Saturday, March 4, 2017

First Sunday of Lent 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 First Computers

There is a class of creatures more numerous than human beings, perhaps more numerous than all the creatures we see, but which ordinarily we cannot see. They are mentioned in our Gospel reading today and Jesus was very fond of them. Most often we are not aware of these creatures but they are all around us whether we know it or not. And we cannot hide from them nor can we get rid of them if they persist on being with us.

Our Gospel reading today ends with this sentence: "Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him." Yes, these creatures who are all around us, always ready to serve us are the angels. They served Jesus and as we will soon learn they served him in all the important events of his life.

Just minutes before Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary an angel named Gabriel came to her to announce that a man would be formed in her womb whom she would later on call Jesus (Luke 1:26-33).

When Jesus' foster father Joseph was about to abandon Mary because he saw that she was already pregnant, an angel appeared to him to tell him to take Mary as his wife. (Matthew 1:20)

When Jesus was born an angel appeared to the shepherds telling them of his birth. (Luke 2:9-13). This angel was accompanied by a multitude of other angels.

When the life of the boy Jesus was in danger because of Herod an angel again appeared to Joseph telling him to take Jesus to Egypt (Matthew 2:13).

When Jesus finished his fasting and was about to begin his public ministry angels came to give him food and water, as we heard in our Gospel reading today.

In the Garden of Gethsemani during his agony an angel came to comfort him (Luke 22:43). He told his disciples in that garden that if he would he could call on instantly 12 legions of angels to defeat those who arrested him (Matthew 26:53). A legion is composed of 3 to 6 thousand soldiers. 12 legions would mean 36,000 to 72,000 angels. The arresting mob would have been pulverized by these thousands of angels.

It was an angel who rolled back the stone of the sepulcher where Jesus was buried. It was this angel who told the women that Jesus was risen. (Matthew 28:2-5).

When Jesus ascended to heaven two angels told the disciples that Jesus would return (Acts 1:10-11).

The last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, which tells us of the life of Jesus in glory until his coming back to earth is filled with references to angels.  

Indeed all the important moments of Jesus' life are accompanied by angels.

Since the life we live is the life of Jesus in his Spirit, the angels are also around us ready to serve Jesus in us. What a comforting thought!

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent. It is not the feast of angels which we celebrate on October 2 but it is proper that we learn a bit about them so that during this Lenten season we can draw nearer to the sufferings of Jesus.

In the first reading angels are not explicitly mentioned. This reading tells us of the fall of our first parents. It ends with this sentence "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves." They realized they were naked. They sewed fig leaves to cover themselves because they were ashamed. Before whom were they ashamed because presumably there were only two of them there? There were the angels looking at them. Later, one of these angels, a cherubim, guarded the garden of Eden so that they could no longer enter it (Genesis 3:24).

Again in the second reading angels are not explicitly mentioned. Paul is telling us about the contrast between Adam and Christ. He shows that just as through the disobedience of the one man, Adam, we were all made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, Jesus, we will be made righteous. And how did Jesus make us righteous? With the help of his angels who were physically and visibly present during the importance points of his life.

The word "angel" comes from the Greek aggelos (pronounced ang-ge-los). It means messenger. This was the term used by the Septuagint Greek Bible to translate the Hebrew word mal'akh which refers to a spiritual heavenly being which serves God.

Angels are discussed in our Catechism from number 328 to 354. According to our Catechism of the Catholic Church angels are spiritual, non-corporeal beings. Following St. Augustine it teaches that 'Angel' is the name of their office, not of their nature. The name of their nature is 'spirit'. Their office is that of messenger. They are servants and messengers of God.

There are three characteristics of angels which can help us during this season of Lent.

The first is that they are programmed creatures. By this I mean that all angels have stored within them all the things which they can do or not do in the whole of their existence. Some are messengers of good news, like Gabriel. This work of giving messages has been put into them by God from the time they were created. Others, like Raphael, are healers. Again this work has been programmed into their system, as it were, from their creation. Still others, like Michael, are programmed to fight enemies.

Each angel has a work and this work has been programmed or put into their being from the time they were created. It is as if they were created instantly as messengers, doctors, warriors.

In this sense they are like computers. A computer is created to do a particular work like word processing or adding numbers or storing data in a certain order. Now there are computers which can detect germs in our body. There are computers which can perform trading in the stocks market. They were made so from the beginning.

Angels are like that, their work has been assigned to them from the beginning of their existence. In this sense they were the first computers, the first robots. They are the computers of God.

A second characteristic of angels is that whatever work they do it is always work for God and others, never for themselves. They have no need to work for themselves because they neither eat, sleep, marry or have children. They do not need rest like us. They are ministering spirits, as the Letter to the Hebrews says (Hebrews 1:14). They always serve or worship God. They serve and they serve very well, according to the code or instruction embedded in their being, like a computer. Their difference from a computer is that they do not need outside electricity to run. Their electricity is within themselves already.

The third characteristic of angels is that the focus of all their service is Christ. They were made by Christ and for Christ. No wonder during Jesus' earthly life they were always near Jesus except during the three hours of his agony on the cross.

Now let us apply these three characteristics to our lives during this season of Lent.

Like angels all the work we will ever do has been programmed into us by God. The difference is that in angels this work is already actual, in us it is yet potential. An angel gives a message. We do not say that an angel can give a message. An angel does not grow. We grow. But this growth has been programmed into us by God already in our cells. The psalmist contemplating this marvelous work of God in us exclaimed, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest  him?  For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.  . . . O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!" (Psalm 8 AV). Man is so precious to God that he came to earth to reclaim him from Satan. And during this Lenten season we are witnessing this drama of God reclaiming us from the dominion of Satan by Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection.

Secondly, like angels we were made to serve others. During this Lenten season we have this Alay Kapwa which means rendering service for our neighbor. What we would have spent for food and extras we give to the Alay Kapwa fund for the benefit of others.

Thirdly, like angels the focus of our service is Christ. As Saint Paul said "You are not your own. You have been purchased and at a price! So glorify God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). And again in his second letter he says, "He (Jesus) died for all so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who for their sake died and was raised up." (2 Corinthians 5:15). It was Christ who purchased us with his blood. During this season of Lent we remember this purchasing of ourselves so that we live and work for Jesus alone. Like the angels who exist to serve Christ and not themselves.

That is the essence of Lent. We learn again to live for others and for Jesus as we remember what he did for us on the cross.

Let us bow our heads for prayer.

Almighty and heavenly Father, we thank you for the angels who came to Jesus after he was tempted by the devil to minister to him. We thank you for the angels you send to minister to us. They teach us lessons which are very helpful for this season when we remember your Son Jesus’ suffering and death for us. Help us to do what you intended for us to do, help us to serve others, and help us to make Jesus the motive of our service, and not ourselves. We ask this in his name who is surrounded by all the angels in glory now. Amen.

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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.

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