Sunday, December 2, 2007

1st Sunday of Advent (A)

Is 2:1-5; Rom 13:11-14; Mt 24:37-44
Today marks the beginning of a new Liturgical Calendar Year in the Catholic Church. It opens with the Season of Advent, consisting of four Sundays starting with the Sunday closest to November 30th. The word “advent” comes from the Latin adventus, which means “coming” or “arrival.”

The Advent Season has a two-fold character. First, it is a time to prepare ourselves for Christmas when Christ’s first coming in Bethlehem two thousand years ago is remembered. Second, it also is a time to anticipate Christ second coming as King and Judge at the end of time.

The liturgical color for the Season of Advent is purple, which was the color used by kings in olden times to signify their royal status. Today, purple implies the lordship of Christ; it also signifies repentance and patience of God’s people as they await the coming of their savior. Some Churches use royal blue, a color of hope and expectation, to distinguish Advent from Lent, which is another penitential season of the Liturgical Calendar.

A most popular symbol used by Christians during the Season of Advent is the Advent Wreath. It is a circle of evergreen branches with four candles placed around it. The evergreen circle stands for the eternal life that Christ won for us. The lighted candles signify the near coming of Christ, the light of the world. Of the four candles, three are colored purple (a color of expectation) and one is pink (a color of rejoicing). On the first Sunday of Advent, a purple candle is lit, with another one lit on each succeeding Sunday. The pink candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, otherwise known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete, the Latin word for “rejoice”, is the first word of the traditional introit for that Sunday (“Rejoice for the Lord is near!”).

Advent reminds us to always have the coming of Christ in mind. We need to spend our daily lives in preparation for our meeting with the Lord, no matter when that encounter comes. The gospel warns us to stay awake because the Lord will come to our lives anytime of the day. Like good servants, we have to fulfill our daily tasks of loving and serving, so that when the owner of the house arrives, we can honestly tell him, “Master, we always tried to do our best.”

John Henry Newman had explained what it means to watch for Christ:

They watch for Christ
who are sensitive, eager, apprehensive in mind,
who are awake, alive, quick-sighted,
zealous in honoring him,
who look for him in all that happens, and
who would not be surprised,
who would not be over-agitated or overwhelmed,
if they found that he was coming at once.

This then is to watch:
to be detached from what is present, and
to live in what is unseen;
to live in the thought of Christ as he came once,
and as he will come again;
to desire his second coming, from our affectionate
and grateful remembrance of his first.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Christ the King (C)

2 Sam 5:1-3; Col 1:12-20; Lk 23:35-43

In 1925 Pope Pius XI instituted a special feast in honor of Christ the King. During this time, Italy was ruled by a dictator in the person of Benito Mussolini who became a close ally of the German dictator Adolf Hitler. Some historians suggest that Pius XI proclaimed the feast of Christ the King in order to remind any pretentious ruler that there is only one true king, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Originally, the feast of Christ the King was celebrated during the month of October. Liturgists moved it to the last Sunday of the Liturgical Calendar Year, which is today, in order to stress the fact that the full celebration of Jesus’ kingship over all creation will happen at the end of time.

Though the feast of Christ the King is recent, its central idea is not. In the second reading, Saint Paul proclaims the kingship of Christ by saying: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him.”

Absolute ownership of creation belongs to Jesus. And yet, the gospel gives us an idea of the sublimity and uniqueness of Christ’ kingship. Jesus is a king rejected, tortured and killed by his own people. While he was hanging on the cross, the rulers and the soldiers laughed at Jesus and said, “He saved others, but he cannot saved himself!” The temptation to make an open, spectacular demonstration of his power was very strong, but Jesus chose not to in order to show the nobility of his lordship. In fact, nowhere in the gospel did Jesus use his power to glorify himself. The Lord used his power only to serve the needs of others, not his personal interest.

As we proclaim Jesus Christ our King, we need to ask ourselves if he really is the one ruling our lives. How are we going to show that we really are making Jesus our king?

On a surface level, we demonstrate that Jesus is our king if we give him a special space in our homes, schools, offices and other places of work. Having images of Jesus and enthroning the Bible are important expressions of our love for the Lord. Unfortunately, what occupy central space in many houses and offices today are beautiful sets of furniture and modern appliances.

On a deeper level, we prove that Jesus is ruling our life if we allow him to influence our moral choices and decisions. Naturally, the life, teachings and works of Jesus affect the disciples’ perspectives, dispositions, affections and intentions. We can say that Jesus is starting to rule our lives when we begin to see things with the eyes of Jesus, to feel situations with the heart of Jesus, to act with the hands of Jesus, and to intend with the mind of Jesus.

Bruce Birch and Larry Rasmussen wrote a portrait of a disciple which I believe would describe a person who allows Jesus to truly rule her life.

Her general way of seeing might become characterized by a set of acquired and nurtured moral sensitivities that search out those often invisible to many in society – the poor, the outcast, the ill, and infirm. She might come to possess a basic posture toward life that is more sensitive than most to human suffering and is at the same time unconcerned with her own needs. She might have a “feel” for where people hurt and be able to empathize deeply.

She might acquire certain specific dispositions, such as an attitude of initial strong trust in people and a lack of suspicion and fear of strangers, and underlying hopefulness about improvement of the human lot, a deep appreciation for nun-human life in the world of nature, and a severe impatience with people’s claim to high and enduring achievement. There may be particular intentions present as well, all of them with plausible ties to the reigning example of Jesus in her life: to always seek non-violent resolution to conflict; to champion the causes of the oppressed; to see the kingdom of God before all else.

Monday, November 19, 2007

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Mal 3:19-20; 2 Thes 3:7-12; Lk 21:5-19

A German missionary in Africa went home on leave and came back with a fine set of large colored pictures to illustrate his sermons. They were a great success. Every Sunday after the sermon the natives rushed to the picture and discussed it with excitement.

One day, the sermon was on hell. The natives seemed very impressed, and the priest went off to breakfast hoping that the picture of the lost souls would fixed the impression. Before he got inside his house he heard screams of delight and laughter, and turned round to see his congregation dancing with glee in front of the picture of hell. Very indignant, he strode back to the crowd. “Silence! What do you mean by all this noise? Hell is not a laughing matter!” One of the natives took him by the arm up to the picture. “Don’t you see, Father? Look – all the people in hell are white!”

(The story is from More Quotes and Anecdotes by Anthony P. Castle)

As the Liturgical Calendar Year is about to end, the liturgy deals with themes related to the consummation of time.

Jewish people considered the end of time as the Day of the Lord or the Day of Judgment. It is going to be a time of punishment for the wicked and deliverance for the righteous. In the first reading, the prophet Malachi puts it clearly: “The day is coming now, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and the evildoers will be like stubble. . . But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in its rays”.

Moreover, the Jews expected that the end of time would be accompanied by signs. Thus, the people asked Jesus, “When will this happen and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?” The Lord answered the question with some elements common in ancient apocalyptic literature such as rumors of wars and insurrections, deadly conflicts between nations and kingdoms, earthquakes, plagues, famines and cosmological disorders. Yet, quite obviously, the Lord redirected the attention of his listeners from the “signs” to the period before these final signs. He admonished disciples not to believe those self-proclaimed Messiahs and those who will say that the time is near at hand. (Remember that in another part of the gospel Jesus clearly said that only the Father in heaven knows the day or the hour of Judgment). Importantly, he encouraged followers to continue proclaiming the good news and to remain steadfast in the face of trials and persecutions. For Jesus, the period before the end-time is important because it is the occasion for witnessing the values of the kingdom.

In light of the inevitability of the end of time or the Lord’s Second Coming, disciples are challenged to keep the following attitudes:

First is to look at the coming end of time with hopeful expectation, not with fear and anxiety. The end-time would be the day of our vindication, the victory of good over evil. Because we believe in Jesus, we trust that the Day of Judgment would be our ultimate liberation from the bondage of evil and sin.

And second is to commit ourselves to daily witnessing of gospel values or to faithful following of Jesus’ way of life. Disciples cannot afford to be indifferent or complacent in the face of evil and sin. In the second reading, Saint Paul reprimanded some Thessalonians for sitting around in idleness. It appears that these people came to believe that the second coming of Christ was just around the corner, to the point that they found no more reason to keep working. Paul reminded them that this was not supposed to be the case. While expecting the final coming of the Lord, disciples must continue to fulfill their daily tasks and work quietly for the good of the community or for the building of God’s kingdom on earth.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Mac 7:1-2, 9-14; Thes 2:16-3:5; Lk 20:27-38

A new business was opening and one of the owner’s friends wanted to send flowers for the occasion.

They arrived at the new business site and the owner read the card which said “Rest in Peace”.

The owner was angry and called the florist to complain. After he had told the florist of the obvious mistake and how angry he was, the florist said. “Sir, I’m really sorry for the mistake, but rather than getting angry you should imagine this: somewhere there is a funeral taking place today, and they have flowers with a note saying, “Congratulations on your new location”.

(The story is from an unknown author)

The Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection because as they claimed this was not mentioned in the Torah (the first five books of the bible believed to be written by Moses). When they raised the question to Jesus concerning the afterlife status of the woman who was married in this life to seven brothers, they were not actually looking for an answer, but were just trying to show the absurdity of the thought of a resurrection. As far as the Sadducees were concerned, the whole idea of life after death was a mere product of people’s imagination.

The Lord’s response was meant to prove the Sadducees wrong. First of all, Jesus insisted that the righteous will find their way to heaven. “Those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world . . . can no longer die for they are the same as the angels.” Moreover, the Lord pointed out that Moses himself implied that there is a resurrection when he called the Lord “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” The Lord can only be God of the living, not of the dead. It is, therefore, logical to hold that God sustains the Patriarchs in eternal life.

What is the relevance of our belief in a resurrection from the dead?

First, our faith in a life after death consoles us with the hope that human life will not end in vain. In the gospel of John, Jesus states clearly that if we believe in him we will have life eternal. He is “the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). He also says that in the Kingdom of his Father there are many rooms and he will go ahead of us in order to prepare a place for us (Jn 14:2-4). By rising from the dead, Jesus has shown that he has complete power over death and that death has no power over him. If we remain faithful to Jesus, we, too, will share eternal life with him.

Second, our faith in a resurrection inspires us to look forward to something most beautiful to come. Saint Paul declares that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9). These words are so consoling especially when we are being confronted with life-threatening conditions such as serious illness, poverty, hunger, natural disasters and violent conflicts.

Finally, our belief in an afterlife provides us with the strong motivation to witness even the most radical demands of our faith. The first reading narrates the moving story of seven brothers who bravely chose torture and death rather than abandon their religion and faith in God. One of the brothers who was skinned alive said to his tormentors, “You are depriving us of this life, but the true King will raise us up to live again forever.” Another brother said, “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the God-given hope of being restored to life by Him.” Their strong faith in another life has given these brothers the courage to disobey the orders of a wicked king even when it meant sure death.

We may not face the same kind of extreme choice that the seven brothers were asked to make. Nonetheless, we live in a world beset with evil. Every now and then, there are people who will ask us to surrender our faith or moral principles in exchange for temporary life or fleeting happiness. May we, like the seven brothers, be able to make even the most painful choice that will lead us to everlasting life!

A story is told about twins talking to each other in the womb. The sister said to the brother, “I believe there is life after birth.” Her brother protested vehemently, “No, no, this is all there is. This is a dark and cozy place, and we have nothing else to do but to cling to the cord that feeds us.” The little girl insisted, “There must be something more than this dark place. There must be something else, a place with light where there is freedom to move.” Still she could not convince her twin brother.

After some silence, the sister said hesitantly, “I have something else to say, and I’m afraid you won’t believe that, either, but I think there is a mother.” Her brother became furious.” “A mother!” he shouted. “What are you talking about? I have never seen a mother, and neither have you. Who put that idea in your head? As I told you, this place is all we have. Why do you always want more? This is not such a bad place, after all. We have all we need, so let’s be content.”

The sister was quite overwhelmed by her brother’s response and for a while didn’t dare say anything more. But she couldn’t let go of her thoughts, and since she had only her twin brother to speak to, she finally said, “Don’t you feel these squeezes every once in a while? They’re quite unpleasant and sometimes even painful.” “Yes,” he answered. “What’s special about that?” “Well,” the sister said, “I think that these squeezes are there to get us ready for another place, much more beautiful than this, where we will see our mother face-to-face. Don’t you think that’s exciting?”

The brother didn’t answer. He was fed up with the foolish talk of his sister and felt that the best thing would be simply to ignore her and hope that she would leave him alone.

(The story is told by Henri Nouwen)

Monday, November 5, 2007

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Wis 11:22-12:2; 2 Thes 1:11-2:2; Lk 19:1-10

It is quite ironic that the name Zacchaeus in Hebrew means one who is just or clean. Before he met Jesus, the Zacchaeus that we know in the gospel had no moral integrity. He was a chief tax collector who enriched himself through anomalous means.

Zacchaeus belonged to the higher echelon of society. Yet, he was unhappy for he had chosen a life that made him an outcast, an enemy of his own people. During the time of Jesus, tax collectors were employed by the pagan Roman occupiers and, ordinarily, they made money through the large interests that they imposed on the working people. It was understandable that the Jews would look at tax collectors with disgust and anger.

The gospel tells us that Zacchaeus was seeking to see Jesus whom he heard would pass their place that day. Perhaps he was one of those people whose hearts were restless in search of something genuine and meaningful. He might have realized that wealth could not satisfy him or make him happy. Providentially, the Spirit was silently leading Zacchaeus to Jesus.

It was not easy for Zacchaeus to see Jesus. We are told that the crowd was blocking his sight because he was small in stature. Perhaps, this was the gospel’s way of expressing the awkwardness of Zacchaeus to join the crowd in welcoming Jesus given his bad public reputation. To solve his dilemma, Zacchaeus climbed up a tree which did not only make him see the Lord but also made Jesus find him.

The conversion of Zacchaeus was initiated by Jesus who invited him to come down from a high, embarrassing position. Commentators would interpret it as an invitation for Zacchaeus to leave his place of corrupted power and dishonest wealth. In a way, the Lord called him to come down to earth, to enter into contact with reality, with the people whose poverty he had taken advantage of.

Zacchaeus responded beautifully well: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” Notice how Zacchaeus suddenly recognized the poor and how he desired to make good reparations. Bible scholars tell us that Jewish Law ruled that if voluntary confession was made and voluntary restitution offered, only the value of the original goods stolen had to be paid, plus one-fifth (Lev 6:5). Zacchaeus manifested his sincerity by intending to give back more than what the law demanded.

A writer recalled how a rich young man failed to become a disciple of Jesus despite living a clean life. Zacchaeus led an immoral life but received salvation because he was willing to leave everything for Jesus, something that the young man refused to do.

The conversion-experience of Zacchaeus inspires us to do at least three things:

First is to find peace with our Creator. St. Augustine reminded us that we are made for God and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. Zacchaeus knew this by experience. He found real joy only when he received the Lord Jesus in his life. May we likewise find our way to meet Jesus who also is constantly seeking for us!

Second is to acknowledge humbly our faults and ask for mercy and forgiveness. Sometimes we like to blame others for our wrongdoings. Other times we minimize the gravity of our sins or justify them with trivial excuses. Let us emulate the example of Zacchaeus who confessed his crime, accepted responsibility and showed remorse in the presence of Jesus. Saint Augustine once said: “The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.”

And third is to make sincere reparations for whatever injuries we have committed against others. Most of our sins have social implications. We offend others by taking advantage of their miserable situations, or by taking something that rightfully belongs to others, or by destroying another person’s name. We also harm others by living scandalously or by giving bad examples. If conditions would allow it, let us try to restore whatever damage we caused in other people’s lives.

Gerry went to confession and told the priest he’d taken bits of wood from work.

The priest said “How much?”

Gerry replied, “Not much, Father, just enough to make a garage at the back of the house.”

“Now, Gerry you know that’s not right and for your penance I want you to make the Stations of the Cross.”

“What size do you want them, Father, so as I get the right wood?”

(The story is from More Quotes and Anecdotes by Anthony P. Castle)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Sir 35:15-17, 20-22; 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18; Lk 18:9-14

In order to give a lesson to the self-righteous, Jesus narrates the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

The Pharisee is a devout observer of the Law. He commits himself to a life of regular prayer, tithing and fasting. We might think that with these religious practices, the Pharisee would easily please God. Yet, according to the parable, the Lord criticizes the Pharisee because in his prayer he shows some kind of arrogance and self-righteousness. This is what the Pharisee says: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector.” Obviously, the Pharisee recognizes only the moral frailties of others but not his own human weaknesses. He behaves like he is a perfect individual, totally unlike any other human being.

In his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul reminds us that all have sinned, no one is exempted (3:22b-23a). Hence, God offers mercy to all of humanity through his Son Jesus Christ. The Pharisee is wrong when he separates himself from his fellow sinners. Because of this, he no longer feels the need to ask for God’s mercy and forgiveness.

The tax collector is regarded as someone with no moral integrity by virtue of his employment. By working for the pagan Roman occupiers, he and other publicans are considered traitors and sinners. Surprisingly, however, the Lord praises the tax collector for praying with all sincerity and humility. The parable says that he continues to beat his breast and prays: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” His humility to accept his unworthiness and sinfulness leads him to beg for God’s mercy. And for this, the tax collector goes home justified.

The story is told that one day Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, visited a prison and talked with each of the inmates. There were endless tales of innocence, of misunderstood motives, and of exploitation. Finally the king stopped at the cell of a convict who remained silent. “Well,” remarked Frederick, “I suppose you are an innocent victim too?” “No, sir, I’m not,” replied the man. “I’m guilty and deserve my punishment.” Turning to the warden, the king said, “Here, release this rascal before he corrupts all these fine innocent people here!”

(The story is from Throw Fire by John Fuellenbach)

What do we learn from today’s gospel?

First of all, we are taught that the virtue of humility is an important foundation of prayer. Like the tax collector in the parable, we need to approach God with a humble heart. Jesus says that “the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” The first reading affirms by saying that “the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal” (Sir 35:17)

Second, we are inspired to recognize our wounded nature and our sinfulness. Like the tax collector, let us entrust ourselves to the immeasurable mercy of God which is definitely greater than any sin we might have committed.

And finally, we are reminded not to look down on our fellow sinners who also need God’s mercy and forgiveness. Let us not emulate the example of the Pharisee in the story whose arrogance goes to the extent of criticizing another worshipper at the temple. Instead, may we learn to support one another in our battle against all forces of evil and to pray for the salvation of all!

A voyaging ship was wrecked during a storm at sea and only two of the men on it were able to swim to a small, desert like island. Not knowing what else to do, the two survivors agree that they had no other recourse but to pray to God.

However, to find out whose prayer was more powerful, they agreed to divide the territory between them and stay on opposite sides of the island.

The first thing they prayed for was food. The next morning, the first man saw a fruit-bearing tree on his side of the land, and he was able to eat its fruit. The other man’s parcel of land remained barren.

After a week, the first man was lonely and he decided to pray for a wife. The next day, there was a woman who swam to his side of the land. On the other side of the island, there was nothing.

Soon the first man prayed for a house, clothes, more food. The next day, like magic, all of these were given to him. However, the second man still had nothing.

Finally, the first man prayed for a ship, so that he and his wife could leave the island. In the morning, he found a ship docked at his side of the island. The first man boarded the ship with his wife and decided to leave the second man on the island. He considered the other man unworthy to receive God's blessings, since none of his prayers had been answered.

As the ship was about to leave, the first man heard a voice from heaven booming, “Why are you leaving your companion on the island?”

“My blessings are mine alone, since I was the one who prayed for them," the first man answered. "His prayers were all unanswered and so he does not deserve anything.”

“You are mistaken!” the voice rebuked him. “He had only one prayer, which I answered. If not for that, you would not have received any of my blessings.”

“Tell me,” the first man asked the voice, “what did he pray for that I should owe him anything?”

“He prayed that all your prayers be answered.”

(The story is from an unknown author)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Ex 17:8-13; Tim 3:14-4:2; Lk 18:1-8

Jesus knows that sometimes people get tired of praying for something over and over again without any apparent results. And so, by way of a parable, he challenges his followers to persevere in prayer and not to lose heart.

This Sunday’s parable is about a callous judge and a poor widow who is seeking for justice. The judge is the epitome of power, but he has no sense of personal responsibility to God and people. The widow represents the depth of powerlessness and helplessness. The truth may be on the widow’s side, but she has no resources to fight her case. Ironically, her only chance of getting justice is to ask help from this ruthless, indifferent judge. For some time the judge ignores the widow’s request. But she is so persistent and continues to seek the help of the judge. In the end, the judge decides to give in to the widow’s appeal thinking that this is the only way to stop her from disturbing him again.

To drive home the main point of the parable, Jesus says: “If that cruel judge finally gave in to the appeal of the widow because of her sheer determination, how much more will the heavenly Father readily answer the incessant prayers of his children?”

There are two things that we need to clarify here. First, let us remember that God is not like the unjust judge. We don’t need to beg him to death in order get the things we ask for. Rather, God is like a loving Father who never gets tired of the never-ending requests of his children. And second, let us not forget that we are not exactly like the widow in the parable who counts for nothing in the eyes of the judge. In contrast, we are God’s children and we remain precious in his eyes.

And yet, after all that is being said above, the troubling question remain: Why do we need to implore and wait at all when we pray? In his book entitled His Word Resounds, Fr. Albert Cylwicki gives us three possible explanations.

First, God may choose to delay in answering our prayers so as to purify our intentions. What are we asking for in our prayers? Are they things essential to life? Or are they things that we merely desire? What we pray for may be a beautiful thing but it might only make us more selfish and proud.

Second, the Heavenly Father may decide to postpone the answer to our request in order to intensify our desire. Where there is little desire on our part, we hardly succeed in our endeavors. But where there is intense aspiration, we often reach the heights of excellence.

And finally, God may take time in responding to our prayers to make us appreciate his gifts more. Isn’t it true that God’s gifts are valued more when we have to wait for them?

There are many things that we cannot fully understand. God’s ways are not our ways; he sees not as we see. We, however, trust that being a loving Father, God will only think and do what is best for each one of us.

An unknown author writes a beautiful poem about prayer:

Just close your eyes and open your heart,
And feel your worries and cares depart.
Just yield yourself to the Father above,
And let Him hold you secure in His love.
For life on earth grows more involved,
With endless problems that can’t be solved.
But God only asks us to do our best,
Then He will take over and finish the rest.

So when you are tired, discouraged and blue,
There is always, one door open to you,
And that is door to the House of Prayer,
And you’ll find God waiting to meet you there.
And the House of Prayer is no further away,
Than the quiet spot where you kneel and pray,
For the heart is a temple when God is there,
As we place ourselves in His loving care.
And he hears every prayer and answers each one,
When we pray in His name they will be done.
The burdens that seemed to heavy to bear,
Are lifted away on wings of prayer.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

2 Kgs 5:14-17; 2 Tim 2:8-13; Lk 17:11-19

A little girl was going to a party and her mother told her to be a good girl and to remember, when she was leaving, to thank her hostess. When she arrived home the mother asked if she had thanked her hostess and the little girl replied: “No, the girl in front of me did and the lady said, ‘Don’t mention it’ – so I didn’t!”

(The story is from More Quotes and Anecdotes by Anthony P. Castle)

As little children, we were taught by our parents to say “Thank you” every time we receive a gift or something good from others. And yet, from time to time, we still find ourselves failing to thank those who have helped us in some way or another. Sometimes, we even forget to thank God who is the source of all goodness and blessings.

“Thank you” is the language of a grateful person. The readings give us two examples of people who have possessed or developed a thankful heart. The Second Book of Kings tells us how Naaman, a Syrian general, tried to express his deep gratitude to the prophet Elisha for making possible his cure from leprosy. In like manner, the gospel of Luke narrates how a Samaritan came back to thank Jesus after being healed from his leprosy. Actually, there were ten lepers who received healing, but only one cared to return and give thanks to Jesus. Realizing this, the Lord asked: “Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they?” The gospel suggests that God would like us to show gratitude whenever we receive a gift or a blessing, be it from him or from others. Let us not be like the nine lepers who, after being healed, ran away and forgot the source of their blessing.

Somebody made up the following story:

The Lord was walking around heaven when he noticed one room full of busy angels. They were busy answering the phones.

“What is keeping you occupied here?” The Lord asked.

An angel replied, “Lord, this is the Office of Requests and Demands. Here, we are receiving thousands of calls per second from earth. People are asking countless things, many of which are not really essential.”

The Lord simply smiled as he moved to walk to another corner on the streets. Then he came to another room full of angels who were sleeping on the job.

“Are you not supposed to be working at this time of the day,” the Lord demanded.

An angel replied, “Lord, this is the Acknowledgment Office. We don’t receive a lot of calls from earth here. In fact, very few would call to give you thanks. So, what else can we do but sleep?”

(The story is from unknown author)

Some people are not grateful because they take for granted the many blessings that are given to them everyday. Fresh air, clean water, food, health, education, children and friends are just few of God’s blessings that make this world habitable and that make our life meaningful. Others do not find the need to say “Thank You” because they consider their achievements as their own doing only. They believe they can succeed without the help of God or of others.

In contrast, grateful people are those who appreciate every little thing that makes their life easier, or every person that makes their life worth living, or every opportunity that opens a window to success. Moreover, thankful people are those who recognize their dependence on others, particularly on the goodness of God. They know that life becomes beautiful only when it is lived in an endless cycle of generous giving and grateful receiving.

Today, we are reminded that saying “Thank You” or writing a note of gratitude is an important gospel value. Whenever we say “Thank You”, we recognize the many gifts, big and small, that we received from God and from others. Importantly, we also begin to appreciate the value of these gifts as expressions of God’s love for us.

Roy Lessin invites us to praise God for his overwhelming generosity:

Thank Him today because –
He formed you and made you.
He has given you the breath of life.
He has given you this day.
He is working in you to become all that He has intended you to be.
He is working everything in your life together for the good.
He is using your difficulties and trials to conform you to His image.

Thank Him today for –
The forgiveness of your sins.
The peace that passes all understanding.
The smiles that have come to your face because His joy is in your heart.
The comfort of His presence that has quieted your heart and calmed your fears.
The hope that is in you because He has promised to always be with you.
The place in heaven that He has reserved and has prepared for you.

Thank Him today with –
Words of exaltation.
Songs of celebration.
A heart of strong devotion.
Thoughts of deep reflection.
Acts of admiration.
Claps of loud ovation.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4; 2 Tim 1:6-8, 13-14; Lk 17:5-10

An elderly woman lived in one half of a duplex apartment. She was extremely poor, but a good woman. She prayed a great deal. In the other half of the duplex lived the owner, a man of no faith, no prayer, no religion. He often made fun of the old lady’s trust in God. One day this woman was praying, quite loudly, telling the Lord that she had no food in the house. The godless one heard her and decided: “I’m going to play a trick on the old gal.” He took a loaf of bread, laid it at her front door, rang the bell, and then hurriedly back to his apartment, to hear through the wall her cry of delight: “Thank you, Lord, I just knew You wouldn’t fail me.” With a devilish grin the man came back to her front door and told her: “You silly old woman. You think God answered your prayer. Well, I’m the one who brought that loaf of bread.” Undaunted, the old woman exclaimed: “Praise the Lord! He always helps me in my needs, even if He has to use the devil to answer my prayers.”

(The story is by Gerald Fuller, OMI)

The readings for this Sunday teach us lessons about faith and trust in God.

In the first reading, the prophet Habakkuk complains to God: “How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen!” The prophet is asking whether or not God cares for his people. There is war and violence, misery and death all around their place. The powerful Babylonians are now about to demolish the people of Israel. How can God allow things like these to happen?

Habakkuk is trying to question the loving presence of God, perhaps like many of us when we are confronted with great problems and so much pain. Remarkably, God appears not to be displeased with Habakkuk since he answers him in gentle and reassuring words. It sounds as if he is telling the prophet: “Be patient because I have a plan. I will intervene when it’s time. What I ask of you now is faith, and if you have it you will live.”

What kind of faith does God ask of Habakkuk? The prophet believes in God’s existence; in fact, he is already imploring for divine intervention. Yet, God wants Habakkuk to develop a kind of faith that is trustful and steadfast. In the face of trials and difficulties, God would like Habakkuk to keep believing that God will not abandon his people and that he will save them in his own time.

In the gospel, the apostles ask Jesus: “Increase our faith.” The apostles themselves realize their need for a more solid kind of believing in order to persevere in following the Lord. Real faith is necessary considering the fact that it is not easy to understand the radical teachings Jesus (e.g., leaving home and families, daily carrying of the cross, forgiving one another and loving one’s enemies). It is even more difficult to follow the Lord’s way of life (e.g. living simply, serving the poor, teaching the ignorant, touching lepers, exorcising demons and challenging authorities).

The Lord says in reply: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea.’ And it would obey you.” Jesus compares faith with a tiny mustard seed, whose power does not depend on its size but on its great potential hidden within itself. Faith, even when it is little, has the capacity to do unbelievable things in the life of individuals and communities.

The use of the image of a small mustard seed also suggests that the quality of the faith is more important than its quantity. We might think that the more we know theology, the more prayers we recite, or the more religious organizations we join, the stronger our faith becomes. Such is not necessarily true.

In the gospel of John, the Lord says: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do . . .” (Jn 14:10-12). Somehow, these words will help us understand the kind of faith that we need to develop in our lives. Faith is our unqualified acceptance of Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of humankind. Our faith is genuine if we believe in the person of Jesus, his salvific words and actions, and if we trust in his absolute power over darkness and sin. The believer would manifest meaningfully this faith by participating in the saving works of Jesus.

In the Mass, let us also ask God to increase our faith. And as we try to face with courage our own problems in life, let us not forget that our difficulties can never equal the sacrifice of Jesus which he offered for our sake.

A young married man thought he knew the meaning of faithfulness and love, until his attractive and affectionate wife was seriously injured in an automobile accident. Instead of coming home after work to a well-prepared dinner and the responsive love of a vibrant woman, he found that he had to be housekeeper and nurse during the long weeks of her convalescence. He slowly went from generous service to impatience, almost exasperation. He resented the heavy burden that had been placed upon him, as he forgot that he had married for better or for worse, in sickness as well as in health.

During one of his darkest moments, his father pointed out that his wife, weak and frustrated on a bed of pain, had not uttered a single word of complaint. His father added these simple words: “Your wife is a very strong woman. If your roles were reversed, don’t you believe that she would not hesitate to do anything for you?” Later that night, the husband stood over his sleeping wife with tears in his eyes and prayed for forgiveness. He resolved that he would be faithful to her, no matter what.

(The story is from The Word Made Flesh by Charles E. Miller)

Sunday, September 30, 2007

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Amos 6:1a, 4-7; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31

A pastor stood up one Sunday and announced to his congregation: “I have good news and bad news. The good news is we have enough money for our apostolate for the poor and the homeless. The bad news is it’s still out there in your pockets.”

(The story is from an unknown author)

In today’s gospel Jesus tells the “Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus”. Commentators are quick to point out that while the poor man is called Lazarus, the rich man is not named, suggesting the gospel writer’s preference and care for the poor. Tradition would later call the rich man “Dives”, which really is the Latin word for “rich” or “wealthy”.

In Mediterranean culture, to be rich means to live comfortably without the burden of having to work for a living. Rich people would have hired hands to do their work or business. The rich man in the parable enjoys these privileges: Every day he wears the finest clothes and eats delicious meals. In contrast, to be poor is to lose one’s fundamental dignity and rights. The poor would include widows, orphans, little children, lepers, shepherds, etc. The parable describes Lazarus as a “poor man” who lay prostrate at the rich man’s gate. He is covered with sores and the dogs would repeatedly come to lick them.

Bible scholars explain that the reversal of fortune that happens at the end of the parable is quite common in ancient stories. The poor who suffers “bad things” while on earth will be consoled in the next life; the rich who enjoys privileged circumstances will be tormented. Yet, Jesus’ parable is enlightening because somehow it shows the reason for the radical reversal of status.

The rich man loses his soul in the next life not because of his wealth but of his total lack of concern for Lazarus. While living in affluence on earth, he never cared to share his surplus to the needy.

In a way, this parable teaches that our state in the afterlife would be determined by the way we respond to the needs of the poor person lying at our doorstep now. The rich among us should very well consider the advice of Saint Paul: “Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life” (1 Tim 6:17-19).

Today is the right moment to bridge whatever gap that exists between ourselves and those in need. After death the chasm is impassable, and our eternal destiny is set. As a matter of irony, the poor are our best hope for salvation. If they become visible to us, we can hope to achieve what is of inestimable value.

A king with no heirs invited qualified young people to be interviewed, with a view to succeeding him. A poverty-stricken young man felt an inner call to apply. He worked day and night to buy provisions for the journey and clothes for the interview. After weeks of travel, he came to the king’s palace. Sitting at the entrance was a beggar in dirty rags, calling out, “Help me, my son!” filled with pity, the young man gave the beggar his good clothes and the money he had saved for his return trip. Then, with fearful heart, he entered the palace. When he was escorted into the throne room, he was shocked. Seated on the throne was the beggar, wearing the clothes he had just given him. The king smiled and said, “Welcome, my son!”

(The story is from Challenge 2000 by Mark Link)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Ex 32:7-11, 13-14; 1 Tim 1:12-17; Lk 15:1-32

After going through the story of the Prodigal Son, a Sunday school teacher asked the kids, “At the end of the story who is it that ended up in the worst situation?” One of the kids stood up and said, “The fatted cow!”

(The story is by Ernest Munachi Ezeogu)

The popular “Parable of the Prodigal Son” has three main characters, namely: the younger son, the father and the elder brother.

The younger son was a volatile, easily bored, ready-to-try-everything teenager. He seemed to be unhappy in his father’s house. He asked for his inheritance while his father was still active and healthy. Commentators would say that the son’s demand was equivalent to wishing his father were dead. Worst of all, the shameless son went abroad and wasted his bequest in loose living.

The younger son represents every sinner. In sin we squander our human and divine birthright. Sin promises a life of happiness, excitement and satisfaction, but in the end what we get out of it is misery, wretchedness and a loss of personal dignity. The good thing is that no matter how deeply we sink into sin there is always a pending invitation for us to return to our Father’s house where genuine freedom and satisfaction are found.

Then, there was the loving father. After the son demanded to have his share of the inheritance at an inopportune time, the father gave in, of course with so much pain in his heart. He loved his son and wanted to keep him in his house. Actually, he had all the right to deny his son’s demand, but he chose not to impose his love. While the son squandered all his money in dissolute living, this father constantly waited for him to come back. The gospel says that “While he (the prodigal son) was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.” It is easy to imagine that the father had spent so many hours outside his house, patiently waiting for the shadow of his son. Thus, when he finally saw him from a distant he forgot his dignity as a father. He ran to his son – something unthinkable for a Jewish father to do. He forgot about his own pain, he forgot about the humiliation his son had caused him.

The son must have worried on the way home. What was he going to say his father? What if his family would refuse to accept him back? He rehearsed his opening words, trying to sound humble and truly repentant: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.” He knew that he was a sinner; he could only beg for mercy and forgiveness.

But the father had none of these. No words were needed, no explanations. The father understood the pain, the humiliation, and the shame in coming home. He embraced his son with love, kisses him again and again. And that was not all. He restored his son’s dignity – the best robe (sign of honor) was put on him, the ring (symbol of the authority of his father) was inserted on his finger, sandals were put on his feet (he was not treated as a slave for slaves wear no sandals), and the fattened calf was slaughtered (sign of joy and feasting). A commentator noted that killing a calf, not just a goat or a sheep, meant that the entire village was invited to share in the joy of having back a long lost son.

Such is the Father in Heaven that Jesus wishes all disciples to know. God loves us so much and he wants us to respond to that love freely. Freedom is God’s greatest gift to the human person, a sign of his love. We are always free to love him back or reject him. God is a Loving Father who keeps on waiting for his lost children. He is one who runs out to receive us, one who cares only for our return. He is one who gives a lavish feast when he gets us back. Many people are not too familiar with this kind of God. Many would imagine a God who is slow to understand, unforgiving and vengeful.

Finally, there was the elder son being introduced towards the end of the story. He was proud that he had never strayed or sinned like his younger brother. He had been faithful in serving his father and he thought he deserved all the rewards. However, he clearly lacked a forgiving heart. In fact, he was sorry that his brother had come home. He represents the self-righteous Pharisees who would rather see a sinner condemned than saved. The attitude of the older brother showed that his years of obedience to his father had been years of grim duty and not of loving service. His manner was one of arrogance. He could not accept his repentant brother, and he only referred to him as “This son of yours . . .”

Sometimes, we are like this unforgiving son, we are self-righteous and easy to find fault in others. Every so often, we are judgmental and quick to condemn. Somebody once said that when God looks at us, he covers one eye so that he will not see the negative parts in us. The problem with us is that when we look at other people, we open wide our eyes and we even have magnifying glasses to see the negative sides of others.

At the end of the story who is it that ended up in the worst situation? Not the fatted cow but the older brother – because he was self-righteous, proud and unforgiving.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Wis 9:13-18b; Phil 9-10:12-17; Lk 14:25-33

A mother announced that a prize would be given every Saturday to the member of the family who had been the most obedient.

“Oh, but, Mommy,” chorused the children, “that wouldn’t be fair. Daddy would win every time!”

[The story is from More Quotes and Anecdotes by Anthony P. Castle]

In the gospel, Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple”.

The use of the word “hate” needs clarification. Quite obviously, Jesus is not asking us to harbor ill feelings or anger against our family or against ourselves. He uses the word “hate” in order to deliver with great emphasis his message, which is, that nothing should stop us in following him, not even family or some selfish interests. The parallel passage in Matthew makes this clear: “Whoever loves father, mother, brothers and sisters more than me is not worthy of me” (10:37). It is, therefore, a question of priority, not of hurting people’s feelings. God, not our families and self, must stay at the top of our preferences because he is the source of all our being and becoming.

The fact is we are called to live harmoniously with our father and mother, sisters and brothers, wife and children. These people could make the best of our relationships when they help us see the truth more clearly or when they inspire us to follow Christ more closely. But when these relationships make us more inward-looking, stop us from reaching out to others, and lead us back from recognizing God’s presence in other people, then the words of Jesus would really mean a lot: “Unless you hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, you cannot be my disciple.”

The Lord also declares, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple”.

Discipleship involves self-denial and sacrifice. A narcissistic person cannot follow Christ because he will be preoccupied with his own needs and desires. One must first free himself from personal ambitions and worldly cares in order to have time for God and neighbors. Moreover, discipleship entails carrying of the cross. The person who is afraid of pain or struggles can hardly serve the good of other people. To follow Christ is to serve the poor, the sick, and the weak. Doing these things often is not comfortable and involves a lot of courage.

The two short parables in the gospel are meant to illustrate the necessity of counting the cost of following Christ. Before constructing a tower, the builder sits down and calculates the cost to see if he has enough resources to finish it. Before going to war, the king studies carefully if he has the needed forces to win a fierce battle. In like manner, we are told to count the cost before following Christ. Are we willing to give up some sinful ways or desires that contradict the gospel? Are we willing to sacrifice our personal wants or the convenience of our family in order to promote the goods of others? Do we have the willingness to suffer persecution in order to defend the truth or to protect the innocent?

Becoming a true disciple of Christ is the biggest endeavor that we will ever undertake in this life. We hope that today’s gospel will inspire us to start considering our discipleship more seriously.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a; Lk 14: 1, 7-14

There were three mice who died and went to heaven. After a couple of days, Saint Peter stopped by and asked them how they liked being in heaven. The mice said that it was OK, but since they have such short legs, it was hard for them to get around because heaven was so big. So Saint Peter told them that he thought he would be able to help them. After a little while, an angel came to the mice and gave each of them a set of roller skates. Right away, the mice put the roller skates on, and they could zip around heaven, really enjoying themselves.

A little later, a certain cat died and went to heaven. After a couple of days, St. Peter stopped by and asked the cat how he liked being in heaven. The cat answered by saying, “Oh, boy, do I like being in heaven! I’m having a great time and I’m really enjoying myself. And most of all, I love those meals on wheels.”

(The story is by C.E. Bowen)

Banquets play an important part in the life and ministry of our Lord. It was in a wedding banquet at Cana where Jesus performed his first miracle. In the gospel, Jesus used a wedding banquet to describe the kingdom of God. And in the parable that we hear today, the Lord spoke of a wedding banquet scene to teach people about the important virtue of humility.

It is nice to know that the kingdom of God is like a banquet. It means that heaven is not a boring place. There are spirits of joy, festive activities, or colorful celebrations. Unfortunately, we hardly see a picture or a painting of heaven as a banquet celebration. Perhaps, artists would find it difficult to imagine holy men holding a glass of wine, virgins dancing the waltz, or pious women playing cards.

But what makes a heavenly banquet? Halos around people’s head? White linens? Solemn music? Processions?

The gospel today inspires us to understand that a heavenly banquet primarily is a fellowship of people who look at one another as equals. In heaven, there is no presidential table, no distinctions in between places, and no discriminations. All are considered special guests by the one Graceful Host. So, all will be seated and served equally.

Most of our earthly banquets are less than the ideal because we treat guests differently according to status, dress and color. Because of this, we see guests looking for important seats and squabbling for places of honor. This kind of attitude has been with humanity since time immemorial. Jesus had to remind his disciples to prefer the less important seats when they are invited to parties. Only the humble ones will find favor with God.

Moreover, what makes a heavenly banquet is the spirit of true concern for one another. In heaven, there will be no more hungry people, no more pain and sorrow. Everyone will be gladly taken cared of.

Commonly, our earthly banquets are celebrations only of privilege people, and there is hardly a place for the less fortunate ones. Jesus had to teach his disciples not only to include but also to give special preference to the poor in their celebrations. “When you give a feast, invite first the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.” In the eyes of the Great Host, the poor are the ones in greater need and thus, must be attended first.

Elijah the prophet would go around, as was his habit, in disguise. He wanted to find out how people talked to each other, how people treated each other, how they acted toward each other. He would often give them a test. One day, he disguised himself with dirty, raggedy beggar clothes, and he went up to a big mansion. It just so happened that there was a big wedding party going on there. He knocked at the door. The father of the bride came to the door, opened it up, and saw this man in his filthy rags. He said, “I don’t know what you’re doing here, sir, but if you think you’re coming to this wedding, you have a second thought coming. You are not welcome here.” And he slammed the door in his face.

Elijah left. A little later on, he returned. But now he was dressed in splendor: white suit, satin vest, silk top hat, and a gold-handled cane. He knocked at the door. The father of the bride came, opened the door, saw this elegant gentleman, and welcomed him with great honor. With great honor he led him to the head table. With great honor he laid before him the finest of foods and the finest of wines. Elijah looked around. People were looking at this well dressed stranger. And then, all of a sudden, he took the food and began to stuff it in his pockets, every pocket he could find. Then, he poured the wine all over himself.

The people were shocked at the sight and wondered what was going on. And the prophet Elijah explained, “When I came dressed as a beggar, I was thrown out. And when I returned in elegant clothes, I was welcomed and given the place of honor. But I am the same person. All that has changed are my clothes. And so, since my clothes were welcomed to the feast, why should they not be fed the feast?”

(The story is by William J. Bausch)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Is 66:18-21; Heb 12:5-7, 11-13; Lk 13:22-30

After a long battle with cancer, a man died and arrived at the gates of heaven. Saint Peter told him that in order to get in he has to spell a word.

“Which word?” the man asked.


The man correctly spelled LOVE and Peter welcomed him into heaven.

About a year later, Saint Peter went to the man and asked him to watch the Gates of Heaven for him that day. While the man was guarding the Gates, his mother-in-law arrived. He was not happy to see her but he had to perform his duty.

“How do I get in?” the mother-in-law asked.

“You need to spell a word”, the man said.

“Which word?” she asked.


(The story is from an unknown author)

In today’s gospel, someone raises this question to Jesus: “Will only a few people be saved?” The Lord, in reply, does not say, “Yes, there will only be few” or “No, there will be many.” A commentator suggests that this is a deliberate and prudent move. On the one hand, if Jesus declares that only a small minority will be saved, we would easily fall to discouragement. Because of our human frailties, we would think that we are destined for damnation. We might as well give in to temptations and enjoy the pleasures of sin. On the other hand, if the Lord says that great numbers of people will make it to heaven, we would become presumptuous and proud. We would not stop sinning because we believe that God, who is so merciful, will forgive us in the end.

Instead, Jesus instructs the disciples to “strive to enter through the narrow gate”. The important thing, for the Lord, is not the “how many” but the “how” of salvation. How can one be saved? A person can attain salvation by passing through the narrow gate. And what or who is the narrow gate? In the gospel of John, Jesus presents himself as the “gate” that leads to the kingdom of heaven (10:9); he is “the way, the truth and the life” (14:6). The narrow gate, therefore, is not a thing but a person, Jesus himself. He warns disciples that entering the narrow gate or following him entails hard work or great effort. Indeed, it is not easy to follow his ways – to love as he loves, to serve as he serves, and to forgive as he forgives.

Entrance to heaven is not won or achieved, but offered. This is what we mean in saying that salvation is a gift. Yet, today’s gospel reminds us that our redemption demands some personal effort. Salvation is not a cheap grace. We have the task to accept Jesus and to follow his way of life. The gospel tells us that during Judgment Day people will say “Lord, open the door for us for we ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets”. But Jesus will tell them “Depart from me, you evildoers, for I do not know you”. Being a Christian or a Catholic, therefore, is not a guarantee of salvation. Only those who observe the teachings of Jesus in their daily life can share the banquet prepared by God in heaven.

The gate is narrow, but anyone who shows serious interest can enter. Salvation is offered to all, not only to a particular group of people. The gospel says that in the end “People will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God”. The heavenly banquet, therefore, is like a big gathering of good-willed people, of those who possess principal virtues such as charity, generosity and integrity. The Lord sees everything under the sun, and he knows who among us are honestly trying to do what is good. Today, the Catholic Church recognizes that even those who have not heard about Jesus or who have not known the Lord can be saved, as long as they follow a life of genuine love and service.

One time in the gospel Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Mk 10:25). Hearing this, the disciples were completely overwhelmed and exclaimed to one another, “If such is the case, who can be saved?” (26) And the Lord assured them, saying, “With God everything is possible” (27). Though narrow and difficult, the gate to salvation remains passable because of the grace of God. We only need to cooperate with the Holy Spirit who will show us the way and inspire us to fulfill the demands of the gospel. The popular adage encourages us, “Do your best and God will take care of the rest”.

A legend says that once upon a time, a Japanese peasant came to heaven, and the first thing he saw was a long shelf with something very strange looking upon it.

“What is that?” he asked. “Is it something to make soup of?”

“No,” was the reply. “Those are ears. They belonged to persons, who, when they lived on earth heard what they ought to do in order to be good, but they didn’t pay any attention to it. So when they died their ears came to heaven, but the rest of their bodies did not.”

After a while the peasant saw another shelf with very queer things on it. “What is it?” he asked. “Is it something to make soup of?”

“No,” he was told. “These are tongues. They once belong to people in the world who told people to do good and how to live good, but they themselves never did as they told others to do. So, when they died, their tongues came to heaven, but the rest of their bodies could not enter.”

(The story is from 1000 Stories You Can Use Vol. 2 by Frank Mihalic, SVD)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Feast of the Queenship of Mary (C)

Ez 28:1-10; Mt 19:23-30

In 1954, Pope Pius XII established the feast of the Queenship of Mary. Traditionally, the Church has considered Mary as the queen alluded in the book of Revelations: “A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (12:1).

The title Queen is applied to the Blessed Virgin because of her close relationship with Jesus: her maternal relationship to him and her vital role in his work of redemption. The Church believes that in heaven, Mary properly is seated beside her Son, the King of glory. Vatican II teaches: “When her earthly life was over,” Mary was “exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son (LG 59).

Nowadays, some theologians are reluctant to apply the title “queen” to the Blessed Virgin Mary. They believe that this honorary title is a thing of the past which is not appropriate for the unassuming persona of Mary in the New Testament. They also are anxious that the title “queen” would project Mary as someone who enjoyed privileges, not as someone who gave her life for the service of God.

Here, it is important to highlight what Pope Pius XII taught in the Encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam. The pope made it clear that the queenship of Mary should not be understood as a political or imperial position. Mary’s queenship is one of love and service, not pomp and power, as is said about the kingship of her Son.

Christ is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rv 19:16). However, he is not a king according to the categories of this world because he reigns from the cross, not from the throne (Jn 18:36). In fact, while on earth, the King served his subjects like a good shepherd to his flock. He washed their feet (Jn 13:4-5) and gave his life for them (Jn 3:16).

Mary is queen because she is the perfect disciple of our Lord. She spent her earthly life doing God’s will (Lk 1:38) and serving those who are in need of help (Lk 1:39; Jn 2:3). Thus, when we praise Mary as queen, we always bear in mind that we honor her for her love and service for God and for people. She always is our shining example as we relate with God and with each other.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Jer 38:4-6, 8-10; Heb 12:1-4; Lk 12:49-53

Sometimes Jesus would use strong words in order to drive home an important point. In today’s gospel from Luke, for example, he says: “Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” In order to understand properly this passage, we will consider its parallel in the gospel of Matthew where Jesus says: “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Undoubtedly, the word “sword” is not used by Jesus to imply bloodshed. The Lord is not a violent man and bloodshed is the last thing he wants for his people. Bible exegetes would rather suggest that “sword” is used to refer to the Word or the message that Jesus brings to the world. As the book of Hebrews says, “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (4:12). The Word of God is sharp enough to divide truth from falsity, right from wrong and good people from evil ones.

In his ministry, Jesus did not say what people wanted to hear; rather, he confronted his listeners with what was right and true. Individuals reacted to his Word differently which caused a deep divide in communities and even in families: “The father divided against the son, son against father, mother against daughter . . .” There were some who received his message and followed him; but many others rejected his Word and sought to get rid of him.

Jesus’ uncompromising attitude towards the truth should inspire us to reexamine our values today. Are we promoting the message of the kingdom in words and actions? Are we not surrendering moral principles to please superiors or friends? Do we have the courage to tell people about their evil ways and practices? Are we willing to suffer rejection and oppression for the sake of justice and truth?

The Lord was never tolerant of evil. He reached out to the sinner in love, but he hated sin. When a woman was found in adultery, Jesus did not say, “Your lifestyle is fine”; rather, he said, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (Jn. 8:11). In his teachings Jesus also insisted on a high standard of morality. In fact, he challenged his disciples to “be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.”

The gospel calls us to act, to do something and to commit ourselves for the values of the Kingdom. Where many today teach tolerance of every conceivable kind of behavior, we, like Jesus, must draw a sharp dividing line between good and immoral actions. When we do this, we must not be surprised to find ourselves in conflict with other people in the community, with others in our family, and even in conflict with ourselves.

The famous philosopher Diogenes was once sitting by the roadside, eating a bowl of gruel. One of his rich boyhood friends rode up on a white horse and wearing expensive clothes. He said, “Diogenes, if only you would learn to flatter the king, you would not have to eat that gruel.” Diogenes said, “Oh but you have it all wrong. If only you would learn to eat this gruel, you would not have to flatter the king.” The question is, “What is really important to us?”

(The story is from an unknown author)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Feast of the Assumption of Mary (C)

Rev 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab; 1 Cor 15:20-27; Lk 1:39-56

The popular preacher Ernest Munachi Ezeogu gives an interesting comparison between Adam and Eve on the one hand and Jesus and Mary on the other:

In the old order, the woman (Eve) came from the body of the man (Adam); but in the new order, the man (Jesus) comes from the body of the woman (Mary). In the old order, the woman (Eve) first disobeyed God and led the man (Adam) to do the same; in the new order, the woman (Mary) first said “Yes” to God and taught her son Jesus to do likewise. In the old order, Adam and Eve had a good time together disobeying God; in the new order, Jesus and Mary suffered together doing God’s will. In the old order, Adam and Eve shared immediately in the resulting consequences and punishments of the Fall; in the new order, both Jesus and Mary shared immediately in the resulting consequences and blessings of the Redemption, which is, the fullness of life with God – Jesus through the mystery of the Ascension and Mary through the mystery of the Assumption.

Regarding the mystery of the Assumption, the Church teaches that at the end of her earthly life, the Blessed Virgin Mary was taken up immediately into heaven, body and soul. This was defined as a dogma of faith by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950. A person would likely ask, “How is it possible for a human being to be raised to heaven body and soul? Isn’t it stupid to even think about it?” For those who have no faith, there is no explanation possible; but for those of us who have faith, a little explanation is enough.

Mary has a special place in the eternal plan of God. “The Almighty has done great things for her.” Mary is “blessed among women” because God has chosen her to be the mother of His only Son. Because she is His mother, it is only fitting that Jesus grant her the privilege of not having to await the eternal life He promised all those who love Him. Because Mary is Jesus’ first disciple, it also is fitting that she should be the first to be with Him.

Our belief in the Assumption of the Blessed Mother Mary also is our joy, consolation and encouragement. Where she is now, there we will also go. Mary, the humble servant from Nazareth, was exalted to the throne of heaven because of her obedience and love for God. We, too, strive to remain God’s faithful servants and eagerly wait for the time when God will bring us home to share everlasting joy with Him.

Because the Virgin Mary is now in heaven, we are confident that we have a mother to intercede for us all. A mother loves and cares for her children, kisses the boo-boo and cleans the wound. She cannot make the wound disappear. Only God can forgive sins. But our Mother Mary can lead us to Him. Her desire to help us is the instinct of a mother whose nature is to give life and love.

One fine day, the Lord God went out on patrol of heaven just to make sure that everything was running according to His will. Everything was fine, the hedges trimmed, the grass cut, the fountains clean, the shopping mall neat.

The Lord stopped by to listen to the choir of angels sing and they were in great form. Then, on one side of the street he encountered people who had no business in heaven. Some of them should have been serving a long sentence in purgatory; and others would have made it to heaven only with an extraordinary appeal. So, the Lord confronted Peter about this mess.

“What is going on here? Have you been negligent again with your duties at the gate?”

“No, my Lord, I try to keep watch all the time,” Peter defended himself.

“Then, why are there illegal aliens inside?” asked the Lord.

And Peter said, “I did not let them in. But what can I do. They went to the back door and your Mother opened the kitchen door and allowed them in.”

(The story is from an unknown author)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Wis 18:6-9; Heb 11:1-2, 8-19; Lk 12:35-40

The priest said to the congregation: “Those who would like to go to heaven please raise your hands.” In a moment all hands inside the Church were up in the air.

Then the priest said: “Those who would like to go to heaven TODAY please rise.” There were some murmurs, but nobody had the courage to stand up.

The priest learned that while everybody likes to go to heaven, nobody wants to die.

Why are people afraid to die? There may be a lot of reasons. Some would find this world too good to be abandoned – they have a beautiful family, booming business, lot of properties and good standing in the community. Others might find the possibility of extinction too fearful. What if there is no life after death? What if I will be gone forever? Still, many others would feel unprepared for the moment of encounter with God. How am I going to face God whom I am constantly offending by my wrongdoings?

We believe in life after death because the Lord himself says there is so. “I am the resurrection and the life,” he says. “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (Jn 11:25-26). In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks about heaven or his Father’s kingdom which is the real treasure of disciples. The treasures of this world – money, jewels, nature, education, jobs, etc. – are all exhaustible. But the kingdom of God offered by Jesus is an infinite treasure, wherein believers can enjoy fullness of life with God. The Lord knows how insecure we are to leave this world, and so, he gives the assuring words: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32).

Today’s parables are aimed to keep us ready for our ultimate encounter with the Creator. First of all, the Lord inspires us to “be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks”. Every now and then, God comes and touches us through events and people we meet. But the final and decisive coming of the Master in our lives will happen during the moment of our death. We do not know when death will come to us, but there is nothing we can do to stop it. With death’s inevitability, the most prudent advice is for us not to deny it but to be ready for it.

Moreover, Jesus motivates us to be like faithful and prudent stewards of the Master’s properties. God has entrusted to us many things – our life, family, friends, neighbors, wealth, talents, time, etc. Blessed are we if the Master comes and finds us taking care of his properties and using them responsibly. But woe to us if during the Master’s return he finds us complacent and taking everything into our own hands to satisfy our selfish desires.

The grim reminder of death leads some people to hedonism. They would say, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” Others would busy themselves with so many non-essential things in this world, somehow revealing a subconscious denial of the reality of death. They are what Jesus refers as “bad and foolish servants” of the house' Owner.

Another subconscious attempt to deny death is people’s unhealthy fear of losing one’s beauty and vitality. Just imagine how many of us are willing to spend much time, effort and money to keep our physical attractiveness. Are we willing to give the same amount of effort and time to improve our spiritual life? A spiritual writer said that when we focus too much on our appearance, we tend to forget our coming “disappearance."

A good servant of the Master would accept the reality of death and find life meaningful. What Peter Beisheim says is true:

Accepting the fact that I am going to die can liberate me in such a way that I can really be free to live, to enjoy each moment, to see each moment as a possibility for concern, care and love. The imperative of the message is the Now. I love my brother and my sister now—not later, for there may not be later.

Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross explains partly the reason why many people today find life empty and meaningless:

When you live as if you’ll live forever, it becomes too easy to postpone the things you know that you must do. You live your life in preparation for tomorrow or in remembrance of yesterday, and meanwhile, each today is lost. In contrast, when you fully understand that each day you awaken could be the last you have, you take the time that day to grow, to become more of who you really are, to reach out to other human beings.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Eccl 1:2, 2:21-23; Col 3:1-5, 9-11; Lk 12:13-21

An elderly man on the beach found a magic lamp. He picked it up, and a genie appeared. “Because you have freed me,” the genie said, “I will grant you a wish.”

The man thought for a moment and then responded. “My brother and I had a fight thirty years ago, and he hasn’t spoken to me since. I wish that he’ll finally forgive me.”

There was a thunderclap, and the genie declared, “Your wish has been granted. You know,” the genie continued, “most men would have asked for wealth or fame. But you only wanted
the love of your brother. Is it because you are old and dying?”

“No way!” the man cried. “But my brother is, and he’s worth about $60 million.

(The story is from A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers by William J. Bausch)

In the gospel, a man asks Jesus to interfere and help settle a problem in the family concerning the division of ancestral property. He says, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me”. In Jewish culture, as well as in many cultures, to be chosen as mediator is something honorable. Normally, people would ask someone to mediate because of the person’s good standing in the community.

Jesus appears to decline the invitation and gives the reason for his refusal when he says: “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist in possessions.” The Lord suspects that this conflict about inheritance is driven by greed and he does not want to take part in it.

Until now, a lot of family feuds are caused by selfish interests for inheritance. Because of a piece of land or property, siblings would give silent treatment to one another, would file civil lawsuits against each other and, in some situations, would harm or kill one another.

To show his disgust against greediness, the Lord tells the parable of the man with the bumper crop. The man who built bigger barns to store up his harvest and secure his comfortable future is called “fool” by God. Why? What did this farmer do to displease God? There is no sign that the man is dishonest or that he cheats others in order to gain more. However, if we read between the lines of the parable, we can tell that the farmer is wrong in at least two counts. First, he celebrates bountiful harvests without being grateful. He believes that he is successful in farming because of his own efforts. Thus, he does not feel beholden to anybody, not even to God. And second, he depends solely on material possessions for his security and happiness. He believes that by becoming wealthy his future is already guaranteed.

The farmer in the parable is a fool because he forgets that all of creation is caused by God. There is nothing that we can claim as our own in this world. Even personal achievements cannot come without God’s grace. We should remain grateful to God because he is the reason of all our being and becoming. The person who thinks he succeeds by his own effort only would tend to become proud and selfish; while he who recognizes that every blessing is from God would tend to become humble and generous.

Moreover, the farmer is foolish to think that his wealth alone would make him happy. The experience of so many lonely rich people is a proof that possessions do not guarantee life and happiness. In fact, there is more to life than money and material things. Love, friendship, intimacy and other Christian values are essential for joyful and meaningful living. What does it matter if you have all the riches in the world and have no real friends? What does it profit if you succeed to get a bigger share of inheritance but lost a brother or a sister in the process? Would not love and intimacy in the family be more important than a piece of property?

In the first reading, the Book of Ecclesiastes tells us that “all things are vanity”. When death comes, all our human achievements – including material possessions and honorific titles – will all be left behind. Saint Paul, in the second reading, wisely admonishes that we better set our hearts on what pertains to higher realms and not on things of earth. What are these higher things that Saint Paul is talking about? What else but the virtues that Christ our Lord would like us to have such as love, compassion, generosity, mercy and forgiveness. These virtues will accompany us to heaven, not our earthly honors and possessions.

In the days of King Solomon there lived two brothers who reaped wheat in the fields of Zion. One night, in the dark of the moon, the elder brother gathered several sheaves of his harvest and left it in his brother’s field, saying to himself: “My brother has seven children. With so many mouths to feed, he could use some of my bounty.” And he went home.

A short time later, the younger brother slipped out of his house, gathered several sheaves of his wheat, and carried it into his brother’s field, saying to himself: “My brother is all alone, with no one to help him harvest. So I’ll share some of my wheat with him.”

When the sun rose, each brother was amazed to find he had just as much wheat as before!

The next night they paid each other the same kindness, and still woke to find their stores undiminished.

But on the third night, they met each other as they carried their gifts into each other’s field. Each threw his arms around the other and shed tears of joy for his goodness.

And when Solomon heard of their love, he built the Temple of Israel there on the place of brotherhood.

(The story is from Moral Compass by William Bennett)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Gen 18:20-32; Col 2:12-14; Lk 11:1-13

A man is praying. He says, “God?”
God says, “Yes?”
The man says, “Can I ask you a question?”
God says, “Go right ahead.”
The man asks, “What is a million years to you?”
“A million years is like a second.”
The man thinks this over and then asks, “What is a million dollars to you?”
God says, “A million dollars is like a penny.”
“Then can I have a penny?”
God says, “Sure, just a second.”

(The story is from an unknown author)

How do we pray to God? What are we asking God in our prayers? Does He answer all our prayers?

There are many forms of prayer and there are many ways of praying. A spiritual director or a religion teacher may suggest to us some techniques of praying. One style of praying may be helpful to us; another way might be suitable to our friends. But there is no single style that fits everyone. In praying, however, the most important thing is not the form or the style but the attitude that we bring in conversing with God.

A disciple asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples”. Watching the Lord pray, this disciple fell in love with prayer and decided to learn the proper way of praying. Perhaps there was something in the way Jesus prayed that attracted the disciple so deeply.

Jesus said in reply, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.” The Lord called God “Abba” – an endearing Aramaic word that a Jewish child would normally address his father. The closest equivalent that we have is “Daddy” (“Tatay” or “Papa” in Filipino). In biblical times, no Jew would ever dare to address God the way Jesus did. For the Jews, God is most sacred and absolutely transcendent. To call God “Abba” was simply considered blasphemous.

Jesus, however, had a different image of God – that of a loving Father, not a distant supreme being. The Lord wanted his followers to call God “Abba” because the kind of relationship that he liked them to have with God was like that of a parent-child affiliation. Disciples are God’s dearest children and they can approach him in the familiar confident way a child approaches a loving parent.

Calling God “Father” does not mean that God is masculine because he is beyond the categories of gender. Speaking of God as father is as meaningful as speaking of God as mother. In the Bible, one discovers that the love of God also is equated with that of the love of a mother to her children. This simply shows that every disciple’s relationship with God should be based on love and intimacy, not on power and coercion.

The Lord’s Prayer, therefore, is not simply a short formula of prayer. First of all, there is something in it that reminds us of our true relationship with God and with one another. God is our Father and we are all brothers and sisters. We approach God in prayer like little children seeking parental love and attention. When we pray, we don’t pray only for our personal needs but for others as well. Moreover, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that there are only a few things that matter most in life – such as God’s kingdom, daily bread, forgiveness and deliverance from evil. A lot of what we ask for in prayer are not essential; sometimes even are harmful to us.

Responsible parents would never provide something that destroys their children’s life. We, as children of a loving Father in heaven, should come in prayer with a spirit of trust and expectancy, knowing that God will always do for us whatever is in our best interest. If God says “No” to our prayers, let us not think that he does not care or he does not love us. What Jimmy Carter said to Larry King on TV is true:

God always answers prayers. Sometimes it’s “yes” and sometimes the answer is “no,” and sometimes it’s “you just gotta be kidding.” But when prayers are not answered the way we want them, then we have an opportunity and an obligation to re-examine our own position. Maybe the things for which we are praying aren’t God’s will.

Fr. Rudy Horst has a brief and meaningful commentary on the Lord’s Prayer:

Do not say “Our” if you live isolated in your egoism;
Do not say “Father” if every day you do not behave like a son;
Do not say “Who art in Heaven” if you think only of earthly things;
Do not say “Hallowed be thy name” if you do not honor Him;
Do not say “Thy kingdom come” if you confuse him with material success;
Do not say “Your will be done” if you do not accept it when it is painful;
Do not say “Give us this day our daily bread” if you are not worried about people who are hungry, who are without means to live;
Do not say “Forgive us our trespasses” if you bear your brother a grudge.
Do not say “And lead us not into temptation” if you intend to keep sinning;
Do not say “Deliver us from evil” if you do not take position against evil;
Do not say “Amen” if you do not take the words of the Our Father seriously!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Feast of James the Apostle (C)

2 Cor 4:7-15; Mt 20:20-28

The gospel features the story about a mother who asked Jesus to seat her two sons to his left and right in his kingdom. Matthew got this story from Mark but toned it down considerably. In Matthew, the mother asks that her sons be given the privileged position; in Mark, the two boys ask for the positions of power themselves. In Matthew, the two sons are not given names; in Mark, we are told that the two were James and John.

In the story, Jesus took the opportunity out of the occasion to remind his first disciples about the real meaning of leadership and greatness. First place is achieved through service; greatness is measured by servanthood. The Master himself came not to be served but to serve, and so must the followers be.

Today, many people study and work hard to get to the top. Such ambition is common in schools, in work places, in politics, or even in the Church. There is nothing wrong with aiming for higher position. Excellence also is a virtue. However, those who desire for power must be careful not to be corrupted by it. Power, like money, is a good servant, not a good master. Those who occupy positions of authority have to make sure that they are serving others, not their personal interests.

James the apostle, whose feast we celebrate today, was initially driven by ambition, and so was his brother John. Eventually, however, the two learned where true greatness lies. The Book of Acts informs us that John would always yield to Peter when it comes to preaching and doing miracles. James, for his part, was inspired by great zeal to preach the gospel to the world and, putting aside all selfish interests, rose to such splendid heights that he straight-away suffered martyrdom (Acts 12: 2).

Sunday, July 22, 2007

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Gen 18:1-10; Col 1:24-28; Lk 10:38-42

The readings provide us important lessons concerning the virtue of hospitality.

In the first reading, Abraham welcomes three mysterious guests into his tent and offers them the usual desert amenities of shelter, water and food. Some authors would say that the three men are angels of God; others would suggest that the three are a manifestation of the Triune God. Abraham may not be fully aware of the identity of his guests, but we see in him a perfect representative of a culture that so highly values hospitality to strangers. Because of the difficulty and hazard of desert travels, ancient Jews would feel deeply obligated to provide for the needs of travelers. The Book of Hebrews says that hospitality can lead to divine encounters: “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels” (13:2). Abraham’s hospitality is demonstrated by the fact that he personally serves the guests. He prepares the cream, the milk and the calf, even though he has so many servants. In return to his generosity, Abraham is informed about the coming birth of his long-awaited son.

Abraham should inspire us to be hospitable to people, especially to those who are heavily burdened by difficulties and hardships of life. In the Parable of the Last Judgment, the Lord reminds us that every little thing that we do for a needy person, we are doing it to him (Mt 25:31-46). Therefore, we cannot be short of opportunities to serve the Lord because around us there are just so many people who are in need of assistance. Of course, we cannot possibly help every destitute person. The Lord reminds us that the poor will always be with us (Mt 26:11). And yet, if every one of us desires to help a poor person each day, imagine what a difference that would make in the world.

Martha and Mary, together with their brother Lazarus, were beloved friends of Jesus. They lived in a small village called Bethany where Jesus loved to drop by and relax whenever he was traveling near Jerusalem. In today’s gospel account, the Lord passes in Bethany and the sisters Martha and Mary once again invite him to their home. This time, however, Martha gets so busy because she wants to prepare a nice meal for the Lord. Meanwhile, Mary, the younger sister, is so excited to see Jesus that all she wants to do is sit and talk with the Lord. The next thing we hear is Martha’s complaint against the seeming laziness of her sister: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” Here, we suppose that Martha is not truly angry at the situation or is not really making a violent protest. One cannot initiate a fight in the family or make a strong comment about a sibling in the presence of a special guest. Jesus’ response to Martha somehow indicates that the atmosphere in the house is quite light. The way he repeats her name, “Martha, Martha,” suggests that he is smiling at someone whose little failings are not new to him. Nonetheless, the Lord proceeds to deliver an important lesson: The presence and attention of a friend or a loved one is more valuable than any material provision.

The story in Bethany should inspire us to check the quality of our hospitality to others. Genuine hospitality is a virtue that moves us to consider the real needs of people and to respond to them appropriately. Often we find it easier to serve people by providing them with material things than by giving them our time and presence. But we know for a fact that the greater need of people is not for money or things but for love and attention. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to remind us: “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the greatest poverty.”

There was once a man who was trying to read the evening newspaper after he had come home from a rough day at the office. As he attempted to read the paper, he was constantly being interrupted by his children. One child came and asked for money for an ice cream cone, and his father gently reached into his pocket and gave him the necessary coin. Another child arrived in tears. Her leg was hurt and she wanted her daddy to kiss the hurt away. An older son came with an algebra problem, and they eventually arrived at the right answer. Finally, the last and youngest of them all burst into the room looking for good old dad. The father said cynically, “What do you want?” the little youngster said, “Oh, Daddy, I don’t want anything. I just want to sit in your lap.”

(The story is from Stories for All Seasons by Gerard Fuller, OMI)