Monday, September 24, 2012

Homily - 26th Ordinary Sunday (Year B)

26th Ordinary Sunday (Year B)
First Reading: Numbers 11:25-29 Second Reading: James 5:1-6 Gospel Reading: Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
According to a traditional Hebrew story, Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an old man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted him, and then invited him into his tent. There he washed the old man's feet and gave him food and drink. The old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. So Abraham asked him, "Don't you worship God?"
The old traveler replied, "I worship fire only and reverence no other god."
When Abraham heard this, he became incensed, grabbed the old man by the shoulders, and threw him out of his tent into the cold night air.
When the old man had departed, God called to his friend Abraham and asked where the stranger was. Abraham replied, "I forced him out because he did not worship you."
God answered, "I have suffered him these eighty years although he dishonors me. Could you not endure him one night?"
Yes, God is tolerant with everyone. He is tolerant with you and with me. He is tolerant even with those who do not revere him. It is we who profile people according to caste, creed, class & color, and try to force them out. The common theme of today's Scripture Readings is that we should tolerate people who do not belong to our group – for, they are not our real enemies; our real enemy is sin and one should never tolerate it. So, “Our real enemy is not outside of us, but inside, right within us!”
Today's first reading from the Book of Numbers echoes in pattern the first section of the Gospel. Moses, in the first reading, has appointed seventy elders to help him in his mission. The Spirit comes down upon the seventy, but also upon two others - not in the group. The seventy complain and want the two to be stopped, but they are rebuked by Moses. For Moses recognizes the two outsiders as a sign of the potentiality of the whole 'people of the Lord,' being prophets.
Similarly in the Gospel, Jesus has appointed twelve apostles to work in his mission. The apostles come upon someone else doing a work which is part of their own mission from Jesus and try to stop him. They want confirmation from Jesus in this, but he rebukes them and says that if the work is done in his name then it is not at odds with his mission - “Anyone who is not against us is for us.”
Now, Jesus always provokes a response in those who encounter him. It's true that there are those who want to follow but are afraid and those who are held back by something they don't want to leave behind. But in the end there are those who are for him, and those who are against. Jesus himself implies as much in today's Gospel Reading: “Anyone who is not against us is for us.” And in different circumstances he says: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”
So who is for Jesus and who against?
In today's Gospel, Jesus cautions us against judging that those outside his group of disciples are against him. Someone not a disciple has been performing miracles in Jesus' name, and when the disciples complain about it Jesus admonishes them rather than the lone exorcist. No one, Jesus says, can do such a mighty work in his name and afterwords speak evil of him.
Nor is it that the exorcist is somehow for Jesus but against the disciples. When the disciples made their complaint, their grievance was that the man was not with us. Whom does this 'us' include, Jesus or just the disciples? Perhaps their concern was that the man wasn't following them rather than not following Jesus. So is Jesus replying that the exorcist, though he may not be with the disciples, is nevertheless for Jesus? No. Jesus doesn't either say that the man is for him, nor does he say he is for the disciples. He just says: “Anyone who is not against us is for us.” Jesus doesn't reject the exorcist, but he doesn't exclude the erring disciples either. Jesus and the disciples are 'us'. Whatever their mistakes, the disciples are never his enemies.
Who then are the ones who are really against Jesus?
Jesus' enemies might have been thought to be the Roman authorities, and indeed they are the ones to try him and put him to death. Moreover, Jesus struggled with Satan in the desert and set about despoiling his house by exorcising devils. He was opposed by the Sadducees who saw him as a threat to their religious and political position. He was opposed also by the Pharisees whose religiosity he lambasted and called them hypocrites.
And yet, in today's Gospel Reading Jesus singles out none of these as those who are against him. Instead he speaks against those who cause little ones who believe in him to sin, those who 'scandalize' believers. These, it seems, are those who are really against him, not an external enemy even, but someone within - any disciple could become a scandal to another believer - “Our real enemy is not outside of us, but inside, right within us!”
We are used to thinking of a scandal as some disgraceful happening, but here 'to give scandal' means to behave in such a way that you encourage others to sin.
In our second reading of today from Letter of St. James, St James gives a wake up call to the rich who are selfish, proud and filled with greed, and who unjustly oppress the poor and don't pay their wages. Now that is already a heinous crime prompted from within their hearts: “Our real enemy is not outside of us, but inside, right within us!”
But imagine if those rich people are also Christians! When other Christians see their behavior, they may feel justified in sinning themselves. So, the sin of the rich would be not just oppression but scandal too for others.
So, who is opposing God in our world today?
There are many who are against him, including those who campaign against religion and faith. But perhaps those who are really against God are those Christians who have ended up making themselves an 'enemy within', a scandal or a stumbling-block to the faith of others. “Our real enemy is not outside of us, but inside, right within us!”
Is that then us? Are we a stumbling block to others by our failure to live Christian lives in church and out of church? Have we given scandal by a lack of reverence for Christ in others?
In today's Gospel Jesus tells us that it would be better for those who give scandal to be drowned at the bottom of the sea, just as the Egyptians, the enemies of God's people, were drowned. There is, however, an alternative. In baptism the old Adam in all of us was drowned away. When the grace of our baptism is renewed, at Mass, in confession, or by any growth in charity, we drown away the enemy of God in us. Whenever we repent by God's grace and turn back to him and do penance, we cut off some unspiritual part of ourselves and throw it away. So, let us throw away today the enemy within us and never be scandals to others, but instead be a true disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ - tolerating everyone and accepting them in one fold, irrespective of their cast, creed, class or color.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Homily - 25th Ordinary Sunday (Year B)

25th Ordinary Sunday (Year B)

First Reading:  Wisdom 2:12, 17-20           Second Reading:  James 3:16-4:3             Gospel Reading:  Mark 9:30-37
This is an amazing true story, about the mother of a 10 day old baby who one day heard an explosion. The mother ran into the bedroom but the baby wasn’t there. She was puzzled to see the window open—it was a very cold night—but before she could make the connection between the empty crib and the open window, a fire engulfed the bedroom and the mother rushed out of the house with the other children. The baby was never found; and the investigators eventually concluded that the fire consumed the baby. But the mother never believed it.
Six years later, the mother happened to be attending a birthday party. There she met a bright-eyed, energetic six-year-old girl who looked very much like her own children; and she began to feel that this child might be her daughter. So pretending the little girl had gum in her hair, she actually pulled a few strands of hair and then contacted the police. The police lab tested the hair samples and found that the girl’s DNA matched the mother’s. The little girl was indeed her daughter. The police investigated and found out that the little girl was kidnapped six years before, and that the kidnapper set fire to the bedroom to distract from the abduction.
Now the point of this bizarre yet true story is simple – Evil and suffering mysteriously befall the innocent family – all of a sudden the baby disappears, but the mother never gives up on finding her child. And despite all kinds of disappointments and discouragements, she continues to hope. And almost miraculously she finds her daughter six years later.
In a similar way, God loves us and never gives up on us – in the midst of evil & suffering, problems & difficulties, failures and disappointments, threats & fear to the point of death - when we are lost to him or wander away from him, he relentlessly pursues us; and he pursues us until he catches up with us and leads all of us to our ultimate destiny. So, with great faith & hope in him we acclaim - “God upholds our life in moments of suffering and death, and carries us to eternal life!”
Now, the Word of God just proclaimed in the First Reading of today from the Book of Wisdom takes us back to the wisdom literature of ancient Israel, a collection of sayings about how to live and behave. Here the author speaks about a person, 'the suffering servant,' who always tries to do what is right and fair in his relationships with others and how do some so-called “enemies” or “evildoers” react? They plan to torture & torment him and want to kill him. “Let’s see whether God will rescue him,” they say. This passage may invite us to ask: Why do the wicked seem to prosper and the good suffer? Or to put it another way, why do bad things happen to good people?
In the Second Reading of today from the Letter of St. James, St. James asks: Why do some people choose evil over good? Why selfish ambition at the expense of others, why unjustifiable wars, random violence, thievery of one kind or another, great and small?
Christianity says simply that people are basically good but that there is something not quite right with us. People do indeed at times choose evil over good, wrong over right, falsehood over truth. Christianity calls this human condition “original sin.” Original sin quite simply is a lack of a relationship with God, a fall from grace. That is why human beings in every age cry out for grace, healing, reconciliation, friendship with God. They can only find grace, healing, reconciliation, and friendship in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh who made his dwelling among us.
In the Gospel Reading of today according to St. Mark, Jesus predicts for the second time his own passion, death and resurrection, soon after the event of his transfiguration on the mountain - “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” In this mystery, Jesus reveals to us a life beyond this earthly life; in his suffering, death and resurrection, Jesus reveals to us eternal life—our ultimate destiny - “God upholds our life in moments of suffering and death, and carries us to eternal life!”
Yes, the Word of God today brings us face to face with the eternal question: “Why suffering, why evil?” Why do the wicked seem to prosper and the good suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people?
In the biblical Book of Job, the author posed this very question. But the author never answered the question. Suffering, evil continues to be a mystery.
The Christian answer to the question “Why suffering, why evil?” acknowledges the tensions that are at the very core of human existence– the tension or pull between the self and other, between the rational and irrational, between the responsible and irresponsible within ourselves.
And then there is “death.” We are born at a moment in time and eventually will die. Yes, our lives are fragile and transitory–the Bible repeatedly emphasizes this theme. Added to these tensions within ourselves is sin.
The Book of Genesis captures graphically the theme of sin or the fall from grace. In the beginning, man and woman, so Genesis says, walked with God; they had friendship with God and one another. But somehow they lost that friendship. The Book describes very simply yet very powerfully that fall from grace. Man and woman hid from God; the man blamed the woman for their misfortune; and even nature worked against them and their projects.
Yes, there is indeed something not quite right here. How else do we explain man’s inhumanity to his fellow human beings: violence, war, disease, hunger, injustice, death, and so forth.
Christianity emphatically says that there is no human solution to this human condition. It goes on to say there is a power beyond us – 'GRACE' — which can overcome this alienation, heal this brokenness, reconcile this estrangement, and this power beyond us is not indifferent to us. Rather this power is indeed a good and compassionate God who became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth and is alive in our midst by the power of the Holy Spirit. For, from St. John's Gospel we know that, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in him , will not perish but will have eternal life.” So, it is in Jesus that we find the true meaning of suffering, who through his suffering and death brought salvation to humankind. There is a necessary link between 'suffering' and 'redmption.' Of course, there is no crown without a cross; no gain without pain.
Now, the same good and compassionate God invites us today - you and me, to live out a life of discipleship with Jesus, which implies total self-renunciation, carrying of one's daily cross and following him. So, let us try from now on, to do the best we can in ordinary things - being ever faithful to Jesus, while patiently bearing and unselfishly loving one another. Let us call to mind that amazing story of the mother who never gave up on finding her child. God too never gives up on us, no matter how far we wander. Let us not forget the Good news of today: “GOD UPHOLDS OUR LIFE IN MOMENTS OF SUFFERING AND DEATH AND CARRIES US TO ETERNAL LIFE!”

Friday, September 14, 2012

Homily - 24th Ordinary Sunday (Year B)

24th Ordinary Sunday (Year B)

 First Reading: Isaiah 50:5-9a             Second Reading: James 2:14-18           Gospel Reading: Mark 8:27 35
When Christian Herter was governor of Massachusetts, he was running hard for a second term in office. One day, after a busy morning chasing votes (and no lunch) he arrived at a church barbecue. It was late afternoon and Herter was famished. As Herter moved down the serving line, he held out his plate to the woman who was serving chicken. She put a piece on his plate and turned to the next person in line.
"Excuse me," Governor Herter said, "do you mind if I have another piece of chicken?
"Sorry," the woman told him. "I'm supposed to give one piece of chicken to each person."
"But I am starved," the governor said.
"Sorry," the woman said again. "Only one to a customer."
Governor Herter was a modest and unassuming man, but he decided that this time he would throw a little weight around. "Do you know who I am?" he said. "I am the governor of this state."
"And do you know who I am?" the woman answered. "I am the lady in-charge of the chicken. Move along, mister."
In the above story, the governor and the lady in-charge of the chicken, both try to exert their authority upon the other by revealing their identity of who they are by letting emphatically the question - "Do you know who I am?" In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Mark, Jesus asks his disciples the same very question as regards his identity: "Who do you say that I am?" but completely in a different  context. For, he does not exert his authority upon them, but asks a simple and straightforward question trying to sincerely seek their opinion and find out whether they have been able to recognize him after living with him for quite a time. i.e. to inquire what the disciples have discovered so far as to 'who Jesus is' for them. On the first glance, this question of Jesus may appear quite simple, but in fact it is rather tricky as it directly knocks at the very ground of one's faith. Of course it is a personal question and so it demands a personal answer too.
Today we come to the high mark, a climax in Mark's Gospel. When we read the four Gospels, each Evangelist through his writing tells its readers 'who Jesus is' as he has experienced and discovered. Each of the four Gospels has therefore its own characteristic, its own way of presenting the message of Christ. So, who do the Gospel writers - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John say Jesus is? It is not as difficult to see that -
      Matthew emphasizes Jesus as 'the Teacher, the Rabbi.' So, like Jesus we have to be teachers, and the best way to be a teacher is not by words, but by behavior, by the practice of virtue.
      Mark highlights Jesus as 'the Suffering Messiah.' So, like Jesus we too are called to make sacrifices, to give generously - especially our time and talent - to other people, e.g. our families, colleagues in the workplace and friends.
      Luke accentuates Jesus as 'the Savior of humankind' - Gentiles as well as Jews. In Luke Jesus is especially a friend of the poor, the handicapped, those relegated to the fringes of society. So, like Jesus we have to be healers, reconcilers and peace-makers - people who try to break down barriers that divide people.
      John stresses Jesus as 'Noble, Majestic and Divine'. In John, Jesus is one with God. So, like Jesus we too have to have an intimacy with God, esp. through prayer.
Our Gospel passage of today is from St. Mark who in his Gospel (as we mentioned above) presents Jesus as 'the Suffering Messiah,' and it can quite clearly be seen in the reading itself. Jesus asks his disciples - "Who do the people say that I am?" and his disciples reply - "John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets." But Jesus is more interested in what his disciples  themselves have to say. So, he asks them again - "But who do you say that I am?" Peter, speaking in the name of all, says _ " You are the Christ." This is Peter's confession of faith, and this is what the disciples gradually came to discover that 'Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Messiah.' Then quite unexpectedly comes the bucket of cold water! Jesus begins to tell them what being Messiah will mean for him - and for them. He will suffer greatly, will be rejected by the leaders of his own people, will be executed like a criminal and on the third day he will rise to life. This clearly comes as a real shock to the disciples. For them these make no sense whatever.  This is not the Messiah  they expected. Peter found it hard to accept. For him the Messiah would not, could not suffer. Judging by human standards, not God's -  Peter's faith failed to accept God's will for the Messiah. Jesus then assures all his disciples that they too must suffer and exhorts them - 'to deny themselves, to take up their cross and to follow him.'
The First Reading, chosen to compliment the Gospel Reading of today is part of one of the "Suffering Servant" songs that Prophet Isaiah composed about the one who was to come. In this reading, the prophet describes the servant of God who will lead Israel back to God. The servant will suffer, but God will uphold him and will take care of him.
In the New Testament, these words take on a new meaning for us. The prophesy of Isaiah is fulfilled in Jesus. That is to say that Jesus is the suffering servant in Isaiah, the Messiah who was destined to suffer and so, enter into his glory. Jesus in fact had a very clear understanding of what Isaiah prophesied. He was to enter into the worst of human experience without resistance - to stand defenseless before the worst that humankind could throw at him. He was to endure suffering and death with only the assurance that the Lord would vindicate him and that, despite all that would happen to him, he would not be shamed. So, he was not afraid to enter into the songs of the Suffering Servant and to make them his own.
As followers of Jesus, we also have to face trials and suffering. We may not be asked to die for our faith, but we will be asked to live our faith with courage and full faithfulness. Again, "faith without good work is dead" - St. James says in the Second Reading of today. In his letter to the Christian believers he exhorts that our 'faith' has to be backed up by 'works,' practical behavior. That is to say, our way of life should correspond fully to the faith we profess. Our faith in Jesus should compel us to reach out compassionately to other people, to give our time, talent and yes, perhaps even some of our treasure to the people around us, especially the needy; else, we are just pretending, or even lying. What good is being deeply religious, if one does not reach out to a world in need?
In the rat race of life everyone is for the 'self' and there are few winners and many losers. To be a Christian disciple is not primarily to 'save my soul' or 'go to heaven,' but to enter fully into the mainstream of human living and human concerns, to become part of it through loving and sharing and building up with 'others.' It is not a matter of everyone for oneself, but each for the other, one for all and all for one - and then there will be all gainers and no losers.
Finally, as his followers, Jesus today is asking us, you and me, the same very question which he had asked his disciples about two millennium ago: "WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?" What does Jesus mean to us today? This is personal question regarding our faith in Jesus and answer has to come from each individual based upon his/her personal experience of Jesus. To truly know "who Jesus is," one has to fulfill the conditions of discipleship which Jesus himself has put forward, viz. 'to deny oneself, to carry one's daily cross and to follow him.' What are our images of Jesus, and what image or images do we reflect in our own lives? Does in our lives our belief and behaviour correspond? Or, are we just pretending to be a follower of Jesus, or lying?

Hello from Father Albert

St Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church, John Day, OR

I am Father Albert Lakra, from India. Presently I am working in the Diocese of Baker in Eastern Oregon, USA. I am the pastor of St Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church at John Day in Grant County, which covers 4,800 square miles. I have two mission churches to cover, in Monument and Dale/Long Creek, which I visit weekly, covering approximately 165 miles to reach them, and sometimes in snowy or icy roads, especially in the winter months. There are altogether about 90 families in my parish with a total number of 130 parishioners. The parish of St Elizabeth welcomes you all, and I will use this blog to keep you updated on a regular basis with my Sunday homilies. The picture above shows my parish church in John Day.