Sunday, May 27, 2007

Feast of Pentecost (C)

Acts 2:1-11; Ps 103; 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

The three Persons of the Trinity were planning a holiday. The Spirit, manifesting the creative part of the divine nature, was coming up with the ideas. “Let’s go to New York,” he suggested. “No, no, no,” said the Father, “They’re all so liberated, they’ll spend the whole time calling me “Mother” and it will just do my head in.”

So the Spirit sat back and thought. “I know. What about Jerusalem?” he said. “It’s beautiful and then there’s the history and everything.”

“No way!” the Son declared. “After what happened the last time, I’m never going there again!”

At this point, the Spirit got annoyed and went off in a huff. Sometime later he returned and found that the Father and Son had had an idea they both thought was excellent.

“Why don’t we go to Rome?” said the Son.

“Perfect!” cried the Holy Spirit. “I’ve never been there before!”

(The story is from an unknown author)

Today we celebrate the feast of Pentecost to commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the first Christian community. Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus asked his followers not to leave Jerusalem and to wait for the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4-5). He wanted them to bond together and prepare themselves to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And so, they gathered in prayer in the cenacle, waiting eagerly for the promised event (Acts 1:14).

The moment came ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven, around fifty days after his resurrection. The Book of Acts narrates that the Holy Spirit descended like tongues of fire and rested on the head of each of the apostles. Soon after, the apostles “began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech” (Acts 2:4). Theologians would like to consider this event as the birth of the Church, when the small bond of Jesus’ followers began to preach the good news to all people regardless of race and tongue. The Holy Spirit was the dynamic power who moved and empowered the disciples to start fulfilling the mission entrusted to them by Jesus.

There is an important lesson to learn from the Pentecost-experience of the apostles. Before every missionary endeavor, we must gather together in prayer and invoke the assistance of the Holy Spirit, for only the Spirit can make our plans and actions bear fruit and serve the common good.

The readings of the liturgy inspire us to appreciate the movements of the Holy Spirit in the Christian community. First of all, the Holy Spirit breaks division and discrimination. The first reading narrates that right after receiving the Holy Spirit, the disciples were boldly preaching in public and they spoke different languages to people, to the amazement of the huge crowd. The people heard the disciples preaching to them in their own tongues, and all of a sudden, there was no distinction between the listeners.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the first Christian community was oneness in Christ. What the Spirit did to the early Church was to break boundaries and barriers between persons. The disciples were starting to become a sign of contradiction in the world for now they were living with the norms of the Holy Spirit, who wanted to create a new humanity – a humanity of brothers and sisters, a humanity of equals, a humanity of Christian believers.

In our reflection, we should ask ourselves: Are we faithful to what the Holy Spirit forms? In our communities, is the will of the Holy Spirit being observed, or is there still discrimination?

The Holy Spirit wants us to continue doing the mission of Christ in the Church. We have to treat each person as a brother or sister so that wherever we are, at home or abroad, we will continue to see and feel living among brothers and sisters. We have to respect, serve, and care for everyone, regardless of color, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, etc. This is what the Holy Spirit wants us to do – break all barriers so that a new world order will be established.

Moreover, the Spirit gives many different charisms for the good of the Christian community. The second reading says: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone” (1 Cor 12:4-6). The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, provides different talents to people so that the various needs of the Church can be addressed. The charisms of prophesying, teaching, healing, leading, praying, singing, etc are gifts of the Holy Spirit to the community so as to make it fully alive.

We are witnesses of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our own Christian communities. In the parish, for example, we have people with different talents and capacities contributing in the work of evangelization. Some are singing beautifully in the choir; others are serving efficiently as lectors or prayer leaders; and some others are zealous missionaries, pastoral workers and catechists, etc. Such is the will of the Holy Spirit because the parish cannot survive with only one charism.

But what ties these different charisms? It is the common good. The Holy Spirit awakens in people the sense of the common good. The Spirit leads us to serve one another and to love one another. We have different talents, but we are inspired to contribute our talents for the good of all. The Spirit wills that there should be an exchange of gifts because without the sharing of gifts the missionary work of the Church will suffer.

In our reflection, we should ask ourselves: are we living by the Holy Spirit? Are we generous enough to share one’s talents for the common good?

Unfortunately, some communities are impoverished because the people are not generous to share. There is an abundance of gifts but people only serve their own interests or the interests of their family. Obviously, communities like these are not truly Christian because they are living against the will of the Holy Spirit.

A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package.

“What food might this contain?” The mouse wondered – he was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap. Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning. “There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!”

The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, “Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it.”

The mouse turned to the pig and told him, “There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!”

The pig sympathized, but said, “I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured you are in my prayers.”

The mouse turned to the cow and said, “There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!”

The cow said, “Wow, Mr. Mouse. I’m sorry for you, but it’s no skin off my nose.”

So, the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer’s mousetrap alone. That very night a sound was heard throughout the house like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey. The farmer’s wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught. The snake bit the farmer’s wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, and she returned home with a fever. Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup’s main ingredient.

But his wife’s sickness continued, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig.

The farmer’s wife did not get well; she died. So many people came for her funeral. The farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them.

The mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness.

(The story is from an unknown author)

The next time we are tempted to do nothing for people in need, let us remember the story of the mousetrap. We all belong to the Body of Christ. Whenever there is one of us who is sick or in trouble, we have to do something to help the person. May we truly respond to the movements of the Holy Spirit and give ourselves generously for the good of the Body of Christ.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Solemnity of the Lord's Ascencion (C)

Acts 1:1-11; Ps 46; Eph 1:17-23; Lk 24:46-53

The Risen Christ appeared in a new and supernatural existence beyond human comprehension, but the disciples didn’t mind. They were just pleased that Jesus was with them again as their Lord and Shepherd. But it was not for long. Forty days after his Resurrection, Jesus was to depart from this world and enter the divine glory which rightfully belongs to him in eternity. This is the event of the Lord’s Ascension into heaven which was Jesus’ final apparition to his disciples. The gospel tells us that “as he blessed them he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven” (Lk 24:51).

Was the Ascension not supposed to be a sad event in the life of the Church? Interestingly, the gospel narrates that soon after Jesus parted from them and was lifted up to heaven, the disciples “worshipped him and then went back to Jerusalem full of joy” (Lk 24: 52). Why were they rejoicing Jesus’ disappearance? And why do we continue to commemorate the Lord’s Ascension as a feast? We can think of some possible reasons for this joyful attitude.

First, in the mystery of the Ascension, Jesus preceded his disciples into the kingdom of God the Father. Because of this, we, who are parts of his Body, live in the hope that one day we will be with him in eternity. A human situation might help explain this point:

A huge, beautiful house is located near your place. You have been dreaming all your life of seeing the inside of the mansion. However, such is not possible because you have no relationship with the proprietor of the house. Entering would be a criminal offense of trespassing. One day, the only son of the house-owner decides to make friends with people in the neighborhood. He is so kind and charismatic, and after a short time, you become his closest friends. Now, the most amazing thing follows: He invites you to come to his house and meet his father. Imagine how excited you are of the prospect of entering the place of your dreams and of knowing its owner.

This we know for a fact from the Scriptures: “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man” (Jn 3:13). Clearly then, by our own capacity, we cannot enter God’s abode. But Christ, the only begotten Son of God, has gained for us access to the kingdom and there prepared our special rooms (Jn 14:2-3). The preface of today’s Eucharist says it beautifully: “Christ . . . has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us but to be our hope . . . where he has gone, we hope to follow.”

Second, having Jesus once and for all in the sanctuary of heaven, disciples are now blessed with a mediator per excellence. Jesus Christ, the one priest of the new and eternal Covenant, “entered, not into a sanctuary made by human hands . . . but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Heb 9:24). With Jesus at the right hand of the Father, we are now assured of an Advocate who will speak for us.

Humanly speaking, it would be nice to have an advocate or somebody who promotes us when we are not known, who defends us when we are at a disadvantage, or who explains our side when we are less understood. In heaven, Jesus is our perfect intercessor, supporter and defender because he knows everything human. He understands our joys and pains, consolations and trials, strengths and weaknesses. As the Book of Hebrews says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (4:15).

Finally, the Lord’s Ascension became a special occasion to remind disciples of their universal mission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. . . .” (Mt 28:18-19). The Risen Christ has chosen to share with us the mission that he received from his Father. He empowers us to share the good news of salvation with every person we meet.

Jesus has ascended to heaven, but his spirit remains with us. He has disappeared, but he has not departed. In fact, he wills to make himself present in the life of all his disciples. “You are witnesses of these things” (Lk 24:48). The “You” here refers not only to the apostles but to all followers of Jesus. Every Christian is called to bring the person and love of Christ into the world.

As Jesus was lifted up to the sky, the disciples kept looking up, mesmerized by the beauty of the mysterious event unfolding right before their very eyes. They seemed to forget everything. And the angels have to call their attention: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” (Acts 1:11). This question still is relevant to remind Christians that they are not to remain passive worshipers. We are left with a mission. Our principal concern in life is to bring God’s love to the world by making Jesus present in the daily lives of people. We can do this by living and promoting gospel values such as love, understanding and forgiveness. We must respond to this challenge or the world will never know the immensity of God’s love.

Mike was a Christian, and his pal Joe, an atheist. Joe lost no opportunity to have a “go” at Mike about what he saw as the irrelevance of Christianity.

One day they were out for a walk when they came across a gang of “toughies,” who were fighting and swearing. Joe pointed to the scene, and said, “Look, Mike, it’s been 2000 years since Jesus came into the world, and it’s still filled with aggression and violence.” Mike said nothing.

Five minutes later they came upon a group of dirty faced children. Now it was Mike’s turn. He pointed to the kids and said to Joe, “Look, Joe, it’s over 2000 years since soap was first discovered, and yet the world’s still filled with dirty faces.”

(The story is from 150 More Stories for Preachers and Teachers by Jack McArdle)

Sunday, May 6, 2007

5th Sunday of Easter (C)

Acts 14:21-27; Ps 144; Rev 21:1-5; Jn 13:31-35

The teaching of Jesus concerning love for fellow human beings takes different forms.

In one occasion, the Lord says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39). Ordinarily, Jewish people would consider “neighbor” only their fellow Jews. But Jesus widens the concept of neighbor so as to include any individual who is in need of help. This is what we understand in the Parable of the Good Samaritan: Every person in need, whether he lives next door or a town away, whether she is Black or White, is a neighbor.

“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Jesus asks his disciples to use as measure in loving people the love they have for themselves. They are to treat another person as their own flesh and bone. This is not easy to do. As a matter of fact, we normally have different standards for ourselves and for others. The natural tendency is to give ourselves first priority or utmost care and to provide others with lesser or no attention. By asking us to love a neighbor as our own self, the Lord simply is helping us overcome narcissistic tendencies. We all belong to the one Body of Christ and we need to behave like we really are part of one another.

In today’s gospel, Jesus presents a more demanding version of the commandment of love. He says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 13:34-35). The Lord instructs his followers to use as their standard for loving not only their love for themselves but his love for them. He knows that our way of loving can easily be tainted with selfish motivations. Hence, he challenges us to love one another according to the way he has loved us.

But what does it mean to love as Jesus loves?

It is significant that every time the Bible speaks about the love of Jesus, it uses the Greek word agape. His love is agapaic, meaning self-sacrificing, unselfish and unselective. Interestingly, every time Jesus says something about love, he also uses agape. For instance, when Jesus invites his disciples to love one another, he is asking them to love in an agapaic way, that is, in a life-giving, disinterested manner.

The love of Jesus is not conditional love, which only is given to those who meet certain conditions laid down by the lover. It does not say: “I will love you if you can make it to the dean’s list” or “I will love you if you can afford to buy me a big house.” The love of Jesus also is not merited love, which only is bestowed upon those who possess adorable qualities. It never says: “I love you because you are considerate” or “I love you because you are faithful.”

Rather, Jesus’ love is one that initiates and offers freely. Jesus called his disciples prior to any good showing or merit on their part. He loved them in spite of their lack of understanding and lack of faith. He continued to love them even after they have abandoned, denied, or betrayed him. Jesus loved them not because they were lovable but because he possessed within himself the love of the Father who loves the unlovable and takes the first move in loving us. And so he says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you” (Jn. 15:9). Jesus, like his Father, loves every person without any exception.

We are called by Jesus to do the same thing: To love individuals not because they are lovable but in spite of the fact that they may not be lovable. We are to love even the enemy, the sinner, or the despised. The true disciple of Jesus loves with a “love in spite of”, not with “a love if” or “a love because.”

The love commanded by Jesus in various ways for disciples to practice seems very difficult. If we are to depend only on our own strength, we would not be able to love the way Jesus loves. Somebody explains that the newness of Jesus’ commandment of love consists not only in the sublimity of love’s demands, but in the grace that accompanies the command. If we sincerely intend to love, God will provide the grace that will transform our hearts and make them like the heart of his Son.

TECH SUPPORT: “Yes, how can I help you?”
CUSTOMER: “Well, after much consideration, I’ve decided to install Love. Can you guide me though the process?”
TECH SUPPORT: “Yes. I can help you. Are you ready to proceed?”
CUSTOMER: “Well, I'm not very technical, but I think I’m ready. What do I do first?”
TECH SUPPORT: “The first step is to open your Heart. Have you located your Heart?”
CUSTOMER: “Yes, but there are several other programs running now. Is it okay to install Love while they are running?”
TECH SUPPORT: “What programs are running?”
CUSTOMER: “Let’s see, I have Past Hurt, Low Self-Esteem, Grudge and Resentment running right now.”
TECH SUPPORT: “No problem, Love will gradually erase Past Hurt from your current operating system. It may remain in your permanent memory but it will no longer disrupt other programs. Love will eventually override Low Self-Esteem with a module of its own called High Self-Esteem. However, you haven’t completely turned off Grudge and Resentment. Those programs prevent Love from being properly installed. Can you turn those off?”
CUSTOMER: “I don’t know how to turn them off. Can you tell me how?”
TECH SUPPORT: “With pleasure. Go to your start menu and invoke Forgiveness. Do this as many times as necessary until Grudge and Resentment have been completely erased.”
CUSTOMER: “Okay, done! Love has started installing itself. Is that normal?”
TECH SUPPORT: “Yes, but remember that you have only the base program. You need to begin connecting to other Hearts in order to get the upgrades.”
CUSTOMER: “Oops! I have an error message already. It says, ‘Error – Program not run on external components.’ What should I do?”
TECH SUPPORT: “Don’t worry. It means that the Love program is set up to run on Internal Hearts, but has not yet been run on your Heart. In non-technical terms, it simply means you have to Love yourself before you can Love others.”
CUSTOMER: “So, what should I do?”
TECH SUPPORT: “Pull down Self-Acceptance; then click on the following files: Forgive-Self; Realize Your Worth; and Acknowledge your Limitations.”Customer: “Okay, done.”
TECH SUPPORT: “Now, copy them to the ‘My Heart’ directory. The system will overwrite any conflicting files and begin patching faulty programming. Also, you need to delete Verbose Self-Criticism from all directories and empty your Recycle Bin to make sure it is completely gone and never comes back.”
CUSTOMER: “Got it. Hey! My heart is filling up with new files. Smile is playing on my monitor and Peace and Contentment are copying themselves all over My Heart. Is this normal?”
TECH SUPPORT: “Sometimes. For others it takes awhile, but eventually everything gets it at the proper time. So Love is installed and running. One more thing before we hang up. Love is Freeware. Be sure to give it and its various modules to everyone you meet. They will in turn share it with others and return some cool modules back to you.”
CUSTOMER: “Thank you, God.”

(The anecdote is from an unknown author)