Thursday, December 27, 2012

Homily - The New Year, 2013 (Year C)

The New Year - 2013 (Year C)

First Reading:  Numbers 6:22-27       Second Reading: Galatians 4:4-7       Gospel Reading: Luke:16-21

There is a story told of a certain Mr. Brown who taught swimming and diving for a number of years. Among his trainees there was a young boy named Billy. Billy had watched so many professional divers and wanted so much to dive like them that he refused to take time to learn the basics. Time after time Mr. Brown tried to help Billy see that the most important thing about diving was to keep his head in the proper position. If his head entered the water properly, Mr. Brown explained, the rest of his body would enter the water properly–at least, more properly than it had been. Billy would dive into the pool, do a belly flop, and come up grinning, “Mr. Brown,” he would shout, “were my feet together?”
Billy, I don’t care whether your feet were together or not,” Mr. Brown shouted back. “Make sure your head is straight, then everything else will work out.”
The next time Billy would stand on the edge of the pool and really concentrate. Then he would dive and, once again, make a mess of it. “Mr. Brown, were my hands together?”
Billy,” Mr. Brown would groan in frustration, “I’m going to get you a neck brace and weld it onto your head. For the hundredth time, if your head is right the rest of you will be right. If your head is wrong, the rest of you will be wrong.

And isn’t that true in all of life? It is said, 'Well begun is half done,' and it is our head that gives a start. If our head is wrong, our marriage will probably suffer. If our head is wrong, our priorities will be fouled up. If our head is wrong, it may even affect our health in a negative way. We require therefore, to keep our head right and give our life a proper direction right in the beginning, so that the rest of it will be all right. Surely, God understands our distress and He ever seeks to make us new persons so that we can handle our distress more effectively and become more successful and happy in our lives.

Today is 1st January and we stand on the threshold of a “New Year” and a “New Beginning.” Here we are in a month named after the Roman god Janus, an appropriate personification of the start of the New Year. The one special thing about the god Janus is he is two-faced. He has a face looking to the past and a face looking to the future at the same time. That is why the god Janus became the symbol of New Year’s where, just as we are today, we look at the past and give thanks for that. We look to the future and gather our hopes for that.
So, today as we get rid of an old year and look forward to a new one, we all try to be a little like Janus. This is indeed a time to reflect and think about what the past year that has just ended has brought and what the new year lying right ahead of us could bring. So, the beginning of a new year, as we put our heads into it, provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the special gift of time and demands that we keep our heads straight:
We recall the events of the previous year and express our gratitude to God for all the good things that have happened, all the while being aware that there have also been sad and painful experiences and perhaps sinful realities for which we feel sorry, and also the missed opportunities for which we regret. It is a time to reflect, to stop and analyze, to take stock of our priorities, values, pursuits, and goals. Through soul searching questions we find that a review of the past year naturally leads to setting goals and resolutions for the new year.
But most of all we joyfully celebrate the promise of a new set of months with new opportunities and happiness, and we try to be hopeful in spite of uncertainties and unknown threats lying ahead. Today therefore, is a day to pray for God's blessings upon each one of us as we proceed in the new year with fresh resolutions. Yes, it is God's blessing we all need on this first day of the new year. In the First Reading of today, we have an example of Levitical blessing, which Moses instructs his brother Aron:
                "The LORD bless you and keep you!
                 The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
                 The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!"
This blessing has passed the test of time. Originating with the chosen people, this blessing has been pronounced for three millennia and we can still employ this whenever we want to pray for God's blessing. What a beautiful thing it is to have God's blessing to go forward with "A NEW BEGINNING FOR A NEW YEAR.”
The Catholic Church also celebrates "World Day of Peace" on the 1st of January. On this day our Holy Father Pope Benedict XIII has asked us to pray for peace in the world and the theme he has chosen for the Year 2013 celebration is "Blessed are the peacemakers."
This year would also mark the 50th anniversary of Blessed John XXIII's encyclical, "Pacem in Terris" (Peace on Earth). Pope John's encyclical affirmed the essential place of human dignity and human freedom in the effort to build a peaceful society, dedicated to promoting common good. The late Pope's plea for peace, for respect of human dignity and freedom, and more basically, for respect for what is right and good, holds out ' a message of hope to a world that is hungry for it, a message that can resonate with people of all beliefs and none, because its truth is accessible to all.'
The past year has been one of many events that marred the peace of the world - social injustices, terrorist activities, wars, revolutions, natural disasters like earthquakes, floods etc. just to mention a few of them. There are also threats to religious liberty and other basic rights, the global financial  crisis and crises in politics and education signal a 'worrying crisis of democracy.' Moreover, we live in a world where families and life itself are threatened and not infrequently fragmented. We wonder, and sometimes we worry – what the new year is going to bring about! All we can do is to place our full trust in God during our times of problems and crises and pray for his blessing of peace.
Today, as we also celebrate “World Peace Day,” the proposed theme - “Blessed are the peacemakers,” echos in our minds and hearts. We are therefore called to begin the New Year by being a peacemaker. But we must first make peace with our past and the relationships that have been broken through unforgiveness in order to give ourselves "A NEW BEGINNING FOR A NEW YEAR.” 

The 1st of January is also the culmination of the octave of Christmas when we celebrate the “Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.” Exactly a week back we celebrated with great joy the feast of Christmas, commemorating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary and reflected upon the mystery of the Incarnation, i.e. God taking the form of a human being in the person of Jesus Christ. The life of Jesus begins with Mary. Therefore, it is appropriate that we begin the New Year with a Feast of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Since Mary is the Mother of God she is the mother of joy, joy to the world. So the traditional greeting on this first day of the New Year is one of joy: “Happy New Year!”
Today's special feast affirms that the Blessed Virgin Mary is truly the Mother of God and shows the importance of her role in the mystery of our salvation. This Catholic Dogma finds its origin from the passage found in the Gospel of Luke. After the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Upon her arrival, Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit expressed her joy at the arrival of “the Mother of God.”
In 431 A.D, the Council of Ephesus affirmed that Mary was truly the Mother of God because “according to the flesh” she gave birth to Jesus, who was truly God from the first moment of His conception. Twenty years later the Council of Chalcedon re-affirmed that the Motherhood of Mary was a truthful dogma and an official doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church. Her Motherhood began when the eternal God entered human history. The second Divine person of the Trinity, the Word, took on a human nature in the womb of Mary.

In the Second Reading, through his letter to Galatians, Saint Paul tells us that we have become God's adopted daughters and sons. Through Jesus' Spirit, we are made God's own children and heirs of all that God has promised. God is "Abba," like a wonderful parent who is absolutely crazy about us. In a special way, Jesus has given us Mary to be our mother, too. So, Mary is not only Jesus' mother, but she is our mother too and she cares for us and for all of God's family with the same love she had for Jesus. So, on this New Year Day, let us turn to Mary, our mother, with all our needs and hopes, confident that she will never fail us and give "A NEW BEGINNING FOR A NEW YEAR.” 

To conclude, recalling the Gospel Reading of today, it has a special message for us as we hang up the new calendar with mixed feelings. The fresh New Year is in some way like the infant Jesus "wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." Both the new year and the new child seem so vulnerable but the almighty power of God is hidden in the new year, just as it is in the tiny infant. God is fully prepared to wrap our fragile lives and hopes in the warm blanket of his ever present and constant love. With such assurance, we can face the future with generous hope and with light hearts. For we too need to realize that the angels who spoke to the shepherds are speaking to us also when they say, "This will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." Let us then glorify and praise God, as the shepherds did, for his gift of the New Year and enter into it with our head straight with "A NEW BEGINNING FOR A NEW YEAR.”  

 Wish you all a Very Happy New Year!


Homily - The Holy Family (Year C)

The Holy Family (Year C)

First Reading: 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28      Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24      Gospel Reading: Luke 2:41-52
There is a story told of Emperor Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire. Once he had captured a prince and his family. When they came before him, the monarch asked the prisoner, "What will you give me if I release you?" "The half of my wealth," was his reply. "And if I release your children?" "Everything I possess." "And if I release your wife?" "Your Majesty, I will give myself." Cyrus was so moved by his devotion to his family that he freed them all.
As they returned home, the Prince said to his wife, "Wasn’t Cyrus a handsome man!" With a look of deep love for her husband, she said to him, "I didn’t notice. I could only keep my eyes on you - the one who was willing to give himself for me."
In the story above, the prince's family appears to be a good and a loving family, which despite a terribly desperate and extremely difficult situation that they are in, the husband loves his wife so very much, so also the wife deeply loves her husband and values him above all; there is love of the parents for their children who are important and precious to them as if they are their whole possession. Actually, it is at bad, hard and adverse times, so to say, that the strength of a family is really tested.
Families are part of God's plan. They are the essential cells of society in which parents and children are sustained and grow into maturity. Triune God (Father, Son & Holy Spirit), who is a Family in Himself, chose a human family to come into this world to bring salvation to humankind and thus sanctified all human families. This mystery of the Incarnation, just a few days ago we celebrated during Christmas.
Today, we celebrate the feast of “the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” which is the model for all Christian families and it is customary to celebrate this feast on the Sunday immediately following our celebrations on the birth of Jesus at Christmas. It is a time when we can reflect on the quality of our own family life in the light of the Church's (if not the world's) First Family’.
For a large part of his life Jesus was part of a family. We always imagine that the Holy Family must have been an extremely happy family. Yet, like every other family, it too had from time to time its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows, its problems and difficulties. In fact, challenges faced them right from the very beginning.
When we turn to the Gospels we find that this so called the Holy Family isn't a very normal one. The mother is a virgin and the father is not the biological father of the child. And they are not living in some ideal family setting but rather being so hounded by the megalomaniac Herod that they must find safety in Egypt fleeing as refugees. But this is the family God had chosen, the one in which His Son would mature. Mary had already heard the mind-blowing invitation to be the mother of God. She had listened to the Word of God, accepted it and now in a sense was doing it, living out the consequences. Then there is Joseph her husband. He had already been surprised by the news of Mary's pregnancy, who was betrothed to him and proved himself just in the way he had respected the law but shown kindness and compassion to her. Again he was faced by another upheaval. He had to listen to God's word in a dream and had to take the responsibility of guiding his wife & child through the dangers of a journey to Egypt and back.
Now, most of Jesus’ childhood is shrouded in mystery, but today’s Gospel Reading from St. Luke brings us to Jesus, who at the age of twelve is on the threshold of manhood. His upbringing has obviously been deeply religious for he and his family have gone on pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. After the departure of Mary and Joseph, Jesus remains behind in the Temple. There he amazes the religious teachers with his wisdom and intelligence. When Jesus' parents discover him missing, they are upset. The moment of realizing that Jesus was not among the group and could not be found would be an incident that would sear itself onto any parent’s soul. So, they search for Jesus; and when they do find him in the temple, his mother, as any mother would, asks him what he thought he was up to, causing all this worry for her and his father? His response must have confounded her, presumably the up-until-that-point obedient son suggests that he had another Father and a greater mission than carpentry in Nazareth. Jesus here explains the importance of putting God first in our lives and when we do this, everything else in life will fall into place.
In the Second Reading of today from the First Letter of St. John we are told that God is our Father too and we all are His children - “Beloved, See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. And so we are.” There's then the Family of God, the Heavenly Family and we all are called to be its members – it is our ultimate destiny too.
Now again, why is it that we call this Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – “Holy?” This family is holy because God is present in it and also it is responsive to the demanding word of God spoken in the very trying circumstances of their daily lives. The measure of a holy family is not found in what does - or does not - happen to its members. Rather, a holy family is one that demonstrates a certain grace and confidence when faced with the events of daily living, especially the unexpected ones. While the ups and downs, the joys and pains of Jesus, Mary and Joseph have something to teach us, the real lesson for us who try to maintain and nurture holy families in our own lives is how the Holy Family faced life's tribulations. We must therefore consider the great peace and serenity of mind and heart of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, shown in their constancy amid all the unexpected events that befell them.
In the First Reading of today from the First Book of Samuel, we are told of yet another exemplary and God fearing family of Hanah and Elkanah, and Samuel their child of old age, blessed by God as Hanah was barren, whom they dedicated to the Lord in the temple of Jerusalem. They always trusted God and lived their life fulfilling His will.
So, what we are celebrating today is that the God who created the institution of the family, despite its shortcomings, chose to transform it through the Incarnation of His only Son Jesus Christ and make it one of the ways by which he saved us. We can learn in the example of the Holy Family that, despite all our failures and difficulties, we too are called to become holy through living out God's word in the midst of our families. We must imitate the Holy Family in our own relationships when we impress upon our minds and hearts that the world does not revolve around us, that things do not always go our way, that our plans are frequently not the last word. We cannot always control what happens to us: we can, however, choose how to respond to the unexpected in our lives in ways that promote faith, tranquility, strength and courage.
There has only been one “Holy Family” upon earth, and it is now re-united in heaven. But scattered all over the earth there are no doubt many people and many families who try in their own way to reproduce the life of Nazareth by putting God first in everything and doing His holy will, whatever happens. They will never make much noise in the world, nor take up much space in our newspapers. But they are, so to speak, 'the pillars of the earth'; and when everything is made known then we shall surely be amazed to discover them, just as the inhabitants of the world would have been amazed to discover who it was that was living in that little house in Galilee.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Homily - Christmas Dawn Mass (Year C)

Christmas Dawn Mass (Year C)

First Reading: Isaiah 62:11-12          Second Reading: Titus 3:4-7          Gospel Reading: Luke 2:15-20


There is a story told of a young man who sent his parents a microwave oven one Christmas. They were very excited that now they, too, could be a part of the instant generation. When the man's Dad unpacked the microwave and plugged it in, literally within seconds, the microwave transformed the two smiles into a frown! Even after reading the directions, to their utter disappointment, they couldn't make it work at all.
Two days later the man's Mom was playing bridge with a friend and she told her about the Christmas gift her son had sent them. But with great sadness in her heart, she confessed her inability to get that microwave oven even to boil water. “To get this darn thing to work,” she exclaimed, “I really don't need better directions; I just needed my son to come along with the gift!”

When God gave the gift of salvation to mankind, He didn't send a booklet of complicated instructions for us to figure out. He rather sent His only Son“Emmanuel, which means 'God is with us.'”
Today, with great joy and solemnity we celebrate Christmas - the feast of God's magnanimous and unconditional love, the feast of God's Self-gift to mankind. For Christmas is 'God's gift laid in human hands.' The Christmas event, i.e. the birth of our Lord Jesus in a stable in the small village of Bethlehem of Judea is one of the most important events in the history of mankind, an event when God takes the human form in the person of Jesus and comes into the world to save mankind from sin and death. So, today “LET'S GO! LET US GO TO BETHLEHEM...”

Originally, the Romans celebrated a feast on this day, called the 'festum solis invicti,' - the festival of the unconquered sun. The winter solstice has just passed and we are now moving into longer days, with more light and the resurgence of life in the soil. One can almost see Nature slowly waking up after its long winter hibernation. The trees look dead with their bare branches but in a matter of weeks they will be decked in all their leafy glory. All these speak of the Christmas phenomena of light and its joyful atmosphere, filling everyone with the hope of salvation.

Joy everywhere....
The Christmas story resonates with the theme of light and the baby in the manger is the Light of the World. Light surrounds the shepherds as the angels sing their praises of God: "Glory to God in the highest and, on earth, peace to all who are favored by God." The whole atmosphere is also suffused with joy, the joy of the angels and of the shepherds as they hasten to Bethlehem to find the new-born child. Joy is a theme which goes right through Luke's gospel. Let us also today joyfully say, “LET'S GO! LET US GO TO BETHLEHEM...”

.... and liberation
Another cause for joy is the liberation that Jesus brings. The first reading from all four Christmas Masses is from the prophet Isaiah who tells of the restoration of Jerusalem from total destruction. This morning’s passage proclaims boldly: “Your Savior has come and you are made holy by this coming.” Isaiah makes it clear that we are made holy by God’s presence in our midst - 'He is Emmanuel.'
In the Gospel Reading, the angel too joyfully announces to the shepherds the message of salvation - “To you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, Who is the Messiah, the Lord.” and joining together with the shepherds let us say - “LET'S GO! LET US GO TO BETHLEHEM...”
Christmas is the Good News of our salvation, and in the Second Reading in his letter to Titus, St. Paul makes it clear that the Good News of our salvation has nothing to do with commandments and laws. He says, "not because of any righteous deeds that we have done, but because of God’s mercy."
Now, we began our Christmas celebration with Night Mass, and the story of the birth of Jesus in the stable in Bethlehem, told in a very matter-of-fact way: St Luke at his pithiest. There is a striking contrast, in fact, between the humble ordinariness of Christ's birth and the dramatic scene when the angel of the Lord, and the whole heavenly host, appear to the shepherds in the nearby countryside.
In fact, we left the angels singing the 'Gloria' until the Dawn Mass, when the story is taken up again with the departure of the angels. The shepherds then dash off to see the child for themselves. It's rather a great idea that the angels are left singing all night by the liturgical arrangement of these two gospels. It reminds us that the heavenly choirs are joined in perpetual adoration of God, that heaven never sleeps; and that our participation in the liturgy, such as when we sing the 'Gloria' at Dawn Mass, is a share in the eternal worship of the angels – the very life of heaven itself.
The Gospel Reading this morning shows us how to exactly connect with Christmas. The shepherds lead us in the way of action: “LET'S GO!” they say. “LET US GO TO BETHLEHEM.” It's the road we also must take to meet Jesus—not in a dream world, not in theory, but in the concrete circumstances of our lives. We need to ask ourselves right now 'Where should I be heading? Where concretely is Jesus waiting for me?'
On the First Christmas night infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph were alone. But God sought out simple people as their companions: some shepherds, perhaps because, as they were poor and humble, they would not be dismayed at finding the Messiah in a cave, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Perhaps, it is to the shepherds of that district that prophet Isaiah referred: “Those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness, on them light has shone.” Never again will they be despised as having a menial task, or as being derelicts, worthless scruff on the edge of society. A whole new dignity will descend upon them as Jesus will one day dignify himself by calling himself the good and gentle shepherd.
The shepherds, though, don't seem to pause to reflect on the extraordinary privilege they have been granted of witnessing the heavens opened: they go straight into town to see this thing that has happened.” And it is this – the apparently ordinary birth of a child in inauspicious circumstances – that really impresses them. But the shepherds know that in this particular child, in this particular time and place, they are encountering something much more. The angels have told them that this child, wrapped in swaddling cloths, is Christ, the Lord, the Savior of the world. Their little glimpse of heaven has encouraged them to go back to look at the world with new eyes, to see the real meaning of events that look, outwardly, perfectly ordinary. This is what causes them to go back “glorifying and praising God.”
It is a wonderful thing that the story should tell that the first announcement of God came to some simple shepherds. It was to simple men of the fields that God's message came first. But these were in all likelihood very special shepherds. They lived in the outskirts of Bethlehem, close to Jerusalem where the temple was, where every morning and evening , an unblemished lamb (that must have come from them) was offered as a sacrifice to God. It is therefore a lovely thought that shepherds who looked after the lambs for temple sacrifices were the first to see “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Again, God also wanted those shepherds to be the first bearers of the news that they would go around telling “all they had heard and seen. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” In the same way Jesus reveals himself to us in the midst of the ordinary incidents of each day; and we need the same dispositions of simplicity and humility in order to reach him. It is possible that throughout our lives he gives us signs that mean nothing to us if we see him merely humanly. We have to be alert so as to discover Jesus in the simplicity of ordinary life, “wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger,” without any showy manifestations, and proclaim him to the world.

Christmas is God's gift to us, an opportunity for new beginnings. It is not that we have found him; but that we have allowed him to find us, and fill us with wonder and surprise and dignity. It is inconceivable that the shepherds would not have set out without taking gifts for the baby – most probably the choicest of lambs. Nor, can we go to the cave of Bethlehem without taking our gifts. So, “LET'S GO! LET US GO TO BETHLEHEM...” let us hasten today to Bethlehem with our gifts. But what gifts? Some attractive and valuable packages? Perhaps better, we can give some gifts this Christmas which are beyond monetary value: Mending a quarrel, dismissing suspicion, telling someone, 'I love you.' Giving something away - anonymously. Forgiving someone who has treated us wrong. Turning away wrath with a soft answer. Visiting someone in a nursing home. Apologizing if we were wrong. Being especially kind to someone with whom we work. Giving as God gave to us in Christ, without obligation, or announcement, or reservation, or hypocrisy.
Let us enjoy and celebrate our Christmas today, but let us also not forget what exactly we are celebrating and that the message of Christmas extends well beyond the festivities. Moreover, we must make Christmas a reality in the present, in the present of every moment throughout the year, each and every day.

May your Christmas be merry, happy, holy, and may you know your dignity every day of your life!


Homily - Christmas Night Mass (Year C)

Christmas Night Mass (Year C)

First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-6           Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14          Gospel Reading: Luke 2:1-14


Nine-year-old Wally was in second grade when most children his age were fourth-graders. He was big for his years, a clumsy fellow, a slow learner. But Wally was a hopeful, willing, smiling lad, a natural defender of the underdog, and he was well-liked by his classmates. His parents encouraged him to audition for the annual parish Christmas play. Wally wanted to be a shepherd. Instead, he was given the role of the innkeeper. The director reasoned that Wally's size would lend extra force to the innkeeper's refusal of lodging to Joseph. During rehearsals, Wally was instructed to be firm with Joseph. When the play opened, no one was more caught up in the action than Wally. And when Joseph knocked on the door of the inn, Wally was ready. He flung the door open and asked menacingly, "What do you want?" "We seek lodging," Joseph replied. "Seek it elsewhere," Wally said in a firm voice. "There's no room in the inn." "Please, good innkeeper," Joseph pleaded, "this is my wife, Mary. She is with child and is very tired. She needs a place to rest." There was a long pause as Wally looked down at Mary. The prompter whispered Wally's next line: "No! Be gone!" Wally remained silent. Then the forlorn couple turned and began to slowly move away. Seeing this, Wally's brow creased with concern. Tears welled up in his eyes. Suddenly, he called out, "Don't go! You can have my room."

The season of Advent is over and the period of anticipation & expectation is complete. Now it is time that we celebrate with great joy, the feast of Christmas, commemorating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, which occurred about two millennium ago. 'The Christmas event' is one of the most important events in the history of mankind, an event when God takes the human form in the person of Christ Jesus and comes into the world to save humankind from sin and death. Today, Jesus wants to be reborn in our lives. Do we have a place for him in our hearts?

Every year, on Christmas night during Mass, we listen from Luke's Gospel about the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and how the good news of his birth was first announced to the shepherds by the angels:
Luke places it against the background of the reign of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus and he also mentions a census in Palestine issued by him at the time when Jesus was born.. It is generally accepted that Jesus was born in 4 B.C. Now, in the Roman Empire, a census was taken periodically with the double object of assessing taxation and of discovering those who were liable for compulsory military service. But Luke’s purpose in mentioning the census is to provide God’s reason for, and means of, getting Mary and Joseph eighty miles south from Nazareth, a small village in Galilee, to Bethlehem in Judea, the city of David, wherein the promised heir of David was to be born, as prophesied by Micah (5:1).
Further, Joseph and Mary had to take shelter in one of the caves in the outskirts of Bethlehem, where animals were kept, as there was no room in the inn. There Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. A manger is a feeding trough, and it symbolizes the sacrificial meal that Jesus becomes, which provides sustenance for the whole world.
Again, the news of the birth of Jesus was first announced to the shepherds by the angels. Since David was a shepherd, it seems fitting that the shepherds were given the privilege of visiting David’s successor in the stable. Further, shepherding was a lonely, dirty job, and shepherds found it difficult to follow all the obligatory religious customs. Hence, they were scorned as non-observant Jews. So Infant Jesus selected these marginalized people to share His love at the beginning of his life. The shepherds expressed their joy and gratitude by “making known what had been told them" (v. 17). Other than the angels, they were the first to proclaim the Good News of Jesus' birth.

Actually, the Infancy Narratives are theologumena; that is to say that they are not so much a literal history, but are stories with a theological point. So, the important thing to remember is that they are stories of God’s love and they speak about Jesus’ role in the salvation of mankind, and that’s what counts, not historical details. So, what is the feast of Christmas all about? What are its messages?

First and foremost, Christmas is an event of light, it is a feast of light: The Readings resonate the theme of light, and the Baby in the manger is the Light of the world. In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke, light surrounds the shepherds as the Angels sing their praises of God. Also, in the First Reading of today from the prophet Isaiah, we hear - “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” A truly 'great' light indeed, because the light which radiates from the humility of the crib is the light of the new creation. In the Child of Bethlehem the primordial light once more shines in humanity’s heaven and dissipates the clouds of sin.

Secondly, Christmas is an event of love, it is a feast of love: John in his Gospel says, “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.” Christmas is God's self-gift laid in human hands, in the person of Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind and it really tells how magnanimously God loves us and cares for us. The Magi came from the east to worship the Lord and they brought him gifts. We too, in response to God's great love, need to give ourselves to him as gifts. Christmas thus is also seen as a feast of gifts, and exchange of gifts with our loved ones has become a common practice during this time.

Thirdly, Christmas is an event of joy, it is a feast of joy: The angel said to the shepherds, "Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Evidently, the whole atmosphere is suffused with joy, the joy of the angels and of the shepherds as they hasten to Bethlehem to find the new-born child. Actually, joy is a theme which goes right through the infancy narrative in Luke’s gospel.

Fourthly, Christmas is an event of peace, it is a feast of peace: And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (v. 14). That peace is the shalom of God – life experienced in all its fullness, richness, and completeness in accord with the will of God. The angelic song conveys the message that true peace on earth is available only to those with the good will to receive it by doing the will of God, thus giving Him glory.

Fifthly, Christmas is an event of hope, it is a feast of hope: Christmas is not just one day, but a season which lasts for twelve days, concluding on Epiphany. The extension of the feast should remind us to continue to share our joy at the comings of the Messiah – the first some 2000 years ago, the last at the 'Parousia' or 'Second coming,' and all those occurring between the two, as we live our daily lives. This is what Paul expresses in his letter to Titus, in the Second Reading of today - “The grace of God has appeared, saving all and … as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself to deliver us … eager to do what is good.”

But lastly, the real meaning of Christmas actually is 'Emmanuel,' God-with-us – God coming down to us; God coming alongside us; God seeking us out; God revealing Himself to us; God bringing us forgiveness, healing, comfort, moral strength, guidance. Each one of us has, deep down in our soul, an incredible hunger: a hunger for purpose and meaning; a hunger to feel and celebrate the redeeming, forgiving, sustaining love of God; a hunger to be in the presence of God. Christmas is special because it reminds us concretely that God is indeed with us. In every circumstance of life, even when we are frightened or lonely or in sorrow, God is with us. As we celebrate the incarnation of the Word of God this Christmas, we must make a conscious effort, both to remember that Jesus is always with us, especially in the Eucharist, and to share our joy in His presence with others. So let’s go home to the heart of Christmas and embrace Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

To conclude, we must say that every year, Christmas asks all of us a tough question. If Jesus were to come today, how would he come? As a matter of fact, he is already there standing and knocking at the door. Do we close the doors of our hearts to Jesus, who is looking for a place to be reborn in our lives? Can we just say to him like the little boy Wally in the opening story, with tears rolling from eyes, “Don't go! You can have my room.”
Christmas isn't only an event of the past, but more importantly - it is also an event of today and each day, and as we solemnly celebrate it today, we joyfully acclaim - “TODAY IS BORN OUR SAVIOR - CHRIST THE LORD”

Wish you all 'A Merry, Happy & Holy Christmas!'

Monday, December 17, 2012

Homily - 4th Sunday of Advent (Year C)

4th Sunday of Advent (Year C)

First Reading: Micah 5:1-4a            Second Reading: Hebrews 10:5-10           Gospel Reading: Luke 1:39-45

"Will you please tell me in a word," said a Christian woman to a Minister, "what your idea of  'consecration'  is?"
Holding out a blank sheet of paper, the Pastor replied, “It is to sign your name at the bottom of this blank sheet, and let God fill it in as He wills.”

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent - the final Sunday before Christmas. Christmas is only a few days away and the season of Christmas carols has begun. The birth of Jesus is now imminent. In a few days’ time we will be celebrating the memory of that great event. Throughout Advent, we have heard of God’s promise to send a liberator - a savior into the world; today, we catch a glimpse of how that is to be accomplished. Today’s Mass prepares us for the Christmas celebration. Each of the three readings takes up a different aspect of this great mystery to help us in our understanding and in our personal preparation. And they tell us that the mystery of 'incarnation' is contained in – 'Doing God's will' - “Here I am, I come to obey your will, O God!”

In the First Reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Micah, God through the Prophet Micah promises a unique Savior, born in David’s town of Bethlehem: a Savior, who will stand and feed his flock and establish peace. Here there is an explicit reference to the forthcoming birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem - the least of the clans of Judah. The prophet speaks of God bestowing on Bethlehem the distinction of being the birthplace of an ideal ruler of Israel. The one who will come from this town will be “the one who is to be ruler in Israel” and “whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.”
When Micah proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, the Israelites in Jerusalem were under attack. Their enemies, the Assyrians, were ready to "wipe them out." So the good news that God would send them a strong and just ruler was music to their ears and it filled them with joy and hope.
However, it also seems that God is going to abandon the people, and until such time as the Messiah arrives to deliver Israel from its oppressors, the Jewish people will continue to be subject to other nations.
When he does come, he will be the true shepherd of Israel and the servant of God. He will guide people by the standards of heaven rather than by the misguided notions of the bad shepherds before him. Very significantly, “He shall be peace” and deliver God’s people. His peace shall bring about total harmony among the nations and the ends of the earth will hear of his wisdom. We therefore anticipate the fulfillment of that prophecy in Jesus Christ, who comes among us as it were secretly and unnoticed, in the womb of Mary.
As we have said before, today is the Fourth and final Sunday before Christmas. And on this last Sunday, we change our focus. The past two Sundays have centered on the ascetic, somewhat fierce figure of John the Baptist. In the Gospel Reading of today, the Church gives us the figure of Our Lady to imitate: she was the one who first welcomed Christ at the first Christmas and she can help us welcome Him now.
In the Gospel we come down with a bump into the real world. From the grand prophetic language of Micah we are brought to a small remote corner of Israel. St. Luke's account of Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth, underlines the mystery of Christ in our midst. In the Gospel passage, Luke very skilfully sets the stage for the coming of the Messiah. The meeting of the two expectant mothers is also the meeting of their sons. John leaps with joy in the womb of Elizabeth, and thus acknowledges the presence of the one prophesied. As soon as Mary enters into the presence of Elizabeth, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and praises Mary for her faith and trust in God: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth recognized the presence of God, the Messiah, in Mary, the living Ark of God and burst into praise and said prophetically: “Why should I be honored with a visit from the mother of my Lord?” Both Mary and Elizabeth already anticipate the joy of God's presence and salvation unfolding before them. This beautiful meeting leads us into the very center of Advent, namely the prayerful anticipation of the mystery already among us.

Here I am, I come to obey your will, O God!”
Mary’s “Yes” gave us the Savior - “And the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Mary is our model of discipleship. Somehow or other, the power of God broke into the life of Mary of Nazareth. And that power of God asked Mary to believe that she would bear within herself a special child. And because Mary, in her absolute humility was so attuned to the presence of God and because she was a woman of extraordinary faith, she said simply - “Be it done to me as you say.” These words are very easy to say when everything is going our way; but they are not so easy to say when things are not going our way, when in fact what is happening to us is the opposite of what we want to happen. During this time of Advent, let us follow Mary in her absolute humility and extraordinary faith.

Now, God can only work through the consent of his people - and ultimately, could only work to save his people with the willing consent of the Christ. In the Second Reading of today from the letter to the Hebrews, the author compares the Jerusalem Temple sacrifices to the bodily death of Jesus on the cross. The author says the perfect sacrifice of Jesus essentially differs from the sacrifices of the Old Testament. Those sacrifices were often offerings of animals. Jesus' sacrifice was the offering of himself. Jesus’ sacrifice is far superior to the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem. Yes, Jesus, through his fidelity to his heavenly Father and his own self giving, opens up to humankind a transformed life beyond this earthly life.
The old Law had strict rules governing sacrifice and holocaust dating back centuries - the animals to be used and the ritual carefully prescribed and followed. However, in the incarnation of the Christ in Jesus a new era dawned. God was to be revealed as a god who did not want the sacrifice of animals but, as the psalmist said, a humble, contrite heart. Jesus had no need for contrition being wholly without sin - but he was humble and, on coming into the world, simply said to the Father: “Here I am, I come to obey your will, O God!”
In this final week of Advent season, the Word of God invites us to discover anew the true meaning of Christmas - 'Emmanuel' i.e. 'God is with us.' Micah challenges us to hope in God especially in the face of disappointments; the author of Hebrews, to do the will of God as best we can discern that will; and the Gospel, to trust always in God as Mary did, so that we can bring forth the Word made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, and be a sign of God’s presence to one another.
To conclude - During the American Civil War a lady exclaimed effusively to President Lincoln: “Oh Mr. President, I feel so sure that God is on our side, don't you?” “Ma'am,” replied the President, “I am more concerned that we should be on God's side.” Yes, oftentimes we pray to God and ask him to do what we want, rather than we doing what He wants us to do, and surrendering to His will. So, trusting in God's faithfulness and love, and full of hope let us come to him today and humbly say - “HERE I AM, I COME TO OBEY YOUR WILL, O GOD!” and this is the Good News of today.