Posts Tagged ‘Holy Spirit’

Christian Understanding of Pain and Suffering

June 24, 2017

By Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán

The Thinking and Theology of John Paul II

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Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, gave a lecture in July, in Aachen, Germany, on “Pain, an enigma or a mystery?”. Cardinal Barragán also visited several institutions connected with the Grunenthal Foundation for Palliative Care. The following is a translation from Italian of excerpts of the Cardinal’s lecture.

I have been asked to expound on John Paul II’s incomparable thinking on human pain. I shall first mention briefly several facts about the physiology of human pain. Then, given the Holy Father’s openness to all human values, it seems to me that it would be interesting to allude to and discuss certain key thoughts on four solutions from outside the Christian context.

The enigma of suffering

Pope John Paul II does not conceal the fact that suffering is something complex, enigmatic and intangible that must be treated with full respect and compassion and even with awe; but this does not justify the attempt to understand it, since only in this way will it be possible to come to terms with it.

He then briefly outlines the context of suffering, speaking of the vast field of suffering and of the suffering person. He notes from the outset that a misunderstanding of suffering can actually lead to the denial of God.

Pope John Paul II states: “Suffering is something which is still wider than sickness”, because there is a “distinction between physical suffering and moral suffering” (Salvifici Doloris, n. 5).

In addition to individual suffering, there is collective suffering due to human errors and transgressions, especially war. There are also times when this collective suffering becomes more acute.

Suffering has a subject and it is the individual who experiences it; yet it is not imprisoned within the person but gives rise to solidarity with others who are suffering; for the only one who has a special awareness of this is the person, the whole person. Thus, suffering involves solidarity (cf. ibid., n. 8).

It is far from easy to define the cause of suffering or of the evil connected with it. People put questions to God about its cause and frequently reach the point of denying him when they are unable to discover the reason for it (cf. ibid., n. 9).

One first needs to frame the enigma correctly and begin to seek its cause.

Suffering, the Pope says, consists in feeling cut off from good. Being cut off from good is an evil. Consequently, the cause of suffering is an evil; so, suffering and evil can be identified with each other.

As for evil, it is a deprivation; it has no positive value in itself and therefore cannot be a positive cause or principle, for its origin is a mere privation. There are as many evils as things that are wanting: an evil, according to its intensity, gives rise to pain, sorrow, depression, disappointment and even desperation; it exists in dispersion but at the same time entails solidarity. Since it originates in privation, the inevitable question is: “Why did this deprivation occur, what is its cause?”.

To respond, the Pope leaves the area of enigma and moves on to that of mystery. He does not attempt to do so with the nebulous obscurity of myth but penetrates to the very core of the Christian faith.

Mystery, in the Christian faith, is not darkness but dazzling brightness. The etymological root of the word helps us understand something about it: “mystery” derives from the Greek “Mυο” or “Mυєιν”, which means closing the eyes, not in the sense of going about blind, but of closing the eyes if they are dazzled, such as occurs, for instance, when we look directly at the sun. It is only the dazzling light, its excessive brightness, that prevents us from seeing anything in front of us, and it is in this that we car make out the mystery of suffering.

Furthermore, the Christian mystery is not only something contemplated but also experienced. Only by experiencing the mystery can we penetrate it with our minds. Only by living the mystery of Christian suffering can we get an idea of what suffering means and, as the Pope said previously, transcend it and overcome it. Let us now try to describe suffering.

The mystery of suffering

Three topics, among others, that the Pope addresses in his Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris with regard to suffering as a mystery are: “evil and suffering”, “Christ takes on suffering”, and “the value of human suffering”. To enter into the mystery, let us be guided by God himself. The Pope enables us to penetrate into Revelation in order to move on to ascension in the mystery.

The Holy Father tells us that in Old Testament biblical language, suffering and evil are at first identified with each other. Thanks to the Greek language however, a distinction is made particularly in the New Testament between suffering and evil. Suffering is a passive or active attitude to evil, or rather, to the lack of a good that it would be desirable to possess (cf. ibid., n. 7).

In fact, in the Book of Job and some other Books of the Old Testament the answer is that the cause of evil the transgression of the natural order created by God. Suffering and transgression were held to be the same, at least it was believed that suffering was caused by transgression. This the opinion of Job’s friends (cf. ibid., 10).

However, although God rejects this theory and approves Job’s innocence his suffering remains a mystery: not all suffering is consequential to transgression, which is proof of Job’s righteousness. It prefigures the Lord’s passion (cf. ibid., n. 11). It further affirms that suffering is a punishment inflicted for self-correction, since good follows evil, leading to conversion and to rebuilding goodness (cf. ibid., n. 12),

The Pope now goes a step further and reaches the heart of the mystery; in his mortal life, Christ put an end to pain by his miracles, He took upon himself the suffering of all and bore it with full consciousness on the Cross (cf. ibid., n, 16}.

The only answer [to the “why” of suffering] can come from the love of God in the Cross (cf. ibid., n. 13). It is God the Father who provides the answer to the problem of suffering: it consists in the fact that he “gives” his Son to the world. Evil is sin and suffering, death. With the Cross, he overcomes sin, and with his Resurrection, death (Jn 3:16; cf. ibid., n. 14).

In the Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant in the Book of Isaiah, the meaning of Christ’s suffering in the passion is portrayed even more vividly than it is in the Gospels. His suffering is redemptive; its depth can be measured by the depth of the evil in the history of the world, especially since the person who suffers it is God (cf. ibid., n. 17).

Christ provides an answer to the problem of suffering by offering his unreserved availability and compassion; his presence is effective: he gives help and gives himself (cf. ibid., n. 28).

Through suffering, human beings are incorporated into the pain of Christ. Suffering gives rise to love for those who suffer, a disinterested love to help them by relieving it. This is now official and organized through health-care institutions and the professionals who work in them, and also through volunteers. It is a matter of a real vocation, especially when one is united to the Church with a Christian profession.

The assistance that families give their sick relatives is important in this area. Moreover, those who not only act to help the sick but also to drive away a whole series of evils, those who fight hatred, violence, cruelty and every type of physical and spiritual suffering, belong to the same category as the Good Samaritan.

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The Good Samaritan by Walter Rane.

Every man and every woman should feel personally called to bear witness to love in suffering and must not leave those who are suffering to be cared for solely by official institutions (ibid., n.29). The Parable of the Good Samaritan corroborates what Christ said about the Last Judgment; “I was sick and you visited me”. Christ himself is the One who was cared for, and the one who fell into the hands of bandits is cared for and helped. The meaning of suffering is to do good by one’s suffering and to do good to those who suffer (cf, ibid., n.30).

The Pope ends by saying that the mystery of man is revealed in Christ, and the mystery of man is very specially connected to suffering. In Christ the enigma of pain and death is revealed. Only in love is it possible to find the saving response to pain. May the suffering of Mary and the saints help us discover this response. May pain and suffering be transformed into a source of strength for all humanity,

The comment

I think that the development of the Pope’s thought climbs six steps towards the fullness of the mystery of suffering and pain; we can sum them up as follows:

Suffering is not in itself evil but is the effect of a negative cause. Evil is not a positive entity but a privation. Deprivation does not demand a positive cause but the search for its origin.

The origin of the privation is sin. The sin committed by a person spreads by joint human liability. Sin can be eliminated through suffering itself in a very special context of solidarity.

Only God can bestow this solidarity upon us. This gift of solidarity is the meaning of the Incarnation and the meaning of Jesus Christ. For this solidarity, Christ brought the elimination of sin to completion through his suffering in his life, passion, death and Resurrection.

This divine action is an act of the Most Holy Trinity since the Eternal Father gave his Son to humanity so that he might redeem it through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Love of the Father and of the Son, and it is only through the Love of the Spirit that we can glimpse this mysterious, redeeming solidarity.

Through Christ’s solidarity with al humanity the human pain of all time; was suffered by Christ in his passion and his redeeming death. Thus, human pain and suffering are transformed from something negative into something positive, into a source of life, as it were because they become redemptive.

Each person in his or her suffering is united with the suffering of Christ, and thus this suffering mysteriously becomes a source of life and resurrection. Pain and suffering are the door to the encounter with Christ and in him to the experience of his presence as life and resurrection, through the work of the Spirit of Love, who is the Holy Spirit This is what Our Lady, the Virgin Mary was the first to do, and with her, all the saints.

This definitive destruction of suffering through suffering leads us to destroy our actual suffering with the whole panoply of means at our disposal, as in the case of the Good Samaritan.

The Pope thus situates us in the heart of the mystery whose light dazzles us. For we find ourselves in intimacy with the Blessed Trinity, in the loving reality of the unity of the Triune God and in the depths of this mystery. This is the central mystery of the entire Christian religion, not in the abstract nor in an immensely remote way, but in a closeness present in human history into whose temporal dimensions eternity bursts, through the historical Incarnation of the Word with his birth, life, passion, death and Resurrection.

This is a Trinitarian and Christological solidarity in which the absolute fullness of life is attained through death. It is called “cross” and “resurrection”. We find ourselves at the heart of the Christian mystery, inaccessible except through an experience of it: no one who does not know it can prove its efficacy or find its solution.

The solution to the mystery of evil is not only discovered through theological exposition but also by experiencing that something which, if steadily gazed at, darkens because of its excessive brightness yet is very real – we can say the most real reality -, for it is the only way to happiness.

In this way we are within the nucleus of salvation. This is the heart of Christianity. Tertullian said: “Credo quia ineptum“. By experiencing relief from evil through suffering, and through that cruelest form of suffering which sums up all imaginable forms of suffering, the Cross, this “ineptum“, becomes “aptum“, the most just and rational that we can imagine, for it is the only way to experience happiness.

This is why the mystery of pain shifts from pain in itself to the mystery of solidarity. Solidarity, as the foundation of the whole of existence, is not only sympathy with all, a way of being socially committed and aware that we all belong to the same race, culture, nationality, etc., but is also the experiencing of a bond with all other human beings so deeply within ourselves that it is not a qualification that comes to us as soon as we exist but constitutes our existence itself.

Solidarity belongs to divinized human life as a gift received which takes part in the mystery itself of God’s very life. The life of God is infinitely perfect in each one of the divine Persons through the internal solidarity between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This infinite solidarity is infinite Love, which is the Holy Spirit who has been poured out into our hearts, an infinite Love that is God himself. The mystery of suffering is contained in the mystery of Love, in the mystery of the Spirit.

In this way, the mystery of suffering-love enters into the very constitution of God incarnate, the Son made flesh through the work of the Holy Spirit. Since Christ is the most intimate model for every person, the Holy Spirit, the Love of God and redemptive suffering enter into the actual objective, and we might say ontological, constitution of humanity.

In contrast to cold objectivity, however, it is something that indeed belongs to the objectivity of our being, but with the maximum loving subjectivity, since it is and depends upon our free will in such a way that we can accept or reject it. In accepting it we become totally human through suffering-love; in rejecting it, on the contrary, we destroy ourselves as human beings through suffering and hatred.

The Pope is aware of the difficulty of reasoning in this way and therefore tells us that the reality of suffering in solidarity should only be understood through the Resurrection. From our solidarity with the essence of life which is the Risen Christ, we can understand our loving solidarity with Christ suffering on the Cross; just as the Risen Christ includes in his Resurrection the resurrection of humanity, of each and every one of us, so too the suffering of Christ contains the suffering and pain of each and every one of us. There is no separation between the Resurrection and the Cross but convergence, both in Christ and in us; the Pope says, therefore, that Christ contains the signs of his wounds in his glorified Body.

One can thus realize and understand what would otherwise be an untenable paradox, scandal and folly: the Cross is glorious; having been the evil most feared as total death, it becomes the glorious beginning of the whole of the second creation. The nothing from which this new world of happiness or the definitive Paradise flows is not an innocent nothingness but a guilty nothingness that is the greatest evil – sin – which leads definitively to the Cross. And from the Cross, not by virtue of the Cross but by virtue of the Father’s omnipotence and the Spirit’s solidarity and Love, the Incarnate Word recreates within us the authentic Adam, the man of truth, the model planned by God from all eternity so that we might be authentically human.

Conclusion

Love is the only key to deciphering the enigma of pain and suffering: love that can transform nothingness into full reality. The lack of meaning, the lack of direction, the radical anticulture, contradiction, death: in a fullness of meaning, of orientation, in an ascendant culture, in joyous affirmation, in life: folly and stupidity, in what is wisest and most sensible, it is the intimate solidarity of love triumphant that raises, in loving solidarity with the most atrocious suffering that kills. It is victory over death.

Thus, John Paul II leads us to scrutinize the meaning of human suffering in a mysterious and dazzling way, and which is also the only valid perspective; at last, the enigma becomes mystery. It is a joyful, shining mystery and full of happiness. It is the paradox that returns to being logical through the Omnipotent Love of God the Father who is his Spirit, and whose effectiveness is to be found in the culmination of human history when he grants to us the close solidarity of all peoples in the Pasch of the Incarnate Word.

from:
L’Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
7 September 2005, page 9

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Prayer and Meditation for Monday, June 19, 2017 — “Behold, now is a very acceptable time!” — “Go the extra mile.”

June 18, 2017

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 365

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Jesus Teaches the People by the Sea by James Tissot

Reading 1 2 COR 6:1-10

Brothers and sisters:
As your fellow workers, we appeal to you
not to receive the grace of God in vain.
For he says:

In an acceptable time I heard you,
and on the day of salvation I helped you.

Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.
We cause no one to stumble in anything,
in order that no fault may be found with our ministry;
on the contrary, in everything we commend ourselves
as ministers of God, through much endurance,
in afflictions, hardships, constraints,
beatings, imprisonments, riots,
labors, vigils, fasts;
by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness,
in the Holy Spirit, in unfeigned love, in truthful speech,
in the power of God;
with weapons of righteousness at the right and at the left;
through glory and dishonor, insult and praise.
We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful;
as unrecognized and yet acknowledged;
as dying and behold we live;
as chastised and yet not put to death;
as sorrowful yet always rejoicing;
as poor yet enriching many;
as having nothing and yet possessing all things.

Responsorial Psalm PS 98:1, 2B, 3AB, 3CD-4

R. (2a) The Lord has made known his salvation.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. The Lord has made known his salvation.
In the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. The Lord has made known his salvation.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
R. The Lord has made known his salvation.

Alleluia PS 119:105

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
A lamp to my feet is your word,
a light to my path.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 5:38-42

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one to him as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
hand him your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go with him for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

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19 JUNE, 2017, Monday, 11th Week, Ordinary Time

TALL ORDER

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 Cor 6:1-10; Ps 98:1-4; Mt 5:38-42 ]

St Paul in the first reading reminds us that we are all God’s fellow workers in His vineyard, regardless what vocation we have in life.  By virtue of our baptism, which is our common vocation and calling, all of us have received the grace of God.  Yet, there is a real danger as St Paul urges us, “not to neglect the grace of God that you have received.”  Unfortunately, many of us take the graces and blessings of God for granted.  We forget that whatever the Lord has blessed us with; they are for the service of His kingdom and His people.  Regardless whether we are teachers, doctors, priests, entrepreneurs or government servants, we are called to use our talents and resources to build up the people of God.

The reality is that many of us are counter-witnesses to our faith.  If many have left the Church or do not join the Church, it is because we are not only not witnessing to Christ but worse of all, we are a scandal to non-believers and fellow Catholics.  That is why St Paul reminds us that we should “do nothing that people might object to, so as not to bring discredit on our function as God’s servants.” Indeed, many Catholics have left the Church because of the scandalous and contradictory lifestyle and unbecoming conduct of priests and religious. Lay leaders, ministry members and Church members are not exonerated.  Many are shocked and disgusted with how some active Church members behave towards their fellow Catholics; they are rude, arrogant, insensitive and always seeking glory and recognition, thinking about themselves more than others.

It is one thing to call ourselves the servants of God and another thing to be one. Many of us do not reflect the compassionate love and mercy of Christ.   Many of us call our spouse, our better half, but it is just empty words because if we really see them as our better half, we will always defer to our spouse. So too, many call themselves parents but they are more like disciplinary masters or financial controllers as they are totally disconnected with the lives of their children.  Some call themselves doctors but they do not put the saving of life above all other considerations.  Teachers are supposed to teach what is right, true and good but they impart the wrong messages to those under their care.

The scripture readings today provide us the high expectations required of God’s servants.  There are so many, as enumerated by St Paul.  So I would just single out a few for our consideration in today’s reflection.  Among these attributes, the first is that we must have a heart of compassion.  Jesus taught us, “If anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him.  Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.”  St Paul wrote, “We prove we are God’s servants by our purity, knowledge, patience and kindness.”  Compassion for our brothers and sisters means that we need to be identified with them in their aspirations, struggles, joys and sorrows. It is from a spirit of compassion that our hearts are open to others.

Secondly, there must be generosity of heart.  This is the basic requirement for anyone who wants to serve God, whether as priests, religious or in Church ministry or NGO helping the poor and the marginalized. This generosity to serve, to give and to help is a pre-requisite.  If someone is not capable of generosity, he cannot be a servant of God.  No matter how talented he might be, or passionate about what he or she is doing, without generosity of heart, he would end up serving himself, not the people.  It is about himself, not others.

Thirdly, a servant of God must have a spirit of equanimity and detachment.  In other words, he sees everything from the perspective of love.  Things and possessions are only means by which we can help others.  They are not the ends themselves.  Whatever we have, we should not be not attached to them.  However, it does not mean that we be irresponsible with the gifts God has given to us.  We are merely stewards of God’s grace and blessings.  If we can use them for the good and service of others, then we are ready to part with our resources.  This is what St Paul meant when he wrote, “prepared for honour or disgrace, for blame or praise; taken for impostors while we are genuine; obscure yet famous; said to be dying and here are we alive; rumoured to be executed before we are sentenced.”  A servant of God is truly free only when he has a disinterested spirit with respect to things, resources, glory and honor. A person who is free from attachment to things is always joyful.  This is why St Paul could say that we are “thought most miserable and yet we are always rejoicing; taken for paupers though we make others rich, for people having nothing though we have everything.”

Fourthly, a servant of God must exercise “a love free from affection.”  In other words, our love is unconditional.   Romance and love for friends and our loved ones, whilst good, is mutual.  It is not the highest form of love because we receive as much as we give.  It is still a pagan love because we love those who love us.  But if we are servants of God, we are called to serve all peoples, regardless who they are. Like public and government servants, they are called to serve all regardless of race, language and religion.  To love without affection means to love without attachment and expectation of reward.  This is the highest form of love because it is “agape”, the love of God, given to all.  How many times have we been shown love and helped by strangers whom we would never be able to reciprocate or thank?  Such unconditional love makes the gift even more precious because we know that it was given to us without any strings attached.  It is pure love.

Fifthly, a servant of God must live “by the word of truth and by the power of God; by being armed with the weapons of righteousness.” He must be a man of integrity, live a just life and be fair to his fellowmen.  He stands up for the truth and he is not afraid to do the right thing, not the popular thing.  A leader who lacks impartiality, honesty and justice cannot be credible.  A true leader embraces all and does not practice favoritism and, least of all, do things to favor his own kind or for his personal interests and gain.

To do all these, we need the one virtue that will make us outstanding servants of God, namely, fortitude.  All the virtues mentioned are good but often we do not persevere, especially when we are persecuted, misunderstood, criticized or wrongly accused.  We give up serving and doing good simply because some people criticized our work.  We hear only negative voices that dampen our spirit and our resolve to get things done.  St Paul showed his valor when he said, “We prove we are servants of God by great fortitude in times of suffering:  in times of hardship and distress; when we are flogged, or sent to prison, or mobbed; labouring, sleepless, starving.”   Leaders must be willing to suffer for what is right and good even when grossly misunderstood.  If we are clear about our service and are free from personal gain or interests, we need not react to the negative criticisms and slanders of others.  Most likely, the reason is because what we are doing affects their personal interests.  That is why we must always serve with “purity, knowledge, patience and kindness.”  When we have nothing to profit from our service, there is nothing for us to defend.  This explains why Jesus could ask of us, “offer the wicked man no resistance.  On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”  One who is pure in service does not react to opposition but simply keeps his focus on his mission and vision.  He keeps his head above those who oppose him simply because he has nothing to lose.

Indeed, at the end of the day, as servants of God, we must not think that it is in our power to live this kind of life or to do the things we want to do.  Servants must allow their master to bring about what they have been told to do.  It will be the power of the master that makes things happen.  We are only servants and his instruments.  So like St Paul, we do not rely on ourselves to be worthy servants of God, but we rely on His grace which is promised to us.  “For he says:  At the favourable time, I have listened to you; on the day of salvation I came to your help.  Well, now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation.”  Again St Paul reminds us to live “by the word of truth and by the power of God.”  The psalmist declares; “Sing a new song to the Lord for he has worked wonders. His right hand and his holy arm have brought salvation. The Lord has made known his salvation; has shown his justice to the nations. He has remembered his truth and love for the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”  It is the work of God, not the work of man!  As St Paul says, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.’  (2 Cor 11:30)

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
 

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Commentary on Matthew 5:38-42 from Living Space

We continue Jesus’ interpretations of some commands of the Mosaic Law as he pushes that law to a higher level of understanding.

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is not, as it may seem to be saying, an encouragement to take revenge. It is part of what is known as the lex talionis by which punishment for an assault was to be restricted to not more than the suffering experienced. So Exodus 21:23-24 says: “You shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stroke for stroke.”

Jesus calls for a very different kind of response. He tells us to offer the “wicked man” no resistance.

He makes the famous recommendation to turn the other cheek. If a man would take your tunic, give him your cloak as well. If someone asks you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to the one who begs and do not turn away a borrower.

It is not surprising that even in Christian circles not a great deal of time is given to this text. Is it to be taken literally? Are we really to allow people to walk over us and offer no resistance at all?

I think the answer is both Yes and No.

For many in our “macho”-idealised world, turning the other cheek seems the ultimate in wimpishness and cowardice. It is certainly not the way of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and countless other “heroes” on our cinema and TV screens. Can you imagine them turning the other cheek?

But Jesus did. During his trial before the Sanhedrin “they spat in his face and hit him with their fists; others said as they struck him, ‘Play the prophet, Christ! Who hit you then?’” (Matt 26:67-68). What was Jesus’ response? Silence. This was turning the other cheek. Was this weakness or was it strength? Which is easier to do under great provocation: to practise self-restraint and keep one’s dignity or to lash out in retaliation? By lashing out one comes down to the same level as one’s attackers. (This is quite different from self-defence.)

In another account of Jesus’ trial (John 18:22-23), after having given an answer to a question, “one of the guard standing by gave Jesus a slap in the face, saying, ‘Is that the way to answer the high priest?’ Jesus replied, ‘If there is something wrong in what I said, point it out; but if there is no offence in it, why do you strike me?’” Here Jesus does respond to the attack but on a totally different level. The physical and unreasonable attack on an unarmed person is actively responded to on the basis of reason and non-violence. Jesus is not a victim here; he is in control. And this is true of the whole experience of the passion. His executioners behave in the most barbaric way but he never loses his calm and dignity right up to the very end.

And that is why we worship him as our Lord and Master. He asks us to follow in his footsteps.

Revenge, in all its various forms, is the easier way, the more instinctive way but it is not the better way. The way of active (not passive) non-violence is, in the long run, far more productive, far more in keeping with human ideals and human dignity. We have more than enough evidence in our world of the bankruptcy of a never-ending cycle of violence and counter-violence. We see it in the Middle East, in Northern Ireland. Violence does not pay; revenge is not sweet.

The example of Jesus has been followed by a number of outstanding people in our own time. Gandhi in India, Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parkes who inspired him, in the US, Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany, Dorothy Day in the US, Jean Goss and Hildegard Meyer of the active non-violence movement in Europe… All of these people were actively involved in the correction of seriously unjust situations.

There is a striking scene in the film “To Kill a Mocking Bird” where the lawyer (played by Gregory Peck) has been defending a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. As a white man himself the lawyer earns the hatred and contempt of his fellow-whites for defending a “nigger” they have already condemned as guilty. In this scene one of the townspeople approaches the lawyer and spits into his face. The lawyer stands there, says nothing, and slowly wipes away the spit. For the film viewer the contempt immediately shifts to the man who spat. The positive non-action of the lawyer reveals the smallness of his assailant.

Turning the other cheek is not at all a sign of weakness. It requires great inner strength, self-respect and even respect for the dignity of one’s attacker. Jesus is calling us a long way forward and upward from “an eye for an eye”.

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From last year:
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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13 JUNE 2016, Monday, 11th Week in Ordinary Time
MISPLACED LOVE AND LOYALTY

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 Kg 21:1-16; Mt 5:38-42 ]

In the first reading, we read about Queen Jezebel.  She is known as the wickedest lady in the Old Testament, together with her husband King Ahab.  Leaving aside the moral judgement on her actions, we must commend her for her total loyalty, commitment and love for her husband.  She would do anything to please her husband and to make him happy.  In today’s incident when Naboth refused to give Ahab his vineyard at any price, the king, like a pampered and spoilt child, wallowed in self-pity, anger and then fell into depression.  His wife seeing his condition and feeling sorry for him, said, “Get up and eat; cheer up, and you will feel better; I will get you the vineyard of Naboth of Jezreel myself.”  She must have been very devoted to the King and loved him much, so much so that she could not afford to see him suffering or sad.

This is true for many of us, whether as spouses or parents and even friends.  When we love someone, we want to make our beloved happy.  When we see them sad, suffering or hurting, we too are hurt and feel worried for them.  Indeed, when our loved one is sick or suffering from a prolonged illness or incurable sickness; or when our children are doing badly in their studies or suffer a failed relationship; or when our spouse is out of work or facing challenges at the work place, we feel much for them and wish we could alleviate their suffering and pain. For those whom we love, there is no sacrifice too big that we cannot make. Their joy and happiness is ours. Conversely, their sadness and discouragement is ours as well.  This is because we are so identified with them and for them.

Yet, like Queen Jezebel, quite often our love is misplaced and so is our loyalty.  Whilst we should do everything in our power to help our loved ones, we must not destroy them in the process.  We are to help them to become better, not worse!  Our task is not just to help them get what they want but to help them to grow in grace, maturity, wisdom, knowledge and love.  Although the Queen demonstrated herself to be faithful to her husband and would do anything for him, even planning to take the vineyard by force through murder, this was not the right thing to do.  By so doing, she caused her husband to sin with her and inflict injustice on Naboth and ultimately bring harm to the family and the nation.  In truth, she was not helping her husband, but by pandering to his whims and fancies, she brought about his and her destruction.

Therefore, when we are helping our loved ones, we must do the good and the right thing, and not just because they need it or want it.  Doing the homework for our children is not helping them to learn and acquire knowledge.  Doing the work of our colleagues when it is their responsibility is not helping them to be efficient and competent. Giving in to the demands and wants of our children and spouse can cause them to be lazy, materialistic and self-centered.  So whilst it is important that we should love them and help them, we must do it in a way that is for their good, not just now, but the future.   Our task is to help them grow in love, generosity, kindness and responsibility.  We do not help them to do evil things like Queen Jezebel, or help them to do immoral things like stealing, cheating, getting drunk, getting involved in orgies and debauchery.  Rather, we must help them to be virtuous, by reflecting with them their wants and needs; accompanying them patiently in their growth and allowing them to mature in grace and wisdom.  This is the kind of help and love we should demonstrate, rather than spoiling them and eventually making them lazy, selfish and irresponsible.  If we love them this way, we do not love them in truth but ourselves more, because we cannot bear to see them being purified in love.

However, the gospel seems to contradict what we have just been saying.  The Lord tells us to give in to our enemies and not to take revenge.  He even suggested that we do more rather than seek mere natural justice.  He said, “You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.  But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance.”  This principle in itself is not wrong but inadequate.  When this law was taught it was intended to be a guide to help those who administer justice.  The principle of an eye for an eye simply means that the punishment must fit the crime.  We should not punish a person more than the offence he has committed.  Thus, this principle offers a good guide in tampering justice with leniency.   In this way, we do not become over lenient or too harsh in imposing punishment on those who break the law.

But this principle cannot be applied literally, for it is only a guide.  In truth, an eye for an eye does not work because it is not truly fair.  Both eyes and teeth are different in each person.  Maybe one is losing his eyesight and the other still has a good eye. We remember the ludicrous example given by William Shakespeare in the play, “Merchant of Venice” where the man tried to exact a pound of flesh from one who could not pay his debt.  But the real problem was that if he were to cut a little bit more, then he would have caused a grave act of injustice as well.  The point is simply that in life, things are never that clear cut.

What is paramount for Jesus is that justice should be done by making the situation better, not worse like Queen Jezebel.  So Jesus is urging non-resistance towards our enemies because it will only make matters worse.  By taking revenge against each other, we will hurt not just our enemies but ourselves and the whole community.  There are some of us who want to take revenge.  They have no intention to heal the situation or to remedy a fault but their real intention is to make sure their enemies or those who have offended them to suffer.  This is not justice but revenge.

To improve the situation, what we need is to make our enemies our friends.  This is what Jesus meant when He said, “On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him.  Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.”  By loving our enemies and accommodating them, we will cool down their anger and they will be more themselves.  So long as we are dealing with an angry man, there is no way to reason with him because he is vindictive and can only think of his pain and become oblivious to the suffering of others. This too is the same advice of St Paul when in the same vein he advised, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ So, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:19-21)  Otherwise, we will become evil, angry, revengeful and resentful like our enemies as well!   We will be no better than them.  Revenge can only escalate to more retaliations and even killings.

Thus, we see that in two different situations, the rules are applied differently.  With regards to our loved ones and friends, we must not destroy them by pandering to their selfish demands and expectations.   In this case, we need to be loving, charitable and yet firm in love. On the other hand, with our enemies, we must give in to them for the sake of peace and, more importantly, to win them over to our side.  Once we become their friends, then we can help them to grow in grace, forgiveness, generosity and charity.  Indeed, all are called to love and show mercy but we must never do anything for short term gains, but do it for the overall good of the person and the community.  Hence, love must be true and truth is expressed in love.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
 
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Pain, Suffering, Addiction and Spiritual Growth — Resources

June 15, 2017

A friend asked us for a quick update on our spiritual journey — Here are some resources for others to consider….

Related:

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Above: This is the life of the average American man. At the bottom (the biggest part) is sex, drugs and rock and roll. As we move up, through the years, God hopes we are growing spiritually and throwing out things that get us into trouble. When we get to the top, He hopes we can reach out closer to Him. Many of us choose to fail….

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Research Going Badly: I tried everything before I tried to allow God to find me!

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The Brain and Being Human:

Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, June 11, 2017 — “The LORD is a merciful and gracious God.” — “Pardon our wickedness and sins and receive us as your own.”

June 10, 2017

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Lectionary: 164

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Art: Moses gives a prayer of thanks after the Israelites go through the Red Sea, 1861 – Ivan Kramskoy

Reading 1  EX 34:4B-6, 8-9

Early in the morning Moses went up Mount Sinai
as the LORD had commanded him,
taking along the two stone tablets.

Having come down in a cloud, the LORD stood with Moses there
and proclaimed his name, “LORD.”
Thus the LORD passed before him and cried out,
“The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God,
slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.”
Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship.
Then he said, “If I find favor with you, O Lord,
do come along in our company.
This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins,
and receive us as your own.”

Responsorial Psalm DN 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56

R. (52b) Glory and praise for ever!
Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
And blessed is your holy and glorious name,
praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages.
R. Glory and praise for ever!
Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory,
praiseworthy and glorious above all forever.
R. Glory and praise for ever!
Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.
R. Glory and praise for ever!
Blessed are you who look into the depths
from your throne upon the cherubim,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.
R. Glory and praise for ever!

Reading 2 2 COR 13:11-13

Brothers and sisters, rejoice.
Mend your ways, encourage one another,
agree with one another, live in peace,
and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Greet one another with a holy kiss.
All the holy ones greet you.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

AlleluiaCF. RV 1:8

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit;
to God who is, who was, and who is to come.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 3:16-18

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,
but whoever does not believe has already been condemned,
because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

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From The Abbot in the Desert

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Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiu, New Mexico

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My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit! For so many people, even today, the proclamation that there is a God is increasingly difficult.  Even more difficult to believe is that God is three persons and yet still one God.  It can take a person many years to believe completely in the Trinity.  And there is no way that we can ever understand this teaching completely.

For many, the only way to understand the Trinity is through Jesus Himself.  When we begin to walk with Jesus, we must begin to look at reality the way that He looks at reality.  We encounter Jesus as a young Jewish man and we must spend some time looking at the world from that perspective.  Jesus accepts the teaching of the Jews of the Pharisee school—for the most part.  We could say that Jesus is formed as a Pharisee but also by the presence of God in a very special way.  He calls God His Father and eventually also says that He and the Father are One.

Then Jesus begins to speak also about His Spirit, the Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of the Father.  The Father and the Spirit are not realities invented by Christ, but rather the deepest realities of all that is which Jesus is now beginning to speak about with His followers.  Jesus reveals reality to us and the relationships within reality.

Slowly Jesus reveals to us that God is a reality that is Triune and which reflects love within itself and outside itself. Most of the time we don’t spend much time reflecting on this reality because it is so far beyond our capacity to understand.  On the other hand, this mystery of the Trinity, this mystery of Jesus, this mystery of the Father’s love—this is the deepest nature of our world and draws us all to learn to accept God’s love and forgiveness.

We walked with Jesus through His life, to His death and then came to know His Resurrection.  All of these great mysteries point us to Father, Son and Spirit.  The more walk with Jesus and the more we are formed by Him, the more we can understand and delight in the Most Holy Trinity.  Amen.

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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11 JUNE, 2017, Sunday, The Most Holy Trinity
THE TRINITY AS THE ANSWER TO GLOBALIZATION AND INDIVIDUALISM

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ EX 34:4-6, 8-9;  2 COR 13:11-13; JOHN 3:16-18  ]

We live in a very divided society.  Mass communication and social media are supposed to help human beings to communicate better.  The irony of it all is that it is one of the causes of breakdown in relationships. Instead of communicating with each other more personally, we have become impersonal with emails.  Instead of spending time with our loved ones at home or at meals, we are busy with our mobile phones.  Instead of using social media to transmit positive information, we use it to destroy people’s lives, shame those who make mistakes and worst of all, transmit fake news and distort information.

Indeed, society has become more individualistic and self-centered.  It is about the happiness of the individual over the rest of the community.  It is about me and my freedom to do what I like at the expense of the greater good of others.  In the name of freedom and human rights, the freedom and rights of the greater community is compromised.  When an individual claims complete autonomy from others, he becomes inward-looking.  He is selfish, arrogant and cares only for himself.  He puts himself before others. He cares for others only to the extent that they are of use to him in his promotion at work, business or personal needs.  People are used, not loved. Relationship is for fundamentally utilitarian purposes, not about mutual love.

What is the cause?  A godless society!  Whether we admit it or not, we model ourselves according to our values and conception of life.  A society without good role models to imitate but ourselves would be an impoverished community. Conversely, if we believe in God, we will imitate whom we believe.  Our concept of God determines how we live our lives.  The religion or faith we subscribe to will impact the way we relate to each other, especially in married and family life.  Our values originate from our faith.   How we perceive God is how we will relate to each other.  There cannot be another dichotomy between faith and life.  So those without God will operate from what they think life should be lived, since they have no models to live by except what they see in the lives of others, depending who they are attracted or inspired by.   If we choose the wrong models of success and happiness in life, we might end up destroying ourselves.  We can either imitate St Teresa of Calcutta or Hitler.   The implications are colossal.

So what is our concept of God?  In the first reading, we read about the attributes of God. He revealed Himself to Moses as “a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness.”  This concept of God is quite similar to that of Islam and Judaism.  Not surprisingly, we share the same Old Testament roots.  In Islam, God is known as the Compassionate One.  Interestingly, although Buddhism does not speak about God, yet the distinguishing mark of Buddha is that of an Enlightened One and of compassion.  This explains why Jews, Muslims and Buddhists emphasize the need for compassion for our fellowmen. Charity and almsgiving are important practical expressions of our faith.  So followers of such religions at least tend to emphasize much on compassion, fraternal love for their brothers and sisters, forgiveness and helping each other.  Thus, our beliefs in God determine very much how we relate to our fellowmen.  If God is merciful to us and forgiving, then necessarily, we who receive His mercy and forgiveness would extend the same blessings to others as well.

However, Christian Faith goes beyond proclaiming that God is compassion.  The gospel reading speaks of the being of God as love.  “God loved the world so much.”  When we speak of God as love, then we are claiming that God is relationship.  If the being of God is love, He could not possibly love Himself, as this would be narcissism.  And how could He be love from all eternity when the world, the universe and human beings were still not around for Him to love? So He would be loving Himself!  Flowing from this truth that God is love, we must posit that although the substance of God is One, since God must be a unity, yet within God there must be relations.  Consequently, Christian doctrine defines God as One in being but three in persons.

God is subsistent relations.  This is to say that the three persons in the Trinity do not have relations like you and I.  We have relations outside of us.  We are related to our parents, our spouse, our children, but we are not constituted of these relations because we are also unique individuals.  We can stand alone but we are also social beings.  In God, however, He is pure relations; that is, the Father cannot exist without the Son and the Son without the Father and both without the Holy Spirit.  This explains why the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is an advancement of monotheism.  Christianity, although monotheistic, does not conceive of God as a monad, as in Judaism and Islam.  In the One God, the three persons share in the same divine substance.  This is what unites the three persons.  But within the one divine substance, there are three persons in relations.

This doctrine of the One God in three persons is not a philosophical deduction but is rooted in the experience of God in the life of a Christian.  Clearly, in the gospel, we read that God is not merely love but He is also a Father, that is, the origin of life and love.  Jesus revealed to Nicodemus that “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.”  God is more than love.  He is our Father.  Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father, the expression of the Father on earth.  He is the incarnation of God, the Word made flesh.  Together, the Father and the Son saved the world by bestowing their mutual love and mercy on the world.  This is summed up by St Paul when he described the love of God.  “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  In this Trinitarian greeting, we have the summary of the Christian experience of God’s love and mercy through our Lord Jesus Christ made present in the Holy Spirit, especially in the fellowship of the Christian community.

What is the implication of this doctrine of the Holy Trinity for us all?  It means that our happiness and joy in life depends on the depth of our relationship with each other.  Just as the happiness and fulfilment of God is found within the mutual relationship of the Father and the Son sharing in the same Spirit of love, our completion and fulfilment must come in our relationships with our fellowmen.  Although we are individuals, yet we are called to be one with others.  We are unique so that we can complement each other in love, in resources and blessings.  No man is an island.  He needs to relate with others to find himself.  Man is therefore an individual and social being.  He needs to be himself but never without the others.  To love himself is to love his neighbours.

The three persons of the Holy Trinity live from each other, by each other, from each other and in each other.  The unity of the three persons is complete and yet they are distinct from one another.  We too are called to love in such a manner.  We are called to be united in our diversity.  We need each other and we are called to live for each other, with each other and from each other as well.  In all that we do and act, we do it out of love.  It is love that unites us in our distinctions as individuals.  When we define God and human beings as love, it means that we need each other.   God must be a Trinity of persons. We are social beings.

This is also our answer to a world that wavers between globalization and individualism.  The recent political developments in the world exemplify this tension. Some countries are going back to protectionism in the face of globalization. They view others as a threat to their economy and their homogenous society.  So instead of reaching out, they are excluding others by promoting themselves at the expense of other countries. At the other end of the spectrum are those who promote globalization, free trade and welcoming migrants.  They believe in free competition and mutual promotion of each other’s interests.  The first is a win-lose approach.  The latter is a win-win approach.  What we need to promote today is the uniqueness of the individual which cannot be denied.  But we must also underscore that no individual and no country can exist for herself but also for and with others.  This is the kind of communion that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is offering to the world.  Instead of alienating others, we are called to build bridges of love.  In this way, through mutual love, we can truly transform this humanity into the family of God united as one in love.

Now we can appreciate why the Lord tells us that the greatest commandments are these “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”  (Mk 12:29-31)  The concept of God as Trinity therefore reveals to us the key to true happiness, which is the love of God manifested in our love for others, a love that is in imitation of the Blessed Trinity, a love that is mutually giving, caring, and empowering.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Prayer and Meditation for Friday, June 2, 2017 — “Tend my sheep.”

June 1, 2017

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Lectionary: 301

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Reading 1 ACTS 25:13B-21

King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea
on a visit to Festus.
Since they spent several days there,
Festus referred Paul’s case to the king, saying,
“There is a man here left in custody by Felix.
When I was in Jerusalem the chief priests and the elders of the Jews
brought charges against him and demanded his condemnation.
I answered them that it was not Roman practice
to hand over an accused person before he has faced his accusers
and had the opportunity to defend himself against their charge.
So when they came together here, I made no delay;
the next day I took my seat on the tribunal
and ordered the man to be brought in.
His accusers stood around him,
but did not charge him with any of the crimes I suspected.
Instead they had some issues with him about their own religion
and about a certain Jesus who had died
but who Paul claimed was alive.
Since I was at a loss how to investigate this controversy,
I asked if he were willing to go to Jerusalem
and there stand trial on these charges.
And when Paul appealed that he be held in custody
for the Emperor’s decision,
I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.”

Responsorial PsalmPS 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20AB

R. (19a) The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
R. The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
or:
R. Alleluia.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.
R. The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
or:
R. Alleluia.
The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the LORD, all you his angels,
you mighty in strength, who do his bidding.
R. The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
or:
R. Alleluia.

AlleluiaJN 14:26

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Holy Spirit will teach you everything
and remind you of all I told you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

JN 21:15-19

After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them,
he said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

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Commentary on John 21:15-19 from Living Space

The disciples now claim to understand exactly what Jesus is talking about, although it is doubtful that they really do.  It will not be until later on that the full meaning of Jesus’ words will be grasped by them.

They are impressed that Jesus can answer their questions even before they are formulated.  “Because of this we believe that you came from God.”  Yet, perhaps they are speaking too soon.

Jesus questions the depth of their belief.  Very soon, in spite of their protestations now, they will be scattered in all directions and leave Jesus alone and abandoned.  Of course, Jesus will not be alone; the Father is always with him even at the lowest depths of his humiliation .  Even when he himself will cry out: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

He tells them all this, not to discourage them, but so that they can find peace.  There will be many troubles facing them in the coming days and indeed in the years ahead.  They are not to worry: Jesus has conquered the world, not in any political or economic sense but in overcoming the evil of the world.  His disciples can share in that victory, as long as they stay close to him and walk his Way.

These words obviously have meaning for us especially if we are experiencing difficulties of any kind in our lives.  The peace we seek is available if we put ourselves into Jesus’ hands.  He knows; he has been through more than anything we are ever likely to have to experience.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/e1076g/

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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02 JUNE, 2017, Friday, 7th Week of Easter
IDEALISM GIVES WAY TO REALISM

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 25:13-21; PS 102:1-2,11-12,19-20; JN 21:15-19 ]

Most of us have great ideals.   When we are not in charge, we like to criticize those who are in charge.  We criticize the government, church leaders, our bosses and our parents as well.   We always feel that they are not doing what they should be doing.  We feel that they are backward, outdated, out-of-touch, not responsive to situations, etc.  We feel that our parents do not know how to live out their marriage; that they do not know how to raise their children.   We seem to have all the answers.  We are just waiting for that day when we can take over their job and show them what they should do.  We have great aspirations and hope that we can change lives and make a real difference in society.   When President Obama took office, he called for “change.”  When President Trump took office, he said, “I will make America great again!”  When the Korean President took office, in a similar vein he said, “I will build a new nation. I will make a great Korea, a proud Korea!”

But the reality is that when the day comes for us to take over, we will realize that it is not so easy after all.  Even President Trump, after 100 days in office, regretted when he remarked, “I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”  Indeed, those of us who are married today have come to realize that marriage is not a bed of roses, and that building relationship with our spouse is a challenging task, and looking after our children is sometimes an impossible task!  What more if one has to deal with difficult in-laws or elderly members at home.  So too all those who assume office, whether in the government, in church or any corporation or organization, will face the same challenges.  Many bishops and priests become jaded after assuming office for a while, because it so difficult to get anything moving or get everyone to agree on anything.  Church members too become disillusioned because of the bureaucracy in the Church.  The list goes on and on.

This too was the case for the apostles and Paul.  They too had great dreams for Israel.   Peter wanted to die for Jesus and follow Him wherever He went.  Peter declared, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”  (Mt 26:33) Again, he repeated, “I will lay down my life for you.”  (Jn 13:37)  Yet, when the time came for Peter to prove himself, he vehemently denied that he knew Christ when a maid or a servant identified him as one of His followers.  So too were the rest of the apostles.  All of them fled when Jesus was arrested.  Only John was at the foot of the cross with Mary, the Mother of Jesus and some other women.  James and John once told Jesus that they were ready to drink the cup that He was to drink. (cf Mt 20:22)

Indeed, like all those before us, along the way, we find that our ideals cannot be reached.  There are too many constraints.  It is easy for us to give great advice to those in positions of authority because we see things from our own narrow perspective and lack the breadth of their views.  We think we have the solution to all their problems.  But often we do not realize that every leader and every person in office is faced with certain limitations in terms of manpower, resources and finance.  No one can do whatever he likes, not even the President of the United States or the Pope!

That too was the experience of the Roman governor, Festus, in today’s first reading as well.  He took over from Felix and also the case of Paul that was not yet settled.  Unlike Felix, Festus was a just and honest governor.  He wanted to do the right thing.  The Jews wanted him to condemn Paul to death.  But he knew that Paul did not do anything that warranted a death sentence.  He knew that the Jews were jealous of him and felt threatened by him over some religious disagreement.  As he was not comfortable in making a judgement on Paul, he proposed that Paul be tried at Jerusalem since it was a religious matter.  But Paul knew very well that the judgment in Jerusalem would not be fair and just.  Instead, he appealed to Rome for judgement.  We can be sure that Festus was in one way relieved that he did not have to make a bad judgment as he did not want to offend the Jews at the start of his office.

That is why we must learn to be humble and be more realistic.  It is easy to talk big when we are not in charge or in the situation.  It is easy to dish out great advice when we are not in it.  St Peter learned a great lesson.  He was totally humbled by his sin of apostasy.  He was so ashamed of himself for denying Christ.   If not for Jesus, he could never have forgiven himself for what he did.  He never realized that he was such a coward after all.  So when Jesus met him again, He asked Peter, “do you love me more than these others do?”  If this question was in reference to his profession as a fisherman, an invitation to follow Jesus by giving up everything, including his trade, he might have given a positive answer.  But most likely, it was a question of whether he loved Jesus more than the rest of the disciples.  This time, Peter was no longer cocky and dismissive.   He no longer wished to compare himself with others.  And so the reply was simply, “’Yes Lord, you know I love you.”  He did not dare to say that he loved Jesus most.  Furthermore, Peter was realistic in his love for the Lord.  When Jesus asked him whether he loved him in an “agape” manner, that is total, unconditional, complete, self-sacrificing, Peter replied with the word, “phileo”, that is love of a friend.   Again, based on his past experience, Peter was more realistic about his commitment to the Lord.  He was no more full of himself.   It was better for him to just say to Jesus that He knew how much he loved Him.  He would love Jesus as much as he could. “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.”

Indeed, we see how Peter was healed by the threefold affirmation of love for the Lord.  Jesus gave him the chance to redeem himself by overwriting his threefold denial.  Above all, Jesus now had greater confidence in him by appointing him as the shepherd of his sheep.  Earlier on Jesus told Peter, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterward.” (Jn 13:36)  But after his restoration, the Lord not only asked him to feed and look after His lambs and sheep, but He said to Peter, “Follow me.”  Only those who have been healed of their pride and arrogance could be great leaders for the Lord.  Otherwise, arrogance in leadership will destroy them and those whom they are leading.  Whilst it is important for leaders to have great dreams, they must learn humility and realism.  We cannot do everything we hope to do.  Peter no longer was obstinate and insistent on having his own way.  The Lord said, “I tell you most solemnly, when you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go.”

Indeed, the ways of God are not ours.  “The Lord has set his sway in heaven and his kingdom is ruling over all.”  Though James and John did not get to sit on the right and left hand of the throne of Jesus, they did drink the cup eventually.   James was later beheaded.  John was sent to exile and although he did not suffer martyrdom, he offered his whole life for the gospel.  Peter was beheaded as well.  The evangelist noted, “In these words he indicated the kind of death by which Peter would give glory to God.”  St Paul too never realized that his dream of bringing the gospel to the ends of the world could be fulfilled.  He never expected that circumstances would happen in such a way that he was literally brought to Rome to proclaim the Gospel.  The ways of God are unimaginable.  Man proposes but God disposes.

What we need to do is simply to surrender our lives to Him.   We must allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives.  Our mission is dependent on the Holy Spirit.  Success is not just our work but that of divine plan and providence.  Jesus too surrendered His mission to the Holy Spirit at His death on the cross.  So all we need to do is to cooperate with His grace at every step in our lives.   God will lead the way.  We cannot determine the end or the outcome because it is the grace of God.  Let us listen to the Lord, “Follow me!”


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

Prayer and Meditation for Monday, May 29, 2017 — “In the world you will have hardship, but be courageous: I have conquered the world.” — Jesus said, “I have told you all this so that you may find peace in me.”

May 28, 2017

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Reading 1, Acts 19:1-8

It happened that while Apollos was in Corinth, Paul made his way overland as far as Ephesus, where he found a number of disciples.

When he asked, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ they answered, ‘No, we were never even told there was such a thing as a Holy Spirit.’

He asked, ‘Then how were you baptised?’ They replied, ‘With John’s baptism.’

Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance; but he insisted that the people should believe in the one who was to come after him — namely Jesus.’

When they heard this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus,

and the moment Paul had laid hands on them the Holy Spirit came down on them, and they began to speak with tongues and to prophesy.

There were about twelve of these men in all.

He began by going to the synagogue, where he spoke out fearlessly and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. He did this for three months.

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Responsorial Psalm, Psalms 68:2-3, 4-5, 6-7

You disperse them like smoke; as wax melts in the presence of a fire, so the wicked melt at the presence of God.

The upright rejoice in the presence of God, delighted and crying out for joy.

Sing to God, play music to his name, build a road for the Rider of the Clouds, rejoice in Yahweh, dance before him.

Father of orphans, defender of widows, such is God in his holy dwelling.

God gives the lonely a home to live in, leads prisoners out into prosperity, but rebels must live in the bare wastelands.

God, when you set out at the head of your people, when you strode over the desert.

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Gospel, John 16:29-33

His disciples said, ‘Now you are speaking plainly and not using veiled language.

Now we see that you know everything and need not wait for questions to be put into words; because of this we believe that you came from God.’

Jesus answered them: Do you believe at last?

Listen; the time will come — indeed it has come already — when you are going to be scattered, each going his own way and leaving me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.

I have told you all this so that you may find peace in me. In the world you will have hardship, but be courageous: I have conquered the world.

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Commentary on John 16:29-33 from Living Space

The disciples now claim to understand exactly what Jesus is talking about, although it is doubtful that they really do.  It will not be until later on that the full meaning of Jesus’ words will be grasped by them.

They are impressed that Jesus can answer their questions even before they are formulated.  “Because of this we believe that you came from God.”  Yet, perhaps they are speaking too soon.

Jesus questions the depth of their belief.  Very soon, in spite of their protestations now, they will be scattered in all directions and leave Jesus alone and abandoned.  Of course, Jesus will not be alone; the Father is always with him even at the lowest depths of his humiliation.  Even when he himself will cry out: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

He tells them all this, not to discourage them, but so that they can find peace.  There will be many troubles facing them in the coming days and indeed in the years ahead.  They are not to worry: Jesus has conquered the world, not in any political or economic sense but in overcoming the evil of the world.  His disciples can share in that victory, as long as they stay close to him and walk his Way.

These words obviously have meaning for us especially if we are experiencing difficulties of any kind in our lives.  The peace we seek is available if we put ourselves into Jesus’ hands.  He knows; he has been through more than anything we are ever likely to have to experience.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/e1072g/

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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
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We see in today’s reading the “laying on of hands.”
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We also see this in 1 Timothy 4: 14-16:
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“Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”
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Read more on the “laying on of hands”:
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And:
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Neglect Not The Gift Within You

Paul reminds Timothy two times about the gift (Charisma) that was given unto him, that he was not to neglect it and to stir it up. We see it once in 1Ti 4:14 and again in 2Ti 1:6.

1Ti 4:14-15 KJV  Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.  (15)  Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.

2Ti 1:6-7 KJV  Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.  (7)  For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

When we read 2Ti 1:6 we see that Paul is encouraging Timothy to stir up the gift. The phrase “stir up” was translated from the Greek word anazōpureō (an-ad-zo-poor-eh’-o), and it simply means to re-enkindle, in other words don’t let the flame of this gift that was bestowed upon you to turn into smoking coals and glowing embers, but instead keep it burning with a great fire blazing; and if you have let it become those glowing embers, then use those embers to re-enkindle the fire. I think that Paul had seen Timothy slacking off or just simply not using the gift as often as he should have. But why would he have not used the gift? What kept him from excelling with it so that the profiting or advancement of it could appear to all?

In vs 7 immediately after Paul encourages Timothy to stir up the gift he reminds us that God has not given us the spirit of fear. I think Paul noticed that Timothy was not using his gift because fear kept him from using it. Paul had to remind Timothy that he has not been given a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. This fear could have been a fear of man or perhaps afraid of what one would think of this “Charisma” he showed and how it was used for the Glory of God. I believe that fear being the opposite of faith was smothering the fire of this gift inside of Timothy, it kept him from using the gift to its fullest potential and excelling with it. Whether this gift was for healing, working of miracles, teaching, prophesying, etc.,. it is not known, but it is clear that he needed to be reminded to use it and stir it up!

Paul’s reminder to Timothy is to us as well. I encourage you to not neglect the gift and stir it up (re-enkindle) it. Do not let fear keep you from excelling with the gift, be not luke warm with it, nor afraid to be Charismatic! This gift is given by the grace and favor of God upon your life for His purposes to be fulfilled. Now excel with it so the advancement and profiting of it will appear before all so He is glorified!

Be blessed with His perfect Love and Peace,
Pastors & Psalmist Gary and Rhonda Petzoldt

http://www.lilybandmusic.com/neglect-not-the-gift-in-you-and-stir-it-up/

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Prayer to Put Ourselves Into His Hands
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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection• The context of today’s Gospel continues to be the environment of the Last Supper, an environment of fraternity and of farewell, of sadness and of expectation, in which is mirrored the situation of the communities of Asia Minor at the end of the first century. In order to be able to understand the Gospels well, we can never forget that they give the words of Jesus not as if they had been registered in a CD to transmit them literally. The Gospels are pastoral writings which seek to embody and update the words of Jesus in the new situations in which the communities find themselves in the second half of the first century in Galilee (Matthew), in Greece (Luke), in Italy (Mark) and in Asia Minor (John)..

In the Gospel of John, the words and the questions of the disciples are not only those of the disciples, in fact, they reveal the questions and problems of the communities. They are the mirror in which the communities of that time as well as those of today are recognized with their sadness and their anguishes, with their joys and their hopes. And they find light and strength in the answers of Jesus.

• John 16, 29-30: Now, you are speaking plainly. Jesus had told his disciples: The Father himself loves you, because you have loved me, and you have believed that I come from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world and now I am leaving the world to go to the Father (Jn 16, 29-30). Listening to this affirmation of Jesus, the disciples answered: “Now you are speaking plainly and not using veiled language. Now we see that you know everything and need not wait for questions to be put into words. Because of this we believe that you came from God”.

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The disciples think that they have understood everything. Yes, truly they got a true light to clarify their problems. But it was still a very dim light. They got the seed, but at that moment, not knowing the tree. The light or the seed was the fundamental intuition of faith according to which Jesus is for us the revelation of God, who is Father: “Now we believe that you came from God.“ But this was only the beginning, the seed. Jesus himself was and continues to be the great parable or the revelation of God for us. God reaches us and reveals himself to us. But God does not enter into any schema. He exceeds all, goes beyond our schema and gives us the unexpected surprise which, sometimes, is very painful.

• John 16, 31-32: You are leaving me alone and yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. Jesus asks: Do you believe at last? He knows his disciples. He knows that there is still much lacking for the understanding of the mystery of God and of the Good News of God. He knows that in spite of the good will and in spite of the light that they have just received in that moment, they still have to face the unexpected and painful surprise of the Passion and Death of Jesus. The small light that they got is not sufficient to overcome the darkness of the crisis: Behold, the time will come, indeed it has come already, when you are going to be scattered , each one going his own way and leaving me alone; and yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.

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This is the source of certitude of Jesus and through Jesus, this is and will be the source of certitude for all of us: The Father is with me! When Moses was sent to liberate the people from the oppression of the Egyptians, this being his mission, he received this certainty: “”Go! I am with you” /Ex 3, 12). The certainty of the liberating presence of God is expressed in the name that God assumes at the moment of the beginning of the Exodus and of the liberation of his people: JHWH, God with us: This is the name for all time (Ex 3, 15). A Name which is present more than six thousand times only in the New Testament.

• John 16, 33: Courage, I have conquered the world! And now we have the last phrase pronounced by Jesus who anticipates the victory and which will be a source of peace and of strength for the disciples of that time, as well as for all of us, up until now: I have told you all this so that you may find peace in me. In the world you will have hardship, but be courageous, I have conquered the world”. With his sacrifice out of love, Jesus conquers the world and Satan. His disciples are called to participate in the struggle and the victory. To feel the courage which he gives is already to overcome the battle”. (L.A. Schokel)

For Personal Confrontation

• A small light helped the disciples to take a step farther, but it did not light the whole journey. Have you had a similar experience in your life?

• Courage, I have conquered the world! Has this phrase of Jesus helped you some times in your life?

Concluding Prayer

Protect me, O God, in you is my refuge.
To Yahweh I say, ‘You are my Lord, my happiness is in none
My birthright, my cup is Yahweh;
you, you alone, hold my lot secure. (Ps 16,1-2,5)

http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-john-1629-33

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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29 MAY, 2017, Monday, 7th Week of Easter
WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A TRUE BELIEVER OF THE LORD

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS  19:1-8; JOHN 16:29-33 ]

“His disciples said to Jesus, ‘Now you are speaking plainly and not using metaphors! Now we see that you know everything, and do not have to wait for questions to be put into words; because of this we believe that you came from God.’ Jesus answered them: ‘Do you believe at last?” This is a good question for all of us as well.   Do we truly believe that Jesus is Lord?

We all claim to believe in Jesus.  But the truth is that for most of us, our faith is more of an intellectual assent or cultural practice than a conviction of the heart.  So like the disciples, we pay lip service to the Lord.  Our faith is not from the heart but from the head.  Worse still, for many of us who are nominal Catholics, faith is but a culture or a tradition.  It is not based on a personal conviction of our Lord.   For many of our young people, they are at church because their friends are there.

When we replace knowledge with belief in terms of conviction of the heart, then of course in times of trials and difficulties, we will abandon the Lord, like the disciples.  The Lord said, “Listen; the time will come – in fact it has come already – when you will be scattered, each going his own way and leaving me alone.”  Indeed, many of us will abandon Jesus in our lives.  What we profess with our lips we deny by our actions.  In times of trouble and difficulties, we give up easily, whether in marriage or in the priesthood.  Many of us lack perseverance in doing good and especially in ministry. We resign when we do not agree with the leader or the group.   And we say we have faith in Jesus and we love Him!  This was the case of the apostles before Easter.  They too betrayed the Lord and abandoned Him.

This is because we do not really love Jesus from our hearts.  Which mother or father would abandon a difficult child?   They will continue to carry the burden of looking after them because they love them.  When we love, we are ready to die for a person.  No sacrifices are too difficult to make for those whom we love.   For our friends, we are ready to die for them but few would die for an ideology.   St Paul said in no uncertain terms, “unless you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will not be saved.  For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.”  (Rom 10:9f)

In contrast we have Jesus who truly believed and showed His belief not in words but in action.  He was ready to die for the Father and for His people.  This is because He loved.  Where did He get His strength to sacrifice Himself for His Father and His people if not the fact that He knew that the Father was with Him.   He was one with the Father in mind and will.  He said, “In the world you will have trouble, but be brave: I have conquered the world.” 

How did He conquer the world if not by the strength and love of His Father?  “And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.”  It is His personal intimacy and faith in the Father’s love that kept Him at peace even in trials.  This is the basis of peace for Jesus. He was not afraid of death or what was ahead of Him.  Hence, He said, “I have told you all this so that you may find peace in me.”  Indeed, when we know that someone is with us, we will find the strength to carry on. What we need is a supportive and encouraging spouse, teacher, friend or a mentor.   When a child senses the presence of the parents, he is at rest.  People need to feel the presence of God in their lives if they are to find the strength and the courage to endure the sufferings and tribulations of life.  Like a child, we need to be held and to hold so that we can feel the presence of someone supporting us in love.

How do we find peace?   How can we overcome the world?  Only if we also know that the Lord is with us.  So how is He with us?  After the feast of the Ascension, we tend to think that He is away from us.  This is of course is not true.  The great thing about the Ascension is that although He has returned to His Father to receive His glory, yet, He remains with us.   Just as in the incarnation, He is with us but never left the Father.  Today, He is with us in the Holy Spirit. He is the love of God poured into our hearts.  Through the Spirit of Jesus, we share in His courage, peace, love and joy.

How can we receive the Holy Spirit?  We need to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  This was what St Paul told the disciples at Ephesus. It is not enough to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  Giving up sins alone will not give us joy.   We need to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus who is the presence of God in us.  We need to know that He is with us in our trials.  We need the presence of the Risen Lord to encourage us.  Then we can find peace and joy.   The Holy Spirit makes present the Risen Lord by filling us with His love.

This explains why those who have a renewal of the Holy Spirit in their lives are filled with joy.  Like the early Christians, “the moment Paul had laid hands on them the Holy Spirit came down on them, and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy. There were about twelve of these men.”   St Paul himself went “to the synagogue, where he spoke out boldly and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. He did this for three months.”  In the case of the apostles, before Pentecost, they were afraid and hid in the Upper Room.   But after receiving the Holy Spirit, they became powerful witnesses of our Lord, full of courage and conviction.

Indeed, we all need to encounter the presence of the Lord today.  This also explains why popular religiosity and devotions are so much sought after by our faithful because they need to feel the presence of God, to see and to touch.   The Holy Spirit in a special way fills us with His warmth, love and presence so that we can be empowered to witness to the Lord.  With the psalmist, we sing, “But the just shall rejoice at the presence of God, they shall exult and dance for joy.  O sing to the Lord, make music to his name; rejoice in the Lord, exult at his presence.”

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, May 28, 2017 — I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living — Whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed

May 27, 2017

Seventh Sunday of Easter
Lectionary: 59

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The Upper Room?

Reading 1 ACTS 1:12-14

After Jesus had been taken up to heaven the apostles
returned to Jerusalem
from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem,
a sabbath day’s journey away.

When they entered the city
they went to the upper room where they were staying,
Peter and John and James and Andrew,
Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew,
James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot,
and Judas son of James.
All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer,
together with some women,
and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

Responsorial Psalm PS 27:1, 4, 7-8

R. (13) I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.
or:
R. Alleluia.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
R. I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.
or:
R. Alleluia.
One thing I ask of the LORD; this I seek:
to dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
That I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD
and contemplate his temple.
R. I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Hear, O Lord, the sound of my call;
have pity on me, and answer me.
Of you my heart speaks; you my glance seeks.
R. I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Reading 2 1 PT 4:13-16

Beloved:
Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ,
so that when his glory is revealed
you may also rejoice exultantly.
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you,
for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
But let no one among you be made to suffer
as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer.
But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed
but glorify God because of the name.

Alleluia CF. JN 14:18

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I will not leave you orphans, says the Lord.
I will come back to you, and your hearts will rejoice.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 17:1-11A

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said,
“Father, the hour has come.
Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you,
just as you gave him authority over all people,
so that your son may give eternal life to all you gave him.
Now this is eternal life,
that they should know you, the only true God,
and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.
I glorified you on earth
by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do.
Now glorify me, Father, with you,
with the glory that I had with you before the world began.

“I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world.
They belonged to you, and you gave them to me,
and they have kept your word.
Now they know that everything you gave me is from you,
because the words you gave to me I have given to them,
and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you,
and they have believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.
I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me,
because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours
and everything of yours is mine,
and I have been glorified in them.
And now I will no longer be in the world,
but they are in the world, while I am coming to you.”

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From The Abbot in the Desert

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Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiu, New Mexico

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My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

Now the Ascension has happened.  The followers of Jesus wait for the Holy Spirit.  They had no idea what the Holy Spirit would mean in their lives.  The simply waited and prayed for the Holy Spirit to come.  This is the way for all of us:  wait and pray for the Holy Spirit.

The first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles and tells us about the return of the followers of Jesus from the Mount of Olives to the Upper Room, where they were staying.  This reading mentions a “sabbath day’s journey.”  We no longer think in those terms but for the early followers of Jesus, the Jewish Law was still very important.  The point of this reading is simply that these followers of Jesus were gathering in the Upper Room and praying.  Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and some other women, are also there with the followers.

The second reading today is from the First Letter of Peter.  This one short passage tells us about our life as followers of Jesus:  “Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.”

We never know what sufferings will come into our lives.  This second of the First Letter of Peter warns us that we should not be suffering because we are murderers, thieves, evildoers, or intriguers!  Rather we must suffer simply for trying to follow the Lord Jesus.

The Gospel today is from the Gospel of John and tells us this:  I pray for them.  I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them.”  The Father has given us all to His Son.  The world might perish, but Jesus will be with each one of us—if we let Him be there.  We are called to a deeper faith.  We are called to believe in the Holy Spirit, who guides us and directs us in our daily lives.

Jesus is glorified in us.  That is to say:  you and I are capable of showing the glory of God to others by our faith.  We may be sinners.  We are sinners.  Yet Jesus is still with us and saves us.  This is the miracle of salvation:  God sent His Son to save sinners, not to condemn us.  The more we can believe in this, the more open we become to the transformation that the Lord may want in us.  Let us spend time today asking for the Holy Spirit, pleading with the Lord to save us in all we do.  We cannot save ourselves!  There is no good action that we can do that will bring us salvation.  Only faith in the Lord Jesus gives us salvation.  Lord, have mercy on us!

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

https://christdesert.org/

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

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28 MAY, 2017, Sunday, 7th Week of Easter

THE HOLY SPIRIT LEADS US TO SHARE IN THE GLORY OF GOD

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 1:12-14; 1 PT 4:13-16; JN 17:1-11  ]

One of the things people seek in this life is glory.  We want people to honour us, to regard us highly and to love us. But the irony of it all is that the more we seek glory for ourselves, what we bring in the end is disgrace.  When we are concerned with making ourselves famous and great before others, we cannot but expose our self-centeredness and selfishness. We become arrogant and manipulative.  Inevitably, at the same time we court the envy of our competitors and enemies.  As a result, the more we try to bring glory to ourselves, the more we destroy ourselves.  When we seek vain glory for ourselves, we cannot find true and lasting happiness.

What, then, can bring us real happiness in life?  The Good News is that we are all called to share in the glory of God.  God wants to glorify us and give us the Spirit of glory.  How, then, can we seek this glory?  Paradoxically, the Spirit of glory is only given to those who glorify God.  Catholic Catechism teaches that our whole purpose on earth is to seek the glory of God.  The purpose of creation is defined as being created for the glory of God.  God creates man freely from His own will.  Why is it that the only way to receive real glory for ourselves is to glorify God?  In order to understand the paradoxical relationship between the glory of God and our glory, we must first understand why our life is for the glory of God.

This expression “for the glory of God” needs clarification.  We must be careful not to imagine that God needs us to glorify Him or that God created the world and man to induce amazement and worship of His greatness. Such an interpretation would be false and misleading.  It would create an image of a God that is insecure.  On the contrary, God by His very nature is complete and self-sufficient.  He does not need us to glorify Him in order to be complete.  God did not create us in order to prove Himself or astonish anyone with His power.  God did not create us for His self-interests.  He is infinitely perfect and cannot grow more perfect than He eternally and necessarily is.

God did not create us for His own happiness.  God created us for His glory and for our happiness.  Jesus tells us that the Father has entrusted everything to Him.  God the Father has given everything to the Son.  He has given Him power, love and His word. The Father reserves nothing for Himself.  All that He has belongs to the Son.  By extension too, this same divine life which Jesus shares with the Father is now also given to us.  Jesus has been sent to us so that we can have a share in the eternal life of God.

So, then, why do we maintain that God created us for His glory?  The truth is that His glory is our happiness.  God created us for our happiness, which is ours if we manifest His glory, that is, His love and His life.  Unless we live our lives in such a way that glorifies God, we have no share in that glory.  By living His life of love and self-emptying we share in the life of God.  We share His glory by manifesting His goodness and joy in us.  So the paradox is that when we live the life of God, we actually glorify God. When we manifest the perfection of God in us, we consciously or unconsciously give glory to Him.  Insofar as we glorify Him by living His life, we also share in the happiness of living the life of God. Consequently we cannot seek glory directly but we can seek glory indirectly by glorifying God with our lives.

Within this context, we can understand why Jesus asked the Father to glorify Him.  To the extent that the Father glorifies Jesus, God is even more glorified.  This glorification of Jesus is His resurrection from the dead.  If God did not glorify Jesus after His death, then it would only prove that all that Jesus said and did were not from the Father.  But by glorifying Jesus, the Father actually glorified Himself, since the whole life of Jesus is now confirmed as expressing the life of God.  Hence, to glorify God is to glorify ourselves; and for God to glorify us is to glorify Himself.

Once this is understood, we must now ask ourselves, how can we best share His life in such a way that we manifest His glory in us and in turn share in His glory?  The first way of glorifying God is that we must share in the life of God.  Jesus said, “eternal life is this – to know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”  In Jesus, we see the life of God incarnated.  In Jesus, we see the love and glory of the Father.  If we want to share in the life of God, we must come to know Jesus and know the Father. It is in our union with God that we find real life.  This is what we are created for, to share in the Trinitarian life of God.  We are called to have a personal relationship with God through the Son in the Spirit.  The more we come to know God personally, the more we come to share in His life.  In sharing His life we will reflect His life in us and thus manifest the glory of God.

Secondly, Jesus tells us that the way to glorify God is to glorify Him by worshiping and glorifying Him. Jesus glorified His Father in the priestly prayer.  We too must also give eternal praise and glory to God in worship. Man’s life must become a praise of God.  The praise of God is fundamental to life. In praising God, we come to know ourselves and our place in creation and in life.  Praise however makes no sense if it has no consequence.  St. Augustine said:  “You are what you say.”  Authentic praise of God expresses who we are.  The praise and glory of God in prayer is to be manifested in the life that we live as well.

Thirdly, if our lives were to be an eternal praise and glory to God it entails that we also manifest the work of God in us.  Jesus told the Father, “In them I am glorified.” When we live the life of Jesus, Jesus is glorified in us; and in turn God is glorified in Him.  Hence, our lives must be an eternal praise and glory to God. If people were to see the glory of God in us, they can only see it in our lives.  It is in all that we do and say that will manifest the life and glory of God.  Indeed, the whole life of Jesus is to glorify God on earth by finishing the work God had given Him to do. Jesus glorified God by being faithful to His vocation in life and by keeping His word.

For us too, we also glorify God by being faithful to what we have been called to do in life.  It is fidelity to our calling in life that will truly make us happy and fulfilled people.  The more we are true to ourselves and to our being, just as Jesus was true to His Sonship and mission, the more we find true happiness.  The man who lives his life to the fullest is truly the manifestation of the glory of God.  When such a life is lived according to God’s calling, there can be no other fullness.    Hence, the fullness of human existence is identical with the glory of God. The more man realizes himself, and the world in him, the brighter the glory of the creator radiates from him.  Man therefore glorifies God in his being as Jesus did. The glory of God is manifested in the person who lives in Christ.

Fourthly, fidelity to our vocation and calling necessarily implies that quite often we will be required to share in the sufferings of Christ, as Peter tells us in the second reading.  Sharing in the sufferings of Christ entails a real sharing in His glory because we suffer for what is right and good.  When we suffer patiently, we will be like Jesus who was vindicated in the end.  Those people who suffer selflessly for their country, for truth, for justice or for the service of others inspire us. The martyrs manifested Christ in themselves.

Fifthly, to manifest the glory of God entails making the name of God known, for this is what Jesus did.  He said, “Father I have made your name known.”  It is not sufficient simply to glorify God in our lives.  We are also called to glorify God by proclaiming His name.  Unless we make His name known, people will not know that the glory that is manifested in and through us is from God. The truth is that many people might live a good life but are not grateful to God because they do not recognize that their goodness comes from a source beyond themselves whom we call the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Thus, they only glorify God unconsciously in their lives but do not know whom to thank for the life of God that they shared.

But if they were to come to know who God is and their purpose in life, they will be able to consciously turn to God and glorify Him more than ever.  Hence, it is necessary that we are all called to praise God both in our deeds and in our words so that the whole world comes to know God and praise Him consciously in their lives. Today, incidentally, we celebrate World Communication Sunday.  Mass media must serve the glory of God through the promotion of life, love and harmony.  When mass media is used to promote selfishness, disunity, falsehood and worldly ambitions, it causes division in His creation.  The great task before us as Church is to communicate the love of God to all humankind so that God’s glory is manifested in their lives, whether it is through the employment of the mass media or our own lives.

The truth is that one can only live the life of Jesus and the life of the Father when we share in their Spirit.  The power to live the life of God and bring glory to Him is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit.  It is through the Holy Spirit that the Father glorified Jesus in His Resurrection.  It is the Holy Spirit which Jesus gives us at Pentecost that empowers us to live our baptismal life.  It is for this reason, that Jesus reminded His disciples that they must wait for the Holy Spirit before they can glorify and proclaim His name and the glory of His Kingdom to the ends of the earth. Without the Holy Spirit, our proclamation will be ineffective.  Our words will be empty; and our deeds will be rooted not in God’s love but human recognition and human need.  Let us then imitate the example of Mary and the Apostles by praying for a new release of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Spiritual Reflection From Peace and Freedom
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A few days ago, my wife and I watched a first grader try to assemble a puzzle. The more she tried, the harder it got.
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Finally, this dear little one bagan to cry and said, “Please help me. I can’t do a thing!”
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A little voice in my head (I call Him “The Holy Spirit”) said, “That’s what we are all supposed to do. Admit our powerlessness and ask God for help.”
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Catholics have been schooled for centuries to “reach out to God;” “Knock and the Door Will Open;” or “Turn it over to God.”
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The master of this school of thought is Jean Pierre de Caussade.
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He was one of the more memorable teachers of “Self Abandonment.” It turns out that many of us don’t have room for God because “self ” keeps getting in the way….
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Book: Jean Pierre de Caussade (7 March 1675 – 8 December 1751) was a French Jesuit priest and writer known for the work called “Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence.”
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Charles Eugene de Foucauld (1858-1916) took Jean Pierre de Caussade philosophy and boiled it down into one simple prayer seen below:

Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do. I thank you; I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, a Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.

A few decades later, the Holy Spirit got a version of this prayer into the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous where you can find it today hiding as the “Third Step Prayer” —

The Third Step Prayer

from page 63 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
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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!

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The philosophy of self-abandonment is everywhere in Christian teaching. Often, it is referred to as “a life of service.”

In Alcoholics Anonymous, the self-abandonment requirement is stated as you see here:

Who cares to admit complete defeat? Practically no one, of course. Every natural instinct cries out against the idea of personal powerlessness. It is truly awful to admit that, glass in hand, we have warped our minds into such an obsession for destructive drinking that only an act of Providence can remove it from us. No other kind of bankruptcy is like this one. Alcohol, now become the rapacious creditor, bleeds us of all self-sufficiency and all will to resist its demands. Once this stark fact is accepted, our bankruptcy as going human concerns is complete. But upon entering A.A. we soon take quite another view of this absolute humiliation. We perceive that only through utter defeat are we able to take our first steps toward liberation and strength. Our admissions of personal powerlessness finally turn out to be firm bedrock upon which happy and purposeful lives may be built. We know that little good can come to any alcoholic who joins A.A. unless he has first accepted his devastating weakness and all its consequences. Until he so humbles himself, his sobriety–if any–will be precarious. Of real happiness he will find none at all. Proved beyond doubt by an immense experience, this is one of the facts of A.A. life. The principle that we shall find no enduring strength until we first admit complete defeat is the main taproot from which our whole Society has sprung and flowered. 

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Prayer and Meditation for Friday, May 26, 2017 — In prayer, we ask for the gift of joy to counter the darkness of sadness. — “I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice!” — “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”

May 25, 2017

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, Priest
Lectionary: 295

Justin Ng of Singapore captured this view of a bright Eta Aquarid meteor hurtling across the night sky over Mount Bromo, on the Indonesian island of Java.

Reading 1  ACTS 18:9-18

One night while Paul was in Corinth, the Lord said to him in a vision,
“Do not be afraid.
Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you.
No one will attack and harm you,
for I have many people in this city.”
He settled there for a year and a half
and taught the word of God among them.

But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia,
the Jews rose up together against Paul
and brought him to the tribunal, saying,
“This man is inducing people to worship God contrary to the law.”
When Paul was about to reply, Gallio spoke to the Jews,
“If it were a matter of some crime or malicious fraud,
I should with reason hear the complaint of you Jews;
but since it is a question of arguments over doctrine and titles
and your own law, see to it yourselves.
I do not wish to be a judge of such matters.”
And he drove them away from the tribunal.
They all seized Sosthenes, the synagogue official,
and beat him in full view of the tribunal.
But none of this was of concern to Gallio.

Paul remained for quite some time,
and after saying farewell to the brothers he sailed for Syria,
together with Priscilla and Aquila.
At Cenchreae he had shaved his head because he had taken a vow.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 47:2-3, 4-5, 6-7

R. (8a) God is king of all the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
All you peoples, clap your hands,
shout to God with cries of gladness,
For the LORD, the Most High, the awesome,
is the great king over all the earth.
R. God is king of all the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
He brings people under us;
nations under our feet.
He chooses for us our inheritance,
the glory of Jacob, whom he loves.
R. God is king of all the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy;
the LORD, amid trumpet blasts.
Sing praise to God, sing praise;
sing praise to our king, sing praise.
R. God is king of all the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia  SEE LK 24:46, 26

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
“Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead,
and so enter into his glory.”
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  JN 16:20-23

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn,
while the world rejoices;
you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.
When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived;
but when she has given birth to a child,
she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy
that a child has been born into the world.
So you also are now in anguish.
But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will take your joy away from you.
On that day you will not question me about anything.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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26 MAY, 2017, Friday, 6th Week of Easter
ASSURANCE  IS ALL WE NEED TO OVERCOME OUR FEARS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS  18:9-18; PS 46:2-7; JN 16:20-23 ]

It is natural for us to be afraid of the future.  We all have anxieties about tomorrow.  We are diffident when called to assume certain responsibilities or an office.  We are not too sure whether we can do the job.  We feel insecure and most of all, have low-self esteem.  We lack confidence in ourselves.  That is why many of us, when asked to take up a certain office or work, decline because we feel we are not good enough or that we cannot do it.  There are many too, who have a calling in life but they never realized their vocation simply because they are afraid to give a response.  Later on in life, when they look back, then they regret.  But such fear is in us.  How then can we overcome our fear, insecurity and lack of self-confidence?

We need assurance.  This was what Paul needed when he was in Corinth.  He was facing the daunting task of proclaiming the gospel at Corinth because it was a notorious city.   Being a commercial city, it shared all the sins present in any modern city.  The people were living a life of pleasure and promiscuity; just like our world today.  It is difficult to speak to people about God because they seek immediate gratification and sensual pleasures.  How can we speak about fidelity in relationship to our young when the subtle messages in the mass media and our movies promote infidelity and promiscuous relationships, even in marriage, as an accepted norm in society?  Our entertainment is riddled with lust, greed and self-indulgence disguised as ‘art’ and justified as ‘freedom of expression’!  So what Paul was going through is the same challenge that Catholics, Christians and believers of other religions are facing; the amoralistic, individualistic and sensual gratification of society.

So too, the apostles.  They were filled with anxiety at the prospect of Jesus leaving them. They were uncertain about their future. They were sad not only because Jesus was going to be taken away from them but they had to face a future without Jesus. This was a greater anxiety.  How could they continue without Jesus?  If we were them, we would feel the same way.  Whether as children or even adults, we will feel lost when our parents or spouse are taken away from us.  Some parents feel alone when their children go away because of work or marriage.  We feel we cannot do or live without them.

In both instances, the Lord showed His sympathy and understanding.  Being a man like us, He understood what it meant to be alone, to feel fearful of the unknown and to live in uncertainty.  Hence, “at Corinth one night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid to speak out, nor allow yourself to be silenced: I am with you. I have so many people on my side in this city that no one will even attempt to hurt you.’”  That was all the assurance that Paul needed.  He needed to hear from the Lord that He was with him.  Upon the assurance given by the Lord, “Paul stayed at Corinth preaching the word of God among them for eighteen months.”   So too the Lord assured the disciples of His return. “So it is with you: you are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you.”   Again, the Lord reminded His disciples that they would not be left orphaned or be alone in their mission. (cf Jn 14:18). Then at the end of the gospel, we read once again His constant reassurance, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Mt 28:20)

How does He assure us of His presence?  Firstly, we can discover His presence in our trials and sufferings. Jesus reminded His disciples that suffering is part of this joy.  Only when we value pain, can we then value joy.  The truth of life is that those who are never deprived of hunger will not be able to feel with the poor.  That is why rich and affluent people waste food and throw away things because they do not appreciate what it means to be hungry, without accommodation and clothes.  So too our young people today.  Born in an environment where all their material and physical needs are satisfied, they often take what they have for granted.  But if we have gone through hard times, we can appreciate even more what we have when we get them.

Secondly, we discover His presence knowing that we have done the right thing.  Very often, people associate joy with being without pain.  Yet, often the deep sense of peace comes about because we have done the right thing, not the pleasant thing.  A case in point is when a loved one, colleague or enemy treat us badly.  Instead of retaliating, we continue to love them and show them that we care.  It is not easy to love those who cause us much pain, accusing us behind our back of things we never did.  Yet, even realizing how much they have hurt us, we go beyond our pain and reach out to them in love and compassion, putting ourselves in their shoes.  This is a joy that, as Jesus said, is not of the world. Rather, it comes from the peace of a clear conscience, knowing that we have transcended their hatefulness and did not stoop so low as to behave like them by retaliating.  The peace and consolation in our hearts is His presence.  That is why the peace of the world is unlike that of this world.

Thirdly, this explains why Jesus assures us that this joy will never be taken away.  This joy is not dependent on the sufferings without or within, or changes in life circumstances, but because we know that we have done the right thing.  This is the joy of the martyrs and the joy of Jesus even in their sufferings because they suffered for truth and for love.  They transcended the pleasures that come from self-indulgence or pride of the world. How else do we explain the joy of parents who suffer for their children; the joy of saints who died for Christ, the joy of priests and religious who sacrifice their lives for the People of God!  When the joy of Jesus in self-sacrificing love is with us, we can be joyful in sorrow, in suffering with and for people.  This of course is not the joy of the world because the joy of the world is focused on self, not on others.

Fourthly, the assurance of Jesus’ presence is our vindication, either in this life or in the next. “I tell you most solemnly, you will be weeping and wailing while the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful but your sorrow will turn to joy.”  In our struggles, at times we feel alone and defeated.  We feel that things are not going well and we are losing the battle.  But Jesus assures us that the time will come when we will be vindicated.  Our enemies might seem to win but victory will be ours. This is what the responsorial psalm tells us.  He is King of all the earth.  Conversely, it is true that the joy of the world will turn to sorrow.  The world may appear to be triumphant but the consequences will be known one day.  Those who are irresponsible with their lives, who indulge in immoral pleasures or engage in dishonest activities or in harmful trade will one day face the full judgment of God.  They will reap what they sow.  We must not be lacking wisdom in looking for the apparent and external but for the eternal.  Indeed, Jesus assures us that all questions will be answered. “When that day comes, you will not ask me any questions.”  We will come to know everything from hindsight.  For this reason, we should walk by faith, not by sight!

Finally we are told that our joy will be complete.  “I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you.”  In life, even when we are joyful, something is lacking.  We know that joy will not last.  Even when we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, we know that such earthly joys will come to an end.  When we celebrate Christmas or New Year, that joy will last only for a while.  Even the joy of having our children with us is for a period of time.  Then they will move on in life and we are left with memories.  Nothing on this earth lasts, neither joys nor sorrows.  But the joy that comes from Jesus is certain and everlasting.  It is complete and perfect.  With Jesus, there is always joy even in sorrow.  With Jesus, there is no fear even when there is opposition.

What is significant is that the presence of Jesus is already felt in our times and not just at the end of this life.  He comes to us in the Holy Spirit.   (cf Jn 14:16-18)  So we are not speaking simply of the joy of being reunited with Jesus at the end of time.  Rather, He has already come to live in us with His Father in the Holy Spirit.  (cf Jn 14:20f). Truly, the apostles felt the presence of the Holy Spirit so powerfully at work at the beginning of the primitive Church.  The whole book of the Acts of the Apostles abounds with the work of the Holy Spirit.  They worked miracles in the name of Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit. (cf Acts 5:12,15f). The gifts of the Holy Spirit were visibly manifested in the Christian community of Corinth. (cf 1 Cor 12:7-11 cf 1 Cor 14)

With such assurance from our Lord, knowing the joy that is ahead of us, we should be ready to bear the sorrows and the sufferings of the present for the sake of the future good, of ours and humanity, difficult as they might be.  But like a woman, we must think of the new life before us.  He will assist us also by sending us helpers like Gallio, whom He sent to defend Paul.  We have only to open our eyes to see that we are never alone.  Even in our darkest moments, God will send us help from the most unlikely sources.  So with St Paul, let us always come before the Lord in thanksgiving. It was on account of God’s promise to render him assistance that most likely in gratitude and thanksgiving, he took a vow to crop his hair.  We too like St Paul must be faithful to God just as He has been faithful to us.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Homily Ideas
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One gets the notion in this first reading that Jesus said “Do not be afraid” so often that Paul started to hear the Lord’s voice in his sleep!
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Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we knew Jesus that well!
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Many folks in our modern society suffer with enormous worry and anxiety. But Christians are told over and over and over again: “Do not be afraid for I am with you.”
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All the Saints are fearless. Why can’t we just follow them?
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Padre Pio said, “If you are worried: PRAY. Once you are praying, why do you worry?”
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Every time my priest friend meets someone filled with worry and anxiety, he asks them, “When did you last go to confession and eat the Body of Christ?”
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It is the same as saying, “When did you last follow the instructions Jesus, the disciples and two thousand years filled with saints that showed us and told us how to live?”
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Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him.  (John 6:56)
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This reading also gives us a hint that Jesus would tell us not to worry too much about doctrinal issues because he says to Paul in a dream, “but since it is a question of arguments over doctrine and titles and your own law” handle it yourself!
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Jesus wants us to spread the Good News: not constantly argue about who is more right or who is more correct in their practice or doctrine.
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It is almost as if Jesus says, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
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In times of trouble we are often reminded to pray. My favorite prayer to calm a storm is:
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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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Many also pray the “Serenity Prayer.”
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“God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
the courage to change the things we can,
and wisdom to know the difference.”
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John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom
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Related:
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Image result for Pio of Pietrelcina

“Pray, pray to the Lord with me, because the whole world needs prayer. And every day, when your heart especially feels the loneliness of life, pray. Pray to the Lord, because even God needs our prayers.”

– St. Pio of Pietrelcina
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“Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”
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– St. Pio of  Pietrelcina
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Above: Paul’s Third Missionary journey.
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From 2016

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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06 MAY 2016, Friday, 6th Week of Easter
TURNING SORROW INTO JOY THROUGH FAITH AND HOPE

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 18:9-18; JN 16:20-23   ]We can feel with the disciples in their sadness when Jesus told them that He would be leaving them soon. He also predicted His imminent passion, death and resurrection. Of course, at that point of time, the disciples could not understand.  Nevertheless, Jesus prepared them for the eventuality, when He told them, “I tell you most solemnly, you will be weeping and wailing while the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful but your sorrow will turn to joy.”

Indeed, all of us experience sadness in life.  Certain days we are sadder than others.  We are sad because things are not going well in our life or because we suffer with our loved ones in their sickness, failures and misfortunes.  We feel sad too because we are hurting due to misunderstandings or failed relationships, especially with our loved ones, friends and colleagues.  So we are sad for many reasons.

In the face of sadness, we must simply persevere.  This is what Jesus is asking of us.  We must not give up.  How not to give up?  By focusing on the future and the joy ahead of us!  Failures and setbacks are temporary.  Suffering is part of the process of growing.  Like Jesus, He had to go through the cross before He could experience the resurrection.  So we must with hope look ahead rather be dragged down by such setbacks in life.  For the sake of the greater joy in the future, we must persevere.  This is what the letter of Hebrews also urges us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Heb 12:1-2)

Jesus also gives us the example of the woman who was about to give birth.  We cannot but be surprised at Jesus’ perceptivity and sensitivity to the daily plight of the human person.  In all His teachings, He would draw examples from daily life.  This shows that Jesus was a man very much in touch with Himself.  Like the expectant mother, we must go through the labour so that we can receive the gift of a new life.  That is what Jesus said, “A woman in childbirth suffers, because her time has come; but when she has given birth to the child she forgets the suffering in her joy that a man has been born into the world.”

Sadness turns into depression only when one suffers without hope.  Only those who think that they have come to a dead end give up all hope, and the sadness becomes destructive.  So long as there is hope, all sadness can be endured patiently, lovingly and positively.   Therefore we need to ask ourselves when we are sad, isn’t it because we have lost hope?  Sadness belongs to the devil because He wants us to give up hope in life, in others and, most of all, in ourselves.  For those of us who are not careful, the devil will lead us from sadness to depression and then to suicide.

For us Christians, Christ is our Hope.  We have the privilege of hindsight to see that the death of Jesus did not end in tragedy.  The passion and death of Jesus, as He said, brought the world great happiness, because they thought that they had got rid of Him.   But their victory was only temporary.   Jesus won the victory in His resurrection, proving that sin has been overcome by love and the enemy of death defeated.  Christians therefore always live in hope because we know that hatred cannot be the last word but love. Christians even face death with courage, knowing that the sting of death has been removed by assurance of resurrection in the next life.

Indeed, yesterday, on the Feast of Ascension, we celebrated this great Hope that has been given to us by the exaltation of Jesus our Lord.  Christ, who is our Lord and Saviour, and the Head of the Church, has gone before us to heaven to share in the glory of the Father, the glory that was His since the foundation of the world.  We, who are His body, necessarily will also share in His glory.   So we know our final destiny is to be with God.  As such, we do not cling to things of this earth but to the things of heaven.  We can have a share in this resurrected and exalted life already when we follow Jesus in His death, in dying to ourselves and living for others in humble service.

Consequently, we are called to have faith in the Lord.  We must trust Him that He will see us through.  With Christ all things are possible.  St Paul himself said, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”  (Phil 4:13)  Christ said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 2:9)  Indeed, we can do things in Christ not by our own strength and ingenuity but by grace.  Only through grace at work in us, can we do all things because He strengthens us by the power of His indwelling presence in the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, this was what St Paul heard one day in a vision of the Lord speaking to him, “Do not be afraid to speak out, nor allow yourself to be silenced: I am with you. I have so many people on my side in this city that no one will even attempt to hurt you.”  God will be on our side.  He will send the necessary angels to help us get our work done.  So we must have faith in Him when we are afraid or feel inadequate in doing what the Lord asks of us.  We do not allow ourselves to be discouraged by failure.  Rather, we trust the Lord will find ways and means to help us out.  True enough, God sent Gallio the proconsul to help him when he was attacked and slandered by the Jews.  Without Paul having to defend himself, Gallio dismissed the charge against Paul.

This is true in all situations in life.  In our sadness, what we need is to have someone with us.  To have someone to stand with us and beside us gives us the strength to carry through our sadness and problems in life.  That is why it behooves us to give courage and strength to those who are weak and are going through difficulties in life.  We need to let them know that we are with them.  We might not be able to solve their problems but we need to assure them that we will stand by them and help them in whatever ways we can to overcome their trials.  And the Lord in His mercy will send friends to help us bear the crosses cheerfully.

When we trust in the Lord and hold on to His promises, we can live our lives with security and free from undue anxiety.   Not only do we live in hope but the joy that Christ gives us is a joy that is complete and can never be taken away.  Jesus told the disciples, “So it is with you: you are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you.”   Christian joy is different from worldly joy. The joy of the world comes from success, achievements and self-indulgence. Worldly joy cannot last and is situational.  It is transient and does not stay with us. The joy of the Christian comes from the Lord, from the Holy Spirit who lives in us, setting us free, granting us peace, love and joy.   The joy that comes from Christ is a joy that remains with us so long as Christ is with us in the Holy Spirit.

Christian joy cannot be taken away because Christ is eternally present in us now through the Holy Spirit.  When we have the Holy Spirit, the living presence of the Father and the Son who come to dwell within us will give lasting joy.  This joy comes from the fruits of forbearance, kindness, gentleness and faithfulness.  The Holy Spirit gives us joy which comes from the capacity to love God and our brothers and sisters.  We find joy because of the peace we receive, knowing that He forgives us whenever we sin. We find joy because of the freedom we experience in the Spirit.  With His grace, we can suffer patiently with joy, the troubles and difficulties of life without murmuring and complaining because we surrender in faith.

Hence, from now till the Feast of Pentecost, we must pray for the renewal of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  On this first day of the Novena to the Holy Spirit, we ask for the gift of joy to counter the darkness of sadness. When we are filled with His Holy Spirit, we will be empowered by the Lord to do what He asks of us.  Let us surrender our lives to Him.  In quiet prayer and in a spirit of discernment, basking ourselves in His love and contemplating on His Word, we will find the courage and strength to persevere.   So let us with faith in the Lord live a life of hope, knowing that there is nothing we cannot overcome with His grace at work in our lives.  With Christ, there is always certain hope, because of His resurrection and ascension.  The sadness of a Christian never destroys him but only strengthens him in hope; and even in sadness, he is at peace with the Lord, suffering with Him so that he can share in His glory.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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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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THE INDWELLING PRESENCE OF JESUS AS THE CAUSE OF OUR PERMANENT JOY IN THE WORLDSCRIPTURE READINGS: ACTS 18:9-18; JN 16:20-23

It is understandable why the disciples were feeling rather sad as Jesus was not only leaving them but that he had to suffer an ignominious and tragic end. The hostility between the authorities and Jesus was growing each day and His death seems imminent and inevitable. Within this context, Jesus tried to reassure His disciples that their sorrow will turn into joy.

Indeed, it is one of the characteristics of human beings that we have a natural capacity to be open for new life and to forget our past. It is this capacity that enables us to live in the midst of our struggles. So long as we continue to endure, we can hope that one day the storms will end and sunshine would be here again. And most of us have not been proven wrong. Yesterday, we might have suffered a set-back in our project, business or career but through endurance and patience, we find that by picking up the pieces, success or fortune returns.

This is also true in relationships. In going through bereavement, we cannot but yearn for the physical presence of our loved one. But time heals because as we get back to life and start involving ourselves in other activities; very soon, we learn to live without the person and find that there are so many other ways to be happy and joyful.

We learn to live our lives meaningfully again. So too in a broken relationship! When we are having great difficulties living or relating with a person, we become bitter as a result of misunderstandings, accusations and harsh words that were spoken. But once we become reconciled, all the pains and hurts are forgotten and we remember the good days again.

Indeed, if we were unable to go beyond our sufferings, it would be tragic for us. By not looking beyond our world and our sufferings, depression will eventually set in. Many people just cannot leave their past behind. They cannot forgive their own mistakes or the mistakes of others. They continue to harbour negative thoughts in their minds. For such people, life has stopped. They are not open to the newness of life, the unimaginable things that can happen and which God wants to give them. Unfortunately, they only cling to what it might have been and what they have lost. They cannot see that to leave something and someone is also to begin another new experience. Indeed, we feel sorry for such people because they only know how to wallow in their miseries, unable to come out from the tombs that they have built for themselves.

But even if we were able to be positive and overcome our setbacks and mistakes, we cannot call this something exceptional or even really Christian. For this is only natural, as Jesus tells us in today’s gospel. This natural tendency to forget about our sufferings when the joy returns is what Jesus said. We are just like those women in childbirth who suffer; but after giving birth, they forget their sufferings because of the joy of a child.

But such kind of joy cannot be truly called Christian joy. If happiness and joy were dependent on whether we are successful then we would be the most miserable people in the world. For then, joy would be so illusive and temporary. This would contradict Jesus’ promise in the gospel that our “hearts will be full of joy and that joy no one” shall take from us. So, Christian joy is a permanent joy. It is a joy even in sufferings.

When we consider the lives of the early Christians and even many Christians today, although not spared of sufferings and trials in life, yet they remained generally tranquil and peaceful. Yes, even St Paul, in all his missionary journeys, when he had to encounter hostile forces and people who were against his preaching, he remained firm and calm in the face of opposition.

What, then, is the secret of this lasting joy that is full? The key to this joy is seeing Jesus. Yes, only an encounter with the Risen Lord can empower us to remain faithful and strong, especially when things are against us. Unless our experience of the Risen Lord is real in our lives, we will not have the hope and courage to remain at peace within ourselves when we meet with problems. But if the Risen Lord is experienced so intimately in us, then we know there is nothing to fear. If the Lord is risen and is already seated at the right hand of the Father after putting all things, especially sin and death under His feet, then why should we worry? On the contrary, we know that everything is in God’s hands and He will somehow see us through. And indeed is this not the case for those who have faith in Jesus? For quite often, from hindsight, we understand why we have to go through certain trials and difficulties in life.

Indeed, when we meet the Lord personally in our lives, then, as Jesus promised us, “when that day comes you will not ask me any questions.” How is that so? Because when we see how powerfully He is at work in us and in our lives, we will have no more questions and doubts, since His very presence and love is the ultimate guarantee that He is with us. What we need in life is not answers to our problems. What we really need is to know that people care and that God cares for us. With this reassurance, we are ready to accept the mysteries of life. Truly, if St Paul were able to have such confidence in his missions, it was because of the vision that he had received from the Lord who spoke to him, “Do not be afraid to speak out, nor allow yourself to be silenced: I am with you.”

Hence, we need to be more prayerful during these last few days of the Easter season in preparation for the Feast of Pentecost. Only with the Holy Spirit, can the Lord become so present to us and in us that we will never doubt He is with us. Yes, let us always, especially in our difficult moments, remind ourselves that He is with us. Clinging in faith to the promise of the Risen Lord, we can then remain at peace even in the midst of the storms of life.

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

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Prayer and Meditation for Friday, May 19, 2017 — “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you”

May 18, 2017

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Lectionary: 289

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Reading 1 ACTS 15:22-31

The Apostles and presbyters, in agreement with the whole Church,
decided to choose representatives
and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.
The ones chosen were Judas, who was called Barsabbas,
and Silas, leaders among the brothers.
This is the letter delivered by them:
“The Apostles and the presbyters, your brothers,
to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia
of Gentile origin: greetings.
Since we have heard that some of our number
who went out without any mandate from us
have upset you with their teachings
and disturbed your peace of mind,
we have with one accord decided to choose representatives
and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So we are sending Judas and Silas
who will also convey this same message by word of mouth:
‘It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us
not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities,
namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols,
from blood, from meats of strangled animals,
and from unlawful marriage.
If you keep free of these,
you will be doing what is right. Farewell.'”

And so they were sent on their journey.
Upon their arrival in Antioch
they called the assembly together and delivered the letter.
When the people read it, they were delighted with the exhortation.

Responsorial Psalm PS 57:8-9, 10 AND 12

R. (10a) I will give you thanks among the peoples, O Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
My heart is steadfast, O God; my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and chant praise.
Awake, O my soul; awake, lyre and harp!
I will wake the dawn.
R. I will give you thanks among the peoples, O Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
I will give thanks to you among the peoples, O LORD,
I will chant your praise among the nations.
For your mercy towers to the heavens,
and your faithfulness to the skies.
Be exalted above the heavens, O God;
above all the earth be your glory!
R. I will give you thanks among the peoples, O Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.

AlleluiaJN 15:15B

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I call you my friends, says the Lord,
for I have made known to you all that the Father has told me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 15:12-17

Jesus said to his disciples:
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”

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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
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Jesus says, “This I command you: love one another.” He doesn’t often suggest we spend our lives loving ourselves and amassing our own wealth for selfish reasons!
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He does tell us to “go the extra mile” when helping others. He tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. He says do unto others as you would like others to do unto you.  And when the Disciples argue about who is the greatest, He admonishes them all and tells them to humbly do the Will Of God!
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Over and over again, Jesus instructs us to get out of ourselves and think constantly of the Will of God and what we might do to help others.
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And over and over again he tells us: “Do not be afraid.”
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Youngsters in Christian schools used to learn the song, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Is that how people know we are Christians?
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Related:
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Commentary on John 15:12-17 from Living Space
Jesus, speaking to his disciples at the Last Supper, continues to talk about the centrality of love. He expresses it in a central commandment: perhaps surprisingly to some, this commandment is not to love God, or to love Jesus, but to love one another. God does not need to be mentioned because that love is only possible when God is acting in and through us. That is the touchstone of the genuineness of our love for God.
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And the measure of that love is that of Jesus for us. If that is not clear enough, he spells it out: the greatest possible love a person can have is to sacrifice one’s life for one’s friends. That may mean dying for others but it can also mean living for others; in either case our primary concern is concern for the need of the brother or sister. And it is the only path to demonstrate that we love God and that God’s love is in us. Jesus shows that love by his own death for his friends. And who are his friends?
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They are those who do what he commands and what he commands is that we love each other to the same degree that he loves us. Earlier Jesus told his disciples, after washing their feet, that he was their Lord and Master, but now he also calls them his friends and not servants. Jesus is our Lord but he is also our Brother and our Friend. Because of that he has shared with us all he has received from his Father. Obviously, it is for us to share all we know about Jesus with others too. Finally, he reminds them that they are his followers, because he has chosen them; they have not chosen him. We do not confer any favour on Jesus by following him. We are only answering a call that has already come from him. And the response to that call is to “bear fruit”, lasting fruit.
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Our lives must be productive, productive in love, in caring, in justice, in compassion, in building up the world of the Kingdom. And we need have no fear. God is with us and everything we need will be given to us to become fruitful. And once again he repeats the core commandment: Love one another. How much of all this is descriptive of my life?
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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection

Today Gospel of John 15, 12-17 has already been meditated a few days ago (….. or it will be read again within a few days). Let us take some of the points considered that day.

• John 15, 12-13: To love one another as he has loved us. The commandment of Jesus is only one: “to love one another as he has loved us!” (Jn 15, 12) Jesus exceeds the Old Testament. The ancient criterion was the following: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Lv 18, 19). The new criterion is: “Love one another as I have loved you”. It is the phrase that we sing even today and which says: “There is no greater love than to give one’s life for one’s brother!”

• John 15, 14-15: Friends and not servants. You are my friends if you do what I command you”, that is, the practise of love up to the point of the total gift of oneself! Immediately Jesus presents a very high ideal for the life of his disciples. He says: “I shall no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. I call you friends because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father!” Jesus no longer had any secrets for his disciples. He tells us everything that he has heard from the Father! Behold the wonderful ideal of life in community: to reach a total transparency, to the point of not having any secrets among us and to have full trust with one another, to be able to speak about the experience of God that we have and of life, and thus, be able to mutually enrich one another. The first Christians succeeded to reach this ideal after many years: “they had one only heart and one only soul” (Ac 4, 32; 1, 14; 2, 42-46).

• John 15, 16-17: Jesus has chosen us. We have not chosen Jesus. He met us, called us and entrusted a mission to us to go and bear fruit, and a fruit which lasts. We need him, but he also wants to need us and our work in order to be able to continue to do today, for the people what he did for the people of Galilee. The last recommendation: This is my commandment: to love one another!”

For Personal Confrontation

• To love our neighbour as Jesus has loved us. This is the ideal of every Christian. How do I live it?

• All that I have heard from the Father I make it known to you. This is the ideal of the community: to attain total transparency. How do I live this in my community?

Concluding Prayer

My heart is ready, God, my heart is ready;
I will sing, and make music for you.
Awake, my glory, awake, lyre and harp,
that I may awake the Dawn. (Ps 57,7-8)

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http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-john-1512-7

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

19 MAY, 2017, Friday, 5th Week of Easter

ACTING WITH THE AUTHORITY OF LOVE

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 15:22-31; PS 56:8-12; JOHN 15:12-17 ]

As the Church extended beyond the confines of Palestine into non-Jewish territories, many gentiles were converted to the faith.  Whilst it was good news for the early Christians, it was also a source of tension as the Jewish Christians who were brought up in the Jewish culture found it difficult to co-exist with non-Jewish Christians.  The Jews, although converts to Christianity, were still very much Jewish in their way of life.  In truth, it is quite difficult to separate culture from faith since faith is always expressed through culture.  So the Jewish Christians, being the pioneers of the Christian Faith, sought to impose their culture on the Gentile Christians.  But such Jewish practices were alien to the non-Jews.  This attempt to pressurize the Gentile Christians to adopt Jewish culture was met with much opposition.

At the root of the conflict was a lack of love and sensitivity to each other.  Instead of resolving the tension through dialogue and mutual understanding the Jewish Christians used the highhanded way of imposing their customs on them.   As a result, they unsettled the Gentile Christians.  We can imagine the unhappiness, squabbles and confusion arising from the Jewish Christians’ stance that they were not “Christians” because they were not Jews.

If only they remembered the commandment the Lord gave to them, “love one another, as I have loved you.”  In fact, twice in the gospel, He repeated, “What I command you is to love one another.”  This is what the Lord has commissioned us all to do.  “I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last.”  But we are not simply called to love.  We are called to love as He loved us.  This principle makes the love of a Christian different from others.  Most people desire to love, regardless of their religious affiliation.  But a Christian is called to love not with his love or what he thinks love is all about.  He is to love in the same manner the Lord has loved him.

How did the Lord love us?  He emptied Himself of His divinity to assume our humanity.  He sacrificed His comforts to share in our human weakness, pain and suffering.  He was not legalistic in the way He interpreted the Laws but always in the spirit of the law.  When necessary, He even broke the Sabbath Law for a greater good, especially in healing the sick.  He did not slavishly observe the Jewish customs and taboos but instead ate and drank with sinners, tax-collectors and prostitutes.  He was for the outcasts and the marginalized.  Towards non-Jews and pagans, He would praise them for their faith, as in the case of the Centurion whose servant was healed by the Lord, or the Syro-Phonecian woman’s daughter.

Accordingly, the apostles in Jerusalem and the elders took the same cue from our Lord. Instead of settling all issues in a legalistic manner, they proceeded from the path of love.  How beautiful that they began by addressing the Gentile Christians as “brothers!”  In the beginning of the letter they said, “The apostles and elders, your brothers, send greetings to the brothers of pagan birth in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia.”  They considered them as brothers of the faith, not aliens or strangers.  This meant that Gentile Christians too shared the same faith and privileges of the Jewish Christians.  They were not second class members of the Church but given the same status.

Secondly, right from the outset, they declared that such instructions did not come from them.  “We hear that some of our members have disturbed you with their demands and have unsettled your minds. They acted without any authority from us.”  Those who made those demands were not authorized by the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem.  In rejecting the authority of these people, the Church put to rest any notion that such impositions were part of the Christian Faith.  Consequently, the people were to desist in paying any attention to such rumor mongering and personal opinions of these Jewish Christian believers.

Thirdly, they wrote the letter of clarification stating what was permitted and what should not be done.  By having it written down, all would have a reference point should disagreements arise again.  It is always better to put things in black and white so that there is no misinterpretation.  Keeping minutes of meetings is very important, especially contracts, so that we can always return to what was discussed and agreed upon.  When it is reliant on word of mouth alone, the message will get distorted, expanded, embellished and overlaid by other interpretations as it gets transmitted down the line.  So they made sure the decision of the council was documented.

Fourthly, they wanted to give a personal touch to their sentiments for the Gentile Christians.  They did not want to appear as if it was merely a juridical order.  Rather, it was a decision based on love.  To show their sincerity and love, the letter was accompanied not just by Paul and Barnabas, but they sent two highly respected elders from Jerusalem to authenticate and explain the decision of the Jerusalem Council.  They wrote, “we have decided unanimously to elect delegates and to send them to you with Barnabas and Paul, men we highly respect who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accordingly we are sending you Judas and Silas, who will confirm by word of mouth what we have written in this letter.”

This is an important lesson, especially in these days of modern communication which has become more and more impersonal.  As a result, emails and letters sometimes cause more misinterpretation as the context is missing.  Often the message is clouded by emotive words causing the recipient to react and retaliate. There is no opportunity for immediate clarification.  This gives rise to more misunderstanding.  Most of all, without personal contact, we tend to say things without mincing our words, as if we are writing to an impersonal object.  But when we see a person face to face, we have to weigh our words carefully so that we do not hurt the feelings and sentiments of the other person.  So much distancing and disasters happen today because people are afraid to confront each other directly, choosing instead to communicate via email and smses.  This also explains why relationships even between husband and wife, children, siblings and friends are strained and estranged because we no longer feel for and with each other.

Fifthly, they kept as essential, the most sensitive things, namely, the taboos.  They only asked for compliance in what were considered most critical at that point in time. And even then, it was purely out of sensitivity to the Jewish culture.  This was a concrete manifestation of charity.  St Paul himself wrote about eating food offered to idols to the Corinthians.  We know that “no idol in the world really exists and that there is no God but one.” (1 Cor 8:4) Nevertheless, he also recognized that “It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.”  (1 Cor 8:7) Thus, he advised us to “take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”  (1 Cor 8:9) He concluded, “therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.”  (1 Cor 8:13)  When there is love, we put the interests of the other person before ours. We can compromise and give in to others not because what we do is wrong but because we love and respect the other person who could be offended or scandalized by what we do and lose their faith.  We must not always insist on our rights.  Jesus gave up all His rights to save us all.  “Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.”  (1 Cor 9:12b)  Truly, if we claim we love our brothers and sisters, we must seek to please them and protect their peace of mind.

In the final analysis, we must seek to build each other up, not destroy each other.  We should seek to offer encouragement to each other.  Whatever we do must lead to a win-win solution, not a win-lose outcome.  We cannot be thinking only of ourselves, our convenience and our needs. Jesus assured us that when we love each other the way He loves us, then all our prayers will be answered. “Then the Father will give you anything you ask him in my name.”  When our prayers are made in union with Jesus for the good of all, surely the Father will hear us.

For us to share the mind and heart of Jesus, we must endeavor first to be His friends.  For the love of Jesus, we will do anything for Him.  He said, “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you. I shall not call you servants anymore, because a servant does not know his master’s business; I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father.”  So let us cultivate our friendship with Jesus by spending time in prayer and basking in His love and wisdom.  If we do that, then we will indeed bear the fruits of love and peace.  Then we will indeed by our love for others, show that we are truly the friends of Jesus because we act and conduct ourselves the way Jesus loves us.

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

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Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, May 18, 2017 — May my joy be in you and may your joy be complete

May 17, 2017

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Lectionary: 288

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Art: The Apostle Paul Preaches The Word

Reading 1  ACTS 15:7-21

After much debate had taken place,
Peter got up and said to the Apostles and the presbyters,
“My brothers, you are well aware that from early days
God made his choice among you that through my mouth
the Gentiles would hear the word of the Gospel and believe.
And God, who knows the heart,
bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit
just as he did us.
He made no distinction between us and them,
for by faith he purified their hearts.
Why, then, are you now putting God to the test
by placing on the shoulders of the disciples
a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?
On the contrary, we believe that we are saved
through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.”
The whole assembly fell silent,
and they listened
while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders
God had worked among the Gentiles through them.

After they had fallen silent, James responded,
“My brothers, listen to me.
Symeon has described how God first concerned himself
with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name.
The words of the prophets agree with this, as is written:

After this I shall return
and rebuild the fallen hut of David;
from its ruins I shall rebuild it
and raise it up again,
so that the rest of humanity may seek out the Lord,
even all the Gentiles on whom my name is invoked.
Thus says the Lord who accomplishes these things,
known from of old.

It is my judgment, therefore,
that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God,
but tell them by letter to avoid pollution from idols,
unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood.
For Moses, for generations now,
has had those who proclaim him in every town,
as he has been read in the synagogues every sabbath.”

Responsorial Psalm  PS 96:1-2A, 2B-3, 10

R. (3) Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name.
R. Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
R. Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Say among the nations: The LORD is king.
He has made the world firm, not to be moved;
he governs the peoples with equity.
R. Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia  JN 10:27

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
My sheep hear by voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 15:9-11

Jesus said to his disciples:
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.

“I have told you this so that
my joy might be in you and
your joy might be complete.”

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Commentary on Acts 15:7-21

We see from the words “purifying their hearts by faith,” and the address of St. Peter, that justification by faith, and sanctification by the Holy Ghost, cannot be separated; and that both are the gift of God.

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We have great cause to bless God that we have heard the gospel. May we have that faith which the great Searcher of hearts approves, and attests by the seal of the Holy Spirit. Then our hearts and consciences will be purified from the guilt of sin, and we shall be freed from the burdens some try to lay upon the disciples of Christ.

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Paul and Barnabas showed by plain matters of fact, that God owned the preaching of the pure gospel to the Gentiles without the law of Moses; therefore to press that law upon them, was to undo what God had done. The opinion of James was, that the Gentile converts ought not to be troubled about Jewish rites, but that they should abstain from meats offered to idols, so that they might show their hatred of idolatry. Also, that they should be cautioned against fornication, which was not abhorred by the Gentiles as it should be, and even formed a part of some of their rites.

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They were counselled to abstain from things strangled, and from eating blood; this was forbidden by the law of Moses, and also here, from reverence to the blood of the sacrifices, which being then still offered, it would needlessly grieve the Jewish converts, and further prejudice the unconverted Jews. But as the reason has long ceased, we are left free in this, as in the like matters. Let converts be warned to avoid all appearances of the evils which they formerly practised, or are likely to be tempted to; and caution them to use Christian liberty with moderation and prudence.

http://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=44&c=15

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Commentary on John 15:9-11 from Living Space

Jesus continues speaking to his disciples at the Last Supper. After giving them the parable of the vine he now goes on to give its real meaning: the Father, the Son and his followers are all to be united in love. As the Father pours out his love on the Son, so the Son pours out his love on his disciples. They, in turn, are to pour out the same love on their brothers and sisters everywhere.

That is how we keep the “commandments” of Jesus; all his commandments can be summarised in that one word ‘love’ (agape, ’agaph).

As I heard someone once describe it, the love of Jesus is like electric current. If the current does not pass through you, it cannot enter into you. Similarly, if the love of Jesus does not pour through us to others, it is a sign that that love is not really in us. The love of God has to be recognised, responded to and passed on. It is not just a ‘given’.

And the fruit of that love is joy, the same joy that Jesus himself experiences. The normal situation of the Christian disciples should be joy and consolation. After all, as has been said, “a sad saint is a sad kind of saint”. It is a contradiction in terms. Some Christians are incredibly serious about their faith. One wonders if they have yet experienced the love of Jesus. If they did, it would be joyfully flowing out to others.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/e1055g/

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore 
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18 MAY, 2017, Thursday, 5th Week of Easter
ALL EMBRACING GRACE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 15:7-21; PS 95:1-3,10; JOHN 15:9-11 ]

In any institution, society, culture or religion, there are always established laws and traditions to guide the community to live harmoniously.  These laws could be fundamental universal principles of life and love or specific guidelines pertaining to the common good of a particular community, whereas customs refer to the way the values of the community are mediated through signs and symbols.   Whilst such laws and traditions are good and necessary, they can also restrict our openness to new developments.  This was the case of the primitive Church struggling to be faithful to the commandments of Jesus and yet faithful to their Jewish traditions and customs.   It is never easy when we have been so used to a certain mindset, perspective, and presuppositions to think differently and see things from a new light.  The truth is that like them, our past experiences, upbringing and conditioning have made us resistant to new experiences and new challenges.   We cannot break out of our narrow perspective of understanding the will of God.

This is where we have forgotten about the primacy of grace.  We must never forget that where we are today is the result of the grace of God.  The forgetfulness of the Jews with regard to their origin was the cause of their inability to think out of the box and to see the new developments in a positive light.   In the first place, the Israelites were chosen by God to be His people purely by grace, not by their efforts.  They were elected by God to be His Chosen People although they were slaves.   Election is the free gift of God, not by merit.   To form them into a nation and a people, God gave them the laws through Moses to guide them so that they could live in harmony with each other and relate with the poor and the stranger. Those laws and customs were necessary to preserve the community together.

What was done for the Israelites is precisely what the Lord is doing now for the Gentiles.  The Israelites were chosen not for themselves but to bring the whole world back to God.  Quoting partially from Amos 9:11f, St James explained to his brothers the prophesied entry of the Gentiles into the Church.  He said, “Simeon has described how God first arranged to enlist a people for his name out of the pagans.  This is entirely in harmony with the words of the prophets, since the scriptures say: After that I shall return and rebuild the fallen House of David; I shall rebuild it from its ruins and restore it. Then the rest of mankind, all the pagans who are consecrated to my name, will look for the Lord, says the Lord who made this known so long ago.”

This calling of the Gentiles into the Church was also an act of grace.  God wanted to complete the work of redemption by extending the salvation He gave to the Jews to all the nations.  This explains why at Pentecost all the nations were gathered in Jerusalem. “Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.”  (Acts 2:5f)  This was effectively carried out by the inclusion of Cornelius, his relatives and friends when they received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues even before they were baptized.  (Acts 10:44-46)  In other words, they received the same gift of the Holy Spirit outside the laws and customs of the Christian community.  This made St Peter remark, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  (Acts 10:47)  The answer is obvious.  Who can prevent the Holy Spirit from acting, blowing and filling where He likes?  The grace of God is beyond human control.  In the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit dispensed the Gentiles from observing the dietary laws of the Jews and the requirement of circumcision in order to belong to the People of God.  It was valid then when Israel was forming itself to be a nation but not now.

This precisely was the basis of Peter’s argument for accepting the Gentiles into the Church without requiring them to observe the Jewish laws and customs.  He said, “God, who can read everyone’s heart, showed his approval of them by giving the Holy Spirit to them just as he had to us.  God made no distinction between them and us, since he purified their hearts by faith.  It would only provoke God’s anger now, surely, if you imposed on the disciples the very burden that neither we nor our ancestors were strong enough to support?  Remember, we believe that we are saved in the same way as they are: through the grace of the Lord Jesus.”  The Holy Spirit cannot be constrained by laws.  Jesus said to the Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Jn 3:8)  As such, Peter “ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”  (Acts 10:48)

We too must be open to the workings of the Holy Spirit and rely on grace alone.  To be open to grace is to be open to new ways of allowing the Spirit to work beyond the narrow confines of the institution.  God is stretching us to think out of the box.  He wants to give us new opportunities for growth.  What was given in the past was meant for the people in their days.   Some of the specific laws and customs were valid according to their circumstances and time.  Absolute and universal laws are the only laws that do not change with time.  Otherwise, we need to make a distinction between cultural laws and fundamental laws.  The former can change with time since culture evolves.  But primary laws are the same at any place, epoch and situation.  So we must be courageous in seeing new challenges as stepping stones to grow and expand.

If there is one unchanging law for all, it is the law of love.  Jesus said to His disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love.  If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”  All other laws are applications of the one law of love of God and of neighbor.  There is no need to add unnecessary burdens to believers as the early Church came to realize.  This is no denying that commandments and laws are needed for any community.  But love is always dynamic and creative.  Love adapts to new circumstances.  All other specific laws must serve the one law of love.   The laws should give concrete directions on how to act for both the individual and the community.  Even the Church updates her Canonical Laws when they are outdated and no longer serve justice.

It is this same love that calls also for sensitivity and mutual respect.  It is significant that the ruling of the Council was reduced to the barest minimum.  “I rule, then, that instead of making things more difficult for pagans who turn to God, we send them a letter telling them merely to abstain from anything polluted by idols, from fornication, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.  For Moses has always had his preachers in every town, and is read aloud in the synagogues every Sabbath.”  So it was not a question of right or wrong but out of respect and sensitivity to the Jewish Christians who were steeped in the Jewish tradition and the Mosaic Laws.  Life is not a matter of right or wrong, or even of logic, but of the heart and human sentiment.  So the Gentile Christians were asked to respect the customs of the Jewish Christians at least in what were held to be scandalous for them, like eating blood of animals, or food offered to idols, or blood marriage.

Indeed, today, we are called to imitate the love that exists between the Father and Jesus.  Love is always receptive, open and accommodating.  It is this mutual love between the Father and the Son that causes them to always exist for each other and in each other.  This is the joy Jesus comes to give us.  He wants us to share the joy of His love with His Father as well.  By entering into His all-embracing love, we too can be gracious towards others, not exclusive but inclusive; not demanding but accommodating, not inward-looking but always reaching out.  With the Holy Spirit, we can embrace all of humanity in love.

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

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