Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).


A Special Kind of Sinners

There is a class of sinners in the Bible which Jesus puts up as model members of his kingdom. They are model members because they readily enter his kingdom ahead of what common people consider as religious or holy persons. Jesus points them out to us in our Gospel reading today. He told the religious leaders of his day, the chief priests and elders, "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you."

Today we do not consider prostitutes as model members of any church. They are considered as women or men (for there are also male prostitutes) who are not to be imitated because they perform what we consider as abnormal behavior. In some countries they are considered as criminals. In other countries, like Sweden, it is criminal to buy their services. In still other countries they are allowed to exist but there is a stigma of shame in what they are doing.

One Bible commentary says that prostitutes are the worst kind of women as the tax collectors are the worst kind of men. The Expository Notes describes them as "the vilest, the profanest, and worst of sinners." And yet Jesus puts them before us as model listeners to the preaching of God's word because they listened to John the Baptist and changed their ways.

Certainly Jesus does not want us to live like prostitutes and then to repent. What he wants us is to imitate their readiness to believe in God's word and change their ways.

Today prostitution is dubbed as the oldest profession in the world. But this dubbing happened only in 1889 when Rudyard Kipling wrote about it as the oldest profession in the world. In his short story about an Indian prostitute entitled ON THE CITY WALL after citing a verse from the Bible he wrote "Lalun is a member of the most ancient profession in the world. Lilith was her very-great-grandmamma" who Kipling also described as a prostitute. Before this other professions, like farming, also claimed to be the oldest profession. 

The Church throughout its long history has had three approaches to prostitution. The first is to accept it as a social reality, as something inevitable. Second, the Church has condemned those who profit from this trade. Thirdly, she encourages those involved in this business to repent and find a better way of living.

Some of you may be interested to know that two of our greatest theologians, doctors of the Church, were not in favor of abolishing prostitution by force. St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas did not favor the abolition of prostitution. St. Augustine was reported to have commented: "If you do away with harlots, the world will be convulsed with lust." For them it was a necessary evil. Their opinion was that if there were no prostitutes men would rape women and perform sex with animals.

We note something significant in the preaching of John the Baptist as mentioned by Jesus. Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day, "When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did." This means that the preaching of John the Baptist was so powerful that it changed the lives of the tax collectors and prostitutes.

Today we miss that kind of preaching. Despite the thunderous preaching in our churches, conference rooms, auditoriums and television channels, there does not happen the conversion of the corrupt government officials who rob the poor of their sustenance and of the prostitutes who seem to keep on increasing.

Data gathered worldwide show that there are close to 42 million prostitutes around the world and very many government personnel are involved in some form of corruption.

Today we pause and ask ourselves the question: What kind of preaching converts people to Jesus like the preaching of John the Baptist?

We do not have records of John the Baptist's complete preaching. But we do have record of the few words which he preached. He certainly preached baptism as an expression of repentance for that is why he was called John the Baptist or Baptizer. We also have a record of his advice to certain groups of people, to soldiers, to Pharisees and Sadducees, to tax collectors. His message was one of changing one's mind and practices.

And we have a record of that famous sentence he uttered which we repeat every time we are about to receive the body and blood of Jesus: Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This sentence changed the lives of Andrew and John, of Peter and James. From being disciples of John they became disciples of Jesus, from being fishermen they became fishers of men.

In short, John the Baptist's preaching was powerful because it pointed to Jesus as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

And that is my purpose in all my homilies. I point the listeners to Jesus. As our Catechism teaches, "In catechesis 'Christ, the Incarnate Word and Son of God . . . is taught - everything else is taught with reference to him - and it is Christ alone who teaches - anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ's spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with his lips." (427)

There is another detail in the comment of Jesus about his parable in our Gospel reading. Jesus said that the religious leaders did not believe in the preaching of John even when they saw the tax collectors and prostitutes repenting of their sinful lives. In other words the religious leaders (the chief priests and elders) hardened their hearts as they listened to  John's preaching.

We can say then that preaching and teaching Jesus hardens the hearts of those who think that they are righteous, that they are just, that they are religious.

In our first reading we hear people saying, It is not fair that sinners, like corrupt government officials and prostitutes, who disobey God should go ahead of us in entering God's kingdom. But God through Ezekiel says that his ways are not like our ways. When a sinner repents he is accepted by God. This means we have to consider ourselves as real sinners so that we can repent.

In the second reading Paul sets up Jesus as our model, the only one who can change us into better persons. He says, "Jesus Christ is Lord". As the lord of our life he knows what is best for us. In fact he has given us himself as our very life so that we only allow him to live in and through us and we have his own happiness. Only Jesus can change the lives of corrupt government officials and prostitutes. Only he can truly abolish prostitution with the infinite love that he offers every prostitute.

We now put forth this question: Does Jesus want to end prostitution? He certainly does. And the only way to do this is to preach him to all. We pray then that there will be more who will preach Jesus, as John the Baptist did, so that more sinners will be converted and more righteous people will harden their hearts.

We bow our heads as we pray. Lord Jesus, you put before us the corrupt government officials and prostitutes of your day as our model of repentance. Give us more preachers like John the Baptist who will make sinners repent and who will also harden the hearts of those who think they are righteous. Have mercy on us, poor sinners. Amen.

- - - - - - - - - -

Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).


Better Late Than Never

Most of us have probably noticed during our elementary school days that when one or two of our classmates came late our teacher would ask in an angry tone why they were late in coming to class. The teacher was just concerned that her pupils come to class on time. Coming late was called tardiness. The opposite of this was punctuality.

I remember some teachers would punish the pupils who came late by making them stand at the back of the classroom for some time.

The teachers hated tardiness in their pupils. A few would even tell the class that if they came in very late it would be better if they would not enter the classroom, they would just disturb the class.

There are even schools which have the policy that three instances of tardiness are considered as an absence.

When I taught however in the college level I encouraged late students to come into the classroom and join the class. I even remarked that even if there was only a minute left to the time of the class they were still welcome to come in. I emphasized before them this maxim: Better late than never.

This maxim is exemplified in our Gospel reading today. The workers who were very late in coming to work, in fact, they were eleven hours late, were given a full day's wage. Let us listen to Jesus telling us how these very late comers were given their pay.

"When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.' When those who had started about five o'clock came, each received the usual daily wage."

We can guess that most of the workers came in late, at least three hours late. The standard working hours in the time of Jesus was twelve hours, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., not eight or so hours as we have today.

Many were late three hours. They came in at 9 in the morning. Others came in twelve noon, six hours late. Still there were others who came at three in the afternoon, very late by nine hours.

Finally the last group came in eleven hours late, at five in the afternoon, just one hour before the end of a work day.

Yet, all of them received a full-day's wage, at that time called a denarius in Latin, or a drachma in Greek. Today we call this a minimum daily wage which varies from country to country, or even from city to city in the same country, depending on the living standards of the place.

When I was young and even today I hear preachers and homilists who explain this parable of Jesus by saying that all of us, whether we become Christians at an early age or in the middle years or in old age or even in death bed, all of us receive the same eternal life from God.

I see two problems with this interpretation. The first is that eternal life is a gift of God to us. It is not  payment for what we have done. The infant in baptism is given this gift of eternal life even before he or she could perform any work which can give him or her any merit. Unfortunately most of the commentaries on this passage have this interpretation.

The second problem with this interpretation is that it apparently portrays Jesus as saying to all intents and purposes, "It does not matter if you work in God's kingdom when you are young or old or on the brink of departing from this earth, I will give you a full life's payment or reward." Obviously this was not Jesus' attitude and intention. We know that for Jesus the earlier we enter and work in God's kingdom the better it is for us. This is why he offered this kingdom to children. He told his disciples, "Let the children come to me. Do not hinder them. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19:14).

That interpretation therefore is not the intention of Jesus in this parable. So, what was Jesus driving at in this parable?

This parable was in answer to Peter's question in the preceding chapter. In chapter 19, verse 27 Peter asked Jesus: "Here we have put everything aside to follow you. What can we expect from it?" Jesus answered: "I give you my solemn word, in the new age when the son of man takes his seat upon a throne befitting his glory, you who have followed me shall likewise take your places on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Moreover, everyone who has given up home, brothers or sisters, father or mother, wife or children or property for my sake will receive many times as much and inherit everlasting life. Many who are first shall come last, and the last shall come first."

It is this last statement of Jesus that he now explains by a parable. What did he really mean when he said that many who are first shall come last, and the last shall come first?

The explanation is very obvious in our Gospel reading. The first were those who were hired first, at 6 in the morning. The last were those who were hired last, at five in the late afternoon.

Notice the sequence of giving the wage in the parable. Those who were hired last were the ones who were first given their wage. And the last who were given their wage were those who were hired first. This is the obvious meaning of the statement of Jesus in answer to Peter's question in the previous chapter: "Many who are first shall come last, and the last shall come first." That is, many who are hired first shall come last in receiving their wage and the last hired shall come first in receiving their pay.

But Jesus added a detail in his parable which gives the reason for this arrangement of giving the workers their pay. Those who were hired first objected. They thought they would receive more because they were hired first, they worked the full twelve hours "in the scorching heat". But they received the same amount as those who worked only one hour. They thought the owner of the vineyard was unjust to them.

The owner answered that he was not unjust because he paid them what was in the contract of a day's work. And he was free to do with what he had because he was generous.

Now the lesson of the parable is clear. Jesus was in effect telling his disciples: 'I hired you first. Later I will hire others to work in my vineyard. Do not think that you will be the first to receive your pay in working for me. Those coming after you, even those who work just a few days before I come back, will receive their pay first. And I will give them as much as I promised you, they will also receive many times as much and inherit everlasting life.'

Who are these late comers in the vineyard of the Lord? We are those late comers. The Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II is clear that all of us are workers of the Lord, priests, religious or laity. It says in number 33,   . "The lay faithful, precisely because they are members of the Church, have the vocation and mission of proclaiming the Gospel: they are prepared for this work by the sacraments of Christian initiation and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit."

We will receive our pay ahead of the apostles and first martyrs. And we will receive as much as they would receive because God is generous. There is no limit to his resources, unlike the resources of this world which is limited. That is why we have the science of economics, to make a system of properly distributing these limited resources. With God his resources are unlimited.

There are thousands of saints who only worked for a short time in the kingdom of God but they have been given great rewards which we think are for those veterans in the service of God. A unique case is that of St. Dominic Savio who was only 14 years old when he died. He was given the honors of sainthood by the Church, the youngest saint not a martyr canonized by the Church until 2017 when Jacinta and Francisco of the Fatima apparitions became the youngest saints so canonized.

The first reading tells us why this is happening, those who work less time in the vineyard of the Lord are given full rewards. It is because  his thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are our ways his ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are God's ways above our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts.

And the second reading tells us to work until our death. Let us follow Paul's example of "fruitful labor". Let us not work for reward but just productive toil for the glory of God. We can imitate the members of the Society of Jesus or Jesuits whose motto is in Latin Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, that is, for the greater glory of God.

St. Augustine exclaimed "Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you" in his CONFESSIONS (Chapter 27). We can tell him now, Better late than never.

Let us pray as we bow our heads.

Lord Jesus, you motivate us to work in your kingdom by telling us that you would pay us full reward even if we work there long after that of your apostles and first disciples. You are enough for us as our reward. Amen.

- - - - - - - - - -

Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).


Is God a Torturer?

When I read the Gospel passage for today I was a bit shocked when I reached the end of the passage. This was because it was written there that Jesus said that his heavenly Father would also do unto his disciples if they do not forgive every one of their brothers or companions. This means that his heavenly Father would also deliver them to torturers if they do not forgive their brothers and sisters.

Listen to the flow of Jesus' concluding statement to this parable. Jesus concluded: "Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart."

Notice the word "So". The original Greek word here can be translated "thus" and "in this way". In some versions it is rendered as "also". In the first edition of the New American Bible which I personally use the words are very explicit. This Greek word is translated "in exactly the same way". It means that his heavenly Father will "in exactly the same way" hand over those who do not forgive to torturers.

The logical question to ask is: Is Jesus' heavenly Father, God, also a torturer?

The logical answer can only be: Yes, Jesus' heavenly Father is also a torturer.

This shocked me a bit because we were not taught in our catechism classes or in our theological studies that our God can deliver us to torturers. Our usual image of God is a loving person who takes care of us and overlooks our sins.

But here we have a seemingly completely different picture of God, a God who hands us over to torturers. And the one who gives us this picture is no other than his son Jesus, who alone knows him best and most accurately.

Is this a true picture of God? After much meditation I agree with Jesus that this is a true picture of God. God can and does hand us over to torturers.

I would have thought that picturing God as a torturer is a blasphemy of our imagination, thinking of God in this way is a sin, a very serious sin. But this is one picture Jesus gives us of his Father. We need to know what we can learn from this picture.

It is somewhat surprising that not one of the twenty or so commentaries on this verse I read alluded to such a picture of God. Either they thought Jesus did not really mean what he said or he was using only a hyperbole, a figure of speech of exaggeration to drive home his point on the necessity and importance of forgiveness. Or they did not just care to comment on this remark of Jesus. Or they did not notice such a picture of God as given by Jesus.

But when we look at the whole picture, at the description of God in the Old and New Testaments we cannot fail to notice this description of God which comes from Jesus himself. God does hand over to torturers those who do not forgive their brothers and sisters in the faith.

The Bible, medical science, and common sense bear this out: God can and does hand over persons to torturers.

And we are fortunate that we have heard this from Jesus himself so that we can behave accordingly.

Maybe some of you have heard this distinction made between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. The distinction says that the God of the Old Testament was an angry God, one who went on killing his enemies, while the God of the New Testament is a loving God, wanting to save all. John 3:16 has been used to highlight this distinction. "Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life."

Some groups have even taught that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament.  These are the atheists, agnostics and secular humanists who follow the teachings of Marcion who existed in the second century.

The truth is that God's nature is the same in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. He was and is always a God who hates sin, who abhors iniquity, who keeps on purifying his people.

God destroyed completely the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, men, women, children, infants, animals and plants because of their sins. Only Lot and his two daughters survived. Look at the record in the Book of Numbers. Only 2 of the 603,550 Israelites aged 20 years old and above survived the journey from Egypt to the promised land, namely Joshua and Caleb. God caused the rest to die in the wilderness. God did not tolerate their disobedience and lack of faith. God commanded the Israelites to completely annihilate the Canaanites, including helpless and innocent infants. (Exodus 23:33, Deuteronomy 7:2, 16). God does punish and he punishes ruthlessly.

It is not without reason that he said, "Vengeance is mine" (Romans 12:19). For, indeed God does inflict vengeance on his enemies.

At the same time this God is most merciful. Our responsorial Psalm witnesses to this. This is one of my most favorite Psalms. It says, 'The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion. He pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion. He will not always chide, nor does he keep his wrath forever. Not according to our sins does he deal with us, nor does he requite us according to our crimes. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.' And in Isaiah we read of God telling the Israelites, "It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sins I will remember no more." (43:25).

These two aspects of God are to be held by us together. God is just and gets rid of all unrighteousness. At the same time God is infinitely merciful and forgives us and forgets all the evils we have done against him.

The New Testament image of God is the same. God is just and winnows out the unjust. Jesus pronounced woes or curses on the cities which rejected him, namely Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida (Matthew 11:21-23). They are even now only ruins, not fit for a dwelling place. He pronounced woes also against the Scribes and Pharisees. They were soon tortured, driven to other lands, reduced to only a memory.

And yet this same Jesus forgave those who crucified him, forgave his chief persecutor, Saul, and transformed him to Paul, the Apostle to the non-Jews.

God does deliver people to torturers. The Bible says so. And God does forgive and forgets the offence done against him.

Medical science also gives the same verdict although some medical scientists do not believe in God.

In the website ethoughts.org a story is told about a minister who after 20 years concluded that over 90 percent of all health problems are rooted in unforgiveness. "90 percent of all health, marital, family, and financial problems came from unforgiveness."

Those who do not forgive are indeed tortured by their conscience, by their mind. It is God who designed that their minds are so tortured with distress, regrets, worries, which produce psychological and physical problems in their personality make-up.

Here are statements from other websites: "Unforgiveness causes a lot of stress and a lot of health problems. This can cause fear, depression, frustration, anxiety, self-hatred, and loneliness. It's quite a catalogue of problems, isn't it?"

Medical science shows that God tortures those who do not forgive by producing all kinds of problems in their life. I guess that if all forgive one another, our hospitals and clinics would immediately be half empty.

Common sense also tells us that God can and does torture those who do not forgive their brothers and sisters in the faith. The history of wars waged by Christians against other Christians attests to this. Common sense tells us that wars are the fruit of unforgiveness among nations. Those who engage in these wars are professed Christians. In the movie CROMWELL we see the absurdity of one group of Christians calling on God to kill their enemy Christians who also at almost the same time call on God to kill the first group of Christians. The result? God tortures both of them with dead and wounded soldiers, with widows and orphans.

The first reading is very clear about the evils of unforgiveness and the benefits of forgiveness.   Sirach says, 'Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the LORD's vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail."

And our second reading tells us the reason why we need to forgive. Our life is no longer our own. St. Paul says, "Brothers and sisters: None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself."

Let us bow our heads in prayer.

Thank you, Jesus, for giving us a clearer picture of your and our heavenly Father. We now realize that your heavenly Father who is also our heavenly Father is a just and righteous God who infinitely hates sin but is most merciful to us. We who are his children can only imitate him and forgive from our heart those who have wronged us so that we enjoy the best of health. Amen.

- - - - - - - - - -

Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).


Commonly Misused or Least Observed Verses in the Bible?

In 1973 a group of Christians from Springfield, Missouri, U.S.A., sent me a very beautiful plastic book marker with the image of a pair of hands clasping each other as in prayer with these words below, "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (AV)

These verses are in our Gospel reading today. At the time I received that book marker with those verses I thought that they meant that if any two Christians agree on anything that they ask for in prayer, the thing they ask for would be granted to them by God.

I was surprised to find out later that that was not the real meaning of those verses. They have a completely different meaning.

Because most who read these verses think that their meaning is that if two Christians agree on what they ask for in prayer that which they prayed for will be given to them, some Bible commentators have labeled this verse as one of the four passages in the Bible which are commonly misused. The other passages are 2 Chronicles 7:14, Jeremiah 29:11 and Matthew 7:1.

2 Chronicles 7:14 reads, "and if my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my presence and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and revive their land."

Jeremiah 29:11 reads, "For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe, plans to give you a future full of hope."

And Matthew 7:1 reads, "If you want to avoid judgment, stop passing judgement". Most of us memorised the Authorised Version of this verse, "Judge not, that ye be not judged."

The reason given why the verses in our Gospel reading have been included in the list of the commonly misused Bible verses is because they are taken out of context in their interpretation. Here is an explanation from Tim Chaffey of midwestapologetics.org.

"Now let’s take a look at the context. This section deals with a subject that most churches completely neglect: church discipline. Jesus said that if you have a brother who sins against you, then you need to go to him and try to work it out. If he refuses to acknowledge his fault, then you bring one or two more witnesses to help work things out. So including you, that would make two or three witnesses—recognize that phrase? Not only is it repeated in these verses, but it comes from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 19:15 and more). Legal cases needed to have two or three witnesses to establish a matter.

"Back to Jesus’ story. If the sinning brother did not make things right in the presence of two or three witnesses, then the case was to be brought before the church. If he refused to listen to the church’s decision, then he was to be thrown out of the congregation. I know that sounds harsh in our day because precious few churches practice discipline as Jesus instructed, but that is what we are commanded to do.

"It is with this in mind that Jesus said that the Father would grant the request of two or more who gather together in Christ’s name and are in agreement. Agreement on what? On disciplining the erring brother. That’s what this passage is about and yet so many Christians use it as though Jesus promised to answer their prayers when offered in certain situations."

It is very clear from this explanation that the agreement is not about anything but about disciplining a member of the church.

In the course of his explanation Tim says, "This section deals with a subject that most churches completely neglect: church discipline."

The three readings for this Sunday indeed deal with a subject that most churches, including our own Catholic Church, completely neglect: church discipline in the context of loving one another.

The first reading from the prophecy of Ezekiel is very clear on this matter. Let us listen to him again.

"Thus says the LORD: You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked, "O wicked one, you shall surely die, " and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself."

This passage originally applied to Ezekiel the prophet. But this also applies to us because by baptism we have been made prophets, that is, spokepersons, for God. That is why the Church puts this passage as our first reading because it applies to us. And yet we neglect this command of God through Ezekiel. We do not have the courage of John the Baptizer telling Herod of his sins.

When we see our members and leaders, civil or church, doing something wrong we seem not to care. But the word of God is very clear,  "you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death." Perhaps we do not care because our lives are also not above reproach. We also do the evil ways that our fellow members and leaders are doing.

We cannot say with honesty what Jesus told the Jewish leaders, "Can any one of you convict me of sin?" (John 8:46).

Our second reading today also deals with a subject that most churches completely neglect: love for one another. Let us listen again to Paul the Apostle.

"Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law."

This is an echo of what Jesus said, "The command I give you is this, that you love one another." (John 15:17). Jesus qualifies this kind of love. He says, "I give you a new commandment: Love one another. Such as my love has been for you, so must your love be for each other. This is how all will know you for my disciples: your love for one another." (John 13:34-35).

In other words we are to love other followers of Jesus as Jesus loves us. Alas, we neglect this! We live our own individual lives without caring for the lives of other baptized around us, particularly the poor.

And our Gospel reading is clear. "Jesus said to his disciples: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that 'every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector."

Jesus knew that later this advice of his would no longer be followed. Instead we go about telling the faults of others at their back, without their knowing that we have destroyed their reputation.

It is most appropriate that today the Church reminds us of our work as prophet, to denounce the wickedness around us and of our task of loving other followers of Jesus the way Jesus loves us, and of showing this love in brotherly or sisterly correction.

So, are these verses commonly misused or least observed? Maybe they are also least observed.

Let us bow our heads in prayer.

Thank you, Jesus, for reminding us through your Church that we have work to do while we wait for your second coming, the work of denouncing the evils around us as your prophets and the task of loving your other followers, baptized Christians, the way you love us, even that by brotherly and sisterly correction. Amen.

- - - - - - - - - -

Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

First Base in Christian Life

According to the Wikipedia baseball is the national sport of the United States of America. It has been known traditionally as "America's Pastime". In popularity though it is only second to football. Only nearly half of Americans are baseball fans. It is estimated that an average of 3.5 million view per game of baseball through personal attendance and through television. It is a very popular game indeed.

Not many of us know that baseball has a very relevant bearing on our Christian life. It has rules which can be used to illustrate what happens in our Christian life.

In today's Gospel reading Jesus tells us about the first requirement if we are going to live the Christian life, a life of following Jesus. In baseball we need to step on first base before we can go on to second base, third base and the home run. This first requirement is most necessary in both the baseball game and in our Christian life. Without following this first requirement there can be no home run, there can be no real Christian life.

This is what Jesus says in our Gospel reading today: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."

For Jesus the first thing we are to do if we want to come after him, to be a Christian, is to deny ourselves.

Self-denial is the first base in Christianity. Without self-denial we cannot go to second base, we cannot do properly, genuinely and fruitfully the other activities of a Christian. Without self-denial all our so-called Christian acts are, as it were, foul, invalid. We shall later see that the Church sees this requirement as most necessary to such an extent that if this is not met, all the succeeding sacraments are invalid, without meaning and without use.

When I read the commentaries on this Gospel verse about self-denial, I was surprised to find out that most of them missed the real thought of Jesus on this matter.

Most of them teach that we are to deny this or that thing if it is not going to please God. Thus they say that we deny ourselves pleasures or worldly entertainments if these are contrary to our Christian duties. Following is a quotation showing such kind of teaching.

"To deny ourselves, is to put off our natural affections towards the good things of this life, let them be pleasures, profit, honours, relatives, life, or anything, which would keep us from our obedience to the will of God." (Matthew Poole's Commentary)

This is not what Jesus meant when he said that we must deny ourselves if we wish to come after him. He did not say that we must deny ourselves this or that activity. He simply said that we must deny ourselves. In the original Greek the verb means "to refuse to recognize, to ignore".

Fortunately there are a few commentators who teach us the real meaning of what Jesus said.

The great Reformer John Calvin explained in his Commentary that this statement of Jesus means to "give our consent to be reduced to nothing".

James Nisbet comments that many deny things to themselves who never deny self. And he continues, "Only there does self-denial exist, where Christ takes the place of self for all life's decisions."

As usual William Barclay has a beautiful description of this self-denial from the viewpoint of Jesus. Here is his description:

"To deny oneself means in every moment of life to say no to self and yes to God. To deny oneself means once, finally and for all to dethrone self and enthrone God. To deny oneself means to obliterate self as the dominant principle of life, and to make God the ruling principle, more, the ruling passion, of life. The life of constant self-denial is the life of constant assent to God."

Jesus did not and does not allow us to interpret this verse according to our opinion. His succeeding sentence plainly tells us what he meant. To deny self means to lose our life for his sake, to cease on living for his sake, to die so that he may live and reign in us and through us.

Thayer has also a picturesque description of this self-denial. He wrote that to deny oneself is "to forget one's self, lose sight of one's self, and one's own interests".

My own interpretation is that self-denial here means to throw away the self, to kill it and to bury it, never to come back to life again.

That is the meaning of our baptism. Our Catechism says that in baptism we die with Christ and are buried with him. We lose our lives in Jesus. By this sacrament we are no longer our own selves. Our selves have died and are buried with Christ.

Our Catechism teaches: "This sacrament is called Baptism, after the central rite by which it is carried out: to baptize (Greek baptizein) means to "plunge" or "immerse"; the "plunge" into the water symbolizes the catechumen's burial into Christ's death, from which he rises up by resurrection with him, as "a new creature". (1214)

Several paragraphs later the Catechism continues: "According to the Apostle Paul, the believer enters through Baptism into communion with Christ's death, is buried with him, and rises with him: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (1227)

This is the first of the sacraments. Without this sacrament no other sacrament can have meaning or effect.

Thus this self-denial, this dying to self, is our first step in following Jesus. James Nisbet says that it implies a definite act and decision, as introductory to a life of consecration and discipleship.

What I want to emphasize is that in the Christian life Jesus wants to take over our life so completely that there is no more room left for ourselves. We just throw ourselves away at the feet of Jesus.

St. Paul has a better imagery in the second reading. He says: "I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship." He wants us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. We offer ourselves to God as a sacrifice, to be burned away. In this way we are being transformed to what God wants us to be, perfect reflections of his son Jesus.

The first reading describes the condition of a person who has denied his self. He is a person who has been duped, he is an object of laughter, everyone mocks him. The word of the Lord has brought to Jeremiah derision and reproach all the day. There is a fire burning in his heart which he cannot endure. He has given his self to God to suffer.

Do not think that if you give yourself to God all will be smoothly sailing. It was not so with Jeremiah. It was not so with the Apostle Paul. He wrote to the Corinthians: "Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes less one; three times I was beaten with rods; I was stoned once, shipwrecked three times; I paused a day and night on the sea. I traveled continually, endangered by floods, robbers, my own people, the Gentiles; imperiled in the city, in the desert, at sea, by false brothers; enduring labor, hardship, many sleepless nights; in hunger and thirst and frequent fastings, in cold and nakedness." (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)

It was not also smooth sailing with Jesus. He died a most shameful and most painful death on the cross.

But that is the Christian life, a life which begins with self-denial. Glory does follow, as in Jesus, but not without self-denial, the cross, death and burial.

Let us bow our heads in prayer.

Thank you, Jesus, for reminding us that the Christian life is not a bed of roses, but a life which begins with our death to self, signified by our baptism. You are now the one living in us and through us. Thank you for your life lived in us, through us, and for us.

- - - - - - - - - -

Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).


The Secrets of Jesus

Jesus was and is still a man of secrets. During his earthly life he had many secrets, truths which he did not want others to know. Even today he has still so many secrets. The time of his coming again in physical form he has kept a secret from us. When he comes again he will give secret names to those who are very special to him. In Revelation 2:17 Jesus says that to the person who overcomes the trials he will give a secret manna and a new name which is secret to all except to him to whom he gives a stone.

Today's Gospel reading is about a secret which has puzzled many Bible scholars. Our reading ends "Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ". He wanted this truth, that he was the Christ, to be kept a secret by his disciples.

Jesus asked his disciples who he was according to the people around them. They answered that some people thought he was John the Baptizer risen to life after being killed by king Herod. Other people thought that he was Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets come alive again. Then Jesus asked them who they thought he was. Peter answered that for them he was the Messiah, the Anointed One, the person whom they expected for more than four hundred years now, the successor to David as the king of the Jews and the Israelites. Jesus acknowledged that indeed he was but he strictly ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah, the anointed king in the line of King David.

Such a reaction on the part of Jesus was strange. Jesus, as his name means, came to save sinners. But sinners could only be saved if they believed in Jesus. How could they believe if they were not told that Jesus was the longed-for Messiah? Strange indeed!

This was so strange and so noticeable when we read the Gospels that a man by the name of William Wrede wrote about this secret in 1901. He called this the Messianic Secret. And he proposed that Jesus did not say this injunction to keep his identity as Messiah a secret. For Wrede it was rather an invention of Mark, the first written Gospel to come to us. And this invention was adopted by Matthew and Luke, the succeeding Gospels.

Many Bible scholars accepted this teaching of Wrede, that it was really Mark who made this a secret, putting it in the mouth of Jesus. The height of this acceptance was in 1920, when almost all scholars, Catholics and Protestants, agreed with Wrede. Then critics of this opinion began to appear and eventually in the 1970s they no longer followed Wrede.

Their conclusion was that it was really Jesus, and not Mark, who wanted his messiahship to be a secret for non-disciples.

Now, we ask: Why would Jesus want to keep his being the Messiah a secret?

Many answers have been given to this question. We can only mention some of them now. We cannot probe into their validity or invalidity, the correctness or incorrectness of the reasons given.

One reason given is that Jesus did not want the crowd to confuse him with a political messiah, since they expected this kind of messiah, one who would deliver the Jews from Roman rule. So he did not want his disciples to tell the crowd he was the Messiah lest the crowd misunderstand the nature of his messiahship.

Another reason given was that Jesus was intent on proclaiming the kingdom of God, and not about him. Jesus told people the kingdom was already near. So did the disciples tell the people. But Jesus did not want the focus of this preaching on himself but on God establishing his reign or kingdom.

A third reason is termed "narrative irony". A tendency of people when you tell them a secret is that they will tell this to others. The more you tell them that it is a secret, the more they will broadcast it. Thus when Jesus told a person whom he cured of leprosy to tell no one about his healing, the more this person went out to tell others (Mark 1:41-45). This reason would imply that Jesus really wanted his secret to be known but he told others not to publish it so that ironically they would spread it the more.

Another reason given was that Jesus wanted his disciples to keep their faith hidden from public scrutiny. He did not want his disciples to be disturbed in their faith by the crowds.

I have five more reasons listed by scholars of the Bible but we have no time to go into these additional reasons.

One thing is true. Jesus had secrets which he did not want others to know.

One supposed secret which developed into a book which sold 80 million copies as of 2009 and which was translated into 44 languages, was that Jesus had a wife. This wife was Mary Magdalene. Their children became the ancestors of French kings. This supposed secret is contained in a book entitled THE DA VINCI CODE written by Dan Brown and published in 2003.

When Dan Brown was asked whether this secret was fiction or historical, he said it was historical. That was how he made it to appear in his book, that Jesus had a wife, Mary Magdalene.

Many critics, even unbelievers, have rejected the historicity of this story of Brown. The reason mainly is that the facts used are not historical. This is unlike the historical novels of my favorite author Irving Wallace which are well researched and provide the real facts as narrated by history.

Now, we Catholics do not believe in such a story by Dan Brown, but what he failed to point out was that Jesus has even now secrets of his life. Yes, Jesus has secrets because he was and still is a man of secrets.

One secret is that he lives in you and me. This is not known by most people around us. By baptism his Spirit was poured into us so that we began to live his life. This is so true that Paul almost shouted in his Letter to the Galatians, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (2:20).

The first reading talks about a secret which the Lord said to Shebna, the treasurer in Jerusalem. The Lord through Isaiah the Prophet told him that he was about to lose his post and the Lord would give this to Eliakim, the rightful ruler of Israel. Shebna used the nation's wealth to lord it over the people. In contrast Eliakim would be like a father to his people.The prophecy of Isaiah in this reading was a secret God alone knew.

In the second reading Paul asked the Romans in his letter to them, "who has known the mind of the Lord?" The obvious answer is "no one". The mind of the Lord has all the secrets of the universe. He alone knows whether there are other planets out there peopled by creatures like us. He alone knows the next advances in technology. We only grope for answers to the questions posed by technology. With Jesus everything is as clear as the light of noonday. He knows where humanity is going, what will be the advances in technology.

There is one comforting thought. Jesus reveals his secrets to those he loves. Amos 3:7 says that God does nothing unless he reveals his council to his servants and prophets.

And in John 15:15 Jesus tells his disciples that he calls them his friends because everything he has learned from his father he has revealed to them. It is no longer a secret for them.

There is a secret which Jesus has revealed to you and me personally. Jesus loves secrets and he loves to share these with only his friends.

Let us bow our heads as we pray.

Lord Jesus, you are the repository of all secrets. Thank you for the secrets you have shared with us, especially your life which keeps on growing in and through us.  Amen.

- - - - - - - - - -

Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

Why Does God Keep Silent?

It is rare that a Sunday Gospel reading naturally follows as a sequel to a previous Sunday Gospel reading. But that is what we have today. Our present Gospel reading is a natural follow up of last Sunday's Gospel reading.

Of course, a connection, even a logical connection, can always be made between Sunday Gospel readings. But it is rare that the connection follows naturally.

In last Sunday's Gospel we learned why Jesus went to a lonely place in order to pray. The basic reason was because he prayed aloud, not silently, as most of us are wont to do and he did not want to disturb others in their sleep and he also did not want to be disturbed during his prayer.

We also learned that that is how Jesus wants us to pray, aloud. He said to his disciples, "When you pray, say", that is, speak out.

A question that some of us may be thinking is: If we pray aloud, will we hear the reply of God? Or to put this question in another way: When we pray aloud why do we not hear the reply of God?

Most of us do not experience an audible reply from God. We do not usually hear with our ears God's reply.

Of course, there have been cases where God's reply is physically heard. Take the case of Moses. The Bible tells us that he spoke with God as a friend would talk to another, face to face (Exodus 33:11).

There have been saints who experienced what theologians call "locutions". These are verbal communications from God, sometimes audibly heard by the human ears, at other times heard spiritually, as was the case with St. Teresa of Avila.

But most of us do not experience locutions. Most of us do not hear a reply from God. And this is where our Gospel reading today helps us to understand how God replies to our prayer.

We are told in our Gospel reading that when the  Canaanite woman prayed to Jesus to help her about her daughter who was tormented by a demon, Jesus did not give any reply. Even when this woman was insistent to be heard by Jesus he still did not give any reply. It was the disciples who came to the rescue of the woman. They wanted Jesus to send her away because she was pestering them with her request. It was only then that Jesus made a reply, a reply that was a virtual denial of her request. In essence Jesus said that he had nothing to do with non-Israelites, like this Canaanite woman.

It was possible that Jesus kept his silence for more than 10 minutes, because this occasioned the irritation of his disciples. If it was less than 10 minutes the disciples would not have bothered about it. A ten-minute is a long time of silence.

In our experience God may be perceived by us as silent for more than 10 minutes. A husband prays for his wife who is sick with cancer. He prays for days, for weeks, for months and even years. And still he does not hear God's reply. God is silent for a long time.

An unemployed single mother of two little children desperately prays for a job that can give food to her children and herself. She prays for what she feels is a very long time and no such job is forthcoming. God is silent to her desperate prayers.

Our Gospel reading tells us why Jesus maintained his silence as a response to the request of the woman with a daughter tormented by a demon. He wanted to give that woman an opportunity to express and increase her faith. And he was right, for he heard the expression of that woman's faith and admired it for its greatness. He acknowledged that this woman had great faith. He said, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."

The silence of Jesus evoked the great faith of this woman.

And that is the purpose of Jesus when he seems not to reply to our prayer, when he is silent about our request. He wants us to build up our faith. This was true when he was still physically present in our world. This is still true now that his presence with us is no longer in a physical manner but only sacramentally and spiritually. He wants to strengthen our faith by his silence.

The first reading tells us that God will bring to his holy mountain the foreigners, the non-Israelites who believe in him. He will make them pray in his house because this house is "a house of prayer for all peoples." There God will reply to their prayers as he builds up their faith.

In the second reading Paul the Apostle tells us that the Gentiles or non-Israelites are now accepted by God. They can now pray to God and God will give a reply.

This reply of God has been made in a person. Our Catechism says that God has said everything in his Word, that is, in Jesus. He has spoken to us by his Son. "In him (Jesus)  he (God) has said everything; there will be no other word than this one." Then it gets this idea from St. John of the Cross: "In giving us his son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word - and he has no more to say . . . because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All who is his Son." (65).

God has replied to all our prayers in Jesus. He can remain silent now because he has already given his reply and this reply is for the Jews and for the non-Jews like ourselves.

Jesus told us to pray aloud. We listen to God's reply. This reply is given in Jesus and through Jesus. And Jesus' reply is to build up our faith so that it will be done for us as we wish, just as it was done for the Canaanite woman as she wished.

Why does God keep silent when we pray to him? Because he has already given his reply in Jesus, through Jesus. We need only to look at Jesus and we will know the answer to our prayer. His Spirit bears witness with our spirit what this answer is. If we are attentive we hear his reply in the silence of our heart.

Let the man with a wife stricken with cancer look to Jesus. There a reply has been given to him. Let the single mother look to Jesus. Jesus' Spirit will lead that woman to the job she desperately needs to feed her two young children and herself. As the song goes, God will make a way when it seems there is no way. Jesus builds up our faith. And with this faith all things are possible for us.

Let us pray as we bow our heads. Lord Jesus, usually we do not hear God's reply to our prayers. Make us realize that God has already replied to our prayers in you and through you. Thank you for replying to our prayers by building up our faith. Amen.

- - - - - - - - - -

Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).


Why We Need to Pray Aloud

We now return to the Sundays of the year in ordinary time after the feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord last Sunday. This will continue without any interruption of any feast until the last Sunday of the year, which is the feast of Christ the King. That will end the Church's liturgical year. Then we enter into another year with Advent.

I had often asked myself why is it that Jesus had to go out alone to a lonely place in order to pray. For example, in the Gospel according to Mark, chapter 1 verse 35 we read that Jesus rose early in the morning and went off to a lonely place in order to pray. Luke 5:16 tells us that Jesus "often retired to deserted places and prayed". It appears that that was the habit of Jesus, to pray in a lonely, isolated place. He himself advised us when we want to pray to go to our room, close the door and pray to our Father in private, in Matthew 6:6. But we have no record of Jesus doing this himself. Instead he would leave the house or a crowded place and go to an isolated, lonely place to pray.

So, I asked: Why did Jesus have to go to a lonely, isolated place in order to pray? Could he not just go to a corner in the house and there put himself in a position of prayer so that the others in the house would not disturb him?

I asked this question because I myself would do this. I would go to a private area of the house and there do my prayer. I would go to a church where there were so many people and there I would pray. Until I seriously thought about this matter of Jesus' going to a lonely place to pray I did not go to a lonely place in order to pray. I prayed in my room or in the church or in a classroom.

The Gospel reading today may give us an answer to my question about Jesus' going to a lonely place in order to pray. Matthew's record of how Jesus prayed highlights a detail that is not found in the other Gospels. Mark's record says that Jesus went to the mountain to pray but he did not write that Jesus was alone. John's record says that Jesus went up to the mountain alone, but he did not write that Jesus prayed there. This detail is not recorded by Luke. But Matthew highlights this detail. The reading says, "After doing so, he (Jesus) went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone." Matthew makes it very clear that Jesus went to that mountain by himself alone to pray.

Again we have a specific case where it is stated that Jesus went to a lonely, isolated place to pray.

Notice, we do not say that Jesus always did this. Luke says that Jesus did this often but not always. Jesus prayed in crowded places. He prayed in the room where he held his last supper. He prayed on the cross before a multitude. But his favorite place for payer was a lonely, isolated place either on a desert plain or on a mountain.

If we say we follow Jesus we follow him to the mountain to pray. But we have also to know the reason why Jesus did this. For him there must have been a great advantage in praying in a lonely, isolated place. If we know this advantage we too will follow him to pray in a lonely, isolated place.

The reason for this is found in the introduction to the prayer which we pray most often, The Our Father. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, Jesus replied: "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name." (Luke 11:2). Jesus did not say, When you pray, think. He said, Say. That is, we have to speak out our prayer.

This tells us that when Jesus prayed he did not do what we usually do. We pick out a prayer book and read a prayer with our lips silently. Or we meditate on some teachings and apply this to our life. We get out beads and pray our Rosary but if we are alone we pray in silence, our lips moving without any sound. Jesus did none of these.

When Jesus prayed he spoke out loud words. In fact the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus prayed with loud cries to God (5:7). That was the reason why the writers of the Gospel were able to record the prayers of Jesus because they were spoken out loud. The whole chapter 17 of John's Gospel is a prayer of Jesus. John was able to write this because he heard Jesus speaking out loud this prayer. This was also the case with his prayer in the garden of Gethsemani. We know what he prayed there and how many times he prayed that prayer because his prayer was audible to others.

So now we know some of the reasons why Jesus went to a lonely, isolated place in order to pray.

First, he did not want to disturb others with his prayers because his prayers were with loud words. So while others were asleep he would leave the house and go to a lonely place where no one was there so he could pray aloud.

Secondly, he did not also want to be disturbed in his prayers. He was concentrated in what he was praying about and did not want others to disturb him.

Thirdly, and perhaps this is a more important reason than the first two reasons: When he was alone with his Father he was able to feel more the warmth and love of his Father. There was closer bonding, as we would say now.

Matthew Henry, the famous Bible commentator, wrote, "Those are not Christ's followers who cannot enjoy being alone with God and their own hearts." In other words if we do not enjoy talking alone with the Father of Jesus Christ we really do not belong to Christ, we are not real Christians.

This manner of praying is illustrated by our First Reading. There we heard that God was in the mountain, but he was not in the strong and heavy wind, not in the crushing rocks, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in a tiny whispering sound. This tells us we have to sound off our prayer, even if it is just a whisper.  God wants to hear the sound of our lips, even if it is just a whisper.

And what do we talk about with God? What should be the subject of our prayer? Many of us think that our prayer should be about our needs. Yes, but not primarily about our needs. The Second Reading tells us something different. The things that God is most interested in hearing from us are about his works, his people, the Israelites; their adoption by God, the glory God gave them, their covenant with God, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises he made; their patriarchs, and especially about Christ his son. These are the things God wants to converse about with us.

Prayer is a conversation with God. And we can only converse with God if we speak out our words aloud.

I had no desire to go to a mountain area in order to pray. But God gave me a job where I had to travel to a mountain area by myself. There I was able to see trees as tall as fifty meters and as large as ten feet in diameter. I could see no human being there, only the birds and the lizards and their companions. It was there I understood that God brought me there to speak with me. God still communicates with us on the mountain as he did with Moses and his son Jesus.

Let us bow down our heads in prayer.

Lord Jesus, you often prayed alone in the mountain. There you had sweet conversations with your Father who is also our Father. Lead us to pray as you prayed so that we become like you, obedient children of our heavenly Father. Amen.

- - - - - - - - - -

Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Transfiguration of the Lord

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).


A Different Kind of Sun

Today we do not continue the Sundays in the Ordinary Time of the year. Today is supposed to be the eighteenth Sunday of the year. But we do not celebrate it. The reason is because a feast comes along which is always celebrated on August 6. This feast takes over the Sunday celebration because it is a feast of great importance in the life of Jesus. So today we get our readings from the feast of the transfiguration of our Lord.

There is a detail in our Gospel reading which is not in the parallel passages of Mark and Luke. All the first three Gospels record the transfiguration of our Lord. But the record of Matthew which is our Gospel reading today has a detail which is not recorded by Mark and Luke. This detail is found in the second verse. It says, “And he (Jesus) was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun”. The clause “his face shone like the sun” is not found in the passages of Mark and Luke. Only Matthew has this clause, this description of Jesus.

In Malachi 3:20 which is 4:2 in the Authorized Version Jesus is described as the sun of justice. In the Authorized Version it is translated as sun of righteousness. Jesus himself said on two occasions before the Jews, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12 and 9:5). The physical sun is the light of our physical world. Jesus compares himself to this and claims that he is the light of the spiritual world.

Remember the story of Moses when he finished conversing with God on Mount Sinai? When he returned to the people below the mountain, Aaron his brother and the other Israelites noticed that his face was radiant and they were afraid to come near him. Because of this Moses put on a veil to cover this radiance when he spoke to the people. (Exodus 34:29-35) This was similar to what happened to Jesus’ face at the moment of the transfiguration. The difference is that Jesus’ face shone like the sun, while Moses’ was only radiant, was glowing with light.

This description of Jesus as the sun of justice which was physically shown at the time of the transfiguration by his face shining like the sun is very relevant for us today, as it has been in the course of history.

The physical sun gives light and energy. With this light and energy we are able to see things on earth with our physical eyes. Not only that, the physical sun by its energy maintains life on earth and enables us to use our brain so that we can think and perform mental tasks like studying and creating some things.

Jesus as the spiritual sun gives us also light and energy. With this spiritual light and energy we are enabled to see spiritual realities. Not only do we see spiritual realities. We are enabled by Jesus as the sun of justice to live justly and to give glory to God. We can reflect this glory of Jesus in our life. As the Second Book of Esdras says, "Their face shall shine as the sun". (Second Esdras is part of the Jewish writings but it is not part of our approved Bible.)

Jesus wanted to show to his disciples that he was indeed a sun, but a different kind of sun, a spiritual sun, the sun of justice. By the light of this spiritual sun we are able to see things differently from that of the ordinary person in the world who does not follow Jesus.

Thus it has happened that in history many followers of Jesus saw things differently and did things differently. They changed history.

We have the example of the monk Telemachus who saw the evil in the gladiatorial shows of Rome while other persons enjoyed these. It is related that he tried to stop a gladiatorial fight in a Roman amphitheater, and was stoned to death by the crowd. The Christian Emperor Honorius, however, was impressed by the monk's martyrdom and it spurred him to issue a historic ban on gladiatorial fights. The last known gladiatorial fight in Rome was on 1 January 404 AD, thirteen years after Telemachus’ death.

Or take the case of slavery. From ancient times this was an accepted practice and many well-meaning persons did not see anything evil with it as long as the slaves were treated well. But Pope John VIII saw otherwise. In 873 he commanded under penalty of sin that all Christians who hold other Christians as slaves must set them free. In 1537 Pope Paul III forbade the slavery of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and any other population to be discovered, establishing their right to freedom and property. This led to movements favoring the complete abolition of slavery.

In the nineteenth century William Wilberforce campaigned for the total abolition of slavery in England and its possessions. In 1833 the Slavery Abolition Act was passed by the English Parliament. William Wilberforce was an Anglican Christian who was enlightened by the Sun of Justice to abolish the injustice of slavery. He worked for the abolition of slavery in England for twenty long years. He succeeded and other nations followed by outlawing slavery in their dominions.

There are many other examples of practices which were accepted by people but on being exposed to the Sun of Justice were abolished or modified. Some of these are the elevation of the dignity of women, the humanization of working conditions in factories, the acknowledgement of human freedoms, and so forth.

One of the practices which I want to be scrutinized under the light of this Sun of Justice is boxing. It is an accepted sport by almost everybody and there are many apparently good Christians who engage in it and even promote it. But lately some Christians have been asking if Jesus would favor the sport of boxing.

So far the efforts to ban boxing are mainly in the medical field. Doctors object to boxing as harmful to the human body. While some Christians do object to boxing, I have not yet found someone who objected to it on the reason that what one is boxing is the temple of God, the human body.

Here is one comment about the stand of Jesus on boxing. “Though faith is fervent among modern-day gladiators (and championed by nationally known pastors like Mark Driscoll and Ryan Dobson), make no mistake about it: One would have to be a virtuoso of self-deception to imagine that our Lord Jesus would have been in a front-row seat at the klieg-lit den of voluntary human punishment.” (Kyle Roberts in patheos.com/blogs/unsystematictheology/2015/05.)

May the day come when more and more Christians be enlightened by Jesus the Sun of Justice to see the evils in boxing and put a definite stop to it, like what happened with the gladiatorial shows in Rome.

In our lives Jesus is shining as the Sun of Justice. He shows us practices or even habits we have which do not give glory to him. He sends us his Spirit to convict us of these attitudes or activities. And if we allow him, he will burn these attitudes or activities by the heat of his rays.

In the first Reading we heard that there was one like a Son of man who received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed. This is happening now. As the light of Jesus’ face shines on our world we see more and more of ourselves and of our world and are being persuaded to give him rule over all of us, even in the area of boxing and other sports.

In the second reading Peter who was an eyewitness of the transfiguration of Jesus tells us, “You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Peter uses here a very beautiful imagery. As we look closely, attentively to Jesus, the lamp shining in a dark place, our hearts are enlightened and a morning star rises in them. The morning star is a signal that the sun is about to shine. The morning star rising in our heart is a signal that Jesus, the Sun of Justice, is about to shine in our homes, our workplace and other areas of our life.   

Let us bow our heads in prayer.

Lord Jesus, you are the Sun of Righteousness, the Sun of Justice. You shine in our hearts. Continue to enlighten us and to purify us so that like you we will also shine like the stars. Amen.

- - - - - - - - - -

Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.