Sunday, December 1, 2013

1st Sunday of Advent, Year A

The Noah Factor and ten tips to observe the Advent 

"This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead." (Phil 3: 13). This scripture verse summaries the spirit of the advent season. Moving from one calendar year to the other does not bring newness or transformation. We cannot just brush aside the pains and struggles of yester days or years. However, the different seasons create occasions to see things from various perspectives. They present new opportunities to change and transform the present. Life moves on. We strive towards perfection.

Notes on Today’s Gospel Mt 24: 37-44

  • Today’s gospel functions like a hinge that links the end with the beginning. It reminds about the past in order to make a qualitative change in the present. Liturgically it links the end of the liturgical year with the new liturgical year.

The time of Noah

The comparison with the time of Noah brings out the lethargies and taken-for-granted attitudes of the present. We take for granted so many things: the environment, the other and God. It is only when such presumptions are disturbed that many look around with anger and irritation.

The world is in a mess but everyone goes on to peruse his/her own desires, plans and projects. There is a growing dissatisfaction with the way things are going, whether it is in the household matters, interrelationships and neighborhood or in the level of global disarmament, global warming, poverty, wars, and world peace, etc. Everyone looks for changes but not interested to take up the responsibility.

The Noah factor

The Noah factor brings out change. The Noah factor looks at things differently and enables to work for the change of the situation even though it may look like the most unlikely proposal. Noah was not better than the people of his time. He was a lover of wine. What made him unique was his courage to be progressive and his openness to the plan of God. He listened, worked and built relationship with God. In the process, he listened, worked and built relationship with his family, nature and all that is in it.

The ability to make a new beginning is the spirit of advent. The present situation may be a story of struggle in your life. You can make a difference and hold your dear ones together because the Lord comes to help you. Prepare to receive him. Be the "Noah" and prepare a crib to hold God's Love.

Let us cooperate with God to make a difference by making a spiritual ark; an ark that hold new relationships/ restoration of relationship. Advent season is all about being like Noah who listens, works and holds his family together.

Ten points to observe Advent

Today's second reading is full of instructions to observe a meaningful advent season. A closer reading gives us ten points to observe the advent season meaningfully.

Romans 13:11-14 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (NRSV).

  • 1. Know what time it is

An awareness of the time/season is very important. The awareness is the first preparation and ground of all that we observe. We change and adapt different life styles according to the seasons. Advent is the time for hope and time to look for better, brighter future. The whole world is in a period of preparation to receive the Lord. Hence, the season generates so much of goodness and grace. Be enthusiastic about the advent season.

  • 2. Wake up from the sleep

Awareness of the time gives us alertness. Advent is a time to wake up to perform something: to accomplish, restore, correct, learn, begin. Wake up from the spiritual sleep to get ready for the vigil. The silent night is going to be a very special day in your life.

  • 3. Lay aside the works of darkness

Wake up to receive the Light, light of the world. In him, you are the light of the world. Do not be hiding under the bushels of your petty differences. Come out, be on the lamp stand and let your light shine. Advent season is a time to lay aside the works of the darkness.

  • 4. Put on the armor of light

Col 3: 12 As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (NRSV).

  • 5. Live honorably as in the day

The advent season is a time to examine and re-orient our lives to live with the dignity and honor of the children of God. It is a time to discard or correct the ways that make us as causes for dishonor. This is my favorite prayer during the advent.

Oh! My Jesus, "Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me; do not let those who seek you be dishonored because of me” (cf. Ps 69: 6 NRSV).

  • 6. Avoid reveling and drunkenness

Traditionally, we observe 25 days of abstinence in view of Christmas. Such practices are gradually disappearing in the media-hyped-market- driven-Christmas culture. It is good if you can put certain restraint upon you. Such actions will give you spiritual alertness.

  • 7. Avoid debauchery and licentiousness

The season has so much spiritual dimensions attached to it. The pure in heart will see God. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, certain amount of purity for both mind and body will help us to experience the coming of the Lord.

  • 8. Avoid quarrelling and jealousy

Certain amount of inner silence is good for any preparation. Keep silence and avoid situations that will ignite quarreling and expressions of jealousy. We prepare to receive the king of Peace.

  • 9. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ

Christmas is a time to wear new clothes. Naturally advent becomes a season of hard work to earn little extra to do the shopping. May God give us prosperity. Remember, it is also a season to wear a new spiritual dress that is created in the image and likeness of his son.

10. Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires

Mortification is an outdated word. It still it has some relevance. Acts of mortification is to witness that we do not live by ‘bread’ alone. It is good to avoid excessive food and parties during this season of restoration.

1st Sunday of Advent Year  A -2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Advent Preparation

Many of you have send messages asking for few tips to observe Advent. Let me share with you three reflections. My diocese and my parishioners are yet to recover from the effect of the Phailin storm. We begin our advent season in the midst of the struggle to rebuild our shattered lives. I salute my parishioners for their determination to fight against the fury of nature and strive forward with hope. When I ask them how do they survive, with smile on their face, they say, "Prabhu ochina'', 'Lord is there know'. Friends, I believe that affirming our faith is a way to observe Advent.

Advent, a time to declare our faith in God

Advent season is a time to declare our faith in God. "Prabhu ochina" - the Lord is there. In our case, "there" has the devastating effect of the Phailin and the struggle that followed. The uprooted trees, broken electric poles, scattered houses and shops gave the “there” not so beautiful context. To declare our faith in God and able to say that the Lord is there is really a faith declaration that can ignite energy to transform the crushed bones to life (ref. Hab 3: 17-19).

"God is there" Jehovah - Shamma (Ezk 48: 35). This name of God was revealed to Prophet Ezekiel during the exile. Israel was trying to grip with the exilic situation and tried to rebuild their lives. God responds to his prophet giving him visions and says to him that the city's name will be "Yehovah- Shamma- the God is there. 'God is there' in their midst as they struggled to rebuild their shattered lives.

Advent, a time to develop deep conviction that nothing can separate us from God

After the Phailin, there were long queues for relief materials. Those stood in the queues were good people, respected people; the storm stripped them off not only their finances, their houses, but also their honour and dignity. It pained me to see the respected women who never came out of their houses standing in the queue for relief materials. What surprised me is that following Sunday my parish church was full? Believers came to the church which was  still leaking. They cleaned, wiped and dried the floor. They praised and worshiped their God. They listened to the Sunday sermon as if they heard it for the first time. When I asked about their coming to the church, they told me, "ei sobhu amoku prabhunko premoru alaka karibo ki?" Would these things separate us from the love for Jesus?

"Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" (Rom 8: 35). The words of St. Paul echoed in my ears as I sat at the corner of my leaking church. "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8: 38-39).

Advent season is a time to develop deep conviction that nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus. Such conviction from our part will give meaning to the celebration of Christmas.

Advent, a time to bring out new life

I have already shared my sadness about the loss of trees, birds and squirrels. When I visited my bishop house after the Phailin, the workers were cleaning and removing the uprooted trees. They lifted a small mango tree, tied rope on three sides, and helped it to stand straight. They said, bhonjibho, it will live. A week later, when I visited the house again, I looked at it. One of the branches has brought forth tender leaves, declaring that it is alive.

"kichi iti huve nahi" - nothing actually ends. All around life begins to spring up. The birds started to come back and they made nest on those broken branches. The trees brought forth fresh leaves to give them shelter. Squirrel also returned. Life moves on.

As one more advent comes, I sit with deep feeling that nothing actually ends. Because love never ends (I Cor 13: 8). Love brings forth new life and celebrates. Is not love that transforms the cattle shed into a zone of peace and joy?

Advent is a time to think, have I loved enough. Have I brought life and healing in others and the nature? The discovery that you can love and serve much more than what you think makes a good advent preparation. When you put such discovery into reality celebration begins. Then the presents, gifts, greetings, lights, decorations are declaring that God still loves the world.

I remember you all in my prayers.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

1st Sunday of Advent, Year A

Is 2: 1-5; Rom 13: 11-14; Mt 24: 37- 44

Introduction

Advent season fills us with an anticipation that transcends the earthly. It takes us to very special things; the awareness of the other, awareness that we are not alone. That is why the season is filled with so many gifts and greetings cards. It is also a very special season for its call to transcend our littleness and to show our generosity. For we are moved by God the Father who so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life (Jn 3: 16).

1. A Call to Transcend the Past,

"Therefore you also must be ready, For the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour (Mt 24:44).

"Therefore you must be ready"

Advent season begins with a call to be ready to receive the Lord. It asks us to put away the former way of life (self centred thinking, feeling, attitude, behaviour) and calls us to adapt new way of life that is Christ centred. Leaving the former way of life and adapting a new way of life is not an easy task. Many just wish for it but seldom achieve. A question should be answered during the beginning of the advent season will be, ‘how long would you take to reach the now’ ?

Someone tells me, "I do not know father, I just do not know how long will it take, because I can't. I can't just forget the past and to be here in the now. It tortures me, haunts me?" I try to point out to her/him that the past is no more "there". The voices, feelings and pain that come from "there" do not exist. What exist is you. The voice that you hear now is what you hear. You hear that God accepts you as a wonderful person. You are healed and ready to begin anew as a loving person in the sight of God and the neighbour. ‘But you know, father I can't’. She/he moves away with down cast face. Is advent possible in their lives? Difficult, because such people are not ready. They do understand the need for change. They accept the fact that they have to leave behind the past but they cannot. Scripture says that people do understand the Light but they prefer to be in the darkness (ref Jn 3: 19).

Psalm 13 deals with this type of mental agony in the form of a cry, "how long". "How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? (Ps 13/3). How long? It is the question of the advent season. How long it takes to reach from "there" to "here" to celebrate the feast of light, wishes, gifts and love? Is it 25 days in the form of Advent; is it 40 days for a resurrection or six days to reach the mountain to experience a transfiguration?

For the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour

Does the advent season mean that the Lord will come on the 25th day? Definitely not. He does not come on an appointed day. He says he will come at an unexpected hour. Christmas is the celebration of his coming into one's life. It is the celebration of abandoning the "there" to be "here" because we celebrate the coming of our God who had come to give us life, life in fullness. Our readiness or live in the now makes the unexpected hour into an expected hour.

2. A Call to Walk in the Present

"Come; let us walk in the light of the LORD! (Is 2: 5).

The Advent season is a call to live in the present. It is call to enter into the advent season with a firm resolution to walk in the light of the LORD that we may be worthy to celebrate the birthday of our LORD.

Our readiness to receive the Lord is not an end but it is a beginning of a call to walk in his light. "Come; let us walk in the light of the LORD! (Is 2:5). We hear this call to walk in the light of the Lord from Prophet Isaiah (first reading).

The Prophet calls the people of God to enter into the now where the past is forgotten and new resolution and new spirit is created. It is also calling to one another, 'come, and let us walk in the light of the Lord'. For when we refuse to walk in his light or moved away from its path we drift into "there" "where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth"(Mt 8: 28). Can we think about a celebration with weeping and gnashing of teeth?

The Starlights remind us this candid call. The gifts and sweets remind us how wonderful it is to live as one community, as people of God.

3. A Call to Build up a Future...

"Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy (Rom 13: 12-13).

The call to build up a new future gives clarity to the 'call to walk in the light of the LORD' and gives content to the call to be ready. Observation of the Advent season should not be limited to the preparation to celebrate the Christmas. It also should be an occasion to build up a positive healthy future 'leaving aside the works of darkness'.

Reflect about these things. For we are called to walk and represent Jesus whose birthday we are going to celebrate. I like to bring to you two scripture passages for your spiritual reading and refection for this week. Col 3: 1-17; Phil 4: 4-9.

Friday, September 21, 2012

25th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year B: Mk 9: 30-37

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

It is an interesting text with lots of practical implication. The reflection is a little long. If you are interested, read on.

"Jesus was in the house"

We do not know whose house it was. However, we do know that there was an infant (ref. v. 36). If there is an infant then naturally its parents are also in the house. Therefore, the setting is clearly set in a family/community life situation, not on the road.

Jesus did not correct the disciples on the way. In fact, that was not his earlier style (ref. Mk 8: 34, Jesus teaches them on the way). It shows Jesus began to treat his disciples more mature way. Jesus asked them about a quarrel/ argument that took place on the way but he did not talked about it then. When in the house he asked. They did not answer.

He sat down, called the twelve"

Note the style of Jesus' teaching. A crisis took place, discord and disunity erupted but Jesus did not put those inner matters to the public. He rather chose a different approach. He sat down: showing his calmness and control over the situation. He called the twelve. Then the teaching came. "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Most probably, the disciples did not understand the teaching. So Jesus goes for a demonstration. The next verse indicates that.

"Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them,"

This verse shows that Jesus not only taught with parables and narration but also demonstrated the teaching in real life situations.

What did he demonstrate?

We need to look at an earlier text. The call of the first disciples, in Mk 1: 16-20. In the context of catching fish, he called them saying, "follow me I will teach you how to catch people. In an earlier occasion I have posted a blog, "I will teach how to catch people". In which I have said that many of us have learned many things, perhaps too many things but did not learn to catch people. Our basic problem in living together is the result of failure of not knowing how to catch people.

Is it not true? Just reflect upon any of the events in which you have quarrelled, separated, failed, got angry, that could not win them over whether children, spouse, boss, somebody in authority, the list is endless. The underlining reason is that all those situations has something similar, indirectly or directly, there was some tension regarding "who is the greatest."

Jesus demonstrates how to catch people?

Jesus takes an infant. The Greek word used is paidion - means infant. Now use your imagination to rebuild the situation, Jesus is seated, the disciples around him. Jesus takes the infant. (Note that the episode takes place in a house, see verse. 33). What might have been the reaction of the child? It might have cried. Jesus signaled the disciples to handle the child. The just looked at him not knowing what to do. Then Jesus takes the infant. "Note the phrase, "taking it in his arms, he said to them". He said to receive the other like that.

This text had taken many meditations of mine. I used to ask and look at the commentaries to know the significance of this demonstration.

The meaning came to me one day in a parish set up. Those days I had started preaching ministry. I used to gather suitable quotations from the bible to threaten, cajole, or frighten the audience with fires of hell. I seldom smiled during the preaching. Later, I had realized that those retreats were an ordeal to the participants. Many who attended the retreats told me that those were very powerful. They never give you a real feedback, is not.

Once I went for a retreat. On the second day, the parish priest had some other assignment and he told me about a baptism after the morning mass. I agreed to do it. After the baptism, I was standing and chatting with the people. The mother of the infant told me to hold her child. She was a tribal girl may be of seventeen or eighteen. The infant looked so small. I just refused to hold the child citing that it is not the custom. She went on insisting and soon other mothers joined with her. I could not refuse any longer so I agreed to hold the child. The moment I held the infant in my hand, it let off a horrible cry. Though looked small it had very loud noise. I was taken aback. I told the mother with little irritation to take the child back. Instead of taking the child back she just looked at me and laughed saying, you only know to shout in the church, you do not even know how to catch a child. It was a like a sudden blow on the face. The child kept on crying. I began to sweat. The mothers also looked at me with smile. Here I am, the preacher who teaches people to live in harmony and peace does not even know how to hold a child. Seeing my misery the mother of the infant told me, father that is only a little child, be patient.

I tried to be patient, note my expression, I tried. But my patience did not yield any fruit, the child kept on yelling, then the mother told me, father, be gentle, if you become restless the child will cry more. Suddenly the bible passage came to my mind: the demonstration of Jesus. I tried to patient, and gentle. It did not work. My agony was increasing, the mother told me, father, you only command, you have to be loving, talk to it in a nice way.

Since there is no way to escape, I began to look at the child. In fact, I was not looking at it. I just held the child comfortably, tried to be soft in my expressions then with all love I had in my heart I began to talk to the child, slowly touching on its cheeks, gently shaking its stomach. I held the child with utmost care. To my surprise, the infant stopped crying and began to smile.

What a relief! I learned how to catch a person. In the process I also knew how to be a servant.

I was suddenly led to understand the phrase "taking it in his arms he said, welcome others or catch others like this. Be patient, be gentle, and be loving (then you will be the greatest of all).

In fact, there is a child in everyone's inside. All what they ask is a bit more patience, gentleness, and love. And definitely, we will win them over. What do you say?

I was so happy. So I held that baby in my chest. In a moment, it pissed all over my cassock. Giving the child back to the mother, I told, see, this is why, I do not take them, she has pissed all over my cassock. The innocent tribal mother gave a hilarious laughter and gave me a lesson, which I never forget. She said, father the baby is free with you that is why it pissed. If it is tensed, it won't piss.

I never knew that, when others, pissed on me, scolded me, shouted and did much other harm, I thought that they were angry with me. On the contrary, they were free with me that is why they could do that.

Later looking at the cross, I knew its meaning. When others spit on him, mocked and spoke all types of ill against him he could remain calm. He could even say, forgive them they do not know what they do. He became more patience, gentle, and loving even on the cross. He was teaching us how to catch people.

Just reflect on occasions where you felt that you could not catch the other and ended up in separations, hostility, divorce, enmity and continued remain so. There was lack of patience, gentleness and love. Is not?

Jesus never wishes our failure that keeps us in the last. He wants us to be the first, greatest of all. The means are different. It is not arguing, lording over but service. We become servants who are patient, gentle and loving to one another. 

Friends, meditate on the demonstration of Jesus, see the gentleness in his eyes, and then apply those principles to your life. To a great extent you will learn to how to catch people.

Rejoinder, after that incident I had changed the way I preach. I brought lots of laughter, gentleness and love into the ministry. After all, every preaching is an art of catching people. Not only preaching but also every sharing, conversation, and interaction are an art of catching people. This art is based on simple principle: be patient, be gentle and be loving.