Friday, September 13, 2019

September 15, 2019. Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year (C)

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

Forgiveness is The Key to A Healthy Relationship
The readings of today can be summarized simply as lost and found, strayed and returned. Sinned and forgiveness; estranged and reconciled. They addressed the idea of separation from God and ultimate reunion with Him. There can never be a healthy relationship, in our family, in our church or in the society, without an intentional aspiration for forgiveness, compassion and mercy. Whenever we sin and hurt our brothers and sisters we are away from our senses. It is by coming to our senses that we find ourselves, others and God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to a mixed crowd: the tax collectors and sinners and the grumbling Pharisees and scribes, who disapprove of His fellowship “with the wrong kind of people.” In the first reading, Moses intercedes on behalf of the people for their sin of apostasy. They had turned away from the living God and worshipped the Golden Calf. “But Moses implored the Lord, his God, saying, ‘Why, O Lord, should your wrath blaze up against your own people, whom you brought out of the Land of Egypt with such great power and with so strong a hand?’ So the Lord relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.” (Ex.32:13,14). Acknowledging the mercy of God, prophet Nehemiah said: “Yet in your great mercy you did not completely destroy them, and you did not forsake them, for you are a kind and merciful God.” (10:31). The Lord revealed himself to Moses as “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin.” (Ex. 34:6-7). God forgives us always not counting our sins. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Is.1:18).

In the second reading Paul gave thanks to Jesus Christ for favors bestowed on him. “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man, but I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief. Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim. 1:13-14). Paul’s sin was grave, but the mercy of God saved him and offered him an opportunity to be an apostle to the gentiles, to be an ambassador of reconciliation. “And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:18-20). “…where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through justification for eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 5:20-21).

The Gospel presents us with the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. In the first two parables there is no hint of sin or deliberate separation except that the sheep strayed, the coin was lost, and both were recovered. But there was joy and happiness in their recovery. The story of the lost son is one of the greatest stories ever told. This is the story of hatred and animosity; of overindulging father who fulfilled the demands of an ungrateful son with a false sense of entitlement; It is a story of searching and finding, love and compassion, forgiveness and cold-heartedness, mercy and reconciliation. This is the story of grace! Shakespeare captured the essence of mercy thus: “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from haven, upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” This is the story of a father who forgave and loved his son because he chose to. It is the story of joy and jubilation over the repentance of a recalcitrant son. There will be joy in heaven when a sinner returns to God. Margaret Moody captures this joy in the Song ‘When a Sinner Comes As A Sinner May’ “There is joy among the angels, and their harps with music ring, when a sinner comes repenting, bending low before the King.”

The merciful father forgave and embraced his son (welcomes him back fully), put shoes on his feet (he is not a slave, but free) and gave him a ring (restored him to full status with authority to act in the name of the family). While the father forgave his son, his elder brother did not. It was the father again who made the move to reconcile the two brothers. He pleaded but would he listen? Forgiveness is a choice: against anger, hurt, pride, bitterness, suspicion, self-righteousness, grudges and irrational need for revenge. It is a choice for liberation and freedom. The elder brother could not forgive his brother but resented the fact that his father did. Was he envious of his brother? Did he underestimate his father’s love for them? Did he not understand that his father’s love could not be earned; that it is pure grace? Will he ever forgive his brother, and join in the celebration? We will never know. But our attitude towards our enemies and our unwillingness to forgive them is an indicative of the brother’s mindset. These were the scribes and the Pharisees who were upset with Christ for associating with the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. There was no love lost between them and Christ!

This story teaches us that there is no perfect family. There must be understanding and forgiveness in our families. Some members must be prepared to sacrifice for peace and concord of others. The task of keeping the family together must be initiated by parents who may be the cause of some of the problems in the family. Over-pampering the children and favoring of child over others can make them feel they can do anything and go free. This attitude has caused problems in many families. Spare the rod and spoil the child is the saying that parents must bear in mind at all times.

Let us pray that the God of forgiveness and mercy may teach us to be merciful ourselves. If we have hurt anyone, let us ask for forgiveness and accept forgiveness when offered. And if we have sinned against God, let us approach the throne of mercy and receive the grace of forgiveness from God who, like the merciful father, waits for us to come to him. He will never withhold his forgiveness and love from us. If today you listen to his voice harden not your heart. May God bless and keep us always in his love. Amen.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

September 08, 2019: Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time of Year (C)

Readings: Wisdom 9:13-18; Phlm. 9-10; Lk 14:25-33.

The Cost of Discipleship
If Christ had a job as public relations director in a Company, he would have failed woefully. Few persons would have been convinced, in my opinion, to buy any of the products he would offer for sale. He would also be the most truthful PR person in history. As a spiritual leader Christ never promised anyone a comfortable life. He warned his followers of the danger they would face by identifying with him. To his would-be follower he said: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” (Matt. 8:20). To his disciples he said: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk. 9:23). The cost of discipleship is enormous indeed!

To show how perilous his mission was, Christ was arrested in the garden at night, tortured and subjected to a ridiculous kangaroo court, a travesty of justice indeed! He was condemned and dragged out on the street like a criminal in the heat of the afternoon with a large cross on his shoulder. He was hungry, thirsty and weak. He was nailed to the cross and left hanging there to the jeer and contempt of all and allowed to die a shameful death amidst two robbers. “…Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth…He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that free from sin, we might live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:21-22; 24).  “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn. 15:13). “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first” (Jn. 15:18). Isn’t it funny that all but one his apostles were martyred?

Today’s Gospel has not painted a pleasant picture either: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26-27). To be a disciple of Christ, therefore, one must necessarily choose Christ always. It calls for Christians to adopt a standard of living that is different from that of the world.

In the second reading, St. Paul asked Philemon to forgive Onesimus, his slave, who had defrauded him and ran away. Onesimus met and assisted Paul in prison. Through this encounter, Onesimus was converted to the faith. Paul therefore, urged Philemon to take Onesimus back not as a slave but as a brother in Christ. “So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me”. We cannot, on our own do what is humanly impossible, follow the way of the cross. Hence the first reading enjoins us to seek divine wisdom. “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends? Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight” (Wisdom 9:13-18).

 These readings make it explicitly clear that it costs not less than everything to be a disciple of Jesus. We must ask ourselves these questions and answer them sincerely to ourselves: Do I have what it takes to follow Christ? What am I prepared to give up? What is the Cross in my life that I must carry and follow Christ daily? We must choose Christ above and beyond all else: you must love yourself less and Jesus more. Therefore, one must surrender oneself to God at all times. It is an unquestionable acceptance of God’s will. For the cost of discipleship is enormous indeed, it costs not less than everything. Down through the ages, men and women have given their all to follow Christ. They sacrificed everything, gave up parents, families, brothers, sisters, even their lives. Yes, whoever wants to be my disciple must hate his very self or the person is not worthy of me. 

The disciple must possess some basic qualities like, be a good listener and a good follower and a lover of people. He must know that it is all about Christ not the self. This is a total self-giving and saying ‘yes’ totally and completely to God, like our Mother, Mary, “let it be done to me according to your word”.

Dear friends these are the cost that must be calculated and the resources that must be expended. Being a true disciple is tough. It is hard work that must be carefully planned and assiduously executed. On our own it will be an impossible task to undertake, but with God all things are possible. And so the first reading encouraged us to seek the wisdom of God. Having a healthy prayer life, being faithful and committed to our sacramental life, giving in charity, coming to the aid of those in need and struggling to conquer ourselves are a step in the right direction. These are the planning that we must undertake, the mansion we must build or the war we must fight and the preparation we must make. May God help us with his grace and wisdom to do what is right and good before him. Amen.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

September 01, 2019: Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time; Year (C)

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

Stay Humble or Stumble 

The readings today address the virtue we all need but sometimes find difficult to put into practice - humility. “My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts” (first reading). ‘Humility’ comes from the Latin word ‘humilitas’, a noun related to the adjective humilis, translated as “humble”, also as “grounded”, or “from the earth”, since it derives from humus (earth). A humble person has a modest or low view on his or her own importance. Jesus Christ invites us to “…learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves” (Matt. 11:29). The way of Christ is that of the lamb of God who took away the sins of the world. He is the suffering servant of God who is “not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth” (Is. 42:1-4). And so the readings call on us to be humble in dealing with others. He who is humble is always loved by people. His humility is therefore a gift that is more than material for he gives the gift of himself to others.

Humility is not self-abasement or self-depreciating. We must not underestimate or underrate our abilities. God has given us all gifts and they are for a good purpose to be put at the service of God, to build up his body the church. Humility disposes us to put our time, talent and treasure in the service of God and his people. It enables us to recognize our weaknesses and limitations and make it possible for us to acknowledge that everything we have comes from God hence, we receive God’s gifts with gratitude. Since all we have is a gift from God, what we have and what we are should not make us pompous, boastful, narcissistic, arrogant, haughty, conceited, egotistic and inconsiderate. Rather, we should put God first in all things, people next before ourselves. That is the fruit of humility. The book of Proverbs reminds us that “Before his downfall a man’s heart is haughty, but humility goes before honors” (Prov. 18:12). Pride goes before the fall, if we are not humble then we stumble and fall. And what a fall that would be!

In the Gospel we have just heard we are invited to dinner by God the father himself, just as Christ dinned at the leading Pharisees’ house. Many of those invited were busy taking places of honor regardless of who else was invited. This is a common phenomenon in our society today. Christ reminds us that it is better to be invited to a high table by our host than to be demoted to the floor seat with others. Wont we be embarrassed if we are told to give up our place to someone more important than ourselves? How do we present ourselves before God the Father and Jesus Christ, his Son at the eucharistic table? Have we come to church with the sole purpose of meeting the Lord and to celebrate with our brothers and sisters or have we come to tell God of our importance? Do we discriminate against others at the table of the Lord or do we see ourselves as brothers and sisters in worship of our Father? Are we boastful and conceited like the Pharisee in the bible, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income” or are we humble enough to know our position in life and acknowledge our need for God? ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner’? (Lk. 18:9-14). It is true indeed that a humble person who often looks up to God rarely looks down on anyone, especially if they were poor, for he does not see himself as being better than anyone. Isn’t it funny that some of us like to sit at the back pew in church but when invited to a social gathering we take the seat at the high table with no consideration that someone greater than us may have been invited and we may have to give up our seat to that person.  

Christ exhorts us to consider deeply who to invite to our celebrations. The law of reciprocity is to be avoided by all means. Invite rather, the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, the disenfranchised and the downtrodden. That they are unable to repay us means we are blessed for we will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. Thus, Christ reminds us in Matthew’s Gospel that our being admitted into the kingdom will depend on how we treated the poor. Did we feed the hungry, or give water to the thirsty, did we welcome the stranger or cloth the naked, did we visit those in prison or sick at home? “What you did not do for one of these least one you did not do for me”. So is our humility grounded in our faith to the point of seeing everyone as my brother or my sister? Do I allow Christ to grow in my life so that I no longer see how important I am but the importance of those around? Can I say with St. Paul, “Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me”? (Gal. 2:20). May it be so now and always. Amen.