influence, we find that there are ‘true shepherds’ as well as ‘thieves and hirelings’. The more the latter, the larger the risk for the future generations!

 

In this context, we need to talk about a video that did the rounds in the social media three years ago. It is about a small girl handling a real machine gun! Here is an extract from the news that appeared on BBC on this disturbing video:

The small Kurdish girl pictured firing a huge machine gun

The girl looks about six or seven years old. She chats away with an off-camera adult, possibly her father, who asks her how many Islamic State fighters she has killed. "Four hundred!" she says, speaking in a Kurdish dialect. Then the little girl leans over a machine gun bigger than she is, and using both hands, she fires away into the distance. As the shots echo across the desert, the man behind the camera eggs her on: "Kill! Kill!" (Source: BBC)

 

If the off-screen voice in this video belongs to the father of the child, it is really a tragedy! Most of the leaders we have spoken of in today’s reflections may have been fed with the ‘poison of hatred’ in their childhood, by those very close to them – namely, parents, teachers and friends. If only our families can become nurseries where love and forgiveness are planted and nurtured, we can resolve all the problems we face.

 

As we celebrate the Good Shepherd Sunday, the Church invites us to celebrate the 55th World Day of Prayer for Vocations. On this day, as has been his custom, Pope Francis is ordaining 16 Deacons as Priests. We pray that these 16 Priests as well as many other Priests to be ordained in the coming days and weeks, follow the Good Shepherd as their only model.

We are aware that the moths of April and May are crucial for young men and women to chalk out their future plans in terms of further studies, job, life-partner etc. We are also aware that some of these young men and women wish to follow the call of God to serve the people as Religious and Priests. We bring all the young men and women to the loving embrace of God so that they can be guided well in their decision-making process!

 

Let me close with a moving, up-lifting real-life incident that shows a priest who, true to his vocation, acts as a true shepherd on a battlefield: A soldier dying on a Korean battle field asked for a priest. The Medic could not find one. A wounded man lying nearby heard the request and said, “I am a priest.” The Medic turned to the speaker and saw his condition, which was as bad as that of the other. “It will kill you if you move,” he warned. But the wounded chaplain replied. “The eternal life of a man’s soul is worth more than a few hours of my life.” He then crawled to the dying soldier, heard his confession, gave him absolution and the two died peacefully.
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God with a price-tag!

by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J. 

 

3rd Sunday of Lent

 

Caught off-guard! When we see ourselves in a photo caught in a moment ‘off-guard’, we either enjoy those pictures, or, get annoyed with the one who took it. The more famous a person, the more often, such ‘off-guarded’ moments become news. With the paparazzi running around mad to do this all the time, we tend to become tired of such pictures and news. This does not happen very often in the world of drawing and painting. So, when such ‘casual moments’ are captured in drawing and painting, they seem more precious. I received one such artistic piece in my email a few years back. It was titled ‘Jesus Laughing’. It was quite refreshing to see those pictures… so different from the  paintings of Jesus we have seen so often.

 

When I was looking at those pictures, I told myself, “How great it would be to have these pictures installed over the main altars in our churches!” Well, as soon as I said this, an instant alarm sounded, saying, “Oh, such pictures may not be ‘worthy’ of the main altar! They will ‘upset’ people.” We have been so accustomed to seeing Jesus from certain ‘proper’ angles, that other ‘different’ angles look ‘improper’ for a church. Perhaps, we would accommodate those ‘different’ pictures in an exhibition. We have a similar situation in today’s Gospel. We meet a ‘different’ Jesus in today’s Gospel as he turns into an ‘action hero’ in the Temple of Jerusalem.

 

From the First Sunday of Lent we have been meeting Jesus in different situations and in very different locations. On the First Sunday, we met Him in the desert, hungry, tired and tempted by the Satan. On the Second Sunday, we met Him on the mountain, in a moment of glory. Today, the Third Sunday of Lent, we meet Him in the Temple of Jerusalem wielding a whip.

Coming back to our discussion on ‘proper pictures’ to adorn our churches, of the three episodes of these Sundays, I can very well see quite many churches opting for the Transfiguration of Jesus as the first choice. The hungry, tired Jesus in the desert (without the Satan, of course) would be the second choice. Jesus angry and violent, wielding a whip? Well, this could be in the picture gallery close to the Church, but not inside the church… The Church invites us to see this ‘different’ Jesus a little more closely today.

 

Another feature of these three Sundays that caught my attention was the three locations: the desert, the mountain and the temple. All these are special places where one can meet God. In the desert and the mountain one needs to search for God, while the temple is the place we humans have built to meet God easily. Paradoxically, when the Son of God went to the Temple of Jerusalem, He could not meet God. He could also sense that thousands who had come there could not meet God. Naturally, the next logical question was: What was the use of that temple when it had lost its prime purpose of helping people meet God? We hear Jesus saying that the temple had been turned into a ‘house of trade’ (John) and a ‘den of robbers’(the other three gospels). Jesus took up the cleaning in full earnest.

 

Usually we go to a place of worship - a Church, a Temple or a Mosque - to purify ourselves. Here we see Jesus going to purify the Temple. It is good to reflect on what prompted Jesus to take up this mission. Those factors which made the Jerusalem temple unclean, may as well be present in our present day places of worship. If so, it is all the more reason to delve deeper into this episode. Suppose Jesus walks into our places of worship, especially our famous shrines, today, what would be his reactions? Will he need a whip, once again?

 

Jesus’ encounter with the Temple began when He was 12 years old. Even at that time, the Boy Jesus must have seen some anomalies in His Father’s House. Every year as He went to the Temple for His annual obligations, He must have come back with lots of questions… painful questions. This year, He wanted to find an answer to His questions… Rather, He decided to become an answer to His questions.

Among all the anomalies, what must have pained Jesus most was the way the poor and the gentiles were treated in the temple. The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. (John 2:13) These are the opening words of today’s gospel. Every Jew was looking forward to going to Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. Having come from a humble carpenter’s family Himself, Jesus knew how hard it was for the poor people to put aside something for the temple each year. They brought to Jerusalem all that they had set aside for God throughout the year. Going to Jerusalem was considered a peak experience for the Jews (Psalm 122). The happy anticipation of going to ‘God’s House’ was becoming more and more of a nightmare for the poor Jews year after year because of the market that was growing around and inside the temple.

 

The Passover was a ‘peak season’ for Jerusalem. (You can see that I have begun speaking in ‘commercial’ terms.) The poor Jews had to face a two-pronged attack from the market forces that have grown around the Temple. The oxen, sheep and pigeons that the poor had brought with them became ‘unacceptable’ by the Priests. They found some little blemish in them. Hence, the poor had to buy these offerings from the temple market at a much higher price. The second attack came in the form of the annual temple tax they had to pay. This tax could not be paid in the Roman coins since they had the image of Caesar on them. Hence, they had to change those coins into the ‘temple coins’. Here again, the poor were cheated royally.

When it comes to money matters, it is the poor who suffer the most – be it in terms of wages, payments etc. We are painfully reminded of what is happening in India, especially after the episode of demonetisation. The poor have to pay the banks for all the swindling done by the millionaires!

 

Let us come back to Jerusalem. The Pilgrimage to Jerusalem which was supposed to fill the poor with graces and replenish them for the next year, became a journey that fleeced them and left them exhausted. They must have felt that God was becoming ‘costlier’ every year and receding from them year after year and that they could never measure up to the temple requirements. They must have also questioned how their God had become the sole monopoly of the Priests and other temple merchants.

 

There was another group of people who were raising similar questions. They were the gentiles. The temple market occupied what was known as the Court of the Gentiles – the outer court of the Jerusalem Temple. The Gentiles were permitted only up to this outer court and no further. Since this court had become a noisy, unruly market place, the Gentiles could not pay their homage to the God of Israel, whom they were very keen to meet. Many of them must have returned home quite disgusted with what they saw and would have decided never again to go back to Jerusalem.

Jesus identified himself with these two groups who had agonising questions about God, who was locked up inside the Temple of Jerusalem by the selfish Priests and merchants. He sought a solution. He began cleansing the Temple. Some commentators would call this act of Jesus a miracle. How did He undertake such a daring act and still not get killed on the spot is a miracle indeed! What made Him do this? The Gospel says: “Zeal for the House of God consumed Him.” (John 2:17; Ps. 69:9)

 

The temple authorities could see this zeal and they had no answer to this. Still, putting up a brave front, they questioned Jesus: “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” Jesus did not answer them directly but threw a challenge at them: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2: 19) A temple that took 46 years to be built can be built in three days? What a childish way of speaking!

Jesus spoke of a different temple – His own Body! In the course of history, the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed at least twice and was not re-built in its original glory, whereas the Body of Jesus, which was destroyed on the Cross, was built up again in three days in all its glory! In this temple there would be no more problems of meeting God; in this temple God cannot be bought or sold; there will be no inner and outer courts in this temple to segregate people… All are welcome to meet God here!

 

We pray that the real Church / Temple / Mosque (which is the community of believers) is built on the firm foundation of equality, with no dividing walls. We also pray that our human family gets purified of the attempts to make God and religion as commodities sold to the highest bidders!

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Ash – Fertilizer and ‘Detergent’

 

by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J. 

I Sunday of Lent

 

We have begun the Lenten Season a few days back. Etymologically, the word ‘Lent’ has two references in two different languages. In Latin, Lent comes from the word ‘lente’ which means ‘slowly’. The word ‘Lenten’ comes from the Anglo Saxon word ‘Lencten’ which signifies ‘Spring’. (‘Lencten’ or ‘Lengten’ – simply denotes the ‘lengthening’ of the daytime. This implies that winter is getting over…and Spring is at hand). When we combine ‘slowly’ and ‘spring’, we arrive at a comparative imagery between Lent and Spring. As the spring – slowly and steadily – renews the face of the earth, Lent renews us!

 

Usually, when we think of the Season of Lent, the symbol of ash dominates our imagination. For a change, it might be better to think of the Lenten Season in terms of Spring. In countries that have the four clear seasons, winter is preceded by the fall season. During these two seasons which extend to five or six months, trees and plants are pretty barren, devoid of leaves. A cursory, quick look at plant life during these months would make one easily assume that these plants and trees are ‘as good as dead’.

‘As good as dead’ sounds like a contradiction. What is good about being dead? This is the whole mystery of the Lenten Season and the Paschal Season… Death is a doorway to life. Under the heavy cover of snow, life begins to germinate. Come Spring… life will be in full bloom. Lenten Season (Spring) is an invitation to believe that death is not the final word. Moreover, Spring does not spring a surprise on us by overnight changes. These changes – the life affirming changes – take place ‘lente’ – ‘slowly’!

 

Every year we begin the Season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. When the ash is applied on our forehead, the priest says: “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. The older formula for this ritual was: “Thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return!” The change in the formula for the Ash Wednesday rite, clearly indicates that from the position of seeing ash as a sign of death and destruction, we have moved to a better position of seeing ash as a symbol of change and conversion!

 

Talking of the imagery of the ash, I would like to present the ideas presented by one of my favourite columnists, Fr Ron Rolheiser. In his column written under the title “Entering Lent” (2009), he says:

In every culture, there are ancient stories, myths, which teach that all of us, at times, have to sit in the ashes. We all know, for example, the story of Cinderella. The name itself literally means, the little girl (puella) who sits in the ashes (cinders). The moral of the story is clear: Before you get to be beautiful, before you get to marry the prince or princess, before you get to go to the great feast, you must first spend some lonely time in the ashes, humbled, smudged, tending to duty and the unglamorous, waiting. Lent is that season, a time to sit in the ashes. It is not incidental that we begin lent by marking our foreheads with ashes.

 

Ash is very much associated with fire. When we think of fire as a source of destruction, then ash is thought of as the net result of destruction. But, when we can think of fire as a source of life as well as purification, then ash can take on other meanings. Ash, as we know well, is used as a fertilizer, helping in the process of new life. Ash also is used as a ‘detergent’ to clean objects and make them glitter! Life-giving and cleansing are two crucial processes of Lent!

 

The lovely assurance that death and destruction are not the final words, is presented to us in the First Reading. God promises a revival of the earth after the great deluge and also places the lovely symbol of the rainbow. Rainbow has been used as a symbol of hope across the world.

Genesis 9: 8-15

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you… I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

 

Every year, on the First Sunday of Lent, the Church invites us to reflect on temptation. The word ‘temptation’ usually brings in uncomfortable feelings in most of us. Yet it is an essential part of human life. No one escapes temptation… not even Jesus. Today’s Gospel talks about this. How do we see temptation and the tempter (called variously as… Satan, devil, the evil one)?

A few years back, I was discussing the theme of the I Sunday of Lent, namely, ‘temptation’ with a priest friend of mine. The moment he saw the theme ‘temptation’, he broke into an old Tamil film song that talked of the hero being crushed by trials and temptations. “Lord, enough of this wave after wave of temptations and trials” (Sothanai mel sothanai podhumadaa saami), cries the hero! One can easily feel the sense of desperation that runs through that song.

 

For people who believe strongly in fate, temptations are seen as a predestined plan to attack us for no reason at all. Temptations are like flash floods that carry us alive. When we begin to imagine temptations in such a way, we seem to give undue power to them. We know that temptations are powerful. But, are we simply puppets in the hands of the tempter? Assigning so much power to temptations and the evil forces, leaves us with a lot of negativity about life. It also ignores so much of positive capabilities in us.

 

Our generation suffers from what I would like to call ‘the negativity-syndrome’. A major part of this ‘negativity syndrome’ comes from our media which revels in highlighting disasters, destruction, scandals and more tragedies. Why do the media indulge in these? Nothing sells like tragedy and disaster. That is why.

We know that the world is a mixed bag of the good and the bad. For every disaster that happens, there are many more blessings that happen too. Natural calamity, like an earthquake, as well as human-made tragedy, like the senseless shooting in Parkland, Florida, ‘make good business’ for the media. In every tragedy, there are many distressing facts and figures. There are equally, if not more, uplifting events. The media is more interested in reporting the negatives than the positives. Since we hear and see such negative news day after day, we tend to give up on the world very quickly. The temptation of believing that there are far too many evil forces around us and that we can do nothing about them is the most dangerous temptation our present generation needs to face!

 

Instead of saying that ‘nothing can be done about them’, we can do something about ourselves. The least that we can do is not to entertain such negativity. May Jesus who faced temptations squarely, help us face our trials with determination. May this Lent bring in slow and steady changes in us so that our lives can usher in life-giving spring into the world which seems to be frozen under the winter of death, destruction and despondency! 

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Dignified sick people

by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.  

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

World Day of the Sick

World Leprosy Day

 

Pope St John Paul II was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the 90’s. Some sources say that it was 1993. But, a few other sources say that it was already in 1991. Pope John Paul II had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease as early as 1991, an illness which was only disclosed later, and it is significant that he decided to create a World Day of the Sick only one year after his diagnosis. (Wikipedia)

Let us not bother about the ‘when’ of his illness. We can learn so much from ‘what’ the Holy Father did when he learnt of his illness… lessons as to how we can view sickness and, more especially, how we should treat those who are sick. The whole world witnessed how St John Paul II suffered from his debilitating sickness during the final decade of his life. During this frail phase of his life, he identified himself with the suffering humanity in a very noble way. In the year 1992 he established the World Day of the Sick. He declared February 11, the Feast of our Lady of Lourdes, as a special day to remember the sick people the world over.

It is no surprise that the Feast of our Lady of Lourdes was selected as this special Day, since millions of sick people have flocked to our Lady of Lourdes for 160 years. (This Sunday marks the 160th anniversary of Mother Mary appearing to Bernadette Soubirous on 11 February, 1858.) It was in 1862, Pope Pius IX authorized Bishop Bertrand-Sévère Laurence to permit the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lourdes. Today we also celebrate the 26th World Day of the Sick. Celebrating World Day of the Sick? Yes… We don’t celebrate sickness, but we can, and, must celebrate the courage and faith of those who are sick as well as the care and love shown by so many millions towards the sick.

 

Soon we shall be celebrating Ash Wednesday, which, this year, falls on February 14th, Valentine’s Day.. It is a pity that many of the meaningful Days like the Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Friendship Day … have all been hijacked and misappropriated by the commercial, advertising world. The original purpose of these days – namely, the celebration of gratitude for parental care, love and friendship – has been buried under the heap of flowers and gifts! The commercial world won; and we, the people, lost! Fortunately, the commercial world has not set its eyes on the World Day of the Sick. It probably will not, since this day does not offer an opportunity for promoting merchandise.

Similarly there was another day that passed, unnoticed by the commercial world. That was the World Leprosy Day. World Leprosy Day is observed internationally on January 30 or its nearest Sunday to increase the public awareness of the Leprosy or Hansen's Disease. This day was chosen in commemoration of the death of Gandhi, the leader of India who understood the importance of leprosy. (Wikipedia) This year we celebrated World Leprosy Day on January 28.  This Sunday’s Liturgy invites us to think of the Sick, especially those who are sick with the dreaded disease called Leprosy.

 

In my Sunday Reflections, I usually take Biblical passages from the Revised Standard Version (RSV). Today I am quoting from the Contemporary English Version (CEV) for reasons I shall explain.

Here are the first three verses of today’s gospel passage from CEV:

A man with leprosy came to Jesus and knelt down. He begged, "You have the power to make me well, if only you wanted to." Jesus felt sorry for the man. So he put his hand on him and said, "I want to! Now you are well." At once the man's leprosy disappeared, and he was well. (Mark 1: 40-42)

 

Why did I choose CEV over RSV? Obviously, because of the opening line. While CEV identifies the sick person as ‘a man with leprosy’, RSV identifies him as ‘a leper’. There is a world of difference between the expressions ‘leper’ and ‘man with leprosy’ or ‘leprosy patient’. The word ‘leper’ talks of what the person is… By saying that someone IS a disease, we tend to see him or her as a lesser human being or, as in the case of leprosy, no human being at all. The term ‘leprosy patient’ talks of what the person has… a human person suffering from a disease. Why make such a big fuss about words?... you may wonder. Well, words form thoughts and we need to be careful about our vocabulary… Out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks… True. But, out of what our mouth keeps speaking, the heart can also be filled with right or wrong thoughts.

 

As human beings, we can truly feel proud about the progress we have made in the diagnosis as well as the treatment of leprosy or Hansen’s disease. We can feel more proud about the way we have brushed up our vocabulary regarding those afflicted with this disease. We have become much more sensitive and therefore more respectful in labelling these persons who are sick with leprosy. Contemporary English has progressed in being more gender-sensitive and more sensitive towards those who are sick. We no longer use terms like chairman, housewife, blind, deaf, handicapped, leper etc. From this perspective, the Gospel today is Good News not only in terms of its content but also in terms of form. We need to search within ourselves and see whether the ‘form’ (namely, the words) we use is only a matter of lip-service or does it also indicate a change in our inner attitude.

 

Turning our attention to the content of today’s gospel, we admire the courage of the man with leprosy who took the risk of coming before Jesus. The plight of a leprosy patient was very tragic among the Israelites. This is explained in today’s first reading from Leviticus 13: 44-46. When this person had to come into the town, he had to ring a bell and warn the others so that they kept away from him. If by chance someone was touched by the leprosy patient or if someone touched this person, he / she became impure… For such accidental contacts the leprosy patient might have been punished… even, stoned to death. The Mosaic rules were harsh and the strict observance imposed by the religious leaders made them very inhuman.

Let us imagine this scene. The leprosy patient must have known about the whereabouts of Jesus and wanted to meet him. So, he had to come into town ringing the bell. The people standing around Jesus, as soon as they heard the bell, must have backed off in horror. But, Jesus stood where he was and allowed the leprosy patient to come to him. Then, Jesus did the unthinkable. He broke the Mosaic law and touched the leprosy patient, thus making himself impure and even an outcast. Jesus was not keen on shocking the people for its own sake. He wanted the healing of not only the leprosy patient but also the crowd around Him.

 

Last week and this week we have been reflecting on the healing miracles of Jesus. Last week we said that the healing of a person begins with one’s personal belief of getting cured. Without this belief, cure is not possible. Similarly, in today’s gospel, we see that if a person is given his / her human dignity, then full healing is possible.

Although our present world claims that leprosy has been eradicated, there are still thousands of people suffering from this dreaded disease. They still face very tough situations in life. Another group of people who are discriminated due to their sickness are those suffering from HIV. We pray that sick people all over the world are given basic human dignity, so that they may bear their pain with more serenity.

 

Through the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes let us pray that all of us experience God’s healing touch on each of us. May our Mother guard and protect especially those who suffer not only physical illness, but the pain of social segregation!

 

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Miracles sans Media attention

 

by Rev. Fr. L.X. Jerome S. J.

 

Jane was a new recruit in the school. She had worked just for a week there. On Saturday afternoon the Principal called her and gave her an additional assignment. She was asked to go to the nearby hospital and teach mathematics to a boy who was bed-ridden there. On Sunday, Jane went there a bit reluctantly. When she saw the boy on the bed, she was utterly shocked. The boy had sustained third degree burns in a fire accident and was fighting for life.

Teaching mathematics to this kid? This must be a cruel joke, Jane thought. Still, she had to comply with the wish of the Principal. So she began to teach him. She made a valiant attempt to hide her shock and tears and continued teaching him for 30 minutes. Then she said good-bye to him promising to return the next Sunday. On her way home, she had made a list of excuses she would offer to her Principal for not taking this assignment next time.

 

The next Sunday, however, she found herself going back to the hospital. She just wanted to see the kid and be of some comfort to him… Surely no mathematics this time! At the entrance of the hospital, she met a lady who was introduced to her as the mother of the boy with severe burn injuries. The lady politely asked Jane, “Are you the one who taught my son mathematics last Sunday?” Jane felt like running away. She knew that no one in her proper sense would do such a thing. “I am sorry about this… I had to oblige my Principal and so…” Jane mumbled. The lady grabbed Jane’s hands. Her eyes were brimming with tears… “You don’t know how much you have helped him and us” the mother said. Jane was stunned by these words. She had done something wonderful? The mother continued: “Till last Sunday my son had given up on his recovery. He had refused to eat and refused to take medicines. But, after your mathematics lessons, he is completely a different person. He keeps saying to me… ‘If my school has sent a teacher to teach me mathematics, then they are sure that I would be back to school soon’. Your mathematics lessons have given him a fresh lease of life. His recovery this past week has surprised the medical staff here. Thank you so much for doing this.” As the lady was speaking, Jane could hardly hold back her tears…

 

Dear Friends, I have narrated this story in some detail just to make us understand a key idea – an idea that has very close connection to our Sunday Readings today… namely, the process of healing. What is the main reason for one’s healing? Taking medicines, undergoing surgical interventions, do not guarantee automatic cure. The cure begins from within a person, from his or her belief that a cure is possible. This belief can be initiated from hundreds of outside sources, known or unknown… like a pilgrimage taken to Lourdes or the Holy Land, or like the lessons in mathematics given to the boy who was saying goodbye to this world. Without this inner belief, healing becomes difficult and, in many cases, impossible. In the first reading today, we hear the anguished cry of one who had lost his belief in getting restored to health:

 

Job 7: 1-4, 6-7

Job said: "Has not man a hard service upon earth, and are not his days like the days of a hireling? Like a slave who longs for the shadow, and like a hireling who looks for his wages, so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me. When I lie down I say, 'When shall I arise?' But the night is long, and I am full of tossing till the dawn. My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and come to their end without hope. Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good.

Verse 5 from this section is omitted in today’s reading. This verse is a specific reference to the health conditions of Job: “My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt; my skin hardens, then breaks out afresh.” (Job 7:5)

 

This passage echoes the sentiments many of us have expressed in many painful situations. Two ideas from this passage caught my attention. The first one is that Job talks of one of the most common experience for most of us. When pain fills one’s life, the first things that take leave of us are… food and sleep - the night is long, and I keep tossing in bed till the dawn. For many, the anguish within exhibits itself in various forms of sickness, including rashes on the skin, as happened to Job.

 

The second striking aspect of this passage is the different imageries Job has used to describe his desperate situation… hireling, weaver’s shuttle, breath. We use many imageries to describe our life, especially when we are filled with pain. We think of symbols like the uprooted tree, a boat tossed about in the stormy sea or a dry leaf swept away in whirlwind etc.

To continue with this symbolic language, one can compare pain to the quicksand. When we are caught in the quicksand we need to look for assistance from outside, especially from someone who is standing on the firm ground. Instead of this, most of us turn our attention to the quicksand itself and get more panicky. This panic sets in motion a series of actions (in the case of health… more medicines and more consultations) by which we get more entangled and submerged in the sand. Although Job’s words here are the cry of a person caught in the quicksand of pain, he ultimately grabs the hands of God and reaches the firm rock of salvation.

 

Christ offers this helping hand in today’s Gospel. This passage from Mark (1: 29-39) is the continuation of the last Sunday’s Gospel. In this Gospel passage, once again, three things caught my attention. First, Jesus cures on the Sabbath Day. If we browse through the four Gospels, Jesus cures many persons on the Sabbath Day. Here are some of the miracles of healing which Jesus performed on the Sabbath Day:

  • The man with a demon (Mark 1:21-26)
  • Peter's mother-in-law (Luke 4:38-39)
  • The man with a withered hand (Matthew 12:9-13)
  • The bent-over woman (Luke 13:10-16)
  • The man with dropsy (Luke 14:1-5)
  • The crippled man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:5-9)
  • The man born blind (John 9:1-14)

Any type of work was forbidden on the Sabbath Day. For Jesus, healing was not a ‘work’ but a natural human activity like his breathing, eating and sleeping. Moreover, to free a human person from the bondage of evil, any rule can be broken, affirmed Jesus.

 

The second aspect of this passage is that the whole town was gathered in front of Simon’s house. As we said at the beginning, a person’s healing begins with the belief of getting healed. We believe that God heals us; but God cannot heal us without our consent. We need to approach God for our healing as the people thronged around Jesus.

The third aspect of this passage is the way in which Jesus healed the people around him without any fuss. In many of these instances, Jesus made specific requests to the healed persons to keep it secret. In today’s Gospel, we see him silencing even the evil spirits who acknowledged his power. Doing good requires no trumpets.

 

We beg of God for three special graces today:

·        That we or, someone close to us who need healing, develop the belief that we can be healed and will be healed.

·        That more and more of us get involved in the ministry of healing in different capacities without drawing attention to ourselves. The world needs lots of healing, with no advertisements!

·        That we are not hampered by rules and regulations especially when we are involved in the healing ministry… That we are able to affirm boldly that Sabbath is made for human beings and not vice versa.

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Refreshingly unique leadership

by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J. 

 

 

“What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” (Mark 1:27) The surprise expressed by the people in the Synagogue of Caper′na-um begins our Sunday reflection. It was a surprise since they have not experienced anything similar so far. Jesus was ‘authority’ personified, but, in a totally, refreshingly different way from the regular, monotonous authoritative figures! We too suffer from such monotony when it comes to power and authority shown by our world leaders. How we wish that our leaders learn the true meaning of ‘authority’. The world, unfortunately, suffers from the whims and fancies of a few world leaders who seem to wield uncontrolled authority in various matters that affect humanity, including nuclear war!

There are 195 countries in the world today. If we count the Presidents and Prime Ministers of all these countries, the number of persons in authority will be around 300. Among these 300, the media talks of 20 of them over and over again. The spot light turned by the media on these pathetic models of leadership makes us lose hope on true leadership and authority.

I would like to turn our attention away from these arrogant megalomaniacs and focus on a humble chief minister from India, who is a true model of leadership and authority. I am talking of Shri Manik Sarkar, the Chief Minister of Tripura. Here is an extract from Rediff News published two years back:

He is perhaps India's only chief minister who doesn't own a home, a car or a hefty bank balance. (Some other news sources claim that he does not also have a mobile phone!) He lives on the Rs 10,000 that his party -- the Communist Party of India-Marxist -- gives him and donates his salary as chief minister to the party fund.

Meet Manik Sarkar, Tripura's longest-serving chief minister (he has been in the post since 1998), who feels simple living should be every Communist leader's 'religion.' The chief minister's wife Panchali Bhattacharya, a former central government employee, is often seen going to the market in Agartala by cycle-rickshaw to buy fish and vegetables.

 

We celebrated Indian Republic Day on January 26. On that day quite a few leaders from India spoke eloquently on their vision of India. Most of their words sounded hollow. Shri Manik Sarkar spoke of his vision of Indiaon August 15, 2017 – Indian Independence Day. With the courage of a prophet, Shri Manik Sarkar spoke about the danger to the basic fabric of secularism in India. Here is an extract from his speech:

“Unity in diversity is Indian traditional heritage. Great values of secularism have helped in keeping Indians together as a nation. But today, this spirit of secularism is under attack. Conspiracies and attempts are underway to create an undesirable complexity and divisions in our society; to invade our national consciousness in the name of religion, caste and community, by inciting passions to convert India into a particular religious country and in the name of protecting the cow.”

Naturally, Doordharshan, and All India Radio, the official TV and Radio channels of India, refused to telecast / broadcast his speech, since it was very forthright, calling a spade a spade. Shri Manik Sarkar is truly a modern-day prophet!

 

I had an opportunity to learn the deeper meaning of the word ‘authority’, about 15 years ago. I was asked to take up a key position in one of the Jesuit institutions in India. I did not feel comfortable about it. I felt I was not cut out for administrative jobs. Hence, I sought the help of another Jesuit who had held much higher positions than what was asked of me. What he told me cleared my doubts and helped me take up the responsibility with some peace of mind.

This is what he told me: “This is not a position you achieved; it is an opportunity given to you to serve. The key requirement to take up a responsibility is your credibility. You may lack the intelligence or the administrative capacity to do this job. You may not know how to deal with finance and the government officials. You can always get the help of others in making up this lack. But if you lack credibility, then no one can help you fill that gap.”

 

His words are still very fresh in my memory. What he shared that day helped me see ‘Authority’ in a very different way. The key requirement to serve in a responsible position is one’s credibility. The other qualities are added advantages. Credibility comes from within. It is an inner force. Intelligence and administrative capacity can be learnt and nurtured from outside. One can get help from others when one lacks the know-how of running an institution. But, when one lacks credibility, the inner force, then he or she cannot run the institution in the right direction. This is the real meaning of ‘Authority’.

 

Today’s Gospel has a key sentence which set me thinking about this past experience of mine. This is what we read in today’s Gospel: “Jesus taught them as one who had authority and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1: 22) If we can understand the meaning of authority, we can as well understand how this ‘authority’ set Jesus apart from the scribes. We use the word ‘authority’ in two different senses. The first sense talks of a person having authority over this or that. The second sense talks of a person being an authority on this or that.

The first one is ‘the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience’. The second one is ‘the power to influence others, especially because of one’s commanding manner or one’s recognized knowledge about something’. (Oxford Dictionary) The first one is given from outside; the second, develops from within. Another word that is closely associated with this second type of ‘authority’ is ‘authenticity’… The more authentic a person, the better his or her authority. This is similar to the ‘credibility’ that my senior Jesuit spoke to me about.

 

This ‘authority’ can best be explained by the hush that falls or the spontaneous cheer that erupts in a public meeting when a person of great dignity – say, a Mother Teresa, a Mahatma, a Martin Luther King or a Dalai Lama – walks into the auditorium. This spontaneity is due to the magical authority this person holds over the people.

 

I am not here to take a class on the etymology of ‘authority’. I am interested in making a common human experience clearer to us. Authority is everywhere, starting from our families (as mentioned in the Second Reading – I Cor. 7:32-35) to the international arena. We have secular and sacred authority. If the real meaning of authority can be understood, then we can get rid of so many complications in our world today.

The authority enshrined in and exercised by the sacred sphere can create more complications when understood wrongly. The authority to be a prophet, to speak in God’s name comes from God. This is explained in the passage from the Book of Deuteronomy given as our First Reading today. The people of Israel are sad that Moses, their famous leader, the one who was able to interpret God’s plans for them till now, was on the verge of death. Moses consoles them with these words: 

Moses said to the people: “And the LORD said to me, ‘I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not give heed to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’” (Deut. 18: 17-20)

 

When Pope Francis assumed the leadership of the Church on March 19, 2013, he stated clearly his idea of power and authority. Here is an extract from his homily that day: Today, together with the feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power. Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it?... Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!

 

How do we understand authority? How do we exercise authority within our families? Does our authority come from an inner force, namely, moral power born of inner convictions or from external conventions that are threadbare? When someone is truly great, we admire that person irrespective of whether the person holds any power or position. We know that such persons are becoming a rare breed among the world leaders as well as in religious spheres. We pray God to send us true leaders before whom we can truly exclaim: “What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” (Mark 1:27)

 

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Activating (Not pacifying) Good News

by Rev. Fr. L X. Jerome S. J.

 

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

This Sunday we are given two figures to reflect on – Prophet Jonah and Jesus, especially from the point of view of them being sent as messengers. Jonah was sent to the people of Nineveh to give them a news – a news of disaster. “Yet forty days, and Nin'eveh shall be overthrown!”  (Jonah 3: 4). In the Gospel of Mark, we see Jesus coming to Galilee preaching the gospel of God… "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel." (Mk.1:15)

A cursory glance at these two messages given by Jonah and Jesus do not sound like ‘Good News’. But, a deeper reflection gives us a better understanding of what is ‘Good News’.

 

I would like to echo the thoughts of Pope Benedict XVI on the word ‘good news’ (Evangelion, in Greek) in his book ‘Jesus of Nazareth’:

Both Evangelists designate Jesus’ preaching with the Greek term evangelion — but what does that actually mean?

The term has recently been translated as “good news.”  That sounds attractive, but it falls far short of the order of magnitude of what is actually meant by the word evangelion.  This term figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors, who understood themselves as lords, saviors, and redeemers of the world.  The messages issued by the emperor were called in Latin evangelium, regardless of whether or not their content was particularly cheerful and pleasant.  The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message, that it is not just a piece of news, but a change of the world for the better.

When the Evangelists adopt this word, and it thereby becomes the generic name for their writings, what they mean to tell us is this:  What the emperors, who pretend to be gods, illegitimately claim, really occurs here — a message endowed with plenary authority, a message that is not just talk, but reality.  In the vocabulary of contemporary linguistic theory, we would say that the evangelium, the Gospel, is not just informative speech, but performative speech — not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save and transform.  Mark speaks of the “Gospel of God,” the point being that it is not the emperors who can save the world, but God.  And it is here that God’s word, which is at once word and deed, appears; it is here that what the emperors merely assert, but cannot actually perform, truly takes place.  For here it is the real Lord of the world — the living God — who goes into action.

(As quoted by Daniel B. Clendenin in http://journeywithjesus.net/index.shtml)

 

Two thoughts expressed by Pope Benedict captured my attention.

1. Good News (evangelion) is meant to bring about change. It need not be ‘good’, meaning pleasant.

2. Good News (evangelion) is meant to make us act. It does not fill us with information, but leads us to transformation.

 

We live in a world filled with information. It is so filled that there is not much room for personal interpretations and hence, no room for transformation. One of my most favourite books on media is “Amusing Ourselves to Death” written by Neil Postman. This is a scathing criticism on what television had done to the American Society in the 80s. What was written by Postman in 1985 about America is now almost a universal phenomenon.

One of the accusations that Postman levels against TV is that it has kept our human family ‘amused to death’. He says that TV has turned EVERYTHING (be it politics, religion, sports, stock market) into ENTERTAINMENT, including news. We are submerged in an ocean of information which keeps us fully soaked and completely passive. Add to this the other gadgets of communication like the cell phone, the (not-so) smart phone, and very many ‘i-something’… and our deluge of information has become a destructive tsunami. Here is a passage from Postman’s book:

How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve? For most of us, news of the weather will sometimes have such consequences; for investors, news of the stock market; perhaps an occasional story about a crime will do it, if by chance the crime occurred near where you live or involved someone you know. But most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action.

(“Amusing Ourselves to Death” Penguin Books, 1985. p.68)

 

In contrast, the news brought by Jonah and Jesus resulted in meaningful actions. The news of disaster that Jonah brought to Nineveh was not a pleasant news. But, since it shook the people out of their slumber and made them take corrective actions, it saved them. It turned out to be ‘Good News’. Similarly, when Jesus said, “Repent, and believe in the gospel” simple fisher folk like Simon, Andrew, James and John left everything and followed Jesus… a definitive and powerful transformation! These are typical samples of what news, especially ‘good news’, should be like!

 

One final thought on how one can ‘proclaim’ the good news without uttering a word as in the case of St Francis of Assisi. To him ‘good news’ need not always be ‘preached’… Here is an anecdote from the life of this beloved saint:

One day Francis of Assisi invited one of the young friars to join him on a trip into town to preach. The young friar was so honoured at receiving such an invitation from St. Francis that he quickly accepted. They paused beneath a tree and Francis stooped to return a young bird to its nest. They went on and stopped in a field crowded with reapers and Francis bent his back to help load the hay onto a cart. From there they went to the town square where Francis lifted a bucket of water from the well for an old woman and carried it home for her. All day long he and St. Francis walked through the streets and byways, alleys and suburbs, and they rubbed shoulders with hundreds of people. Each time they stopped, the young friar was sure that St. Francis would stop and preach. But no words of great truth or wise discourse issued from the saint's mouth. Finally, they went into the church, but Francis only knelt silently to pray. At the end of the day, the two headed back home. Not once had St. Francis addressed a crowd, nor had he talked to anyone about the gospel. The young monk was greatly disappointed, and he said to St. Francis, "I thought we were going into town to preach?" St. Francis responded, "My son, we have preached. We were preaching while we were walking and in everything we did. We were seen by many and our behavior was closely watched. It's of no use to walk anywhere to preach unless we preach everywhere as we walk! Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words only if necessary."

 

Preaching the good news is not an assignment ‘imposed’ on Priests and religious alone. It is an invitation ‘extended’ to all of us. How heavenly this world would be when all of us preach everywhere as we walk!

 

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Introduced to God by the roadside

by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.

 

On January 14, Sunday, Pongal (harvest festival) is celebrated in Tamilnadu and in most other Tamil speaking communities around the world. Recently, the State of Virginia in the U.S. has designated January 14, Pongal Day as a special holiday for the state. I am sure that this recognition was a great consolation for the thousands of Tamils living around the world.

A similar consolation was experienced last year during Pongal. On Pongal day, the eyes of thousands of Tamil people all over the world were turned towards Marina Beach, Chennai. Young men and women, as well as family persons, children and senior citizens in tens of thousands gathered in Marina Beach demanding the re-instatement of ‘Jallikattu’ - the bull-fight, banned a few years back.

 

Hats off to the youth of Tamil Nadu, who had not sought the support of any political party as well as the support of the tinsel world. They had taken care not to be divided on lines of caste, religion, political allegiance, fan club etc. They had not resorted to any violence and have gone from strength to strength. To me, this was truly a people’s movement – especially a youth movement, where no individual stole the limelight. The Central and State governments as well as various MNCs were forced to take note of this event, and also take stock of their dubious, underhand dealings with people.

 

This ‘dharmic’ protest by the youth gave hope as to what the youth can do if they unite for a purpose. We pray that such purposeful coming together of the youth takes place whenever there is a need to set things right. Unfortunately, after the ‘Jallikattu’ protest, the youth have not been able to muster strength to protest against other atrocities like the NEET exam. The lengthy protests taken up by the Tamilnadu farmers in Delhi also did not get enough support of the youth. We pray that the youth may truly become a constructive force to bring about social change in Tamil Nadu and all over India.

 

On January 14, the Church invites us to commemorate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. In 1914, Pope St Pius X instituted this Day and this year the Church commemorates the 104th edition of this World Day. The message of Pope Francis given for this world day is titled: “Welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees”. The Pope begins his message with the quote from Leviticus 19:34: “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God”.

 

Through these words, God reminds each one of us that we are travellers on earth – better still, pilgrims. We are not the owners or permanent residents here on earth. All of us are passing through this world as pilgrims just once. If only we understood this truth and consider all the people in the world as co-pilgrims, there will be lot less problems. Unfortunately, some world leaders consider themselves as owners of their respective countries and hence want to protect their ‘property’ by raising walls and treating people from other countries as ‘encroachers’! Our present day leaders are guilty of allowing the problem of Refugees and Immigrants to spiral into unprecedented levels. We are guilty of allowing most of our children grow up in make-shift tents.

 

In his message Pope Francis challenges us saying, “Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age (Matthew 25:35-43).” He then goes on to spell out our response to the epidemic of ‘rootless and roof-less people’ with the help of four verbs: “to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate”.

 

One of the Tamil poets by name ‘Kaniyan Poongunranar’ has enunciated the broad-minded Tamil culture that welcomes every one as a relative. “Yaathum Oore, Yavarum Kelir” which means, “All the towns are our neighbourhood and all the people, our relatives”. We pray that on Pongal festival, which brings near and dear ones together from far and wide, reminds us strongly that all of us are knit together into a noble human family where there is neither immigrant nor refugee!

 

Let us now turn our attention to this Sunday’s readings…

    

The first reading and the Gospel talk about how God gets introduced to us in various ways. In the first reading we hear how God gets introduced to Samuel when he was a child (I Samuel 3:3-10, 19). Andrew and Simon Peter meet Jesus as adults (John 1: 35-42). There are a few lessons – old and new – that we can learn from these two events.

 

God meets Samuel in the temple. Samuel has been serving in the temple for quite some time. The opening line of this passage says that Samuel was lying down within the temple of the LORD. (I Sam. 3:3) This indicates that he was all the time in the temple. Still he had not met God.

I am reminded of the small fish swimming in the ocean. It was swimming here and there as if searching for something. A big fish asked the small fish: “What are you searching for?” The small fish answered: “The ocean”. It is possible to be immersed in the ocean and still not be aware of it.

It is possible to be in God’s presence and still not be aware of God as in the case of Samuel. Samuel was a child and, hence, his ignorance need not be made much of. What about us who have taken God for granted in our lives and begin searching for God mainly when things became tough for us?

 

In the Gospel we come across two adults getting introduced to Jesus. In the case of Samuel, God gets introduced in the temple whereas in the Gospel, Jesus gets introduced on the roadside. Both in the Bible as well as in human history, God gets introduced more often in very ordinary circumstances and places than in the holy of holies. Since it is so ordinary, many of us tend to miss the importance of it. Even in the case of the two disciples of John, they could have missed Jesus. But, they took extra efforts. They followed Him.

The two disciples… followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, "What do you seek?" And they said to him, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. (John 1: 37-39)

 

It is interesting to note that the very first words spoken by Jesus, in the Gospel of John, are in the form of a pertinent question: "What do you seek?" At the beginning of a New Year, we seek so many things to make our life better. If Jesus were to ask each of us "What do you seek?", what would be our answer. What are we seeking in 2018? 

Two questions ‘What do you seek?’ and ‘Where are you staying?’ as well as an invitation ‘Come and see’ are the main focus of this passage and it gives us two fundamental characteristics of a true disciple… Seeking God and Staying with God.

 

I have read this passage from John’s Gospel quite many times and have interpreted it in very many ways. This time, one aspect of this passage struck me for the first time… the idea of Andrew taking efforts to introduce the Lord to his brother Simon. As siblings, we tend to introduce our brothers and sisters to many things and persons in life. But how many of us introduce God to our own brothers and sisters? In how many families God is a topic of our conversations? The family that prays together, not only stays together, but also becomes familiar with God!

 

Another aspect of this passage is the humility of Andrew. He brings Peter to Jesus and Jesus seems to pay more attention to Peter, calling him ‘the rock’ etc. The meeting between Jesus and Peter began a historical relationship that has survived 20 centuries. This does not seem to have disturbed Andrew one bit. He came from the school of John the Baptist who often spoke of how ‘Jesus must increase and he must decrease’. In reality, John did just that. After introducing Jesus to his disciples he disappeared from the scene. Andrew too, after introducing Jesus to Peter, remained incognito! We can surely pray for this wonderful grace of getting our own near and dear ones introduced to God and disappearing, once God takes over.

 

We pray that the Pongal festival brings more hope to the farmers in Tamilnadu and India. We pray that the youth power in India reaps a bumper harvest of noble deeds. We pray that all the world leaders take sincere efforts to address the problems of the Immigrants and Refugees. We pray also our families become schools where God is introduced as a loving person.

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Following the real star…

by Rev. Fr. L.X. Jerome S.J.

 

The Feast of the Epiphany

 

We begin with a story from a collection of the lives of saints - the saints of Islam - which concerns a king of Balkh, named Ebrahim ibn Adam. Ebrahim was wealthy according to every earthly measure. At the same time, however, he sincerely and restlessly strove to be wealthy spiritually as well. One night the king was roused from sleep by a fearful stumping on the roof above his bed. Alarmed, he shouted: 'Who's there?' 'A friend,' came the reply from the roof. 'I've lost my camel.' Perturbed by such stupidity, Ebrahim screamed: 'You fool! Are you looking for a camel on the roof?' 'You fool!' the voice from the roof answered. 'Are you looking for God in silk clothing, and lying on a golden bed?'” Those simple words filled the king with such enlightenment, that he arose from his sleep to become a remarkable saint.

 

Being clothed in silk and lying on a golden bed are not the most apt modes to search for God. Today’s Feast - the Feast of the Epiphany - helps us to learn some basic lessons on how to search for God. Although this Feast is mainly about Jesus revealing himself to the whole world, still, popularly, the main characters of this feast are the so called ‘Magi’. Very little is known about these persons (Kings? Wise men? Astrologers?) in the Bible. Only Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 2: 1-12) talks about these persons. But, their effort in following the star has inspired countless men and women to ‘follow the star’ in their lives.

 

Following a star is possible only at night. Stars are not visible during the day. This means that these wise men must have done most of their journey at night – not an easy option given their mode of transport 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. Still, they persisted. What a resolve! Resolutions are part and parcel of every New Year! What better way to begin the New Year with the feast of ‘the wise men’ who can be honoured as ‘patrons of resolutions’!

 

Nowadays, the phrase ‘following a star’ is, unfortunately, misinterpreted as following a star-personality. In India, more unfortunately, we have too many of these stars, especially in the cine field and in cricket. The amount of time wasted on these stars is staggering as far as an Indian fan is concerned. By the time these fans learn that ‘following these stars’ lead them nowhere, it is rather too late. If only the typical Indian fan can take a new year resolution to treat cinema and cricket as only entertainments!

 

Recently, in Tamil Nadu, India, one of the ‘stars’ declared his intentions of starting a party and contesting the state assembly election next time. This ‘star’ has been talking about his entry into politics for the past twenty years. Now, (I feel like adding, unfortunately) he has made his intentions clear. While his fans have celebrated, many others have condemned this move.

Tamil Nadu has been the victim of ‘stars’ for the past forty years. Now another ‘star’ has come forward to lead the people. We pray that the people of Tamil Nadu, especially the youth, may wake up from the spell of ‘stars’!

 

The Gospel of Matthew (2: 1-12) says that these wise men were from the East. They were probably experts in astrology – namely, the study of stars. Hence, when they saw this new star, they were able to predict the birth of a King. Their study led them further. They decided to follow the star and meet the King.

Unfortunately, there are some experts who are king-makers by studying the star in which one is born. In general, most of the political leaders in Asia seem to trust their stars rather than trust their people. Naturally, people also don’t seem to trust them!

 

Why blame political leaders, who have only one aim in their life – to stay in power? Most of us abdicate our power to the stars attached to our birth. What these stars predict each week, tends to influence our decisions to a large extent. Should we allow stars and planets to influence our lives so much? We set aside time to read ‘stars foretell’ columns in the papers. But, how many of us have the time to look up at the sky and contemplate the beauty of the stars?

For us living in the 21st century, there seems to be no time to look to the heavens to gaze upon stars. We are dazzled and even blinded by too many artificial stars and hence real stars have receded from our view. We hardly look up. Or, possibly, we look up to the skies only when dark clouds gather. We look up to the skies with a question: Will it rain? Similarly, when dark clouds gather in our hearts, we again look up to the skies with the famous clichéd question: Is there a God up there?

Doubts drive us to look up, whether they are doubts about rain or pain.

When the wise men followed the star, doubts were raging in their hearts too. But, they were driven more by desire than by doubts and hence could reach their destination. This alone is reason enough to celebrate! For our generation where patience and persistence seem to have become obsolete words, the wise men have a lot to teach!

 

The story of the three wise men has inspired quite many other stories. One of them is “THE STORY OF THE OTHER WISE MAN” written by Henry van Dyke. The name of this ‘fourth’ wise man is Artaban. He wishes to join the three wise men. He sells all his properties and buys a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl as gifts to the King. As he begins his journey, he meets with a Jew who is very sick. He stays with him and ministers to his needs. In order to make up for the delay, he sells his sapphire to buy camels to cross the desert. When he reaches Bethlehem, he learns that his friends – the three wise men – had already left back to their countries. He also learns that the Child Jesus has been taken to Egypt. On his way to Egypt, he comes across the army of Herod who are slaughtering children. In order to save one of those children, he gives away the ruby.

Artaban’s search for the King takes 33 years. At last when he reaches Jerusalem, he hears of Jesus being led away to Calvary to be crucified. He wants to give away the pearl to the soldiers and rescue Jesus from their hands. On his way to Calvary, he comes across a slave girl being led away to be sold. He parts with the pearl as a ransom for the girl. At that moment there is an earth quake!

 

Here are the closing lines of this lovely story:

One more lingering pulsation of the earthquake quivered through the ground. A heavy tile, shaken from the roof, fell and struck the old man on the temple. He lay breathless and pale, with his gray head resting on the young girl's shoulder, and the blood trickling from the wound. As she bent over him, fearing that he was dead, there came a voice through the twilight, very small and still, like music sounding from a distance, in which the notes are clear but the words are lost. The girl turned to see if some one had spoken from the window above them, but she saw no one.

Then the old man's lips began to move, as if in answer, and she heard him say in the Parthian tongue: "Not so, my Lord! For when saw I thee a hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw I thee a stranger, and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee? When saw I thee sick or in prison, and came unto thee? Three-and-thirty years have I looked for thee; but I have never seen thy face, nor ministered to thee, my King."

He ceased, and the sweet voice came again. And again the maid heard it, very faintly and far away. But now it seemed as though she understood the words: "Verily I say unto thee, inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me."

A calm radiance of wonder and joy lighted the pale face of Artaban like the first ray of dawn on a snowy mountain-peak. One long, last breath of relief exhaled gently from his lips. His journey was ended. His treasures were accepted. The other Wise Man had found the King.

 

The FOUR wise men – our heroes of today’s liturgy – looked beyond dark clouds and followed the star. May the good Lord plant a star in our life’s firmament, a star that would lead us to the Lord’s presence day after day in this New Year!

 

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Joy in mini-packs…

by Rev. Fr. L.X. Jerome S.J. 

Advent – Gaudete Sunday

 

Next Sunday, December 24, will be the Eve or the Vigil of Christmas. An Eve or a Vigil throbs with Joyful Expectation or Expectant Joy! It would be helpful to figure out what we are expecting or what is so joyful about it. To help us in our process of reflection, the Church has given us ‘Gaudete’ Sunday – ‘Rejoice’ Sunday. Christmas Season usually brims with songs and stories. Let me share one of the stories I found recently:

A number of years ago, a young college student was working as an intern at a Museum of Natural History in his college.  One day while working at the cash register in the gift shop, he saw an elderly couple come in with a little girl in a wheelchair.  As he looked closer at this girl, he saw that she was kind of perched on her chair.  The student realized that she had no arms or legs, just a head, neck and torso.  She was wearing a little white dress with red polka dots.  As the couple wheeled her up to the checkout counter, he turned his head toward the girl and gave her a wink. Meanwhile, he took the money from her grandparents and looked back at the girl, who was giving him the cutest and the largest smile he had ever seen.  All of a sudden, her handicap was gone and all that the young man saw was this beautiful girl, whose smile just melted him and almost instantly gave him a completely new sense of what life is all about.  She took him from the world of an unhappy college student and brought him into her world -- a world of smiles, love and warmth.

 

A simple wink by the college student and an angelic smile from the little girl were all they needed to make life a lot better for both of them. Often (I would even dare say ‘always’) joy comes in mini-packs, and, many a time, we tend to miss it, since we are looking for the ‘super-sized’ packs.

More often joy-in-waiting is more thrilling than the actual joy itself. I am sure most of us can recollect childhood memories of the days leading up to Christmas, which were more exciting than the Christmas Day itself.  ‘The Little Prince’, written by Antoine de Saint-Exupery gives an idea of what this joy-in-waiting means. The Little Prince from another planet happens to become friendly with a fox. Here is a passage from The Little Prince that talks of the good friends - the prince and the fox:

The next day the little prince came back. "It would have been better to come back at the same hour," said the fox. "If, for example, you come at four o'clock in the afternoon, then at three o'clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o'clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you...."

Joy-in-waiting is well explained here.

 

I have witnessed a similar experience in the Jesuit community where I live. We have in our community a few Jesuits who are beyond 90. (One of them crossed 100 this September and still going strong.) Most of them are wheel-chair bound. One of them is from England, who has been working in Rome for many years. On Sundays, one of his friends comes regularly to visit him around 4 p.m. for a cup of tea. It is a special sight to see how this priest gets ready for this weekly meeting. Already by 3 O’clock he is ready! He talks about this visit and his friend already during lunch. Joy-in-waiting is a special type of joy.

The Entrance Antiphon of today’s liturgy talks of this joy-in-waiting. It is taken from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice… The Lord is at hand. (Phil. 4: 4-5) The Church, tries to define Christmas Joy on this Gaudete Sunday.

 

While the commercial world tries to define happiness in terms of accumulating and hoarding things via discounts and sales, the Church and the Liturgical Readings today try to tell us that happiness consists not in directing everything towards us, as the commercial world would suggest, but towards others, especially towards the less privileged. This tone is set in the opening lines of today’s first reading from Isaiah.

Isaiah 61: 1-2

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's  favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn…

 

Happiness also consists in knowing who we are and what our role is in this world. When we fail to understand and appreciate ourselves, and thus yearn to be someone else, God sends his little angels to teach us the most important lesson – namely, be yourself and you’ll be happy. Of the many stories I read while preparing for this Sunday’s reflections, one stood out. Here is that little story, narrated by Marion Doolan, in the book “A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul”:

I heard a knock at the door. Two children in ragged, outgrown coats got inside as I opened the door. “Any old papers, lady?” I was busy.  I wanted to say’ no’ until I looked down at their feet. Thin little sandals, sopped with sleet. “Come in, and I’ll make you a cup of hot cocoa.”  There was no conversation.  Their soggy sandals left marks upon the hearthstone.  I served them cocoa and toast with jam to fortify them against the chill outside.  Then I went back to the kitchen and started again on my household budget… The silence in the front room struck me. I looked in. The girl held the empty cup in her hands, looking at it. The boy asked in a flat voice, “Lady, are you rich?”“Am I rich? Mercy, no!” I looked at my shabby slipcovers. The girl put her cup back in its saucer carefully. “Your cups match your saucers.” Her voice was old, with a hunger that was not of the stomach. They left then, holding their bundles of papers against the wind. They hadn’t said, “Thank you.” They didn’t need to. They had done more than that.  They told me that my plain blue pottery cups and saucers matched. I boiled the potatoes and stirred the gravy. Potatoes and brown gravy, a roof over my head and my man with a good steady job: I was lucky. I moved the chairs back from the fire and tidied the living room. The muddy prints of small sandals were still wet upon the hearthstone. Were not they the foot prints of the Lord who visited me to intensify my joy by His presence? I let the prints remain. I wanted those footprints there in case I ever forget again how very rich I am. 

 

Our Hindu friends have a lovely custom of drawing the footprints of Baby Krishna in the house to symbolise that through those footprints, many blessings would ‘walk’ into one’s family. At Christmas, we await the footprints of the Divine Child in our human family. Let these footprints leave a lasting impression on us. May this little Child of Bethlehem teach us what true bliss is!

The forerunner of this Divine Child, the cousin of Jesus, also teaches us good lessons in today’s gospel. John the Baptist is the best example of a person who knew himself and his role well. The Gospel vouches for this:

John 1: 6-8, 19-20

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There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ."

Using the popularity he had already gained, John could have easily grabbed the lime-light for himself; but he did not do so. In spite of all the hardships he faced in his life, John must have lived a happy, contented life, since he had a true knowledge of himself and of his mission. If only we could have at least part of the clarity about self and mission that John the Baptist had, our lives would be blissful!

 

A closing thought on John ‘bearing witness to the light’… This phrase reminds me of a lovely imagery that describes what Christmas is:

There is an old story of a father who, on a dark, stormy night woke up with a start because of the lightning and claps of thunder. He thought of his small son alone in his bedroom upstairs who might be scared of it all. So he rushed upstairs with his flashlight to check on the boy to see if he was all right. He was flashing the light around the room when the boy woke up and said, with a startled cry, "Who's there? Who's in my room?" The father's first thought was to flash the light in the face of the boy, but then he thought, "No. If I do that, I will frighten him all the more." So he turned the light on his own face. And the little boy said, "Oh, it's you, Dad." The father said, "Yes, it's Dad. I'm just up here checking on things. Everything's O.K., so go back to sleep." And the little boy did. 

That is what the Incarnation is all about. God's shining the light on His own face so that you and I might know that everything is really O.K. The flash light that God uses to illuminate the face of Jesus is John the Baptist. That is why the gospel says that John ‘was not the light but came to bear witness to the light.’ How happy this world would be, if all of us could become flashlights turning our beams on to the Divine Child!

 

P.S. Whisper a prayer for Pope Francis on Sunday, December 17, when he completes 81 years of his life. May the Good Shepherd lead the Shepherd of Rome on paths of health, happiness and peace!

 

 

Hope-filled Gospel

by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J. 

2nd Sunday of Advent


Two years back I received an email with the title - Short Stories that make Us Think... The very first story of this series impressed me very much and when I began reflecting on this Sunday’s theme, this story flashed in my radar once again. Here is the story:

Today, when I slipped on the wet tile floor a boy in a wheelchair caught me before I slammed my head on the ground. He said, “Believe it or not, that’s almost exactly how I injured my back 3 years ago.”

This short story is not an imaginative fiction. It is enacted millions of times all over the world in various forms. The so-called ‘differently-abled’ people, in spite of their limitations, reach out to others in need. Unfortunately, none of these wonderful events attract media attention, since these events are not ‘newsworthy’!

When does an event become ‘newsworthy’? Let us get back to the story we have just shared. Let us imagine that the boy in the wheelchair was not there and the person who slipped, slams his head on the floor. Let us also imagine that the accident took place at the courtyard of a government office. The person who fell down, began to bleed due to the head injury and became unconscious. Many who passed by did not stop to help and the person died… Well, now this becomes a news – perhaps a brief news on the fifth page of the paper.

We are aware that the ‘newsworthy’ news that appear on our dailies and TV are mostly ‘bad news’. While thousands of good news happen around the world, only ‘one-in-a-thousand’ bad news gets media attention, since only they are ‘saleable’. Reading and watching such news over and over again, tend to create a mental picture of the world for us… namely, that the world, in general, is bad. It is rarely capable of being good!

Added to this, nowadays, we have powerful social media apps at our disposal. We tend to circulate negative news via whatsapp even without checking for its veracity. We go along the line of thinking used by the media, namely, to spread news (and rumours) that are sensational, which usually are scandals and crimes.

Although our media institutions claim neutrality and verasity, we are aware that they follow dubious ways to create, distort and disseminate news. We are aware that Gujarat Assembly elections began on December 9. In view of this election, the Archbishop of Gandhinagar (Gujarat), Thomas Macwan, sent out a pastoral letter on November 21. Since the results of this election will have repurcussions in the rest of the country, and since secular and democratic fabric of the country is at stake, Archbishop Macwan urges the catholic people of Gujarat to pray.

“The Bishops of Gujarat State request you to organise prayer services in your parishes and convents so that we may have such people elected in the Gujarat state Assembly who would remain faithful to our Indian Constitution and respect every human being without any discrimination.”   

Although the Archbishop’s letter does not mention any party by name, one of the TV channels in India interpreted the letter as an attack against the ruling party. In the so called ‘objective’ reporting and panel discussions, the TV channel was trying to put words into the mouth of the Archbishop. It was a pathetic display of how media operates with its own hidden agenda!

Against such a background, we are invited to reflect on how well-informed are we to deal with ‘news’ served by the media every day and how do we share news in our family and friends circles. On the Second Sunday of Advent, the evangelist Mark invites us to reflect on the opening line of his Gospel: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mk 1:1). Of the four Evangelists, only Mark uses the word ‘Gospel’ in the very opening line of his Gospel. The others begin their Gospels with other words. Mark uses the special Greek word, ‘euangelion’ which implies not only news, but the person who shares the news. Thus, we can easily see that Mark is presenting not a bunch of facts and figures as his Gospel, but the person of Jesus Christ as the true Gospel.

After such a solemn opening line, we expect Mark to continue to record the story of Jesus as in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. But, Mark goes on to talk about John the Baptist who in turn preaches on baptism of repentance and forgiveness. On a superficial level the opening line and the subsequent lines on John the Baptist, repentance and forgiveness don’t seem congruent. But, on a deeper analysis we can see that ‘the gospel of Jesus Christ’ is precisely what John the Baptist preached, namely, repentance and forgiveness.

Let us reflect on the message of John the Baptist via four ‘C’ words, namely, Contrition, Conversion, Conviction and Commitment. Each of them is a gem, valuable and precious. But when strung together they become a priceless jewel. They seem to have a logic about them. Let us try to understand this logic with an example:

Suppose I have wronged another person… (I can hear you, friend! Why suppose this? I have wronged quite a few persons in truth… But that is not the point now!) I feel sorry for what I have done. This is contrition. Feeling sorry is a good sentiment. It is a gem. But, if I just stay in my feeling-sorry-state alone, not much good can come out of it. I need to get converted, meaning, I need to get back to the person I have wronged to ask for his/her pardon. Contrition leading to conversion… great! No, it is still not great. This act of mine should lead me to some sort of conviction that I should not repeat this again. This conviction leads me to a commitment to set things right not only with this one person I have wronged but with everything wrong in my life. So, contrition, conversion, conviction and commitment… are gems stung together into a priceless jewel. When they follow one another in some order, there would be another C word… CHANGE! Change within me and around me… Change for the better!

Such changes have occurred in human history many, many times. Let us turn our attention to the change brought about by Shane Paul O'Doherty, a former member of Irish Republican Army (IRA). For 300 years the people in Ireland have lived in the past. All they have done is remember the past, taking revenge on one another.  But slowly, one by one, on both sides, people began to repent, to look, not to the past, but to the future. One of the first persons to do so was a man named Shane O'Doherty. He was the first former IRA member to come out publicly for peace. O’Doherty joined the Irish Republican Army when he was 15 and became a leading IRA bomber for over five years. In 1976, at the age of 21, he was convicted of 31 counts of attempted murder and received 30 life sentences.

At his trial as a terrorist for the IRA, he had to sit and listen to people tell what it was like to open those letters. Fourteen people testified against him, all innocent victims, many of them mutilated because of what he had done. He said it was sitting in that court, face to face with people who had been harmed by his actions that his conversion began. O’Doherty spent over 14 years in prison. Wracked by guilt of his actions that resulted in injuries to innocent citizens, O’Doherty wrote letters to his victims and their families from his cell.  He publicly renounced his allegiance to the IRA and its code of beliefs.

When he got out of prison, O'Doherty started to talk about building a new future in Ireland, instead of just repeating the past. He found that his life was now being threatened by his former colleagues. But he continued to do it, because, he said, "I believe that one person is able to make a difference just by talking about peace, just by making his witness. It begins in any nation, in any community, with one person, then another, and then another, saying, ‘I'm going to accept the future that God is giving to us, rather than simply repeating the past.’"

Contrition, conversion, conviction, commitment… all these noble elements which are the essence of the Gospel, are evident in Shane’s life and he has CHANGED himself and, to a large extent, changed the people of Ireland. Come to think of it, Shane and John the Baptist do have some similarities. Both of them wished to bring about the liberation of their people. As Shane was a member of the IRA trying to bring about a drastic change in Ireland, John the Baptist, according to some Bible scholars, may have been a member of one of the revolutionary groups of his times, trying to bring about the liberation of Israel from the Roman oppression. Shane received his grace of conversion and commitment in prison while John received his grace in the wilderness. Both were not satisfied with their personal change alone, but wished to change the society around them… and succeeded a great extent!

Advent is a time of grace for each one of us to get converted, convinced and become committed to change – change ourselves and the society around us!

 

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Facing the End with enlightenment!

by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J. 

 I Sunday of Advent

Last Sunday, November 26, residents of many coastal towns in Tamil Nadu must have lived in panic. There were rumours that a tsunami was about to strike the coastal towns of Tamil Nadu, especially Nagapattinam. Thank God, this rumour did not materialise. The number 26, and Sunday must have brought back memories of the tragic tsunami that struck the coast of India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and many other Asian countries on December 26, 2004, which also was a Sunday – the Feast of the Holy Family. Thousands of families were uprooted on that day due to the tidal waves that struck us without any prior warning. There were rumours once again that the recent Cyclone Ockhi could cause tsunami. Officials blamed that false WhatsApp messages were creating panic among people.

When there is a natural disaster – like earthquake and the resultant tsunami, eruption of a volcano, hurricane etc. – our minds tend to think of the end of the world. Apart from natural disasters, certain years and dates create false predictions. A few years back, some of us, or, most of us, may have had anxious moments… anxious because the end of the world was imminent. According to the Mayan prediction, 21-12-2012, that is, 21st December 2012 was to be the end of the world. Such predictions and their subsequent anxiety have filled human history right from the time of Christ… Or, perhaps, even earlier!

  • In A.D. 204, Hippolytus, a Christian writer in Rome, recorded that a bishop was convinced that the Lord was going to return immediately. He urged his followers to sell all their possessions and to follow him into the wilderness to await the Lord’s coming.
  • At the end of the first millennium, anticipation of the Second Coming ran high. On the last day of 999, the basilica of St. Peter’s at Rome was filled with people who were weeping and trembling as they expected the world to end.
  • In 1978 the media flashed the shocking news of the mass suicide of 914 men and women from the U.S.A., belonging to a doomsday cult called The People’s Temple, in Jonestown, Guyana at the instruction of their paranoid leader Rev. Warren (Jim) Jones.
  • In March 1997, 39 members (21 women and 18 men) of a California cult called Heaven’s Gate, headed by Marshall Applewhite, exploded onto the national scene with their mass suicide in a luxurious mansion at Rancho Santa Fe near San Diego in California. This was their preparation for being safely transported to heaven by a UFO, thus avoiding the tribulations accompanying the immediate end of the world.
  • This anxiety ran high, once again, as we approached the end of 1999 and 2000.
  • Books and movies on this topic are far too many to count! The last one was the Hollywood movie 2012 which made good business in 2009.

When we speak about ‘The End’, most of our thoughts and conversations are about how ‘terrible that day would be when the Master returns’. I can recall moments in Chennai, when someone would suddenly thrust a paper, or a pamphlet into my hands as I was walking down the road. Those were the roadside preachers who were trying to warn the people of the impending disaster. “The Day of the Lord is at hand”… was their constant theme.

Today we begin a new liturgical year with the First Sunday in Advent. This season is meant to prepare us for the coming of the Divine Child at Christmas. This is also a season where we can think about the Second Coming of Christ. This is the theme of today’s gospel.

Mark 13: 33-37

Jesus began to say to his disciples: “Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning-- lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch.”

We are NOT SURE of the when, where and how of this Second Coming and the end of the world. It could come tomorrow or after hundred thousand years later. But, we are VERY SURE of our going out of this world one day. Instead of spending our time and energy on the end of the world, it would  surely be beneficial to us to spend time on our departure from the world. Even in our departure, instead of spending time on when we would depart, we can think about how we could or should depart. In today’s gospel, Christ gives us the necessary tips as to how we should prepare for our departure... Take heed, be watchful, be responsible!

Being watchful and being responsible have different shades of meaning. We can be watchful and be responsible out of fear or out of love. We can carry out our responsibilities for the sake of pleasing others (trying to be on our best behaviour in front of the Master) or, simply being honest and sincere in what we are doing, irrespective of whether we are being watched or not. Two stories come to my mind…

Some years ago, a tourist visited the Castle Villa Asconti on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy. Only the old gardener opened the gates, and the visitor stepped into the garden, which was perfectly kept. The visitor asked when the owner was last there. He was told, "Twelve years ago." Did he ever write? No. Where did he get instructions? From his agent in Milan. Does the master ever come? No. "But, you keep the grounds as though your master were coming back tomorrow." The old gardener quickly replied, "Today, sir, today."

Years ago, when 20th Century Fox advertised in the New York papers to fill a vacancy in its sales force, one applicant replied: "I am at present selling furniture at the address below. You may judge my ability as a salesperson if you will stop in to see me at anytime, pretending that you are interested in buying furniture. When you come in, you can identify me by my red hair. And I should have no way of identifying you. Such salesmanship as I exhibit during your visit, therefore, will be no more than my usual workday approach and not a special effort to impress a prospective employer." From among more than 1500 applicants, this person got the job.

Doing something to please one’s own conscience and, ultimately God, would set the enlightened apart from the unenlightened, who keep doing things to please others all the time. Here are two samples from the lives of the enlightened…

Once John Wesley was asked what he would do if he knew this 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."

There is a story about St.Philip Neri. (My friend told me that he had heard the same story attributed to another saint. I guess all saints are, more or less, of the same mould.) Wikipedia describes the character of St.Philip Neri in the following words: St.Philip possessed a playful humour, combined with a shrewd wit. He considered a cheerful temper to be more Christian than a melancholy one, and carried this spirit into his whole life: "A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one."

Here is an incident from the life of St.Philip Neri: 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 cards.

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!

Let us beg of God to give us this enlightenment!

 

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The World Day of the Poor

by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.

 

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

 

We begin this Sunday’s reflection with St Lawrence, the courageous deacon of the 3rd century. I am quoting extensively from the blog ‘Word on Fire’ written by Brandon Vogt, under the title - ST.LAWRENCE AND THE TRUE TREASURES OF THE CHURCH:

 

Persecution was a daily reality for third-century Christians in Rome. And in 258, the Emperor Valerian began another massive round. He issued an edict commanding that all bishops, priests, and deacons should be put to death, and he gave the Imperial treasury, power to confiscate all money and possessions from Christians.

In light of the news, Pope Sixtus II quickly ordained a young Spanish theologian, Lawrence, to become archdeacon of Rome. The important position put Lawrence in charge of the Church’s riches, and it gave him responsibility for the Church’s outreach to the poor. The pope sensed his own days were numbered and therefore commissioned Lawrence to protect the Church’s treasure.

 

On August 6, 258, Valerian captured Pope Sixtus while he celebrated the liturgy, and had him beheaded. Afterwards, he set his sights on the pope’s young protégé, Lawrence. But before killing him, the Emperor demanded the archdeacon turn over all the riches of the Church. He gave Lawrence three days to round it up.

Lawrence worked swiftly. He sold the Church’s vessels and gave the money to widows and the sick. He distributed all the Church’s property to the poor. On the third day, the Emperor summoned Lawrence to his palace and asked for the treasure. With great aplomb, Lawrence entered the palace, stopped, and then gestured back to the door where, streaming in behind him, poured crowds of poor, crippled, blind, and suffering people. “These are the true treasures of the Church,” he boldly proclaimed. One early account even has him adding, "The Church is truly rich, far richer than the Emperor."

 

Unsurprisingly, Lawrence’s act of defiance infuriated the Emperor. Valerian ordered his death that same day via grilling on a rack. Hundreds of year later, Lawrence is still remembered for his final jest: while being barbecued alive, he quipped to his executioners, “I'm well done. Turn me over!”

Although his quip is how many people remember Lawrence, we shouldn't forget his insight regarding the Church’s real treasure. Many people criticize the Church for being too opulent and rich, and the criticism is true. She is unfathomably wealthy. But that wealth is bound not in buildings, art, and vessels but in her suffering and vulnerable faithful, who though poor in spirit have inherited a kingdom surpassing even the glories of Rome.

https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/blog

 

November 19, this Sunday, we are invited to recapture and re-live the famous axiom of St Lawrence that claimed that the poor people are “the true treasures of the Church”! Yes, the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time is celebrated as the World Day of the Poor, as wished by Pope Francis at the end of the ‘Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy’. It is fitting that this World Day of the Poor, to be celebrated for the very first time by the Church, begins with a Vigil service held at St Lawrence Basilica in Rome.

 

In the famous Apostolic Letter “Misericordia et Misera”, released at the end of the Jubilee Year, Pope Francis spoke about this world day this way: “During the ‘Jubilee for Socially Excluded People’, (Nov.13, 2016)…, I had the idea that, as yet another tangible sign of this Extraordinary Holy Year, the entire Church might celebrate, on the Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, the World Day of the Poor. This would be the worthiest way to prepare for the celebration of the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, who identified with the little ones and the poor and who will judge us on our works of mercy (cf. Mt 25:31-46).”

All of us know that the Jubilee of Mercy brought many groups to Rome to celebrate their Jubilees. Starting with the Jubilee for those Engaged in Pilgrimage Work (January 2016), there were 14 different groups who celebrated their Jubilee, either in Vatican, or, as in the case of the Youth, who celebrated their Jubilee along with the World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland (26-31 July, 2016). The Canonization of St Teresa of Culcutta, was a peak event in the Jubilee Year coinciding with the Jubilee for Workers of Mercy and Volunteers (2-4 September, 2016).

 

For the Jubilees up to November, traditional groups were the invitees. For the Final two Jubilees, Vatican hosted ‘extraordinary’ invitees for the first time in the Church history, namely, the Prisoners (5-6 November 2016) and the Socially Excluded (11-13, November 2016). On November 11, when Pope Francis met the socially excluded people in Paul VI auditorium, there was a very moving and meaningful moment towards the end of that meeting. After the Pope had given his talk and his Blessings, the poor persons (around 10 of them) seated on either side of Pope Francis gathered close to the Pope, laid their hands on his shoulders and prayed for him. At that time the traditional hymn of the Holy Spirit - ‘Veni Creator’ - was sung.

 

The Supreme Pontiff of the Holy Catholic Church being prayed over by the poor people, reminded one strongly of the first encounter of Pope Francis with the people gathered in St Peter’s Square on March 13, 2013. On the day of his election, when Pope Francis appeared on the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, before giving them the famous ‘Urbi et Orbi’ blessing, he requested the people to pray for him. Then he bowed in front of the people in a moment of silence and the whole Square fell silent, praying for the Bishop of Rome, the Supreme Pontiff. Touched by the powerful experience of the Jubilee of the Socially Excluded, Pope Francis wished to add the World Day of the Poor in the Liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church. 

 

Let us conclude our reflection with some extracts from the message of Pope Francis for the First World Day of the Poor. This message was titled: Let us love, not with words but with deeds

 

1. “Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18).  These words of the Apostle John voice an imperative that no Christian may disregard.  The seriousness with which the “beloved disciple” hands down Jesus’ command to our own day is made even clearer by the contrast between the empty words so frequently on our lips and the concrete deeds against which we are called to measure ourselves. Love has no alibi.

 

2. “…In the very first pages of the Acts of the Apostles, Peter asks that seven men, “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (6:3), be chosen for the ministry of caring for the poor.  This is certainly one of the first signs of the entrance of the Christian community upon the world’s stage: the service of the poor.  

 

3. Over these two thousand years, how many pages of history have been written by Christians who, in utter simplicity and humility, and with generous and creative charity, have served their poorest brothers and sisters! The most outstanding example is that of Francis of Assisi, followed by many other holy men and women over the centuries.

If we truly wish to encounter Christ, we have to touch his body in the suffering bodies of the poor, as a response to the sacramental communion bestowed in the Eucharist.  The Body of Christ, broken in the sacred liturgy, can be seen, through charity and sharing, in the faces and persons of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.  Saint John Chrysostom’s admonition remains ever timely: “If you want to honour the body of Christ, do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honour the Eucharistic Christ with silk vestments, and then, leaving the church, neglect the other Christ suffering from cold and nakedness”

 

4. Let us, then, take as our example Saint Francis and his witness of authentic poverty.  Precisely because he kept his gaze fixed on Christ, Francis was able to see and serve him in the poor. If we want to help change history and promote real development, we need to hear the cry of the poor and commit ourselves to ending their marginalization.

 

6. At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy, I wanted to offer the Church a World Day of the Poor, so that throughout the world Christian communities can become an ever greater sign of Christ’s charity for the least and those most in need.  To the World Days instituted by my Predecessors, which are already a tradition in the life of our communities, I wish to add this one, which adds to them an exquisitely evangelical fullness, that is, Jesus’ preferential love for the poor.

I invite the whole Church, and men and women of good will everywhere, to turn their gaze on this day to all those who stretch out their hands and plead for our help and solidarity.

 

7. It is my wish that, in the week preceding the World Day of the Poor, which falls this year on 19 November, the Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Christian communities will make every effort to create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance.  They can invite the poor and volunteers to take part together in the Eucharist on this Sunday, in such a way that there be an even more authentic celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, on the following Sunday.

This Sunday, if there are poor people where we live who seek protection and assistance, let us draw close to them: it will be a favourable moment to encounter the God we seek.  Following the teaching of Scripture (cf. Gen 18:3-5; Heb 13:2), let us welcome them as honoured guests at our table; they can be teachers who help us live the faith more consistently. With their trust and readiness to receive help, they show us in a quiet and often joyful way, how essential it is to live simply and to abandon ourselves to God’s providence.

 

9. This new World Day, therefore, should become a powerful appeal to our consciences as believers, allowing us to grow in the conviction that sharing with the poor enables us to understand the deepest truth of the Gospel.  The poor are not a problem: they are a resource from which to draw as we strive to accept and practise in our lives the essence of the Gospel.

 

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Light (Lift) up your hearts…

 

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

“Marriages are made in heaven” is a proverb that must have come from another planet. On earth no one would believe this. Marriages are made right here on earth after meticulous calculations. Wedding is planned, months ahead. Still, on the Wedding Day, there could be hundred and one things that could go wrong. I am thinking of a particular wedding I attended a few years ago in Chennai, India. It was a big-time wedding, very well planned and executed to a T... almost. Almost? Yes.

When the time came for the groom to tie the proverbial knot, instead of tying the knot, he had other plans. He had bought a specially designed golden chain abroad that would serve as the ‘thali’. The problem with this foreign ‘thali’ was that it had to be slipped over the head on to the neck of the bride rather than tied around it. The groom placed the ‘thali’ over the head of the bride and, to his shock, he found that the circumference was TOO SMALL. The chain could have easily slipped down the head on to the neck if the bride was not wearing any other extra-fitting on her head. But on the wedding day, the bride had quite a few extra-fittings on her head, spending nothing less than three hours to get them in place. Well, to cut the story short, the bride had to be taken to the sacristy to remove all the extra-fittings and she came back to the altar looking much simpler. Then the ‘thali’ was placed around her neck. This unforeseen ‘ceremony’ took almost fifteen minutes.

 

If hundred plans are laid out for a perfect wedding, an unexpected hundred-and-first problem would crop up. Jesus talks of a wedding feast in today’s gospel – a wedding feast where things went wrong. Jesus closes this parable with a simple, straightforward lesson – Be prepared!

 

Jesus talks of ten virgins – five of whom were wise and the other five, foolish. This parable begins with one of the wedding ceremonies – welcoming the bridegroom. I would like to go back in time and imagine how these ten maids would have prepared for this wedding feast. Let us begin with the foolish ones. The moment they heard that they were going to be bridesmaids, they would have been thrilled. They would have made a mental list of what are to be done:

  • To wear a particular dress with matching jewels.
  • To buy a pair of sandals to match the dress and the jewels.
  • To get the nails manicured.
  • To clean up the lamp and decorate it with flowers.

Their list must have been longer than this.

 

We can assume that the wise ones also made their plans. But the first item on their list was: To take extra oil for the lamp. The wise ones were very clear about what was essential while the foolish ones were busy with non-essentials. Most of our life events are made easier or more complicated depending on how capable we are in differentiating the essentials and the non-essentials.

 

While we are busy ‘finding fault’ with the five foolish virgins for not getting ready with the essentials, we can also do some soul searching. Often, we get invited to attend the feast arranged by the Lord – namely, the Eucharist. How do we get prepared?

In the wedding we spoke of at the beginning, there were cameras all over the church. This is the case in most of our ‘sacramental moments’ – be it a Baptism, First Communion, Wedding, Ordination etc. In case Bishops and Cardinals are invited for these celebrations, we can be assured that the whole function will get recorded with dazzling flood lights.

 

How do we get prepared, let us say, if we have been invited to attend the Mass celebrated by the Pope? Our first thoughts would be to go at least one hour in advance to the church or to the square where the Papal Mass would be celebrated. What for? To occupy the best spot! Best spot, in terms of capturing the image of the Pope in close range. If possible, we would try to take some ‘selfie’ as the Pope passes by or even as he is celebrating the Mass. This is not the trend only among the people. Unfortunately, even the concelebrants – Priests and Bishops – are busy taking photoes during the Papal Masses.

Last Wednesday, (November 8) Pope Francis, began a new series of catecheses on the Holy Eucharist. In his introductory remarks, the Holy Father was trying to tell the audience that we need to attend the Holy Mass, understanding the significance of each part as well as teach our children the meaning of each part of the Mass. The sign of the cross at the beginning, the penitential rite, the readings… everyone of them has a purpose, he said. When he came to the part of the Preface, when the priest says, “Lift up your hearts”, Pope Francis closed the prepared speech and began sharing spontaneously on how we tend to lose the sacred significance of the Eucharist due to our other preoccupations, especially our preoccupation to take photoes. He expressed his sadness over this craze not only among the people but also among priests and bishops. Here are the remarks by Pope Francis:

“Why does the priest presiding at the celebration say at a certain point: ‘Lift up your hearts’? He does not say: ‘Lift up your cell phones to take a photo!’. No, that’s bad! I tell you, it makes me sad when I am celebrating here in Saint Peter’s Square or in the Basilica to see many cell phones lifted up, not only by the faithful but also by some priests and even bishops! But please! Mass is not a spectacle: it is going to encounter the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord. This is why the priest says: ‘Lift up your hearts’… Remember: no cell phones.”

As we tend to blame the five virgins for not getting ready in a proper way, we take these words of Pope Francis and attend the Banquet given by God the Father in honour of His Son with a more meaningful participation, rather than treat this invitation as a ticket for an entertainment.

 

Let us get back to the parable! A deeper analysis of the parable gives us another insight. There was a delay in the arrival of the bridegroom (Matthew 25:5). The foolish ones could have used this delay to set things right. Unfortunately, their minds were still filled with non-essentials like… how each one looked in their dress and how well their lamps were polished etc. They did not have the time or the energy to think of what they were lacking. By the time they realised what they lacked, it was too late.

 

This reminds me of an incident that happened in 1988 in the U.S. Here is the news item that appeared in the Orlando Sentinel:

Police Say Excited Sky Diver Forgot To Put On His Parachute

April 05, 1988 (By United Press International) LOUISBURG, N.C. — A veteran sky diver who fell 10,500 feet to his death apparently forgot to wear a parachute in his excitement to film other sky divers, police said Monday after seeing footage taken by the man during his final free fall.

Ivan Lester McGuire, 35, of Durham died in the bizarre accident Saturday.

McGuire was filming a jump by other parachutists. Footage recorded by a voice-activated camera attached to his helmet led investigators to believe McGuire did not realize he was without a parachute.

 

One of his friends claimed that McGuire had shot sky diving events over 800 times. Still, on that day he had forgotten the essential… a deadly mistake, literally!

 

Differentiating the essentials and non-essentials is not always easy. Sometimes essentials can become non-essential and vice-versa. All of us know the ‘Titanic’. This un-sinkable ship was sunk on its very first voyage. Many of the passengers in the Titanic were very rich. While the ship was sinking, while the passengers were staring death right in the face, they must have been enlightened about the essentials of life. Here is a very ‘enlightening’ story from the final moments of the Titanic.

A frightened woman found her place in a lifeboat that was about to be lowered into the raging North Atlantic. She suddenly thought of something she needed, so she asked permission to return to her stateroom before they cast off. She was granted three minutes or they would leave without her. She ran across the deck that was already slanted at a dangerous angle. She raced through the gambling room with all the money that had rolled to one side, ankle deep. She came to her stateroom and quickly pushed aside her diamond rings and expensive bracelets and necklaces as she reached to the shelf above her bed and grabbed three small oranges. She quickly found her way back to the lifeboat and got in. Now that seems incredible because thirty minutes earlier she would not have chosen a crate of oranges over the smallest diamond. But death had boarded the Titanic. One blast of its awful breath had transformed all values. Instantaneously, priceless things had become worthless. Worthless things had become priceless. And in that moment she preferred three small oranges to a crate of diamonds.

 

Do we have to wait till death to figure out what is essential for a meaningful, peaceful, blissful life? Most of us tend to postpone ‘the moment of truth’ till death. Most of us would also presume that this moment of truth would come at the right time, meaning, at a ripe old age. May the words of Jesus, given as the closing words of this parable, wake us up from our reverie about this ‘moment of truth’: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Mt 25:13)

 

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Forgiving… a breadth of fresh air

by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.  

 

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

President Clinton tells of his first meeting with Nelson Mandela. In his conversation with this great leader of South Africa, the president said, “When you were released from prison, Mr. Mandela, I woke my daughter at three o’clock in the morning. I wanted her to see this historic event. As you marched from the cellblock across the yard to the gate of the prison, the camera focused in on your face. I have never seen such anger, and even hatred, in any man as was expressed on your face at that time. That’s not the Nelson Mandela I know today. What was that all about?”

Mandela answered, “I’m surprised that you saw that, and I regret that the cameras caught my anger. As I walked across the courtyard that day I thought to myself, ‘They’ve taken everything from you that matters. Your cause is dead. Your family is gone. Your friends have been killed. Now they’re releasing you, but there’s nothing left for you out there.’ And I hated them for what they had taken from me. Then, I sensed an inner voice saying to me, ‘Nelson! For twenty-seven years you were their prisoner, but you were always a free man! Don’t allow them to make you into a free man, only to turn you into their prisoner!’” (Let Me Tell You a Story By Tony Campolo)

Thank God, Nelson Mandela listened to this inner voice. Otherwise, he would have served life-imprisonment in his hatred. Forgiveness had set him a free person and, even after his death, he lives on as an inspiration to thousands of men and women all over the world.

 

Today’s Gospel invites us to reflect on one of the magical ability human beings possess – the ability to forgive and be forgiven. Both these are two sides of the same coin, as expressed by St Francis of Assisiin his famous prayer for peace: “In pardoning, we are pardoned.” We are called to reflect on this basic gift given to every human being.

 

It is now 16 years since the ‘9/11 attacks’ took place in the U.S. 9 and 11… are not simply numbers. They are painful memories etched deep in the psyche of not only the people in the U.S. but of the rest of the world as well. In 2011, 10 years after this tragedy, the 9/11 Memorial in New York at Ground Zero was opened. This Memorial has many meaningful exhibits, one of them being a cross. Here is a newspaper report on this cross:

A cross-shaped steel beam found amid the wreckage in the days following the September 11 terrorist attack has been lowered 70 feet down into the bowels of where the twin towers once stood to become part of the exhibit at the National September 11th Memorial and Museum. The two-ton, 20-foot-high T-beam, which has now become a religious relic, was taken from its temporary post near the oldest Roman Catholic parish in New York City, St Peter's, it was a symbol of hope for many working on rescue and recovery there, so much so that the construction worker who discovered it believes he stumbled on to a miracle. 'I saw Calvary in the midst of all the wreckage, the disaster,' Frank Silecchia recalled. 'It was a sign... that God didn't desert us.' (By Daily Mail Reporter, 25th July 2011)

 

Although the American Atheists have objected to this Cross being part of the Memorial, it is very heartening to see that thousands have drawn inspiration from the Cross. The Cross inspires people in so many ways and teaches us so many lessons. One of the lessons learnt from the Cross and, more particularly, from the Crucified Christ is forgiveness. He preached and practised forgiveness all his life. He ‘breathed’ forgiveness and hence when he was about to stop breathing, he wanted to leave that as his last breath.

 

It would be hard for us to deal with all that Jesus did and said about forgiveness. We shall focus on just one aspect of forgiveness taught by Jesus. How many times do we forgive someone who errs? All of us must have faced this question in our lives. Peter had this doubt too. Here are the opening lines from today’s Gospel:

Matthew 18: 21-22

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”

 

This conversation between Jesus and Peter is not a lesson in numbers. Forgiveness goes beyond numbers and calculations. When Peter asked Jesus whether forgiving seven times would be sufficient enough, Peter would have imagined that Jesus would appreciate him. Forgiving someone seven times was quite a generous gesture for a Jew. But, Jesus tells him to go beyond.

I imagine the conversation between Jesus and Peter in this fashion:

Peter: Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?

Jesus: Peter, your question is pretty surprising to me. ‘How often should I forgive my brother?’ It is like asking me, ‘How often should I breathe?’ If you don’t breathe, you die. If you don’t forgive, you die too. The simple formula… Forgiving = breathing.

Peter must have been stumped by this response from Jesus. So are we all. To say that forgiving should be as much part of us as breathing seems too contrived, too much of an exaggeration, isn’t it? But, it is surely worth the try.

 

There are people in the world who have tried this and have lived out forgiveness to the full – one of them being Nelson Mandela. I am sure most of us have heard of many instances where people were ready to forgive way beyond expectations. I am reminded of the news item which talked about how a father went to the death row to meet the young man who had raped and killed his teenage daughter. After coming back from meeting the young man, the father told the media that putting that man to death was surely not a solution and that he would want that man to come out of prison to lead a better life.

 

I have heard of a documentary “As We Forgive” made by Laura Waters Hinson in 2008 about the people of Rwanda. In February 2009, inspired by this movie, Catherine Claire Larson wrote a book: As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda. Here is a review of the book from Publishers Weekly:

Rwanda—bloodied, scarred and nearly destroyed by the 1994 brutality of the Hutu genocide of Tutsis—is now called an uncharted case study in forgiveness by author Larson, who was inspired by the award-winning film As We Forgive. Individual stories form prototypes: there is Rosaria, left for dead in a pile of bodies, who forgives her sister’s killer. And Chantal, whose family is brutally murdered yet who forgives her neighbor for the crimes. Devota, mutilated and left for dead, survives, forgives and eventually adopts several orphans. Each story is horrible and deeply personal as Larson mines the truths of forgiveness deep in each ones tale. Helpful interludes offer readers hands-on ways to facilitate forgiveness and take the next step to reconciliation in their own lives. This isn’t an easy book to read or digest, yet its message is mandatory: Forgiveness can push out the borders of what we believe is possible. Reconciliation can offer us a glimpse of the transfigured world to come.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

 

Following the tragic events of 9/11, there were many decisions made – decisions that were official as well as personal. Official decisions were focussed more on hunting down the perpetrators of this tragedy. These decisions resulted in more deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq. Retaliations by the ‘terrorists’ took place in other places. The chain of revenge, retaliation, retribution still continues. Unfortunately, only these violent events have been reported by the media and are embedded in our memory. But, there were hundreds and thousands of personal decisions made by individuals to snap this chain of violence and begin the process of reconciliation. Revenge, retaliation, retribution can be stopped by reconciliation at the personal level as was done by Nelson, Rosaria, Chantal, Devota… and thousands more. There must have been thousands of such healing stories after the 9/11 attacks.

 

The Lord invites us today to search for and concentrate on these true events that are not easily available to us from the media. We need to go the extra mile to reach reconciliation. We need to fathom deeper to discover forgiveness. It has taken ten years to clear the debris of Ground Zero and turn that spot into a Memorial. It would take each of us a life long time to clear the debris of hatred and revenge in our hearts to turn them into 24x7 clinic of healing!

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Prescriptions for Peace – from Dr Jesus

by Rev. Fr. L. S. Jerome S. J.  

 

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

Some emails go around the web world repeatedly. One such mail that I have been receiving now and then in the past few years, is the short reflection written by Brian G. Dyson, the former CEO of Coca Cola. I am sure all of you must have seen this reflection too. Brian’s reflections as well as today’s gospel talk about family relationships. Here is what Brian wrote: “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them - Work - Family - Health - Friends - Spirit, and you're keeping all of these in the air.

You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls -- family, health, friends and spirit are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”

 

Brian goes on to give 12 tips as to how one can balance one’s life. Today’s Gospel talks of how to achieve balance in a relationship that is soured or how to set right the mistake committed in our family circles. The words of Jesus sound simple - I would even say simplistic - but, very challenging. Here is the text from today’s Gospel of Matthew:

Matthew 18: 15-17

Jesus said: “If your brother (or sister) sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

 

The opening words of Jesus are a veritable salvo… Although I have read this passage quite a few times, this was the first time I felt the impact of this salvo. Jesus begins by saying, “If your brother (or sister) sins against you,…”

When a problem arises in our family or among friends, we expect the one who had committed the mistake to take the first step. But, here Jesus reverses this logic. Not the one who sins, but the one who is sinned against needs to take the first step towards setting things right! I am reminded of the famous lines of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5: 23-24

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Jesus did not say ‘if you have something against your brother or sister’, but he makes it clear that even ‘if your brother or sister has something against you’, you cannot proceed with your offering… Talk about challenges!

 

In both these instances, I presume, Jesus was more keen on getting the problem resolved rather than spending time on investigating as to who caused the problem or wait for the ‘culprit’ to take the initiative. Hence, he proposes that we take the initiative and He says this simply AS A MATTER OF FACT, as a matter of NORMAL COURSE OF ACTION. If only in every family, someone takes the initiative to resolve the conflict as soon as it arises, instead of allowing it to fester, so many hurt feelings can be healed… So many psychiatrists, and, even priests, would go out of business!

 

Jesus proposes three steps for resolving family problems. The first one is the most sensible adult-to-adult transaction. Confronting (or, care-fronting) the person privately and telling him or her about the mistake… calling a spade a spade! When this does not work, then the second and third steps, namely, the intervention of a third party!

Quite a few scripture scholars say that the very last step proposed in Matthew’s gospel, namely, “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector”, may have been an addition by Matthew. This line does not reflect the ‘all-inclusive-attitude’ of Jesus. I tend to agree with this view, especially since Jesus, in the opening lines of this passage, proposes the hard step of taking the initiative to resolve problems. This initiative is more towards reconciliation and healing rather than sitting in judgement on my brother or sister.

 

Talking of family problems, one can think of the way TV serials (soap operas) handle these problems. Every episode tries to make family problems more and more complicated. The more complex the problem, the better for the soaps. Unfortunately, there is a sizeable audience which tends to agree with soaps that tell us that family problems are always complicated. As against this, when Jesus proposes simple, adult-to-adult transactions, we tend to brush his words aside saying that they are too idealistic or impossible!

 

Talking of how simple things can help foster family ties, I am reminded of the meeting Pope Francis had with the families in October 2013. There were thousands of family people who had gathered in St Peter’s Square as one of the peak events of the Year of Faith. This meeting of Pope Francis is etched deep in our memory due to a small boy in yellow shirt! He kept Pope Francis engaged for quite a few minutes and this video went viral on the YouTube! In this meeting, Pope Francis spoke of three magical words that would make any family healthy. Here are the words of Pope Francis:

“Some weeks ago, in this very square, I said that in order to have a healthy family, three words need to be used. And I want to repeat these three words: please, thank you, sorry. Three essential words! We say please so as not to be forceful in family life: “May I please do this? Would you be happy if I did this?”  We do this with a language that seeks agreement. We say thank you, thank you for love! But be honest with me, how many times do you say thank you to your wife, and you to your husband?  How many days go by without uttering this word, thanks! And the last word: sorry. We all make mistakes and on occasion someone gets offended in the marriage, in the family, and sometimes - I say - plates are smashed, harsh words are spoken but please listen to my advice: don’t ever let the sun set without reconciling. Peace is made each day in the family: “Please forgive me”, and then you start over. Please, thank you, sorry!  Shall we say them together? [They reply “yes”] Please, thank you and sorry.  Let us say these words in our families! To forgive one another each day!”

 

What Jesus proposes in the today’s Gospel sounds too simplistic and hence, we back off. We would rather go to a psychiatrist who may make things more complicated than go to Jesus. Similarly, the three magical words of Pope Francis - Please, thank you and sorry - also may sound too simplistic. Simple things, quite often, slip out of our focus.

If only we could give an honest chance for the words of Jesus as well as the advice of Pope Francis!!!...

 

P.S. We began this reflection with the warning given by Brian G. Dyson who talks of how we may break the glass ball ‘family’ beyond repair. For many of us when something breaks, we consider it as the end. Our throw-away culture tends to dump it in trash. But, there is another side to ‘broken things’. This is proposed by Sean Buranahiran, a young man, probably from Thailand. This video is called “Be Proud of your Scars”

Here is what Sean says: 

“When a bowl is broken in Japan, it is put back together with the cracks being filled with gold, creating a beautiful lining. This is to emphasize the beauty in what was once broken. They believe that when something has suffered damage and has a history, it makes it more beautiful.

And the same goes for human beings. Everything you have been through, everything you’re going through, doesn’t make your life uglier although it may seem that way when we’re going through it. It’s up to us to choose to paint our struggles with gold and make it beautiful.

You are not broken beyond repair. You can pick yourself up and learn from what’s happened and become a better person from it… You can wear your scars proudly as a badge of honour…

Nobody has had a perfect life and nobody ever will. It’s only up to us if we choose to paint our broken pieces gold and make it beautiful…

I once heard a quote that said, “Every next level of your life will demand a new you” and sometimes it takes being broken in order to become that new version of yourself.”

 

Proclaiming violence and destruction!

by Rev, Fr. L.X. Jerome S. J. 

 

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

In 1961 the Good Pope St John XXIII wrote an encyclical called ‘Mater et Magistra’. This, along with his other more famous one – ‘Pacem in Terris’ – the one on world peace, addressed to all the people of good will, stand out among his various encyclicals. ‘Mater et Magistra’, written during the troubled 60s, described the Church's beautiful role as a mother of the faithful, but also her duty as a teacher of humankind. One Catholic columnist who was upset by what the Pope had to say, wrote an essay entitled “Mater sí, Magistra no!” For him it was fine that Church was a tender, loving mother, but he closed his ears when she pronounced teachings he did not like.

This columnist is, probably, a representative of many of us. Many of us turn to the Church as a protecting, embracing Mother when we are badly hurt. When a loved one dies or some other crisis explodes, people instinctively turn to the Church like an injured child seeking the healing touch of the mother. It is good that the Church welcomes us in a motherly embrace; but when the Church tries to show us why we hurt ourselves and others, we tend to back away from her.

 

Last Sunday we saw Jesus as a mother rewarding Peter for his profession of faith. This week we see Jesus, the Teacher. The switch over was only a matter of minutes. When Jesus spoke about building the Church on the shoulders of Peter, he must have gone on a flight of fantasy. The term ‘Messiah’, used by Peter in his profession of faith, means ‘the anointed’. When Peter used this title for Jesus he must have imagined Jesus being anointed like the kings of Israel. Especially as they were approaching Jerusalem, Peter’s instincts must have told him that something special was going to happen in the city.

Jesus opens today’s Gospel by saying that something special was going to happen in Jerusalem, but not as imagined by Peter: From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matthew 16:21)

This prediction of Jesus must have brought Peter crashing down from his flights of fantasy. He wanted to put some sense into his Master and received a very strong reprimand: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men." (Mt. 16: 23)

 

Jesus addressing Peter as ‘Satan’ sounds too harsh. But, it also opens our eyes to see some similarities between what Jesus experienced at the beginning of his ministry, in the desert, and now, almost at the end of his ministry… on his way to Jerusalem. The temptations offered by Satan in the desert were ‘good’ temptations. Satan did not tempt Jesus to kill, to cheat etc. They were simply temptations related to short-cuts and compromises. Similarly, towards the end of his ministry, as he was approaching Jerusalem, Jesus is tempted by his close friend, Peter. What Peter suggested was not anything ‘bad’. Probably he would have suggested to Jesus not to clash with the temple authorities etc. Peter was truly concerned about Jesus’ safety.

This brings us closer home. Most of our temptations are not about killing, cheating, etc. They are temptations of ‘simple adjustments’, and ‘minor compromises’. Quite often, they come from those who love us and are concerned about us.

 

We are sadly aware that compromises with the world cannot lead us to the Kingdom. The road to the Kingdom is the road less travelled. Jesus himself has given us an indication about this lonely journey or battle we have to undertake. “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

Many prophets were required to take up this lonely and, seemingly, meaningless mission. No prophet has been accepted in his own country, or, for that matter, by the world at large. The world tried to ‘integrate’ Prophets into the mainstream life and failed miserably. Hence, they were eliminated.

 

Knowing that the life of a prophet is always to swim against the current, many prophets tried to escape from their call. But God pursued them until they completed their mission. In the first reading today, Jeremiah expresses his agony of being a prophet:

Jeremiah 20:7-9

You deceived me, LORD, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed.

I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me.

Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction.

So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long.

But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones.

I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

Truly agonising words!

 

The world needs prophets… prophets like Jeremiah. The world needs to hear the bitter truth of what is wrong with it. Most of us prefer to keep silent and not speak up when things go wrong. That is why Martin Luther King once said: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” Very true, even today!

The opening slate of the famous movie JFK by Oliver Stone shows a quote by an American poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox: “To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men.” In the movie script of JFK, there is a line spoken by the actor playing the role of Jim Garison, the District Attorney of Orleans Parish, Louisiana: “Telling the truth can be a scary thing sometimes. It scared President Kennedy, and he was a brave man. But if you let yourself be too scared, then you let the bad guys take over the country. Then everybody gets scared.”  How true of our times!

Let me close these reflections with quotes from a famous Jewish writer Elie Wiesel. Eliezer Wiesel is a Romania-born American novelist, political activist, and Holocaust survivor of Hungarian Jewish descent. Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. The Norwegian Nobel Committee called him a "messenger to mankind," noting that through his struggle to come to terms with "his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler's death camps," as well as his "practical work in the cause of peace," Wiesel has delivered a powerful message "of peace, atonement and human dignity" to humanity.

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” - Elie Wiesel

“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil. Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies.” - Elie Wiesel

 

When the world follows the line of least resistance, we may have to toe the line of uncompromising fidelity. This is the challenge offered by Jesus in the closing lines of today’s Gospel. These lines was the ‘mantra’ used by St Ignatius on St Francis Xavier to leave the comfort and compromise of the world and pursue the cross and the crown (not of glory, but of thorns). Do these lines mean something to us today? “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” (Matthew 16:26)

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Water… Walking or Sinking

by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.  

 

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

Above 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.

God 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 significant.

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.

John 6: 14-15

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!

 

The 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.

 

The 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 you go?

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 you.”

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 sand

Just His pair of footsteps in the sand.

 

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 sink.

 

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.

We 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!

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Transfiguration… Disfiguration

 

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?

I 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!

 

Why 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.

 

When 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 lies!

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’!

 

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"Have we lost our hearing?"

                                                                                                                                                                 by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.

 

15th Sunday 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.

Collapse the walls like you did for Joshua, God and I will fight.

Still the waves like you did on Galilee, God and I will listen."

And 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 ...

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?"

And God looked at him and said, "Have you lost your hearing?"

 

(A story by Max Lucado, from A Gentle Thunder : Hearing God Through the Storm)

 

"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 and Isaiah.

 

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 story."

Another 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."

 

From 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:

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.

 

Thank 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 pays:

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 good corn.”

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’!

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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. 11: 29-30)

The 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”.

 

The 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! 

 

To 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.”

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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.

Today 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.

 

I 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 follow him.

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 with God)

 

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.

 

St 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.

 

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!

 

Before 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.   

 

 

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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’ from FDR!

 

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 their lives.

 

The World 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. (Wikipedia)

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.

 

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The Holy Spirit moving over Creation

by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J. 

 

Pentecost Sunday

 

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.

 

The definition 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!

 

Jesus and 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!

 

While talking 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.

 

The World 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 on: http://ssjothiratnam.com/?p=747

 

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 now desert.

If you don't know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!

 

In 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 to share.

Two 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 others,
  • 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!

Warning 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!

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First Centenary 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).

 

Cardinal Pietro 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:

“The Virgin 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 them.

 

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 state.”

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.

 

Since that 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.

 

During the 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)

 

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The Revolution of Tenderness

by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J. 

 

3rd Sunday of Easter

 

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.

 

In his 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.”

 

Immediately 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!

 

The war 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!

“Please, 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 of tenderness’!   

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Mercy – always unmerited

 by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.

Mercy Sunday

 

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.

 

Last 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.

 

I 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 you?

There 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.”

 

The 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’.

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Called out of our tombs

by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J.

 

5th Sunday of Lent

 

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 mine"

 

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” (Abridged) http://www.mostmerciful.com/easter-egg.htm

 

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.

How 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 we trust.”

Such 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!

 

The 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.

 

The 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.

 

We 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.

 

Raising 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.

 

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From 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 woman.

 

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!

 

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The dam of selfishness preventing ‘change’

by Rev. Fr. L. X. Jerome S. J. 

 

2nd Sunday of Lent

 

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.

Father 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)

 

Here 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.

It 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 poor. (CNS)

 

Archbishop 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 Grande.

 

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.

This 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!

 

Tomorrow, 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.

Ever 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!

What 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!

 

What 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!

 

I 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.

 

Looking 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 Pope Francis.
  • 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).
  • People’s 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!

 

Even 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.

 

Waves 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!

 

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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.

She 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.

 

Some 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.

 

Does 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. 4:1)

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.

 

If 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?

If only God had not planted that particular tree…

If only God had not created the serpent more cunning…

If only God had not allowed the serpent to interact with Eve…