WEEKLY HOMILIES

BY FR JULIAN

THE LORD IS COMING TODAY Advent 1C Luke 21:25-36

1 Today begins the season of ‘Advent’. Advent means ‘coming towards’. Who is coming towards whom? Other religions say it is human beings approaching God – by fasting, offering sacrifices, prayer, good works, reading sacred books, trances, banging a drum on a mountain-top etc. In contrast a Christian says we humans could never reach God. Instead it is God who comes to us. It is not we who climb up the mountain to find God. Instead it is God who descends to us. Out of pure love He descends to take on human flesh in Jesus born in Bethlehem, so as to save us who could not save ourselves. Lost sheep cannot find their shepherd. It is Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who seeks and finds us.

2 For centuries the prophets had foretold God coming to save his people. For example God said through Jeremiah (33:15): ‘’I will cause a righteous Branch to spring forth for David.’’ Isaiah cried out, "O [Lord] that you would tear the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence!" (Is 64:1). That ancient cry was fulfilled with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. God has now arrived. So why in Advent do we still read the Old Testament prophecies? Because by sharing in Israel's great longing for the coming of God, we Christians deepen our own longing for his second coming at the end of time: ‘’And then they will see," says Jesus in today's gospel, "the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory’’ (Lk 21:27).

3 Christ’s first coming was in humility to be judged by Pontius Pilate. His second coming will be in power to be the judge of all the world. He first came as the Lamb of God but he will come again as the Lion of Judah. As the Creed says: ‘’He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.’’ How do we prepare for Christ's second coming? By accepting Him as He comes to us right now. So there are in fact three comings of Christ – in history (‘first coming’), in mystery (now), and in majesty (‘second coming’).

4 How does he come to us now in mystery? In our prayer. In our reading of the Sacred Scriptures. In our needy neighbour. In creation. In the circumstances of our daily life. In Confession as we receive his forgiveness. In the Sacrament of the Sick as he heals us. In the Eucharist as we receive his very Body and Blood. Just think. The same Lord born at Bethlehem and who will come again on the clouds of heaven, this same Lord comes now on to our altars and into our bodies and souls through Holy Communion. Incredible! At Bethlehem he came in the humble disguise of a little baby whereas now he comes in the even more humble disguise of the Communion wafer.

5 We are saved not by predicting the date of Jesus' final coming (a futile effort anyway) but by receiving Him as He comes to us each and every day. A faithful doorkeeper at a hotel is ever alert and ready to receive dignitaries arriving at any time. Jesus is knocking every day on the door of our hearts. Let us welcome Him joyfully today so that He can welcome us into heaven on the last day. Let us “increase and abound in love to one another and to all men”, so as to have "hearts unblamable in holiness" at his coming (1Thess 3:12-13).

6 Homer wrote a famous poem called ‘’The Odyssey’’. It describes the epic sea-journey of Odysseus from Troy to his home faraway on the island of Ithaca. On this ten-year journey he is often tempted to give up and just settle down permanently on one of the pleasure islands along the way. But he presses on, knowing that Ithaca is his true home where his family and beloved Penelope await him. While in this world, let us long for and reach out for the world beyond, like a plant that sprouts from the ground, opens up and reaches for the sky. Let us live our daily life in the light of eternity, longing for and preparing for the shores of heaven, our true home. There our beloved Jesus await us. There we will be happy forever.

31 B LOVE GOD AND NEIGHBOUR – nothing else matters
(Mark 12:28-34)

1 The law of Moses was quite daunting - with its 613 precepts and prohibitions. Seeking a manageable summary, the wise scribe asks Jesus, "which commandment is the first of all?" (Mk 12:28) Jesus quotes the foundational Jewish prayer, prayed by pious Jews every morning and every night, and at their death. This famous prayer is named after its very first word, "Shema" (shaMAH) meaning 'listen'. We must listen to and obey God's word - revealed in the Sacred Scriptures, in the Commandments, and ultimately in Jesus, the Word of God made flesh.
2 The Church has just begun a Synod. The most important part of the Synod is prayer, our listening to God. Only then do we proceed to listen to each other - so as to help each other to listen to God. As God's people we listen to a power outside of ourselves, the Word of God. We are not seeking our own path but seeking to walk on the path God has set before us, the path to true freedom and happiness.
3 The Shema/Listen prayer begins, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with your all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength’’ (cf. Dt 6:4-5). Jesus then expands the Shema, saying, "The second commandment is this, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself'’’ (taken from Lev 19:18). The word used here for 'love' is agape. Agape love is a practical love in the real world, such as love shown to a person in need, to an angry teenager, a screaming toddler, an obnoxious relative or colleague, a friend entangled in sin etc. What matters ultimately is not winning, wealth, achievements, honours, recognition, pleasure, power and popularity but only love - love of God and neighbour. 4 These two commandments to love God and love neighbour are in fact one, inseparable commandment. If I do not love God, then I cannot see the image of God in my neighbour and so am unable to love him. Conversely, if I pass by my neighbour, performing merely “religious duties”, then my relationship with God will become loveless. St. John says, ‘’He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen’’ (1Jn 4:20).
5 Our love of God and neighbour is in fact a response to having first being loved by God. St John says, ‘’In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins’’ (1 Jn 4:10). God loved us first. His love became visible in his only Son who became man. St. Paul says, "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom 5:5). It is in Baptism that we receive the Holy Spirit who enables us to truly love others, even those whom we do not like or even know. Moreover, receiving Jesus in the Eucharist constantly renews our capacity to love our neighbour.
6 One cold evening a shivering, half-naked man sat begging outside the city gates. No one stopped to help - except for Martin, a Roman soldier on horseback. He cut his soldier's cloak in two, giving a portion to the man. That same night the soldier dreamed of Jesus, clad in that very same cloak, saying to the angels, “Martin, still just a catechumen, clothed me with this garment.” Thereafter Martin requested to be baptized and proceeded to live a holy life, being known today as St. Martin of Tours.
7 At the last Judgement Jesus will say, “I was naked and you clothed me ... as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:36.40). We can claim to love the Lord and have given our lives to Him. But ultimately we are to be judged on the love shown to our neighbour - which reveals whether or not we truly love the Lord.

THREE JOURNEYS - PALM SUNDAY 2021

1 Today is ‘Palm Sunday’. In fact the correct name, as your Missal says, is ‘Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord’. Palm and Passion. Two processions are commemorated today: a Palm procession and a Passion procession. The gospel read outside the Church today describes the palm procession: Jesus entering Jerusalem carried by a donkey. Then the gospel read inside the church describes the Passion, the sorrowful procession to Calvary. Jesus is no longer carried by a donkey but instead He himself carries the Cross.
2 The first procession with palms is from the Mount of Olives down into the city of Jerusalem. The passion procession is five days later on Good Friday after Jesus’ condemnation to death by Pilate. It proceeds from Jerusalem, through the city walls, up to Mt. Calvary. This second procession or journey is much shorter yet much harder. It is no longer accompanied by shouts of joy but instead by cries of lamentation. The ground is no longer strewn with the clothes of admirers but instead stained with the sweat and blood of the condemned Jesus.
3 It is one thing to wave palms exuberantly as we accompany Jesus on his journey into Jerusalem. Will we accompany him all the way to his journey’s end on Mt. Calvary? Are we half Christian or complete Christians? Thomas a Kempis wrote, “Jesus always has many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting. All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him” (The Imitation of Christ). Jesus himself says, “You cannot be my disciple unless you take up your cross and follow me”. We must willingly take up our carry our cross and follow Christ. If we do, it will carry us across this world to where suffering and tears are no more, to the joy of heaven.
4 Jesus is not primarily Teacher but Saviour. He saves us by his death on Mt. Calvary. Journeying into Jerusalem we accept Jesus as our Teacher. But do we journey to Calvary to accept Him as our Saviour? It is on the Cross that Jesus’ teaching is fulfilled as he says in his last breath: ‘’it is accomplished’’. His Passion is the fulfilment of all the Scriptures. This he reminded his disciples after the resurrection, ‘’Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead’’ (Lk 24: 46).
5 Like the excited, exuberant Palm Sunday crowd journeying into Jerusalem, many of us seek spiritual ‘feel-good’ highs. But we are missing out on a deep, inner joy. And we are in danger of missing out on the fullness of joy in heaven - unless we continue with Jesus all the way to Calvary. Only out of suffering can there emerge the fullness of joy and salvation. Only if we drink with our Lord from the cup of suffering, can we drink from the cup of salvation, and hear Jesus saying to each of us what He said to the repentant thief, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.'
6 Jesus calls us to accompany him on three journeys. Today on Palm Sunday we journey with him into Jerusalem. Let us also journey with him up to Mt. Calvary on Good Friday. If we do, we will be able to make that third journey, the greatest journey of all: the joyful, triumphal journey into heaven

A GRAIN OF WHEAT MUST DIE TO BEAR FRUIT
John 12:20-33 (Lent 5 B) 

1 “We want to see Jesus” say the Greeks. Jesus responds, “Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”. His glory is to be seen not as in that of a powerful king seated on his throne. Instead His glory is to be seen on the Cross, in his life-giving death. To see who Jesus really is, is to see him as a grain of wheat. He is the grain that falls to the ground, is covered in the earth and dies, but then rises as the new Tree of Life.

2 A seed that rests by itself on the pathway produces nothing, the life inside it withering and wasting away. But if it is buried in the soil, life bursts forth from it. The seed must lose its life if it is to blossom. Look at a great tree. You cannot see the original seed, and yet the tree is in fact that small, original seed in fully flourished form. Are you living an empty life just for yourself and therefore wasting away like the seed on the pathway? Or are you dying to yourself and therefore blossoming into a great tree?


3 Jesus says, “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it”. I read this Facebook post last Monday, “I’m beginning a week of self-love, self-care, building my self-worth, doing the things that make ME happy.” Well that poor youngster is never going to be happy. Happiness cannot be achieved but is received in serving God and others. Happiness is the fruit of forgetting yourself, dying to yourself and rising to a life of self-giving love.


4 We are called to journey from self-centredness to self-giving. Pope emeritus Benedict calls it an ‘exodus’. The Israelites undertook an Exodus - from oppression in Egypt (symbolizing sin) to freedom in the Promised Land (symbolizing new life in Christ). Benedict says, “Love is… a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving.” How far are you on this journey, this exodus from self-centredness to self-sacrifice, from narcissism to love of God and others?

5 This exodus needs to occur in our prayer. In prayer we “lose our lives” in communion with God in order to “preserve them.” Our prayer should move from self-centredness to God-centredness, being less about our petitions and more about thanking and adoring God. The exodus needs to occur in our generosity. We must leave behind our own interests and focus on serving Jesus in the poor and needy. Paradoxically, the more we give ourselves away in love, the more we gain ourselves. St. Francis said, “It is in giving that we receive...in dying that we are born to eternal life” - dying not only at the end of our life but dying to ourselves every day. The exodus needs to occur in our moral life. We must leave an egotistic, self-assertive life of, “My will be done” for a new life of “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We must put to death a self-indulgent, fleshly life for a life in the Spirit.


6 “We want to see Jesus” say the Greeks in today’s gospel. Well we see Jesus primarily in the Holy Eucharist. He is the grain of wheat who dies so as to become the Bread of Life that endures until the end of time. On the Cross, Jesus gave his body and blood for our salvation. In the Eucharist he continues to give us His Body and Blood.


7 He says, “Take and eat” as he feeds us with his life of self-giving love. He also says, “Do this in memory of me” i.e. you too live a life of self-giving love. Indeed at the end of Mass he sends us out as grains of wheat to be planted throughout the world. By our self-giving love we become his face, his hands, his feet and his heart in the world. May we persevere in and complete the exodus from sin to holiness, from selfishness to self-giving, from death to life eternal.

RISING OUT OF THE WATER Mark
1:12-15 (Lent 1 B)

1 Creation emerges through WATER, say the Scriptures. Creation began with the Spirit of God moving over the face of the waters, says Genesis (1:2). Again in Noah’s time a new creation emerged out of the waters of the flood. Still today from the waters of the baptismal font emerges a new creation: the baptized person. Out of the baptismal waters the person rises as a new creation, rises to new life in Christ. St. Paul says, ‘’All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death…so that as Christ was raised from the dead…we too might walk in newness of life’’ (Rom 6: 3-4).

2 Genesis describes creation being completed in seven days. Significantly, Christ rose, say the gospels, on the ‘first day of the week“ i.e. on the first day of the new creation, the ‘eighth day’. Traditionally (as we still see in our cathedrals) the baptismal font has eight sides (octagonal shape). Why eight? Because Christ on the eighth day. The person emerging from the waters of the baptismal font is participating in Christ’s resurrection on the eighth day, rising with Him to new life. The baptized person is now a ‘’new creation’’ (2 Cor 5:17): a child of God, a "partaker of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4), a temple of the Holy Spirit.
3 We do not make ourselves Christian. God makes us Christian or ‘other Christs’ in Baptism. Baptism is necessary for salvation. We do not save ourselves simply by believing in Jesus. Instead God saves us in Baptism as we die and rise with Christ to new life.


4 At his Ascension Jesus commanded baptism, saying, ‘’Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’’ (Mt 28: 19). He said, ‘’He who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mk16:16). Peter preached at Pentecost, “Repent, and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’’ (Acts 2:38). Peter says again in today’s second reading, ‘baptism...saves you’ (1 Pet 3:20).
5 But for baptism to save, faith is required. In faith Noah built the ark. Similarly, the persons requesting baptism (or the baptized child’s parents) are required to profess their faith: “Do you believe in God the Father...in Jesus Christ, his Son...in the Holy Spirit...in the Catholic Church....?” Having in faith built the ark, Noah and his family then passed through the waters of the flood into new life. Similarly, having professed our faith, we can then pass through the baptismal waters into new life.


6 Baptism saves in that the baptized person receives the light of Christ, the seed of eternal life. But that light must be kept burning brightly, that seed must be nourished, his faith must mature. After passing through the saving waters of the Red Sea, Israel still had to persevere through the desert for forty years before eventually entering the Promised Land. Similarly, after passing through the saving waters of baptism, we still have to persevere through the desert of this world before entering the Promised Land of heaven. The Lenten season symbolizes earthly life as in the desert we have to battle against Satan and his temptations. The Easter season symbolizes the victorious, joyful life of heaven.

7 What happened to Jesus straight after his baptism in the Jordan? Today’s gospel tells us: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mk 1:12). It is the same for us. After our Baptism the same Holy Spirit who drove Jesus into the wilderness drives us into the wilderness. In the wilderness Jesus was tempted by Satan. Similarly, after baptism we have to face the temptations of the Evil One. So Baptism marks the beginning of the spiritual battle when we “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim 6:12). We can triumph in the battle not because we are strong but because in Baptism we have been clothed in Christ who now lives in us who gives us his victory. As St. Augustine said, “in Christ we were tempted, and in Christ we overcame the devil”.

REMEMBER, YOU ARE DUST - ASH WEDNESDAY 2021

1 As you receive the ashes the minister says, “Remember man, you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. These are the very words God said to Adam after he had sinned: “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (cf. Gen 3:19). So Ashes are a sign of our mortality, that we must die, that we must return to the dust of the earth. They remind us that we have only a limited time in which to bring our lives to fulfilment. The Book of Sirach states: “In whatever you do, remember your last days, and you will never sin’’ (Sir 7:36).
2 Many of us avoid funerals, finding the very thought of death morbid. In contrast saints such as St. Francis would place a skull on their desk as a reminder of their inevitable death. Remembering our death helps us to value each and every day, and to trust in the Risen Lord who said, ‘’I am the resurrection…he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live’’ (Jn 11:25).


3 So ashes symbolize our mortality. Secondly, ashes symbolize our sorrow for sin. Look at Job. Having arrogantly argued with God, he finally repents for not having trusted in God’s wisdom and love, saying, ‘’Therefore I despise myself and I repent in dust and ashes’’ (Job 42:6). Am I captive to some sin, or spiritually lukewarm, or careless in prayer? Say with repentant David the words of today’s psalm 51: ‘’Have mercy on me, O God, according to your merciful love…cleanse me from my sin…restore in me the joy of your salvation’’.

4 Finally, ashes symbolize penance on behalf of others. Look at Daniel who intercedes for the sins of his exiled people: “I, Daniel, turned my face to the Lord, seeking him by prayers and supplications with fasting, sackcloth and ashes’’ (Dan 9:3). Another example is Queen Esther. She is married to a pagan king who intends annihilating her people, the Jews. Removing her beautiful garments and perfumes, she covers her head with ashes and dung, fasting and praying intensely (cf. Est 14:1-3). Seeing this, God saves her people. We too should offer up to God our Lenten fasting and prayers not only for ourselves but also for others in need, for our families, and for our beloved, broken country of South Africa.


5 God commands us to fast and put on ashes - which we do especially in Lent. But remember that these are outward signs which must signify our interior repentance, our return to God with all our heart. As Joel says in today’s 1st reading, “return to me with all your heart…rend your hearts, not your garments”. (Joel 2:12-13)
6 In today’s first reading the prophet Joel proclaims, “Blow the trumpet in Zion!” (Joel 2:15), calling all of Israel to fast and put on sackcloth and ashes in repentance. Similarly, on Ash Wednesday the Church sounds the alarm, blows the trumpet calling Catholics worldwide to forty days of prayer, fasting and penance. Can you hear that trumpet blowing? Does it remind you of the great final trumpet which will sound out on that Last Day, calling you to meet your God?


7 Be prepared! Wake up from your sleep! This may be your last Lent, your last chance. Use this sacred time of grace to reconcile with God and your neighbour. Take to heart what St. Paul says in today’s second reading, ‘’We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God …Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation’’ (2 Cor 5:20; 6:2).

‘’THEY WERE ASTONISHED AT HIS TEACHING’’ (Mk 1:21b – 28)

 1 The president of the synagogue would customarily invite a qualified layman to speak. This explains how Jesus could sometimes teach in the synagogue. Today’s gospel says, “They were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes”. The Scribes taught by quoting each other and earlier legal experts. Jesus is different. He teaches with an authority from within, out of his own being. He not only proclaims the word of God but He Himself is the Word of God incarnate. 

2 Jesus is the model preacher. He is the model preacher for priests. He is also the model preacher for all Catholics. In baptism each of us is anointed as ‘prophet’ to proclaim the Good News. The priest says to the baptised child, ‘’May he [the Lord] soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith’’. Priests preach and teach in church. Parents do so from their home, called the ‘domestic church’. They proclaim God’s Word from the ‘pulpit’ of their dining room table, of the lounge couch, and of the family car. They also proclaim the Word of God from the ‘pulpit’ of their workplace, shopping centre or sportsground.


3 It is not enough for me to quote to my children or to others the words of the Bible, or of Jesus, or of the catechism - unless I personally believe and am living them out. Nothing will enter the heart of another unless it comes out of my heart. “Heart speaks to heart” (St Francis de Sales). I must be living in intimate friendship with Jesus, having asked for and received his Sacred Heart, the heart of God, a heart full of love. Only then can God touch the heart of others through me.

4 Having heard a sermon you might say to yourself, ‘yes, very smart and eloquent...but so what?’ i.e. your heart is not cut and your life is not changed. In contrast Jesus’ words amazed his listeners, moved them, and provoked a response. Today’s gospel says “They were astonished at his teaching. The people’s response to Jesus is either positive or negative, depending on each person’s heart, depending on the type of soil the seed of God’s word entered (cf. Mt 13:1-23). Hebrews 4:12 says "the Word of God is a double-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit". God’s Word cuts either way, bringing judgment or salvation, bringing death or restoring life.


5 In today’s gospel Jesus’ teaching triggers a negative response from the man. Why? He is possessed by a demon, under the influence of Satan. He is in the dark and therefore opposes Christ, the Light of the world, just as a person lurking in the dark hates being exposed by the light of a torch shining in his eyes.


6 The possessed man confronts Jesus, saying accusingly, ‘’What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?’’ Still today the Church in her teaching is wrongly accused of being hateful and intolerant, even of destroying lives. This week I saw on youtube how abortionists with placards disrupted a Catholic Mass in USA, aggressively screaming obscenities and shouting out repeatedly ‘2,4,6,8 - your church preaches hate’. Our proclamation of the sanctity of each human life from the womb to the tomb is counter-cultural and will be opposed. How true are the words of old Simeon about the baby Jesus
‘’this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against’’ (Lk2: 35).


7 Although opposed by the possessed man, Jesus perseveres with him until freeing him of the demon. The man passes through three stages – being ‘mad’, then ‘sad’ and finally ‘glad’. Initially he is ‘mad’ at Jesus, angrily confronting Him. Then he becomes ‘sad’, struggling and convulsing as Jesus’s powerful word works to free him. Finally, he becomes ‘glad’ as he experiences the joy of freedom.


8 ‘Mad, sad and glad’ is a common sequence of conversion. A rebellious teenager may be ‘mad’ at his parents, saying ‘don’t tell me what to do’, or ‘mad’ at the Church, saying ‘she’s out-of-date’. But then, if he allows the Holy Spirit to work, he becomes ‘sad’, now realizing he must undergo the difficult process of change, leave his old ways and learn the new way of Christ. Eventually, by the grace of God, he becomes ‘glad’, experiencing the joy of a transformed life.


9 In baptism each of us has received the Holy Spirit and was anointed as prophet. May we proclaim the truth in love, even when opposed. May we know Christ personally so that we can proclaim Him convincingly. May Christ live in our hearts so that He can in turn enter the hearts of others, bringing them his peace, joy and salvation.

REMEMBER THE BIG PICTURE - 3 B Ord Time (Mark 1:14-20)

1 The COVID 19 pandemic is separating the wheat from the weeds, the sheep from the goats. Some people have gone for good, never to return again to church even when it re-opens after lockdown. For others it is a wake-up call - to cling more closely to Christ as their only hope.

2 To survive spiritually it is not enough to pray every day, read the Bible, keep the commandments, and be good. We need to know and embrace the big picture, the Christian worldview. For some people life is to goof about, to ‘eat, drink and be merry’, to live just for the day with no regard for eternity. Others have the view that you get born, live (any way you wish), die, and then go automatically to heaven. Such false worldviews are dangerous because they cause us to live wrongly with eternal consequences.
3 What is the Christian worldview? The New Testament tell us: 1. God loves you.
2. You are lost in your sin 3. Christ Jesus has saved you from sin by his death and resurrection 4. Repent without delay and believe the Gospel 5. Be Baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. 6. Be a member of the Church 7 Live a new life in Christ in preparation for the coming judgement.

Apart from Christ we are in serious trouble. Judgement, heaven and hell are real. While there is still time, we must urgently repent, accept Jesus as Saviour, and live a new life in Him. You need this Christian worldview so as to choose correctly and live properly on earth, and then to live with God forever.

4 What does Sacred Scripture say? “Repent, and believe the gospel” (Mk 1:15 - today’s gospel). “The world as we know it is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31- today’s 2nd reading). “If the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?” (1 Pet 4:18). “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Mt 7:14)

5 What do the Saints say? St Bernard says we must urgently respond to Christ’s offer of salvation - otherwise at death or the return of the Lord, we will enter hell. He exhorts us to engage in the spiritual battle for our soul: “the serpent schemes ceaselessly to win our consent to his rebellion”. St Therese of Avila says: “the only concern is to give ourselves entirely to him [the Lord]”. This we must do immediately because “all life is short, and the life of some extremely short. And how do we know if ours won’t be so short that at the very hour or moment we determine to serve God completely it will come to an end?”

6 St Catherine says Jesus is the bridge to heaven, saving us from being swept away by the diabolical floodwaters below. She says that far beyond our imagining are both the ugliness and horror of sin, as well as the beauty, glory and goodness of heaven. At death each person rushes to where they want to be, embracing what has become their choice: “To the damned he [God] will appear with just hatred, but to the saved, with mercy and love”. The great mystic, St. John of the Cross, says that God has created us solely for Himself and redeemed us solely for Himself. Therefore we owe Him our total love. The soul “knows…that a good part of her life has vanished, that she must render an account of everything…and that it is already late – and the day far spent (Lk 24:19)’’ (Spiritual Canticle).

7 Do not jeopardize your soul by dawdling to your death, just drifting along with contemporary culture and its wrong thinking. St. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2). The Church is not a social club but exists for the salvation of souls. The priest exists not to ‘affirm’ people and tell jokes but to faithfully proclaim the Word of God and offer people the life-giving sacraments.

8 In this COVID 19 pandemic we are correctly doing our utmost not to lose our physical lives. But are we also doing our utmost not to lose our souls? This pandemic crisis is a watershed event, exposing casual Catholics, dividing the sheep from the goats. May it be a spiritual wake-up call, perhaps our last chance to embrace Christ and to persevere on the narrow way that leads to heaven.

FOREVER WITH THE LORD
- 1 Sam 3:3-10,19; Jn 1:35-42 (2 B Ord Time)

1 Today’s first reading describes the call of the boy Samuel. He would be the prophet to anoint Israel’s first king, Saul, and his illustrious successor, David. The Jerusalem temple was not yet built. For now the sacred Ark of the Covenant (symbolic of God’s very Presence) is preserved in a special tent in Shiloh. The Ark contained the tablet of the Ten Commandments and a portion of the manna.
2 The Lord called the boy by name, “Samuel, Samuel”, just as He calls each of us by name - into a personal, intimate relationship with Himself. Samuel receives his call while sleeping next to the Ark, faithfully keeping the sanctuary lamp burning. This is a beautiful icon of a person in intimate communion with the Lord. We think of John, the beloved disciple, leaning on the Lord’s breast at the Last Supper; or of a child resting contentedly in its mother’s arms.
3 Jesus said: ‘’If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’’ (Jn 14:23). The boy Samuel made his home in God’s sanctuary next to the Ark. John, the beloved disciple, made his home, as it were, in the heart of Jesus, resting his head on his breast at the Last Supper. Jesus invited Andrew to enter his earthly home, to ‘come and see’. This intimate experience with the Lord enabled Andrew to announce to his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah”. Are you living in close intimacy with the Lord? Is He dwelling in you, and you in Him?
4 In baptism you and I are anointed as prophets of God. How can we be successful prophets, like Samuel, who turned all Israel to the lord (cf. 1 Sam 7:2-3)? By remaining in close communion with the Lord, as did Samuel. Only by remaining close to the Lord can we bring to our families God and his protection. Only by remaining close to the Lord can we witness to God in our society and the world.
5 Simon came to the Lord through the help of Andrew, as Samuel did through the help of Eli. This shows how God uses other people to speak to us. “Seek counsel from every wise man (Tobit 4:18).
6 Samuel says humbly, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening’’. Are you hearing God speak to you in the Holy Scriptures? Remember that every Scripture reading at Mass ends with the reader saying, ‘The Word (or gospel) OF THE LORD’. And remember also that ultimately the Word of God is Jesus, the Word become flesh, who wants to dwell in your heart. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening’’. Are you responding to His voice echoing through the bishops? Remember Jesus said to his apostles, ‘He who listens to you, listens to ME’. (Lk 10:16). “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening’’. Are you listening to God speaking through the Catholic catechism? When did you last read it, or the Youcat (which is a summary)?
7 “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening’’. Do we hear the Lord’s voice in the cry of our neighbour...in the stillness of prayer...in our conscience? “Deep within his conscience” says the Catholic catechism, “man discovers a law...which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment...His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in its depths”. (CCC 1776) In all these ways, are we living in intimate, daily communion with the Lord, listening to His every word? This is the only way to a life of meaning, peace and true joy.
8 Jesus said, “He who eats my body and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn 6:56). During lockdown you cannot receive the Lord sacramentally. But you can and must receive Him spiritually by saying every day this beautiful prayer of St. Alphonsus Ligouri:-
“My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love you above all things, and I desire to receive you into my soul. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already there, and I unite myself wholly to you. Never permit me to be separated from you.”

BAPTISM: DESCENDING AND ASCENDING (Mark 1:7-11)

1 What is the whole Christmas season about? Birth. It begins with the birth of Jesus celebrated on the feast of Christmas. And it ends today with another birth, our birth, our birth in the waters of Baptism, celebrated on this feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Our physical birth is not enough. Jesus was born so that we could be born again in baptism. One we are born again, ‘born of water and the spirit’ (Jn 3:5).

2 Today Jesus descends into the river Jordan. His first descent was when he came down from heaven to earth by becoming man. He will descend again - into death at Calvary (his ‘Baptism’ in blood). Today Jesus rises up out of the waters of the Jordan just as He will rise again after his death. As He rises, say the Church Fathers, He raises the whole world up with himself. In Baptism we enter into Jesus’ descent and ascent: we descend into the water dying to sin, and we rise up with Christ to new life. St. Paul says, ‘’We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead…we too might walk in newness of life’’ (Rom 6:4).


3 Christ, being God, is sinless. So why does He enter the waters of the Jordan? Not to be cleansed by them but to cleanse them for us who are to follow in baptism. He does not receive the sacrament of Baptism but institutes it for us sinners.
4 Baptism has two effects. Firstly, we are washed clean of sin. But there is more. We are, secondly, ‘born again’ as children of the heavenly Father. We are saved ‘from sin for Sonship’. Jesus is by nature the eternal Son of God. At our Baptism the Father adopts us as ‘sons in the Son’. He says to each of us what He said to Jesus at his baptism, “You are my Son (daughter), the Beloved.” (Mk 1:11) Society values you according to what you do and what you have. Do not live out this false identity. Live out your truest identity as a beloved child of God.


5 We respect religious figures such as Socrates, Khrishna, Buddha, Moses, Mohammed, Ghandi, Shembe etc. But Jesus is different? Why? Firstly, they were good men whereas Jesus is the God-man. Secondly, they were Teachers whereas Jesus is Saviour - only He can save us from sin.


6 And thirdly, these religious leaders are dead, come and gone, leaving only their words. In contrast Jesus is risen and alive. Non-Christians would never ever say, ‘Buddha/Moses/Mohammed lives in me’. Yet baptized Christians do say with St. Paul, “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me”. (Gal 2:20) We do not admire Jesus as an historical figure. Instead we, the baptized, live in intimate communion with Him. This communion is continually nourished as we receive the Eucharist: “he who eats my body and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” says Jesus (Jn 6:56).
7 St. Paul says that Christ "is the head of the body, the Church" (Col 1:18; cf.1 Cor 12:27). We, the Church, form one Body with Christ, the Head, who lives his life in us. Here are three scriptural examples of this. Firstly, in Saul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus he hears the risen and ascended Christ saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) NOT ‘why do you persecute my followers?’ To persecute the Church is to persecute Him because we, the Church, and Christ, are one body. Secondly, at the Last Judgement Christ says, “whatsoever you did to the least of my people, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). Thirdly, St. Paul warns against sexual immorality by saying that to go into a prostitute is, shockingly, to unite the very body of Christ to a prostitute. (cf. 1 Cor 6:15-16) The baptized person is ‘married’ to Christ, forming one body with Him.


8 Seeing suffering in the world we ask, “Lord, why don’t you act?” His answer to us is, “Why don’t you act? My mind, my heart, my feet, my hands and my eyes are now yours. Through your action, let me transform the world”. The candle of a baptized person is lit from the Paschal Candle, symbolizing the Risen Lord. The priest says, “Receive the light of Christ”. This is our free gift. But then we are told, “this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly...walk always as children of the light”. May we live out our baptism by being other Christs, by our lives of love and holiness. And at the end of our lives may the Father say to each of us what He said to Jesus at his Baptism, “You are my Son (daughter), the Beloved. My favour rests on you”. (Mk 1:11)

THE WISE MEN FROM THE EAST Mt 2:1-12

1 Who were privileged to see the newly - born baby Jesus? Mary of course, Joseph and the shepherds. Now they were all Jews. But Jesus is Saviour of all the nations of the world. This is shown in the arrival of the Magi all the way from the East. These wise men are just the beginning a great procession through the centuries of people of every race and culture who seek Jesus, and come to worship Him as the Son of God. Today’s feast is called ‘Epiphany’ or ‘manifestation’ because the arrival of the Magi ‘manifests’ Jesus as the Saviour of all the nations. Today’s psalm says, “All nations on earth shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord” (ps 72:11).
2 What do these Magi teach us? Firstly, courage. Their journey was long (several months), arduous and risky. These wise men cared little about the opinion of others who no doubt thought they were crazy to leave their comfortable life. Do you have the courage to seek God and his truth despite hardship and the opposition of others?
3 Courage. Secondly, the Magi teach us to read God’s two "books": the book of Creation and the book of Sacred Scripture. Why did the wise men follow that star? Because they saw in creation the hand of God. “The heavens proclaim the glory of God” says the psalmist (Ps 19:1). Does the beauty, mystery, grandeur and rationality of creation point you to the Creator God? God’s second book is the Sacred Scriptures. From it the Magi learn, via the scholars, of the precise birth-place of the Christ: ‘in Bethlehem of Judea’. Are you finding in the Sacred Scriptures God’s loving Plan of Salvation? Are you using these two books, the book of Creation and of Scripture, reason and faith, to know the living God?
4 Thirdly, the Magi teach us to be restless for God. The Magi had learning, wealth and status. Yet their restless hearts yearned for more: for the good, the true, the beautiful. They teach us not to settle for superficiality but to be hungry for the meaning of life, to be restless for God, to say with St. Augustine, ‘’O God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts cannot rest until they rest in you’’.
In fact our restlessness for God is a response to his restlessness for us. Out of his restless love He left heaven to be born as man. In Bethlehem we find the One who has already found us. The infant Jesus cries. Again on the Cross the adult Jesus cries, ‘I thirst’. He is crying out and thirsty for our souls. Will we hear his cry, be touched by His love for us, and love Him back?
5 The star leads the Magi to a house where they found the child with Mary, his mother. The gospel says they ‘fell down and worshipped’ the child in profound reverence. So the Magi teach us, fourthly, that Jesus is not just another prophet or a good man but is the God-man who is to be worshipped.
6 The Magi offer Jesus gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. In presenting the gift of gold they are acknowledging Jesus as King because gold symbolized royalty. Does Jesus rule my life as King? In presenting Jesus with the second gift of frankincense they are acknowledging Jesus as God because incense was offered only to the divinity. Am I acknowledging Jesus as my God by offering Him my daily prayer and Sunday worship? The third gift the Magi offer is myrrh, a burial ointment. They are acknowledging the humanity of Christ, especially his suffering and death. Am I willing to live a life of self-sacrifice, to die with Christ so that I can rise with Him?
7 In summary the Magi teach us to be people of courage, to hear God speaking to us in his two books of creation and of the Sacred Scriptures, to be hungry and restless for Him who is already restless for us, and to worship Him as our King, our God, and our Saviour.
8 The Magi went home, says the gospel, ‘by another route’. Their encounter with Christ has transformed them so that they now walk on a new path. Our encounter with Christ is not meant to make us feel good but to transform us, convert us. The word ‘convert’ means from the literal Latin ‘turn around’. In prayer, the Scriptures and the sacraments we receive Christ who turns us around, away from our wrong ways and leads us on the new way. May we persevere on this new way of righteousness. Then at the end of our earthly pilgrimage may we rejoice, as did the Magi, to find the Light from Light, who is Christ the Lord.

CHRISTMAS 2020 A New Beginning

1 The world says, “Happy Holidays…Season’s Greetings…Enjoy the Festive Season’’. It takes Christ out of Christmas, reducing it to ‘Xmas’, to a time of goodwill, get-togethers and getting along with each other...to balloons, beers and bells...to coloured lights, candles and crackers...a cute dog wearing a Father Xmas hat etc. An alien arriving on earth from another planet would conclude that Christmas is a season of frivolous fun and over-indulgence. Such superficiality will never attract non-Christians to the truth of Christ.
2 Christmas has been hijacked, trivialized, dumbed-down and degraded. Our Muslim friends have the feast of Eid (celebrating the breaking of the holy fast). Hindus have Diwali (symbolizing the victory of light over darkness). Jews have Pesach (celebrating their liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt). Buddhists have Wesak (celebrating the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death). These holy feasts are respected for their sacredness. Why is Christmas not respected? We can blame the secular agnostics and atheists. But do we Christians ourselves know and live out the true meaning of Christmas?
3 Imagine if someone said to you, ‘’Let’s make an exchange. I will give you 1000 dollars for your one dollar’’. I am sure you would not hesitate! Well Christmas is what the Church Fathers call the "marvellous exchange". Jesus comes to earth saying to each of us, “I take your poverty and offer you my riches. I take your humanity and offer you my divinity. I take your death and offer you my life, my eternal life”.
4 The Christmas Day gospel is from John 1 which starts, “In the beginning was the Word... and the Word was God. . . all things were made through him” (Jn 1:1.3). Why does St. John open his gospel with these words “In the beginning’’? He is deliberately echoing the opening words of Genesis 1: “In the beginning”. “In the beginning” says Genesis, God created the universe through his powerful Word, saying “let there be…light…and so it was…let there be living creatures…and so it was…’’. Tragically, God’s beautiful creation was spoilt by sinful Adam who disobeyed God. Now there is to be a new beginning, a new creation, St. John is saying. This is inaugurated by the coming to earth of the New Adam, Jesus, the Word of God.
5 Our cribs are pretty, too pretty. Jesus was in fact born in a mucky, filthy animal trough with animal dung and flies. Incredibly He CHOSE to be born in this mess. As water rushes to the lowest place on the ground, so does the mercy of God rush to us when we are at our lowest in sin. The name ‘Jesus’ means ‘God saves’. He comes to save us from evil and death, to save us from ourselves and our past choices that entrap us, to offer us a new beginning.
6 The mucky animal trough of Bethlehem represents our sinful lives which God enters so as to cleanse and heal. No matter the depth of our sin, none of us is beyond His saving love. Invite Him into the messy crib of your life. Allow Him to transform and re-create you in a new beginning. This Christmas do not look back nostalgically to an ideal past before you made wrong choices. Look forward in hope to the future, a wonderful new beginning.
7 In the annual Nativity Play little Jonny was playing the role of the innkeeper of Bethlehem. At the right time he spoke his scripted words, “there is no room for you in the inn”. But then, overcome with emotion, he could not stop himself blurting out his own words, “but you can come and stay in my house!” This Christmas invite the Lord into your life. No matter your past, Jesus wants to and can transform you. Let Him in. Let Him heal you in a new beginning.
8 To whom did the angel first proclaim the joyful news of Christ’s birth? To the rough shepherds, shepherds who in ancient Israel were despised for being “unclean” ritually, unfit to worship God in the temple. To them, and today to each of us unclean sinners whom God knows by name and loves, the angel says, “To you is born this day...a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11). Do you believe? Will you receive Him?
9 The baby Jesus, Bambino, is lying on the hay with outstretched arms, appealing for your love. Do not just look at Him. Pick Him up. Take Him into your arms. Take Him into your heart. Let Him give you a new beginning, a new life.

WAKE UP!
Advent 3 B

1 A central theme of Advent, and in fact of our Christian life is to stay awake and vigilant for the coming of the Lord. The words “wake” and “watch” occur over 300 times each in the Scriptures. Jesus warns constantly, “Be watchful! Be alert!”. It is while the workers sleep that the devil sows tares among the wheat (Mt 13:25). It is while the bridesmaids doze off that their lamps flicker out (Mt 25:5f). In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus has to wake up the sleeping apostles, warning them: “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Mt 26:41).
2 In sleep we are vulnerable and exposed to danger. When asleep spiritually, the devil pounces. St. Peter warns, ‘’Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). Have you woken up to the fact that the churches in western and northern Europe are now nearly empty except for a few greyheads? Are you aware that these countries, Christian for centuries, have now fallen, and become non-Christian and even anti-Christian? Are you aware that South Africa is NOT inoculated from this? Have you woken up to the fact that a battle is raging for your soul, for the soul of your children, and of society? Are you ‘playing the fiddle while Rome burns’? The longer you drowse and do nothing, the more the Evil One is winning.
3 For his evil purposes Satan is using human agents such as billionaires, celebrities and sadly the United Nations (which the Catholic Church originally helped establish). It is a well-funded, highly-organized, global attack particularly on Christianity. Cardinal Wojtyla (who became Pope St. John Paul II) said prophetically, “We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that…the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, between the Gospel and the anti-Gospel. We must be prepared to undergo great trials…ready to give up even our lives, and a total gift of self to Christ and for Christ”.
4 The social media, television, movies, governments, courts, and school ‘sex-education’ programs are indoctrinating us, actively promoting the killing of babies in the womb, contraceptive pills (some of which are abortifacient), same-sex marriage, sex fluidity, assisted suicide, free sex as long as a condom is worn etc. They are turning the screws ever tighter on anyone who opposes their agenda.
5 St. Paul says we must “fight the good fight of the faith’’ (1 Tim 6:12). For this spiritual battle we must arm ourselves in three ways. Firstly, by regaining our confidence in the truth and authority of the Word of God. Vatican 11 taught that ‘’the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation’’ (Dei Verbum 11).
6 Here are just four Scripture quotes we need to honour especially today. Firstly, Genesis 1:27 which reads: ‘’male and female he created them’’. Secondly, the words of Jesus himself in Mt 19:4: “He [God] who made them from the beginning made them male and female” (not LGBTQ). Thirdly, “Do not be de¬ceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals (St. Paul means homosexual practice, not homosexual attraction), nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6: 9-10). And fourthly, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price’’ (1 Cor 6:19-20) i.e. your body is not a toy for your pleasure.
7 To win the battle we must turn back to the truth and authority of the Word of God. Secondly, we must make Jesus Lord of our lives. It is not enough just to be a registered parishioner, just to have received the sacraments, just to be a member of a ministry or society. Each person must, to quote Jesus’ first public words, ‘Repent and believe in the gospel’ (Mk 1:14). Pope St. John Paul spoke of “accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and living as his disciple’’ (Redemptoris Missio 46).
8 And thirdly, we must live in the power of the Holy Spirit, as I recently reminded our young confirmands. It was the coming at Pentecost of the Holy Spirit, that ‘power from on high’ (Lk 24:49), that enabled the fearful apostles to leave the upper room and proclaim the Good News with courage and conviction. The New Evangelization of the 21st century requires a New Pentecost, a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
9 Let us awake us from our sleep and go forth as courageous soldiers of Christ, treating any wounds received as trophies of our love for Him. Then at the last, may it be said of us, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’’ (Rev 7:14). And may we rejoice to sing with the angels and saints, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” (Rev 5:12).

ADVENT 2 b:
‘’PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD’’

1 For centuries Israel longed for the coming of the Messiah as promised by the prophets. This longing was finally realized in Jesus born in Bethlehem. So why still today do we read these Old Testament prophecies in Advent? Because by sharing in the great longing of Israel for the coming of the Messiah, we Christians deepen our own longing for his second coming. Christ first came as the Lamb of God but he will come again as the Lion of Judah. He first came in humility to be judged by Pontius Pilate but, to quote the Creed, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”.

2 We are in the season of Advent. ‘Advent’ means ‘to approach’. Who is approaching whom? It is not our approaching God but God approaching us. We could never climb the mountain of God. Instead in his mercy he descends to us, approaching us in Jesus born in Bethlehem. Are we welcoming Jesus with his offer of salvation?


3 Before Christmas many of us are preparing our homes for guests. Why? Because we want to receive and welcome them with love. But is our soul prepared and ready to welcome THE guest, Jesus? St. John says sadly: ‘’the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not’’ (Jn 1:10-11). Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (Rev 3:20). Unlike the inn-keeper at Bethlehem who had no room for the Christ-child, let us open the door of our hearts to receive Him joyfully, as did the shepherds.


4 Christ is our Saviour - we do not save ourselves. However, we must co-operate in our salvation. How? By opening the door of our hearts, by clearing the way for His coming. In ancient times many roads were impassable. They needed to be cleared and repaired before the coming of a great king. St. John the Baptist cries out, ‘’prepare the way of the Lord…make straight a highway…every valley shall be lifted up…every mountain and hill be laid low…the rough places [become] a plain’’ (Is 40:3-4). So that our King and Saviour, Jesus, can reach us, we must straighten our crooked ways, flatten the mountains of our pride, fill in the valleys of our lack of love, and remove the rocks of our sin.


5 Christ approaches us in three ways:- in history, mystery, and majesty: in history on Christmas Day, in mystery every day, and in majesty on the Last day. Christ arrived in history at Bethlehem. This we celebrate at Christmas.
6 Christ will come again in majesty on the last day. Many people fret about this last day. They ask, ‘when it will be?’ foolishly thinking they can get ready quickly ‘the day before’ as it were. Jesus said clearly that no-one knows the day or hour. People also ask fretfully, ‘’Will we be found ready on that day? Will we be counted among those five wise virgins found ready with their lamps burning brightly?’’ The answer is ‘’Yes, you will be found ready on that day IF you are ready on this day, ready today’’. If you receive Jesus coming to you mysteriously now every day, He will receive you on the Last Day.


7 How does Christ come to us now in mystery? Firstly, in the sacraments, named the ‘mysteries’ by the early Christians. Are we receiving Christ faithfully in the holy Eucharist? The same Christ who took flesh in Bethlehem takes flesh today on our altar in the Eucharist. The same Christ born in the stable wants to born in our hearts through the eucharist. His birth would be in vain, if He were not born in your heart in the Eucharist. Christ also comes to us in mystery in many other ways: in prayer, in Sacred Scripture, in the events of our daily life, in our neighbour, in God’s creation, and in the Church, His mystical Body. Are you receiving Christ now as He comes to you in these ways?


8 To fret about the last day is to waste your time and energy. Rather live each and every day for God and for your neighbour. “It is today, in the present’’ says Pope Emeritus Benedict ‘’that we decide our future destiny”. Take to heart the advice of St. Peter in today’s 2nd reading, “You should be living holy and saintly lives while you wait and long for the Day of God to come...do your best to live lives without spot or stain so that he will find you at peace.” (2 Pet3:11-12)

GOD COMING TO US : ADVENT 1 B

1 This week I heard in the supermarket this song played: “Have yourself a merry, little Christmas”. We must not trivialize Christmas. Christmas is not about me making myself merry. It is about the great joy God brings to earth through the birth of his Son, Jesus, the Saviour. Christmas by yourself without Christ would be like having a birthday party without the birthday boy being present!
2 The Advent season leading up to Christmas is not a time of presents, pleasure, parties and punch. It is not is a time to over-indulge in eating and drinking. No! It is a sacred season. Like Lent, the colour of Advent is purple. Why purple? Because it is a penitential season preparing us for Christmas. The more we ‘prepare the way of the Lord’ (as John the Baptist cries out) by opening our hearts during Advent, the more deeply we can rejoice at Christmas.
3 Preparation is required for any major event - whether a 21st birthday party, an anniversary, a graduation party or a wedding. In Advent what are we preparing for? The very name ‘advent’ is from the Latin ‘ad….venire’ meaning ‘to come towards’. We are preparing for God’s coming towards us - from heaven to us on earth. This is the greatest event in human history! Theologians call it the ‘Incarnation’ of God or the ‘Divinization’ of man – two sides of the same coin. God the Son, living in eternity with the Father and the Holy Spirit becomes man on earth! This event is extraordinary, unparalleled, unprecedented, unbelievable, mind-boggling! The helpless infant lying in Mary’s arms, unable to talk or walk, is God Almighty!
4 Christ’s two names are ‘Emmanuel’, meaning ‘God is with us’, and ‘Jesus’, meaning ‘God saves’. God is with us, becoming one of us, so as to save us from our sins and damnation. The Church Fathers call Christmas ‘the marvellous exchange’. Jesus is saying to mankind, ‘Let us exchange. I take your humanity and give you my divinity...I take your poverty and give you my riches...on the cross I take your death and give you my life, my eternal life.’
5 A certain man did not believe in Christ or Christmas. On Christmas Eve, his wife and children went off to church but he stayed at home as usual. While relaxing in the lounge he was startled by thudding sounds. Peeping outside he saw a flock of birds huddled together miserably in the snow. Desperate for shelter and warmth, they had tried to fly through his window. “I cannot let these poor creatures freeze to death,” he thought. So he went outside and opened for them the shed where they could find warmth and shelter.
6 But the birds did not understand and did not go into the shed. So he sprinkled some bread crumbs on the snow to make a trail leading from where they were into the shed. But the birds simply continued to flop around helplessly in the snow. Eventually he tried shoeing them into the shed by walking around and waving his arms. But they just scattered fearfully in every direction.
7 “They don’t understand. They find me a strange and terrifying creature,” he said to himself, disheartened. “If only I could become a bird like them. Then I could lead them to safety”. At that very moment he heard in the distance the joyful sound of the church bells announcing the birth of Jesus, God becoming man. In a flash he understood by God’s grace the meaning of Christmas. Do you? Those helpless birds could be saved only if that man could become one of them. We sinful humans could be saved only if God could become one of us.
8 Father Christmas leaves gifts under the Christmas tree and disappears. We should not treat God as a Father Christmas who doles our gifts from afar. The gift he gives us is his beloved Son, Christ who comes to dwell with us, and even within us through the Holy Spirit. Use this sacred time of Advent not to party but to ponder, pray, and prepare yourself to receive with clean hands and pure heart the gift of Jesus, the God-Man, the Saviour. If you do, at Christmas you will be able to rejoice beyond measure.

FAITHFUL IN SMALL MATTERS
Mt 25:14-30 33 A Ord Time

1 The Old Testament contains five ‘’Wisdom’’ books: Job, Proverbs, Qoheleth, Ber Sira and Wisdom. They teach wisdom i.e. the art of living happily. Modern man is unhappy because for all his skills, he is unskilled in the art of living, in wisdom. He is saturated with facts, figures and information but lacks insight and wisdom. He has forgotten that ‘’the fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom’’ (Prov 9:10). The wisdom books point ultimately to Christ, the wise man par excellence. St. Paul says, ‘’God has made Christ to be our wisdom’’ (1 Cor 1:30).

2 Today’s first reading (Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31) is an extract from Proverbs 31:10-31 which is an acrostic poem. In an acrostic poem each line begins with the next letter of the 22 letter Hebrew alphabet - so as to convey a sense of completeness. Proverbs 31:10-31 itself is a complete description, an A to Z, of the ideal wife. It is called the ‘Song of the good wife’. The word ‘good’ can be better translated as ‘valiant’, ‘heroic’, or ‘mighty’. This Song extols the valiant wife’s virtues and activities. These are not visible in public but are vital for her husband, her children, her servants, her neighbours, the poor, and the welfare of the entire community.


3 Proverbs 31 describes her as being strong, hard-working, wise, God-fearing, and devoted to her husband and her children. “She does not eat the bread of idleness” (v27). “She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household” (15). She works late: “Her lamp does not go out by night” (18). She makes woollen and linen clothing “with willing hands” (13) - a tedious, arduous task at that time. She is competent in business: “she considers a field and buys it...she perceives her merchandise is profitable” (18). “She opens her hand to the poor” (20). “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (26). She is considered a blessing to all.


4 Ancient literature exalted the great feats of a king, warrior, sage, prophet, priest or farmer. But the author of Proverbs chooses to sing the praises of someone else: the valiant wife. In fact he closes and climaxes his book of Proverbs (which is about wisdom), with this Song of the valiant woman, the embodiment of wisdom.


5 We all have daily, mundane chores such as laundry, cooking, cleaning, sweeping, washing dishes, ironing (the bane of my life!), cutting the grass, caring for children etc. We should not treat them as dreary activities to be gotten out of the way mindlessly. Instead we should perform them prayerfully for the glory of God. Then they become acts of love that transform us and, in turn, the larger world around us.


6 God made his love take flesh in Jesus. We can dream of love, write love poems and have feelings of love. But true love must be concretized in our daily actions. Like the valiant woman, we should act lovingly by doing diligently our daily duties - whether as wife, mother, husband, father, single person, citizen, employer or employee. However mundane and seemingly small, these acts sanctity us - more than visions and miracles.


7 The saints, even the great mystics, were people of practical love. St Teresa of Avila said, ‘’Know that even when you are in the kitchen, our Lord moves amidst the pots and pans.’’ St. Theresa of Calcutta said, “We can do no great things; but we can do small things with great love”. St. Josemaría Escrivà, the “saint of the ordinary”, said, ‘’Either we learn to find our Lord in ordinary, everyday life or else we shall never find him’’. “Do everything for love’’ he said, ‘’Thus there will be no little things, everything will be big…Your work must become a personal prayer, must become a real conversation with Our Father in heaven.”


8 In our second reading (1 Thes 5:1-6) St. Paul exhorts us to be ready for the coming of the Lord, ‘’Let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober’’. This entails diligence, discipline and alertness as epitomized in the “valiant woman” who works faithfully, whose ‘’lamp does not go out by night” (18). Because of her foresight and daily preparations, ‘’she laughs at the time to come’’ (25). She is like the five wise virgins (of last week’s gospel: Mt 25:1-13) standing with lamps burning, ready to receive their beloved even at midnight. Indeed for those prepared, the last day is not one of dread but of joy.


9 In today’s gospel the Master returning symbolizes Jesus at his Second Coming. He condemns the third servant for his laziness. Let us be diligent and faithful in small matters, like that valiant woman of Proverbs 31. If so, we will hear the Lord saying to us what he said to the two faithful servants, ‘’Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.’

SUNDAY HOMILY 32 A Ord Time

1.Marriage is a central theme of the Bible. The Bible begins with the marriage of Adam and Eve (Gen), and ends with the wedding banquet of the Lamb (Rev 19), and the unveiling of the new Jerusalem as the beautiful Bride of Christ (Rev 21:9). God is our Bridegroom seeking an intimate communion of love with us. Heaven is the wedding between him and us. ‘’Let us rejoice…the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready…Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’’ (Rev 19:7.9; cf 22:17).

2 A Jewish marriage was preceded by a betrothal lasting a year. In this time the couple belonged to each other but did not come together. St. Paul says, ‘’I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband’’ (2 Cor 11:2). Each of us is ‘betrothed’ to Christ in Baptism. Now we must remain faithful to Him in anticipation of our heavenly marriage. Our betrothal to Christ is strengthened in Confirmation and renewed each time we receive the holy Eucharist when we become one with Him.
3 In the betrothal period a Jewish bride lived in purity, preparing herself for her role as wife. We too, must grow in purity and holiness in anticipation of our heavenly marriage to Christ. A Jewish groom, on his side, prepared the living accommodations for his future wife. Jesus, our bridegroom, is preparing for us, his beloved bride. He says, “when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself; that where I am, you may be also” (Jn 14:3).
4 After the betrothal period the groom fetched his bride from her parents’ home. He led her in a joyous procession to their new home for a week-long marriage celebration. The bride had to be continually alert and ready for the arrival of her groom at any time. When he was nearby, his friends would give a shout and blow a horn to alert her. Today’s gospel says, ‘’At midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’” After our betrothal to Christ in Baptism, we must stand ready, alert and longing for his coming to fetch us for the heavenly marriage feast. Jesus said, “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Mt 25:13) The hour is that of our death, or that of the second coming, whichever comes first, neither of which we know.

5 In the parable the brides are described as being ‘maidens’ or ‘virgins’. As ‘virgins’ they symbolize us Christians who must abstain while waiting for our groom to arrive. We must abstain from all over-indulgence – whether in sexual immorality or in food, drink, pleasure, possessions or power. We must remain pure and undefiled until our beloved groom, Jesus, comes to lead us to that wedding banquet.

6 The wise virgins were ready with their lamps. The lamps represent our relationship with the Lord. This begins in Baptism when Christ takes possession of us, when we are born again, beginning a new life ‘in Christ’. The oil symbolizes the nurturing and deepening of this relationship. This cannot be left for our last day (as the foolish virgins found out) but occurs over time. How? Through intimate, heartfelt prayer, through reading the Bible, receiving the Eucharist, asking for forgiveness in Confession, and through works of mercy. This personal relationship will culminate and be consummated in the great heavenly marriage of Jesus, the Lamb of God, to each of us.

7 The foolish virgins were unprepared. While away frantically seeking oil for their lamps, the bridegroom arrived: “Those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut” (today’s gospel). On their return the foolish virgins begged the Lord to open the door. But he replied, “Truly I say to you, I do not know you.” These foolish virgins symbolize those Christians who negligently fail to develop any relationship with Christ, letting the light of Christ received in Baptism simply flicker out. Therefore at the end Christ has to say to them in truth, ‘I do not know you’ – I do not recognize you as sheep of my flock.

8 The wise virgins do not lend the foolish ones their oil. Why? Because someone else’s oil or relationship with God cannot be borrowed. On the last day it is no use saying, ‘but my parents were devout Catholics...Fr. John was my uncle’. An Italian lady claimed very proudly to be a descendant of Padre Pio. But she does not go to church! I cannot borrow someone else’s relationship with the Lord but must have it myself.

9 In the parable the groom does not arrive at a convenient time during the day but at midnight. This tells us that we must persevere faithfully until the end, until midnight, when our groom, Jesus, arrives. It is no use saying, ‘I used to be an altar-server when I was young, I received Confirmation, I was a choir member back in the day...’. Jesus says today, ‘’He who perseveres to the end will be saved’’ (Mt 24:13). May we persevere right to the end in a loving relationship with our groom, Jesus. May we enter his eternal embrace in that heavenly wedding banquet. And so may we come to enjoy the fulfilment of our heart’s .

MISSION SUNDAY 18 Oct 2020

Some Christians claim, “I’m saved. I’ve booked my place in heaven.’’ Well if they do enter heaven, they will first have to lose their self-righteous pride. The aim of a Christian is not to get himself into heaven, disregarding the fate of others. Instead it is to invite as many people as possible to accept God’s invitation to the marriage feast that is heaven. The joy of heaven consists not in me feasting alone by myself but in being in loving communion with the divine Persons of the Holy Trinity and with all the blessed. Why do we fail to evangelize, to spread the Good News? Because we have fallen for six false myths.

Myth 1: ‘We are not supposed to evangelize’ Our secular culture wants us to privatize our faith, to speak of it only inside church, not to pray in schools or in parliament. There is pressure to stop football players making the sign of the Cross on the field, to remove the crucifix from public buildings, to remove from American currency the phrase, “in God we trust”. Nevertheless, we must evangelize - in obedience to Christ who said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mk 16:15)


Myth 2: ‘Everyone is going to heaven anyway’ If we are all just to roller-skate into heaven, why bother to evangelize? In contrast Jesus said, “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’’ (Mt 7: 13). Jesus also said, “He who believes...will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:16). On earth we all rub shoulders together. But in the end is the great separation - separation between the sheep and the goats (Mt 25:31-46), between the wheat and the weeds (Mt 13:24-30), between those standing ready with lit camps and those not (Mt 25:1-13), between the good fish and the bad (Mt 13:47-50), the separation between two people in the field, or grinding at the mill (Mt 24:40-41), or together in bed (Lk 17:34). The catechism says, “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit.’’ (CCC 1864)


Myth 3: ‘We must just live our faith, and not speak about it’ The truth is that we need both to live our faith and also to speak about it. At Pentecost the fire of the Holy Spirit rested on each apostle in the shape of tongues. Tongues are for talking. The Holy Spirit loosened the tongues of the apostles to proclaim the faith boldly. He wants to do the same for us today.


Myth 4: ‘We must never upset people if we evangelize’ Not true! Jesus, our model evangelizer, was not a people pleaser but cut people’s hearts. He did not say, ‘Hi guys! Just came down to earth to say God loves you just as you are’. Instead his very first words were ‘Repent and believe the Good News’. Have you heard the phrase, ‘Mad, sad and glad’? Initially a person may be ‘mad’ or upset by the gospel challenge. But in time he becomes ‘sad’ as he acknowledges his flawed spiritual state. Finally, he becomes ‘glad’ as he accepts a new life in Christ.
Myth 5: ‘Evangelization is the work of missionaries and nuns’ Not true! Priests equip the people by providing the sacraments, solid teaching and inspiring preaching (hopefully!). But you, the people of God, comprising over 99% of all Catholics, are God’s foot-soldiers on the ground. It is your privilege and duty to bring Christ into your homes, families, neighbourhoods, workplaces, shops, sports grounds and the wider society.


Myth 6: ‘Evangelization is not urgent’ False! The clock is ticking. The waters of death are rising fast. We will drown in our sins unless we quickly reach for the outstretched hand of our life-saver, Jesus. An ambulance with its siren rushes to save a dying person. Food aid is rushed to the starving. Why do we not rush to help our loved ones who are dying spiritually, whose eternal fate is at stake? A fake or exaggerated eulogy at their funeral is not enough.
Let us reject these six myths. “We are not supposed to evangelize”. Wrong! “Everyone is going to heaven anyway”. Wrong! “We must just live our faith and not speak about it”. Wrong! “We must never upset people when evangelizing”. Wrong! “It is the work of priests and nuns”. Wrong! “It is not urgent”. Wrong!
Most importantly, we cannot evangelize unless we ourselves are first evangelised. It is not enough to have ticked the box of Baptism, Communion and Confirmation. It is not enough to be on the parish roll, to be contributing financially, or even to be actively involved. We need more: to surrender our lives and hearts, our every thought, word and deed to Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. To quote Pope St. John-Paul we need ‘’to accept, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and to become his disciple’’ (Redemptoris Missio 46). Only if we have Christ, can we give him to others. Through prayer and the sacraments, may our communion with Him grow ever stronger so that our witness can be ever stronger. May the Holy Spirit enflame our hearts and loosen our tongues to spread the Good News. And may this happen not tomorrow but today.

THE WICKED TENANTS Mt
21: 33-43 Ord Time 27 A

1 The landowner is God; the vineyard is Israel; the tenants are Israel’s leaders; the servants are the persecuted prophets; the son is Jesus, thrown out of the vineyard, crucified outside the city. Mgr Charles Pope has summarized this parable under four S’s:- Sowing, Seeking, Sinning and Sentence. The Sowing by God, the Landowner; his Seeking for good fruit; the Sinning by the tenants who reject and murder those sent; and the Sentence they face.

2 Firstly, the SOWING. The landowner, symbolizing God, sowed or planted a vineyard, symbolizing Israel. He provided it with all the necessary equipment: winepress, tower for shelter and burglar control, and a hedge to keep out wild animals and thieves. These symbolize God’s generous grace and mercy that enable us to produce abundant fruit. Secondly, the SEEKING. Having planted and prepared the vineyard so well, God expects to see abundant fruit – fruits of love of neighbour and the poor, of chastity, justice, forgiveness and of witness to our faith. To collect the fruit God sends his prophets. Today these prophets are parents, Church leaders and catechists who speak in the name of God.

3 Thirdly, the SINNING. The tenants reject these servants or prophets. So the landowner sends his very own son, saying, “Surely they will respect my son”. But shockingly, the son is dragged outside the vineyard and killed, symbolic of Jesus’ death outside the walls of Jerusalem. Fourthly and finally, the SENTENCE. The kingdom of God will be taken away and given to another people that will produce its fruit. Jesus has given us everything, even his very life - but he also demands everything. He demands to see abundant fruit on the day of harvest, the Day of Judgement. Yes, he loves us, but to reject his love has tragic consequences.


4 Having lavished care on his beloved vineyard, the owner (God) laments, ‘’What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?’’ Israel yielded only the wild grapes of idolatry, adultery, vanity and injustice. For this Isaiah announced God’s judgment on her. This duly came about at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians. Centuries later Jesus in his parable again announced judgment upon unfaithful Israel. This duly came about at the hands of the Romans who in 70 AD destroyed the their magnificent Temple – never to be rebuilt again.


5 Again in our time many in the ‘first world’ (e.g. in Western Europe, North America, Canada, Australia) face God’s judgement. Why? For rejecting God and his Church. The Church has made a phenomenal contribution to civilization. She promoted the ‘rights’ of the individual against that of the tribe or state; the equality of all people; the sacredness of each human life; the freedom to choose one’s marriage partner – all of which were novel concepts. The Church’s canon law is the basis of our legal system. The Church created the university system in the 11th century and her schools have educated many, especially the poor. She has produced many great scientists. She founded the hospital system. From her heart has emerged great literature, profound music, beautiful art and awe-inspiring architecture.


6 More than any other institution, she has cared for the poor. Having a highly - developed philosophy and theology, it is only she who can and does challenge abortion, euthanasia and the sexual revolution. Of course the Church has sinful members, including you and me. But no other institution can match the calibre of her saints – Ss. Paul, Augustine, Patrick, Francis of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, Joan of Arc, Peter Claver (who lived and died for the slaves), St. Theresa (the great mystic), Pope St John-Paul the Great, Mother Teresa - to name just a few amongst thousands.


7 Many in the first world have rejected the Church and their centuries-old Christian heritage. They have rejected God and his offer of salvation. Do they really think they can raise themselves from the grave at death? And gate-crash heaven? They reject the third commandment of God on honouring the Lord’s Day - by spending the day lying around, shopping or enjoying their pleasurable pastime. They reject God’s fifth commandment by killing, or supporting the killing, of unborn children. They reject the sixth and ninth commandment about sexual purity by their adultery, extra-marital sex, and gay sex. They live for fun, fame and fortune.

8 Like the tenants in the vineyard in today’s parable, they act as if they and not God, created and owned the vineyard, symbolizing the world and their own lives. Like those tenants who expelled the son from the vineyard, they have ousted God from his throne, making themselves ‘god’. Consequently, the vineyard is, to quote today’s psalm Ps 80, ‘’ravaged by the boar of the forest, devoured by the beasts of the field’’, symbolizing the state of humankind and the earth without God.


9 Judgement is upon them. Jesus warns them and us, ‘’The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it’’. As fast as the first world is rejecting God, even faster are the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America and elsewhere joyfully turning to Him, so that the number of Catholics and Christians is in fact increasing globally.


10 Fruitless, useless trees are cut down. How can we produce the fruit Jesus expects, sinners as we are? By remaining in Christ who said, “I am the vine, you are the branches...he who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit’’ (Jn 15:1. 5). In Baptism we are grafted as branches on to Christ, the vine, receiving his very divine life. Our communion with Christ is nourished through the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and through prayerfully pondering the Word of God. Psalm 1 says that the person who meditates on the law of the Lord ‘’is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season’’. In all these ways, dear people, let us remain as branches connected to the Vine, Jesus. If so, the harvest day of judgement will be one of great joy, as we run out to be embraced by our beloved Lord, bearing for him the abundant fruit of eternal life.

FROM THE DEPTHS TO THE HEIGHTS
Ph 2:1-11 (26 A Ord Time)

1 Today’s second reading describes the descent and ascent of the Son of God. He descends in two stages. In the Incarnation He descends to earth, becoming truly man. Then in His Passion He descends to the depths by His "death on a cross", considered the most disgraceful of all deaths. His descent is followed by His ascent - from the very depths to the very heights. The Father raises Him out of death, and "exalts" him, enthroning him at his right hand. He confers upon his Son a "name which is above every name", the name of ‘’kyrios’’ meaning ‘’Lord’’ or ‘’God’’. At his feet in adoration lies all of redeemed humanity and creation. In the words of St. Peter at Pentecost, "God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2: 36).

2 Christ, being God, possesses the divine power, greatness and glory. But He does not use this to subjugate us, nor to look down upon us disdainfully from a distance. On the contrary He empties himself to become truly one of us, "God-with-us". What He empties Himself of is not his Godliness but his divine status and glory. He takes on what is not his i.e. humanity, without losing what is his i.e. divinity. His divinity He conceals beneath his humanity. In the Transfiguration we marvel at the divinity shining through Him. But we should marvel even more at his humility, humility that hid his glorious divinity throughout his earthly life.

3 Jesus is the new Adam. Although He is God, He does not cling to his equality with God but voluntarily empties himself of what is his by right. The old Adam is of course not God. Yet he in his pride he reaches up to grasp at the forbidden fruit, attempting to attain for himself the status of God. In contrast the new Adam in his humility empties himself of his divine prerogatives for the sake of others. Our fundamental choice is between the old Adam and Jesus, the new Adam. How do you behave at home, in the parish, in society – with pride or humility, with self-interest or self-emptying, like the old Adam or Jesus, the new Adam? The way of the old Adam leads to destruction whereas the way of the new Adam, Jesus, leads to glory. Make your choice. ‘Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted’’ (Mt 23:12) says Jesus.

4 Verses 6—11 of today’s second reading (from Philippians 2) are a magnificent summary of God’s plan of salvation in Christ. These six lines are among the most studied of the entire New Testament. It is considered to be a hymn or liturgical song of the first Christians, a song which St. Paul is quoting. One scholar analysed it under the title, ‘’This my song. But is it my story?’’ Indeed in church we can sing our alleluias and amens; we can sing of Christ’s love for us. But is this song our own story? Do we ourselves practise Christ’s self-giving love?


5 How do we come to have Christ’s humility - in our thoughts, words and deeds? We self-centred sinners cannot attain such humility by pondering the words and deeds of a deceased Christ. Instead we must receive the powerful Spirit of the Resurrected One who now reigns for evermore. To be like Him we live we must live in Him. We must be able to say with St. Paul, ‘’It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me’’ (Gal 2:20). How do we come to live ‘’in Christ’’ so that we can share his humility, moving from the ‘natural’ level to the supernatural?

6 It begins in Baptism when a person is born again, becoming a new creation, another Christ. ‘’If anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation’’ says St. Paul (2 Cor 5:17). This life of Christ received in Baptism is continually nourished in the Eucharist. At the Last Supper Jesus said: ‘’This is my body broken for you…this is my blood poured out for you.’’ Then he added: ‘’Do this in memory of me.’’ Do what? Firstly, celebrate Holy Mass. Secondly, pour out your lives for others, as I have done, says Jesus. We are what we eat. Receiving Christ in the eucharist, we are transformed into Him, thereby empowered to live his life of humility and self-abasement.


7 ‘What do you have that was not given to you by God …why do you boast?’ (1 Cor 4:7) asks St. Paul. All that we are and all that we have are God’s gifts. Therefore we should use what money, possessions, power, status, and gifts we have been given not for personal advantage but for others, especially the poor. We must let go of our lives - in preparation for that final letting go in death.

8 Jesus is the beloved Son of the Father. We are called to be ‘sons in the Son’ i.e. sons (and daughters) of the heavenly Father by living in the Son, Christ. This happens through our Baptism, the Eucharist and daily prayer. In these ways we share in Christ, the Son’s intimate, child-like relationship with his loving Father, ‘’Abba’’. Jesus said, ‘’Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’’ (Mt 18:4). May we humble ourselves with Christ, and so be exalted with Him.

THE WORKERS IN THE VINEYARD 25 A (Ord Time) Mt 201-16

1 A landowner hired labourers at different hours of the day to work in his vineyard. In the evening he told the steward to ‘’call the labourers and pay them their wages’’. The workers (us) must remain working in the Lord’s vineyard (this world) until the evening (the end of our lives) when we will get paid our denarius (eternal life).

2 Each disciple has an assigned task to be fulfilled: “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ” says St. Paul (Col 3:23-24). Paul longed to be with Christ in glory. Yet he knew he must continue his ‘fruitful labor’ (today’s 2nd reading) - which for him meant tent-making, studying God's Word, encouraging people, prayer and suffering for Christ. Like Paul, we must labour fruitfully in the Lord’s vineyard until the sunset of our lives. ‘’He who perseveres to the end will be saved’’ (Mt 24:13) said Jesus.


3 Those who began work at the first hour received the agreed wage. Yet they complained. Why? Out of envy, envy that those who entered the vineyard late received more than they deserved. The owner of the vineyard says: ‘’Do you begrudge my generosity? We may complain to God, ‘’It’s not fair’’. We must be careful. If God were to act fairly, in strict justice without generosity, then none of us would enter heaven. The first Eucharistic Prayer says, ‘’God, do not consider what we truly deserve but grant us your forgiveness’’.

4 Jesus is extravagantly generous. He makes far too much wine at the Cana wedding (700 litres); he makes far too much bread and fish for the multitude (twelve basketfuls being left over); on the cross he pours out for us his blood unto the very last drop. Jesus reflected the generosity of his Father. Let us too, as the Father’s faithful children, make Him proud by reflecting his overflowing mercy to others. We are made in the image of God who is overflowing generosity. Let us not try to make God in our own image of mean-spiritedness such as forgiving only seven times instead of seventy times seven.


5 In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the elder son complained at the generosity of his Father (symbolizing God) towards the prodigal son. Why? Because he had failed to acknowledge the goodness of his father with whom he had lived all those years. Again in last week’s parable, the servant refused to forgive his fellow-servant a miniscule debt. Why? Because he had failed to acknowledge the great forgiveness he himself had received from his kind master (symbolizing God). And in today’s parable, the first workers complained. Why? Because they too had failed to acknowledge the Master’s great generosity towards themselves. You and I must acknowledge and receive into ourselves God’s infinite mercy and generosity. Only then, out of gratitude, will we be able to pass that generosity on to others.


6 Those who entered the vineyard at the beginning saw their work as a “burden”. The less work, the better. Therefore they were envious of the latecomers. But these, before being hired, had probably been worrying about how to get money for food. We should not envy those outside the Lord’s vineyard, living without God. A loose, worldly life apart from God inevitably brings slavery to addictions, family tensions, squandering of money, STDs in the case of immoral living, a disturbed conscience, and fear of death. Celebrities living a life of fame, fun and fortune in the world should not be envied but pitied. Their seemingly glamorous ‘high life’ is in fact shallow and empty. Jesus came that we may have ‘life to the full’ (Jn 10:10). Only in serving God are we happy because we are wired for God in whom is the fulfilment of all desire.

7 The complaining workers saw the landowner (God) as a slave-master for whom they worked begrudgingly. But our Christian life in the Lord’s vineyard is not a burden but a joy. We rejoice to attend Mass every Sunday, to go to Confession, to live a good moral life. We rejoice to pray, to forgive others, to give to the poor. We rejoice to be faithful in marriage and to sacrifice ourselves for others

.
8 Peter said to Jesus, ‘’Behold we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?’’ (Mt 19: 27) Jesus tells today’s parable as a response to Peter, warning against the attitude of “What’s in it for me?”, the attitude of those grumbling workers concerned about who gets how much. Heaven is not enjoying some gift of God but it is enjoying God himself. It is not a land of milk and honey but an intimate relationship with God: being ‘’wholly possessed by the divine beloved [Son], vibrating at the Spirit’s touch, resting filially within the Father’s heart’’ (Pope St. John-Paul).


9 Imagine a lady’s 80th birthday party. Who enjoys the party the most? Those who have shared closely in her joys and sorrows over the years. The closer we live with God on earth, the closer we can be to Him in that heavenly wedding banquet, and rejoice all the more.

FORGIVE YOUR BROTHER FROM YOUR HEART Mt 18:21-35 (Ord Time 24 A)

1 What is the Good News? It is our salvation in Christ. This Good News presupposes the bad news: that we are sinners who need salvation. To receive the Good News of salvation, we must first humbly acknowledge the bad news, saying with the tax-collector, ‘’Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’’. (Lk 18:13)
 
2 We must not arrogantly deny our sin and need of a Saviour, telling ourselves, “I’m good. I keep the commandments. Heaven is mine’’. All my spiritual push-ups, novenas, chaplets, rosaries, pilgrimages, Mass attendances and good works do not earn me the right to heaven. They add up to me giving God say R1000. Big deal - I owe God trillions of rands! What for? For the death of the very Son of God. For my sins of thought, word and deed. For what I have failed to do. For my self-centredness. For trivializing sin, not seeing it, as did all the saints, for what it really is: separating myself from the infinitely Holy God, breaking my marriage vow with Him.
 
3 In today’s parable the Master represents God; the first servant, ungrateful human beings; the second servant, our neighbour; and the debt owed represents human sin. The Master forgave the servant an incalculable debt of 10 000 talents i.e. 20 years of wages! Having received this inestimable forgiveness, shockingly, the servant then fails to forgive his fellow-servant the comparatively miniscule debt of 100 denarii i.e. three months’ wages. For this he was severely punished. Jesus ends his parable by saying, "And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart’’. (Mt 18:35) Jesus died for the forgiveness of the sins of the world. How can we in turn deny forgiveness to others?
 
4 Jesus taught us to pray, ‘’Our Father…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’’. (Mt 6:12) He emphasizes the importance of this particular petition of the Our Father by saying at the end: ‘’For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses’’. (Mt 6:14) Both the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea contain the same water of the Jordan river. Yet the Sea of Galilee is full of fish whereas the Dead Sea is lifeless. Why? Because the Dead Sea has no outlet to pass on the water it receives. We die spiritually unless we pass on to others the forgiveness we have freely received from God. By forgiving we free not only our offender but we also free ourselves of the burden of unforgiveness.
5 In Mass we offer each other a sign of peace before receiving Holy Communion. Why? Because to be in communion with God in the Eucharist we must first be in communion with our neighbour. Some years ago a man who had maligned me publicly came forward to receive Holy Communion. I remember praying in my heart, “Lord, please help me to see him through your eyes.”
 
6 In today’s gospel Peter asks: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Peter thinks he is being generous. But Jesus shocks him by saying, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven” [the most accurate translation]. Jesus does not mean we must count 490 times (70 x 7) and then stop forgiving. He means we must forgive always. Although we speak today of ‘’zero tolerance’’, this cannot mean zero forgiveness. The Catechism says, ‘’There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest’’ (CCC 982) – and that includes repentant rapists, robbers and racists. We remember how Pope St. John - Paul forgave his would-be assassin when visiting him in prison.
7 The one who has hurt us we must forgive - unconditionally, without limit, and from the heart. You might say, ‘’Whoa! This is too much. I cannot do it!’’ Well it is true that you cannot do it. It is Christ doing it in you – if you allow Him. As a Christian you live “through Him, with Him, and in Him.”
 
8 St. Augustine says, “We have become not only Christians, but Christ himself. For if He is the head, we are the members”. We became ‘other Christs’ by being “born again’ in Baptism. Leaving the old man of sin, hatred and revenge buried in the tomb, we rise in Christ to ‘walk in newness of life’ (Rom 6:4). In Confirmation we receive his very Spirit – His breath is ours! And in the Eucharist His Blood mingles with ours. ‘’He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him’, said Jesus (Jn 6:56). It is only by being ‘’in Christ’’ that we can find ourselves ‘’forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you " (Eph 4:32)
 
9 A devotee of Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Mohammed or Shembe reads his Master’s teachings and follows his example - from the outside. In contrast a Christian does not ‘follow’ Christ but lives in Him, in intimate communion with Him, saying with St. Paul, ‘’It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me’’ (Gal 2:20). He has had a ‘heart transplant’. With the heart of the crucified One he can now say, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’’. (Lk 23:34)

SUNDAY HOMILY 23 A Ordinary Time (Mt 18:15-20)

1 Pope Francis told some young people, “Even the pope sometimes has to take risks...to tell the truth...in this hedonistic world...where only advertising, pleasure… the good life…[prevai] I tell you: be chaste! Be chaste!’’ A priest as well must ‘tell the truth’ (Pope Francis), warning people against the sins of the day such as cohabitation, pornography, abortion, euthanasia, divorce with re-marriage, homosexual practice, ‘gender fluidity’, drug addiction etc.
2 In fact ‘telling the truth’ or fraternal correction is the duty not only of the Pope and priests, but of ALL Catholics. Why? Because at our baptism we were all anointed ‘priest, prophet and king’. And who is a ‘prophet’? The one who in the name of God proclaims the truth - whether it be to one’s children, friends, work colleagues, or the wider society. As prophets we are not judging another person’s soul. This only God can do. Instead we are judging his action, reminding him of the coming Judgement of God that no-one can escape.
3 Imagine your friend has moved in with some beautiful woman, abandoning his wife and children. What do you say to him? ‘’I do not judge you’’? That would be a cop-out. Instead you say, ‘’My brother, your actions are wrong. I beg you to come to your senses.’’ This is an act of love, of concern his family, of concern for his soul, that he be freed from the clutches of the Evil One. In fact the Catholic catechism says ‘admonishing the sinner’ is one of the spiritual works of ‘mercy’. So in judging we need this mercy or love. Secondly, we need humility. Aware of our own sins, we are devoid of any self-righteousness or grandstanding. Thirdly, we need prayer, prayer to the Holy Spirit that He speak through us.
4 We proclaim the truth with good intentions. Nevertheless, we must expect opposition from a world whose maxim is, ‘do whatever you feel like’. Recently in New York a lady found the tyres of her car slashed. Why? Because of her bumper sticker which the perpetrators had torn off which read, “1 Man 1 Women 4 Life”. Here in Durban last year at a pro-life prayer rally we held up posters saying ‘love them both’ - referring to the mother and her unborn child. Several motorists slowed down to hurl obscenities at us. Opposition is the occupational hazard of all true prophets of God.
 
5 Some people try to shame us into silence by quoting Jesus’ words “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Mt 7:1). Well firstly, by judging us, they themselves are guilty of the very judging they condemn. Secondly, they have ignored a fundamental principle of Biblical interpretation: to read the Bible as a harmonious unity. We may not blow up isolated passages of the Bible (such as ‘judge not’) so as to contradict the rest of the Bible.
6 Now the Bible as a whole consistently says this: correct the sinner. Here are just a few examples. ‘Rebuke your neighbour frankly so you will not share in their guilt.’’ (Lev 19:17) ‘’He who winks at a fault causes trouble; but he who boldly reproves promotes peace’’. (Prov 10:10) ‘’If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Lk 17:3). “If a man is overtaken in any sin, you who are spiritual should recall him in a spirit of gentleness.’’ (Gal 6:1) ‘’Teach and admonish one another in all wisdom. (Col 3:16) ‘’We exhort you, brethren, admonish the unruly’’. (1 Thess 5:14) “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them” (1 Tim 5:20). “Whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins’’ (Jam 5:19).
7 There are numerous other Bible passages calling for the correction of sinners. In today’s first reading God tells the prophet Ezekiel (and us) to ‘’warn the wicked to turn from his way’’. Otherwise, God warns, not only will the wicked man die, ‘’but his blood I will require at your hand”. (Ez 33:8) And in today’s gospel Jesus explains how to correct a brother who has sinned.
 
8 The prince of this world is Satan (cf. Jn 14:30). Jesus came to defeat him through his suffering, death and resurrection. Therefore what were the very first public words of Jesus? “Hi guys! Everything is cool. I love you just as you are’. No! They were, ‘’Repent and believe in the Gospel’’ (Mk 1:15) i.e. “Make a U-turn. Stop sinning. Receive my forgiveness. Abandon your worldly way of thinking and acting. Live a new life in me.” Jesus came not to ‘hang out’ with us but to hang for us on the cross, so as to save us from sin and spiritual death. We should never trivialize sin but have a horror of it. For us to be saved from sin took the death of the Son of God Himself.
9 On our side what is required? Firstly, we must accept the salvation Christ offers - by repenting, believing in Him, and living in Him a new life of holiness in preparation for the coming Judgement. And, secondly, as faithful prophets, we must challenge our brothers and sisters to do the same.

‘’ON THIS ROCK I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH’’
Mt 16:13-20 21 A Ord Time

At every Sunday Mass we recite the Creed. In it we express our belief not only in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but also our belief in “the holy Catholic Church”. Belief in the Church is an article of faith. In the Easter Vigil adult converts solemnly profess, ‘’I believe and profess to be revealed by God all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims.’’ We do not write our own Creed (surely we would fail!) but instead receive it as a treasure from the Church. “The Church's faith precedes, engenders, supports and nourishes our faith” (CCC 181). St. Cyprian said wisely: "No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother". So the slogan, ‘’I believe in Jesus, not in the Church’’, is silly. Christ and His Church are one and the same thing, inseparable. Jesus is the Head of the Body which is us, his Church (cf. Col 1:18; 1 Cor 12:27). To cut the head from the body is deadly.

Jesus saved us by his suffering, death and resurrection in 33 AD. That salvation he accomplished in 33 AD. Now to bring that salvation to all people over time he established his Church. This Church did not begin with Martin Luther in 1517 (Lutherans), or Henry VIII in 1534 (Anglicans), or John Wesley in 1744 (Methodists), or with the Pentecostal denominations originating in the 1900s. No! Jesus personally established his Church by appointing Peter to be its visible head: “You are Peter (rock) and on this rock I will build my Church." (Mt 16:18) To Peter he gave “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 16:19). These keys, symbol of authority, have been handed down to successive popes in an unbroken chain right up to our present Pope Francis. United with Peter, Jesus also commissioned the apostles (soon called ‘bishops’), by telling them, "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven." (Mt 16:19; 18:18). Before his ascension, He commissioned them to teach with authority: “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt. 28:19-20)


This teaching authority of the Church is so crucial in today’s world which promotes abortion, assisted suicide, divorce and re-marriage, IVF, same-sex marriage, ‘gender fluidity’, extra-marital sex etc. We are in danger of being “tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men’’ (Eph 4:14). We are in danger of becoming ‘cafeteria Catholics’, choosing only the parts of the Bible and Church teaching that suit us – like a person choosing for himself his favourite items from a supermarket shelf. From such danger we can be rescued by the true teaching of Christ’s Church. This we learn this by reading the Catechism (or a summary such as the Youcat), by reading the Word of God, the lives of the saints and Catholic books.
Can we also use the new social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, youtube, websites etc)? There is a old saying, ‘Abuse does not cancel use’. Yes, there is much ungodliness in the new media. However, its proper and wise use can help to both strengthen our faith and spread it. The first and greatest missionary, St. Paul, had to evangelize by foot, by wagon and by ship. Surely he is now telling us from heaven, “How privileged you are today to have the internet, enabling you to freely access Church teaching, and to reach vast numbers of people instantaneously! Use this tool wisely to evangelize and be evangelized!” [for a selection of solid, trustworthy Catholic websites see www.stmichaelscatholicparish.co.za.]


Another silly slogan is “my faith is about me and my Jesus”. But it is in the Church’s seven holy sacraments that we encounter Jesus personally. In Holy Mass we receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, the very Body and Blood of our Lord, becoming one with Him. In the Church’s sacrament of Confession we receive the very forgiveness of Christ himself who said to the apostles, "whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, whose sins you retain, they are retained." (Jn 20:23). In Baptism we are cleansed and divinized; and in Confirmation we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. So faith cannot just be ‘me and my Jesus’ but requires the Church and her sacraments. Being a Catholic also means being a member of a parish, of a diocese, and of the universal Church of 1.3 billion members of every tongue and culture, under the pope and bishops. The Church gives us communion with people across the globe, with the saints and martyrs of 2000 years, and with those in purgatory and heaven.
Still another silly slogan is: ‘sola scriptura’ or ‘I believe in the Bible alone, not in the Church’. The fact is that the New Testament was written by the Church, by Church members, after the departure of Jesus. And it was the Church, under the Holy Spirit, that definitively determined in 390 AD which of the various writings in circulation qualified to be included in the ‘canon’ or contents of the Sacred Scriptures. The Bible flourishes in the Church who both protects it and is guided by it. Of course you and I must read the Word of God, but this we do as members of the Church.


Earthly life is like a journey across the turbulent sea which is the abode of Satan and his evil monsters. Do not try to go it alone, to swim alone. Rather remain in the boat, the Church, enjoying her teaching and sacraments. And draw into the boat with you from the clutches of the Evil One, as many fish, as many people, as possible - starting with your own family and friends. It is the Church, the boat with the wind of the Holy Spirit in her sails, who guides us safely to the shores of heaven.

ASSUMPTION OF MARY

The body is sacred, not a toy

1 Mary was intimately united with her Son, Jesus. She conceived and gave birth to Him. With Joseph she took Him to safety in Egypt, returning to Nazareth to care for Him as he grew up. She sought him in sorrow when he got lost in the temple. She accompanied him all the way to the foot of the Cross. Here the sword that pierced His heart pierced her soul (cf. Lk 1: 35-36). United so intimately with Jesus, it was only right that at the end of her earthly life she be assumed into heaven to be united with Him forever. Having shared so intimately in His battle against sin and death, it was only right that she share in His glorious victory by being assumed into heaven.

2 True devotion to Mary does not detract from Jesus but draws us closer to Him.

Mary teaches us to be Christocentric, to be totally focused on Christ, advising us to ‘’Do whatever He tells you’ (Jn 2:5). When she appears on earth (at Fatima, Lourdes, Guadalupe etc) she speaks not about herself but about Him and his work of salvation. Yes, we love to praise Mary. But she never seeks this praise and deflects it all to her Son, saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Lk 1:46). Mary’s beautiful light is in fact the reflection of her Son’s light, just as the moonlight is the reflection of the sunlight.

3 In the early Church towns would compete with each other for the honour of having the tomb or relics of a martyr or saint. But this was not so in the case of Mary. No earthly tomb containing her body nor any relics of her were ever discovered or claimed. Why? Because she was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. Could Jesus allow the womb that bore him, the hands that caressed him, the arms that embraced him, the breasts nourished him, the heart that so loved him, to decay and crumble into dust? Never! Could He allow to corrupt in the grave the body of his sinless, pure Mother, whose flesh and blood he was? Never! He had the power to bring her to Himself, and He did so at the end of her earthly life. He honoured his mother.

4 The Assumption of Mary into heaven was proclaimed a dogma in 1950. Does this mean that this belief was invented in 1950? Of course not! Already from the early centuries we find widespread belief in Mary’s Assumption and feasts honouring it. Our Catholic belief is much more than official dogmas which are proclaimed only when necessary. So why did the Pope formally declare the Assumption to be a dogma in 1950?

5 To emphasize the sanctity and dignity of the human body. It was just after two devastating world wars that produced over a hundred million corpses. People had been killed like flies and human life had become cheap. The 1950s was also the dawn of the devastating sexual revolution. Sex was no longer reserved for a man and wife seeking to have children. Instead the body of another was viewed as a toy to be used for one’s self-gratification. This immorality was facilitated by the increasing acceptance of contraceptives, and of abortions, the killing in the womb of ‘unwanted’ babies.

6 Counteracting all this, the dogma of the Assumption proclaimed that Mary “was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” So the body is not a toy for pleasure but is sacred, destined for the glory of heaven! Some decades later Pope St. John-Paul stated, “In the face of the profanation and debasement to which modern society frequently subjects the female body, the mystery of the Assumption proclaims the supernatural destiny and dignity of every human body, called by the Lord to become an instrument of holiness and to share in his glory” (GA, July 9,1997). Most non-Christians think that the afterlife is only for our souls. They are wrong. The human body is not like a prison from which the soul finally escapes at death, not like the skin a snake sheds. No! We are embodied beings. We are our bodies. Jesus and then Mary entered heaven ‘body and soul’ and so will we.

7 The gospel word for “resurrection” is ‘anastasis’ - from ana (again) and stasis (stand). So ‘resurrection’ means to ‘stand again’. Yes, our bodies will decay in the grave. But in the resurrection they will stand again, be restored and reunited again with our spirits. Our bodies are sacred, destined for the glory of heaven.

What does this mean practically? Firstly, we must bury with great respect the bodies of our deceased. In the case of cremation, the cremated remains must not be scattered but should be respectfully buried in the ground, columbarium or in a garden of remembrance. Secondly, we must not harm the human body - through murder, abortion, euthanasia etc. Thirdly, we must not mutilate our bodies by attempting to change our God-given sex. As Genesis says, ‘’male and female He created them’’ (Gen 1:27). And finally, we respect the body by avoiding all over-indulgence - whether in sex, drugs, drink, food or manner of dress. St. Paul says, “Your body is not meant for immorality but for the Lord...your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you...glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6.13.19.20).

8 The Assumption of Mary fills us earthly pilgrims with great joy and hope. Let us now pray, “All-powerful and ever-living God, You raised the sinless Virgin Mary, mother of your Son, body and soul, to the glory of heaven. May we see heaven as our final goal and come to share her glory."


WALKING ON WATER 

Mt 14:22-33 19 A Ord Time

1 Christians are the most persecuted group in the world as witnessed in the Middle East, in western/central Africa and in a host of other countries. Also today in ‘Western’ countries practising Christians [not ‘nominal’ Christians who have sold out] face increasing mockery, victimization and job loss. Catholic schools, hospitals and orphanages have for centuries helped especially the poor. Now they face closure unless they embrace the novel sexual morality (abortion, assisted suicide, ‘same-sex marriage’, gender fluidity etc) which is opposed to twenty centuries of the Judeo-Christian Biblical ethic. Apart from this public turmoil we Christians have our personal turmoil: the temptation to sin, spiritual dryness, illness, family problems, crime, unemployment etc. How are we to respond to all this turmoil? Today’s readings tell us: with courage and hope in God.

2 The first reading describes how Elijah, having fled from the vengeful Queen Jezebel, arrives exhausted at the holy mountain of Horeb (Sinai). God commands him to wait for the passing of his presence. There comes a wind, earthquake and fire - but God is not in these dramatic phenomena. God finally comes in a “a still, small voice”, literally in ‘’the sound of sheer silence’’ (1 Kgs 19:12). In this silence God speaks to Elijah, renewing his faith. A question: in our hearts, in our homes, in Sunday Mass: is there an atmosphere of silence allowing us to hear God speaking? Many of us seek God in spectacular miracles, sensational healings, appearances and visions, as well as in ‘dynamic’, ‘vibrant’ Masses dominated by lights and sounds. Therefore we miss God who normally enters the heart in ordinary quiet, prayerful ways, without fanfare.

3 For the Jews the wild, uncontrollable sea was the domain of the Evil One and his demonic monsters. It was God alone ‘who trampled the waves of the sea’, literally ‘who trampled the back of the sea dragon’ (Job 9:8). By walking over the wild waters and calming the storm Jesus shows he is God. He also shows he is God by applying to himself the name of God as he calls out ‘ego eimi’ (‘it is I’ or ‘I am’). ‘Ego eimi’ is God’s very name as he revealed it to Moses at the burning bush (Ex 3:14).

4 Walking on the waves of the storm, Jesus calls Peter to Himself. Peter responds courageously, stepping out of the boat and beginning to walk on the water towards Jesus. As Jesus called Peter, He also calls us – whether to the married state; to religious life; to single life; to a career; to certain tasks or projects etc. As Peter stepped out the boat trusting in God, we too must courageously step out and ‘walk on water’, passing victoriously through the inevitable challenges and storms that God’s calling entails.

5 However, Peter began to sink “as soon as [he] took account of the winds’’. Our earthly life is like a journey across the sea to the shores of heaven. Clear, sunny days are interspersed with storms (crises in the world e.g. Covid 19, problems in our country, family and personal lives). Like Peter, we will sink if we take our eyes off Jesus. A young trainee sailor was told to climb the mast. Halfway up he made the mistake of looking down at the big waves. He became dizzy and in danger of falling. An old sailor called out to him: ‘’Look up at the sky, boy! Look up, not down!’’ The boy did this and completed his climb safely. We must remain focused on the Lord to pass safely through the storms of life.

6 God is not only waiting for us on the shore but he is also journeying together with us in Jesus, our Saviour. Beginning to sink, Peter cried out. ‘Immediately’ the Lord saved him. When on our journey we begin to fall, albeit through our own fault, we must cry out to the merciful Lord. Immediately he will stretch out to us his saving hand.

7 As Jesus lifts Peter safely into the boat, the ferocious storm abates. To cross the sea of life, rather than swimming alone, going it alone, we should enter the boat. The boat is the Church founded and led by Christ Himself who said, “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” [my church] (Mt 16:18). Indeed through the various storms of 2000 years, the Church has never capsized but guided her people safely across the sea.

8 Elijah and Peter emerged from their storms with renewed faith. May the storms of life that inevitably arise serve to strengthen our character and faith until we can say to Jesus, together with those disciples in the boat, ‘’Truly you are the Son of God.’’ Even as we feel the spray in our face, let us keep our eyes fixed on the Master of the wind and waves, who calls out, “Take heart. It is I. Have no fear.’’  The Lord will lead us safely across the choppy sea of life to the shores of heaven, where strife and suffering are no more but only everlasting peace and joy. 


OVERFLOWING GENEROSITY 18A Ord Time

1 Our spiritual life progresses in three stages: from the purgative stage (overcoming attachment to sin), to the illuminative stage (spiritual enlightenment), and finally to the unitive stage (union with God). In Dr. Seuss’ children’s story ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’, the heart of Grinch has not even begun that first purgative stage, being “two sizes two small”, shrunken in self-centredness. The Grinch spitefully steals the Christmas gifts of the townsfolk. However, on Christmas Day, instead of hearing them crying he is shocked to hear them celebrating. He had stolen their presents but not their Christmas joy. In a flash he realizes the true meaning of Christmas and his own wretchedness. On that day his shrivelled heart ‘grew three sizes’. His heart now overflowing in generosity, he returns all the presents and joyfully celebrates Christmas together with the people.

2 How is my heart? Is it a mingy, miserly, shrivelled, ‘one-for-one’, ‘tit-for-tat’ kind of heart? Or is it a magnanimous heart, overflowing with love of God and neighbour? God of course has a big heart which overflows with love beyond all telling. Within the Godhead is an eternal, overflowing, reciprocal love between the Father and the Son, the love between them being so strong so as to be the third Person, the Holy Spirit. Out of his generous, overflowing love God creates the world and human beings. We humans are DNA-ed for love - ‘created from love for love’. Created ‘in the image of God’ who is love, we in turn are meant to reflect that love.


3 St. Paul says, “The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). This superabundant love we cannot keep for ourselves but must let it overflow to others. How? By generously giving food, clothing etc. to the needy. You claim you are not rich enough to do this? Well then be rich in your compassion, your friendship, forgiveness and prayers for others.


4 Four men were adrift on the Atlantic Ocean. Fearing death from dehydration, they tried to squeeze moisture from the pieces of canvas on their small lifeboat. Eventually they were rescued. It turned out that they had been floating near the mouth of the mighty Amazon River which pushes its fresh water very far out into the ocean. All along they had been floating on drinkable water which they could have simply drawn out with a bucket! It was there, available all the time! Are we thirsty people aware of our readily available water, the living water who is Jesus, who satisfies our deepest longings? In today’s first reading Isaiah cries out, “Oh come to the water, all you who are thirsty; though you have no money, come!’’ That water is Jesus who will say, ‘’Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst’’ (Jn 4:15).


5 In today’s gospel Jesus reveals the overflowing love in his heart as He feeds superabundantly the huge crowd (“they all ate and were satisfied”), twelve baskets full of leftovers remaining. Jesus displays his generosity again at the wedding feast of Cana: he miraculously changes into wine all the water in the six huge brim-filled jars filled (Jn 2:1-11). The wine’s excessive quantity (over 600 litres) and quality (the finest) symbolize the super-abundant, deep love of Jesus for us.

6 This extravagant love of Jesus is finally evident on the Cross as he pours out his life for us unto the last drop of his blood. Anticipating this he says at the Last Supper, ‘This is my body, given up for you…this is my blood poured out for you…do this in memory of me’. How do we honour the command, ‘Do this in memory of me?’ Firstly, by celebrating Holy Mass. Of course many of us cannot do this right now because of the lockdown. But we can and must honour this command in a second way. How? By offering up our body and blood, our lives, for God and neighbour, each and every day.


7 Yes, Jesus gives all. But he also asks all. Can He who loved us so much, even unto death, be loved so little by us? Never! Therefore Mary of Bethany extravagantly anoints his feet with a pound of precious ointment costing about a year’s wages (Jn 12:3-5). And the poor widow extravagantly gives to God in the collection her last two coins, ‘’everything she had, her whole living’’ (Lk 21:4). May our hearts grow, like that of the Grinch, until they overflow with love, until we can keep the greatest commandment: to love God, as Jesus says, ‘’with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind, and your neighbour as your self” (Lk 10:27).

‘’HE JOYFULLY GOES AND SELLS ALL THAT HE HAS’’
(Mt 13:44) Ord Time 17 A

1 We enjoy a tasty meal, a good holiday, a party, a new car. But beyond such passing pleasures, our hearts seek a joy that is perfect, full and lasting. This joy is found only in God. The ancient, wise psalmist knew this:
“Find your delight in the Lord who will give you your heart's desire” (Ps 37:4).
True joy does not emanate from without, from earthly pleasures but from within, from the heart. Certain alpine lakes are fed not from an outside river but from within, from a spring of water welling up from their very foundations. Similarly, true joy comes from within, from God’s mysterious action in our heart.  
 
2 A few years ago atheists had a campaign of affixing to London’s public transport the slogan: ‘’There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’’ ‘’Enjoy your life?’’ But what joy can earthly pleasures bring to a life that ultimately is going nowhere, that is a mere countdown to the bitter end? For atheists life is a day destined to end in night, the dark night of the grave. For Christians it is the opposite: earthly life is a night that ends in day, in a day that knows no sunset. 
 
3 This eternal day Christ inaugurated by his resurrection from the dead. The Risen Lord, the Light of the world, has overcome the darkness of sin and death. This is celebrated in the great Easter Vigil when the Paschal Candle, symbolizing the Risen Lord, is carried triumphantly into the church, scattering its darkness. There follows the great song of joy, the Exultet: “Sing, choirs of angels! ... Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendour ... Let this place resound with joy!” Why do we rejoice in exultation? Because Jesus has risen from the dead, inaugurating the eternal day.
 
4 And this joy is not just later for heaven but even now breaks into, undergirds and ‘flavours’ our present earthly existence. The ‘day that knows no sunset’ illuminates our present ‘night’, bringing joy, hope and meaning to our illness, suffering and death. That is why even from prison St. Paul could write, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). And that is why even in this Covid crisis we Christians can rejoice - because we know the meaning of suffering, dying, death and eternal life.
 
5 Within the Godhead each of the three divine Persons is giving Himself completely to the Other in an eternal love. This pure self-giving love is why God is pure joy. Pope St. Paul VI wrote: “In God himself, all is joy because all is giving”. Joy is the fruit of self-giving love. The person seeking to maximize his own earthly pleasures remains unfulfilled. Joy cannot be pursued but it ensues as the side-effect of a life of self-giving love. 
6 We enter joy to the extent that we give to others the love of God we ourselves have received. The saints (such as St. Francis and Mother Teresa) had an infectious joy. Why? Because they knew they were beloved children of God whose love they passed on to others. A bride’s face is radiant with joy. Why? Because she knows she is loved by her groom whom she in turn loves. Genuine Christians have a radiant joy because they live in an intimate communion of love with Jesus, their divine Bridegroom, which love overflows into all their other relationships. And their joy will reach its perfect fulness in heaven, which is the eternal marriage banquet of each soul with God (cf. Rev 19:9). 
7. In today’s gospel each of the two men is overwhelmed with the joy of discovering valuable treasure. To get it they sell everything. To follow Jesus the disciples leave everything (Mt 4:20.22; 19:27). St. Paul too, so as to gain Christ, considers all else as ‘rubbish’ (cf. Phil 3:8). Zacchaeus, the tax collector, received Jesus ‘joyfully’, giving away to the poor half of his possessions (Lk 19:6.8). In contrast the rich young ruler would not let go of his many possessions so as to follow Christ. Therefore he “went away sorrowful” (Mt 19:22). Joy is the fruit of finding the pearl beyond price, Jesus the Risen Lord, and giving up everything for Him.
 
8 The angel announces the birth of Jesus by saying to the shepherds, ‘’Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people (Lk 2:10). The Blessed Virgin Mary rejoiced to welcome the Lord into her heart and womb. Through her powerful intercession, may we, too, welcome Him into our lives, saying joyfully with her: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Lk 1:46-47).


WHEAT AND WEEDS
Mt 13:24-30 - Ord Time 16 A

In today’s parable the servants in the field want to pull out the weeds (evil people) from the wheat (good people). But the master (Jesus) says: ‘’let both grow together until the harvest” (Judgement Day). In Biblical times weeds could not be distinguished from wheat until the seed heads appeared - by which time their roots were inseparably intertwined. Therefore both had to be left to grow until the harvest. Only then were they separated on sifting tables, the wheat being gathered into the barn (heaven) and the weeds being burnt in the fire (hell). This parable teaches us the following six lessons:-
1 There are sinners in the Church (weeds in the field). This is no excuse to leave the church (any more than we would leave a running or dancing club just because some members are not committed). The Church is a spiritual hospital that admits sick sinners. They on their part are expected to get better by taking the Church’s medicine which is the holy sacraments and the Word of God.
 
2 We humans are not able to differentiate between good and bad people (who are often indistinguishable like weeds and wheat). A person may appear to be bad but in fact be good, and vice versa. A lady complained to a priest, “The church is full of sinners. I’m leaving to join the Halleluyah Happiness Holiness Church’’. The priest answered somewhat cheekily, ‘’Know this, dear lady: the day you join the Holiness church it will cease to be holy’’. In truth the line between good and evil does not just divide groups of people but divides each human heart - which is a mixture of good and bad.
3 Our merciful God allows a person time to repent. Jesus did not dismiss sinners (e.g. ‘unclean’ tax collectors, Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman, the woman caught in adultery, Peter, Judas). He said, ‘’I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’’ (Mt 9:13). He associated with sinners so as to call them to conversion.
4 Evil people can and do become good people (and vice versa). Many saints started as great sinners. St. Paul was initially zealous in persecuting Christians. But by God’s grace he became zealous in spreading the Good News to the ends of the earth.
5 The devil exists and we must be on guard against his cunning and deceit. He secretly sows evil to ruin God’s harvest of souls. “While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds throughout the wheat, and then went off.”
 
6 There is a final Judgement Day (the harvest). The weeds, growing next to the wheat, may think they have a common destiny but in fact they are destined for destruction. On earth we rub shoulders, enjoying God’s sunshine together yet Jesus spoke repeatedly about a coming separation at Judgement: the separation between the wheat and the weeds; between those thrown into ‘the furnace of fire’ and those who ‘shine like the sun in the kingdom’ of God (today’s gospel); between the sheep and the goats (Mt 25: 31-46); between the good and bad fish (Mt13:47-50); between the wise and the foolish virgins (Mt 25:1-13); between evil-doers thrown into the lake of fire and those invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 20:14;19:9) etc. He spoke of the separation between two people in the field, or grinding at the mill, or together in bed: ‘’one is taken and one is left’’ (Mt 24:40-41; Lk 17:34).
God rejects nobody. Yet sadly, some people reject Him, living their lives without Him. At death their free choice is confirmed in their definitive self-exclusion from communion with God (which is hell). Others chose to live in communion with God, a communion which culminates at death in entry into that eternal communion of love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our loving God is knocking every day on the door of our heart. Let us open that door to Him so that, at the last, He may open to us the gates of heaven, saying “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you’ (Mt 25:34).



‘BE NOT AFRAID!’’ 12 A Ord Time

1 Jesus says today, “DO NOT BE AFRAID” - words permeating the whole Gospel. “Do not be afraid” says the angel Gabriel to Elizabeth and Zachary, and again to Mary and then to Joseph, “Do not be afraid”. The prophet John the Baptist was certainly not afraid, displaying great courage in word, in deed, and finally in his death as a martyr. Of course THE man of courage was Jesus who spoke the truth courageously, to whom it was said, “you do not regard the position of men” (Mt 22:16), and who courageously sacrificed his own life.
2 “Be not afraid!' were the words JOHN-PAUL chose for his inaugural homily as Pope, words he was to repeat continually. He himself showed heroic courage amidst enormous suffering. When just 8 years old his mother died, then when 13 his only sibling, and finally when 20 his father died, leaving him without a family. As a young man in Poland he courageously participated in the underground resistance against the Nazis, and then had to survive decades of surveillance under the Soviet Communists who also persecuted the Church. As Pope he courageously took on the might of Communism, being instrumental in its final downfall in Poland and Eastern Europe. Later he suffered from an assassination attempt, and then from an increasingly debilitating Parkinson’s Disease.
3 Suffering is inevitable - whether physical, psychological, or spiritual. The question is not whether we suffer but how we handle it. Will we reject it as meaningless? Or, like John-Paul, will we courageously JOIN IT TO THE SUFFERING OF CHRIST? His suffering on the Cross brought about the salvation of the world, as can ours mysteriously if we join it to his (cf. John-Paul 11 In Salvifici Doloris 19).
4 NICODEMUS believed in Jesus. However, being a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin he succumbed to political correctness, visiting Jesus only by night (Jn 3:1) so as not to be seen. Again when the Sanhedrin began vilifying Jesus, he concealed his personal convictions, merely raising a point of order (Jn 7:51). After the crucifixion, he brought expensive oils for anointing Jesus’ body. But again, this kind deed he did at night lest he be counted as a believer (Jn 19:39). It is one thing to keep the faith, as did Nicodemus. But do we live it and profess it publicly and courageously?


5 To each of us Jesus says, “Be not afraid." PARENTS, be not afraid to raise your children as strong Catholics. HUSBANDS AND WIVES, be not be afraid to sacrifice yourselves for each other and your family. PRIESTS, be not afraid to preach the "hard sayings" of Jesus without seeking popularity. YOUNG PEOPLE, be not afraid to be chaste in today’s world awash with fornication, cohabitation, adultery, sodomy, pornography, contraception, abortion and euthanasia. At your Confirmation you received from the Holy Spirit the special gift of courage. Have you unwrapped it?
6 A maths teacher asked his pupils to choose between two offers. The first was to receive $100 there and then. The alternate offer was for 1$ a day doubled each day, the total to be received by them after one month. All the pupils chose to take immediately the $100. Thereby they unwittingly forfeited the huge amount of over $500 million they would have received after 30 days. We can choose an easy earthly life by not witnessing to Christ. Alternatively, we can choose to COURAGEOUSLY CLING TO HIM, no matter the present cost, for an eternity with God. The choice we make on our brief earthly life has eternal consequences. Choose wisely, remembering the words of Jesus today, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me in the presence of men, I will deny in the presence of my Father who is in heaven”. (Mt 10:33-34). God alone is the source of our true joy, both on earth and in eternity.

CORPUS CHRISTI 2020

1 To understand the Eucharist, the ‘go-to’ chapter in the Bible is JOHN 6. In verse 51 Jesus says, ‘’The bread that I will give you is my flesh for the life of the world.’’ (Jn 6:51). Now Jews were not allowed to eat animal flesh with blood. So they complain, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat’’ (v 52). Significantly, Jesus does not soften his teaching but instead re-inforces it, saying, ‘’Amen, Amen, I say to you’’ (indicating his seriousness) “he who EATS my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life’’ (v 54). The verb Jesus uses for ‘eat’ (‘trogan’) means ‘gnaw’ or ‘munch’, indicating he is talking literally, not symbolically. And he hammers the point home by saying, “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink’’ (v 55).
2 A person’s last words and actions are highly significant, revealing the depths of his soul. On the night before he died what did Jesus do? He instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist. A great Roman emperor was remembered by a statue or by coins bearing his image. Jesus leaves us much more: his very self, his Real Presence in the Eucharist.
3 A baby becomes a child then a teenager then an adult then an elderly person. Growing older, his outward appearance changes but he is still the same person. In philosophical language his ‘accidents’ (appearance) changes but not his ‘substance’ (his core reality). Now the exact opposite is happening in the Eucharist. Here the ‘accidents’ (outward appearance) of the bread and wine remains the same but their ‘substance’ (essence) is changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.
4 To describe this change the Church uses the word ‘tran-substantiation’ meaning ‘change in substance’. At the consecration of Holy Mass the SUBSTANCE’ of the bread and wine CHANGES into the Body and Blood of Christ. However, their ‘APPEARANCE’ remains UNCHANGED – which is why no change can be detected using one’s senses (taste, touch, sight) or a microscope. The change is in the substance, not at the appearance level.
5 What effects this change? It is the all-powerful Word of God. Words can be transformative e.g. a judge’s declaration of an accused to be ‘guilty’. Kind words can boost us. Hurtful words can adversely affect us, even years afterwards. Now if mere human words can be so transformative, how much infinitely more can God’s Word be? God spoke the world into existence: ‘’Let there be…” (cf. Gen 1) and so it was in the very saying.
6 Now Jesus Himself is the Word of God (cf. Jn 1:1). At his word, ‘come out’, dead Lazarus walks out of his tomb. At his words ‘’pick up your mat and walk’’, the paralytic immediately does so. At the Last Supper Jesus proclaims his all-mighty word over the bread and wine, ‘’this is my body…this is the chalice of my blood’’. ‘’The WORD SEIZES THE BREAD AND WINE at the very root and core of their being and changes them into his Body and Blood’’ (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI). Indeed at every Mass throughout the centuries, it is Jesus who changes the bread and wine at their very core by saying (through the ordained priest), ‘This is my Body...this is the cup of my Blood’.
7 Jesus said, ‘’He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him’’ (Jn 6:56). Think of melted wax poured into melted wax. Through inter-penetration the two become one liquid mass. Similarly, in Holy Communion Jesus is wanting to pour Himself into me, penetrating my whole being so that the two of us become one. But, as for any intimate relationship, this requires my openness. So we should not just passively ‘receive’ Communion but rather ‘ENTER INTO COMMUNION’ with hearts pure and full of faith. Material food works its effects in our body automatically as we swallow it. However, our spiritual food, the Eucharist, requires not just open mouths but open hearts. Let us therefore receive the Lord with faith and love. And then, let us then not keep Him to ourselves, but go forth from Mass to share his love with others!

THE MOST HOLY TRINITY
05/06/2020

Many people say unthinkingly, “Oh well, we all believe in the same God therefore all religions are really the same”. The truth is that all religions are not the same. Why? Simply because they see God differently. Therefore their followers pray differently and live differently from each other. It is only we Christians who know God to be a loving Father whose beloved children we are. Therefore we pray as God’s beloved children, saying, ‘Our Father...’. Our Moslem friends see God as Master. Believers are his ‘slaves’ (their own terminology) who must bow down to Almighty God without daring to look at Him - as in the ‘salat’ prayer posture. Even for Jews there is this unbridgeable distance between God and man.
Neither Jews nor Muslims believe in God as a Trinity, nor do Hindus, Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, Mormons and even the ‘Jesus-only’ Pentecostals. In stark contrast, Christians believe God is one yet three, one Being yet three Persons: Father, Son and Spirit. (you could say God is one ‘what’ yet three ‘who’s’.) God is not a single, lonely old man with a beard but is a communion of Persons, united as one in their love for each another - the Three in One God. The Father is eternally giving himself to the Son in love, and the Son is eternally giving himself to the Father in love, their mutual love (or ‘sigh’ of love) being the Holy Spirit.
Only the Christian New Testament tells us that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8) - his very being is love. Now if God were an individual Person, whom would He be loving? Perhaps you answer that he is loving himself. But that would not be love at all but narcissism. This self-love or narcissism, by the way, has become the pandemic of social media. Or perhaps you answer that ‘God is love’ because he loves us humans and the universe. True. But long before he created us and the universe, whom is He loving in eternity? Well here is the answer: from all eternity the Father is loving the Son, and the Son is loving the Father, their mutual love being the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
This self-giving love within the Godhead, within the Trinity, is flowing eternally. It spills over into history, it comes out on earth, in God’s two sendings: the sending of the Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit. The love within the Trinity overflows or is made visible, firstly, through the Son’s self-giving love unto death on the cross (cf. Rom 5:8). Today’s gospel says, “God so loved the world that He gave his only-begotten Son”. (Jn 3:16) The eternal love within the Trinity overflows into human history, secondly, in the descent of the Holy Spirit: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” says St. Paul (Rom 5:5). Incredibly, the eternal love flowing between the Father, Son and Spirit, is now flowing in our hearts!
Virtually all religions honour, respect and fear God. But only Christianity offers believers something far more: an intimate, loving relationship with God. This is unbelievable - so much so that no other religions believe it. Through the Holy Spirit God shares with us his very own life of love, making us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4). By grace we are ‘divinized’, becoming like God! Now we can love perfectly as God does - with a genuine, sacrificial and unconditional love. Now we can wash each others’ feet. Now we can lay down our lives for others - just as Jesus did. And in so loving, we reflect on earth the love of God within the Trinity in heaven (cf. CCC 221).
Just think of the Holy Family of Nazareth. They are an earthly image of the Trinity. Let me explain. Joseph represented the eternal Father, the Blessed Virgin represented the Holy Spirit, and Christ the Son represented himself. They were three persons united in love as one family - heaven upon earth. Yes, even our own families (don’t say ‘never’!) can be heaven upon earth. This happens to the extent that we, surrendering ourselves to the Holy Spirit, offer ourselves in love to each other, as do the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Dear people, the world speaks of self-actualization and self-realization. What the world doesn’t say is that this can be achieved only through self-giving love, a total giving of ourselves to God and neighbour. And who is our first neighbour? The one with whom we live at home.

PALM SUNDAY
(OF THE LORD’S PASSION) 2020

Today begins Holy Week, the holiest of all weeks. In accordance with God’s eternal Plan of Salvation, Jesus now enters Jerusalem for his passion, death and resurrection. The crowd spread their clothes before him on the ground, hailing him with palm branches as he enters the Holy City. Today we spiritually join that procession into Jerusalem. It symbolises our earthly journey to the heavenly Jerusalem.  
This journey is an ascent because Jerusalem is high up in the mountains. We can choose an easy path and sink to the swamps of selfishness. Or we can faithfully follow Jesus to the healthy mountain-top. Jesus leads us to a life of goodness, purity and truth. He leads us to a courage that overcomes popular opinion; to a patience that bears with others; to a love for the poor and suffering. He leads us to the summit, to the fullness of life, to intimate communion with God.
If in our pride we try to climb that mountain alone, we will surely fail. Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.’’ (Jn 6:44). It is our heavenly Father who must draw us up to himself. How? By sending down to us his Son, Jesus, to ‘fetch’ us. By his death and resurrection, Jesus takes away our sins, opening for us the gates of heaven. He accomplishes what we of ourselves could not accomplish.
We would fail if we proudly try to scale the heights alone. Instead we must be ‘roped to Jesus’ [cf. Pope Emeritus Benedict]. He, the Risen One, stands at the summit pulling us up. We ascend to God not as separate individuals but as a roped-party in communion with our fellow brothers and sisters. We ascend in communion with the Church whose holy sacraments strengthen and purify us. And we ascend in communion with Mary and the saints in heaven, who are continually interceding for us.
The Church missal recommends for today’s palm procession psalm 24, the "song of ascent". The psalmist asks, ‘’Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?’’ Who can ascend to Jerusalem, and ultimately to the heavenly Jerusalem? The psalm gives the answer: the person of clean hands, of pure heart, who rejects worthless things and untruths, who seeks the face of God.
We human beings stand between two gravitational forces. On the one hand, there is the force of gravity pulling us down - towards selfishness and evil. We must resist this evil force which diminishes us and distances us from God. On the other hand, there is the gravitational force of God's love. May we allow this love of God to lift us up - to the fullness of life, to eternal communion with God.

Homily of Fr. Julian: LENT 4 A: THE BLIND MAN (Jn 9:1-41)

When God completed His work of creation, He declared it to be ‘very good’. (Gen 1:31) But His beautiful creation was scarred when Man, tempted by the devil, turned against his Creator, falling into sin. God had originally fashioned Man from the dust of the earth softened by rain. (Gen 2:5-7) Now Jesus acts in the same way God did at creation. He takes some earth, mixes it with his saliva, smearing the paste on the eyes of the blind man. Man had scarred the first creation fallen into the blindness of sin. Jesus now re-creates man, restoring his sight.
This blind man symbolises us children of Adam, born blind in the darkness of original sin. The blind man’s eyes are opened as he washes in a pool called Siloam. ‘Siloam’ means ‘sent’, symbolic of Jesus, the one sent by the Father. Similarly, our spiritual eyes are opened by Jesus as we are washed in the waters of baptism.
The people are divided about the man who gained his sight. Some think he is the same man who used to beg. Others say, “No, he just looks like him.” The man’s own response is ambiguous: “I AM.” Does he mean ‘I am the same man’ or ‘I am a different man’? After baptism am I the same person or am I a different person? The answer is that it is still me, but a re-created me. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation’’ says St. Paul, ‘’the old has passed, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17)
The man says about himself: “I AM”. The phrase “I AM” (‘ego eimi’ in Greek) is the very name of God Himself which name He revealed to Moses. Jesus also several times uses this divine name, ‘I am’, to describe Himself. So by saying ‘I am’, the man is saying ‘I am like God’, ‘I am like Jesus’. And that man represents us! In baptism Christ divinizes us. The Catechism says ‘’the person baptized has been ‘enlightened’, he becomes a ‘son of light’, indeed, he becomes ‘light’ himself. (CCC1216) Therefore Jesus who says ‘I am the light of the world’ (Jn 8:12) can say to us, ‘You are the light of the world’ (Mt 5:14). St. Peter says we are to become "partakers in the divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4). Our catechism says that God became Man so that man could become God – become God not by nature but by participation.
Cured of his physical blindness, the man is then healed of his spiritual blindness. This is the real miracle – his gaining spiritual sight to see Jesus as God. It is a gradual process. Initially he identifies his healer as “the man called Jesus.” Then he states, “he is a prophet”, then that he is “from God.” In the final moving scene he calls Jesus ‘’Lord’’ and worships Him. The man’s eyes are now fully opened to see Jesus as God, and to worship him. We may be baptised and sacramentalized but are we evangelized? After baptism, like the man in the gospel, we must continue growing, opening our spiritual eyes more and more as we enter into the light of the Lord.
As he comes to full faith in Christ, this man experiences increasing hostility, even being expelled from the synagogue – as were the first Christians. This persecution paradoxically strengthens the man’s determination and fearlessness. Persecution may be physical as in many Islamic countries. Or it may entail our Catholic faith being mocked by the media as in the Western world, or by work colleagues, friends and even family members. There is a cost to discipleship. But we pay it happily, remembering that Jesus said, ‘’Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you …rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven’’ (Mt 5:12). It is not easy to be a true Christian today. May we persevere courageously, entering more and more into Christ’s light until we finally experience that indescribable ‘beatific vision’ when we behold our beloved Lord face-to-face. St. Paul says, ‘’For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.’’ (1 Cor 13:12). ‘’When He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope…purifies himself’’ (1Jn 3:2-3).

Homily of Fr. Julian:
LENT 4 A: THE BLIND MAN (Jn 9:1-41)

When God completed His work of creation, He declared it to be ‘very good’. (Gen 1:31) But His beautiful creation was scarred when Man, tempted by the devil, turned against his Creator, falling into sin. God had originally fashioned Man from the dust of the earth softened by rain. (Gen 2:5-7) Now Jesus acts in the same way God did at creation. He takes some earth, mixes it with his saliva, smearing the paste on the eyes of the blind man. Man had scarred the first creation fallen into the blindness of sin. Jesus now re-creates man, restoring his sight.
This blind man symbolises us children of Adam, born blind in the darkness of original sin. The blind man’s eyes are opened as he washes in a pool called Siloam. ‘Siloam’ means ‘sent’, symbolic of Jesus, the one sent by the Father. Similarly, our spiritual eyes are opened by Jesus as we are washed in the waters of baptism.
The people are divided about the man who gained his sight. Some think he is the same man who used to beg. Others say, “No, he just looks like him.” The man’s own response is ambiguous: “I AM.” Does he mean ‘I am the same man’ or ‘I am a different man’? After baptism am I the same person or am I a different person? The answer is that it is still me, but a re-created me. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation’’ says St. Paul, ‘’the old has passed, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17)
The man says about himself: “I AM”. The phrase “I AM” (‘ego eimi’ in Greek) is the very name of God Himself which name He revealed to Moses. Jesus also several times uses this divine name, ‘I am’, to describe Himself. So by saying ‘I am’, the man is saying ‘I am like God’, ‘I am like Jesus’. And that man represents us! In baptism Christ divinizes us. The Catechism says ‘’the person baptized has been ‘enlightened’, he becomes a ‘son of light’, indeed, he becomes ‘light’ himself. (CCC1216) Therefore Jesus who says ‘I am the light of the world’ (Jn 8:12) can say to us, ‘You are the light of the world’ (Mt 5:14). St. Peter says we are to become "partakers in the divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4). Our catechism says that God became Man so that man could become God – become God not by nature but by participation.
Cured of his physical blindness, the man is then healed of his spiritual blindness. This is the real miracle – his gaining spiritual sight to see Jesus as God. It is a gradual process. Initially he identifies his healer as “the man called Jesus.” Then he states, “he is a prophet”, then that he is “from God.” In the final moving scene he calls Jesus ‘’Lord’’ and worships Him. The man’s eyes are now fully opened to see Jesus as God, and to worship him. We may be baptised and sacramentalized but are we evangelized? After baptism, like the man in the gospel, we must continue growing, opening our spiritual eyes more and more as we enter into the light of the Lord.
As he comes to full faith in Christ, this man experiences increasing hostility, even being expelled from the synagogue – as were the first Christians. This persecution paradoxically strengthens the man’s determination and fearlessness. Persecution may be physical as in many Islamic countries. Or it may entail our Catholic faith being mocked by the media as in the Western world, or by work colleagues, friends and even family members. There is a cost to discipleship. But we pay it happily, remembering that Jesus said, ‘’Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you …rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven’’ (Mt 5:12). It is not easy to be a true Christian today. May we persevere courageously, entering more and more into Christ’s light until we finally experience that indescribable ‘beatific vision’ when we behold our beloved Lord face-to-face. St. Paul says, ‘’For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.’’ (1 Cor 13:12). ‘’When He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope…purifies himself’’ (1Jn 3:2-3).

Homily of Fr. Julian: LENT 5 A: LAZARUS (Jn 11:1-45)

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus ‘’was in such agony…that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground’’ (Lk 22:44). Jesus is in similar agony before raising Lazarus from the dead. He was ‘deeply moved in spirit and troubled’ (Jn 11:33), literally, he was ‘deeply moved to anger and troubled himself’.
Jesus has a righteous anger. What is arousing His anger? It is seeing Martha and Mary mourning the death of their brother, Lazarus, who is also his own close friend. What is the object of his anger? It is death. Death which holds mankind in its iron grip. His anger is aimed ultimately at the Father of death, Satan. The Evil One brought death into the world when he tempted man to sin. Death should not be. God had never intended Man to experience death. In fact, he forbade Adam and Eve only one thing – a fruit that would make them subject to it. Death is now there - glaring at us, taunting us, pursuing us, cruelly ripping away our loved ones.
Cut to the heart Jesus said, ‘Where have you put him (Lazarus)?’ They said, ‘Lord, come and see’ - ‘come and see’ the place of death. Having completed his work of creation, ‘God saw all that he had made and indeed it was very good.’ (Gen 1:31). But now Jesus has to come and see this ‘very good’ creation corroded and devastated, as symbolized by Lazarus’ dead, decaying body.
‘’Jesus wept’’ - the shortest verse in the Bible but one of the most powerful. The word used for the people’s crying describes loud, unrestrained wailing or shrieking. In contrast the word used for Jesus’ weeping is different, describing a quiet but deep grieving. ‘’Jesus wept’’. He is weeping over the disobedience of mankind which brought death into the world - the death of Lazarus, the death of our loved ones, and the death of you and me one day. He is weeping for us and with us who must mourn at every funeral. Having wept, He advances to the tomb as a champion to take on death and him who lies behind death, Satan whom St. Paul calls ‘the last enemy that shall be destroyed’ (1Cor15:26). He weeps in his humanity - but in his divinity he is to raise from the dead Lazarus, symbolising Mankind. This is also a foreshadowing of his own death and resurrection.
Genesis 1 describes how God created through His mighty word ‘Let there be…light…land… plants…living creatures…’ and in the saying it came to be. Outside the tomb Jesus now pronounces his mighty, creative word: ‘Lazarus, come forth’ and in the saying it comes to be: Lazarus comes out of the non-existence of death into life. Jesus spoke to a dead body as if Lazarus were alive because He is God who gives life to the dead.
As the Lord called Lazarus by name, so he calls you and me by name: ‘Mary’, ‘John’, ‘Come out!’ When does He do this? On the Last Day as he calls us out of our graves, raising us to new life. But even now He calls each of us – calls us out of our sin into His new life. He says, ‘Come out, you prisoners, come out of your tomb of pride, selfishness, resentment and self-indulgence’. In Baptism God has raised you up out of the waters of death into new life. Live this new life without looking back at your old sins. Remember what St. Peter says, "A dog returns to its vomit…a sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud." (2 Pet 2:22). In the eucharist taste now this new, eternal life remembering that Jesus said: ‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life’ (Jn6:54). In every Confession God raises you up out of sin into a new life of purity. And in the sacrament of the sick God raises you up as the priest anointing you says: ‘May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.’
Jesus said: ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (Jn11:25). He has come to take our death and give us his life, eternal life. It breaks His heart to see death reigning in man but it fills his heart with joy to see man fully alive. St. Irenaeus said that ‘’The glory of God is man fully alive’’. Glorify God, make him happy by being fully alive! Let him raise you now out of your tomb of sin and death. Then you need not fear your physical death. Why? Because death will be for you the door to eternal life, the consummation of the eternal life you have already begun living now.

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