Sunday, August 29, 2010

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, Saint 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 told by C.E. Bowen)

Banquets play an important part in the life and ministry of Jesus. It was during a wedding banquet at Cana where he performed his first miracle. On one occasion, the Lord used a wedding banquet to describe the kingdom of God. And in the parable that we hear today, he 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 or state of life. There will be eating and drinking, music and dancing. Unfortunately, we hardly see a picture of heaven as a banquet celebration. Perhaps, artists 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?

Today's gospel gives us the idea 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. 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 care of.

Commonly, our earthly banquets are celebrations only of privileged 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 15, 2010

Feast of the Assumption (C)

Rev 11:19, 12:1-6, 10; 1 Cor 15:20-27; Lk 1:39-46

The Catholic Sunday school teacher had just finished explaining the feast of the Assumption to her class. “Now,” she said, “let all those children who want to go to heaven to see their heavenly mother raise their hands.” All the children raised their hands except little Marie in the front row. “Don't you want to go to heaven, Marie?” asked the teacher. “I can't,” said Marie tearfully. “My mother told me to come straight home after Sunday school.”

(The story is told by Fr. Anthony Kadavil)

As we celebrate the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, let us try to address three important questions: First, what do we mean by “Assumption”? Second, why do we believe in the Assumption of the Blessed Mother despite the fact that it is nowhere told in the bible? And finally, what is the relevance of the feast to our Christian life today?

In Catholic understanding, the word “Assumption” refers to God's action of taking Mary, body and soul, to heaven after her death. The Catechism explains that “when the course of her earthly life was finished, the Immaculate Virgin was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death”. Because of her faithful, sacrificial cooperation to God's universal plan of salvation, Mary had received the ultimate reward, that is, immediate union with her Son in heaven.

The Assumption-event is not mentioned in the Bible, but there are strong foundations of the dogma in tradition and in theology. Belief in the Assumption of Mary had been part of Christian tradition since the first century – in the Apocryphal books and in the writings of the early Fathers of the Church. In the Orthodox Church, the Dormitio (or falling asleep) of the Blessed Virgin began to be celebrated as a feast on August 15 in the 6th century. The popular practice was gradually adopted in the West, where it became known as the feast of the Assumption. By the 13th century, most Catholic theologians held true and taught the belief of Mary's Assumption. On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII defined ex cathedra (or infallibly) the Assumption as a dogma of Catholic faith through an Apostolic Constitution entitled Munificentimus Deus.

Pope Pius XII gave four theological reasons to support the dogma of Mary's Assumption:

1) The degeneration or decay of the body after death is the result of original sin. However, since, through a special intervention of God, Mary was born without original sin, it is not proper that God would permit her body to degenerate in the tomb.

2) Since Mary was given the fullness of grace, heaven is the proper place for this sinless mother of Jesus.

3) Mary was our co-redeemer, or fellow-redeemer, with Christ in a unique sense. Hence her rightful place is with Christ our redeemer in heavenly glory. (The term Co-redeemer or Co-redemptrix, means “cooperator with the Redeemer.” This is what St. Paul meant when he said “We are God's co-workers” I Cor. 3:9.). Hence, it is “fitting” that she should be given the full effects of the Redemption, which is the glorification of the soul and the body.

4) In the Old Testament, we read that the prophet Elijah was taken into heaven in a fiery chariot. Thus, it appears natural and possible that the mother of Jesus would also be taken into heaven.

(Outlined by Fr. Anthony Kadavil)

What does the dogma of the Assumption mean to us now?

First of all, the Assumption moves us to look forward to our own resurrection and assumption into heaven during the Day of Judgment. By the grace of God and through our good life, we, too, will be united with the Blessed Mother in heaven.

Moreover, the dogma encourages us to emulate Mary's self-sacrificing love, her unwavering faith and her complete surrender to the will of God. Mary’s Assumption was a reward for her holy life. We will receive the same glory if we follow her examples.

Finally, the Assumption serves as an inspiration in times of temptation and despair to remind us that we have a loving Mother, constantly interceding for us before her Son Jesus in heaven.