Posts Tagged ‘do not be afraid’

Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, February 20, 2018 — “The Lord’s Prayer” — Plus: “The Antidote to Fear is Faith”

February 19, 2018

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent
Lectionary: 225

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Reading 1 IS 55:10-11

Thus says the LORD:
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 34:4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19

R. (18b) From all their distress God rescues the just.
Glorify the LORD with me,
let us together extol his name.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
R. From all their distress God rescues the just.
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
R. From all their distress God rescues the just.
The LORD has eyes for the just,
and ears for their cry.
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
R. From all their distress God rescues the just.
When the just cry out, the LORD hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
R. From all their distress God rescues the just.

Verse Before The GospelMT 4:4B

One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

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Gospel  MT 6:7-15

Jesus said to his disciples:
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”This is how you are to pray:Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”
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Henri Nouwen wrote about the all loving and all forgiving Father in this simple book…
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First Thoughts for Your Peace and Freedom
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I have a friend who suffers from great pain. Yesterday he said, “I am afraid of dying.”
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It had never occurred to him that “The Antidote to Fear is Faith.” We don’t have to accept our fears. In fact, this is one that we must all immediately reject.
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Lent is the time we talk about these things. If we fear death, why is that? We have confession available. God is all forgiving. He takes away our sins. He forgives. He Consoles. Run to Him. He is like the Father in the Prodigal Son parable — all forgiving and all loving.
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So if we are afraid of death, maybe we need to put our mind and our soul in order…. this Lent….
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The Antidote to Fear is Faith

The way to overcome our fears is to follow Jesus in faith. Our faith is what allows us to enter the future — not with a question mark — but with an exclamation point!

Faith is what allows us to declare in confidence that God is with us no matter what happens. We are certain God is for us and certain he has our best interests at heart.

Through faith, we know that God is working all things out for our good — if we love God and are following the commands of Jesus (Romans 8:28). If you are a believer, the Bible says all things are working together for good — not that all things are good — but working together for your good and the Glory of God.

There is no difficulty, dilemma, defeat, or disaster in the life of a believer that God can’t ultimately get some good out of – so what is there to fear, as we enter this Decade of Destiny?

When you face the future, what do you see?  Do you look at it with eyes of doubt?  With eyes of cynicism?  With eyes of expecting the worse?

You have two choices about the future –

  • You can either face the future as a cynic, a doubter, with negative thoughts, expecting the worse, or …
  • You can face the future expecting God to be with you and that His goodness and His mercy will follow you all the days of your life.

http://pastorrick.com/devotional/english/faith-is-god’s-antidote-to-fear

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites

The Gospel today presents the prayer of the Our Father, the Psalm which Jesus has left us. There are two redactions of the Our Father, of Luke (Lk 11, 1-4 and of Matthew (Mt 6, 7-13). The redaction of Luke is briefer. Luke writes for the community coming from paganism. He tries to help the persons who are beginning a path of prayer. In the Gospel of Matthew, the Our Father is found in the part of the Discourse of the Mountain, where Jesus orientates the disciples in the practice of the three works of piety: alms giving (Mt 6, 1-4), prayer (Mt 6, 5-15) and fasting (Mt 6, 26-18). The Our father forms part of a catechesis for the converted Jews. They were used to pray, but they had certain vices which Matthew wanted to correct. In the Our Father, Jesus summarizes all his teaching in seven petitions addressed to the Father. In these seven petitions, he takes the promises of the Old Testament and orders to ask the Father to help us to realize them. The first three refer to our relationship with God. The other four have to do with the community relationship that we have with others.

• Matthew 6, 7-8: The introduction to the Our Father. Jesus criticises the persons for whom prayer was a repetition of magic formulae, of strong words, addressed to God to oblige him to respond to their petitions and needs. Anyone who prays has to seek, in the first place, the Kingdom, much more than the personal interests. The acceptance of prayer by God does not depend on the repetition of words, but rather on the goodness of God who is Love and Mercy. He wants our good and he knows our needs, even before we pray.

• Matthew 6,9a: The first words: “Our Father in Heaven!” “Abba, Father, is the name which Jesus uses to address himself to God. It expresses the intimacy that he has with God and manifests the new relationship with God which should characterize the life of people in the Christian communities (Ga 4, 6; Rm 8, 15). Matthew adds to the name of Father the adjective our and the expression in Heaven. The true prayer is a relationship which unites us to the Father, to the brothers and sisters, to nature. Familiarity with God is not intimist, but expresses the awareness of belonging to the great human family, in which all persons participate; of all races and of all creeds: Our Father. To pray to the Father is to enter in intimacy with him, it is also to be in harmony with the cry of all the brothers and sisters. It is to seek the Kingdom of God, in the first place. The experience of God the Father is the foundation of the universal fraternity.

• Matthew 6, 9b-10: The three petitions for the cause of God: the Name, the Kingdom, the Will. In the first part of the Our Father, we ask to restore our relationship with God. To do this Jesus asks (a) the sanctification of the Name revealed in Exodus on the occasion of the liberation from Egypt; (b) to ask for the coming of the Kingdom, expected by the people after the fall of the monarchy; (c) to ask for the fulfilment of God’s Will, revealed in the Law which was in the centre of the Covenant. The Name, the Kingdom, the Law: are three axis taken from the Old Testament which express how the new relationship with God should be. The three petitions indicate that it is necessary to live in intimacy with the Father, making his Name known, making him loved, doing in such a way that his Kingdom of love and of communion becomes a reality that his Will may be done on earth as it is in Heaven. In heaven, the sun and the stars obey the law of God and create the order of the Universe. The observance of the Law of God “on earth as it is in heaven” should be a source and a mirror of harmony and of well being for the whole creation. This renewed relationship with God becomes visible only in the renewed relationship among us, which on his part is the object of other four petitions: our daily bread, the forgiveness of debts, not to fall into temptation, to deliver us from evil.

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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20 FEBRUARY, 2018, Tuesday, 1st Week of Lent
LIVING OUT OUR PRAYERS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ISA 55:10-11PS 34:4-716-19MT 6:7-15 ]

Today, we focus on the first pillar of our Lenten program, which is prayer.  Yesterday, the theme of the mass focused on the second pillar of the Lenten spiritual exercises, namely, on justice, charity and almsgiving. These two themes are closely related.  The goal of prayer is charity.  Prayer is not an end in itself but to enable us to be immersed in the love of God so that with that love, we can love others.

That is why right from the start, the Church warns of futile prayers that does no one any good.  Jesus warns us, “In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard.  Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  Indeed, some of us might think that we are holy and pious just because we increase our time for prayers and devotions, such as praying the rosary, attending the Stations of the Cross and other pious exercises.  Many of us could be doing all these things and yet our lives are not transformed in any way, including those who attend daily mass out of routine and devotion.

Because we do not pray with our hearts or even meditate with our minds, what we say is mere lip service, something that we rattle off, without consciously imbibing what we say, or pray, and without feeling what we express.  Indeed, sometimes, I wonder whether the pious devotional prayers, including the traditional Stations, that we pray at our churches are impacting lives.  We try to meditate quickly the 14 Stations in half an hour, so much so we hardly have any time to let the thoughts and the sentiments sink into our heads and hearts.  It is just touch and go.  So too, for the rosary and other devotions as well.  If only we take time to deepen our reflection, let the thoughts linger a bit longer and let our hearts be moved by the words, our lives will be transformed.  Indeed, the Stations of the Cross and the Rosary are some of the most powerful forms of devotional prayers that can be used for the transformation of lives.

In a special way, this is also true for all formula prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer that the Lord taught us in the gospel.  This prayer is the pattern of all prayers.  It is not so much that the prayer itself is inspired, beautiful and succinct, but because it provides us the way we should pray, and the principles that should guide our prayers.   Jesus only taught us one prayer and that is sufficient because it is the prayer that should help us to make our own prayers.

The Lord’s Prayer sums up the whole teaching of Jesus with regards to God, our neighbour and ourselves.  It is about relationship and trust and forgiveness.  It tells us how we should pray and what we should be praying for.  Many of us have the wrong disposition for prayer and often pray for the wrong things.  As St Paul said, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”  (Rom 8:26)  We need to pray in the Spirit, which is what the Lord’s Prayer seeks to communicate – the Spirit of Jesus at prayer.  The Lord’s Prayer, coming at the center of the Sermon on the Mount, is the heart of Jesus’ teaching, and summarizes what He wants to communicate to us.  In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus sums up His teachings and also the entire bible.  What the bible teaches us about God, life, providence, trust, mercy, forgiveness and charity are captured in the Lord’s Prayer.  Every verse of the Lord’s Prayer can be associated with the scripture texts elsewhere in the bible, especially in the psalms.  In the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church concludes the hour of praise and thanksgiving with the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, a fitting summary and conclusion to the prayers of the Church.

So what are the principles that we should bear in mind when we pray?  Firstly, we must be conscious that God is not just almighty and omnipotent.  He is our Father.  He is not someone whom we fear but someone whom we love.  He is a Father who cares for us all.  “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  (Mt 5:45)  And He looks after our needs.  “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”  (Mt 6:26)  He is the Father who is ever ready to forgive us when we fail, and to welcome us home.  We read this in the parables of the Prodigal Son, the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin.  (cf Lk 15)  The psalmist says, “I sought the Lord and he answered me; from all my terrors he set me free.”  Beyond recognizing that God is our Father, we must therefore regard all men and women as our brothers and sisters. “Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.”  (Heb 2:11)

Secondly, our whole life is for the glory of God.  This is what we pray, “may your name be held holy.”   We are called to glorify God by our lives.   This is what St Paul urges us, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:31)  Jesus said, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.”  (Jn 17:4)   Only by glorifying Him, can we also share in His glory.  “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”  (Jn 17:5)  “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity”  (Jn 17:22f)  This is what the psalmist says as well.  “Glorify the Lord with me.  Together let us praise his name.”

Thirdly, we give glory to God only by doing His will perfectly.  This is what the first reading asks of us. The prophet says, “As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.”  When we do the will of God, then we know that God rules in our lives.  Jesus’ whole life was lived in obedience to God, doing His holy will. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”  (Jn 4:34)  Most of all, at the Garden of Gethsemane, the Lord said, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”  (Mt 26:42)

Fourthly, we are called to trust in the divine providence of God.  “Give us today our daily bread.”  As Jesus tells us in the gospel, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  (Mt 6:33f)  We pray for what we need daily and what we need the most daily is the Word of God, the bread of life.  This daily bread refers not just to our daily needs but also the bread of life, the Word of God and the Eucharist, the bread of tomorrow.   This is also the faith of the psalmist when he says, “Look towards him and be radiant; let your faces not be abashed.  This poor man called, the Lord heard him and rescued him from all his distress.  They call and the Lord hears and rescues them in all their distress.  The Lord is close to the broken-hearted; those whose spirit is crushed he will save.”

Above all, the Lord asks us to pray for forgiveness, which is the heart of the gospel.  “And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us.”  This is the heart of prayer as well.  If we are not forgiving, we will impede the grace of God from flowing towards us.  A man with a vindictive heart will not be able to find peace in his life.  Indeed, Jesus reminds us, “Yes, if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours; but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either.” As the psalmist says, “The Lord turns his face against the wicked to destroy their remembrance from the earth. The Lord turns his eyes to the just and his ears to their appeal.”  When we do not forgive, we hurt ourselves primarily because we are prisoners of our enemies.

Finally, every prayer must conclude with a prayer for the grace of God to protect us from all evil.  “And do not put us to the test, but save us from the evil one.”  Living a godly life is not solely dependent on our will and strength because we are fighting against the evil one.  We need to pray for God’s strength to resist temptations.  “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”  (Eph 6:10f)  This means that we should cooperate with His grace by avoiding the occasion of sin. Let us take heed of Peter’s advice, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  (1 Pt 5:6-8) Only when we seek to walk in His path, can we find peace and joy.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore 
 
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God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!

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Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, February 18, 2018 — First Sunday of Lent — “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

February 17, 2018

First Sunday of Lent
Lectionary: 23

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Reading 1 GN 9:8-15

God said to Noah and to his sons with him:
“See, I am now establishing my covenant with you
and your descendants after you
and with every living creature that was with you:
all the birds, and the various tame and wild animals
that were with you and came out of the ark.
I will establish my covenant with you,
that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed
by the waters of a flood;
there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.”
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God added:
“This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come,
of the covenant between me and you
and every living creature with you:
I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign
of the covenant between me and the earth.
When I bring clouds over the earth,
and the bow appears in the clouds,
I will recall the covenant I have made
between me and you and all living beings,
so that the waters shall never again become a flood
to destroy all mortal beings.”

Responsorial Psalm  PS 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9.

R. (cf. 10) Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.
R. Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.
Remember that your compassion, O LORD,
and your love are from of old.
In your kindness remember me,
because of your goodness, O LORD.
R. Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.
Good and upright is the LORD,
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
and he teaches the humble his way.
R. Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.

Reading 2 1 PT 3:18-22

Beloved:
Christ suffered for sins once, 
the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, 
that he might lead you to God.
Put to death in the flesh, 
he was brought to life in the Spirit.
In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, 
who had once been disobedient 
while God patiently waited in the days of Noah 
during the building of the ark, 
in which a few persons, eight in all,
were saved through water.
This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.
It is not a removal of dirt from the body 
but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, 
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
who has gone into heaven
and is at the right hand of God, 
with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

Verse Before The Gospel  MT 4:4B

One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

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Temptation in the Desert by Eric Armusik

Gospel  MK 1:12-15

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
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Even Jesus was subjected to human temptation. He knows what we go though because he went through it himself. Temptation. Longing. Pain. Suffering. Jesus was human like us — and he felt like us.
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This should give great solace all who walk this earth. We are not alone in our pain and suffering and temptation. In fact, man may be defined by his mind that comprehends pain and suffering and temptation differently from the animals. But in our humanness we also have love, desire and free will. We have choices to make and we must make them or perish.
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John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom
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Jesus is tempted in the desert (Jésus tenté dans le désert)
By James Tissot
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At the Monastery of Christ in the Desert
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Reflection from The Abbot in the Desert
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My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Part of Lent is deepening our awareness that we people who have a Covenant with the Living God.  We are not just people who believe in God.  We are a people sought out by God, a people formed by God and a people with a special love relationship with God.  Only when we are deeply aware of His love for us can we truly begin to do penance in a Christian way.

The first reading today is from the Book of Genesis and recounts the establishment of the Covenant with Noah and his descendants.  Many times in the history of the Chosen People, God has made Covenants.  These Covenants mark important events in the life of the Chosen People and are a sign of God’s choosing this people and remaining faithful to His choice.  What happens always is that God remains faithful to the Covenant and we do not.  Yet we are called to look back at these Covenants and to let God change our faithlessness to faithfulness.

The second reading today is from the First Letter of Peter.  This portion of the letter refers us once again to the Covenant with Noah and explains even more clearly that we must return to faithfulness.  The letter points out that it is Christ who has died for our sins and that we cannot think that the death of Christ was simply a removal of dirt from the body.  Rather the death of Christ our consciences are made clean by our faith in Him.  Thus we are invited to choose Jesus Christ once again in this time of Lent and know that He is our salvation.

The Gospel of this First Sunday of Lent is always the Gospel of Christ in the Desert, the temptations of Christ fasting for forty days.  The account this year comes from the Gospel of Mark and is very, very short.  Saint Mark simply tells us that Jesus was in the desert forty days and was tempted and that angels ministered to Him.  When Jesus leaves the desert, he begins His ministry of preaching.  He preaches repentance and belief in the Good News of God.

We are invited to see that Lent is a time of Good News of God.  Lent is a time to believe more deeply in this God who loves us and comes to save us in every situation.  Lent is a time to listen attentively to the Word of God and to meditate on what this Word means in our lives.  We are invited to turn away from anything that misleads us and walk always the way of the Lord.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

(In the photo above, Abbot Philip is at the far left)

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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18 FEBRUARY, 2018, Sunday, 1st Week of Lent

VICTORY OVER EVIL IN CHRIST JESUS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Genesis 9:8-151 Peter 3:18-22Mark 1:12-15  ]

Overcoming temptation is always a struggle for us all.  It is not that we are wicked people by nature.  Rather, we are all self-preservative.  We do what we can to protect our interests.  We are afraid of death, suffering and rejection.  That is why we grab, we hoard, we steal and we kill.  If not for the fear of suffering, death and rejection, we can be very generous and caring people.  Many who have sufficient in life and feel that they have more than enough would sacrifice their lives to do good, to help the poor and the Church.  As it is said, charity begins at home, but it does not end there.

Still, there are many other temptations that we cannot resist, not just money and wealth.  We cannot resist the sin of lust and the things of the flesh, food and beauty, because we are human beings with a spirit and a body.  So we give in to the sin of flesh easily because our body desires sensual and physical pleasure.  We are desperate for acceptance and recognition and so the sin of vanity and pride make us do things to gain praise.  Our ego will not let us rest, but make us fight to be seen as right and great.

The truth is that such temptations continue to remain with us even after baptism because whilst our sins are washed away and forgiven at baptism, the effects of original sin, namely concupiscence, stays with us.  This refers to the weakness of our disoriented will.  Although we are not depraved, our human nature is weakened and therefore the resistance to temptation is much weaker in us human beings.  Indeed, we read that immediately after the Covenant was made with Noah, upon leaving the Ark, Noah and his sons planted the vineyard.  Noah “drank some of the wine and became drunk, and he lay uncovered in his tent.  And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.”  (Gn 9:21f)  Instead of behaving himself, Noah showed a bad example to his sons.

Overcoming temptation due to human weakness is made even more complex because the Devil, who is the Tempter, seeks to destroy us by manipulating our human weakness.  Knowing how weak we are to the flesh and the world, he tempts us with lust, food, glory and power.  Right from the outset of Jesus’ ministry, the devil sought to make Jesus fall through the threefold temptation of identity, pleasure and power.  We read in the gospel that “the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan.”   We also read that “He was with the wild beasts.”  What are these wild beasts if not the devil who sought to tempt Him?  But for us, the wild beasts also refer to the brute nature in us seeking for pleasure, glory and power.

In the face of our temptations, the Lord promised to deliver us from our sins and win victory over the Evil One.  This is the covenant that God made with Noah.  “I establish my Covenant with you: no thing of flesh shall be swept away again by the waters of the flood. There shall be no flood to destroy the earth again.”  In other words, God does not seek to destroy us but to redeem us.  With the coming of Jesus, we are told that upon His death, “in the spirit he was raised to life, and, in the spirit, he went to preach to the spirits in prison.”  This could mean that Jesus, upon His death, went to save those that came before Christ and were waiting in Sheol.  It could also mean, as some scholars suggest, that Jesus went down to hell to proclaim to the devils that He was victorious and hence, everything was under His dominion.  St Peter said, He “has entered heaven and is at God’s right hand, now that he has made the angels and Dominations and Powers his subjects.”

How can we do it?  In Christ, we can overcome all evil.  Jesus showed us the Way, walked the Way and taught us the way.  How did He do it?  Firstly, He, as the Son of God, assumed our humanity.  He was truly a man in every way except sin.  “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.”  (Heb 4:15)  Indeed, Jesus, more than anyone else, can feel with us.  He knows what it is to be tempted as a man.  “For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.”  (Heb 2:18) He can surely sympathize with us in our weakness more than our fellowmen who are judgmental.

Secondly, not only is He able to feel with us in our weakness in the face of temptations, He shows us the way.  The psalmist says, “The Lord is good and upright. He shows the path to those who stray, He guides the humble in the right path, He teaches his way to the poor.”  How does He show us the way?  First, by living out His sonship in obedience to His Father.  “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”  (Heb 5:8f)  He walked the way of truth and of love.

He shows us the way by helping us to use the Word of God to protect ourselves. “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  (2 Tim 3:16f)  To the Devil who tempted Him to change stones to bread, He cited from the scriptures, “Man shall not live by bread alone.”  To the temptation to worship Satan, Jesus cited the scriptures, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” And when asked to test the fidelity of His Father, He said that it is written, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”

Thirdly, to conquer sin and temptation, Jesus invites us to die to ourselves.  St Peter wrote, “Christ himself, innocent though he was, died once for sins, died for the guilty, to lead us to God. In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life.”  Dying to self is the only way in which we can rise to new life.  This is what baptism is all about.  It is more than just a washing of the physical dirt, as St Peter said, “but a pledge made to God from a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  St Paul in his letter to the Romans said, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  (Rom 6:3-4; cf Rom 6:6-8)

Fourthly, we are called to overcome the fear of death, which is the cause of all sins.   All sins spring from the fear of death.  “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”  Hence, all sins lead to death.  “But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. For the wages of sin is death.”  (Rom 6:2123)   By His death, He destroyed death forever because He died so that He could rise from the dead to show us that death need not be feared, for it is not the last word, but eternal life with God.  “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.”  (Heb 2:14f)

Finally, to overcome the fear of death and punishment because of our inclination to sin, we must cling to Jesus’ unconditional love and mercy for us.  This is what the Good News is.  When Jesus said, “The time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News”, He was saying that the forgiveness of God is here.  We have already been forgiven and we are all reconciled with the Father even before we make amends for our sins.  We are loved always by the Father no matter what we do.   (cf Rom 7:24f)

Realizing His love for us, we respond in love, not out of fear.  We must stop sinning, not because of the fear of punishment that comes from breaking the laws, but because it is a betrayal of love.  The psalmist says, “Remember your mercy, Lord, and the love you have shown from of old. In your love remember me, because of your goodness, O Lord.”  St Paul precisely responded in that manner.  “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.”  (Gal 2:20)  St Peter also exhorted the newly baptized, “Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall.”  (2 Pt 1:10)

The First Sunday of Lent is to lead us through the whole journey of Lent to repent and reclaim our sonship and daughtership in Christ.  It calls for a renewal of our baptismal promises, foreshadowed in the story of Noah’s Ark and given to us at our baptism as St Peter wrote.  We must now live out the Covenant that has been given to us in Christ, as sons and daughters of God by staying away from sin and living the New life in Christ Jesus.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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As Bishop Goh says, Lent requires us to become like little children again. “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children….” (Matthew 18:2-4) — In Lent we confess our sins and try again to become totally dependent upon God and His Will (Not our own).  Notice Jesus says “unless” meaning we must do this to enter the kingdom of heaven….
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Prayer and Meditation for Friday, February 9, 2018 — “He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

February 8, 2018

Friday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 333

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Jesus and the deaf man with a speech impediment

Reading 1  1 KGS 11:29-32; 12:19

Jeroboam left Jerusalem,
and the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite met him on the road.
The two were alone in the area,
and the prophet was wearing a new cloak.
Ahijah took off his new cloak,
tore it into twelve pieces, and said to Jeroboam:“Take ten pieces for yourself;
the LORD, the God of Israel, says:
‘I will tear away the kingdom from Solomon’s grasp
and will give you ten of the tribes.
One tribe shall remain to him for the sake of David my servant,
and of Jerusalem,
the city I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel.’”Israel went into rebellion against David’s house to this day.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 81:10-11AB, 12-13, 14-15

R. (11a and 9a) I am the Lord, your God: hear my voice.
“There shall be no strange god among you
nor shall you worship any alien god.
I, the LORD, am your God
who led you forth from the land of Egypt.”
R. I am the Lord, your God: hear my voice.
“My people heard not my voice,
and Israel obeyed me not;
So I gave them up to the hardness of their hearts;
they walked according to their own counsels.”
R. I am the Lord, your God: hear my voice.
“If only my people would hear me,
and Israel walk in my ways,
Quickly would I humble their enemies;
against their foes I would turn my hand.”
R. I am the Lord, your God: hear my voice.

Alleluia SEE ACTS 16:14B

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Open our hearts, O Lord,
to listen to the words of your Son.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

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Gospel  MK 7:31-37

Jesus left the district of Tyre
and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee,
into the district of the Decapolis.
And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment
and begged him to lay his hand on him.
He took him off by himself away from the crowd.
He put his finger into the man’s ears
and, spitting, touched his tongue;
then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him,
“Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”)
And immediately the man’s ears were opened,
his speech impediment was removed,
and he spoke plainly.
He ordered them not to tell anyone.
But the more he ordered them not to,
the more they proclaimed it.
They were exceedingly astonished and they said,
“He has done all things well.
He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
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Homily From The Abbot (From Sunday, September 6, 2015)
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My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

The work of God in our lives is so incredible!  The gifts of the Lord Jesus to those who follow Him are gifts of the Kingdom of God.  Just as God loves us in Christ Jesus and brings healing and wholeness, so we also much touch the lives of one another in the same way.  May our burning sands become pools, and may our thirsty ground become springs of water.

We can know that we don’t have to be frightened.  We can be upset, we can be lazy, we can be against God.  Whatever!  God is still going to seek us out in some way and we will have a choice to believe in Him.  We don’t even know how God will come into our lives.  For those of us who already believe, there are still surprises ahead of us.  God never abandons us.  God never gets us to one point in live and says:  that is enough.  No!  God wants us fully alive and fully in love with Him.  Isaiah tells us:  with divine recompense he comes to save you.

Divine recompense!  Recompense is compensation or reward given for loss or harm suffered or effort made.  Divine recompense is surely mercy upon mercy upon mercy—and yet always trying to entice from us a divine response to His divine love.

The Gospel of Mark today is about the healing of the deaf man who had a speech impediment.  Again this account is put here to show us that God wants us whole and alive.  Perhaps we will never be entirely whole in this life or entirely alive, but God is always there with us, enticing us, drawing us and seeking to gain our attention and our response.  When we do feel small touches of healing and wholeness and life, then at times we are like this deaf man and cannot restrain ourselves from telling others.  Jesus still will not reject us.

We know that if we get preachy, others will lose interest in the path of life.  We know that if we do not live joyful and humanly rewarding lives, others will not want such a path.  Our best preaching is simply living the joy of the presence of Lord in every aspect of our lives and in the way we love others.  Let us draw others to the Lord so that they too will know the Divine recompense.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

https://christdesert.org/2015/09/23rd-sunday-in-ordinary-time-cycle-b-2015/

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Reflection on Jesus Healing The Deaf and Mute Man
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By Martin G. Collins
Church of the Great God
Charlotte, NC  28247-1846
Forerunner, “Bible Study,” November-December 2011

 

Christ maketh the deaf to hear. Published by John Fleetwood, Life of our Blessed Lord and Saviour (c 1870)

Only Mark records Jesus Christ’s healing of the deaf-mute man (Mark 7:31-37), though Matthew refers to it generally (Matthew 15:29-31). After His special journey to the borders of Tyre and Sidon, where He healed the Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter, Jesus made a circuit of the Decapolis, ten cities to which the Roman conquerors had granted special privileges about a century earlier. He found a tremendous need for healing in that region.

Matthew’s account relates that, when Jesus returned from Tyre and Sidon, throngs of people brought their sick—the lame, blind, deaf, mute, and maimed—to be healed by Him. Of these, Mark perhaps selects the deaf-mute man’s case to record because of associated incidents that had not occurred on any other occasion.

He recounts that the man was deaf and had a speech impediment. Deafness can isolate and exclude the sufferer from society. Evidently, this man was not born deaf because, if he had been, he would have been unable to speak at all. No mention is made of how he lost his hearing; possibly a disease or an accident was responsible.

His difficulty in speaking indicates that he was not completely mute, but after Christ’s touch, he could speak plainly, which may indicate that his handicap cannot be directly traced to a spiritual source of evil (Matthew 9:32).

1. What do the man’s two physical handicaps represent? Mark 7:32.

Comment: His deafness was absolute; he could hear nothing. This greatly limited him, especially in those days when sign language and other communication helps did not exist as prominently as they do today. The poor had no access to speech therapists, and the medical practices of the time offered no hope at all.

His deafness also put him in danger, as people use their hearing more than they realize to avoid harm. Spiritual deafness is no different: When we cannot hear or refuse to hear the Word of God, we endanger ourselves greatly, not hearing the warnings of God’s ministers against the enticement and pull of sin and its curses and penalties. While physical deafness is a very limiting disability, it does not normally lead to death, but spiritual deafness is infinitely worse, leading to eternal death.

The man was almost entirely mute except for a speech impediment that kept him from communicating with others verbally. The word “impediment” in Mark 7:32 does not mean he could not make any sounds but that he had great difficulty in speaking. He could make sounds with his mouth, but they came across as gibberish. Mark’s account states that Jesus “loosed” the man’s tongue, which may indicate that the problem was a birth defect.

Deafness and dumbness are often associated because humans learn to speak by hearing. A person who cannot hear his own voice or the voices of others has difficulty with pronunciation. If a person becomes deaf later in life, he will be able to speak much better than one born deaf or who loses his hearing as a child.

The relationship between the inability to speak and deafness pictures some of sin’s effects. Those who are deaf to the Word of God will have great difficulty speaking properly of spiritual matters. Even the most educated sinner betrays an impediment in his speech as soon as spiritual truths are introduced, but when he opens his ears to receive the truth, his spiritual speech will improve greatly and continually. Just as Jesus physically healed the man to enable him to hear, He must spiritually heal us so that we can understand God’s Word (see John 8:47I Corinthians 2:9-14).

In one sense, a person who cannot speak could be said to have an advantage over others since, “for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36). However, we will be judged by our thoughts as well: “For out of the abundance of the heart [the mind] the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).

2. What lessons regarding service does the presenting of the deaf-mute man to Christ teach? Mark 7:32.

Comment: The phrase “they brought to Him” describes others presenting the man to Christ. From this, we can learn several lessons of service. Those who presented the man to Christ were involved in a work everyone should emulate, that is, leading people to Christ as the solution to their needs. This work involves compassion and sacrifice. It is not proselytizing, per se, as it is done most effectively by being a true witness of God’s way of life.

We must have compassion for people needing help, as those who brought the deaf-mute man to Christ had, otherwise they would not have gone out of their way to bring him. In addition, bringing others to Christ shows a willingness to pay the cost, as it is a sacrifice of time, effort, and sometimes money—and often brings criticism and ridicule from the world. It may not be an act that brings prestige in the eyes of the world, but it is wonderful in God’s sight if His name is promoted and glorified.

The men in this scenario simply took a man to Christ for healing. Our work may be as simple as turning a person’s attention to an article or sermon, or in this Internet age, showing him the church’s website to make him aware of spiritual solutions to his problems. While these efforts can lead people to Christ, the most effective way is to be a true witness of God’s way of life by living righteously (Psalm 37:30Proverbs 10:20-21, 31-32; Revelation 20:4).

http://www.cgg.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/BS/k/1548/Miracles-Jesus-Christ-Healing-Deaf-Mute-Part-One.htm

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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09 FEBRUARY, 2018, Friday, 5th Week, Ordinary Time
CREATIVE APPROACHES TO THE PROCLAMATION OF THE GOOD NEWS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [1 KGS 11:29-3212:19PS 81:10-15MK 7:31-37  ]

Being able to praise God is a sign that one is restored to wholeness.  Indeed, that was what happened when Jesus healed the deaf and dumb man.  The on-lookers, and presumably the healed man as well, could not contain their joy and admiration for Jesus.  Hence, they publicly gave testimony to the wonderful works of Jesus.  Praise and gratitude therefore is an indication of one’s encounter with God and His goodness.  That is why when we come across people who are happy and liberated, we know that they have been touched by the love and goodness of God. Conversely, if we come across people who are pessimistic and negative towards life, it is because they are unable to receive the Good News from God.  Like the deaf and dumb man, they are unable to speak or proclaim God’s mighty works since they have not heard the Good News.  They are truly sick at heart and in the mind.

But why were they unable to hear?  This impediment to hearing is not simply a physical impediment but an impediment of the heart, a heart that is hurt, broken and hardened.  As a result, they could not see nor feel goodness in their lives as they were no longer open to the wonders of God around them.  This was the case with King Solomon and the son of Solomon, Rehoboam.  Solomon, we were told in yesterday’s reading, could no longer listen to the voice of God as he was led astray by his foreign wives to worship false gods.  His son, Rehoboam too, was unable to hear his people’s cries to the forced labour and exorbitant taxes imposed on the northern tribes of Israel.  Instead of attending to their needs, he increased the taxes all the more.  Such insensitivity necessarily resulted in a rebellion led by his former military leader, Jeroboam, which eventually split the kingdom of David into two.

How, then, can we reach out to those who are unable to hear the good news?  If the direct proclamation of the Word is not possible, then we must find other ways of reaching out to those who are physically or psychologically impeded from hearing.  We must help them to remove those obstacles, be they spiritual, emotional or psychological. We can proclaim the Word of God by our actions instead.  As is often said, a picture is worth a thousand words.  Actions certainly speak louder than words.  Hence in today’s scripture readings, we find the use of prophetic actions to proclaim the message of God.  In the first reading, Ahijah the prophet conveyed the message of God to Jeroboam through the prophetic ot by taking the new cloak he was wearing and tearing it into twelve pieces and giving ten strips to Jeroboam, signifying that the latter would be given ten tribes from the kingdom of Solomon.  In the same way too, Jesus also healed the deaf and dumb man using some physical action, like putting His fingers into the man’s ears and touching his tongue with His spittle.  If Jesus had chosen such a complicated way to heal the man, it was not because Jesus needed to, but because Jesus knew that the deaf and dumb man needed that assurance since he could not hear.  The physical contact enabled the deaf and dumb man to be open to Jesus.

What, then, are the implications for us in our ministry?  Firstly, if we are to proclaim the Good News, we must proclaim it in such a way that the listeners can hear the message.  We must make use of all possible means to reach out to others in ways that they can understand and identify with us.  If they cannot hear the message we are proclaiming, we need to make use of whatever resources that are available to us.  For this to be possible, we must first come to them on their own terms and not ours.  Indeed, God reaches out to us as we are, just as Jesus reached out to the deaf and dumb man in his limited condition.  That is why He had to employ physical actions to heal him so that if the man could not hear, at least he could feel.

Secondly, this healing miracle illustrates the importance of signs, sacraments and sacramentals.  Sacramentalism cannot be ignored in our communication of the Good News.  This explains why the Catholic Church places great emphasis on the liturgy and the use of sacramentals in the liturgy so that the Good News is not only heard but felt in the heart as well.  For this reason, the Church reintroduced the rites of scrutiny and the praying over in order to gradually prepare Catechumens for the sacrament of baptism.  We must never under-estimate the power of signs and symbols employed in the liturgy.  Of course, the use of signs must be extended to our daily life as well.  It is through signs of love, welcome and good works that people can feel the Good News in person in concrete terms in their own lives.

Thirdly, in reaching out to our listeners, we must respect their dignity and pride.  Here again, Jesus was sensitive to the deaf and dumb man and thus He took him aside, away from the peering eyes of the crowd.  He did so presumably because He did not want to embarrass the man in case he found it too unnerving to utter the first few words, which would probably sound distorted. We too must be sensitive to the needs of our audience when bringing the Good News to others.  For example, in reconciliation, we need not have to hear the words, “I forgive” or “I’m sorry” before forgiveness is effected.  Some of us might be too proud to ask for forgiveness or even to utter the words of forgiveness.  But very often, the signs of forgiveness or asking for forgiveness are already there and we just need to notice them.  Another example is helping people financially or in kind.  Even in giving we must respect the pride of the other person and not embarrass the recipient, making him feel small by receiving our gifts.

Yes, the gospel tells us that Jesus had done all things well.  He made “the deaf hear and the dumb speak.”  We too, if we truly want to do all things well and be effective in our ministry, then we must be sensitive and creative like Jesus to our potential listeners.  We must reach out to them on their own terms, with great sensitivity manifested in concrete action.  Only then will they be able to praise Him unceasingly for His great love and works for them with their lips.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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The man’s deafness was absolute; he could hear nothing. This greatly limited him, especially in those days when sign language and other communication helps did not exist as prominently as they do today. The poor had no access to speech therapists, and the medical practices of the time offered no hope at all.

His deafness also put him in danger, as people use their hearing more than they realize to avoid harm. Spiritual deafness is no different: When we cannot hear or refuse to hear the Word of God, we endanger ourselves greatly, not hearing the warnings of God’s ministers against the enticement and pull of sin and its curses and penalties. While physical deafness is a very limiting disability, it does not normally lead to death, but spiritual deafness is infinitely worse, leading to eternal death.

The man was almost entirely mute except for a speech impediment that kept him from communicating with others verbally. The word “impediment” in Mark 7:32 does not mean he could not make any sounds but that he had great difficulty in speaking. He could make sounds with his mouth, but they came across as gibberish. Mark’s account states that Jesus “loosed” the man’s tongue, which may indicate that the problem was a birth defect.

Deafness and dumbness are often associated because humans learn to speak by hearing. A person who cannot hear his own voice or the voices of others has difficulty with pronunciation. If a person becomes deaf later in life, he will be able to speak much better than one born deaf or who loses his hearing as a child.

The relationship between the inability to speak and deafness pictures some of sin’s effects. Those who are deaf to the Word of God will have great difficulty speaking properly of spiritual matters. Even the most educated sinner betrays an impediment in his speech as soon as spiritual truths are introduced, but when he opens his ears to receive the truth, his spiritual speech will improve greatly and continually. Just as Jesus physically healed the man to enable him to hear, He must spiritually heal us so that we can understand God’s Word (see John 8:47I Corinthians 2:9-14).

Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Deaf-Mute (Part One)

See More:

http://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/CGG/ID/17042/Speech-Impediment.htm

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There are 28 Bible verses about deafness:

http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Deafness

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Prayer and Meditation, for Sunday, January 28, 2018 — “I should like you to be free of anxieties.” — Jesus cures a man with an unclean spirit — Finding the meaning of life outside of ourselves

January 27, 2018

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 71

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Jesus Drives Out An Evil Spirit From A Man In Capernaum

Reading 1 DT 18:15-20

Moses spoke to all the people, saying:
“A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you
from among your own kin;
to him you shall listen.
This is exactly what you requested of the LORD, your God, at Horeb
on the day of the assembly, when you said,
‘Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God,
nor see this great fire any more, lest we die.’
And the LORD said to me, ‘This was well said.
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin,
and will put my words into his mouth;
he shall tell them all that I command him.
Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name,
I myself will make him answer for it.
But if a prophet presumes to speak in my name
an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak,
or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die.'”

Responsorial Psalm  PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9

R. (8) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works.”
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Reading 2 1 COR 7:32-35

Brothers and sisters:
I should like you to be free of anxieties.
An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord,
how he may please the Lord.
But a married man is anxious about the things of the world,
how he may please his wife, and he is divided.
An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord,
so that she may be holy in both body and spirit.
A married woman, on the other hand,
is anxious about the things of the world,
how she may please her husband.
I am telling you this for your own benefit,
not to impose a restraint upon you,
but for the sake of propriety
and adherence to the Lord without distraction.

Alleluia MT 4:16

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light;
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death,
light has arisen.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  MK 1:21-28

Then they came to Capernaum,
and on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.
The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked him and said,
“Quiet! Come out of him!”
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another,
“What is this?
A new teaching with authority.
He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.
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From The Abbot at The Monastery of Christ in the Desert
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My Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

God’s authority in our daily lives is important.  Who speaks for God?  Do we want to listen to God?  Are we interested at all in finding the meaning of life outside of ourselves?  The challenges of the readings today keep pointing us outside of ourselves and toward a divine authority who wants to communicate with us but who will never force Himself upon us.

The first reading today, from the Book of Deuteronomy, is really strong.  God’s people have told God Himself that they do not want to hear His voice directly!  So God tells them that they will hear him now only through prophets.  But real prophets, not the fake ones.

We may think that there is something odd in not wanting to hear God, but so often we ourselves do not want to hear God in His Word, in His Scriptures and in His Church.  Yet at times, if a really strong and charismatic personality comes and is able to preach the Word of God, there are times when we listen.  We are no different from the people of the time of Moses!  We need prophets when we don’t listen to God.  We need also to listen to God’s words about false prophets—for they will die!

The second reading is from the First Letter to the Corinthians.  We are told that the unmarried person is able to be more concerned to listen to the Lord and to seek the Lord’s will.  This does not mean such an unmarried person is better than a married person or even that such an unmarried person will actually be more concerned about the things of the Lord.  Our holiness and our value before the Lord is in doing the Lord’s will and surely many married people are more concerned about the Lord than some unmarried.  On the other hand, it is clear that an unmarried person who truly seeks the Lord is able to be more concerned solely about the things of the Lord because of the lack of spouse and children.  The point, however, is always the same:  listen to the Lord!

The Gospel brings us back again to this them of listening to the Lord.  The people in the Gospel are totally amazed at Jesus and his power over unclean spirits.  They could see that Jesus spoke as a person having authority on His own.  But did the people of the Gospel follow the Lord?  Not always!  Even when the Word of God is right in front of us, we are still able to resist.  God has given us this freedom to choose and so often we choose against God and thus also against ourselves.

Let us pay attention today to the many ways that God comes into our lives.  Let us seek to be faithful to the voice of the Lord as it comes to us in Scripture and in the Church.  Let us pay attention to the things of God and rejoice when God sends us the strength to be faithful.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

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First Thoughts From Peace and Freedom

Whenever people approach my priest friend, asking how they can be fee from suffering, he asks them: “When last did you go to Confesssion? And when last did you consume the Body of Christ at Mass?”

Many people are stunned.

The purpose of many religions is to help us find Peace and Freedom.

Anyone who looks around the world can see that there seems to be war, death and chaos all around.

Why isn’t the world more full of people cherishing Peace and Freedom?

Because human beings never lose their free will!

No matter how often our spiritual leaders suggest we follow the Word and the Will of God — many of us never “get it.”

So we suffer and are filled with anxieties and fear.

But the Scripture tells us “Do Not Be Afraid!”

Why can’t many of us FOLLOW.

Another priest friend tells us that many want to “put off until the last minute” their work on a spiritual life.

He always says to them, “WHY WAIT.”

We think cocaine might make us feel better than following Jesus. Yet scores of folks tell us we are wrong. Still, we have to know for ourselves.

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

Jesus saves. Jesus cures. Seeking Him always makes life better. WHY WAIT?

John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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28 JANUARY, 2018, Sunday, 4th Week, Ordinary Time
TEACHING WITH AUTHORITY REQUIRES RIGHT MOTIVES

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ DT 18:15-20PS 95:1-26-91 COR 7:32-35MARK 1:21-28 ]

Today, we look for witnesses rather than teachers.  Words are hardly trusted, especially from politicians and even religious leaders!  Children are distrustful even of their parents.  This is because many no longer believe in what they say.  In truth, many of us have lost our authority to teach.  Our words are no longer taken seriously by our hearers.  In fact, the credibility of leaders is at stake in today’s world.

This was equally true in the Old Testament during the time of the prophets.  There were many false prophets.  As Moses warned the people, “But the prophet who presumes to say in my name a thing I have not commanded him to say, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.”  Indeed, there were many false prophets in the history of Israel.  The prophet Elijah sought to clean Israel of the false prophets of Baal.  (cf 1 Kg 18:20-40)  These false prophets often operated from selfish motives.  Their motivation was not to speak the Word of God but to gain favour from kings and countrymen.  They were prompted to say nice things and to say bad things in politically correct language so that no one got hurt or offended.

This was the case during time of Jesus.  The religious leaders, scribes and Pharisees lacked authority in teaching.  They taught for the wrong reasons.  But the people until then had no other option but to listen to them because there were no credible teachers around.  Jesus said, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men.”  (Mt 23:2-7)

However, Jesus showed us what it takes to be a true prophet or teacher.  It is having the right motive in what we do and what we say.   In the gospel, Jesus taught with authority and “his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught with authority.”  What was the reason?  Simply because Jesus taught from the depth of His heart.  He spoke what He believed in and what He was utterly convinced of.  He did not speak from His head but from His heart.  It was an inner conviction that came from the depth of His being.  Unlike Him, the religious leaders quoted from their forefathers, but Jesus would preface His teaching by saying, “You have heard it was said but now I say to you.”  Jesus as the Word of God did not need any reference for His teaching because He spoke the Word of the Father.   “For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak.”  (Jn 12:49)

Secondly, Jesus performed the works of God for the right motive.   He did not perform miracles in order to draw attention to Himself.  He did it purely out of compassion and empathy for those who were suffering either from the bondage of the Evil One or from illnesses or from the oppression of the laws.   His motive for healing and deliverance were selfless.  In fact, when asked to demonstrate His power and majesty by working miracles, He would not, as in the case of King Herod who wanted to be entertained or the crowd who challenged Him to come down from the cross to prove His divinity.  In fact, whenever a miracle of healing was done, He would tell the one who was healed to tell no one about it.  “And he charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.”  (Mk 7:36)

This was also the case of the exorcism story in today’s gospel.  When the unclean spirit revealed Jesus’ identity, saying, “what do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God”, Jesus sharply said, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” Jesus wanted the people to discover for themselves who He was, rather than from a secondary source; and to learn the power of God in human lowliness, not in spectacular demonstrations.  Jesus came to reveal the Father’s love and mercy, not to put up a show.

This was the same motivation for St Paul when he encouraged celibacy.  It is not a question of whether celibacy is of a higher state than marriage.   In fact, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  (Gn 2:18)  “And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’” (Gn 1:28)   Whether we live a married state or a celibate life, it is a question of having the right motivation in wanting to devote ourselves in serving the Lord totally.  He said,  “An unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord’s affairs, all he need worry about is pleasing the Lord; but a married man has to bother about the world’s affairs and devote himself to pleasing his wife: he is torn two ways.”  One can be a celibate but live the life of a bachelor, caring for himself, seeking freedom for himself and not for the service of love of fellowmen and of undivided attention to the Lord.

Thirdly, because Jesus spoke from an inner conviction and without ulterior motive, the devil feared Himbecause he knew that Jesus could not be manipulated or be tempted to do God’s work for the wrong motive of gaining honour and praise.   Only when leaders do things out of pure motives and inner conviction can they command respect and obedience from the people they lead.  When leaders feed themselves or are concerned about their own image and interests, they will be exposed eventually.

This was the example that Moses showed as well.  That is why Jesus is portrayed in the New Testament as the New Moses by the evangelist.  In the first reading, he assured the people, “Your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among yourselves, from your own brothers; to him you must listen.”   The Lord said to Moses, “All they have spoken is well said. I will raise up a prophet like yourself for them from their own brothers; I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell all I command him. The man who does not listen to my words that he speaks in my name, shall be held answerable to me for it.”  Moses became the measure of what a true prophet is.  Moses did not mince his words when he had to confront Pharaoh to let his people leave Egypt.  He did not keep quiet when the people apostasied, unlike Aaron who gave in to their wishes by making a golden calf for them.  (cf Ex 32)  Finally, when he was told that he would not be able to enter the Promised Land but see it from afar, he did not insist on crossing the river Jordan even though he had hoped to enter the Promised Land.

Thus it was said of Moses at the end of his life, “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” (Dt 34:10)  until the coming of Christ.  Jesus fulfilled the role preeminently of the prophet whom Moses spoke about. No one dared to claim this role, not even John the Baptist, for when he was asked by the Jewish leaders if he were “the prophet” the one that Moses announced, his reply was firmly negative. (cf  Jn 1:22)  But later on St Peter and St Stephen confirmed that Jesus was the one whom Moses prophesied.  St Peter quoted Moses saying, “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.”  (Acts 3:22; cf 7:37)

The secret of Jesus’ authority came from the fact that He, like Moses, saw the Father face to face.  It was Jesus’ intimacy with the Father that gave Him the courage to be authentic to Himself, for the Father loved Him as He was.  Jesus said, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”  (Jn 10:37f)   Seeking to do the Father’s will in all things and giving glory to His Father was the motivation for Jesus’ works.  In many instances, He spoke of His desire to serve the Father.  “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.  (Jn 4:34)  “I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do. (Jn 17:4)   “I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”  (Jn 17:26)   Indeed, seeking the Lord alone and giving ourselves totally to Him and for His greater glory by serving His people with all our heart is what gives us true joy and meaning.  This is what a true prophet and teacher is, by his witnessing and not so much by his words.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

http://www.catholic.org.sg/archbishop/scripture-reflection/

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Related:
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While walking on the water, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” So why is everyone full of anxiety?
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 Many of us struggle with ego, false pride and self-esteem issues. Many of us constantly worry about money, our jobs, our future security, our health or health care.
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Yet Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life.” Again and again the theme in the Bible is “Do not be afraid.”
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A basic teaching of Christianity is: With Jesus we are OK. Do not be afraid.
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“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.”
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In other words: stay in the present moment.
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How come we refuse to believe?
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It is interesting to me that Alcoholics Anonymous teaches newcomers to believe in what they were often taught as very young children — but they somehow refused or neglected to believe.
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The Twelve Steps of AA start with “We admitted that we were powerless…” The very start of AA suggests humility and self-abandonment. By the Third Step, alcoholics are taught to put all their trust in a Higher Power.
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Self-abandonment can also be thought of as surrender. Each of us knows in our heart when its time for that…
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Humility, self abandonment, trust in God and the “Christian way of life”  are the tonic used by patient, kind, forgiving, useful people to keep their lives in order.
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The readings also remind us today of an old friend, now gone to his heavenly reward, who often said, “God won’t give us more than is equal to the strengths of the gifts he has given us.” In other words, “Fear not, God is on our side.”
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I have come to ask myself at the start of each day: What are we seeking — and What are we using to get there?
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Third Step Prayer:
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God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!
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Related:
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Our Thanks to Father Benedict J. Groeschel C.F.R. — His books can be very helpful if you are seeking God in your life …..

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The most frequently said line in the Bible may be “do not be afraid.” So why is everyone complaining about anxiety and depression? No person of faith need ever die of suicide, depression or addiction…. But we have to remember: We are ETERNAL spiritual beings with a physical part. We are not physical beings alone. In fact, our physical part may be the smallest and the shortest…. Nurturing our spiritual life often makes everything better. More peaceful. More free.

Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, January 25, 2018 — Go out to all the world and tell the Good News. — Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature — Do you Evangelize?

January 24, 2018

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle
Lectionary: 519

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Art: Saul on the Road to Damascus by Caravaggio

Reading 1 ACTS 22:3-16

Paul addressed the people in these words:
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia,
but brought up in this city.
At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated strictly in our ancestral law
and was zealous for God, just as all of you are today.
I persecuted this Way to death,
binding both men and women and delivering them to prison.
Even the high priest and the whole council of elders
can testify on my behalf.
For from them I even received letters to the brothers
and set out for Damascus to bring back to Jerusalem
in chains for punishment those there as well.”On that journey as I drew near to Damascus,
about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me.
I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me,
‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
I replied, ‘Who are you, sir?’
And he said to me,
‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.’
My companions saw the light
but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me.
I asked, ‘What shall I do, sir?’
The Lord answered me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus,
and there you will be told about everything
appointed for you to do.’
Since I could see nothing because of the brightness of that light,
I was led by hand by my companions and entered Damascus.”A certain Ananias, a devout observer of the law,
and highly spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,
came to me and stood there and said,
‘Saul, my brother, regain your sight.’
And at that very moment I regained my sight and saw him.
Then he said,
‘The God of our ancestors designated you to know his will,
to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of his voice;
for you will be his witness before all
to what you have seen and heard.
Now, why delay?
Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away,
calling upon his name.'”or

Acts 9:1-22
Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,
went to the high priest and asked him
for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that,
if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way,
he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.
On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus,
a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him,
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
He said, “Who are you, sir?”
The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless,
for they heard the voice but could see no one.
Saul got up from the ground,
but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing;
so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.
For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank.There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias,
and the Lord said to him in a vision, AAnanias.”
He answered, “Here I am, Lord.”
The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight
and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul.
He is there praying,
and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias
come in and lay his hands on him,
that he may regain his sight.”
But Ananias replied,
“Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man,
what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem.
And here he has authority from the chief priests
to imprison all who call upon your name.”
But the Lord said to him,
“Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine
to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel,
and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.”
So Ananias went and entered the house;
laying his hands on him, he said,
“Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me,
Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came,
that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes
and he regained his sight.
He got up and was baptized,
and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.He stayed some days with the disciples in Damascus,
and he began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues,
that he is the Son of God.
All who heard him were astounded and said,
“Is not this the man who in Jerusalem
ravaged those who call upon this name,
and came here expressly to take them back in chains
to the chief priests?”
But Saul grew all the stronger
and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus,
proving that this is the Christ.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 117:1BC, 2

R. (Mark 16:15) Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
or:
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Praise the LORD, all you nations;
glorify him, all you peoples!
R. Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
or:
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
For steadfast is his kindness toward us,
and the fidelity of the LORD endures forever.
R. Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
or:
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Alleluia  SEE JN 15:16

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I chose you from the world,
To go and bear fruit that will last, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 16:15-18

Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them:
“Go into the whole world
and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
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From One Year Ago:
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There are only two people, as far as we know, that used the phrase, “Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes.”  One was saul. The other was one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W. (Bill Wilson)
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Bill Wilson
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Conversion of Saint Paul (By Michelangelo)
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Who else in our “modern world” said “scales fell from my eyes”?

In November 1934, a man named Ebby Thacher visited Bill Wilson and sat with Bill in the kitchen of the Wilson’s Brooklyn apartment, and talked about the way this new spiritual answer to alcoholism had gotten him sober.  Bill W.’s fundamental conversion experience took place while he was talking with Ebby, as “the scales fell from his eyes” and he became willing for the first time to turn to the experience of the holy in prayer and meditation, and let its healing power begin to restore his soul.

The scales fell from the eyes….

Bill’s Story, p.12, Big Book

“Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized.” (Acts 9:18)

Ebby Thacher with Bill Wilson, the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, in 1955

Ebby Thacher (on the right) with Bill Wilson, the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, in 1955

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The story of how Saul, the devout Jew and zealous persecutor of the church, became Paul, a passionate preacher of the faith, begins along the road going northward from Jerusalem to Damascus. As Saul approached Damascus with plans to arrest those who “belonged to the Way,” he had a vision that totally changed the direction of his life. Luke describes the conversion three times in Acts (Acts 9:1-19Acts 22:3-16 and Acts 26:4-18), and Paul alludes to it in his letters to the churches in Galatia and Corinth (Galatians 1:16-212 Corinthians 11:22-23).

Saul was one of many Jews who felt that the followers of Jesus posed a threat to the Jewish religion. Earlier he stood by approvingly at the stoning of Stephen, one of the seven church deacons, for alleged blasphemy. Later, “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples, he went to the Jewish high priest for permission to arrest any followers of “the Way” in the synagogues of Damascus, where the Gospel was attracting converts.

The 150-mile journey from Jerusalem to Damascus can now be completed in one day, thanks to excellent roads. When Saul set out from Jerusalem with his escort, he had the choice of two routes: One went east down through the canyon called Wadi Qelt to Jericho, then turned north through the Jordan River valley. It crossed the river at Scythopolis (modern-day  Beit Shean). This route would have taken Saul around the southern shores of the Sea of Galilee and up to the mountain roads linking the Decapolis with Damascus. In summer time it is hot and uncomfortable, lying far below sea-level until the area east of the Sea of Galilee is reached.

The more frequented route moved through the khaki-colored hills of Samaria (the northern part of the West Bank/Palestine today), across the Jezreel Valley, then skirted the west shore of the Sea of Galilee, passing very near Capernaum, the base for Jesus’ three-year ministry (irony!).

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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25 JANUARY, 2018, Thursday, The Conversion of St Paul, Apostle
ST PAUL A MODEL FOR ECUMENISM

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ACTS 22:3-16 or ACTS 9:1-22PS 117:1-2MK 16:15-18  ]

The feast of the Conversion of St Paul is designated as the conclusion of the celebration of Unity Week with our Christian brothers and sisters.  This is very appropriate because his conversion exemplifies how Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians are called to work together as disciples of Christ for the transmission of the Good News.  Reflecting on his conversion story, we can extract the kind of disposition, the approaches that we must adopt to work together in one common mission for the spread of the gospel in obedience to the Lord’s command. “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptised will be saved.”

Indeed, the last prayer of our Lord for His Church was that the Church be one.  He prayed, “Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”  (Jn 17:11)   Again, He said, “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.”  (Jn 17:21-23)

What, then, is the way to unity among Christians?  Firstly, sincerity is a pre-requisite.  St Paul sought to clarify his position.  “Brethren and fathers, hear the defense which I now make before you.”  (Acts 22:1)  He wanted to share with them his conversion experience of how he, once a persecutor of the Christians, had now become a disciple of Christ.  With truthfulness, he shared his conversion story with them.  When we are sincere in sharing our personal experiences without imposing our views on others, then we will get a better reception.  That is why the fostering of unity must begin with personal sharings rather than a debate over doctrines.  Without sincerity in seeking to make ourselves understood, as opposed to seeking to win an argument, it will be difficult for us to win the trust of our audience.

Secondly, St Paul immediately identified himself with his fellow Jews, their culture and their aspirations.  He wanted them to know that he was one of them and one with them.  He spoke their language.  “And when they heard that he addressed them in the Hebrew language, they were the more quiet.”  (Acts 22:2)  He also expressed his zeal for the Law.  “I am a Jew and was born at Tarsus in Cilicia. I was brought up here in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was taught the exact observance of the Law of our ancestors. In fact, I was as full of duty towards God as you are today. I even persecuted this Way to the death, and sent women as well as men to prison in chains as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify, since they even sent me with letters to their brothers in Damascus.”  Identifying with our audience is necessary if we are to engage them.

Thirdly, St Paul did not engage them on matters over doctrines because it is divisive.  He appealed to their hearts, not their heads.  Hence, he began with the sharing of his conversion experience.  In engaging with Christians from different traditions, including non-Christians, it is best that we, too, begin by sharing our conversion experience and our religious encounters with the Lord.  When we begin with experience, there can be no room for dispute.  It calls for faith and trust.  This must also be our approach.  This is what the Lord asked of Paul.  Ananias said to him, “The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see the Just One and hear his own voice speaking, because you are to be his witness before all mankind, testifying to what you have seen and heard.”  This is what is required.

What about unity in doctrines?  Is there no place in ecumenism?  If we are divided over doctrines, how can we speak of unity?  Doctrines of course are important, but what are doctrines?  They are the human formulation of a Christian religious experience or our encounters with the Lord; and the ensuing logical conclusions that are derived from such experiences.

So before we can even enter into a theological discussion, we need to enter into each other’s religious experiences.  Unless we can encounter God from the perspective of a particular Christian tradition, we will be talking in the abstract and this explains why we cannot agree because our presupposed religious experience is not shared.  In other words, we need to appreciate the different Christian traditions, how they originated and how such religious experiences were expressed according to the cultural, theological, historical and even political context; and how they were further developed and refined in the process of articulating their faith experience.  So in our relationship with Christians from different denominations, without understanding their history, we cannot understand the theological formulation of their religious experience.

Secondly, because theological developments are complex, it would be more manageable if we first begin with what we have in common.  We need to focus on what is fundamental to the Christian Faith before divergences take place in interpretation because of different philosophical, cultural and theological background.  Indeed, Pope Francis wrote, “The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message.”  (GE 34)  “Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed. When we adopt a pastoral goal and a missionary style which would actually reach everyone with­out exception or exclusion, the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary.”  (GE 35)  “All revealed truths derive from the same di­vine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gos­pel.  In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made mani­fest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead. In this sense, the Second Vatican Council explained, “in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or a ‘hierarchy’ of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith.”  (EG 36)

Thirdly, this means that we are called to affirm our brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ.  Like Ananias when he met Saul, his first greeting was, “Brother Saul, receive your sight.”  We must affirm that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ by virtue of our common faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, sharing in one common baptism and filled with His Holy Spirit.  “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.”  (Eph 4:4-6)  This one faith we profess in common when we recite the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed.

Fourthly, we share also in the one mission of proclaiming the Good News to all creation.  We do this not by expounding doctrines, especially the secondary doctrines that divide us, but by demonstrating our common faith in the Risen Christ through the signs that He works through us, namely, miracles, healings, deliverance from the Evil One and eradication of falsehood spread by the Devil.  Indeed, the Good News is more than mere words.  It is about the Risen Christ that continues to work in our lives, showing forth His glory, His mercy and His love through us, in our words and deeds.  So we will be better off as Christians working together in manifesting the power of Christ at work in our lives, through preaching the name of Jesus, manifesting His mercy and love in miracles and healings.

Finally, ecumenism is completed through charity, dialogue and prayer.  Differences in doctrines are often due to different world views, linguistic and cultural divergences.  So the truth must be reformulated through dialogue, as what was done in the doctrine of “Justification by Faith” with the Lutherans.  Today, most Christian communities, Anglicans, Methodists, the Reformed Churches, together with the Catholic Church, recognize that we are no longer divided in this fundamental doctrine.   This dialogue must continue with the help of the Holy Spirit who is the source of Christian unity.  He will lead us to the truth by enlightening us as we continue this dialogue in truth and in love.   Let us speak the truth in love and with charity without ridiculing and misinterpreting the doctrines of others.   In the final analysis, the best means in the promotion of Christian unity is prayer, in imitation of our Lord.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

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http://www.catholic.org.sg/archbishop/scripture-reflection/

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Do you evangelize?

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Book: Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic by Matthew Kelly.

“Twelve-step programs teachs, of course, twelve steps. Matthew Kelly suggests we can boil those down to just Four Signs of a Dynamic Christian/Catholic.”

The Four Signs are:
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  • Prayer Description: Specifically, Kelly notes that this consists of a daily routine of prayer. “Am I saying the other 93 percent of Catholics don’t pray? No. Their prayer tends to be spontaneous but inconsistent. The 7% have a daily commitment to prayer, a routine” (p. 8).
  • Study Description: “[Dynamic Catholics] see themselves as students of Jesus and his Church, and proactively make an effort to allow his teaching to form them” (p. 14). Kelly also notes that on average they spend 14 minutes each day learning about the faith.
  • Generosity Description: Generosity covers not only time and money, but also generosity in all things. This generosity is a way of life. These people perform selfless service to others…
  • Evangelization Description: While many Dynamic Catholics don’t consider themselves to be evangelists, they “regularly do and say things to share a Catholic perspective with the people who cross their paths.”
I find that these are the same four signs we might see in someone recovering from drug addiction or alcoholism — They pray; They study (The Big Book and other resources); They act with generosity by helping and sponsoring others (They do a lot of “service to others”); and they Evangelize (they do “12 Step work” and help others to get and stay sober).
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Related:
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The most frequently spoken line in the Bible may be: “do not be afraid.” So why is everyone complaining about anxiety and depression in our society today?
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Answer: Declining connection to the Gospels and to God.
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Who and what lives inside each of us?
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Our Most frequently viewed articles:
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Book: Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything
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Some “Buzzwords” heard in AA that are also common to the scripture:
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Art: Conversion of St. Paul (Number 2) by Caravaggio. Rarey do we see one artist depict the same bible event over and over.
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ENCOUNTER, ILLUMINATION, AND CONVERSION: ON THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS

Carolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

In celebrating the lives of her saints, rarely does the Church bestow more than one feast day on the same person. Even more rarely does she celebrate specific events in the lives of those saints other than the day of their birth into eternal life (the die natale). Therefore, tomorrow’s celebration – the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle – is one that deserves our contemplation.

Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” The pithiness of the statement doesn’t belie its essential truth, and we see this readily in the story of St. Paul, or Saul, as he was known prior to his conversion. The Acts of the Apostles tell us that Saul avidly persecuted the first Christians, that he was not only present for the martyrdom of St. Stephen, but that “Saul was consenting to his execution” (Acts 8:1). At this point in the story, we would do well to pause and pretend that we don’t already know what happens next. That way, the intervening grace of God will take us by complete and utter surprise all the more.

Saul was party to an execution; he was, for all intents and purposes, an accessory to murder (assuming he didn’t actually assist in the deed itself). And he was hell-bent on continuing his war on the followers of Jesus in the city of Damascus, as we continue reading in Acts: “Now Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that, if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains” (Acts 9:1-2). We know how the story continues from there: en route to Damascus, a blinding flash of light knocks Saul from his horse, and a voice from the sky says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4b). The voice identifies himself as Jesus, and instructs Saul to continue to the city, where he is to be met by a disciple named Ananias.

In one of the most dramatic accounts of the New Testament, Saul encounters the Risen Christ – not in physical form as the Apostles did after the Resurrection, but as a voice resounding from the midst of a blinding light. Since he had taken it upon himself to persecute Jesus’ followers, Saul no doubt had heard of Him; perhaps he had even heard Him preach in the synagogue in Jerusalem. Yet, until that very moment, Saul’s heart had been hardened to the possibility that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, to the point where he was ready to kill in order to prevent the spread of the Good News. This is hardly the kind of man we would imagine God to want on His team, and hardly the kind of man we would imagine capable of playing for that team. However, “nothing is impossible for God” (cf Lk 1:37), and the light of grace pierces through what seemed to be an impenetrable darkness surrounding Saul’s heart. Physically, Saul enters into the darkness as he is struck blind; spiritually, the illumination of his soul has just begun.

Following the encounter on the road, Scripture says that “for three days [Saul] was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:9). I imagine this time as a period of ascetic penance: Saul demonstrated remorse for the sins he had committed against the followers of Jesus and contemplated how his life would have to change in light of what had happened on the road to Damascus. In his hunger, thirst, and blindness, Saul longed for fulfillment and enlightenment, and slowly came to the realization that they could only come through Christ.

Indeed, it is only after Saul has been stricken blind that he is able to see clearly for the first time. The resounding voice of Jesus on the road serves as a death knell to his former way of life, and the three days he spent in darkness parallel the three days Christ Himself spent in the darkness of the tomb. After three days, Ananias heals Saul of his physical blindness and he emerges from this experience an entirely changed man, one who has been made new in the light of Jesus the Messiah. The scales falling from Saul’s eyes symbolize a sloughing off of a former way of life, a casting away of the blindness that kept him from seeing the truth: that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, the One who saves the human race from sin and death. Indeed, he is so far removed from his former way of life that he is no longer known as Saul but as Paul; even his name has been made new in the light of his identity as a follower of Jesus. The light of Christ shatters the darkness of Saul’s soul and grants to him a new vision, one that will impel him to spend the rest of his life (and beyond) leading others to Jesus.

Another pause in our story so that we may contemplate the person of Ananias. He had heard of Saul, of the horrible things he had done to the disciples of Jesus, and of the fact that he was at that moment on his way to Damascus to continue wreaking havoc. For Ananias, seeking out this man’s company undoubtedly would have resulted in imprisonment or worse. If I had been in his sandals, I would have kept a low profile in Damascus until Hurricane Saul moved on. But such is not the will of God for Ananias. God calls to Ananias, who shows fidelity in his discipleship by responding immediately… until he hears what it is that God actually wants him to do. God wants Ananias to lay his hands on Saul so that he may regain his sight. Perhaps Ananias felt that Saul had gotten what he deserved, and that his reign of terror over the Christian people might finally be at its end. Surely he must have thought it a key strategic error to heal the man who had been causing such harm, and he expresses his concerns to God. Nevertheless, God insists, saying, “This man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15b). Again, if I were Ananias and had heard all of that, I still would have been tempted to say, “Really? Him?” Fortunately for Saul, and fortunately for us, Ananias displayed more trust in God, and although he still might have been afraid for his life, he accepted God’s will and sought Saul out, healing him of his blindness and initiating him into the Christian faith through baptism. Without the cooperative faith of Ananias, Paul might have remained in the darkness; he might have remained Saul. Ananias, too, underwent a conversion – a turning away from his previous assumption of how God works and an embracing of a new vision, a new understanding that God’s ways are not our ways. As Paul would later attest in his first letter to the Corinthians, “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God” (1 Cor 1:27-9).

In celebrating the conversion of St. Paul, we might be tempted to wish for a blinding flash of light that would knock us to the ground and eliminate our desires for those things in our lives that lead us from Jesus. I know that I’ve certainly wished for the clarity Paul seemed to have in the immediate wake of his encounter with Christ. However, it’s important to remember that Paul’s conversion was no one-time-only event; it continued for the rest of his life. As we see from his writings, Paul continued to struggle with temptation, fatigue, frustration, and persecution; yet he continued to turn his face toward Christ, continued to say “yes” to the will of God and “no” to that which clouded his vision, and in so doing, he fulfilled the command of Christ to “proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15), and forever changed the course of human history.

http://sites.nd.edu/oblation/2013/01/24/encounter-illumination-and-conversion-on-the-road-to-damascus/

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Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, December 27, 2017 — “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

December 26, 2017

Feast of Saint John, Apostle and evangelist
Lectionary: 697

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Reading 1 1 JN 1:1-4

Beloved:
What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we looked upon
and touched with our hands
concerns the Word of life —
for the life was made visible;
we have seen it and testify to it
and proclaim to you the eternal life
that was with the Father and was made visible to us—
what we have seen and heard
we proclaim now to you,
so that you too may have fellowship with us;
for our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.

Responsorial PsalmPS 97:1-2, 5-6, 11-12

R. (12) Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
The LORD is king; let the earth rejoice;
let the many isles be glad.
Clouds and darkness are around him,
justice and judgment are the foundation of his throne.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the LORD of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his justice,
and all peoples see his glory.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
Light dawns for the just;
and gladness, for the upright of heart.
Be glad in the LORD, you just,
and give thanks to his holy name.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!

Alleluia See Te Deum

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
We praise you, O God,
we acclaim you as Lord;
the glorious company of Apostles praise you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
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John & Peter Running to the Tomb, by Eugene Burnand

Gospel JN 20:1A AND 2-8

On the first day of the week,
Mary Magdalene ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we do not know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.

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From Matthew 28
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After the Sabbath, and towards dawn on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to visit the sepulchre.

2 And suddenly there was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it.

3 His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow.

4 The guards were so shaken by fear of him that they were like dead men.

5 But the angel spoke; and he said to the women, ‘Do not  be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.

6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would. Come and see the place where he lay,

7 then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has risen from the dead and now he is going ahead of you to Galilee; that is where you will see him.” Look! I have told you.’

8 Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples.

9 And suddenly, coming to meet them, was Jesus. ‘Greetings,’ he said. And the women came up to him and, clasping his feet, they did him homage.

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Homily Reflection from Fr. Alfonse
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Two days ago we celebrated the birth of Christ. Today, we are at the tomb. Life is short.One moment we are here, the next we are gone. We follow the Lord from birth to death, but do we follow the Lord in accepting his Father’s Will? I always pray to the Lord for the grace to never waste a second in second guessing his love for me.

How do we know God? We know him because we know Jesus. We know what God thinks because we know what Jesus thinks, and we know what God wants because we know what Christ wants from us.“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life, for the life was made visible” (1Jn 1:1-2).

We know God intimately because we intimately know Christ .

“They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first.” Why is it so important for St. John to tell us that he ran faster than Peter, and that he waited for Peter to enter the tomb first? Why is all of this so important? I believe John is telling us that his faith was stronger than Peter’s. John had no doubts. He ran to the tomb like a child running to his gifts. He ran with a sense of urgency, but confidently expecting the unimaginable. John ran knowing what he would not find. He waited for Peter because he knew the answer. The Lord is not here. He is Risen.

Let us run our lives like St. John: confident, excited and courageous in knowing that the Lord keeps his promises always. He did not come into the world to abandon or betray us. No. He came into the world to meet us. Let us run to the Lord with great faith in knowing what to expect and what to find: his promises fulfilled; His life fulfilled through mine.

http://fralfonse.blogspot.com/2010/12/john-202-8-he-ran-faster.html

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

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27 DECEMBER, 2017, Wednesday, St John, Apostle and Evangelist

THE INTRINSIC RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE INCARNATION and THE RESURRECTION

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 John 1:1-4Ps 97:1-2,5-6,11-12John 20:2-8  ]

We are still in the midst of the Christmas Octave.  Necessarily, our thoughts are on the incarnation of our Lord.  The Church invites us to contemplate more deeply on the meaning of the incarnation.  What does the birth of our Lord mean for humanity?  More importantly, what grounds do we have to make the incredible statement that the little baby Jesus is the Son of God?  How could God, who is the creator of all things, assume our humanity in the infant Jesus?   In other words, how could Christians look at the baby Jesus and bow down in worship?  Certainly the baby Jesus looked like any baby in those times and in ours.  To have the faith to confess that the baby Jesus is the Son of God, something is necessary.

The truth is that faith in the incarnation is a corollary of faith in the resurrection.  In the order of knowledge and reflection, the resurrection came first.  In the order of chronology, it was the birth, the life and passion of our Lord.  Indeed, the earliest scriptures and apostolic preaching was not focused on the life of our Lord, much less His infancy, but all emphasis was given to His passion, death and resurrection, which we call the kerygma. The apostolic preaching was reduced to the kerygma.   Indeed, the early gospels were written after AD 60 whereas the letters of St Paul were written as early as AD 45.  The letters of St Paul had hardly any reference to the life and ministry of our Lord except a summary statement from the Acts of the Apostles that says,  “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem.”  (Acts 10:38f)

Hence, faith in the incarnation begins with faith in the resurrection.  The point of departure is the resurrection.  The point of arrival is the incarnation.  The early Church thought through the implications of the resurrection to conclude that Jesus must have been God since His conception in the womb of Mary and not just upon His resurrection.  Otherwise, it would seem that Jesus began His life on earth as simply a man and upon His death, graduated with divine honours.  If Jesus were proved to be divine upon His resurrection, His divinity would have begun since He assumed human flesh in the womb of Mary.  This explains why the gospel was written in the reverse order.  The stories of His passion and resurrection were the first chapters to be written, followed by His ministry in Palestine and then finally, the infancy narrative completes the story of the life of Jesus.

But how did faith in the resurrection begin?  It was brought about by the life and passion of our Lord.  The resurrection faith is not based on a myth or some figment of imagination or hallucination.  Rather the resurrection faith is very much connected with the earthly Jesus.  This is what St John wished to underscore in today’s first reading. “Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have watched and touched with our hands: the Word, who is life – this is our subject. That life was made visible: we saw it and we are giving our testimony, telling you of the eternal life which was with the Father and has been made visible to us.”   In other words, the substance of faith in the resurrection is founded on the life and history of our Lord.  The resurrection is a continuity on one hand with the earthly Jesus of Nazareth.  On the other hand, it was such a trans-figured Lord that without faith, one would not be able to recognize Him, just like Mary of Magdala who thought He was a gardener. So the early Christians could come to faith in Christ’s resurrection only when they began to connect the empty tomb with the life and teachings of Christ, remembering His prophecies about His death and resurrection.  It was this memory of the life of Jesus that helped them to make the connection with His resurrection.

Indeed, when they begin to reflect on the Empty tomb, they came to understand more fully the depth of Jesus’ message, His life and His conduct.  Upon reflecting on the way He preached with authority and the miracles He performed to demonstrate the power of God at work in His life and the restoration of the rule of God, they surmised He was more than a man.  We are told that at the end of His miracles, people were amazed and filled with awe and wonder. Like the disciples who were in the boat when Jesus calmed the storm, the question asked was, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mk 4:41)  And when Jesus showed authority that went above the Sabbath and the laws; His eating and drinking with sinners as a sign of acceptance and forgiveness of God for sinners, they asked, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  (Mk 2:7)  Finally, the way He died on the cross, forgiving His enemies and praying for them, made even the pagan centurion “who stood facing him…(say), ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (Mk 15:39)

So there are two ways to arrive at faith in the Incarnation and the resurrection. One way is through reason and reflection.  This was the case of the disciples of the early Church, including St Peter.  We read in the gospel that St Peter was the first to enter the cave.  He “went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.”  There was no indication that he believed.  He saw the facts, namely that the linen cloths laid there as if the body had been taken away or immaterialized. But he did not come to the conclusion immediately that the Lord had risen.  Perhaps, it was his betrayal of the Lord that blinded his eyes and his intellect from arriving at this truth because of guilt and sin.  It was much later on when the Lord appeared to the Twelve that he came to affirm that the Lord was risen.

So too for us, to come to faith in the incarnation, we need the testimony of those who have seen Him, since we did not see for ourselves personally.  We are called to rely on the testimony of the Church as St John wrote in the first reading.  “What we have seen and heard we are telling you so that you too may be in union with us, as we are in union with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing this to you to make our own joy complete.”  Through their testimony, we are called to make an act of faith in the Risen Lord.  That is why even today, one of the most effective ways of bringing people to encounter the Risen Lord is through testimonies, not doctrines and intellectual exposition of the scriptures.  Faith ultimately is a matter of the heart and then later confirmed by the head through knowledge.

But there is a better way to faith in the Risen Lord; it is through love.  We read in the gospel, that St John who was “the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed.”   John was the beloved disciple of the Lord.  He knew the Lord intimately.  In his intimacy, he intuited the presence of the Risen Lord.   And this is true for us as well.  Many of us encounter the Lord not just through the testimony of others but because of their testimonies, we are led to master the evidence ourselves by opening our hearts to the Lord.  Mary of Magdala too was given the gift of being the first to encounter the Lord after His resurrection because she loved the Lord deeply.   If we want to encounter the Lord in our lives today, we should make time to contemplate on the face of our Lord.

This was how the crib came into existence.  It was in 1293 that St Francis instructed a holy man named John to enact the birth of our Lord at Bethlehem and how He was born in the manger between a donkey and an ox.  St Francis told him that he wanted to see this with his own eyes.  It was there that the solemn mass was celebrated and St Francis, who was a deacon, read the gospel.  St Ignatius of Loyola also recommended us in his Spiritual Exercises to contemplate on the face of our Lord in His infancy, life, ministry, passion and resurrection to come to encounter the Lord in the flesh so that we can feel His living presence in our lives.

In the final analysis, encountering the Risen Lord is through the flesh and blood of our fellowmen.  It is in the Church, in our fellowship with our fellow Catholics, sharing our faith and love together, then reaching out to those who are poor and do not know the love of Jesus, that the incarnation of our Lord becomes real for us.  It is for this reason that the incarnation means we need to be in fellowship with Christ and with His body the Church so that the Risen Christ could be present concretely in our midst, so that like the apostles, we could also say, “we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have watched and touched with our hands: the Word, who is life – this is our subject.”

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

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Commentary on John 20:1a, 2-8 From Living Space

The Gospel tells us that John was the brother of James and the son of Zebedee. He and his brother were among the first to be called (together with Peter and Andrew) by Jesus. John, with Peter and James, were particularly close to Jesus and were privileged to experience the Transfiguration, the raising of the daughter of Jairus and the agony in the garden.

To John also is attributed the authorship of the Gospel which bears his name as well as the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) and three Letters (John 1,2 and 3). He is often identified as the “beloved disciple”, who is only mentioned in the Gospel of John. Tradition says that John died a natural death at a great age in Ephesus (on the west coast of modern Turkey).

Today’s Gospel describes the scene where Peter and the “beloved disciple” rush to the tomb of Jesus after being told by Mary Magdalen that the body is no longer there. Although the “beloved disciple” got there first, he deferred to Peter who went in first and saw the burial cloths. One of them – the piece that was wrapped around the face – was rolled up in a separate place. When the “beloved disciple” went in, “he saw and he believed.” In other words, he understood the significance of the cloth and he knew that his Lord had risen.

Later, the Risen Jesus will say to Thomas, “Bless are those who have not seen and have learnt to believe.” Here the disciple did not see the physical Jesus. Nevertheless, on the basis of what he did see, he believed.

The question is: what exactly did he see? What he saw was that the cloth which had covered Jesus’ head was not with the rest of the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Why should that trigger his conviction that the Lord had risen? The book of Exodus (chapter 34) describes how Moses, after coming down from the mountain and conversing with God, was so radiant with light that people were afraid to approach him. And so, he put a veil to cover his face. But “whenever Moses entered the presence of the Lord to converse with him, he removed the veil until he came out again. On coming out, he would tell the Israelites all that had been commanded. Then the Israelites would see that the skin of Moses’ face was radiant; so he would again put the veil over his face until he went in to converse with the Lord” (Exod 34:34-35).

Now some believe that the word ‘veil’ used in John is a Greek translation of the word in Hebrew used about Moses. In other words, the veil covering the face of the dead Jesus is now no longer needed because he has gone face to face with his Father. This veil was the humanity of Jesus which enabled us to look at our God. Jesus now has a new human body – his Church. And that was what led to the “beloved disciple’s” conviction that his Master had risen to new life.

For some commentators, the “beloved disciple” is not actually John but represents any person who has totally committed himself or herself to the following of Jesus, anyone who deeply believes and anyone who is passionately fond of Jesus. At times, as in today’s Gospel, the faith of the “beloved disciple” is shown as surpassing that of Peter. While the disciples we know of had fled after the arrest of Christ, it is the “beloved disciple” who stands with the Mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross.

Nevertheless, John as the author of the Fourth Gospel and the three letters attributed to his name, reveals a depth of faith and insight into the meaning of Christ’s life, death and resurrection that borders on the mystical and clearly reveals a faith of extraordinary depth. It is a faith and insight we can pray to have for ourselves.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/c1227g/

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Lectio Divina from the  Carmelites

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Reflection

• Today’s Gospel presents to us the passage of the Gospel of John which speaks about the Beloved Disciple. Probably, this text was chosen to read and to meditate on it today, feast of Saint John the Evangelist, for the immediate identification that we all make of the beloved disciple with the apostle John. But the strange thing is that in no passage of the Gospel of John it is said that the beloved disciple is John. But then, from the most remote times of the Church, it has always be insisted upon in identifying both of these. This is why, in insisting on the similarity between the two, we run the risk of losing a very important aspect of the message of the Gospel in regard to the beloved disciple.

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• In the Gospel of John, the beloved disciple represents the new community which is born around Jesus. We find the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the Cross, together with Mary, the mother of Jesus (Jn 19, 26). Mary represents the People of the Old Covenant. At the end of the first century, the time in which the final redaction of the Gospel of John was compiled, there was a growing conflict between the Synagogue and the Church. Some Christians wanted to abandon the Old Testament and remain or keep only the New Testament. At the foot of the Cross, Jesus says: “Woman, behold your son!” and to the Beloved Disciple: “Son, behold your mother!” And both must remain together as mother and son. To separate the Old Testament from the New one, in that time was what we would call today separation between faith (NT) and life (OT).

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• In the Gospel today, Peter and the Beloved Disciple, informed by the witness of Mary Magdalene, ran together toward the Holy Sepulchre. The young one runs faster than the elderly one and reaches the tomb first. He looks inside the tomb, observes everything, but does not enter. He allows Peter to enter first. Here is indicated the way in which the Gospel describes the reaction of the two men before what both of them see: “He entered and saw the linen clothes lying on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen clothes but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, he saw and he believed”. Both of them saw the same thing, but this is said only of the Beloved Disciple that he believed: “Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, he saw and he believed”. Why? Is it that Peter did not believe?

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• The Beloved Disciple looks, sees in a different way, he perceives more than the others. He has a loving look which perceives the presence of the novelty of Jesus. The morning after that night of working, looking for fish and, then the miraculous catch of fish, it is he, the beloved disciple who perceives the presence of Jesus and says: “It is the Lord!” (Jn 21, 7).

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On that occasion, Peter informed by the affirmation of the Beloved Disciple, also recognizes and begins to understand. Peter learns from the Beloved Disciple. Then Jesus asks three times: “Peter, do you love me?” (Jn 21, 15.16.17). Three times Peter answers: “You know that I love you!” After the third time, Jesus entrusts the flock to the care of Peter, and in that moment Peter also becomes a “Beloved Disciple”.

Personal questions

• All of us who believe in Jesus are today Beloved Disciples. Do I have the same loving look to perceive the presence of God and to believe in his Resurrection?
• To separate the Old Testament from the New one is the same thing as to separate Faith and Life. How do I do and live this today?

Concluding Prayer

The mountains melt like wax,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his saving justice,
all nations see his glory. (Ps 97,5-6)

http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-st-john-apostle

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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27 DECEMBER, 2016, Tuesday, St John, Apostle and Evangelist
FAITH IN THE INCARNATION

SCRIPTURE READINGS: 1 John 1:1-4Ps 96:1-2,5-6,11-12John 20:2-8   ]

For most Catholics and Christians, the divinity of Jesus is never questioned.  We have been brought up with faith in Christ as the Son of God, our Saviour, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.  Hence, we cannot understand why the world cannot accept Jesus as divine.  Today, many people including Christians doubt the divinity of Jesus.  Influenced by secularism, materialism, rationalism and empiricism, they would not accept anything that cannot be proven logically or empirically.  Many can accept Jesus as a good man and even as a prophet, but not as God.

What is at stake in today’s first reading is the reality of Jesus’ incarnation.  Many, Catholics included, have difficulty in believing that Jesus is truly man.  Our faith in Jesus as the Son of God often reduces our appreciation of the full humanity of Jesus.  The letter to the Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus was a man in every way except that He did not sin. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”  (Heb 4:15)  St John in no uncertain terms said, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”  (Jn 1:14)

Faith in Jesus’ divinity is not only paramount to our faith but also in His humanity.  The complete divinity or humanity in the person of Jesus must be affirmed without compromise, without mixture, without separation and without reduction.  This is what the doctrine of the Incarnation is proclaiming; that in the human person of Jesus, the full divinity of God was present.  So Jesus was truly man and truly God, one person and yet distinct and inseparable.  If this truth is not consistently upheld, it would put the doctrine of salvation in Christ in question.  If Christ were not divine, then it means we are not saved by His death and resurrection.  Unless, Christ was truly divine, His death on the cross would not be a true manifestation of God’s unconditional and total mercy. Then we can doubt whether God really identifies with us, understands our pain and misery.  Only because of His death on the cross, do we know that God is with us in every situation.  He is the Emmanuel who continues to feel with us.  That is why He is the throne of mercy. “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  (Heb 4:16)  We must therefore with equal faith proclaim that Christ is truly God and truly man.

But how can we come to this faith if not through the witness of the Church and our contemplation?  In the gospel, we see how Mary needed the Church to confirm what she saw.  “On the first day of the week Mary of Magdala came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb’ she said ‘and we don’t know where they have put him.’”  She observed the fact but she needed the authority of the Church to confirm that it was indeed the case.  And so, we have Peter representing the Church coming to the scene and vouching that it was as Mary had said. “Simon Peter who was following now came up, went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.”

But until now, the fact has not yet been given an interpretation.  This shows the diligence of the Church when it comes to making conclusions and judgement of miraculous events, especially apparitions and healing miracles.  Indeed, in most instances, the Church is slow to make pronouncements unless she is certain that it is a divine intervention.  This calls for careful discernment as declaring something miraculous is not a small matter.  Hence, those who doubt the witness of the Church and trust in their own witness, their own “seeing” and personal “interpretation”  need to imitate Mary in allowing the Church to make her judgement on behalf of us all as they have the authority from Christ and the competency to do so.

Secondly, we learn from Mary and Peter that a historical fact or a historical event makes no sense and has no real impact on our lives unless interpreted.  This is true in every area of our daily life.  We live by symbols more than the historical event itself.  The giving of gifts is more than just the reception of a gift but the meaning and significance of being given the gift by the giver.  Every gift signifies something about the giver’s intention and sentiments and how the recipient is loved and understood by the giver. So too, the empty tomb does not say very much except that the body of Jesus was not there.  Even the linen cloth being rolled up nicely does not say much.  It only raises questions and speculation but it is not a proof of Jesus’ resurrection.   Someone must offer an interpretation.  Instead of feeling elated, they were puzzled.  Could it be that the body was stolen?  There could be many reasons for the missing body.

Thirdly, if we act like Mary out of pure sentimentalism, we might not go very far in arriving at the meaning and the truth of the event.  It was great that Mary was deeply attached to Jesus and loved Him entirely.  But that love and her tears made her blind and unable to see the reality.  She was still living in the past.  She was still thinking of Jesus of Nazareth. She was still adoring the humanity of Jesus and failed to arrive at the divinity of Jesus through the resurrection.  So we must not fall into the same pitfall of being so sentimental, and denying the truth that is to be upheld.

We are called to learn from St John the Evangelist, whose feast we are celebrating.  He was a beloved disciple of the Lord.  Surely, he loved the Lord more than anyone.  Yet, he did not lose his sobriety.  Even whilst running to the tomb and arriving there before Peter, he stopped outside the tomb to allow Peter, the head of the apostolic college, to enter the tomb first.  He was respectful of authority.  Furthermore, whilst Peter was puzzled after seeing the empty tomb, John was introspective and contemplative.  The empty tomb and the linen cloth led him to enter into prayer and contemplation.  He began to link this event with the whole life, ministry and passion of Christ.  He sought to put all the pieces together, His teachings, His lifestyle, His miracles, especially of healing and exorcism, the multiplication of loaves, the calming of the storms, the Last Supper, etc.  When he recollected all these events, he came to “see” in the fullest sense of the term.

John understood the full significance of the empty tomb and concluded that Christ was not simply raised but that He was the Son of God.  This is why he wrote, “Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have watched and touched with our hands: the Word, who is life – this is our subject. That life was made visible: we saw it and we are giving our testimony, telling you of the eternal life which was with the Father and has been made visible to us.”   Such is the wonderful realization of John.  He came to faith in Christ as the Son of God not only through the visible encounters with Jesus of Nazareth but fundamentally through prayer and contemplation.  We might not have encountered Jesus of Nazareth directly, but we too can arrive at this faith in His incarnation through contemplation and prayer.

Indeed, this is what we are called to do.  During this period of Christmas, we are invited to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation.  We still meet Jesus concretely in our daily lives through others.  We meet Him in the Eucharist, in the Sacrament of reconciliation, in the kindness of our friends, through an act of mercy that someone gives to us or we give to others.  So in many situations in daily life, if we only open our eyes and see beyond the events, we will see the face of the Incarnated face of Christ in all our trials, sorrows and joys of life.  We can still see Jesus today if only we contemplate in faith in all the events that happen to us, just as Mary the mother of Jesus did, always pondering on the events of her life.  Only then will the face of Christ appear before us.

Once we meet the Lord like Mary of Magala and John, we too will be filled with joy and go about spreading the Good News that the Lord is with us, our Emmanuel. St John wrote, “What we have seen and heard we are telling you so that you too may be in union with us, as we are in union with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing this to you to make our own joy complete.”   And as we proclaim and share this joy of encountering the Lord in His humanity and in our daily lives, our joy will increase from strength to strength.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, December 20, 2017 — “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall name him Emmanuel”

December 19, 2017

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent
Lectionary: 196

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Paintings of Mary of Nazareth, mother of Jesus. The Annunciation, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Reading 1 IS 7:10-14

The LORD spoke to Ahaz:
Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God;
let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky!
But Ahaz answered,
“I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!”
Then Isaiah said:
Listen, O house of David!
Is it not enough for you to weary men,
must you also weary my God?
Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel.

Responsorial Psalm PS 24:1-2, 3-4AB, 5-6

R. (see 7c and 10b) Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.
The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
R. Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.
R. Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD,
a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks for him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
R. Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  LK 1:26-38

In the sixth month,
the angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”

But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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20 DECEMBER, 2017, Wednesday, 3rd Week of Advent
COOPERATING WITH GOD’S GRACE

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ISAIAH 7:10-14LUKE 1:26-38 ]

God has a plan for each of us and a dream for all of humanity.  But He needs us to cooperate with Him in realizing this dream, both for ourselves and for the world.  We will realize the dream of God for us to the extent that we cooperate with Him.  Otherwise we destroy the dream that God has in store for us.  The scripture readings provide us two characters, one who refused to cooperate with the plan of God, and the other who was completely docile to His will.

In the first instance, we have King Ahaz of Judah.  His country was under attack by the alliance of the Northern Kingdom and Aram.  As king, he was afraid of the invading enemies.  So using his logic and ingenuity, he sought the help of Assyria.  He bought them over with silver and gold taken from the Temple.  (cf 2 Kg 16:8)  Assyria was then a rising power.  It was a logical avenue on the part of King Ahaz to protect himself from the combined armies of Israel and Aram.   But the prophet Isaiah was sent by God to warn him about making such a move as it would spell more trouble for the country later.  The prophet assured that Judah would not be attacked by Israel and Aram, that their plan to conquer them would not succeed.  Hence, Judah should remain firm and not be too worried over their enemies or seek alliance with Assyria.

But King Ahaz had his mind already made up.  He was over confident of his decision.  He was too proud to listen to the Word of the Lord.  He wanted things his way in spite of the assurance of the prophet Isaiah.  He did not trust in God but only in himself.  The Lord even offered him a sign.  But he refused, pretending that he should not put the Lord to the test when the truth was that he did not want to change the course of his direction regardless.  “Then Isaiah said: ‘Listen now, House of David: are you not satisfied with trying the patience of men without trying the patience of my God, too? The Lord himself, therefore, will give you a sign. It is this: the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us’.”  His plan was not God’s plan.  But he did not want to hear the truth of this matter.

What were the consequences of his willful decision against the advice of the Lord?  As prophesied, Israel was destroyed by Assyria and the alliance with Aram broke out.  Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell into the hands of the Assyrians in 722 B.C. Although the kingdom of Judah was spared the attack, their alliance with Assyria brought them more trouble.  They became more vulnerable to them.

In contrast, we have the person of Mary, a young girl from a poor family.  She also had her own plan.  She was betrothed to Joseph of the House of David. Like all other women in her time, getting married, raising children and having a family was considered a great blessing.  However, her plan was not God’s plan.  Yet Mary, unlike King Ahaz, was humble.  She was not proud.  She was receptive to the plan of God even though that plan meant giving up her own plan for the Lord.  And so the angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary; God has been gracious to you.  You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God.  The Lord God will make him a king, as his ancestor David was, and he will be king of the descendants of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end!”

God’s plan for her was not a logical plan.  Hence, she responded by asking, “’I am a virgin.  How, then, can this be?’  The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and God’s power will rest upon you.  For this reason the holy child will be called the Son of God.’”  To Mary, such an answer was certainly beyond any human understanding.  It is unacceptable to human reasoning.  Mary would have thought of the implications as Ahaz did.  Who would believe her incredible story and claim?  What would Joseph think of her?  What if Joseph rejected her?  She would be unmarried with a child!  Worse still, if her parents rejected her, she would have no place to stay.  What if they accused her of adultery?  She could be stoned to death!  We can be sure that all these considerations weighed on the mind of Mary.

Furthermore, what made Mary so sure that she qualified to be the mother of the Saviour?  She was a poor and unknown young girl from Nazareth.  The truth is that God can use anyone of us for His glory.  The only requirement for God to make use of us mightily and powerfully for His work and glory is that we be obedient.  So education, ability and status alone do not qualify us for God’s work.  We should not limit the way God wants to use us for His service.   Can we trust God enough that He could make the impossible dream a reality?

Indeed, she was obedient and receptive.  Unlike Ahaz who rejected outright the will of God, Mary was not too proud to seek clarification.  Unlike Ahaz who had his mind made up and refused any sign that the Lord wanted to give him, Mary asked for a sign.  The angel said to her,  “Remember your relative Elizabeth.  It is said that she cannot have children, but she herself is now six months pregnant, even though she is very old.  For there is nothing that God cannot do.”  Hearing the assurance of the angel, her response was decisive, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it happen to me as you have said.”    Mary entrusted her life to God and allowed the Holy Spirit to work in her life and to lead her each day of this journey as the mother of our Lord.

Today, we are invited to do the same.  We are called to cooperate with the plan of God for us in our lives.  His will is not always ours.  But unless we cooperate with His will, we will not find happiness in our lives.  Like Ahaz, if we insist on being stubborn and choose to do what we want instead of what God wants, we will bring untold trouble for the rest of our lives.  This is true especially in priestly and religious vocation discernment.  If we are not called to the priestly and religious life and we force ourselves into it, we will become a misfit in the community.  And time will tell because that priest or religious will give lots of trouble to the diocese and the people he serves.  Instead of bringing people to God, he will bring them further away, drawing them to himself!  But this is true for all vocations as well, whether it is our state of life, or in our profession.

Because Mary responded generously to the plan of God, God worked marvels through her. But saying “yes” to God does not mean that His plan would immediately unfold.  Even after saying ‘yes’ to God, it takes time through faith to believe that God would fulfill His promise.  Even in the case of Mary, the promise made to her was realized in stages.  She first conceived our Lord, then step by step, God unfolded His plan.  He spoke to Joseph to accept her as his wife.  Later on, her son would be rejected by His own people, falsely accused and put to death on the cross.   But Mary’s faith in the Lord was not just a one-off event at the annunciation; it was throughout her life, saying “yes”  to the Lord at every stage of her life.  She waited patiently for God to fulfill His plan for our salvation through her Son’s death and resurrection.  Through Jesus, the descendant of David, salvation was realized.  Through our patience in allowing God’s plan to unfold in us, God will use us as His instruments of salvation.

Let us also walk in faith as we respond to God’s call in our lives.  If we want to be able to respond positively to the call of God, we must allow God to reign in our lives like Mary.  The angel greeted her,  “Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!”   She was always obedient to the Lord.  The responsorial psalm sums up fittingly the disposition of Mary towards the reign of God.  “Let the Lord enter! He is the king of glory. Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord? Who shall stand in his holy place? The man with clean hands and pure heart, who desires not worthless things.  He shall receive blessings from the Lord and reward from the God who saves him. Such are the men who seek him, seek the face of the God of Jacob.”   To say “yes” to God is to allow Him to be the Lord of our lives.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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Reflection on Luke 1:26-38
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This beautiful story is, indeed, a metaphysical affirmation of our intimate relationship with the Divine. It tells us that there is no human process possible or necessary to receive the creative inspiration of divine love. It is by living our human lives, and making our human choices, according to spiritual law, as Mary did, that we become fertile ground into which the divine can implant the seed of Christ Awareness that will grow into a new understanding of our spiritual worth and purpose. As we move upward toward our spiritual fulfillment, the Power of God is constantly reaching out to us as well, eager to make us pregnant with new possibilities as soon as we are ready to receive that spiritual seed. The entire creative process, the process of bringing new expressions of our innate Christ divinity into expression, makes no sense to our limited human brains; it seems impossible. And it would be impossible if we were relying solely on our limited human powers. But once we surrender to the Christ within—expressing our innate divinity—then nothing is impossible.
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Fiat voluntas tua — “Thy will be done.”  When Mary gave her full and knowing consent to the angel of the Lord, she provided the apotheosis of human embrace of divine will. She placed all of her trust in the Lord, willingly and without any reservation, even though she knew full well what the difficulties that assent would likely produce. An unwed teen mother in those days would have been much more than just an embarrassment; it would disgrace the family and could have led to her death. The marriage her parents had arranged for her would most likely be at an end, and she might have to travel on her own to escape the shame of the constant rejection of her community.

We live in more tolerant times, and sometimes we miss that part of the fiat and what Mary risked in offering it. In this remarkable passage from Luke, Mary doesn’t just assent to the pregnancy, but to laying down her life for the Lord – both literally and figuratively. She commits her all to surrendering to His will. All she can know at this point from what the angel tells her is that she will give birth and that her child will live, but she is given no guarantees as to whether she will live and under what conditions. Even so, Mary has true faith that the Lord’s will is greater than any of her own worries or cares, and even if it means hardship and danger for her, Mary wants what the Lord wants and willingly conforms herself to His will. She does not seek assurances, nor hold back her conformity in some sort of alternate plan in case things go in a direction she doesn’t like. Mary accepts the will of the Holy Spirit and conforms herself to Him.

It’s no secret why this story gets told at Advent. It’s part of the Advent narrative, the timeline which brings us to the birth of Christ, which we will celebrate on Thursday. The literal sense of the story starts with this reading, in which God condescends to make Himself part of humanity through Jesus Christ, who will live a life fully human and fully divine. To be fully human, Jesus had to experience all that humanity experiences, and comes as a lowly infant in poverty to Mary, who becomes the vessel of the Lord. Our first reading from 2 Samuel makes this point more explicitly in discussing the Ark of the Covenant and David’s plans for a temple, which the prophet Nathan eventually warns against. Rather than build a house for the Lord, the Lord will build a house for David, and it will be his children who build themselves into the Lord’s house as a light for all nations. Eventually, those children produce both Mary and Joseph.

Although this is literally a part of the Advent narrative, it belongs here for another reason, too. Advent is about preparation and formation, as well as anticipation. The cultural celebration of Christmas helps hone the latter for other reasons (and, let’s face it, is a lot of fun too), but it takes us away from what should be the real preparation and formation of the Advent season. And that is to follow the example of Mary’s Fiatand make ourselves into willing and joyful disciples of Jesus, with complete trust in the Lord as to His will.

We have the gift of free will, which means we have our own ideas about how our lives are to go. That is our gift from God, and the manner in which we are made in His image. As C. S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, God does not want slaves to do His bidding under His command, but sons and daughters who willingly and joyfully join in His work. But free will leaves us with constant choices about how we live our lives, and whether we live them only for ourselves or for the Lord. We have our hopes, our dreams, and our plans, and we often put our trust in those and our own designs more than the Lord’s. (An old joke: Want to hear God laugh? Tell Him your plans.)

When we have conflict between those designs and those of the Lord’s, do we accept the change willingly? Or do we do so grudgingly, angrily, or refuse to accept it at all? Recently, that challenge has been presented to me. I had pursued a particular vocation within the church and had felt called to it, or at least called to discern on it. This week, I found out that the option I had sought would not be opened to me, an outcome that I had actually anticipated for some time. I won’t lie and tell you that I embraced that with joy and a big, loud fiat, even though I had anticipated the outcome. It took me a while to work through it in my mind, and to uncouple my own plans for the future from the direction I had hoped they would proceed. I also won’t lie and tell you I’ve managed to accomplish that — at least, not yet, not even completely on an intellectual basis, let alone emotionally.

I’m working on it, though, and this passage from Luke today helps me to put this in perspective. Mary had plans for her life, too, before the Annunciation. She had become betrothed, and surely looked forward to a normal life within her community in raising a family and perhaps finding some ease of life. Mary put all of that aside in a moment when the Lord made His will known to her, and put her trust totally in Him. She set the example that John the Baptist would later preach in the desert of formation and preparation for the Advent of the Messiah. We commemorate that each year in order to remind us that we must prepare for the coming of our Lord by joyful conformation to His will, and anticipate His return and His kingdom. Mary lights the way with her Fiat.

So what will we say when that day comes? Will we have formed ourselves enough to say, Fiat voluntas tua? Do we have the faith — by which I mean the trust in the goodness of the Lord — to say that and truly mean it?

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Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth — known as the Grotto of the Annunciation, traditionally where Mary received the visitation and declared her “fiat.” 

Catholic Mass in the Grotto of the Annunciation (lower level of the church).– Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth

https://hotair.com/archives/2014/12/21/sunday-reflection-luke-126-38/

Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, December 19, 2017 — My mouth shall be filled with your praise, and I will sing your glory!

December 18, 2017

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent
Lectionary: 195

Just trust that God knows what is best for us

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Angel Gabriel by Pietro Gargliani

Reading 1 JGS 13:2-7, 24-25A

There was a certain man from Zorah, of the clan of the Danites,
whose name was Manoah.
His wife was barren and had borne no children.
An angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her,
“Though you are barren and have had no children,
yet you will conceive and bear a son.
Now, then, be careful to take no wine or strong drink
and to eat nothing unclean.
As for the son you will conceive and bear,
no razor shall touch his head,
for this boy is to be consecrated to God from the womb.
It is he who will begin the deliverance of Israel
from the power of the Philistines.”The woman went and told her husband,
“A man of God came to me;
he had the appearance of an angel of God, terrible indeed.
I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name.
But he said to me,
‘You will be with child and will bear a son.
So take neither wine nor strong drink, and eat nothing unclean.
For the boy shall be consecrated to God from the womb,
until the day of his death.'”The woman bore a son and named him Samson.
The boy grew up and the LORD blessed him;
the Spirit of the LORD stirred him.

Responsorial Psalm PS 71:3-4A, 5-6AB, 16-17

R. (see 8) My mouth shall be filled with your praise, and I will sing your glory!
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.
R. My mouth shall be filled with your praise, and I will sing your glory!
For you are my hope, O LORD;
my trust, O God, from my youth.
On you I depend from birth;
from my mother’s womb you are my strength.
R. My mouth shall be filled with your praise, and I will sing your glory!
I will treat of the mighty works of the LORD;
O God, I will tell of your singular justice.
O God, you have taught me from my youth,
and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
R. My mouth shall be filled with your praise, and I will sing your glory!

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 1:5-25

In the days of Herod, King of Judea,
there was a priest named Zechariah
of the priestly division of Abijah;
his wife was from the daughters of Aaron,
and her name was Elizabeth.
Both were righteous in the eyes of God,
observing all the commandments
and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.
But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren
and both were advanced in years.

Once when he was serving as priest
in his division’s turn before God,
according to the practice of the priestly service,
he was chosen by lot
to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense.
Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside
at the hour of the incense offering,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him,
standing at the right of the altar of incense.
Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him.

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah,
because your prayer has been heard.
Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,
and you shall name him John.
And you will have joy and gladness,
and many will rejoice at his birth,
for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.
He will drink neither wine nor strong drink.
He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb,
and he will turn many of the children of Israel
to the Lord their God.
He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah
to turn the hearts of fathers toward children
and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous,
to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”

Then Zechariah said to the angel,
“How shall I know this?
For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
And the angel said to him in reply,
“I am Gabriel, who stand before God.
I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.
But now you will be speechless and unable to talk
until the day these things take place,
because you did not believe my words,
which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah
and were amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary.
But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them,
and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary.
He was gesturing to them but remained mute.

Then, when his days of ministry were completed, he went home.

After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived,
and she went into seclusion for five months, saying,
“So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit
to take away my disgrace before others.”

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Angel comes to visit by Michael Dudash

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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19 DECEMBER, 2017, Tuesday, 3rd Week of Advent
THE GIFT OF A CHILD

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JUDGES 13:2-7,24-25LUKE 1:5-25 ]

Why do we want to have children?  Why are there so many childless parents trying so hard to have children?  What are their motives?  Many want to have children so that they could bring life to an otherwise boring marriage.  Marriage without children does not seem complete.  For a woman, not having a child makes them feel unfulfilled.  They hope that with children their lives will be richer and more fulfilled.  Some want to have children so that the spouse will have greater commitment to the marriage and not leave the family.  Others hope that they will be able to look after them in their old age.  Some others would like their family name to live on after them.  These motives, whilst not ignoble, are certainly inward- looking.

But more important than all these reasons, God gives us children so that we can share in His life and love in two ways.  By having children in our marriage, the love between the couple can grow from strength to strength.  Love grows not by keeping that love between two persons.  When love is not shared it can become a worship of each other and narcissistic.  Love, when shared, becomes richer and more fulfilling.  For love to grow the love between two persons must be poured out of themselves into the world, in this case, a child, representing the fruit of their love.  So God gives us children in marriage so that we can partake more deeply of the love of God.

Through the raising of children they will learn how to make sacrifices, not for themselves but for others.  Lots of patience, perseverance and sacrifices are needed to bring up children.  When they are young, they need attention and love, not just things and food.  Parents will have to go through the process of coming to terms with each other on how they want their children to be raised.  There will be times when children are sick or are going through teenage angst.  All these require much giving and perseverance in love.  In the process, the parents expand their hearts to love more and more, even when their children are ungrateful to them or take them for granted in later years.  But if they teach their children well and are great mentors in love for their children, by the grace of God, their children will add joy and blessings to their lives.

Yet, this cannot be an end to having children.  In God’s plan, every child has a mission too.  They are not toys or social security for parents to be used and abused.  Children in the final analysis belong to God and not to their parents.  They are just guardians and custodians of God’s children.  The primary task of parents is to help their children to fulfill their mission, their vocation and their calling in life.  The whole task of bringing up their children is to help them to be prepared for the mission that the Lord has given to them.   Only when that is done could we then say that we have fulfilled our role as parents.  Otherwise, we have failed in our responsibility, even if we have given them a good education and the good things of life.   We do not live for ourselves but for others and, most of all, for God.

Indeed, this was the case of the birth of Samson and John the Baptist to both couples who were barren, with one couple long past the age of child bearing.   God granted the prayers of both couples with the gift of a baby but it is clear that He did not give them a child for themselves per see but because He had a mission for both of them.  Samson was given to Manoah and his wife.  The angel told them, “It is he who will begin to rescue Israel from the power of the Philistines.”  Samson was given for the sake of the people of Israel who were oppressed by the Philistines.  God was answering the prayer of Israel, not just that of Manoah and his wife.   He had a plan for Samson to be the deliverer of Israel.

Similarly, John the Baptist was given to Zechariah and Elizabeth in their old age.  God too had a mission for him.  He was not given to them primarily, but again for the sake of Israel and most of all, to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.  The angel said, “Even from his mother’s womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he will bring back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will go before him to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the disobedient back to the wisdom that the virtuous have, preparing for the Lord a people fit for him.”  John the Baptist’s task was to deliver people from their sins and to be the forerunner of the Messiah.

Like Samson and John the Baptist, we must also consecrate our children to the service of God.  Samson was forbidden to take “wine or strong drink.”  He was to “eat nothing unclean. For you will conceive and bear a son. No razor is to touch his head, for the boy shall be God’s Nazirite from his mother’s womb.”  So too was John the Baptist.  The angel said, “He will be great in the sight of the Lord; he must drink no wine, no strong drink.” And just as Abraham offered Isaac to the Lord, so too Hannah, who was barren for many years, left Samson at the temple to serve God as a priest when he was still young.  Indeed, we are all trustees of God’s children.

Every child who is baptized is consecrated to God for His mission.   We should not think that good parents are those who help their children to be successful in life; doing well in their studies, building a great career and becoming rich and famous.   This is too inward-looking and self-centered.  It is about them, not about others.  Rather, it is how we raise them up to be people who serve the Church and society that will determine whether they will find fulfillment and real happiness in life.  We do not exist for ourselves but for humanity.  We are born for a mission.  Unless we help them to fulfill their mission in serving God and society, even if they are successful but live for themselves alone, we would have failed miserably because they will not find the joy and meaning of life.

In order to help our young children to walk the path of God, as parents we must be close to God, like Zechariah and Elizabeth. “Both were worthy in the sight of God, and scrupulously observed all the commandments and observances of the Lord.”  Unless as parents we are walking the ways of the Lord and listening to Him, how can we help our children to discern their calling in life?  How can we be good mentors to them in terms of faith, service and love?  Today, children need witnesses and mentors more than teachers.  God-fearing and loving parents will form children who are God-fearing and loving as well.  We teach them how to love and give, first by loving each other as spouses and loving them unconditionally.   This explains why we need to cooperate with God’s grace.  Raising up our children according to the will of God is not an easy responsibility.  But with God’s grace, it is not impossible.  In both scripture readings, we read of the work of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to bring life.   We too must trust in the Holy Spirit and in the promise of divine assistance of God to bring up our children to be serving and compassionate people.

So for those who do not have children, and you desire to have children, let us pray to God in faith and in trust.   But we must pray with the right intention, that we do not have children to keep them for ourselves but to be consecrated and given for the service of God and the world.  If we are asking for the right intention, the Lord can make us fertile and produce wonderful children for the good of humanity.  Let us trust in the impossible.  And even if He does not give us a baby, just trust that God knows what is best for us.  We can still be equally happy by giving ourselves, our time and our love in service to others, just like priests and religious do.  Happiness is found in consecrating our lives to the service of God and our fellowmen.   Regardless of whether we have children or not, all life is reducible to loving and giving.  So long as we give of ourselves, we will always find meaning and purpose in life. God will reward us in other ways.  When we give ourselves to society, we could also say, “it has pleased him to take away the humiliation I suffered among men.”

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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From 2015

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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19 DECEMBER 2015, Saturday, 3rd Week of Advent (From Last Year)
DARE TO HOPE

SCRIPTURE READINGS: JUDGES 13:2–25; LUKE 1:5-25

Even whilst everyone seems to be in a cheerful mood and in a joyous and festive spirit, we wonder whether all the laughter and smiles are just a distraction, a temporary escape from confronting the woes and sadness in our lives.  It looks as if we are pretending that everything is all right and we try to make believe that we are happy.  But are we?

The reality is that most of us are still very much caught up with the ‘inevitables’ of life.  We wish that our life was different.  We live with regrets.  We wish that we had married the right person.  We wish that the person whom we love so much now could have been in our lives much earlier, before we committed ourselves to marriage.  But now it is too late.  Our marriage is just a long punishment of boredom, bickering and cold wars.   We feel like giving up on the marriage, but we fear God. Even if we do not fear God, we think of what our children, parents and loved ones would have to go through in event of a divorce.  So we feel trapped.  Our marriage seems to be getting nowhere.  We are still in the woods!

On the other hand, there are the singles who are condemned to loneliness.   We wish we had met our Mr or Miss Right earlier but now it is too late.  We are envious when we see married couples around us.  We feel that the embrace of love has overlooked us.  We wish that someone could hold us and share our life.  Now our life seems to be one of work and pleasure, but there is no love.  Life seems so empty even when we are successful in our career.  We can travel around the world and enjoy all the good things in life, but there is no soul-mate, no partner and no beloved to share our joys!

And of course there are those of us who are struggling with our sins, vices and bad habits.  We are struggling against the sin of lust and no matter what we do, we fall into sexual sins.  We are addicted to pornography and look at others with lust.  We don’t like the feeling, and yet we are helpless in overcoming our weaknesses.  And whenever we fail to keep ourselves pure, we feel so disgusted with ourselves.  Indeed, those of us who are so desperate to kick the habit of smoking, drinking and gambling but never succeeded for long feel so disappointed with ourselves.

In these situations, don’t we all feel like giving up on hope?  Shouldn’t we just be resigned to the situation?  Resignation seems to be our defence mechanism.  Furthermore, all the other so-called ‘prophets’ around us tell us the same thing; to give up hope.  God is not going to help us.  Indeed, it seems easier to live with our sins and failures than to hope that the circumstances and our fortune will change.  We are afraid to hope because we have been disappointed so often.

This, too, was the situation of the two couples, Manoah and his wife, Zechariah and Elizabeth, in today’s scripture readings. They must have felt so left out, so abandoned by God.  It was such a disgrace to be childless.  After all, women are created for motherhood.  So even if one is married and is without children, one cannot help feeling incomplete.  Couples without children will realize eventually that the love they have for each other will only find completion in a child.  Even same-sex union couples want to adopt children!

Indeed, because of our constant disappointments, we dare not hope anymore.  We are jaded and angry with God.  Resentful of Him for not answering our prayers, we have taken matters into our own hands to get what we want, even if it is not morally right.  We do not want to be let down again and again.  This is so true even for those hoping for a God-experience.  Some simply cannot experience God.  He seems to be so far away and unreal.  Indeed, one cannot help but wonder whether God is real at all.  Does He exist?  Does He care?  Does He really love us at all?

Well, if one feels that a miracle is not possible, then today’s scripture readings prove us wrong.  Our God is a great and wonderful God.  This is what the psalmist is saying to us.  “My mouth shall be filled with your praise, and I will sing your glory! I will tell of the mighty works of the Lord; O God, I will tell of your singular justice. O God, you have taught me from my youth, and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.”  When we, like Zechariah, feel that He has abandoned us, God comes to our help.  In the miraculous conception of Manoah’s wife and Elizabeth, God shows Himself to be a mysterious and powerful God.  Nothing is impossible to Him and man’s finite intelligence and power must not limit the ways that God can work in his life.

But do we have the faith of the wife of Manoah?  We are told of her simple and deep faith in the promise of the Lord.  She told her husband how the angel came to her and promised her a son that will deliver Israel from the power of the Philistines.  And she conceived soon after her encounter with the angel.  However, this was not the same response of Zechariah.  He doubted.  It was too good to be true.  He did not believe in the message of the angel.  He said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years.”  He wanted a sign.

And to teach Zechariah the power and wonders of God, the angel gave him a sign.  He said, “I am Gabriel who stand in God’s presence, and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news. Listen! Since you have not believed my words, which will come true at their appointed time, you will be silenced and have no power of speech until this has happened.”  By striking Zechariah dumb and depriving him of the power of speech, it was not so much a punishment but the way God wanted to help Zechariah grow in maturity in his faith.  To be speechless is a sign that God is mystery.  When we encounter Him, we cannot truly utter about Him.  Through Zechariah, God wants to teach us humility before His divine presence and power.  God knows what we need and He knows when to answer our prayers.  We must never doubt His love or His wisdom.  After all, the psalmist says, He is our “rock of refuge, a stronghold to give me safety … my rock and my fortress.”  God is the Lord of Hosts, the Commander of the army of angels and we are His warriors.  With Him on our side, we can win every battle.

However, we must surrender in faith, like the wife of Manoah, to God’s promises.  If our lives are still crippled by our sins and stifled by the situation we are in, we need not be resigned to the status quo.  We must trust that God can do what we cannot.  God wants to make us fruitful again.  He wants to set us free.  He wants to give us the Holy Spirit so that we can make a difference in the lives of others.  He wants to empower us like the way He filled Samson and John the Baptist with the Holy Spirit so that they could be His agents of transformation.

If we lack faith it is because, like Zechariah and Elizabeth, we are spiritually barren.  That is why we are invited to pray and contemplate like Zechariah and Elizabeth.  The former was struck dumb so that he could enter deeper into silence and hear the true God speaking to him.  Elizabeth too, withdrew and pondered in her heart on what the Lord was doing in her life.  When she conceived, “for five months she kept to herself. ‘The Lord has done this for me’ she said ‘now that it has pleased him to take away the humiliation I suffered among men.’”  She contemplated on her shame and came to realize that through her shame and her suffering, God would show His glory and splendor.  God often allows us to be helpless so that we know we are not so great after all.  We are not omnipotent. He wants to tell us who is the true God and that He loves us always.  He will come to us when He decides, not in our time but in His time, for He knows when is the opportune moment to demonstrate His love and power.

So during this period of Advent, waiting for the Lord entails prayer, reflection and contemplation.  We must be able to listen to God during Advent.  Very often, all the Christmas shopping, merry-making, parties and celebrations distract us from God.   We cannot celebrate God made man if we have not yet contemplated on Him.  The world is not celebrating the incarnation.  Do not be deceived.  They are just riding on our celebration of Christ’s birth.  The world seeks pleasure, not faith in God who loves us so much that He became one with us and one of us.  Without faith and contemplation, how could anyone come to truly believe in His heart and be amazed that God would choose to assume our humanity so as to reveal His incredible love for us?

In the light of this great revelation, what must we do besides waiting in prayer and contemplation?  We need to have a sign that God is with us.  Just as Samson and John the Baptist took the Nazirite Vow as enumerated in the Book of Numbers, chapter 6, as a sign of their total consecration and dependence on God, expressed in not taking any wine or strong drink and not cropping their hair, we too could ask what sign do we want to remember that we are consecrated to Him as well.   Unless we consecrate ourselves entirely to Him, we will not be filled with the Holy Spirit.  This sign could be our acts of love and charity to the poor; seeking reconciliation with someone whom we have hurt; or making a commitment to the Lord or to His people.  So what is your Nazirite Vow that God wants you to remember Him by, that He is the faithful one and that you are consecrated to Him forever?

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

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http://www.catholic.org.sg/archbishop/scripture-reflection/

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Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Sermon / Homily on Luke 1:5-25

Zechariah: God has Remembered

by Rev. Adrian Dieleman

Scripture: Luke 1:5-25

Introduction

Any idea how many Zechariahs there are in the Bible? The number surprised me. There are 28 of them. Telling us what? That among the people of God this is an honored name, a significant name, an important name. Remember, Biblical names mean something. They say something about the person having the name. We saw this with John and Elizabeth the last couple of weeks and today we see the same thing with Zechariah. “Zechariah” means “remembered of Yahweh,” or – as we would put it – “Jehovah has remembered.”

I want you to see the name “Zechariah” in the light of the rest of his little family. There is Zechariah – remembered of Yahweh. There is Elizabeth – God has sworn. There is John – God has graciously given. Put these all together: Yahweh has remembered His oath by graciously giving John.

What oath has God remembered? What promise? The names of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John point us back to the first promise, the very first promise, a promise we looked at a few weeks ago in our study of Genesis. A promise given to the first man and woman immediately after the first sin (Gen 3:15). A promise about the coming of Jesus, the defeat of sin, and the crushing of Satan. Zechariah, Elizabeth, John: Three names that tell us the battle between Satan and God is reaching its climax.

Today, I want to look at four pictures of Zechariah that we find in our Bible reading.

I A Faithful Priest (vs 5-7)

A Our first picture of Zechariah shows us a faithful priest.

What is the first thing we are told about Zechariah, even before we are told his name? We are told he is a “priest.” Then we are told his name – “God has remembered.” We are told he belongs to the priestly division of Abijah; meaning he is a descendant of Aaron the high priest (Abijah descended from Eleazar, Aaron’s oldest son). We are told he, and his wife, are upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. This does not mean he is perfect. This does not mean he is sinless. Rather, it means he has more than an external, legal righteousness. No mere lip service here. As we would put it, he is not a Sunday-only Christian. He truly does love and serve God. He, and his wife, represent the best of Old Testament piety and religion. They are part of the faithful remnant who await the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem (Lk 2:25, 38).

Now note this: Zechariah serves the Lord even though he and his wife have a big hole, a huge disappointment, in life. Zechariah loves and serves the Lord even though he has no children. As I mentioned when we looked at Elizabeth, this godly couple pray for children. Every day they pray for children (Lk 1:13). But God, in His good pleasure, chooses not to answer Zechariah’s prayer for a child.

Now get this, Zechariah prays for a child even though he and Elizabeth are well past the age of having children. Scripture tells us that Zechariah, and Elizabeth, are “both well along in years” (Lk 1:7). Zechariah says to the angel, “I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (Lk 1:18).

How old are they? Among the Jews at the time of the New Testament, the term “old man” was reserved for those over sixty years in age. So, Zechariah is at least sixty. The close parallels between our story and the story of Abraham and Sarah makes us conclude that Zechariah is probably well over sixty.

Zechariah prays for a child but God does not answer this prayer. Does Zechariah turn against God? Does he allow his disappointment to keep him from worship and prayers and sacrifice and offering? Does he become bitter? You know, many react this way when things do not turn out the way they want. But not Zechariah. He keeps on serving and loving God.

Faithful. That is the word that comes to mind. Zechariah is a faithful priest. Zechariah faithfully serves and loves God.

B Every generation has people, like Zechariah, who faithfully serve and love God. I think of Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, David, King Josiah, Simeon, Anna, Mary, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and others. Our generation and our church has people like this too: members who never miss worship, who always give as the Lord has blessed them, who attend Bible Study, who are present at most church functions, who encourage the elders and deacons and pastors. They are the first to say they are not perfect, yet they love and serve the Lord.

Last week I was reading of two Bible and Theology professors from one of our Christian colleges. In speaking in favor of evolution they propose that Adam and Eve are purely symbolic literary figures, that there was no historical fall into sin, and that the doctrines of original sin, Christ’s atonement, election and eternal punishment need major revision. Do you know what their teaching demonstrates? That evolution, contrary to the popular argument, is a salvation issue. Let me repeat what the professors say: Adam and Eve are purely symbolic literary figures, that there was no historical fall into sin, and that the doctrines of original sin, Christ’s atonement, election and eternal punishment need major revision. Do you see how salvation is at stake?

Why do I mention this? Because all of the Lord’s servants, like Zechariah, are supposed to be faithful. To teach something that denies sin and salvation is hardly the measure of faithfulness.

Some of you might have heard that the Crystal Cathedral, founded by Robert Schuller, filed for bankruptcy because of hard economic times. For the past 30 years Schuller’s basic message is that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Along this line, the Schullers say the message people need to hear right now is that “tough times never last; every storm will come to an end.” Really? Is this the message we need to hear right now? Instead, don’t we need to hear the same message that was preached by John the Baptist and Jesus? The message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Why do I mention this? Because all of the Lord’s servants, like Zechariah, are supposed to be faithful. To preach something other than sin and salvation is hardly the measure of faithfulness.

II A Fearful Priest (vs 8-17)

A Our second picture of Zechariah shows us a fearful priest.

Since the time of David, the Jewish priesthood was divided into 24 courses (1 Chron 24). Each course was expected to serve two weeks each year in the Temple and many priests spent the remainder of the year away from Jerusalem in secular occupations (Lk 1:23). There were many more priests and Levites than the 50 or so who were needed to work in the Temple so the casting of lots decided who did the various tasks. Zechariah is chosen to offer incense in the Holy Place. This is such a high honor that it was permitted to a priest but once. Many priests served for a lifetime without having this honor.

Let me speak for a moment about the providence of God. Who chooses Zechariah? Who chooses Zechariah to burn the incense offering? God does. As Proverbs puts it, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Prov 16:33). God wants Zechariah burning incense in the Temple.

Now, you need to remember that the Temple was composed of a series of courts or rooms. Gentiles could come as far as the Court of the Gentiles. Women could come a little closer, to the Court of Women. Jewish men could enter as far as the Court of Israel. Priests were allowed to advance a little further; they were granted access to the Court of the Priests. But the inner sanctuary of the temple, divided by a curtain into the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, was off limits even for priests except for specifically stated times and carefully proscribed purposes.

The incense offering happened every morning and every evening. A priest, as a representative of the people, would enter by himself into the Holy Place. There he would see three items covered with gold: the lampstand, the table of showbread, and the altar of incense. At the far end was the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The priest held a golden censor filled with glowing coals. From a bowl he would take a large quantity of incense and scatter it over the burning coals on the altar of incense and then bow in prayer (Lk 1:13). A fragrant cloud of smoke would then ascend heavenward. Meanwhile, the people gathered outside, smelling the fragrant incense, would bow down and add their prayers to the ascending cloud of incense (Lk 1:10).

Doesn’t this sound beautiful? The priest offers incense and the people pray. But where did this practice come from? Was this the liturgical invention of a creative priest? Did a worship committee propose this to Moses? Was this a spontaneous development on the part of the people? No, no, no. Of course not. Expressions of worship are never left to the imaginings of man. We don’t get to decide how we want to worship. Because God tells us how to worship. What the priest did in the Holy Place and what the people did on the outside were all according to God’s command. This was part of God’s design for His worship.

So, why was fragrant incense offered to God every morning and every evening as the people prayed? To show the people, to tell the people, that their prayers were as pleasing to God as the fragrance of the incense was pleasing to the nostrils. The smoke and fragrance of the incense wafting upward symbolizes the prayers of God’s people (Ps 141:2; Rev 5:8; 8:3). To God, the prayers of His people are a sweet-smelling scent. He loves those prayers and wants those prayers.

Why am I going into such detail? So you realize this is a holy moment, a special moment, the greatest moment, in the life of Zechariah.

B So what happens at this most special and holy moment in the life of Zechariah? “An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense” (Lk 1:11). At the moment of his life when Zechariah is most open to God and the supernatural, that is when the angel of the Lord appears.

Now, Luke loves giving us details. There is a reason for every detail. Notice the detail here: the angel of the Lord is standing at the “right” side of the altar of incense. The right side. Not the left side. Not front and center. Not by the candlesticks. But to the right of the altar of incense. This is no accident.

Jewish angelology regarded the left side of the altar as the place for angels; only God used the right side. So tradition suggests to Zechariah that he is seeing God. Now, ever since man has sinned, no man can see God and live (Ex 33:20). So Zechariah is terrified! Which is why the angel says, “Do not be afraid” (Lk 1:13).

“Do not be afraid.” This is an often repeated phrase in the Gospel of Luke (1:13, 30; 2:10; 5:10; 8:50; 12:7, 32). God the Father keeps reassuring and comforting His children.

Then the angel says, “Your prayer has been heard” (Lk 1:13). What prayer is that? Do you think an old Zechariah is still praying for a child for himself and a barren Elizabeth? In that time and that place, during the evening sacrifice, do you think a godly man like Zechariah is also praying for the Messiah? That both of these are Zechariah’s prayer becomes evident from the angel’s answer – that Zechariah will have a son who will prepare the way for Jesus.

“Your prayer has been heard.” Note, prayers of faith are filed in heaven, and are not forgotten. They are never forgotten. Prayers made when we are young and entering into life may be answered when we are old and leaving the world.

III A Faithless Priest (vs 18-22)

A Our third picture of Zechariah shows us a faithless priest.

Did you notice what Gabriel calls his announcement to Zechariah? Gabriel calls it “good news” (Lk 1:19). The Good News is always, in some way, about Jesus. Luke must love this phrase because he uses it so often in his Gospel (10 times). God has good news. Wonderful news. Fantastic news. The Messiah is coming and Zechariah will have a son who prepares for His coming.

Now, you would think the Temple location, the burning of incense, the presence of the angel of the Lord, and the announcement of God’s Word would encourage Zechariah’s faith, but they do not. You would think in this time and place Zechariah would believe the angel’s words, but he does not.
(Lk 1:18) How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.

Instead of looking to God in faith, the priest looks at himself and his wife and decides that the birth of a son is impossible. He thinks his physical limitations will hinder Almighty God.

When you compare Zechariah to Mary, you see that at this point in his life Zechariah shows himself to be a faithless priest. Zechariah, the aged priest, asks the angel for a sign. Mary, the young maiden from Galilee, submits in simple faith to the Lord when told about the virgin birth (Lk 1:38). It is wrong to worship Mary. But it is more than right that we admire and emulate her.

Before we criticize Zechariah too much, we should examine ourselves and see how strong our own faith is.

How many times don’t we look in the wrong direction? Think of Peter who looked at the wind and the waves instead of Jesus and began to sink (Mt 14:29f). Think of Abraham and Sarah looking at themselves instead of God. Think of Elijah who fled for his life from Jezebel and crawled under a broom tree to die. Usually the problem is we look down instead of look up. We look at ourselves instead of at God. The mighty God. The everlasting God. The God Whose arm is never too short. The God Who can do what ever He purposes to do.

B Zechariah sins with his mouth so the angel stops his mouth. Isn’t it just that the punishment matches the crime? But it isn’t it also gracious that Zechariah’s mouth is stopped before he can heap sin upon sin? This keeps him from boasting about his vision – as men are so prone to do. For the nine months of his wife’s pregnancy Zechariah can only be a silent bystander – one with a lot of time for thinking about the ways of God, the promises of God, and the might of God.

IV A Favored Priest (vs 23-25)

Our fourth picture of Zechariah shows us a favored priest.

When his time of service is completed, Zechariah returns home to the hill country of Judea (Lk 1:39). Do you think he rides his slowest donkey or camel? If on foot, do you think he slowly walks? Of course not! He has good news. Good news about a son. Good news about the Messiah. Good news from the Lord Himself. Good news that the Lord has remembered. In my mind, I see Zechariah going home as quickly as possible.

I am sure Zechariah spends the last days of his Temple service and the journey home thinking of how to communicate to Elizabeth everything that has happened. He knows he cannot tell her so does he maybe write it all down in a letter ahead of time?

Dearest Elizabeth:

I always thought my faith was strong. But your husband is not as strong as you may think.

This week I received the highest honor of my life – God, the blessed, the holy, chose me to burn the incense.

I slowly entered the Holy Place carrying the censor filled with glowing coals. What a moment! I saw the golden candlestick, the table of showbread, the golden altar of incense. I hardly dared to look at the curtain.

As I was putting incense on the coal an angel appeared. He was standing on the right side, Elizabeth. The place of God. I was scared to death.

He talked to me. He called me by name. He knew me. He told me not to be afraid.

He told me we would have a boy. We are going to have a boy, Elizabeth. Zechariah and Elizabeth, old, barren, are going to have a boy.

This boy, our boy, is going to prepare the way for the Messiah. The Messiah is coming, Elizabeth. The Messiah! The Messiah!

I didn’t believe Him, Elizabeth. I didn’t believe Him. Your husband didn’t believe God remembered.

So I was told I cannot talk until our baby is born. The angel did something to my tongue because my faith is so small.

Elizabeth, our prayers have been heard. God Himself told me He will be answering our prayers.

Can you believe this? Of course you can. Your faith has always been stronger than mine.

Your ever loving husband,

Zechariah

After this Elizabeth became pregnant. As Elizabeth herself put it, God has “shown his favor” (Lk 1:25).

Conclusion — God and His Promises

Zechariah – God has remembered. God has remembered the promise to reward faithfulness. God has remembered the promise to hear prayers. But, especially, God has remembered the promise of Genesis 3:15 that the Messiah will come, that sin will be defeated, that Satan will be crushed.

http://www.malankaraworld.com/library/Sermons/Sermons_annunciation-to-zacharias-adrian.htm

St. Basil’s Syriac Orthodox Church

Prayer and Meditation for Monday, December 18, 2017 — “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.”

December 17, 2017

Monday of the Third Week of Advent
Lectionary: 194

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Reading 1  JER 23:5-8

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David;
As king he shall reign and govern wisely,
he shall do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah shall be saved,
Israel shall dwell in security.
This is the name they give him:
“The LORD our justice.”Therefore, the days will come, says the LORD,
when they shall no longer say, “As the LORD lives,
who brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt”;
but rather, “As the LORD lives,
who brought the descendants of the house of Israel
up from the land of the north”–
and from all the lands to which I banished them;
they shall again live on their own land.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 72:1-2, 12-13, 18-19

R. (see 7) Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
O God, with your judgment endow the king,
and with your justice, the king’s son;
He shall govern your people with justice
and your afflicted ones with judgment.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
the lives of the poor he shall save.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous deeds.
And blessed forever be his glorious name;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
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Gospel  MT 1:18-25

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:

Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.

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Jesus — Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd by Joseph Brickey
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Commentary on Matthew 1:18-24 From Living Space

Today’s passage follows immediately on yesterday’s account of Jesus’ genealogy.

There were three stages for Jews getting married in Jesus’ time. There was the engagement, then the betrothal, and finally the wedding. The betrothal was a serious commitment. It was already the first part of the marriage. There would be no sexual relationships as the couple would not yet be living together but it was a binding relationship. Normal married life began some months later when the husband took his betrothed into his home. To violate the betrothal by having sexual relations with another person was equivalent to adultery.

Imagine, then, the horrific dilemma of Joseph. He discovers that the woman to whom he is already betrothed but with whom he has not consummated their relationship in marriage, is already pregnant. There could be only one explanation; she had been unfaithful and was having another man’s child. It was a very serious matter and, if brought out into the open, would have made Mary liable to death by stoning.

But Joseph was a “righteous” man. As a devout follower of the Mosaic Law, he would want to break the union with someone who had so seriously broken the Law. And yet, because he was such a good man, he did not want to expose her to a terrible punishment. In this, for his time and indeed for our own time, he shows extraordinary forbearance. Few men would accept such a situation with such calmness and self-restraint. Most would find it a terrible blow to their manhood.

It is at this point that there is divine intervention and God communicates the true situation to Joseph who is assured that no other man is involved, that she has conceived through the power of God’s Spirit. Joseph is further instructed to call the newborn child Jesus. Jesus, in Hebrew Joshua, had the meaning at this time of “Yahweh saves”. Jesus is so called because he will save his people from their sin.

And, as Matthew likes to do, he shows that all this is in fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy (following the Septuagint text of Isaiah 7:14) that a virgin will bear a son and he will be called “Emmanuel” or “God-is-with-us”. This will be re-echoed when, at the very end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says to his disciples just before he ascends to his Father: “I will be with you all days to the end of the age”. Jesus remains with us for ever.

Joseph, now at peace, took Mary to his home as his wife. And he had no sexual relations with her until after Jesus was born. Thus there is no mistaking the origins of Jesus. He has a human mother but a divine Father. He will be the perfect Saviour of his people: in a fully human person the power of God himself will be at work.

Jesus is still our Emmanuel, God still lives with his people. And he does that through the Body of the Risen Jesus, the Church, the Christian community and its communities all over the world. Each one of us is called to be Emmanuel. Through us people can meet God and hear the message of love and salvation and forgiveness and reconciliation. Let us renew our commitment to be Emmanuel for the people in our lives.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/a1218g/

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Blessed Art Thou among Women, by Walter Rane

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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom:

Has an angel ever come to you in a dream? If your answer is “no,” this may be a good time to start to practice listening, meditating and prayer.

When we talk to God in prayer, we need also pledge that we will listen for his guidance. Our ability to listen can be developed with practice, just like anything else we want to learn. Everyone who sincerely submits and listens to God will find him. Everyone who seeks to develop his or her spiritual nature, with proper guidance will flower and gain. Nobody who seeks will be left empty.

A theme repeated over and over again in the scriptures is, “Do not be afraid.”
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When someone today asks, “What do we get as Christians?” We might answer: “Do not be afraid. Everything is possible with God.”
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In today’s Gospel, Joseph gets some direction in his sleep. After he wakes up, he follows those Holy directions and  he “did the right thing.”
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One of the most respected theologians of the last century, Jesuit Karl Rahner, wrote in “On The Question of Formal Existential Ethics” —
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Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells him inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His dignity relies upon observing this law…”
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The “Indwelling of the Holy Spirit,” if we seek — will reward us with a good conscience — an inner feeling or voice that drives us always toward, love, the good and the right. If we work to develop this indwelling we will be rewarded.
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Unfortunately, in today’s secular society, we seem to have fewer who are seeking. So how can they possibly find?
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The Gospels tell us to pray, meditate and consume Christ — make him a part of us and us in him.
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This is intertwined with the mystery of the Eucharist….
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We don’t have to “get it.” But we’ll be a lot happier if we do it!
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Related here on Peace and Freedom:
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God, I offer myself to Thee –
to build with me and do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love and Thy Way of Life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank You God, AMEN!
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Related:

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The book Holy Spirit by Edward Leen can help seekers find the Holy Spirit within us….

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, December 17, 2017 — “He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives…”

December 16, 2017

Third Sunday of Advent
Lectionary: 8

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In all circumstances give thanks for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus

Reading 1  IS 61:1-2A, 10-11

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the LORD
and a day of vindication by our God.I rejoice heartily in the LORD,
in my God is the joy of my soul;
for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation
and wrapped me in a mantle of justice,
like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem,
like a bride bedecked with her jewels.
As the earth brings forth its plants,
and a garden makes its growth spring up,
so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise
spring up before all the nations.

Responsorial Psalm  LK 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54

R. (Is 61:10b) My soul rejoices in my God.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
R. My soul rejoices in my God.
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
R. My soul rejoices in my God.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy.
R. My soul rejoices in my God.

Reading 2  1 THES 5:16-24

Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophetic utterances.
Test everything; retain what is good.
Refrain from every kind of evil.

May the God of peace make you perfectly holy
and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body,
be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful,
and he will also accomplish it.

Alleluia  IS 61:1 (CITED IN LK 4:18)

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  JN 1:6-8, 19-28

A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.And this is the testimony of John.
When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests
and Levites to him
to ask him, “Who are you?”
He admitted and did not deny it,
but admitted, “I am not the Christ.”
So they asked him,
“What are you then? Are you Elijah?”
And he said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
So they said to him,
“Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us?
What do you have to say for yourself?”
He said:
“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘make straight the way of the Lord,'”

as Isaiah the prophet said.”
Some Pharisees were also sent.
They asked him,
“Why then do you baptize
if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?”
John answered them,
“I baptize with water;
but there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”
This happened in Bethany across the Jordan,
where John was baptizing.
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Homily From The Abbott At The Monastery of Christ in the Desert

My Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

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The Prophet Isaiah gives us the theme for reflection today: “In my God is the joy of my soul.” When that is true in our lives, we are walking the road and we know the truth of these words from the same Prophet: “He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God.”

This great Prophet Isaiah believed with his whole being that God would send salvation and redemption for His people. Each one of us can have that same trust and confidence in God: God loves us and will bring us salvation. God invites us to live according to His laws and His wisdom—let us walk the way of the Lord!

This is the 3rd Sunday of Advent and called “Gaudete” Sunday in Latin. It is a Sunday of rejoicing. The entrance song for some centuries was always from the Letter to the Philippians: Rejoice in the Lord always!  Again, I say, rejoice!

The second reading this Sunday picks up the theme of rejoicing: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.” We need to hear both of these realities: rejoice and pray! We can only rejoice always if we are praying without ceasing. God is not asking the impossible of us. We are able to walk through a normal day while keeping Him always in our heart. It is not easy and we shall fail but when we see that God is not in our heart, we can invite Him once more to make us aware of His presence. In that way, we can rejoice and pray all the day long.

The Gospel from Saint John today brings us back to Saint John the Baptist. John the Baptist was a central focus of the Gospel last Sunday and once again is here for us to consider. We should note that John the Baptist is not at all concerned about being considered great or important. His one concern is to point to Jesus Christ: the One who is to come, whose sandal strap he is unworthy to untie.

Saint John the Baptist is a saint of joy because he points always to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. We also can become people of joy when our lives point to Jesus our Lord. We don’t have to be perfect but we do have to keep pointing to the Lord. Just as in the life of John the Baptist, the more we decrease, the more the Lord may increase. It is a challenge for us to live in such a way that we are always witness to the presence of God and God’s love.

The Offertory in the Latin Mass is clear: “Lord, you have blessed your land. You have forgiven the iniquity of your people.” It is because God loves us and forgives us that we can rejoice and be glad. It is because Jesus invites us to live His life that our lives can be witnesses to Him. Let us rejoice and be glad this Sunday as we delight in God’s love.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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17 DECEMBER, 2017, Sunday, 3rd Week of Advent
ANTICIPATING THE JOY OF CHRISTMAS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ISA 61:1-2.10-11; 1 THESS 5:16-24JN 1:6-8.19-28  ]

We are mid-way into our preparation for Christmas. This Sunday, which is the third Sunday of Advent, is celebrated as Gaudete Sunday, which means a Sunday of rejoicing.  To mark the change in sentiment, the liturgical color for this Sunday is pink, a symbol of joy.  Indeed, all the three readings for this Sunday echo the theme of  joy.  In the first reading, the prophet says, “I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation, he has wrapped me in the cloak of integrity, like a bridegroom wearing his wreath, like a bride adorned in her jewels.”  In the responsorial psalm taken from the magnificat, Mary sang for joy. “My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour. He looks on his servant in her nothingness; henceforth all ages will call me blessed.”  In the second reading, St Paul urges the Christians, “Be happy at all times.”  Of course, the fullness of joy comes at Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Christ and most of all, the birth of Christ in our hearts.

However, this does not mean that from now until Christmas we live a life of sadness and emptiness.  The Church invites us to anticipate the joy of Christmas here and now.  Indeed, the truth of every great celebration is not just the day of the celebration itself, which of course is the climax.  Rather, the joy of the celebration is dependent on two factors; the preparation before it and the day itself.  Both are very much inter-related.  The depth of the joy of the day of the celebration is very much dependent on how much we have prepared ourselves for it.  On the other hand, in the very act of the preparation, we are already entering into the joy of the celebration.

This is true in a wedding, the symbol of joy as mentioned in today’s first reading.  The climax of the celebration in a person’s life is his or her wedding.  But it takes months, if not years, to come to this day.  There are so many things to be done before the wedding day.  The relationship between the couple must be intensified.  Rough corners and disagreements must be sorted and ironed out.  Reconciliation and forgiveness for each other’s negligence or wrongs should take place before the wedding so that the couple can start on a new chapter.  Then there is the material preparation for the wedding, the dinner, the gowns, the invitations, etc.  Most of all, the couple needs spiritual preparation for their wedding so that they know what they are entering into, their commitments, responsibilities and the important role that God and faith play in their relationship.   Until all these have been done, the couple would not be ready to enter into marriage.

This is the real problem facing marriages today.  Many are taking marriage lightly and that is why many marriages do not last. Today, there is a tendency to secularize the wedding and make it into a mundane and everyday affair.  The solemnity and sacredness of the wedding is emptied from the celebration.  Many think that the wedding is an entertainment.  They marry in the sky, in the sea, underneath the water, on the cliff, etc.   There is no seriousness in wanting the marriage to last.  There is a lack of emotional and spiritual preparation of the couple for the wedding.  Many get married when they are emotionally not ready, because they are still suffering the loss of a previous relationship and in their vacuum, they readily jump into another relationship.   When marriages are not well prepared, we do not expect any solemn celebration.  It is just another social gathering.

But if there is preparation, the marriage will become sacred and meaningful.  The love that is celebrated on the wedding day will be intense.  Most of all, the preparations for the wedding itself will bring great joy for the couple as they get ready for that big day together, sharing the joys, the difficulties and the partnership.

What is true for the celebration of marriage is true for all other celebrations, especially the feast of Christmas.  The question is whether we are seriously preparing for the feast of Christmas.  This is what the Church is asking of us through John the Baptist.  The gospel tells us, “A man came, sent by God. His name was John.  He came as a witness, as a witness to speak for the light, so that everyone might believe through him. He was not the light, only a witness to speak for the light.”   It is the task of John the Baptist to do what the prophet Isaiah said, to be “a voice that cries in the wilderness: Make a straight way for the Lord.”

The work of John the Baptist was to prepare the people to meet the bridegroom.  The Church is called the bride of God and Jesus is our bridegroom.  St John calls himself the friend of the bridegroom.  He said later, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease.”  (Jn 3:28-30)

How can we be prepared to meet the bridegroom?  What kind of wedding preparations must we make to welcome the bridegroom on Christmas day?  Firstly, we need to “make a straight way for the Lord.”  This was what St Paul wrote to the Christians, “Hold on to what is good and avoid every form of evil. May the God of peace make you perfect and holy; and may you all be kept safe and blameless, spirit, soul and body, for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has called you and he will not fail you.”  If we want to enter into the joy of Christmas, and to welcome the birth of Jesus in our hearts, we must free our hearts from all sins, evil and selfishness.  When we live a life of integrity, there will be peace and joy in our hearts.  This is what the prophet says, “I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation, he has wrapped me in the cloak of integrity, like a bridegroom wearing his wreath, like a bride adorned in her jewels.”   Without living a life of integrity and honesty, our conscience will haunt us and take away whatever joy and peace the Lord wants to give to us at Christmas.  If we have begun to walk a straight path, we are already entering into the joy of the Lord.

Secondly, we need to pray.  St Paul said, “Be happy at all times; pray constantly.”  There can be no peace in our hearts unless we make space for Him in our hearts and in our minds.  The problem is that our hearts and minds are cluttered with worries, anxieties, unforgiveness, anger, resentment, envy and greed.   We need to make time for prayer.  Give yourself a break, a real holiday by spending a day or even a few days in solitude and prayer, whether in a retreat house or in the garden, or take a walk or sit before the Blessed Sacrament.  We need to have some quiet time each day, especially when we come to the end of the year.  We need to take stock of how we have lived our life this entire year.  We need to rethink and reprioritize the way we live our lives.  Unless we live purposeful and meaningful lives, we cannot find happiness and peace.  Prayer gives us peace, direction, focus and most of all, surrender to the plan of God.

Thirdly, we must give thanks.  St Paul says, “And for all things give thanks to God, because this is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus.”   Unless, we know how to thank God for the gifts which we have received, we will not be grateful to Him.  Happiness in life is about thanksgiving.  Those of us who are ingrates are always looking at what we do not have instead of what we already have.  When we give thanks, we become grateful for what we have received and we are open to God who wants to give us more.  When we are grateful, we also become generous ourselves. We begin to share with others what we have received.  By sharing with others our joys, our resources, our wealth and our things, we in turn receive the joy of making a difference in the lives of others.  We become happier when we act like God in being life-givers, bringers of joy and peace into the lives of others.  That is why we invite people to give gifts to each other at Christmas, especially to the poor, so that we can partake in His joy of giving and loving.

Finally, we must ask for a renewal of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  St John the Baptist said, “I baptise with water; but there stands among you – unknown to you – the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap.”  St Luke elaborated, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  (Lk 3:16)   To ask for the Holy Spirit is to ask for a rebirth.  The baptism of John the Baptist brings about the forgiveness of sins.  Christian baptism brings about the bestowal of the Holy Spirit.  This is what it means to speak about Christ being born again in our hearts.

This is what will enable us to be like John the Baptist, to be a witness to Christ.  Like the Messiah prophesied in the first reading, we can also say, “The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken; to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison; to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.”  We must allow the Spirit and His gifts to be used for the service of God and our people.   As we bring Christ to others, we reinforce the Christ in us.  It is the Holy Spirit living in us that will ensure we bear fruits in our mission.  “For as the earth makes fresh things grow, as a garden makes seeds spring up, so will the Lord make both integrity and praise spring up in the sight of the nations.”

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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The Good Samaritan by Walter Rane.
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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13 DECEMBER 2015, 3rd Sunday of Advent
THE NEARNESS OF THE LORD AS THE CAUSE OF OUR JOY

SCRIPTURE READINGS: ZEPH 3:14-18; PHIL 4:4-7; LK 3:10-18

We have just passed the halfway mark of Advent.  This third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as “Rejoice Sunday”. What is the reason for the Church’s joy this Sunday?  Simply this: because the Lord is very near.   Yes, we have every reason to be happy today because God has forgiven us unconditionally.  There is no need to think of our past.  We must let go of our crippling past, which is our greatest enemy, so that the new life of joy and happiness can be ours.  We need not let fear and guilt control our lives.  We must not allow our narrow outlook of life and resentment to blind us to the goodness that God has given to us.

For this reason, the mood of today’s liturgy is one of joy and festival.  We might think that we are hopeless, great sinners and condemned to a life of misery and unhappiness.  But to us all, the scriptures want to tell us that happiness is within our reach.  Happiness is so near to us.  God is coming into our hearts.  But we must open our hearts to receive Him.

How?  By removing the obstacles that prevent Him from coming into our lives and being present to us; for it is His absence that results in emptiness and sadness since there is no love in us.  What then are these obstacles?

Firstly, we must remove the obstacle of selfishness and a closed heart.  This is what John demanded of the people.  He said, “If anyone has two tunics he must share with the one who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.”  In saying this, John is not simply asking us to share our abundance.  He is not saying, “You have three shirts, please give away one.”  No, he is saying, “Keep only one for yourself.  The rest, please give to those who do not have.”  In other words, John is saying that anything above our basic needs must be shared with others.

The truth is that unless we have a compassionate, loving and generous heart, we cannot share the heart of Christ.  The inability to share and to love will make us inward looking.  As a result, we become cut off not only from God but from others as well.  To be able to have a greater capacity to love and to share means to have a larger heart, which is to share in the heart of God.

Secondly, John says that we must live an honest life.  To the tax collectors, John said, “Exact no more than your rate.”  Why?  Because it was bad enough that they were collecting taxes for the Romans, their oppressors but to collect more than what they should so that they could keep the balance for themselves is to cheat the poor and increase the misery of the poor.  The flip side of this dishonesty and greed is that we will find no peace in our hearts.  We will live in guilt and fear.  Indeed, without a life of honesty and integrity, we cannot find peace in our hearts.  We live in fear that one day the truth might be out.

Thirdly, we are called to live a contented life.  Indeed, contentment is a necessary pre-requisite for happiness.  When we are not contented with what we have, then we become envious, jealous and greedy.  We begin to find fault with others.  We become vindictive and revengeful.  Some of us might even use unscrupulous means to get what we want.  As a result not only do we create competitors and enemies, robbing ourselves of our happiness, but also the happiness of others.  Contentment is the key to peace and happiness in our hearts.

But how can we live a compassionate, honest and contented life?  If we rely only on our own strength, we will fail.  Humanly speaking, most of us are self-centered and discontented in life.  For this reason, we need to pray.  Yes, we need to pray for the grace of God to remove those obstacles in our lives that prevent us from being happy and at peace within ourselves.  What then should we pray for?

We must pray for the virtue of humility, which is the ultimate antidote to removing these blocks to happiness in our lives.  For good reason, therefore, St Paul urges us to pray with thanksgiving.   Unless, we are grateful to God, we cannot be open to others, we cannot be contented nor be generous with others.  Gratitude is a pre-requisite for compassion and generosity.

Why is humility so essential for us to overcome our unhappiness in life?  Only humility can make us compassionate, for we recognize whom we are and how much God has blessed us.   And because of what God has done for us in our poverty, we too begin to feel with and for others; especially when God had reached out to us in the first place through others.

Secondly, only humility can make us recognize our selfishness and our pride.  Very often we do not know the reason for our resentment against others.  We do not know why we are angry with them.  We find all kinds of excuses to justify our anger and unhappiness.  But quite often, when we examine deeper the reasons for our anger, it boils down to nothing else but pride and greed.  Being humble enables us to acknowledge the root of our problems and this prevents us from finding scapegoats to exonerate ourselves.

Thirdly, only humility can grant us the joy of contentment.  To be contented with what we already have is the secret to real happiness in life.  Contentment comes when we recognize that we are not deserving of what we have.  Instead of always thinking that we have not been paid enough or that we have not been given our rights, we must be grateful for all the blessings that we already have received.  Without the gift of contentment, we will always be hankering for more.  This will only increase our envy of others and bitterness in life.  Thus, when we are contented, we live an integral life and honest life.

But most of all, humility is the key to allowing the power of God to work in our lives.  When we are humble, we become more open to God’s grace.  Thus, when St Paul asks us to pray with thanksgiving, he is asking us to pray with faith that we have already received what we have prayed for. To pray with the expectation of our prayers being answered implies that we have surrendered ourselves to the Lord and we know that He will always grant us all that we need and is good for us.  And those petitions that He will not grant us, we consider them as not in accordance with His will because it will not bring us real happiness and joy.

Thus, when we have removed all these obstacles, the chaff of the wheat, as John would put it, then we will find the Lord is so near to us, in our midst and in our hearts.  Truly, like the Israelites who had been purified during their time of exile, we who are purified of our selfishness, guilt and greed will find the love and joy of God in us. His presence becomes real because we would have acquired His Spirit of love and compassion.

With the felt presence of God’s love in our hearts, we will naturally be freed from all anxiety. The anxieties and the ensuing fear in our lives will simply disappear by themselves because we live in trust in divine providence.  We will have the confidence that somehow the Lord is watching over us and protecting us.  With that confidence, we need not allow greed to dominate our lives.  Only trust in divine providence can truly free us from dishonesty, greed and selfishness, which are the fruits of fear of destruction.  With fear destroyed, now we will be able to love, to share and have compassion for others.

But above everything else, when we are filled with the Spirit of God, we will experience the peace of God in our hearts.  Yes, it is this peace within ourselves that will truly make us happy.  With peace in our hearts, we will look at others and this whole world with peace too.  Peace in our hearts empowers us to look at life, our sufferings and even our enemies differently.  We will no longer see them with hatred but with understanding, compassion and detachment.  That is why St Paul says that only the peace of God can guard our hearts and thoughts because we will be able to look at life with a horizon beyond ourselves.

Truly, with the presence of God within us, then we know that God is so near.  The more He is present to us, the nearer Christmas is for us.  This is because at Christmas we celebrate the Emmanuel, God with us, but not only with us but also in us.  So if we have not yet been purified of those chaffs in our lives, let us continue to pray with thanksgiving as Paul urges us so that by the time Christmas arrives, He would have been borne in our hearts once again; a birth that entails the giving of His Spirit peace, love and joy.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

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http://www.catholic.org.sg/archbishop/scripture-reflection/

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