Posts Tagged ‘God is gracious’

Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, June 24, 2018 — “The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.”

June 23, 2018

He made of me a sharp-edged sword — He made me a polished arrow

For surely the hand of the Lord was with him

God wants us all to reflect the mysteries of God and to point to God by everything in our lives.

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John the Baptist, wood carving

Elizabeth and Zechariah named him, “John” which in Hebrew means, “God is gracious.”

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist – Mass during the Day
Lectionary: 587

Reading 1 IS 49:1-6

Hear me, O coastlands,
listen, O distant peoples.
The LORD called me from birth,
from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.
He made of me a sharp-edged sword
and concealed me in the shadow of his arm.
He made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me.
You are my servant, he said to me,
Israel, through whom I show my glory.Though I thought I had toiled in vain,
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
yet my reward is with the LORD,
my recompense is with my God.
For now the LORD has spoken
who formed me as his servant from the womb,
that Jacob may be brought back to him
and Israel gathered to him;
and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD,
and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 139:1B-3, 13-14AB, 14C-15

R. (14) I praise you, for I am wonderfully made.
O LORD, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and when I stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
My journeys and my rest you scrutinize,
with all my ways you are familiar.
R. I praise you for I am wonderfully made.
Truly you have formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works.
R. I praise you, for I am wonderfully made.
My soul also you knew full well;
nor was my frame unknown to you
When I was made in secret,
when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth.
R. I praise you, for I am wonderfully made.

Reading 2  ACTS 13:22-26

In those days, Paul said:
“God raised up David as king;
of him God testified,
I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart;
he will carry out my every wish.

From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise,
has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.
John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance
to all the people of Israel;
and as John was completing his course, he would say,
‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he.
Behold, one is coming after me;
I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.’

“My brothers, sons of the family of Abraham,
and those others among you who are God-fearing,
to us this word of salvation has been sent.”

Alleluia  SEE LK 1:76

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
You, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  LK 1:57-66, 80

When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child
she gave birth to a son.
Her neighbors and relatives heard
that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her,
and they rejoiced with her.
When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child,
they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,
but his mother said in reply,
“No. He will be called John.”
But they answered her,
“There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”
So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.
He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,”
and all were amazed.
Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed,
and he spoke blessing God.
Then fear came upon all their neighbors,
and all these matters were discussed
throughout the hill country of Judea.
All who heard these things took them to heart, saying,
“What, then, will this child be?”
For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.
The child grew and became strong in spirit,
and he was in the desert until the day
of his manifestation to Israel.
Reflection From The Monastery of Christ in the Desert

My sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ,

Instead of the regular Sunday Mass, today we have the Birth of Saint John the Baptist.  John the Baptist has a huge role in the life of Jesus and prepares others to know of the coming of salvation and of Jesus.  John the Baptist was recognized as a strong religious presence before Jesus was recognized—and John always points to Jesus.  In the same way, you and I must learn always to point to Jesus by the way we live our lives and in our speaking, writing and thinking.

The first reading today is from the Prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah tells us of his own awareness that God had called him to be a servant of God’s presence in all that he does.  Isaiah realized that God had created him to testify to God’s presence and to proclaim God’s presence in his life.  This reading reflects an awareness that many of the prophets had that God wants us all to reflect the mysteries of God and to point to God by everything in our lives.

You and I are invited today to know that God is also calling us in the same way, with the same intensity.  God loves us.  God wants us.  God wants us to proclaim His presence and His works to everyone.  Most of us don’t do that in our lives, but our not doing it does not change God’s wanting it.

The second reading is from the Acts of the Apostles.  It reflects another human trait:  when we someone good, we tend to think of them not only as set apart, but better than ourselves.  The challenge is that God wants us all to be saints.  The word “saint” makes us think of someone better than ourselves.  God wants us all to be saints, not to look better than others, but to reflect His goodness and love to all.  It is always the challenge of doing only what God wants.  This is the challenge of spiritual combat and we are all invited to such spiritual combat.

Saint John the Baptist took up the challenge of doing God’s will and tried to do God’s will with all his being.  John the Baptist took up the spiritual combat of not doing his will but God’s will.

The Gospel today, from Saint Luke, tells the things that happened before the birth of John the Baptist.  The neighbors all knew that there was something special about this child.  We can all claim that there was nothing special about our birth, but it is not so.  The birth of new life, of a new child, is always special—but we don’t pay attention to that aspect.  Today as there are fewer and fewer births in the western world, we begin to see how special each one is.  Only as we begin to pay attention to God do we begin to understand how special each human being is and how each human being can draw others to God and to the mysteries of faith.

May we come to know how special each life is, our own included, and how each of us can point to the Lord Jesus and draw others to Him.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip


Prayer and Meditation for Friday, December 23, 2016 — “What, then, will this child be? For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.” — Zechariah’s song of praise

December 22, 2016

Friday of the Fourth Week in Advent
Lectionary: 199

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The Birth of John the Baptist, 1554 By Tintoretto

Reading 1 ML 3:1-4, 23-24

Thus says the Lord GOD:
Lo, I am sending my messenger
to prepare the way before me;
And suddenly there will come to the temple
the LORD whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like the refiner’s fire,
or like the fuller’s lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.
Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem
will please the LORD,
as in the days of old, as in years gone by.Lo, I will send you
Elijah, the prophet,
Before the day of the LORD comes,
the great and terrible day,
To turn the hearts of the fathers to their children,
and the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike
the land with doom.

Responsorial Psalm PS 25:4-5AB, 8-9, 10 AND 14

R. (see Luke 21:28) Lift up your heads and see; your redemption is near at hand.
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. Lift up your heads and see; your redemption is near at hand.
Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
he teaches the humble his way.
R. Lift up your heads and see; your redemption is near at hand.
All the paths of the LORD are kindness and constancy
toward those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
The friendship of the LORD is with those who fear him,
and his covenant, for their instruction.
R. Lift up your heads and see; your redemption is near at hand.


R. Alleluia, alleluia.
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 1:57-66

When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child
she gave birth to a son.
Her neighbors and relatives heard
that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her,
and they rejoiced with her.
When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child,
they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,
but his mother said in reply,
“No. He will be called John.”
But they answered her,
“There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”
So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.
He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,”
and all were amazed.
Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed,
and he spoke blessing God.
Then fear came upon all their neighbors,
and all these matters were discussed
throughout the hill country of Judea.
All who heard these things took them to heart, saying,
“What, then, will this child be?
For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.”

John The Baptist is Born

Our principal sources of information about John the Baptist are:

(1) references to his birth in the first chapter of Luke,

(2) references to his preaching and his martyrdom in the Gospels, with a few references in Acts, and

(3) references in Josephus to his preaching and martyrdom, references which are consistent with the New Testament ones, but sufficiently different in the details to make direct borrowing unlikely.

According to the Jewish historian Josephus (who wrote after 70 Ad), John the Baptist was a Jewish preacher in the time of Pontius Pilate (Ad 26-36). He called the people to repentance and to a renewal of their covenant relation with God. He was imprisoned and eventually put to death by Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great, who was king when Jesus was born) for denouncing Herod’s marriage to Herodias, the wife of his still-living brother Philip. In order to marry Herodias, Herod divorced his first wife, the daughter of King Aretas of Damascus, who subsequently made war on Herod, a war which, Josephus tells us, was regarded by devout Jews as a punishment for Herod’s murder of the prophet John.

In the Book of Acts, we find sermons about Jesus which mention His Baptism by John as the beginning of His public ministry (see Acts 10:37; 11:16; 13:24). We also find accounts (see Acts 18:24; 19:3) of devout men in Greece who had received the baptism of John, and who gladly received the full message of the Gospel of Christ when it was told them.

Luke begins his Gospel by describing an aged, devout, childless couple, the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. As Zechariah is serving in the Temple, he sees the angel Gabriel, who tells him that he and his wife will have a son who will be a great prophet, and will go before the Lord “like Elijah.” (The Jewish tradition had been that Elijah would herald the coming of the Messiah = Christ = Annointed = Chosen of God.) Zechariah went home, and his wife conceived. About six months later, Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary, a kinswoman of Elizabeth, and told her that she was about to bear a son who would be called Son of the Most High, a king whose kingdom would never end. Thus Elizabeth gave birth to John, and Mary gave birth six months later to Jesus.

After describing the birth of John, Luke says that he grew, and “was in the wilderness until the day of his showing to Israel.” The people of the Qumran settlement, which produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, sometime use the term “living in the wilderness” to refer to residing in their community at Qumran near the Dead Sea. Accordingly, it has been suggested that John spent some of his early years being educated at Qumran.

All of the gospels tell us that John preached and baptized beside the Jordan river, in the wilderness of Judea. He called on his hearers to repent of their sins, be baptized, amend their lives, and prepare for the coming of the Kingship of God. He spoke of one greater than himself who was to come after. Jesus came to be baptized, and John told some of his disciples, “This is the man I spoke of.” After His baptism by John, Jesus began to preach, and attracted many followers. In fact, many who had been followers of John left him to follow Jesus. Some of John’s followers resented this, but he told them: “This is as it should be. My mission is to proclaim the Christ. The groomsman, the bridegroom’s friend, who makes the wedding arrangements for the bridegroom, is not jealous of the bridegroom. No more am I of Jesus. He must increase, and I must decrease.” (John 3:22-30)

John continued to preach, reproving sin and calling on everyone to repent. King Herod Antipas had divorced his wife and taken Herodias, the wife of his (still living) brother Philip. John rebuked him for this, and Herod, under pressure from Herodias, had John arrested, and eventually beheaded. He is remembered on some calendars on the supposed anniversary of his beheading, 29 August.

When John had been in prison for a while, he sent some of his followers to Jesus to ask, “Are you he that is to come, or is there another?” (Matthew 11:2-14) One way of understanding the question is as follows: “It was revealed to me that you are Israel’s promised deliverer, and when I heard this, I rejoiced. I expected you to drive out Herod and the Romans, and rebuild the kindom of David. But here I sit in prison, and there is no deliverance in sight? Perhaps I am ahead of schedule, and you are going to throw out the Romans next year. Perhaps I have misunderstood, and you have a different mission, and the Romans bit will be done by someone else. Please let me know what is happening.”

Jesus replied by telling the messengers, “Go back to John, and tell him what you have seen, the miracles of healing and other miracles, and say, ‘Blessed is he who does not lose faith in me.'”

He then told the crowds: “John is a prophet and more than a prophet. He is the one spoken of in Malachi 3:1, the messenger who comes to prepare the way of the Lord. No man born of woman is greater than John, but the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John.”

This has commonly been understood to mean that John represents the climax of the long tradition of Jewish prophets looking forward to the promised deliverance, but that the deliverance itself is a greater thing. John is the climax of the Law. He lives in the wilderness, a life with no frills where food and clothing are concerned. He has renounced the joys of family life, and dedicated himself completely to him mission of preaching, of calling people to an observance of the law, to ordinary standards of virtue. In terms of natural goodness, no one is better than John. But he represents Law, not Grace. Among men born of woman, among the once-born, he has no superior. But anyone who has been born anew in the kingdom of God has something better than what John symbolizes. (Note that to say that John symbolizes something short of the Kingdom is not to say that John is himself excluded from the Kingdom.)

Traditionally, the Birth of Jesus is celebrated on 25 December. That means that the Birth of John is celebrated six months earlier on 24 June. The appearance of Gabriel to Mary, being assumed to be nine months before the birth of Jesus, is celebrated on 25 March and called the Annunciation, and the appearance of Gabriel to Zechariah in the Temple is celebrated by the East Orthodox on 23 September. At least for Christians in the Northern Hamisphere, these dates embody a rich symbolism. (Note: Listmembers living in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, southern South America, or elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, press your delete keys Now!) John is the last voice of the Old Covenant, the close of the Age of Law. Jesus is the first voice of the New Covenant, the beginning of the Age of Grace. Accordingly, John is born to an elderly, barren woman, born when it is really too late for her to be having a child, while Jesus is born to a young virgin, born when it is really too early for her to be having a child. John is announced (and conceived) at the autumnal equinox, when the leaves are dying and falling from the trees. Jesus is announced (and conceived) at the vernal equinox, when the green buds are bursting forth on the trees and there are signs of new life everywhere. John is born when the days are longest, and from his birth on they grow steadily shorter. Jesus is born when the days are shortest, and from his birth on they grow steadily longer. John speaks truly when he says of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

(Of course, it is to be noted that none of this symbolism proves anything, since the Scriptures do not tell us that Jesus was born on 25 December. The symbolism of the dates is used by Christians, not as evidence, but as material for the devout imagination.)

PRAYER (traditional language)

Almighty God, by whose providence thy servant John the Baptist Was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and after his example constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

PRAYER (contemporary language)

Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist Was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

First Lesson: Isaiah 40:1-11 (Isaiah speaks of someone who will cry out, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”)

Psalm 85 (The long exile is over, God has retored his people, mercy and truth are reconciled.)

Second Lesson: Acts 13:14b-26 (Paul preaches about Christ, and how the prophets, including John the Baptist, all pointed forward to him.)

The Holy Gospel: Luke 1:57-80 (The birth of John the Baptist; his father Zechariah’s song of praise.)

Image may contain: 3 people, people sitting
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s painting The Birth of Saint John the Baptist, 1655

Commentary on  Luke 1:57-66 From Living Space


As we approach the day of Jesus’ birth, the Gospel today speaks of the birth of John the Baptist.  It is a day of particular joy for Elizabeth as her shame is wiped out.  She can now stand tall in the presence of her family and neighbours.  “Her neighbours and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her and they rejoiced with her.”

In accordance with custom, the boy is to be circumcised on the eighth day and a name given to him.  Everyone presumes he will be given the name of his father but Elizabeth says his name is to be John. People protested: “There is no one in your family with that name.” Zechariah, the father, is consulted.  Since his dialogue with the angel he cannot speak so he is given a tablet on which to write.  Simply he states: “His name is John.”  And with that his tongue was loosed and he could speak and praise God.

This incident became the talk of the whole district and people began to ask each other, “What then will this child be?”  They knew that these unusual happenings all pointed to a special calling for the child.

The circumstances of the birth and circumcision of the child emphasise John’s incorporation into the people of Israel.  We will find the same emphasis with Jesus.

Luke shows that those who play crucial roles in the inauguration of Christianity to be wholly a part of the people of Israel. At the end of the Acts of the Apostles, he will argue that Christianity is the direct descendant of Pharisaic Judaism” (New American Bible, loc. cit.; cf. Acts 21:20; 22:3; 23:6-9; 24:14-16; 26:2-8, 22-23).

I too can ask the same question about myself: “What then am I called to be?”  No matter what age I am there is still life ahead of me, be it long or short.  What is my destiny?  What does God want of me? What contributions can I make to other people’s lives?  God has expectations of me, based on the gifts he has given to me.  Let me reflect on what they might be and how I can make good use of them.




Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
23 DECEMBER, 2016, Friday, Weekday of Advent
SCRIPTURE READINGS: Mal 3:1-4, 23-24; Luke 1:57-66   ]

Many today live without much hope for the future.  Their future is rather bleak, if not hopeless.  They are not in good health.  They have financial woes and debts to clear.  In the family front, there is squabbling and cold war among members of the family, including between parents.  At work, there is so much politics and worst of all, harassment and discrimination by colleagues and superiors.  They are picked at all the time and humiliated.  In studies, they are not doing well and are alone without any support. In such situations, it is no wonder they feel like giving up.  They are still in the tunnel with no sign of light yet.  An early death is what they expect and hope.  But God is not going to allow us to give up hope and life so easily.

Today, the scripture readings exhort us to believe in the future.  There is a future for all of us.  Every birth is a sign of hope.  Every child born means that God is with us. Children give us hope for the future. What we cannot do, we hope they will be able to do when they grow up.  The folks of Zechariah remarked, “What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.”  So long as there are children, the future of humanity is secured.  That is why when married couples choose not to have any children, they are telling us that this world has no future.  So why bring children into this world and let them suffer?  Many couples are thus living just for today and for themselves because there is no future beyond themselves.

Why is there no sense of the future? Why this apathy?  The self-centeredness of man and his egotism makes him lose hope of the future.  He is always thinking about himself and he thinks he can do all things by his own power.  When he comes to a situation and finds that he is not so powerful after all, then he falls into depression.  A sickness can strike, business can collapse, family tragedy can happen.  When confronted with insurmountable obstacles, after giving up on God, he has no one to turn to except death and destruction.

Gratitude is the presupposition of hope.  When we are grateful, we have happy memories of past events in our lives.  We remember all the good things the Lord has done for us.  Knowing God is gracious will spare us much anxiety for we know He will bless us.  So we have the example of Mary who in yesterday’s gospel sang in thanksgiving for God’s mercy, not just towards her but towards Israel as well.  Today, Elizabeth too was filled with gratitude at God’s benevolence.  “Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zachariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’” 

When John the Baptist was born, Zechariah, who had been silent all this while as he was struck dumb, opened his lips to pronounce God’s gracious.  He asked “for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John’. And they were all astonished. At that instant, his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God.”  What a significant reminder for all that God is gracious.  This memory is more important than remembering his family line.  Zechariah and his wife were not bothered whether their family line would become extinct with the death of their only son.  For them, the fact that they could conceive a child at their old age and barren too, means that their future is now totally in the hands of God.   It is not in their hands.  They knew that only God can determine their future.  Hence, there was no need to insist that the child takes on the name of Zechariah to continue the past.  Rather, with the name, John, “God is gracious”, it means there will always be a future.  God will look after them.   God who is gracious will ensure their survival and continuity.  And so indeed, they are remembered forever in humanity and in the scriptures.

God too has been gracious to us in so many ways.  Have we forgotten the many times when the Lord was gracious to us and helped us again and again?  Before you count your woes and lose focus, count your blessings and you will see sufferings in the context of blessings and joys.  We all have our trials and challenges in life.  But we have received far more, countless blessings and gifts from the Lord.  He has given us life and relatively good health.  We have a comfortable shelter and we are not living under the heat of the sun, like the refugees.  We have more than enough food to sustain and enjoy as well.

Indeed, the Lord is always gracious even when we forget His goodness, like the Israelites who returned from exile in today’s first reading. They never learnt from their history and the lessons that history had taught them.  In a short time, they lost faith in God and continued with their sinful life.  Many were not serious in their worship of God. They forgot so quickly how gracious God was to them, that whenever they cried, the Lord heard them.  In spite of our incorrigibility, when we sin, the Lord continues to send us prophets and messengers to free us from sin and lead us to repentance “Know that I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before my day comes, that great and terrible day. He shall turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the hearts of children towards their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse.”  Most of all, Christ gives Himself to us not just in the sacraments but especially in the Eucharist.

If there is no gratitude in our hearts, it is simply because there is no real repentance or conviction that our sins are hurting us deeply and our loved ones, slowly but surely.  Many take the sacrament of reconciliation for granted.  During Advent and Lent, many go for the Penitential service but very few are really prepared for confession.  They did not take time to reflect on their actions, do a proper examen so that they can learn and recognize their mistakes and weaknesses.  Because self-awareness is not there, there can be no true conversion of heart and mind.  A superficial encounter with Christ in the sacrament of reconciliation can hardly change lives.  We need to reflect on His love and mercy, especially at the birth of our Lord to understand and appreciate the utter sacrifice and love of God for us.  This will help us to avoid taking God’s grace for granted, given at the price of His Son’s life.

The Lord is near.  The psalmist exhorts us,Stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.”   He is coming again and again, not just in the past.   “Look, I am going to send my messenger to prepare a way before me. And the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple; and the angel of the covenant whom you are longing for, yes, he is coming, says the Lord of host.”  God is gracious.  He comes in the future.  He comes here and now whenever we open our eyes to recognize Him in our fellowmen and in every event of our lives; He enters into our heart whenever we are open to His love and mercy. Let us welcome the Lord into our lives.  “Who will be able to resist the day of his coming? Who will remain standing when he appears? For his is like the refiner’s fire and the fullers’ alkali. He will take his sear as the refiner and the purifier; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and then they will make the offering to the Lord as it should be made.”   Let us not resist His coming if we want to find hope for the future.

We are ready to welcome the Lord if we listen to His word, and live accordingly. With the psalmist, we pray “Lord, make me know your ways. Lord, teach me your paths. Make me walk in your truth, and teach me: for you are God my saviour.  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.  His ways are faithfulness and love for those who keep his covenant and law. The Lord’s friendship is for those who revere him; to them he reveals his covenant.”  So take courage.  He is near.  He is here in our hearts.  Come let us adore Him, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end for all time belongs to Him, forever and ever.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh

Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, January 1, 2014 — God desires that we seek forgiveness and come back to Him not by force, but by our free will

January 1, 2014

The Octave Day of the Nativity of the Lord Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God Lectionary: 18

Reading 1 nm 6:22-27


The LORD said to Moses: “Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: This is how you shall bless the Israelites. Say to them: The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace! So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

Responsorial Psalm ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8


R/ (2a) May God bless us in his mercy. May God have pity on us and bless us; may he let his face shine upon us. So may your way be known upon earth; among all nations, your salvation. R/ May God bless us in his mercy. May the nations be glad and exult because you rule the peoples in equity; the nations on the earth you guide. R/ May God bless us in his mercy. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you! May God bless us, and may all the ends of the earth fear him! R/ May God bless us in his mercy.

reading 2 gal 4:4-7


Brothers and sisters: When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God.


Gospel lk 2:16-21


The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
Like many others, I was absent from the Church and hiding from God  for a long times.
I was not a “fallen away” Catholic. I was a deserter. I ran after the sins of the flesh — not away from them.
But, just as Archbishop Goh writes about below, “God desired that we come back to him  not by force, but by our own free will.”
Many alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes and other like themselves say returning to God is the most perfect medicine for the heart and soul.
The antidote to fear is faith.
There is mention of something else very profound and powerful today.
“So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God. (Galatians 4:  6-7)
These lines from Galatians add to what we already know: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
To me, Galatians  4: 6-7 is one of several placed in the scripture that tells us we can actually have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit inside us — helping us to grow closer to Christ each day!

Prayer for the Indwelling of the Spirit (By St. Augustine of Hippo)

Holy Spirit, powerful Consoler, sacred Bond of the Father and the Son, Hope of the afflicted, descend into my heart and establish in it your loving dominion. Enkindle in my tepid soul the fire of your Love so that I may be wholly subject to you. We believe that when you dwell in us, yolu also prepare a dwelling for the Father and the Son. Deign, therefore, to come to me, Consoler of abandoned souls, and Protector of the needy. Help the afflicted, strengthen the weak, and support the wavering. Come and purify me. Let no evil desire take possession of me. You love the humble and resist the proud. Come to me, glory of the living, and hope of the dying. Lead me by your grace that I may always be pleasing to you. Amen.
—Saint Augustine of Hippo
Homily Ideas by St. Andrew’s Abbey (Benedictine monastery), Valyermo, California

Today, as so many in the world celebrate the beginning of a new year, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Mother of God. It is the oldest of all Marian feasts in our liturgy. It is also a feast uniquely appropriate to those of us concerned with new beginnings, with new resolutions, and renewed hopes.

To the consternation of many non Catholics, we sometimes let personal forms of piety towards Mary obscure the reasons behind our Church’s devotion to her. Perhaps we, in our personal emotional involvement with Mary, even lose sight of her genuine place in our faith and Church, we run the very real risk of simply sentimentalizing her, and thereby trivializing Christ.

In fact there is very little in scripture that paints an historical portrait of Mary. What the church offers in its devotion towards her, however, is its own spiritual and prayerful experience, its reflections on her throughout the millennia. And this is, ultimately, to the good, because what we today understand of our Lady is a reflection of the Church’s prayer and insight, of the Church being led by the Holy Spirit to develop an understanding of why Mary does in fact have a special role in our lives.

But we ought always to remember that development in the Church is about one thing only: that in our attempt to understand God, we grow in comprehension of the meaning of the Incarnation in our world and life. It is in this light that we must reflect on the Virgin Mary, Theotokos, Mother of God, mother of Jesus Incarnate. And just as Mary interpreted all things, pondered all things, in her heart, so does the Church reflect on her and the Incarnation through its liturgy, its writings and its faith. That is why her oldest feast is celebrated within the octave of Christmas, of Emmanuel, of God with us: for all devotion to Mary is a corollary to our devotion to, following of, and worship of Christ.

Today’s readings help clarify this devotion, because they so intimately hint at the essential connection between Mary and her Son.

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians tells us that by being born of a woman, born under the law, the son of God fully participates in the human condition. He is one of us, because of Mary. The very fact of Mary’s physicality, her embodiedness, her fleshliness, and therefore Jesus’ own body, is the saving link between God and humanity. Through this link Paul writes that we become heirs of Christ, and intimately understand God as Abba, the way her Son understood His Father. It is Mary’s profound human kinship with Jesus that allows us to see in her a pledge of the destiny that God has promised all his children. Mary becomes the measure of who we are and who we are to be, and are even now becoming through grace in our lives as she, full of grace, was. The great 14th century English mystic Dame Julian of Norwich wrote that in Mary “our Lord speaks to all mankind as [if he] were [speaking] to one person,… [saying] ‘Do you want to see in Her how you are loved?” In effect, in understanding Mary we begin to understand ourselves as loved by God.

The gospel we have heard today is almost an exact repeat of what was read at the Dawn Mass on Christmas. It is worth noting that in this gospel the shepherds, considered among the marginalized, the poor, the outsider, are those first informed of Christ’s birth, and who first visit the infant Jesus. It is the outsider who bears the good news of what the angels have announced: that the Saviour, the Messiah, the Lord, has been born. It is the outsider that helps Mary to deeply know her Son. In Luke, Mary represents the ideal believer, for she hears the good news and ponders it in her heart, and fully responds to it. Her heart becomes the place of discovering Jesus, and who he truly is. As our own hearts must become that place of response. Mary’s entire life, and the Church’s entire life, is centred on that process of pondering who that child now born to us really is. Mary in contemplating her son becomes the Church reflecting on the Incarnation. It is this aspect of Mary’s motherhood that is most important for our new year, a year in which we continue our own journey of the heart towards God.

We make a major mistake if we think that from the moment of the Annunciation Mary completely knew, or understood, the full significance of her Son. Mary pondered on who that child would be from her “Yes” at the Annunciation, when the first cells of God incarnate began to grow and divide within her, to his birth and squalling infancy, his youth, maturing, leaving home; her hearing about him from others, hearing about what he had said, what he had done; the healings and exorcisms, the confrontations, the via crucis, seeing him nailed to the cross, her holding his dead body, the body that had been within her.

And each step of the way, she had to re-assert that “yes” of the Annunciation, ever and more deeply understanding what her response meant. She spent her life pondering the visible Word of God that was and is her Son. She grew in knowing him, in comprehending the mystery of God Incarnate. And as Mary pondered that visible Word, we too must ponder that Word in scripture, that Word in each other, that Word in the created world around us. We too are asked to incarnate Jesus in our lives. This is needed by all of us in this new year, in this strange, confusing and dangerous age. And I must especially say to my monastic brethren, this seems to me to be the purpose of our life, why we live in a monastery: that we in times of silence face the Word of God, and let it shine upon us,  and that we make Christ visible in our community life, in our work, in our very souls. For in incarnating Jesus in our hearts we discover ourselves.

Reflection calls for response. And Mary’s response to God ought not to be thought of as simply a choice between right and wrong, good or bad, some sort of ethical or moral decision. Nor should our choices be only that. Mary gives us an example of what our choice as Christians really implies: that each genuine choice we make reveals who we are and is not simply what we do. In our choices we act out of our self, and tell of our self. Christian, human, freedom of choice is not about choosing which film we will go to see, or what we will wear, or what we will own: it is about how we reveal and define ourselves on that journey to God.

Mary’s choice was not right or wrong, it stemmed from who she was and knew herself to be as a daughter of Israel, a child of God.

She is blessed of all women, and we are told in the great Aaronic blessing from the Book of Numbers in today’s first reading, that God will smile upon those he loves and who love him, that his face will shine upon them. And today, this New Year’s day, we know that the face that smiles upon Mary as she holds him in her arms. presenting Him to His Father in the Temple, is that of her new-born Son Jesus. This is the face we yearn to see, the face of God made flesh, born of the Virgin Mary.

Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

What is the key to true peace in this world?  What can bring the conversion of heart so that those who commit brutal crimes against humanity can repent?  Underlying the world’s problems are two factors, secularism on one hand and religious fundamentalism on another.  When God is not recognized, there is no speaking about human dignity and the corresponding human rights.  Conversely, when God is proclaimed as if He is only the God of some people, and non-believers are then condemned, we too alienate people of their dignity and rights.

Indeed, the starting point of peace is the recognition that God is the creator and Father of all humanity.  Hence, the first reading of today’s mass begins with the invocation of God’s blessings to the Israelites.  “Say this to Aaron and his sons: “This is how you are to bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them: May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.”   Peace ultimately must begin with God.  He is the foundation of peace.  Peace essentially is not man’s efforts but founded on God Himself.

Indeed, the concept of human rights stems from a Christian foundation.  Human rights and freedom have its roots in the teachings of Christ and St Paul, who championed freedom as intrinsic to the gospel because Christ has set us free.  Interior freedom from sin and bondage is critical for unity in the individual and the society.  Of course, religious freedom and the rights of the individual cannot exclude reason and faith, which provides a bulwark against both relativism and forms of religious fundamentalism.  Only the truth can set us free.  Absolute truth can only be found in God.  Man’s desire to seek the truth is what distinguishes him from other animals. It is in faith and reason that we discover the dignity of the human person.

Hence, the dignity of the person is dependent on his belief in God.  Why do we Catholics champion the rights of the individual, even prisoners and unborn babies?  This is because he is not an animal that can be disposed of.  What makes us different from other animals is the fact that we have a soul.  Otherwise, we should be speaking only of animal rights. The fact that we speak of human rights means that we distinguish ourselves from other animals. What is the basis of this distinction is that we are rational beings with mind and intellect and a conscience which we call the soul.  This soul is the mind that seeks the truth and the heart that seeks for true and everlasting love.

So the foundation of peace is that we are created in the image and likeness of God. This is what the feast of Mary, the Mother of God celebrates.  Christ is not only truly God but also truly man.  He became man so that we can share in the divinity of God.  Jesus, who is the Son of God, became man so that we can discover our true identity.  The exhortation, “know yourself” precisely is an invitation to know our true identity which is that we are creatures constituted of body, soul and spirit.  We have a transcendent calling to share in the life of God.

But what does it mean to be truly human?  The whole purpose of Jesus’ coming is to teach us how to live our lives meaningfully. He has come to refashion our fallen nature.  He assumed our flesh so that we could imitate Him.  Otherwise if He were of a different substance from us, our weak nature would not be able to respond to the commands of God. And God desires that we come back to Him not by force, but by our free will.  For this reason, Jesus took upon our humanity so that He could call us His brothers and sisters.  He is everything like us except in sin.  He was not exempted from temptations and the trials of life, hunger, thirst, injustice and betrayals.  He suffered like anyone of us, if not more than anyone of us.  In these ways, we will never lose heart lest suffering come our way since He is identified with us.

Most importantly, by His passion, death and resurrection, He has reconciled all of humanity into one.  Through His death on the cross, He has brought an end to the disunity of humanity by establishing this unity in God.   In Him, who is our brother, we have all become brothers and sisters.  Christ is the Prince of Peace because through His blood He broke down the wall of hostility that separates us.  Reconciled with the Father we are now able to see that we are all truly brothers and sisters in Christ.  Sharing in His Spirit, we see every man in Christ as a child of God, not a stranger or rival or an enemy.  His happiness and well-being is also our concern.  Because we are sons and daughters in the Son, redeemed by the blood of Christ and given the Spirit of adoption, we can no longer remain indifferent to the needs and sufferings of our brothers and sisters.  Christ’s death on the cross means that we are all loved and forgiven by God and redeemed by Him.

Now, we are called to live the kind of life He has lived with the dignity of God’s children, His adopted sons and daughters, because we recognize and acknowledge in ourselves the God who created us in His own image.  We share in God’s life as we become co-heirs with God and friends of God.  Truly, this is what it means to be created in God’s image, which is a transcendent calling different from all other animals for only we can consciously and freely love God and share in the divinity of God who has given us a share in His life.

The corollary of this truth of our identity means that from now on, we must also defend the dignity of every human being. If a human being is not just another specie of the animal kingdom, then we need to protect the life and dignity of everyone from the moment of conception till death.  A human person is not something we can simply dispose of because he or she shares in the God nature.  He or she is not a thing, not an It!

If we are brothers and sisters, we too have a common Father.  If the world today is at war with each other and if we are selfish and protective of our interests, be it national or individual interests, it is because of the erosion of faith in God the Father as the foundation of humanity.  A fraternity devoid of reference to a common Father cannot endure as there is no real brotherhood among us.  True fraternity presupposes that we are God’s children and share in the divine calling.  Unless we are clear that our calling is divine and because of this, we are truly brothers and sisters in Christ having a common Father, we will not regard each other as our neighbor or feel obligated to help our fellowmen.

If God is our Father and Jesus is our brother, then we must also love all those whom they love.  Jesus identified Himself with every man who is poor in the parable of the Last Judgement in St Matthew’s gospel when He said: “whatsoever you did to one of the least of my brothers you did it to me.”  (Mt 25:40) In the Acts of the Apostles, He identified with the Christians whom Saul persecuted saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  And when Paul asked, “Who are you, Lord?”  The reply was “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” (cf Acts 9:4-6)

On this feast of Mary the Mother of God, we affirm that Jesus is truly man and truly God.  Jesus as man is our brother.  Jesus as divine is our Lord.  This truth about our brotherhood in Christ is verified in our desire for fellowship with others.  More than anything else, we all desire to be united with our fellowmen.  In the heart of everyone we know that we cannot be happy or at peace unless others are at peace.  We long to be one people and one family.  We desire that we are able to see each other as brothers and sisters, not as enemies or competitors but together as pilgrims in this passing life, supporting each other as we fulfill the vocation that God has entrusted to us, to build up this creation to become a family of life and love.

For this worldwide family to be united, we must begin with our own families.  Fraternity and love must be cultivated in the family which is the first school of communion and love.  That is why, after celebrating the Feast of the Holy Family, we celebrate Mary as the Mother of God.  We need to strengthen our family life and build a family where love, respect and forgiveness are nurtured.  Only when we can learn how to love in our own domestic family, can we then live in a larger family in the church, office and society.

Truly, fraternity is the foundation and pathway of peace.  Social justice is rooted in the fact that we are all have a common vocation to build a human family that lives in love and unity.  The Church is called to be the sign and sacrament of unity of the whole human race. It therefore behoves the Church to collaborate with every human person, every group, government and NGOs and religious body, to work together in mutual cooperation, understanding and friendship for the good of humanity, especially reaching out to our more needy and suffering brothers and sisters.  Those of us who have been blessed are required to do more for others.

Finally, peace comes about when we help each other to fulfill his or her vocation and mission in life.  In the gospel we read that “when the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception.”  To give a name to someone is to give a person his or her mission.  Happiness comes about when each person is truly living his vocation in life.

Like the Shepherds, we must continue to glorify God with our lives.  We read, “and the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.”  They did not simply hear the message of the Good News but obeyed the angels.  They “hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.”  Following them and our Blessed Mother, let us continue to ponder on the meaning of the Incarnation so that we too can be obedient to the Word of God.  Let us continue to proclaim this Good News that the angel has brought to all people of Good will, that is those who are ready to accept the Good News of salvation, that we have been reconciled with God our Father and that we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord.

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