Saturday, May 31, 2014

Mary and Elizabeth: Central Figures in Salvation History

Two women at the center of salvation history! Both from a culture that treats women as nobodies, as second-class citizens, who stone them to death if raped, who deny their female children an education!  More or less, women continue to be treated as "less than" in many ways throughout the world. With the same educational background and skill level, in the same jobs as men, for instance, they are paid less! In many instances, women are excluded from ecclesiastical ministry positions because they are women. And here are Mary and Elizabeth, both chosen as instruments in the coming of the Messiah into the world. Both would have a significant influence in  bringing up Jesus, teaching him his Jewish faith, handing on values that would shine forth brilliantly in his ministry, teaching him to put God first, to carry out the will of His Father, even in the face of dire consequences(Mary risked her life in saying "yes" to the angel--she could have been stoned to death if found pregnant out of wedlock).

In her visit to Elizabeth, Mary recognizes her privileged position when she says in the Magnificat: "From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name." Mary assumes the role of prophet, as also evidenced in the Magnificat where she proclaims that God will fill "the hungry with good things," will lift "up the lowly," will show "the strength of his arm," "has mercy on those who fear him in every generation, and will send "the rich...away empty."  Mary exercises her faith in God's plan for her son when, at Cana, she draws Jesus' attention to the wedding couples' dilemma: "They have no wine." When Jesus tartly says to her: "What is that to me; my hour has not yet come," she says to the servants: "Do whatever He tells you." In a sense, Mary is at the center of "his coming out" moment!  She is also a significant figure on Mount Calvary, giving her son strength to carry out God's plan for our salvation.

Yet, publically, to this very day women are excluded from being at the center of the proclamation of our faith. I suspect Jesus weeps at this situation, as He did not exclude women. He sent them to proclaim the presence of the Kingdom, the presence of the Messiah, as he did the woman at the well, as He did when he sent Mary Magdalen to proclaim the resurrection to the apostles, and, yes, when He responded to Mary's request at Cana and when, on the cross, He gave Mary to us as our mother in faith, hope and love!

Though publically excluded from an ecclesiastical ministry, we women still have a responsibility as baptized Christians, to proclaim the faith, share Jesus with the world, put God first in our lives and teach our children to do the same.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Shout for Gladness: God Chooses Us for our Inheritance

Today's responsorial psalm, Ps 47, proclaims God as king of all the earth.
"Shout to God with cries of gladness, for the Lord, the Most High, the awesome, is the great king over all the earth. He brings people under us; nations under our feet. He chooses for us our inheritance, the glory of Jacob, whom he loves. God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy; the Lord, amid trumpet blast. Sing praise to God."

God mounts His throne, not to simply lord it over us but to rejoice at what He has accomplished on the earth through His Son Jesus.  Every occupant of this earth God takes with Him in Christ Jesus. We are already seated at His right hand in the Person of Jesus. The Father, our Abba, awaits the day when we actually will enter eternity to claim the prize His Son Jesus won for us through His death and resurrection. For that reason the Holy Spirit was sent to the earth that we would have an Advocate to lead us to the throne of God. For God, our Abba,  that moment cannot come soon enough. With joy He awaits that glorious day when He will give us "our inheritance".

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Our Destiny: Written by the Hand of God

In today's first reading, Acts 18: 1-8, Paul encounters opposition in Athens and leaves for Corinth, where he meets a man named Aquila and his wife Priscilla, Jews who were expelled from Italy.  To this very day, people are discriminated against for various reasons.  Within our very nature both sin and holiness abide. Good and evil battle each other in our very thoughts and emotions and at times we follow the voices within us that direct us to treat others disrespectfully. At other times we listen to the good spirit within, the voice that flows from our God-self. 

The Spirit in Paul directs him to stop proclaiming the Good News to his fellow Jews and enter Gentile territory to bring the news of Jesus Christ to them.  He becomes known as the Apostle to the Gentiles. At times we might be unaware of our destiny, yet everything in our lives will direct us to carrying out God's plan for us, the purpose for which we were created. Many times we are directed to other tasks, other locations, other situations to be an instrument in the hands of God. We may say "I can't believe I did that or accomplished that. I didn't know I had it in me but with the grace of God I endured, I worked, I made a difference in the lives of others sent to me for reasons God alone knows.

Maya Angelou, a black woman who was the victim of rape and of racial discrimination.  She rose to her potential and made a great impact upon the world. She became a woman of inspiration, of courage and incredible talent shared with the entire world. Who would have thought that such was her destiny.  Everyone and perhaps the person/s considered the least among us in elementary, high school or college surprised us when we learn of the wonderful things that person did in building up God's kingdom in a world of discrimination, hatred and ignorance. Yes, in God's plan,  no one is left behind, neither  you or I. We have a purpose that will be achieved even if it is like the tree growing out of the side of a mountain because of Master is the One who triumphed over death itself.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Indwelling God

In today's first reading, Acts 17: 15, 22-18:1, Paul admires the Greek's exquisite marble statues of the human body and other man-made monuments. He even notices the inscription on an altar that reads: To an Unknown God."  Paul then proceeds to proclaim to them that the "God who made the world and all that  is in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made my human hands,  nor is he served by human hands  because he needs anything" from us.  God dwells in the sanctuary that each of us is, a sanctuary of life made holy by Christ Jesus.  We live and move and have our being in God and God in us. 

This God--the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit--dwells within each one of us, making us one with the Trinity and transforming us in such ways that we become one with one another, relating to each other as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate to one another.  In the Trinity all are one. No one dominates the other. No one is deprived of the fullness of life that is the Trinity. All share equally in the Godhead. All give equally to one another. All render complete service to one another in order to accomplish one mission: the salvation of all humankind.

The perfection to which we are called is not of human origin. It is divine. We  are in the process of realizing that perfection from birth until death, a perfection being accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate that Jesus, in returning to the Father, sent to us to "guide us to all truth" (today's Gospel, John 16" 12-15). What a gift! What a  hope that make all things worth giving one's life to the point of dying. It's the essence of martyrdom. It's the essence of giving one's life in marriage to another. It's the essence of religious life and of priesthood. It's the essence of the single life lived for God!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Anchored in Christ Jesus

In today's first reading, Acts 16: 22-34, Paul and Silas are attacked, beaten with rods and thrown into prison.  It would seem as though all is lost, that there is no escape, as their feet are chained to the floor in one of the most secure cells of the prison.  In the middle of the night,  a sudden earthquake opens all of the prison doors. They are free to escape but do not.  The prison guard  panics and is about to kill himself when Paul and Silas  intervene. What follows is the conversion of  the guard and his entire family.

The guard panics. Paul and Silas remain calm; their relationship to the Lord is unshakable.  You and I have at times remained calm in the midst of a crisis while others have panicked and vice versa. Panic blocks our awareness of God's presence and His power. It is important to realize that if I seek God on a daily basis, I am more likely to seek God in crisis situations.  When I am having a difficult time, my first thought is to call upon my best friend. So, too, if I have chosen Jesus as my closest friend and developed an intimate relationship with Him. I will automatically think of Jesus and call upon Him in both the good and bad times of life.

When, in a crisis, the Rock to which  I cling is Christ Jesus, I will be as strong as that Rock. I will not be shaken even if every one around me has entered the crisis mode. To whom do you cling?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Universality of God's Gift of the Spirit to all Believers

St. Peter, in today’s first reading, Acts 15:7-21, tells his brothers that the Gentiles, to whom he shared the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection, came to believe in Jesus and were filled with the Holy Spirit, as they were on Pentecost.  He reminded his brothers that “God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit just as he did us. He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts.”  So, too,  today, God purifies the hearts of all through faith. He makes no distinctions now anymore than God did then. 
How often, do you and I, make distinctions, however, when someone from another faith, another religion, another set of values goes about doing good, proclaiming the Gospel by their lives and, if necessary, by their words (St. Francis of Assisi).  Peter says to us, as he said to his brothers:  “…[W]e are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way as they.”

Our job is to remain in God’s love (today’s Gospel message, John 15: 9-11). Savor God’s love. Bask in God’s love. Cherish God’s love as it reveals itself in our lives and in the lives of all believers, of men and women of all faiths, in the lives of men and women from every walk in life, in every vocation to which God calls them, in whatever career they witness to the love of God at work within them.  “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete” (John 15: 9-11). Yes, may you and I rejoice at what God is doing in all of us, through all of us and with all of us!



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Mirror Ball Trophy: Living in the House of our God

Last night in Dancing with the Stars,  Meryl and Max won the mirror ball trophy, having competed , over the past three months, against other superb dancers. Their joy was contagious. In today’s responsorial psalm  we pray: “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord,” to receive the mirror ball trophy of our eternal salvation.  All of us, some longer than others here on earth, have been competing for this prize, a prize secured for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, our co-competitor, our Warrior God, the Conqueror of evil, the Victorious One.  The good in us will not lose the battle over evil, when, as we are told in today’s Gospel, we remain in Jesus as Jesus remains in us. We will bear much fruit and the only fruit that will last: eternal life with God, the eternal Mirror Ball Trophy.  Our competitor: Satan and his evil ways. Good will win. Evil will be defeated by the one who is our Conqueror, our Warrior, who battles within, beside, around and through us. 

Yes, “let us go rejoicing to the house of our God,” as jubilant and more so than Meryl and Max or any persons who have won a prize for which they have been competing, a prize that is of this earth.  Our prize is of heaven!
Thank you God, for your graciousness, your generosity in securing for us who believe a mirror ball trophy out of this world!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Strength for the Faith Journey

In today’s first reading, Acts 14: 19-28, Paul is stoned and dragged out of the city believing to be dead. The disciples of Jesus gather around him.  He gets up and leaves with Barnabas to go to Derbe and several other cities to proclaim the good news, strengthening other disciples, encourageing them to persevere in the faith.  This particular journey ends in Antioch where they are “commended for their work”   and where they, in turn,  “reported all that God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.”
Imagine going through the city/the village where you live sharing your faith in Jesus and suddenly being turned upon viciously, violently, literally having stones thrown at you or attacked verbally, words of hatred and rejection hurled at you.  Would you, accompanied by other believers, get up, maintain your peace, and move on to another place to continue the mission God entrusted to you?  Or would you withdraw, tell yourself that you do not have what it takes to do this work, that you have had enough, that the price  isn’t worth it, that you are not going to risk your  life; that, no way, are you going to make a fool of yourself and invite the wrath of your neighbor.

Notice that Paul does what he does, not alone, but with other disciples. It is with their support, that Paul is able to get up and move on.  At the end of this particular journey, Paul also seeks the support of fellow disciples. St. Luke , the author of Acts, tells us that Paul and Barnabas “spent no little time with the disciples.” 
In order to make progress in our faith journey and in proclaiming the Gospel either with words, or with our lives,  we too need support from other disciples, especially when we meet opposition from without or within. We also need to take time to report to others “all that God has done” and how God “opens the door of faith” for us in our work and daily living experiences. If I do not have that kind of support, I need to find it, seek it out, or make it happen by taking the initiative to form such a group.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Source of all that is Good

In today’s first reading, Acts 14: 5-18, Paul and Barnabas leave Iconium to escape being put to death and go to Lystra.  In Lystra Jesus heals a crippled man through their intercession and are believed to be gods. The people prepare to worship them, to their dismay! “…W]hy are you doing this. We are of the same nature as you, human beings.  We proclaim to you good news that you should turn from…[your] idols to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them.”  Then, Paul and Barnabas, make a powerful statement:  “In past generations…[God] allowed all Gentiles to go their own ways; yet, in bestowing his goodness, he did not leave himself without witnesses, for he gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filled you with nourishment and gladness for your hearts.”
Hear God say to you through Paul and Barnabas: “I, your Creator and Redeemer, bestow goodness upon you. I plant it within you and around you, within others and within all of creation." The good we do, Jesus reminds us in today's Gospel, comes from God, as it did when Paul and Barnabas healed the man crippled since birth.  Anyone who keeps God's commandments  and believes in Jesus, in God alone,  does good here on earth. That good flows from the Trinity dwelling within them and at work in the world through them.  "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him[her], and we will come to...[that person] and make our dwelling with him[her]," we read in today's Gospel.  Yes,  those who follow God's ways, who do  not create false gods as the people of Lystra wanted to do,  will become one with the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit dwelling within them. Good blossoms  from  Goodness!  And that Goodness is God Himself.  God alone is good, Jesus tells the rich young man in Mark 10; 18.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Motivations, Challenges, Difficulties on the Way

In today’s first reading, Acts 13: 44-52, St. Luke talks about the success and the difficulties Paul and Barnabas encountered when  proclaiming the word of God. “The whole city gathered”  to hear them. The Jews reacted “with jealousy and with violent abuse,” contradicting Paul and Barnabas’  teachings.  “Women of prominence” and “leading men of the city” incited a “persecution” against Paul and Barnabas, expelling  them from the region.   “Armed” with the Scripture that says  “I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth” (Is 49:6), Paul and Barnabas shake “the dust from their feet” and move on.
As I reflect upon Acts 13: 44-52, I might ask myself whether or not, like the Jews,  have I been motivated by jealousy when another person or persons align, not with me, but with others? Am I roused to anger when I am not succeeding and another is? Do I violently, or not so violently, contradict those who are succeeding in ways in which  I want to succeed? Do I incite others to “persecute” those with whom I disagree or  who are more popular than I and of whom I am   jealous  (even when I am unaware of my hidden motivation)?  How important it is that you and I take the time to examine the energy compelling us to spout off against our “neighbor”.  We need to know from whence our behaviors flow: are we reacting from a positive force or a negative one, from a good spirit or an evil spirit?  The inability to rejoice at the good another does or others are doing could easily indicate that my motivation is linked to that within me that is not of God. 

Like Barnabas and Paul, we Christians  are called to be “a light” and “an instrument of salvation to the whole world and, in particular, in the world in which we live, work and pray. To do that we need to leave the negativity within ourselves and outside of ourselves and move on to “greener pastures”, to working in “soil” receptive to the word of God, as did Paul and Barnabas.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Realizing the Gift of Salvation

Imagine the emotions of those Jewish people who had come to realize that the man that was put to death “by the inhabitants of Jerusalem and their leaders was, in fact, the fulfillment  promised to them  in all of their Scriptures, as we read in today's first reading, Acts 13: 26-33. “God,” they testify to fellow Jews, “ raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem….We ourselves are [now]proclaiming the good news to you that what God promised our fathers he has brought to fulfillment for us, their children, by raising up Jesus, as it is written in the second psalm, You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.”  They realized that for decades they had been blinded and deaf to the Truth. 
Think of a time when you suddenly realized that you were believing the wrong thing, were listening to the wrong people, and all of a sudden came to the Truth that set you free from years of enslavement, misery, hopelessness, and faithlessness.

Yes, you and I, the redeemed, have been set free and  given life by God shedding the blood of His only begotten Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In Him and through Him and with Him, all honor and all glory and all power belong. You and I participate in all that is divine because of this incredible act of love on God’s part.  The power of God, the honor of God, the glory of God, the goodness of God, the greatness of God, the holiness of God, the Wisdom of God—God’s very essence dwells and grows --within us through the redemptive act of love that we celebrate in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. Alleluia!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Peter's Discimination Challenged by the Lord

In today’s first reading, Acts 11:1-8, Peter is given a vision of all kinds of creatures, ”four-legged animals of the earth, the wild beasts, the reptiles, and the birds of the sky,” and hears a voice saying to him: “Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat.” Peters immediately objects: “No way.” He insists on remaining true to the Jewish dietary laws.  God retorts him: “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.”  The Spirit then instructs him to accompany three men to the home of uncircumcised men: “Accompany them without discriminating.” I wonder, what instructions the Lord would give the Church and  us, as we continue to discriminate against one another, men against women, women against men, Christians against those of the Jewish, Islamic, Muslim, Hindu, Methodist, Baptist, Protestant, Episcopalian, Presbyterian and other religions and them against us; Whites against Blacks, Hispanics, Chinese, Japanese,  Arabs,  Mexican,  Indian, Native American and other races and them against us.  “Accompany them, include them, speak to and about them ‘without discriminating’; stop your prejudice,” I think the Lord would say to us, challenging  us,  and the Church, for the ways in which we discriminate against anyone in our everyday practices.

As Peter insisted upon the Jewish dietary laws, upon what man-made laws do we continue to insist?  Where do we need the Lord to say to us, as He said to Peter: “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane”?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Be Still and Know God

 My hour of prayer this morning began with the following words from God:
Be still and know that I am God, who raised My Beloved Son to life, who makes all things new, who transforms ugliness into beauty, death into life, evil into goodness, deserts into fertile land, disaster into relief, foolishness into wisdom, hatred into love, shortage into abundance. I do  all these things and more.
That truly brought me to stillness! I then prayed as follows:
Lord, resurrect a new power in me,
a new hope,
a new love,
a deeper wisdom,
a keener discernment and
an unshakable confidence in You, in the Spirit, In Jesus, my Savior, my God, my all.

Heal me of my woundedness.

Transform my weaknesses,
my hopelessness,
my infidelities and
all within me that is not of You.

My thoughts then rested on the first reading of today’s liturgy, Acts 9: 1-20, in which St. Paul is knocked down by a blinding light and the powerful voice of Jesus, asking him why he is persecuting him. Paul responds: Who are you? “I am the one you are persecuting.” He then instructs him to “get up and go into the city “and you will be told what you must do.”

 Wow! Get up, Jesus says, and go where I direct you to go and you will be told what you must do to partner with me in making “all things new,… transform[ing] ugliness into beauty, death into life, evil into goodness, deserts into fertile land, disaster into relief, foolishness into wisdom, hatred into love, shortage into abundance.”

Do you believe that? I do!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Jesus' Glorious Triumph: its Meaning

The Entrance Antiphon to today’s liturgy invites us to “sing to the Lord, for he has gloriously triumphed.”  We then pray: “The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation, alleluia.”  I was deeply touched by t he word “is”.  God is, not was or will be, but IS my strength and my might; He is my salvation.  The work of God is going on every moment of every day, in every circumstance of my life today and yours!  Jesus has “gloriously triumphed,”  that is He is gloriously triumphing over sin and death, over selfishness and greed, over deceit and jealousy, over anger and moodiness, over faithlessness and hopelessness, over hatred, blindness and deafness to the Spirit in my life right now, right here! Jesus is making a difference now!  I am overcoming evil in my life right now  because Jesus “has gloriously triumphed” in His resurrection, in the sacrificing of His life, in becoming sin for us on Calvary.

Yesterday I took a day off and went to see “Heaven is for Real.”  Heaven and earth are one in the resurrection of Jesus.  Heaven and earth are one in the Eucharist, when the Son of God descends upon our altars every single day to feed us with the Bread of Life, the Living Bread, that wells up into eternity making us more and more life Christ every day, reconciling us to the Father, cleansing the Temple of our souls with this Living Water, this Living Bread!  Alleluia!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

God's Bread: Never Be Hungry Again

In today’s Gospel, John 6: 30-35, Jesus says to the crowd that is pressuring Him for a sign “so that we can put faith in you.”   The crowd reminds Jesus that  heir ancestors “had manna to eat in the desert”  that, “according to the Scriptures,”  came down from heaven.  Jesus  responds:  “I solemnly assure you,  it was not Moses who gave you bread from the heavens; it is my Father who gives you the real heavenly bread. God’s bread comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…I myself am the Bread of Life. No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry; no one who believes in me shall ever thirst again.”
The Jews’ ancestors did hunger again. Every morning the manna reappeared. It did not last.  When you and I eat the “Bread of Life,” when we believe in Jesus and follow God’s will we never hunger or never thirst.  O, the power of the resurrection of the Lord. O, the power and the strength of the Truth Who is God Incarnate, who is the Eternal Word made flesh, who nourishes us in the Eucharist, in the Scriptures, through the Spirit who dwells within the depths of our beings! O, the power and the wisdom and the humility and the love and mercy of our God!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Divine Origin, Indestructible; Human Origin, Destructible

In today’s first reading, Acts 5: 34-42, Gamaliel, a Pharisee in the Sanhedrin, says to those who had arrested the Apostles:  “Fellow children of Israel, be careful what you are about to do to these men. Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be someone important, and about 400 men joined him, but he was killed, and all those who were loyal to him were disbanded and came to nothing….…[H]ave nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourself fighting against God.”

What a statement! And something for each of us to consider.  If what I am, or anyone else,  is doing is of human origin, it will destroy itself. It will not last. It will fade and disappear. If it is of divine origin, nothing will destroy it. If you or I act against it, we will be acting against God. If you or I fight it, we will be fighting God Himself.

Lord, may I have the courage today to examine what I am doing. Are my activities flowing from your will or are they originating from my will?  Are they of human or divine origin?   As I look around the world today, Lord, instead of  getting all upset about things of human origin may I be reminded of what Gamaliel said to his fellow Israelites.  May I also  have “the serenity to  accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Apostles' Boldness in Proclaiming Jesus' Resurrection

In today’s first reading, Acts 5: 27-33, we encounter the Apostles boldly proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection and witnessing to His Messiahship, that he is the one sent by God to redeem us.  When confronted by the Sanhedrin, which arrested them and reiterated its command that they stop talking about Jesus, their response is: “We must obey God rather than… [human beings].”  And then go on to say:  “The God of our ancestors raised Jesus… [from the dead]… [and] “exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior to grant Israel [and all of us] repentance and forgiveness of sins. We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” They were being obedience to  the commission Jesus gave them just before His ascension into heaven to  return to His Father: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16: 15).
Since that very time, for 2000+ years, in obedience to the Holy Spirit guiding them, people throughout the ages have been and continue proclaiming this Gospel and all of Jesus’ teaching. Because of the faithfulness of our parents, parish priests, family members and friends, our catechists, you and I have come to know about Jesus.  It is our responsibility to get to know Jesus personally, not just about Him.  We do that in the same way that we get to know our best friend/s. We spend a lot of time with Jesus, visiting Him in prayer, in the Eucharist, at Mass, reading the Scriptures and talking with Him throughout the day as issues arise. We share our hopes and our fears, our disappointments, our sadness, joy, anger and serenity, fear and security—all of our feelings—with Him.  We reveal our thoughts to Jesus and listen to His.  As we get to know and love Jesus, just as when we grow in knowledge and love of our best friend/s, spouses, companions on the journey of faith, we grow in trust and share everything about us and our lives with Jesus and Jesus with us.