Posts Tagged ‘indwelling of the Holy Spirit’

Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, January 7, 2016 — Pray to God and he will give life

January 6, 2017

Christmas Weekday
Lectionary: 210

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Reading 1 1 JN 5:14-21

Beloved:
We have this confidence in God,
that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask,
we know that what we have asked him for is ours.
If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly,
he should pray to God and he will give him life.
This is only for those whose sin is not deadly.
There is such a thing as deadly sin,
about which I do not say that you should pray.
All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.

We know that no one begotten by God sins;
but the one begotten by God he protects,
and the Evil One cannot touch him.
We know that we belong to God,
and the whole world is under the power of the Evil One.
We also know that the Son of God has come
and has given us discernment to know the one who is true.
And we are in the one who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ.
He is the true God and eternal life.
Children, be on your guard against idols.

Responsorial Psalm PS 149:1-2, 3-4, 5 AND 6A AND 9B

R. (see 4a) The Lord takes delight in his people.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Sing to the LORD a new song
of praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in their maker,
let the children of Zion rejoice in their king.
R. The Lord takes delight in his people.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Let them praise his name in the festive dance,
let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.
For the LORD loves his people,
and he adorns the lowly with victory.
R. The Lord takes delight in his people.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Let the faithful exult in glory;
let them sing for joy upon their couches;
Let the high praises of God be in their throats.
This is the glory of all his faithful. Alleluia.
R. The Lord takes delight in his people.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia LK 7:16

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
A great prophet has arisen in our midst
and God has visited his people.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

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Gospel JN 2:1-11

There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee,
and the mother of Jesus was there.
Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.
When the wine ran short,
the mother of Jesus said to him,
“They have no wine.”
And Jesus said to her,
“Woman, how does your concern affect me?
My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servers,
“Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings,
each holding twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus told them,
“Fill the jars with water.”
So they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them,
“Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.”
So they took it.
And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine,
without knowing where it came from
(although the servers who had drawn the water knew),
the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him,
“Everyone serves good wine first,
and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one;
but you have kept the good wine until now.”
Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee
and so revealed his glory,
and his disciples began to believe in him.

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Jesus at The Wedding Feast in Cana By Gerard David

Related:

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From Father Tommy Lane

We have been meditating frequently on the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) since Pope John Paul II added this to the Rosary as the Second Luminous Mystery in 2001. It must have been a big embarrassment in Cana when the wedding party ran out of wine. When we consider that at that time a wedding celebration lasted not just for a day like our celebrations but for a whole week the embarrassment would be even more acute. Because the wedding celebration was so long it is no wonder that Jesus changed so many gallons of water into wine. The bad situation began to turn right when Mary turned to Jesus and said, “They have no wine.” (John 2:3) Mary interceded and pleaded before Jesus to turn the situation around. It was not just then that Mary intervened in Cana, she continues to plea before God on our behalf now. One of the documents of Vatican II,Lumen Gentium,says,

“This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix. This, however, is so understood that it neither takes away anything from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator.”
(Lumen Gentium Vatican II §62)

One of the titles Vatican II gave Mary in that document is Advocate because she intercedes before God on our behalf as our advocate and also on December 8th 2000 Pope John Paul referred to Our Lady as our Advocate of Mercy. In the prayer which we pray after the Rosary, the “Hail Holy Queen”, we ask Mary to intercede before God for us. We ask Mary to be our “gracious advocate” before God.

Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy,
our life, our sweetness, and our hope.
To you do we cry,
poor banished children of Eve.
To you do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
your eyes of mercy towards us,
and after this exile
show to us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving,
O sweet Virgin Mary.

After Mary’s intercession and advocacy to remedy the situation at Cana, some people are puzzled by Jesus’ reply, “Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4) Sometimes people ask me if Jesus is being rude or disrespectful to his mother. Many things in John’s Gospel have a hidden second meaning, they are symbols, and when Jesus called Mary “Woman” at Cana he was not rude or disrespectful. This is not the only time when Jesus called Mary “Woman.” The other time was when Jesus was dying on the cross and he said, “Woman, behold your son” (John 19:26) and to John he said, “This is your mother” (John 19:27) and we know Jesus was not disrespectful to his mother then. On the cross Jesus means that Mary is the spiritual mother of us all. Mary, by co-operating with God’s plan of salvation, became the New Eve. She is the woman who fixed what the first woman, Eve, had broken. So at Cana when Jesus calls Mary “Woman” we only understand fully what Jesus means when Jesus calls Mary “Woman” on the cross as he gives her to us as our spiritual mother, the New Eve. So instead of being an insult or disrespectful to call Mary “Woman” Jesus is saying she is the New Eve, she is the woman who has been awaited for centuries since God’s prediction to the serpent in Genesis that Eve’s offspring would bruise its head (Gen 3:15).

Mary’s response to Jesus was to tell the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5) It shows us Mary’s total trust in the Word of God. She is the first person in John’s Gospel to show total trust in the Word of God. Mary is therefore a model Christian for us as she says, “Do whatever he tells you.” Let us ask Mary to help us to do whatever Jesus tells us. As Mary says, “Do whatever he tells you” once again we see Mary’s importance as our intercessor, pleading on our behalf.

In conclusion, we remember that many times each day we ask Mary to intercede before God for us, to be our Advocate, as we pray the “Hail Mary” and say,

Holy Mary,
Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now, and at the hour of our death.
Amen.

http://www.frtommylane.com/homilies/year_c/02.htm

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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07 JANUARY, 2017, Saturday, Weekday of Christmas Time
FIGHTING THE BATTLE AGAINST SIN THROUGH INTIMACY WITH THE LORD
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [1 JOHN 5:14-21; JOHN 2:1-11 ]

How can we fight against sin?  This seems an uphill task.  We all want to be good and to do the right thing.  We want to worship God and make Him the center of our lives.  Yet, as St John says, “The whole world lies in the power of the Evil One.”  We keep falling into sin no matter how much we try.  Indeed, it is so frustrating, especially with the sins of pride, anger, envy, sloth, lust, gluttony and greed.  Now and again, we fall into one of these sins.  So much so, some of us give up struggling against sin for our ego gets bruised just when we think after a good confession, we can now live a holy life.  Before we know it, there, we fall into sin again!  The tendency for us is to admit defeat and surrender to the temptations of the Evil One.  As it is often said, “if you cannot beat them, join them!” If we are having a defeatist attitude, then think twice again, as we read today’s first reading.

Firstly, St John tells us that “every kind of wrong-doing is sin, but not all sin is deadly.”  We must make a distinction between the sin that rejects God fundamentally in our lives and those venial sins that offend God out of human weakness because of human passion.   Among the mortal sins, the most deadly of all is the sin that rejects God wholly in our lives.  It is the refusal to acknowledge God and the truth.  It is the sin of impiety or practical atheism, that is, living in evil and shutting God completely out from our lives.  This deadly sin cannot be forgiven because the person is deliberately and freely choosing evil instead of goodness; Satan and His works instead of Christ and the gospel.  This sin “is a sin that is death, and I will not say that you must pray about that.”

Hence, St John urges us, “Children, be on your guard against false gods.”  We need to be on guard all the time.  The seven capital sins are the false gods in our lives where we worship ourselves primarily, and the world, which includes people and things.  By addressing us as “children” St John is reminding us that we are not the offspring of Satan but of God.  We are the children of God.  This is our true identity.  St John reiterates that ”anyone who has been begotten by God does not sin, because the begotten Son of God protects him, and the Evil One does not touch him. We know that we belong to God, but the whole world lies in the power of the Evil One.”  If we are truly children of God, and God is in us, in principle, we should not give ourselves to the Evil One as it contradicts our identity as sons and daughters of God in Christ.

But the existential fact is that we do sin.  This is our real frustration.  Not only do we sin, but we sin again and again.  So much so, we give up going for the sacrament of reconciliation because it seems we are repeating the same old sins and even adding new ones.  It appears that we are not getting any better.  This is precisely what the Devil wants.  He wants us to be discouraged and give up hope that we can ever live the life of God.  Even Jesus was tempted after His baptism in the desert when the Devil challenged His divine sonship by tempting Him to prove Himself by changing stone into bread or even jumping from the pinnacle of the Temple.  (Cf Lk 4:1-13)  So should we be surprised that after our baptism or after a good sacrament of reconciliation, the Devil would tempt us even more?

This is where St John, realizing that we are still children in faith, urges us, “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that is not a deadly sin, he has only to pray, and God will give life to the sinner.” Yes, we must pray all the more for forgiveness and for the strength to resist the relentless attempts of the devil to derail our path to holiness.  And this is the assurance that St John gives us, “We are quite confident that if we ask the Son of God for anything and it is in accordance with his will, he will hear us; and, knowing that whatever we may ask, he hears us, we know that we have been granted what we asked of him.” God will give us the grace to overcome sin, and greater grace still, when we sin, since St Paul says “where sin increases grace abounds all the more.” (Rom 5:20)

What does prayer entail?  It means coming into intimacy with the Lord.  As we grow in intimacy with the Lord, we will find ourselves more and more drawn towards Him than to the world.  Fighting against sin requires more than a passive resistance against temptation but an active offensive against sin by intensifying our relationship with the Lord.  If we focus too much on our sins and weaknesses, we become weak and discouraged.  Worse still, we become even more obsessed with the very thing that we want to give up. This is true particularly when it comes to the sin of lust and gluttony.  The more we want to give up, the more we are compelled and tempted, as it fills our minds and our hearts all day and night, thinking about sex and food.  So instead of giving in to further fantasies, we should be proactive by growing in love and in intimacy with our Lord.  The more we come to share in His love, the more we feel that we are loved by Him, the more secure we become and the less desire we have for the world and its goods.  When we are loved, we have everything.  The rest is secondary.  Why are we so lustful, greedy, envious and angry if not because we feel empty within, especially the vacuum of love in our lives?  But if God fills us with His love, then we will find ourselves complete and fulfilled.

Isn’t this what the gospel is inviting us through Mary and the miracle at Cana?  Mary was a great woman of prayer and hence also sensitive to the needs of others.  She knew Jesus so intimately that she also knew the needs of her fellowmen as well.  She is not only sensitive to God but also to those around her.  So when the wedding couple ran out of wine and it would have been so embarrassing for them, she told Jesus, “They have no wine.”  When Jesus replied to her, “Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not come yet”, Mary simply instructed the servants saying, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Such was the utter confidence in her Son.  Without pressurizing Him, she just entrusted the whole quandary to Jesus.  If Mary was so great an intercessor, it was because not only did she unite herself with the needs and sufferings of her brothers and sisters but she was also in union with God and knows the mind and heart of God.  If she could pray so confidently as St John asked of us, it was because she knew that her Son is full of compassion and would somehow answer her request for the wedding couple even though it was not yet His Hour of glorification, which would only take place at His passion, death and resurrection. (Cf Jn 12:23-36)  The key to Mary’s powerful intercession is intimacy leading to obedience in doing His will.  So if we want to overcome sin, we need to know the Lord so that we can surrender our lives to Him since we would then have heard Him so clearly in our minds and feel His love so tenderly in our hearts.  We can be certain that Mary’s love for God and for her fellowmen had a part to play in moving the heart of Jesus to respond the same way to the couple’s predicament, notwithstanding His plan.

But something even more significant about today’s gospel is that the marriage feast at Cana is an anticipation of the sacrament of the Eucharist.  By associating this miracle with His Hour, that is, His death and resurrection, St John posits that by changing water into wine in Cana, Jesus was anticipating the cross where blood and water flowed from His side.  (cf Jn 19:34)  In other words, it prepares us for the sacrament of Baptism and the Eucharist.  In the Eucharist, we drink the new wine of the blood of Christ which gives us the Holy Spirit and we become one with Christ in Holy Communion. In uniting ourselves with the Lord, beginning with Baptism and reinforced by the reception of His body and blood, our intimacy with the Lord is intensified.  With Christ as our bridegroom and we His bride, we can then be confident that united in heart and mind with Him, we will find greater strength to resist sin and even if we fail, we know that He is there waiting to console us and encourage us to persevere.  Repeatedly, St John wrote in his letter, “we know” the heart of God that has been revealed to us by Jesus and so we need not be afraid.

Indeed, we must be patient because God does not force us to grow in love against our human nature.  He knows that because we are fallen creatures, we need time to learn, to grow in grace and wisdom.  That is why we must pick ourselves up again every time we fall, never thinking that we are without hope. And our hope is certain because it is founded in our Lord.

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

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https://www.catholic.sg/archbishop/scripture-reflection/

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Jesus dining with sinners
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‘What?’ you may react! God Incarnate in the Person of Jesus imperfect as a ‘family man?’ I thought Jesus is supposed to be God the Father’s Perfect Human (Son of Man) example to each of us.
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there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 

He was known as a son of the deceased Joseph of Nazareth and his widow Mary, who raised His younger brothers at home.  Jesus was not a married man who could invite His friends over to His house. His Disciples met at Peter’s house, feasted in the homes of others or even gathered in fields on hillsides or park-like olive groves. Jesus seemed always to be a guest and never the host.

In many ways Jesus can NOT provide a perfect example for us in every life situation.

As a husband, does any human experience of Jesus show you how you should behave toward your wife? (Of course Jesus was not married to a woman.) Jesus does not model the role or place for a woman.  This Son of Man who had no children didn’t write a book of how to deal with your teen’s technology or your terrible two’s tantrums.

In a sense, Jesus was just like us in that He was imperfect as a family man.

Jesus loved celebrating with loved ones. He had to choose which parties He would attend and the company with whom He would spend His measured mortal time. Jesus celebrated as a guest with those He loved.

Read the rest:

http://talkofjesus.com/imperfect-family/

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Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, December 29, 2016 — “But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.” — “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death.” — Getting To Know Jesus

December 28, 2016

The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas
Lectionary: 202

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The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Rembrandt

Reading 1 1 JN 2:3-11

Beloved:
The way we may be sure that we know Jesus
is to keep his commandments.
Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments
is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
But whoever keeps his word,
the love of God is truly perfected in him.
This is the way we may know that we are in union with him:
whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.
Beloved, I am writing no new commandment to you
but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.
The old commandment is the word that you have heard.
And yet I do write a new commandment to you,
which holds true in him and among you,
for the darkness is passing away,
and the true light is already shining.
Whoever says he is in the light,
yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness.
Whoever loves his brother remains in the light,
and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.
Whoever hates his brother is in darkness;
he walks in darkness
and does not know where he is going
because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

Responsorial Psalm PS 96:1-2A, 2B-3, 5B-6

R. (11a) Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
The LORD made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty go before him;
praise and grandeur are in his sanctuary.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!

Alleluia LK 2:32

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
A light of revelation to the Gentiles
and glory for your people Israel.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 2:22-35

When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

“Lord, now let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you prepared in the sight of every people,
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
(and you yourself a sword will pierce)
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

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Commentary on Luke 2:22-35 From Living Space

The Holy Family was a Jewish family and both Jesus and his parents are shown as faithfully carrying out the requirements of the Law. In today’s Gospel there is a double ceremony described: one is the purification of the mother and second is the offering of the first-born child to the Lord. In the past, we used to refer to the feast on February 2 as the Purification but now we prefer to speak of the Presentation.

Clearly, the notion of the need for a mother to be purified after giving birth is not something we feel comfortable with now. For the Jews the spilling of blood was a source of uncleanness and so, after giving birth, there had to be, after a designated number of days, a ceremony of purification. Sometimes the husband too went through a similar ceremony. Given the special circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus, the idea of purification seems even less desirable although Luke does not seem to have any problem with it.

According to the Mosaic law (Lev 12:2-8), a woman who gave birth to a boy was not allowed to touch anything sacred for 40 days (in the case of a baby girl, the period was even longer) nor could she enter the Temple precincts because of her ritual “impurity”. At the end of this period, as mentioned by Luke, she was required to offer a year-old lamb as a burnt offering and a turtle dove or a young pigeon as expiation for sin. Those who could not afford the lamb could offer two birds instead.

The parents also presented their first-born son as an offering to the Lord, again in accordance with Jewish law (Exod 13:2,12) but this did not have to be done in the Temple. Presenting the child in the Temple seems to re-echo the scene in the First Book of Samuel where Hannah offers her son Samuel for services in the sanctuary. There is no mention in Luke’s account of the five shekels that was supposed to be paid to a member of the priestly family to ‘buy back’ the child.

The account now goes on to mention two elderly people – Simeon and Anna. (Anna will not appear until tomorrow.) They represented all those devout Jews who were looking forward to the expected coming of the Messiah and the restoration of God’s rule, God’s kingship, in Israel.

Simeon had received a promise that he would not die until he had laid eyes on the Messiah. Under the promptings of the Spirit he enters the Temple just as Mary and Joseph are there with their child. He recognises who the Child is and then says a prayer of thanksgiving and surrender to his God. We call this prayer the Nunc dimittis (‘Now you may send away…’), a hymn which is now used during the Night Prayer of the Church. In harmony with Luke’s vision of Jesus, he describes Jesus as a Light for the Gentiles and the Glory of the people of Israel. And so, Feast of the Presentation is a feast of light which we sometimes call ‘Candlemas’. It is a time when candles are blessed and lit to reflect Christ as our Light.

Meanwhile Mary and Joseph are astounded at what is being said about their child. Even they have not yet come to a full realisation of just who he is.

But all is not sweetness and light. Simeon goes on to say some hard-sounding words. The Child, he says, “is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that is contradicted”. To say that Jesus brings about the fall of people is a difficult idea to come to terms with. It seems to fly in the face of the loving, forgiving and compassionate Jesus of the Gospel. And yet the paradox is that many, for reasons of their own, can totally reject the way of life that Jesus proposes. In doing so they also turn away from the direction where their fulfilment as persons lies. Jesus’ life is a sign, a sign which points us in the direction of God but there are many who contradict that sign and go in other directions.

But Simeon has more to say. To Jesus’ Mother he says: “You yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Mary will not know the meaning of these words for many years to come, although a small foretaste will come when Jesus is lost as a boy in Jerusalem. Mary may be full of grace but, no more than her Son, will she spared from sharing some of the pain which he will endure. It is all part of that unconditional ‘Yes’ which Mary made to the angel in Nazareth. It is contained, too, in the offering of her Son that she has just made to God his Father.

There is a scene in the gospel of Luke where a woman, having been impressed by the teaching of Jesus, cries out: “Blessed is the womb that carried you and blessed is the breast that you sucked!” A great tribute to Mary for having produced such a magnificent Son. But Jesus replies: “Blessed, rather, are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” Mary’s true greatness is not in the privileges bestowed on her by God but in her unconditional acceptance of everything God asked of her.

For each one of us it is the same. Today, let us say a big ‘Yes’ to God no matter what he sends us.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/c1229g/

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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29 DECEMBER, 2016, Thursday, 5th Day Within the Octave of Christmas
DO YOU KNOW JESUS?

SCRIPTURE READINGS: 1 John 2:3-11; Luke 2:22-35 ]

Christ is born.  But do we know Him?  I presume most Catholics would say that they know Jesus.  Knowing someone of course has different meanings.   Most Catholics know Jesus intellectually.  They have some factual information about Jesus that they studied in their catechism classes or through personal reading.  Some know Jesus more intimately through prayer, worship, and meditation on the Word of God. Others encountered Jesus in the sacraments or had the privilege of a radical Christ-experience.  Even then, such Christ experiences have different depths.  The Seven Mansions, as described by St Teresa of Avila, shows the different levels of entering into the mystery of Christ and His love.

Nevertheless, in the final analysis, to know means to share in the life and love of someone.  When we know someone, we imbibe in the person’s values and perspectives of life.  We are identified with those whom we love.  This is particularly true of married couples.  Intimacy is more than just physical union but a union of heart and mind in all that we do and think.  Otherwise, such physical intimacy is superficial and have not much benefit than just an act of pleasure.   But if there is mutual willing and thinking, such intimacy crowns the union and becomes a real celebration.

This is what St John means when he wrote, “We can be sure that we know God only by keeping his commandments. Anyone who says, ‘I know him’, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, refusing to admit the truth.”  Keeping the commandments of God is easy only if we love Him deeply and could identify with Him completely.  Otherwise, the commandments become a burden, a restriction, and an imposition.  It is never difficult to obey someone whom we love, not just affectively, but when we are able to see the truth from the person’s perspective.  Christ had no issues with obeying the Father because He knew the Father and the Father knew Him.  (cf Mt 11:27)  He freely gave up His life out of obedience not reluctantly but willingly for the love of His Father.  (cf Jn 10:18)

Secondly, St John says, “We can be sure that we are in God only when the one who claims to be living in him is living the same kind of life as Christ lived.”  The litmus test of whether God or Christ is in us is whether we live the life that Jesus has taught us to live.  To be in Christ means to say with St Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  (Gal 2:20) So the best way to gauge our knowledge of God is not in doctrinal knowledge or even our God-experiences, but by the fruits of the Spirit that are manifested in our lives.  These fruits of the Spirit are common to all, but the gifts of the Spirit differ.  Regardless of the gifts we receive, it does not matter so long as we produce the fruits of the Spirit, as St Paul wrote to the Galatians.  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” (Gal 5:22f)

Thirdly, we know that we are in Christ only when we love our brothers and sisters. St John wrote, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the dark. But anyone who loves his brother is living in the light and need not be afraid of stumbling; unlike the man who hates his brother and is in the darkness, not knowing where he is going, because it is too dark to see.”  Anyone who has the heart of God will love everyone intensely the way God loves each one of us, regardless of our race, language or religion.  Everyone is precious to God, even those who do not know Him, or are His enemies.  God wants to save us all because He loves us all.  If God is in us, then we will recognize that our common love for the Father and our sonship in Christ makes us brothers and sisters of all, regardless.

In the gospel, we have someone who knew Jesus intimately.  We read the prophecy of Simeon.  When he saw the child, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he said, “‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised; because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.”  Such confession of faith in Christ goes beyond logic and understanding.  Through the grace of God alone, Simeon, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, could immediately recognize Jesus, that little baby, as the Promised Messiah, the one who will be the light of the nations, enlightening all in the truth about God and about themselves.   Most of all, by His life, His works, teachings, His death and resurrection, He will glorify God.  The little child in the arms of His blessed mother was foretold to bring great and revolutionary changes in the lives of humanity.  Simeon said to Mary, “You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.”

If we come to this truth and this knowledge of Christ, it is almost as if we have entered the sixth or seventh castle of the doctrine of St Teresa of Avila because at this point, there is no turning back.  We just want to be with God and bask in His love and mercy forever.  This experience of Simeon of wanting to go back to God is the consequence of encountering the glory of God in the humanity of Christ.  Like the psalmist, we would want to sing for joy. “Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad.  O sing a new song to the Lord, sing to the Lord all the earth. O sing to the Lord, bless his name.  Proclaim his help day by day, tell among the nations his glory and his wonders among all the peoples.”  Within this context, we can appreciate the sharing of St Paul when he spoke of his dilemma.  “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”  (Phil 1:21-24)  More importantly, he also said, “with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”  (Phil 1:20)

In the light of our reflection, we must therefore consider how much we know the Lord.  What is the depth of our relationship with Him?  Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that we love the Lord and know Him so much when we are not ready to die with Him or follow His way of life.   We can say all about Jesus, talk about Him, serve Him in ministry, but if we are not ready to live as He lived, love as He loved, suffer as He suffered, forgive as He forgave, then we are still far from knowing Him.  Our knowledge is only a cerebral knowledge; it has not yet reached our hearts nor touched the depths of our spirit.

Realizing how superficial our knowledge and love for the Lord as seen in our sinful way of life, in giving in to sin and selfishness and living in darkness, we must follow Mary in contemplating on Him more and more.  “The child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him.”   Unless we are willing to make time to contemplate on the Lord, we will never get to know Him from our being.  Intimacy with the Lord is a gift.  We must nurture this gift by entering into the mind and heart of Christ more and more each day through silence, prayer and reading of the Word of God. So we too must pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit to lead us to Jesus.

Simeon tells us how we can prepare for the Holy Spirit by living a devout and holy life.  Simeon “was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord.”   Let us, with the grace of God, be the glory of God for others by living the radical life that the Lord is inviting us to live.  This life of Christ, St John says, is “what is being carried out in your lives as it was in his, is a new commandment; because the night is over and the real light is already shining.”  Christ gives newness in the way we should fulfill the commandments which are as old as Moses.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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We Can Also Be Like Christ

Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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29 DECEMBER 2015, Tuesday, 5th Day Within Octave of Christmas (Last Year)
HOW CAN WE BE SURE THAT WE KNOW GOD?

SCRIPTURE READINGS: 1 JOHN 2:3-11; LUKE 2:22-35

How can we be sure that we know God? This is the question that St John is asking us.  St John in his days was facing the same challenges we are confronted with today.  This is particularly true for those who are priests, religious and those active and pious Catholics in Church.  Quite often, we deceive ourselves into thinking that we know God when we do not.

Like the Greeks, we measure our knowledge of God in terms of insight, an intellectual knowledge of God. There is always the tendency to substitute personal knowledge of God with intellectual knowledge.  This is the greatest temptation of priests, students of theology and scripture, teachers of the faith, catechists and those giving talks and conducting retreats.  We can talk, teach and preach eloquently, because we have acquired some intellectual knowledge of the faith.  But deep in our hearts, we know that we do not know Him because we do not have any real interpersonal relationship with Him.  We use only our head but we have no contact with Him in our hearts.

For others, they think they know God because they have had a mystical knowledge of Him.  Some have had beautiful religious experiences.  They are taken up by the graces of God and the consolations of visions, healing, joy and peace they received.  Those who receive such personal encounters with God often feel very high and elated.  Sometimes, they think that they are already living in the seventh castle of St Teresa of Avila.   For this reason, they keep on hanging to the consolations of God and would go for those services that provide such emotional “highs” and mystical experiences.  Such believers probably have a heart contact with God but their minds have no knowledge of the Lord.

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Above: Centuries old book, “The Imitation of Christ”

Then, there is the third category of people who are very active in Church.  They use their hands in encountering God.  It is the incarnational way.  They are very much involved in organizing activities, doing this and that for the Church or for the poor.  They are unlike the first two groups; not the thinking or the feeling types, but the doers.   They need to be always in activity so that they can feel charged and high all the time, especially when they experience success and appreciation.  Such emotional and psychological fulfilment serve more the ego, the ambition and a defence mechanism to boost a low self-esteem character than really a work borne out of the love of God.  Necessarily, when things are not doing well, they get discouraged and give up easily; or when they are challenged by others, they feel hurt and wounded because they think they are rejected.

Whilst all the above ways are not excluded in coming to know God, the only sure criterion that we can attest to truly knowing God is as St John wrote, “We can be sure that we are in God only when the one who claims to be living in him is living the same kind of life as Christ lived.”  Indeed, this is the only criterion that is needed to ascertain how much we know God.  It is not based on whether we have a theological degree, how many books we have read, or the mystical experiences we have had, or how involved we are in church or in the service of the poor, but whether the life of Christ is in us.

If our life reflects the life of Christ, then we can be confident that we are growing in knowledge of Christ.  The others are means but not the end.  Indeed, this is what Christmas is all about.  That is why immediately after the feast of Christmas, the Church celebrates the Feast of St Stephen, the first martyr who not only served Christ, or died for Him but with Christ and in Christ, reenacting His passion and death, by forgiving his enemies, praying for them and commending his soul to God.

This was followed by the Feast of St John, whose whole life was a martyrdom of bearing witness to Christ in a life of love and devotion to the Lord and His Church.  Yesterday was the feast of the Holy Innocents who witnessed to Christ by dying an innocent and unjust death.   They too gave witness to Christ through unjust suffering, like Christ who died for us.  Today, we also celebrate another great saint, Thomas Becket who gave his life for the Church because he was not ready to collaborate with the evil doings of the king by being his Chancellor.  Indeed, with courage he said, “I served our Theobald (former archbishop of Canterbury) well when I was with him: I served King Henry well as Chancellor: I am his no more, and I must serve the Church.”  All of them could truly be said to be witnesses of Christ by their lives and by their deaths.

But what would such a life of Christ entail?  It means living out the commandments of Christ.  This is what St John wrote, “We can be sure that we know God only by keeping his commandments. Anyone who says, ‘I know him’, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, refusing to admit the truth. But when anyone does obey what he has said, God’s love comes to perfection in him.” The obedience rendered to God is not just an external observance of the commandments like the scribes, Pharisees and some legal-based Christians.  Rather, the obedience asked of us must come from an inner conviction of the commandments as a real expression of the mind and heart of God.  Only those who know the Lord will understand the intention, the purpose, the goodness and the values of the commandments.  So it is not so much simply obeying the commandments; rather, it is our sharing of Christ’s mind and heart.   For this reason too, when we obey, that is, practice the commandments given by the Lord, we enter deeper into His being, and share in His love.   Perfection of Christian life therefore is measured by how much the mind and heart of God is in us, in the way we live our lives. “But when anyone does obey what he has said, God’s love comes to perfection in him.”

In the final analysis, there is only one commandment that sums up the entire list of commandments.  St John makes it clear thatthe commandment is old and yet new.  It is old in the sense that the commandment to love God and our neighbour has already been spelt out in the Old Testament.  But there is newness as well because Christ not only asked us to observe the commandments but to love each other as He has loved us. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (Jn 13:34f)  We are called to love as Jesus loved, to forgive as Jesus forgave, to be merciful and compassionate as He was.  So we are to love each other to the same extent that He has loved us.  Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta says, “God pays attention to our love.  Not one of us is indispensable.  God has the means to do all things and to do away with the work of the most capable human being.  We can work until we drop.  We can work excessively.  If what we do is not connected to love, however, our work is useless in God’s eyes.”  In the same vain, St Paul wrote, “If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”   (1 Cor 13:3)

Consequently, one clear sign that we have not arrived at the knowledge of God is when we cannot forgive our brothers and sisters or when we continue to hate them.  The lack of forgiveness indicates that we have not yet received His love and mercy for ourselves and the heart and mind of the Lord is not ours.  A man who cannot love his brother, that is, the one nearest to him, his loved ones, his relatives, his colleagues, his superiors and his workers, then he has not yet known the Lord.   The greatest challenge in loving our brothers and sisters is not loving those far away but those who are near, in our backyard, our elderly at home, the difficult spouse, the disobedient children and the incorrigible sibling who is irresponsible with his or her life, not contributing to the family.

St John wrote, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the dark. But anyone who loves his brother is living in the light and need not be afraid of stumbling; unlike the man who hates his brother and is in the darkness, not knowing where he is going, because it is too dark to see.”  A man full of hatred cannot see the goodness in another.  He lives in the dark because of his vindictiveness.  He cannot see any good or truth that comes from the person he hates, even when objectively he is doing good.  Hatred blinds us to many things in life.  We see the other as our enemy, competitor and a nuisance.  But when we love, then we begin to see them in a different light.  Only the light of Christ, the light of love, can help us to see our brothers and sisters, especially those who are weak and difficult, with compassion and forgiveness because we know that they are deeply wounded and hurt.

How then can we love like Christ?  Clearly, we need to allow Christ to love us first.  Today, we need the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who came down upon Simeon and enabled him to recognize Christ.   We too need to pray so that we can behold what he did and said, “Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised; because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.”   Once loved by the Lord, we must follow up by contemplating on His love and His life, especially through the scriptures.  Without meditation and contemplation on His face, the life of Christ cannot be imprinted in our minds and hearts.  The truth remains that a true knowledge of God cannot be ours without intimacy with the Lord in prayer.  Theological studies, spiritual experiences, doing good works can help us to encounter God but all these cannot be replaced by making the mind and heart of Christ our own.  Imitation of Christ can only come after contemplation of Christ.  Once imprinted on our hearts, we can also be like Christ, the light for the Gentiles, radiating the love and glory of God in and through our lives.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

Man’s Spiritual Dimension Governs All Human Rights

We seem to live today in a world of upheaval.

The Islamic State proclaims a caliphate, and promises heavenly rewards for the killing of those who reject Islam.

Christians are being slaughtered in great numbers.

All around the globe, people argue over human rights.

But where do our “human rights” come from?

China’s Communist government says only the Communist Party can bestow human rights. In the Muslim world, there seems to be a belief that only adherent to the Quran merit human rights. Apparently, murder and beheading of non-Muslims is acceptable to the Profit.

Yet Christians believe that human rights are bestowed by God. Christianity is rooted in the belief that man has an undeniable spiritual dimension. Many Christians believe that the Holy Spirit dwells within each and every human being — and this spirituality can be increased or minimized by the way each of us lives the Gospel.

As we prepare to welcome in a new year, it is time for us to prepare the way, to evaluate our own spiritual growth and to make resolutions that will bring us closer to God, and the spiritual person God wanted each and every one of us to become.

John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom

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Related:
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Included in The Good News: God Lives Within Us
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Book: Holy Spirit by Edward Leen
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Book: Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic by Matthew Kelly
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Many people have said to us that the four signs of a “Dynamic Catholic” are also the characteristics of many Christians of all denominations and people in recovery programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous. The four necessary things good Catholics do (and the really good AAs also do them) —
1. They Pray and Meditate.
2. They read and study;
3. They “pour themselves out in loving service to others” and
4. They  evangelize. AAs call this “Twelve Stepping.” They use their story of recovery and sobriety to assist others in their journey to do the same.

Prayer and Meditation for Monday, December 26, 2016 — Feast of Saint Stephen — “He was filled with the Holy Spirit.”

December 25, 2016

Feast of Saint Stephen, first martyr
Lectionary: 696

Reading 1 ACTS 6:8-10; 7:54-59

Stephen, filled with grace and power,
was working great wonders and signs among the people.
Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen,
Cyrenians, and Alexandrians,
and people from Cilicia and Asia,
came forward and debated with Stephen,
but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.When they heard this, they were infuriated,
and they ground their teeth at him.
But he, filled with the Holy Spirit,
looked up intently to heaven
and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
and he said,
“Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man
standing at the right hand of God.”
But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears,
and rushed upon him together.
They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.
The witnesses laid down their cloaks
at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 31:3CD-4, 6 AND 8AB, 16BC AND 17

R. (6) Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety.
You are my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake you will lead and guide me.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God.
I will rejoice and be glad because of your mercy.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Rescue me from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your kindness.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.

Alleluia PS 118:26A, 27A

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD:
the LORD is God and has given us light.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 10:17-22

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts
and scourge you in their synagogues,
and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake
as a witness before them and the pagans.
When they hand you over,
do not worry about how you are to speak
or what you are to say.
You will be given at that moment what you are to say.
For it will not be you who speak
but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will hand over brother to death,
and the father his child;
children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”

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Commentary on Matt 10:17-22 From Living Space

Today’s passage from Matthew is taken from the discourse which Jesus spoke to his disciples, sending them out on their mission to do the same work that he was doing and instructing them on how to go about it. In today’s section he foretells what they can look forward to. They can expect to be “handed over” (a key word in the gospels) to governors and kings, which will give them an opportunity to bear witness before unbelievers. At the same time, they are not to be anxious about what they should say. The words they need will be given when the time comes. This has been consistently confirmed by people arrested for their beliefs in recent times. They find in themselves a strength and confidence they never knew they had.

Again, Jesus sadly predicts that following him will result in families being broken up – father against child, children against parents. Alas, this prediction, too, has been fulfilled all too often both in the past and in recent times.

“You will be hated by all on account of my name,” says Jesus. A strange fate indeed for those whose lives are built on truth, love and peace. Yet a fate only too sadly confirmed right down the centuries to this very day. Jesus had said that all those who wished to follow him would have to take up their cross and go after him. The servant is no greater than his master. “Whoever loves his own life will lose it; whoever hates his own life in this world will keep it for life eternal. Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be with me where I am” (John 12:25-26). Stephen clearly is a perfect model of such a Christian disciple.

Some of us may find it strange to be talking about such painful things during the Christmas season. If we think like that then it may indicate that we do not fully understand the nature and purpose of Jesus’ birth. We tend to insulate the whole Christmas scene with romanticism and even a great deal of sentimentality but there was nothing sentimental about the Child being born in those rough surroundings, far from home, already ignored by the religious leadership of the day and whose only visitors were a group of poor and marginalised men and some mysterious visitors from out of the “pagan” darkness.

Ahead of this Child was a life of total service ending in the sacrifice of his life in shame and humiliation as the necessary step to our total liberation and sharing in his life. Christmas is the beginning of all this and Stephen is its eloquent symbol.

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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26 DECEMBER, 2016, Monday, St Stephen, Protomartyr
ACQUIRING THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST

SCRIPTURE READINGS: Acts 6:8-10,7:54-59; Matthew 10:17-22   ]

We have hardly done away with the feast of Christmas and just right after Christmas, we celebrate the tragic martyrdom of St Stephen.   This feast does not seem to gel with the peaceful atmosphere of the joyful season.  How can Christianity, an apparently harmless religion be a cause of concern for others?

How could Jesus the innocent and harmless baby be seen as a threat to the institutions?  How could Christianity be seen as against humanity?  The truth is that while Christmas is a season of peace and Jesus is our peace, it is so only to those who seek to walk in the light.  Peace is always the fruit of justice; justice is based on truth.  Jesus has come to reveal to us the truth about ourselves, the truth about God.  Consequently, with Jesus’ coming, peace is in sight only to those who seek true peace built on justice, truth and love.

Yet we know that almost immediately after He was born, darkness sought to extinguish the light.  We have King Herod who felt threatened by the infant child.  As a result, he had to flee for safety.  As Jesus entered the ministry, which was one of liberation and healing, the religious institutions of the day took offence and felt challenged by His popularity and the stark truth of His message.  It was difficult to accept and their egos were wounded.  Their interests were being compromised.  The fear of the loss of power, control, wealth and influence prevented them from being receptive to the message of Jesus.

So it is not surprising that when Stephen came to the scene, he faced the same challenges that his master faced.  Not only did he suffer the same fate, but he was also rejected and condemned by the Sanhedrin, then stoned to death.  Stephen was faithful to Christ and the gospel message. He was not afraid to face the Sanhedrin.  He looked at them calmly and with confidence and clarity spoke of Christ as the Messiah.  Even before kings and governors, he remained defiant and firm in his beliefs.  He did not allow death threats or imprisonment to intimidate him.  Such was the courageous faith of Stephen.

The fate of Stephen was not unexpected because Jesus in the gospel already warned His disciples about the future.  Jesus as a leader was open and transparent with His disciples.  He did not promise them a rose garden, wealth, power or status.  Rather, Jesus was completely honest and frank with them as to what discipleship entailed.  He prepared the disciples for the trials ahead.

These challenges remain real for us today.  We are being challenged by secularism more than ever.  To some extent, Christianity is under siege.  Unlike in those days, now it is no longer safe to declare oneself a Catholic because the world looks at us with cynicism as to how we could ever choose to be Catholic.  Today, it is not a novelty to have a religion.  That is why most of us keep our religion private, especially at the office.  To be known as a Catholic makes us look uncool, irrelevant to society and out of touch with the times because of the values we extol, especially in marriage, sex and family or entertainment.  They consider us backward, oppressed, narrow-minded and restrictive.

What are the three areas of challenges we face?  Firstly, whilst Catholics seek to be good citizens, obedient to the State and to the laws of the country, there will be occasions when Catholics need to speak out against laws and policies we deem to be short-sighted from the perspective of morality and justice.  When that happens, the prophecy of Jesus that “You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the pagans” will come true.  Indeed, the Church, whilst not interfering with the State in the governance of the country, is required morally to contribute to the policy making of the State, especially those that affect moral values, the good of the people; and promoting unity based on justice and equality.  Such conflicts become more real in cases when governments do not seek the interests of the people but their own.  Exposing the falsehood of the politicians, injustices and corruption would certainly bring the Church to a head with the State.  If the government is good, such as in Singapore where religions are seen as partners to the development and growth of the country, then there will be cooperation and respectful disagreement when dialogue does not bring about consensus.

Secondly, Jesus also warns us about being handed “over to Sanhedrin” and they would “scourge you in their synagogues.”  This is the confrontation that comes from within established religions and the institutions.  In seeking change and renewal, we will face opposition not just from without but from within.  The Church is human even though it is divinely instituted.  We remain sinners seeking to be saints.  Working with imperfect and sinful leaders and fellow Christians, there will be misunderstandings, quarrels and frictions due to the lack of humility, selflessness and Christian charity.  Often many goodwill Catholics who seek to renew the Church are seen as threats to the institutions and the authorities because they threaten the status quo.  They end up being persecuted and marginalized.  Many leave the Church disillusioned and bitter at the injustice of those in power and the cronyism that is at work in some organizations.

Most of all, persecution often comes from within our own families.  It is very difficult to be a Christian within our own family, our workplace and our community.  A prophet is not accepted in his own country.  Matters of faith and religion are very personal and our family members may not be receptive to our faith and practices, especially if we come from a family of different faiths.  At times, our Catholic students are ridiculed at school for being Catholic and for subscribing to our gospel values.  They are made fun of and mocked when they fail to live up to their Christian values, as if those who are not Christians are entitled to live selfish and unjust lives.  Indeed, at times, there can be much tension at home as Jesus warns us, “Brother will betray brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death.”   Because of religion, some are ostracized by their loved ones.

In all these trials, the Christian is asked to remain strong and firm.  “You will be hated by all men on account of my name; but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved.”  How can we be strong in our faith like Stephen in the face of persecution and discrimination?  Jesus assures us this, “But when they hand you over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you.”  What we need to do is to be like Stephen, a man who was “filled with grace and power and began to work miracles and great signs among the people.”

Like Stephen, we need to be attuned to the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.   If we are receptive to the Spirit of Jesus, He will speak through us and from the depth of our hearts.  Stephen acquired the Spirit of Jesus by contemplating on His life, passion, death and resurrection.  We too must learn from him to focus on the Lord.  Christmas invites to be like Mary, contemplating on the wonderful things that happened because of Jesus.

In this way, the Spirit of Jesus will live in us and we become more identified with Him in truth.  With the power of the Lord working in and through us, we will grow in wisdom in dealing with the world and its evil ways.   With the conviction of our faith in Christ, we will be given the gift of truth spoken directly from our hearts with eloquence that even our enemies cannot argue with us.

Most of all, with Stephen, we are always ready to forgive our enemies even when we have been wronged.  Until we arrive at this spirit of forgiveness of our enemies, we are still far from what a Christian should be.  There is no greater witnessing than forgiving our enemies and those who have hurt us.  When we are vindictive and revengeful, we are no better than our enemies.  A Christian accepts innocent and vicarious suffering for the greater good of all.  This is the hallmark and the final litmus test of being a true Christian when we are able to say with Stephen, “’Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’   Then he knelt down and said aloud, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’; and with these words he fell asleep.”

Like Stephen, we do not take things into our own hands but with faith in the power of God’s justice and deliverance, we must follow Jesus in saying, “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”  With the psalmist, we pray “Be a rock of refuge for me, a mighty stronghold to save me, for you are my rock, my stronghold.  For your name’s sake, lead me and guide me.  Into your hands I commend my spirit. It is you who will redeem me, Lord. As for me, I trust in the Lord: let me be glad and rejoice in your love.  My life is in your hands, deliver me from the hands of those who hate me. Let your face shine on your servant. Save me in your love.”

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

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Stephen’s name means “crown,” and he was the first disciple of Jesusto receive the martyr’s crown. Stephen was a deacon in the earlyChristian Church. The apostles had found that they needed helpers to look after the care of the widows and the poor. So they ordained seven deacons, and Stephen is the most famous of these.

God worked many miracles through St. Stephen and he spoke with such wisdom and grace that many of his hearers became followers of Jesus. The enemies of the Church of Jesus were furious to see how successful Stephen’s preaching was. At last, they laid a plot for him. They could not answer his wise argument, so they got men to lie about him, saying that he had spoken sinfully against God. St. Stephen faced that great assembly of enemies without fear. In fact, the Holy Bible says that his face looked like the face of an angel.

The saint spoke about Jesus, showing that He is the Savior, God had promised to send. He scolded his enemies for not having believed in Jesus. At that, they rose up in great anger and shouted at him. But Stephen looked up to Heaven and said that he saw the heavens opening and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

His hearers plugged their ears and refused to listen to another word. They dragged St. Stephen outside the city of Jerusalem and stoned him to death. The saint prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then he fell to his knees and begged God not to punish his enemies for killing him.

After such an expression of love, the holy martyr went to his heavenly reward. His feast day is December 26th.

http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=137

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St. Luke testified about St. Stephen, the Archdeacon and the first martyr (protomartyr), in the Acts of the Apostles saying, Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8). The Jews envied him and seized him and brought him to the Council. They also set up false witnesses who said, This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us (Acts 6:12-13). And all who sat in the Council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel (Acts 6:13). Then the high priest said, Are these things so?

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St. Stephen answered with convincing words and told them the history from Abraham to Moses. The coming out of Abraham from Haran, the birth and the circumcision of Isaac, Jacob and his sons and their selling of Joseph, and how Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. St. Stephen continued to narrate to them all the events until the building of the temple. He concluded by saying, You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of Whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers; who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it (Acts 7:51-53).

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When they heard these things they were cut to their hearts, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God! Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran toward him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. They stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, Lord Jesus receive my Spirit. Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, Lord, do not charge them with this sin. And when he said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:51-60). Devout men carried St. Stephen to his burial and made great lamentation over him.

http://www.saint-mary.net/sundayschool/saints/stephen.html

Related:

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The Martyrdom of St Stephen by RUBENS 1616

Stephen or Stephan (Greek: Στέφανος, Stephanos; Latin: Stephanus, meaning wreath or crowned, often given as a title rather than as a name), traditionally venerated as the Protomartyr or first martyr of Christianity,[1]was according to the Acts of the Apostles a deacon in the early church at Jerusalem who aroused the enmity of members of various synagogues by his teachings. Accused of blasphemy, at his trial he made a long speech denouncing the Jewish authorities who were sitting in judgment on him and was then stoned to death. His martyrdom was witnessed by Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee who would later himself become a follower of Jesus.

The only primary source for information about Stephen is the New Testament book of the Acts of the Apostles.[2] Stephen is mentioned in Acts 6 as one of the Greek-speaking Hellenistic Jews selected to participate in a fairer distribution of welfare to the Greek-speaking widows.[3]

The Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox Churches, and the Church of the East venerate Stephen as a saint. Stephen’s name is derived from the Greek language Stephanos, meaning “crown”. Traditionally, Stephen is invested with a crown of martyrdom; artistic representations often depict him with three stones and the martyr’s palm frond. Eastern Christian iconography shows him as a young, beardless man with a tonsure, wearing a deacon’s vestments, and often holding a miniature church building or a censer.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Stephen

Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, December 21, 2016 — “If the Lord is to dwell in our hearts, we must make time for silence and prayer.”

December 20, 2016

Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Advent
Lectionary: 197

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Reading 1 SG 2:8-14

Hark! my lover–here he comes
springing across the mountains,
leaping across the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Here he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattices.
My lover speaks; he says to me,
“Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one,
and come!
“For see, the winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of pruning the vines has come,
and the song of the dove is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance.
Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one,
and come!“O my dove in the clefts of the rock,
in the secret recesses of the cliff,
Let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
For your voice is sweet,
and you are lovely.”

Or ZEP 3:14-18A

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has removed the judgment against you,
he has turned away your enemies;
The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
He will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.

Responsorial Psalm PS 33:2-3, 11-12, 20-21

R. (1a; 3a) Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song.
Give thanks to the LORD on the harp;
with the ten-stringed lyre chant his praises.
Sing to him a new song;
pluck the strings skillfully, with shouts of gladness.
R. Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song.
But the plan of the LORD stands forever;
the design of his heart, through all generations.
Blessed the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people he has chosen for his own inheritance.
R. Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song.
Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield,
For in him our hearts rejoice;
in his holy name we trust.
R. Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

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The Visitation By Philippe de Champaigne.

Gospel LK 1:39-45

Mary set out in those days
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

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From Living Space from The Carmelites

Commentary on Song of Solomon 2:8-14 and Zephaniah 3:14-18

We have a choice of two First Readings today. The second, which is from the prophet Zephaniah, is for those who may find the passionate love implied in the passage from the Song of Songs a little strong for a liturgical celebration. The Song of Songs (also known as The Song of Solomon) is a collection of about 25 poems or parts of poems about human love and courtship, suitable for singing at weddings. “The poetry is graceful, sensuous and replete with erotic imagery and allusions to the ancient myth of the love of a god and a goddess on which the fertility of nature was thought to depend. (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, loc. cit.). The pronouns (He, She…) imply that the speakers are a bridegroom (Lover), bride (Beloved) and chorus. Although it is called ‘The Song of Solomon’ the actual author is unknown. And, although dating from about the 3rd century BC, the symbols and motifs date from early mythology and have become the language of human love and courtship.

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Strangely enough, the book has no obvious religious content compared to other books in the Bible and it can only be given such an interpretation by finding a deeper symbolism in its highly graphic language. Its inclusion in the Old Testament can be explained by the Lord being called the “husband” of his people (Hos 2:16-19). In the Christian tradition, it has been understood as an allegory of the love of Christ for his bride, the Church (Rev 21:2,9), or as symbolising the intimate experience of divine love in the individual soul. The links between mystical experience and sexual ecstasy are not so far apart. We should be grateful that such a beautiful work has been included in our collection of God’s Word.
The choice of the reading for today is obviously linked to the Gospel account of the Visitation of Mary and Jesus to Elizabeth and John. The love expressed in the First Reading clearly points to a close, warm relationship between Jesus and John, where John represents each one of us. Perhaps we do not use this kind of passionate language when speaking to Jesus but there have been mystics who have not hesitated to do so. One thinks of John of the Cross or Ignatius of Loyola and even more of Teresa of Avila.

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As the passage opens, it is the Beloved, the girl who is speaking. She is living with her parents in the city. Not unlike the lover in one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, the Lover appears at the Beloved’s window. The door is closed and there is a forbidding wall. “He looks in at the window, he peers through the lattice.” He urges her to come away with him to the countryside. “Come then, my love, my lovely one, come.”

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The cold of winter, which is also the rainy season is past. It is now spring, the time of new life. Nature is bursting out in leaf and flower and the migrant birds have returned to make their nests. The cooing of turtle doves is heard, the first figs are appearing and the vines are in fragrant flower. And, of course, for humans, too, it is the season of love.
The Beloved is hiding in the clefts of the rock, a euphemism for her home, a place inaccessible to the Lover. “Show me your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your face beautiful.”

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Jesus, too, is still hidden in the womb of his mother. His mother’s voice is enough to create a joyful reaction in John, in Elizabeth’s womb. He knows that where the Mother is, the Son must also be close by.

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It is important to realise that our Christian faith is not just a list of intellectual doctrines. Ultimately it is a life based on love, intimacy and affection for our brothers and sisters.

ALTERNATIVE  FIRST READING – from the prophet Zephaniah (Zephaniah 3:14-18)

Zephaniah was a prophet during the reign of King Josiah (640-609 BC) who did much to restore traditional Jewish religious customs. But his example was not followed and Zephaniah foretold disaster and this indeed happened with the collapse of the Assyrian empire brought about by the Babylonians who went to attack Egypt, an ally of Assyria. Josiah took sides with Egypt and was killed in a battle. It was to set the stage for one of Israel’s most painful memories – the Babylonian Captivity. While much of Zephaniah is a condemnation of religious infidelity, the last part from which today’s reading comes is a promise of better times to come for those who wait patiently for the Lord.

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Today’s passage consists of two psalms or hymns looking forward to the full restoration of Jerusalem to its former glory and religious faithfulness. The whole people (“daughter of Zion…daughter of Jerusalem”) are invited to celebrate the coming salvation. Words echoed in the words of the angel to Mary: “Rejoice! The Lord is with you.”

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In today’s celebration, it is the close presence of the Lord which is emphasised. “The Lord, the King of Israel, is in your midst; you have no more evil to fear.” And again: “The Lord your God is in your midst.”

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Again, “The lord your God is in your midst…
He will exult with joy over you,
he will renew you by his love;
he will dance with shouts of joy for you…”

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There is also an air of joy. “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion!.. Rejoice, exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem.”

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All of this can fittingly be applied to Elizabeth as she welcomes Mary and Jesus and indicated by John jumping for joy in the womb of his mother. Let us too share their joy as we prepare to welcome the coming of our God among us in Jesus.

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Source: http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/A1221r/

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Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669). The Visitation, 1640

Rembrandt uses light and shadow to train the viewer’s eye through the canvas. The brightest light falls on Mary and then Elizabeth. Mary has just traveled to see her cousin, whom the angel told her would be with child in her old age. There they both stand, pregnant by divine intervention—Elizabeth with John the Baptist and Mary with the Christ.

Rembrandt’s light focuses on the two women like a spotlight coming down from the heavens. As our eyes adjust to the scene we see the two servants. Beyond them at the edges of the frame we see Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah the priest, to the left and Joseph down and to the right.

A few years ago this Rembrandt traveled to my city as part of an exhibit about the Dutch Golden Age. I was struck by small size of the painting. It is just a little bigger than two by two and half feet. Still, Rembrandt doesn’t waste an inch of composition space, filling the dark background with an elaborate cityscape and the foreground with detailed foliage and architecture. The peacock looking on from the bottom left signifies Jesus’s royalty and immortality. Peacocks were regarded as kingly and there was a myth in Rembrandt’s day that their flesh never decayed.

The scene shows an ornate world in motion, but the meeting between these two women, though their pregnancies would transform that world forever, takes place with no fan-fare. As Isaiah said, there would be nothing about Jesus’s coming that would capture the world’s attention.

 

Consider

“When the angel Gabriel stood before Mary, the hypothetical gave way to the real. The ordinary stories all at once glistened under the extraordinary light of this celestial storyteller.

“As she listened, there rose inside her a sense that the glory of his tale was nothing new, but rather was older than time. She only needed uncommon light to see it. She had, Gabriel told her, found favor with God. She shouldn’t fear this visit or the message he brought.

“It must have been strange to stand before this seraph dressed in light, strong and otherworldly, and hear him tell her not to be afraid. Perhaps it was even stranger for Mary to discover that God had formed an overall impression of her. She was known by God, and he favored her. He liked what he saw?

“The angel then came to the reason for his visit. He told Mary she would conceive a son, who would rescue his people from their sins. God had already chosen his name— Jesus, which meant “salvation.”[1]

 

Examine

What do you think the angel means when he tells Mary she has found favor with God?

In what ways is the Christmas story globally epic? In what ways is it deeply personal? Are you drawn to one of those poles more than the other? Which one? Why?

Where are some places in your life where you need the help of a God who governs the cosmos? Where are some places in your life where you need a God who can cut into the deeply personal details of your heart?

http://russ-ramsey.com/day-19-the-ordinary-overshadowed-reflection-questions-and-art-during-advent/

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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21 DECEMBER, 2016, Wednesday, Weekday of Advent
JOY IS BORN OF THE PROMISE

SCRIPTURE READINGS: Song of Songs 2:8-14 or Zep 3:14-18a; Ps 32:2-3,11-12,20-21; Luke 1:39-45   ]

Christmas is often associated with joy.  One of the carols that we like to sing is “Joy to the world!”   What is the basis of this joy?  Namely, that the savior has come and that Christ has come to reign with His love and truth.  With Christ’s coming, there will be peace in our land and there will be love among men.  The thought of Christ’s coming therefore fills those without love and without peace with expectant joy.  This joy is born out of this promise.  This is the message of today’s scripture readings as we enter the 5th day of the “O” Antiphons that prepare us for the coming of Christ.

Indeed in the first reading from the Book of Songs, the mystical love and union between God and His bride, the Church is portrayed in terms of human love between two lovers.  The Book of the Song of Songs is really a compendium of love songs for a wedding.  Love is full of joy and admiration at the beauty of our loved ones.  “I hear my Beloved.  See how he comes leaping on the mountains, bounding over the hills. My Beloved is like a gazelle, like a young stag.”  She says, “My dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock, in the coverts of the cliff, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful.”  Love is attentive, always paying attention and observing the details of our beloved.   “See where he stands behind our wall. He looks in at the window, he peers through the lattice.”   Where there is love, there is newness of life and we see things in a new perspective.  “For see, winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth. The season of glad songs has come, the cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree is forming its first figs and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance.”

Indeed, anyone who is in love with God is filled with joy.  When the love of God fills the person’s hearts, the things of this world pale in comparison with His love.  “If one offered for love all the wealth of one’s house, it would be utterly scorned.” (Songs 8:7b) Love gives us meaning and purpose in life.  To fall in love with God is the greatest thing on this earth.  When God’s love is in our hearts, we find deeper inner peace, joy and security.  St Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  (1 Cor 13:19b-20)

Secondly, the joy of Christmas comes from liberation.  In the optional reading from Zephaniah, the prophet said, “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud! Rejoice, exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has repealed your sentence; he has driven your enemies away.”   Indeed, the Lord has come to take away our shame.  He has come to take away all that harm and destroy us.  He will help us to overcome our inner enemies, that is our sins and selfishness; and He will liberate us from our external enemies, pain, suffering and injustices.  The prophet assures us that God is our warrior.  He will fight the battle for us.  We only need to rely on His strength and might.  “The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst; you have no more evil to fear. When that day comes, word will come to Jerusalem: Zion, have no fear, do not let your hands fall limp. The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior.”   Both in today’s acclamation before the gospel and at the Magnificat at vespers, we pray, “O Key of David, who open the gates of the eternal kingdom, come to liberate from prison the captive who lives in darkness.”

Truly, when the Lord is in us, we feel liberated from all fears, worries and anxieties.  All our sins come from fear and the desire to protect our self-interests.  We fear death, hunger and pain.  But the Lord shows us that love is stronger than death and selfishness.  So like the lover, we say to the Lord, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.”  (Songs 8:6-7a)

The Good News is that the Lord is coming and He has come.  “My Beloved lifts up his voice, he says to me, ‘Come then, my love, my lovely one, come.”  The Lord is saying to us, “Come then, my love, my lovely one, come.”  In a real way, the Lord comes to us in the Incarnation.  In the gospel reading, we read of how the Lord came to visit Elizabeth in the womb of Mary.  “Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”   The coming of the Lord filled Elizabeth with joy and John the Baptist also leapt for joy.

The Lord comes to us again and again.  He comes to us when we receive Him in the Eucharist, just as our Blessed Mother carried the Lord in the tabernacle of her womb.  Whenever we receive the Eucharist with a pure heart, a clear conscience and a devout spirit, the Lord enters into our lives and renews the Holy Spirit given to us at our baptism.   If our disposition is right, the Lord comes, but most of the time we do not recognize His real presence in the Eucharist.  This explains why although many Catholics receive communion every Sunday, nothing is happening in their lives. They receive without reverence, without a conscious recognition of Christ’s presence in the bread and most of all, in the seriousness of their sins.

Still, the Lord can come to us anew if we receive Him in the sacrament of reconciliation.  The Lord wants to set us free from our prison of sin and misery.  Our pride, self-righteousness, egotism and anger often blind us to the reality of the truth.   If we want to be set free to find love and peace, then we need to seek His forgiveness; and then extend this forgiveness to our fellowmen and all those who have hurt us.  So if we have not yet frequented the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we will be losing a great opportunity of grace.  How can there be peace and joy at Christmas when one is not reconciled with God and with our loved ones and our fellowmen?  If we want peace, let us make peace with ourselves, with God and others.

The Lord comes especially also in the compassion and mercy that others show to us, or vice versa.  Mary, hearing that Elizabeth was pregnant in her old age immediately responded to her help.  She travelled a great distance to help her cousin.  We too like Mary are called to be channels of grace and love.  She not only literally brought Jesus to Elizabeth and John the Baptist but she herself became the presence of Jesus to them.  Through her kindness and graciousness, Elizabeth immediately sensed the divine presence in her heart and womb.  We too must do the same.  As we reach out to the lonely, the sick, the wounded, the hungry and the poor, we come to encounter Christ in them and they encounter Christ in us.

If the Lord were to dwell in our hearts, we must make time for silence and prayer.  “Give thanks to the Lord upon the harp, with a ten-stringed lute sing him songs. O sing him a song that is new, play loudly, with all your skill.”  This last week of Advent is an intense period of expectancy which is aroused and strengthened by prayer, meditation and contemplation.  We must seek and desire that our Lord comes into our lives.  Like the love who said, “Upon my bed at night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer. I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves.” (Songs 3:1-2)  Let us wait for the Lord in prayer and good works.  “Our soul is waiting for the Lord. The Lord is our help and our shield. In him do our hearts find joy. We trust in his holy name.”  Let us not delay any longer but have faith.  “Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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Related:

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Edward Leen totally believes in the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit” in every human being. His book “Holy Spirit” works for everbody.

Karl Rahner also believed in the gift of the Holy Spirit in every human being. Rahner says, “To get more, give more.”

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Worrying claim: Professor Patrick Pullicino said doctors had turned the use of a controversial ¿death pathway¿ into the equivalent of euthanasia of the elderly

Worrying claim: In Britain, Professor Patrick Pullicino said doctors had turned the use of a controversial ‘death pathway’ into the equivalent of euthanasia of the elderly

Trying not to go haywire… “For I do not do the good that I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”

September 9, 2016

Trying not to go haywire…

“I do not understand my own actions because I do not do what I want to. But I do the very thing that I hate. … I can will what is right but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good that I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now, if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who does it but the sin that dwells within me. … Wretched person that I am. Who will rescue me from this body of death, from this life of sin? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And we love Romans 7 because this chapter is so accurate in its description of our human nature.

— Romans 7:15

I am happily married, for forty years now, and my wife is here today, and so it is uncomfortable for me to say that I look lustfully at certain women. Jimmie Carter, when he was President of the United States and also the most famous Bible teacher in the Baptist church, made the front page of TIME magazine by confessing he still had feelings of lust, even though happily married. He didn’t want to have such feelings. Neither do I. Neither do you. But in reality, we have them.

So I come to the conclusion: what kind of a Christian am I anyhow? I must not be a very good Christian. I must be a weak Christian. I must be a compromising Christian. I must be a sinful, imperfect Christian. What is wrong with me? Why are there so many contradictions living inside of me. What kind of a man is this that lives inside of me?

We all have these kinds of inner struggles within ourselves. You have yours; I have mine.

Now, who is it that wrote these words? “That which I want to do, I do not do. And that which I hate to do is exactly what I do.”  Who is it that wrote these words? Was it some seventeen year old kid who was off parked with his girlfriend one night and he discovered his hormones were stronger than the Holy Spirit?  Was it some newly “born again” Christian who was a recent Christian convert? Was this written by some TV evangelist who pompously parades around on some platform,  preaching and pretending, that all of these temptations have left him?

We all know that the man who wrote these words was the Apostle Paul. Here he was at the very high point of his life. Fifty-five to sixty-five years old; a mature Christian; he had been a Christian for some twenty to twenty-five years. Here was the Apostle Paul who prayed fervently, who worked mighty miracles, who wrote numerous letters to the churches. Here was Paul who spoke courageously before governments, kings, and rulers. Here was Paul who was tossed into prison, beaten and stoned. Here was Paul, the most mature person of the Christ-centered life, at the high point of his Christian, at the top of his game, at the top of his A game (to use an analogy from golf) saying, “I don’t get it. I do not get it. I do the things that I hate. And the very things that I want to do, I don’t do. That which I don’t want to do, I do. What is wrong with me? What a wretched person?”

And then it begins to dawn on us that one of the marks of a mature Christian is the awareness of this struggle with evil in your life. One of the marks of a mature Christian is this honest awareness about who are, honest about this civil war within us. It is to struggle with evil until your dying day. We all struggle. We all say to ourselves, “O wretched person that I am.”

Or perhaps have you outgrown this? Have you become so mature, so holy? Is your life so together, so you have finally arrived at the point where you say, “I am just fine. I am not life the Apostle Paul. You say inside, “Wretched are those other people. I have won the battle with my sin; I have conquered my sinful self and my civil war.”

According to the Apostle Paul, a mark of a mature Christian is that a person continues to struggle with sin until your dying day. This is not a sign of Christian immaturity,  not a sign of Christian weakness, not a sign of Christian double mindedness and doubt. This is a mark of a real Christian who lives in a real world and has real feelings inside and real awareness of himself or herself. Yes, we know that we struggle with it.

So here we are. The Apostle Paul, at the very top of his life, at the top of his game, at the very apex of his Christian life, when he was writing the finest letter that he had ever written, he says, “What is wrong with me? How come? The very good that I want to do, I do not do. That which I don’t want to do, is precisely what I do.” The Apostle Paul, who was the most mature Christian in his era, was writing these words.

But … is that all there is? That we struggle with sin? No, not at all. That is Romans, chapter seven. Chapter seven sets the table for chapter eight. Chapter seven is a prelude for chapter eight. At the end of chapter seven, he adds the transitional verse: “Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ our Lord.” If you move into Romans, chapter eight, you will discover Paul talking about the power of the Holy Spirit. The power of the Holy Spirit that comes into your life and gives you strength. He talks about the Holy Spirit who helps you get over your alcoholism, your drug addictions. He talks about the Holy Spirit who helps you get control of those destructive behaviors that are hurting your family, your marriage, yourself and hurting you in so many different ways. Paul talks about the Holy Spirit coming into you and strengthening you and helping you to do what is right. He talks about the Holy Spirit, forgiving you through the death of Christ on the cross.

Romans 8 is one of the fines chapters in the Bible. In this summer sermon series, I have preached one sermon on chapter three, one on chapter four, one on chapter five, one on chapter six, one on chapter seven; but when we get to chapter eight next week, there will be five sermons on one chapter. Romans 8 is one of the grandest chapters of the Bible.

But meanwhile, back at the ranch, based on chapter seven, we remain sinners. At the same time, we remain with our self-contradictions.  Even after you have memorized all the verses of chapter eight; even after you have assimilated chapter eight; even after you have put chapter eight into practice in your life, chapter seven still stands.  You still live with the truth from chapter seven. You never can escape the civil war inside of you.

Martin Luther understood this well, when he used this Latin phrase that sounds like this: “simil Justus epecator.” It was a very famous phrase during the Reformation. Simil Justus Epecator.” Simultaneously, saint and sinner. Simultaneously, when you are a saint, you are also a sinner. This phrase is true. You, as a Christian, are going to struggle with the sin inside of you until your dying day. That is just the way it is.

I have it figured out. The foolish religious-type said: “Tomorrow, I am going to start again. There will be a new leaf tomorrow. Turning over a new chapter in my life I am going to get up and roll out of bed and before my feet hit the floor, I’m going to pull out the Bible and read and pray for an hour. And then tomorrow morning, I am going to have a vegetarian breakfast, then a vegetarian lunch and then a vegetarian dinner. Tomorrow night, late, about midnight, when everybody is asleep, when the wife is asleep and the children are not watching and the dog is asleep by the fireplace, I am going to sneak into the refrigerator and just … pig out on a bowl … full of vegetables. Amen.

http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/romans_idontdowhatiwant.htm

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Why do we pray, meditate and do all the things that Christians are taught to do?

Because we are trying to get God’s help in our lives. Because we are trying, striving, and never quite able to live up to His expectations for us.

Because we are human but we know we have a spiritual core.

We want the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We want that little tiny spark within is, that small pilot light of God, to become a reliable compass that draws us closer to Him and further from our humanness. Our sinfulness.

John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son. Hermitage Museum,Saint Petersburg
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_(Rembrandt)
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The story of the Prodigal Son (Totally Forgiving Father) has become one of my favorites.
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Spiritual writer Fr. Henri Nouwen traveled to St. Petersburg to sit before this painting for days: meditating and praying. In fact, he wrote an entire book on the meaning of this story and this painting. We highly recommend all of Henri Nouwen’s books, and maybe our favorite is The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming.
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Prayer and Meditation for Monday, August 22, 2016 — “Endurance and faith in all your persecutions and the afflictions you endure.”

August 21, 2016

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Lectionary: 425

Carving: They met on the Road to Emmaus

 

Reading 1 2 THES 1:1-5, 11-12

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the Church of the Thessalonians
in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters,
as is fitting, because your faith flourishes ever more,
and the love of every one of you for one another grows ever greater.
Accordingly, we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God
regarding your endurance and faith in all your persecutions
and the afflictions you endure.This is evidence of the just judgment of God,
so that you may be considered worthy of the Kingdom of God
for which you are suffering.We always pray for you,
that our God may make you worthy of his calling
and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose
and every effort of faith,
that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you,
and you in him,
in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.

Responsorial Psalm PS 96:1-2A, 2B-3, 4-5

R. (3) Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
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.
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.
For great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
awesome is he, beyond all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are things of nought,
but the LORD made the heavens.
R. Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.

Alleluia JN 10:27

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

Gospel MT 23:13-22

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men.
You do not enter yourselves,
nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You traverse sea and land to make one convert,
and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna
twice as much as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say,
‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing,
but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’
Blind fools, which is greater, the gold,
or the temple that made the gold sacred?
And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing,
but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’
You blind ones, which is greater, the gift,
or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it;
one who swears by the temple swears by it
and by him who dwells in it;
one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God
and by him who is seated on it.”

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Homily By The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore (First published on Monday August 26 2013)
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Where do you stand in your faith?  Is your faith more like that of the scribes and Pharisees or that of the early Christians in Thessalonica?   The answer to this question determines our happiness in this life and hereafter for the warning of Jesus is this, “Alas for you … you hypocrites!  You who shut up the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces, neither going in yourselves nor allowing others to go in who want to.”

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What then is wrong with the so called faith of the scribes and Pharisees?  Their faith was merely an intellectual and legalistic faith.   Perhaps, it would not even be right to call it faith!  More correctly, their faith was a religion in so far as one uses religion to fulfill one’s selfish interests.  In the first place, their faith in God was based on merit.  They did not believe in grace.  They believed one can earn his place in the eyes of God.  The corollary of this is that even when they obeyed the laws of God or when they performed good works, it was done more out of selfish interests than out of pure love for God and for others, since such works were done simply to accumulate merits.   For those who were less authentic, good works were not motivated by love but by egoism or at most, by fear of rejection.

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This explains why they sought ways to circumvent the laws by rationalizing them or finding loopholes in the laws so that they could break them without being faulted.  Religion then became like a game of rules.  Observe the rules and you will be saved.  The spirit of the laws is forgotten.

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Conversely, one can observe the laws so strictly without taking into the peculiar circumstances that it becomes ludicrous and even unjust.  This is how civil lawyers try to get their clients out of trouble.  So long as they can circumvent the letter of the law, they are not guilty.  That is why, at times, one wonders how just the laws are as it depends on whether one engages a good legal counsel to fight the case. A good lawyer can often go round the law to get us out of trouble.  So it is not just a matter of whether one is guilty or innocent, but about having someone present our case convincingly before the judge who is obliged to judge based on the facts presented within the limits of the laws.

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Jesus exposed their insincerity in the way they fulfilled the Laws. He cited the ludicrous attempts of the Jews to avoid any obligation to their promises made to God by splitting hairs over when a promise would be considered valid.  When Moses gave them the Laws, it was meant to help them to live a life of love and harmony. If observing the law makes us less loving, then the purpose of the law is defeated.  Laws are not observed for laws’ sake but for the service of love.   Otherwise, such observance of the law is mere hypocrisy.

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If Jesus’ words appeared to be harsh, it was not spoken in anger but in compassion for them, for as religious leaders, not only were they misleading their flock, but they would also miss out on the life of the kingdom.  We must not be misled into thinking that Jesus’ reprimand of the scribes and Pharisees lacked love.  On the contrary, at the end of the same chapter of the gospel we read Jesus lamenting, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.  Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Mt 23:37-39)

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For Jesus, everything is done in the name of love and for love.

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Similarly, we have the exemplary and lively faith of the Thessalonians.  These Christians knew little about their faith, for we will read later how they misunderstood the second coming of Christ.  However, they were people docile to the Spirit, open to the Word of God and sincere in living out the gospel life.  St Paul was full of admiration for them when he wrote how he constantly thanked God for how they “have shown (their) faith in action, worked for love and persevered through hope, in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The faith of the Thessalonians was not simply an intellectual faith, but a faith that acts.  In the first place, St Paul commended them, “We know, brothers, that God loves you and that you have been chosen, because when we brought the Good News to you, it came to you not only as words, but as power and as the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction.” In other words, they surrendered in obedience to the preaching of the apostles and accepted their words as from God in faith.  This was demonstrated in the way they broke with idolatry, the worship of false gods.  They might not be schooled in theology and scriptures, but in their simplicity, they accepted the teaching of the apostles as the Word of God.

Secondly, this faith in God was demonstrated in right living, as St Paul praised them saying, “You observed the sort of life we lived when we were with you, which was for your instruction” and how “When you were converted to God and became servants of the real, living God.”   In other words, they became servants of God and of each other in animated charity.   Theirs was not simply faith in God but for this faith to be real and true it must issue in love.  This was what they did.  They put their faith into action by works of charity.

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Thirdly, this faith was a faith that lived in hope, for they were waiting in hope for the coming of Jesus to save them from retribution.  The early Christians were so full of faith that in their simplicity, they thought that the Second Coming was near.  They were willing to abandon everything for the hope that was before them.  Faith, therefore, is the basis of hope.  Without faith, hope would be weak and be reduced to mere wishful thinking.  A firm hope must be rooted in faith and our faith is not in oneself but in God who alone can restore the world and redeem us.  Because of the surety of the hope before them, they could continue to love and give themselves to others even when they had to suffer for Christ.

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What about us?  Is our faith animated by charity and strengthened by hope?  Or do we give up easily and become disillusioned in times of difficulties and trials?  We must evaluate our faith seriously today.  Has my faith in God grown each day?  Do I trust in God more and more in living out my vocation in life?  Is this faith expressed in a growing charity manifested in generosity, kindness and compassion both for the poor, the marginalized and for members of the community?  Is our faith lived beyond this world and do we have a persevering hope in Jesus, especially in those moments when we face crises in our faith or in our struggles to be faithful in carrying our daily cross after Jesus?  Most of all, have we become more sensitive to sin in our lives so that we can grow in holiness and charity?

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As St Paul said, “We know, brothers, that God loves you and that you have been chosen.”  Indeed, the key to a real living faith is to know that we are loved by the Lord and chosen by Him.  Only when we have experienced His love can we then in turn be empowered to love and continue to hope in Him, especially when trials come into our lives.   Yes, only this kind of faith can save us.  We can love God more and more when we know that He loves us because faith is the foundation of love and also the basis for the augmentation of love.  When we open ourselves to someone in faith, love will soon develop.  As we love, we learn to trust a person even more.  So faith and love accompanies each other and strengthens each other.  A legalistic faith will only make us self-righteous and unable to love freely from our hearts.  Let us pray that the faith of the Thessalonians will also be ours as we open our lives to Him in faith.

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Written by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

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First Thoughts From Peace and Freedom

In yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter, but will not be strong enough.” (Luke 13:24)

Part of this process is understanding who we are as human beings — all the good we can do and all the mistakes we can make!

But we don’t stop there. Throughout our lives, Jesus expects us to get better and better. Our journey may be a tough one — but He promises all the support and help he can give, plus the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit” inside of us as we encounter tougher and tougher challenges.

Related:

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From Bishop Robert Barron — “Strive to enter through the narrow gate”

To gain eternal life is to participate to the fullest degree possible in the very life of God. It is to walk the path of love, surrendering to grace and allowing this grace to flow through you to the wider world. Is this an easy task? No. The Gospel of Luke tells reminds us that the gate is narrow precisely because it is in the very shape of Jesus Himself, and entrance through the gate involves conformity to his state of being. The path of love is traveled by taking up one’s cross every day.

http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/homily/the-narrow-gate/5249/

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Commentary on 2 Thess 1:1-5, 11-12 From Living Space

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After eight weeks reading from the Old Testament prophets, we return today to the New Testament. For the next three days we will be reading from the Second Letter of Paul to the Christians at Thessalonika in northern Greece.

Today we begin the first of three readings from the Second Letter to the Thessalonians.

Although this letter is usually ascribed to Paul, there are serious doubts about him being its real author or that it was actually directed to the Christians of Thessalonika, a city in Macedonia, north of Greece. Nevertheless, it has always been a part of the recognised canon and we can read it with confidence as speaking God’s word to us.

The letter opens traditionally with the names of its claimed authors: Paul, with two of his helpers, Silvanus and Timothy, and its adressee, the Christian community, the church, in Thessalonika.

There follows a Christian prayer of grace, peace and thanksgiving to God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

The writers are full of gratitude to God because of the marvellous growth of faith and mutual love among the Thessalonian Christians, even though they are aware of some shortcomings also.

The Thessalonians are congratulated for standing out among the churches for their perseverance in spite of the persecutions and troubles they have had to face. This was a source of special pride for Paul and the other founders of this church and they were not ashamed to boast of it. Paul seems to imply that it was somewhat unusual for the founders of a church to boast about this, though others might do so. However, the Thessalonians were so outstanding in this regard that Paul departed from his normal practice.

It shows that God, in allowing them to go through these trials, was right. He gave them the resources they needed and they rose to the occasion and proved themselves “worthy of the kingdom of God”. He provided strength to endure and this in turn produced spiritual and moral character. Their sufferings are precisely for the promotion of the Kingdom as they give faithful witness to Jesus and the Gospel.

The passage ends with a lovely prayer that God will fulfil the Thessalonians’ “desires for goodness” and bring to completion all that they have been doing through faith in Christ. God initiates every good purpose and every act prompted by faith; Paul prays accordingly that he will bring these to fulfilment.

“We pray…that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you.” In ancient times one’s name was often more than a personal label; it summed up what a person was. Paul is praying that the name, that is, the person of the Lord Jesus will be given glory in them and they in him through the love of God and the Lord Jesus poured into their hearts.

As we read this passage we may reflect on a number of things:

a. Can it be said that our faith and mutual love, individually and collectively, are constantly growing?

b. How do we behave and respond when our Christian faith is challenged, attacked or rubbished? Do we stand up or do we go into hiding? Do we hit back or pray for those who attack us?

c. Can we see that the trials and setbacks of life are ways by which God is challenging the depth of our faith and calling for a deeper response of love and service?

Source: http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/o2212r/

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22 AUGUST 2016, Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

SHARING IN THE QUEENSHIP OF MARY

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  Isaiah 9:1-6; Luke 1:26-38]

Following the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption in 1950, the feast of the Queenship of Mary was instituted in 1955 by Pope Pius XII and was then celebrated on 31st May.  The reformed liturgy has transferred the celebration of this feast to a week after the feast of the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. This means that the Church intends us to link the Assumption with the Queenship of Mary to her glorification. In Lumen Gentium 59, the Constitution says, “The Immaculate Virgin … was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, that she might be more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of Lords (cf. Rev 19:16) and conqueror of sin and death.”

Hence, it is clear that the feast of the Queenship of Mary is the corollary to the Assumption. This explains why it is celebrated as the Octave to the Assumption.  The Assumption of Mary speaks of Mary’s entire being being taken up into heaven, but it is the feast of the Queenship of Mary that elaborates what this truly means.  The glorification of Mary is not just the glorification of the body and soul of Mary but it entails her participation in the life of Christ. In the light of the revelation, the Church came to realize that it would be only appropriate that Mary be proclaimed as having been assumed into heaven and given the queenship, since the whole life of Mary has been nothing short of a total participation of the saving work of Christ from the incarnation to the resurrection.

What kind of life would that be?  To answer this question, we must return to the Feast of Easter and Ascension.  At the Resurrection, Jesus was given new life when He was raised from the dead.  The Resurrection was the glorification of the body of Jesus.  Needless to say, the Resurrection was followed by the Ascension.  What is the distinction between the Resurrection and the Ascension, since both are actually a twofold event of glorification?  In the Ascension, Christ was established Lord and King of the Universe.  In this way, His mission is complete because He is made Lord and King.

So if we were to understand the significance of the Queenship of Mary, then we must correlate it with the feast of the Ascension.  In truth, except for the word “being taken up”, the Assumption of Mary is more akin to the Feast of the Resurrection of Jesus than Ascension.  This is because the outcome of the Assumption is Mary’s sharing in the reign of Christ’s kingship over sin and death.

That this is the intention is brought out in today’s scripture readings. Both scripture readings underscore that Christ would be the future messianic King of David.  Indeed, the whole mission of Jesus was to restore the reign of God that was destroyed by sin.  The proclamation of Jesus was basically that of the Kingdom of God.  In fact, Jesus is the embodiment of the kingdom.

How did Jesus proclaim the KingdomFirstly, Jesus showed His kingship by giving Himself freely for the service of the Kingdom.  He surrendered Himself entirely to the mission even until death. Before Pilate, He showed Himself to be one who determined His life and would not easily succumb to political or religious pressures.  To be free for the service of the Kingdom implies that Jesus must be king, since He was in charge of Himself.

Secondly, Jesus proclaimed the reign of God by demonstrating in Himself the presence of God in Him. Through His works of compassion and through His authoritative teaching, Jesus manifested Himself to be the Word and Compassion of the Father.

Thirdly, the kingship of Jesus is vindicated by His resurrection, since with the Resurrection sin and death are defeated.

If we find the Queenship of Mary sounding archaic, then we must understand Mary’s Queenship in today’s context and that of Christ’s Kingship of which Mary shares. The Queenship of Mary is to be understood in terms of grace, discipleship and apostleship.  If Mary is queen, it is because she allowed the grace of God to reign in her life.  She was able to resist temptation and sin.  For this reason, she is called full of grace. Secondly, she was a perfect disciple of the Lord and of the kingdom, always doing the will of the Lord as the gospel tells us.  To do the will of God is true freedom, since freedom is the power to do good and to determine one’s life.  She was truly free.  In her life of compassion and love, she showed herself to be truly a disciple of the kingdom.  Thirdly, if Mary is queen it is because she shared in the salvific work of Christ.  She cooperated fully with the Lord in the salvation of humankind, from the incarnation to the passion and resurrection.  She was truly an apostle of the Kingdom.  Finally, Mary is queen because she now lives on to intercede for us.  She is with us in our pilgrimage.

We who share in the kingship of Christ, like Mary, are called to be kings and queens so that we can bring about the realization of the Kingdom.  We are empowered to restore the temporal order to the dignity of the plan of God.  This is clearly our calling today, especially when there is a crisis in morality in the world.  As a result of secularization and relativism, there is a desensitization to sin.  Only when the world lives according to the gospel values of the Kingdom, can we claim that Christ’s kingship is established on earth as in heaven.

But if we are to help others to exercise their kingship and queenship, then we must first exercise dominion over ourselves.  We must show ourselves to be people who can exercise self-control and self-discipline in our lifestyle and have the power to overcome sin and temptations in life.  If we have no control over ourselves, how can we control others?  If we cannot manage our own life, how can we manage the lives of people under our care?  Hence, it is important today that we pray to Mary and imitate her in her Queenship by being more open to the grace of God at work in us, cooperating with His grace to do His will and to live the life of the Kingdom by a life of good works, charity, honesty and integrity.  Like Mary who was without sin through the grace of God, we who have received our sonship through baptism must also cooperate with the grace of God in our lives so that by preserving ourselves from sin, we too can share in her triumph over the Evil One.  With the help of Mary, we must try to overcome sin in our lives so that the reign of God may be manifested in us. In this way, we will one day share the Kingship of Christ and the Queenship of Mary.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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http://www.catholic.sg/22-august-2016-queenship-blessed-virgin-mary/
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In this feast, particularly cherished by the Popes of modern times, we celebrate Mary as the Queen of Heaven and Earth.

Pope Pius XII in the Papal Encyclical Ad Coeli Reginam proposed the traditional doctrine on the Queenship of Mary and established this feast for the Universal Church.

Pope Pius IX said of Mary’s queenship: “Turning her maternal Heart toward us and dealing with the affair of our salvation, she is concerned with the whole human race. Constituted by the Lord Queen of Heaven and earth, and exalted above all choirs of Angels and the ranks of Saints in Heaven, standing at the right hand of Her only-begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, she petitions most powerfully with Her maternal prayers, and she obtains what she seeks.”

And Pope Pius XII added the following: “We commend that on the festival there be renewed the consecration of the human race to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Upon this there is founded a great hope that there will rejoice in the triumph of religion and in Christian peace…

…Therefore, let all approach with greater confidence now than before, to the throne of mercy and grace of our Queen and Mother to beg help in difficultly, light in darkness and solace in trouble and sorrow…

. . Whoever, therefore, honors the lady ruler of the Angels and of men – and let no one think themselves exempt from the payment of that tribute of a grateful and loving soul – let them call upon her as most truly Queen and as the Queen who brings the blessings of peace, that She may show us all, after this exile, Jesus, who will be our enduring peace and joy.”

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http://www.intothedeepblog.net/2014/08/queenship-of-mary.html

Prayer and Meditation for Monday, May 30, 2016 — “The Antidote to Fear is Faith”

May 29, 2016

Monday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 353

 

Reading 1 2 PT 1:2-7

Beloved:
May grace and peace be yours in abundance
through knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.His divine power has bestowed on us
everything that makes for life and devotion,
through the knowledge of him
who called us by his own glory and power.
Through these, he has bestowed on us
the precious and very great promises,
so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature,
after escaping from the corruption that is in the world
because of evil desire.
For this very reason,
make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue,
virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control,
self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion,
devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love.

Responsorial Psalm PS 91:1-2, 14-15B, 15C-16

R. (see 2b) In you, my God, I place my trust.
You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
Say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
R. In you, my God, I place my trust.
Because he clings to me, I will deliver him;
I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in distress.
R. In you, my God, I place my trust.
I will deliver him and glorify him;
with length of days I will gratify him
and will show him my salvation.
R. In you, my God, I place my trust.

Alleluia SEE RV 1:5AB

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Jesus Christ, you are the faithful witness,
the firstborn of the dead;
you have loved us and freed us from our sins by your Blood.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 12:1-12

Jesus began to speak to the chief priests, the scribes,
and the elders in parables.
“A man planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it,
dug a wine press, and built a tower.
Then he leased it to tenant farmers and left on a journey.
At the proper time he sent a servant to the tenants
to obtain from them some of the produce of the vineyard.
But they seized him, beat him,
and sent him away empty-handed.
Again he sent them another servant.
And that one they beat over the head and treated shamefully.
He sent yet another whom they killed.
So, too, many others; some they beat, others they killed.
He had one other to send, a beloved son.
He sent him to them last of all, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’
But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir.
Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’
So they seized him and killed him,
and threw him out of the vineyard.
What then will the owner of the vineyard do?
He will come, put the tenants to death,
and give the vineyard to others.
Have you not read this Scripture passage:

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes?”

They were seeking to arrest him, but they feared the crowd,
for they realized that he had addressed the parable to them.
So they left him and went away.

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“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
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First Thoughts From Peace and Freedom
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The first reading reminded us today of the little book “The Imitation of Christ.”
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The reading tells us “you may come to share in the divine nature.”
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Think that’s an empty promise? It’s a promise from the Son of Man so it may be a promise we aught to allow into our lives.
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For two thousand years, man has been striving to “share in the divine nature.” Of course, there have been many who seek to share in cool cars, sexy people of every gender and description and “The Seven Deadly Sins.”
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Jesus told where that would lead us!
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Seeking to follow Jesus is the most powerful thing we can do in our lives.
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Disregarding Him is probably the worst thing man can ever think of doing…
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Yet we are all, always welcome into His heart, His forgiveness and His goodness. Whenever we reach out — he’ll reach back.
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That’s another promise.
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So if we follow Christ, our reward is peace. If you haven’t found peace, pray and ask for more! God rewards those that persevere.
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Related:
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(More after the Mass readings and homily ideas)
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It’s never too late!
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Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
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Commentary on Mark 12:1-12 From Living Space

This will be our last week of readings from Mark’s gospel.  We are now in chapter 12 and fast approaching the climax of Jesus’ life and mission.  This chapter is marked by a growing conflict between Jesus and the religious and political leaders of his own people. The chapter begins today with a parable (or, more accurately, allegory) directed towards that leadership.  Its meaning was very clear to those who heard it.

It tells the story of a man who planted a vineyard, fitted it out with all that was necessary and then let it out to tenants to cultivate.  It is clear that the owner is God, the vineyard is Israel and the tenants the people of Israel.  The words of Jesus echo very closely a similar image in a poem by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 5:1ff).  In Isaiah’s image the vines only produce sour grapes.

In Jesus’ story there are evidently good harvests.  The problem arises when the master sends his servants to collect what belongs to him of the harvests.  One after the other, the servants are driven away or beaten up or even killed.  It is a clear reference to the way that God’s people treated the many prophets which God had sent to them.

In exasperation, the owner decides to send his only son, expecting that they will at least respect him.  But no.  The tenants argue that by killing the only heir, the vineyard will inevitably become their property. When the son (Jesus) arrives, they seize him, kill him and throw him out of the vineyard (a reference to Jesus being crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem).

What will the owner do now?  “He will make an end of the tenants and give the vineyard to others.  Have you not read this text of scripture: ‘It was the stone rejected by the builders that became the keystone’?”  Jesus is rejected by the leaders and by many (but not all) of his own people.  The Gentiles will be invited to take their place and will be more than happy to fill it.

The words quoted from Psalm 118 can apply either to Jesus or the Gentiles.  Jesus, the rejected and crucified one, becomes the cornerstone.  Or, the despised Gentiles become the recipients of God’s love and grace and the cornerstone of the new Christian communities.

Clearly, this story did nothing to endear Jesus to the leaders. They would have (as foretold by the story they had just heard) seized him but they were afraid of the crowd (also Jews) who stood in awe of Jesus, his words and works.

This is one of these stories where we can be tempted to sit in judgement on those who rejected Jesus.  But we are not reading it today for that purpose.  Rather we are being asked whether we are listening to the word of God as it comes to us in the various people that God sends into our lives.  How much better are we than the Scribes and Pharisees?  How often do we rationalise ourselves out of doing what God clearly wants us to do?

What welcome do we give to God’s messengers?  Do we even recognise them when they come?  Maybe today, now, would be a good time to listen more carefully than we normally do.

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CHRIST JESUS HIMSELF THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE

God will, I will!

In the OT we find David and King David often saying “God will” and “I will”. He might have been hiding in caves and being hunted from house to house, but he kept saying “God will” and he kept saying “I will”. That dogged determination is evident in all the leaders throughout the OT.

God has, you are!

But in the NT we find something entirely different. Paul keeps saying “God has” and “you are!” Have you noticed that? Look in Colossians and every other book by Paul, he is always talking past tense. For example Paul says “Through Jesus Christ, God HAS reconciled the world” and he keeps saying radical things like “you ARE seated at the right hand of the Father” or “you ARE made holy, pure and blameless”. He doesn’t ask you how you feel or if you think you are… he knows what Jesus Christ did on the cross and he is TELLING you what you are – as a result of His blood on the cross!

This is how it works…

  • In the OT the Prophets looked FORWARD to what was to come and had faith that it would come.
  • In the NT we look BACK to what happened and have faith that it DID occur… all the way back then!

Here is a visual explanation of the difference between OT Prophets faith and NT Apostles faith…

You are built upon the foundation of the Apostles andProphets with Christ Jesus Himself the chief Cornerstone. –Eph 2:20

god_has_god_will1

Both kinds of faith are still workable, but in my personal experience nothing has ever matched the power of believing the full and complete and finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

What is a cornerstone?

From Wikipedia

The cornerstone (or foundation stone) concept is derived from the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation, important since all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.

The entire structure takes it’s characteristics from the cornerstone… how fitting. Perhaps the church should spend more time studying our own Cornerstone?

Here is a  visual idea of how Jesus Christ connects the OT and the NT types of faith. It shows faith in Him, old or new, is built upon Who He is and what He did on the cross. In this image we can see Him as a cornerstone foundation on which the whole of the Old Testament and the whole of the New Testament are all built upon…

cornerstone

Having a NT type of faith as Paul did is absolutely vital if you want to go over the Jordan and enter into the promised land, because the key to it all is your faith! We (gentiles) are no longer moving into a physical land, but into a spiritual land.

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“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone” (Psalm 118:22)
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The image comes from the ancient quarries where highly-trained stonemasons carefully chose the stones used in construction. No stone was more important than the cornerstone because the integrity of the whole structure depended on the cornerstone containing exactly the right lines. If the cornerstone was not exactly right, the entire building would be out of line. For that reason, builders inspected many stones, rejecting each one until they found the one they wanted. Rejected stones might be used in other parts of the building, but they would never become the cornerstone or the capstone (the first and last stones put in place).
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When Peter preached to the Jewish leaders in Acts 4:8–12, he quoted Psalm 118:22 to show that Jesus is the rejected stone whom God made to be the cornerstone of salvation. They (the Jewish leaders) rejected him, but God not only accepted him but put him in the position of highest honor.Peter pressed the point home with this powerful conclusion: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). These words are utterly exclusive.
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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 30 MAY 2016, Monday, 9th Week in Ordinary Time

CHRISTIAN GROWTH IN GRACE/RESPONSIBLE LEADERSHIP

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 PT 1:2-7; PS 90; MK 11:1-12  ]We all have our life struggles each day.  No one is exempted from the ups and downs of life and all its battles.  We have so much to accomplish each day, be it in the family, at work or in society.  But who do we rely on to withstand the trials and challenges of life? What is it that will keep us focused on seeking the right things in life?  The truth is that sometimes, the misery and suffering of life could be due to our folly and misdirected goals in life.  

In other words, what is the cornerstone of all that we live and work for?  In the gospel, apparently, the religious leaders were seeking themselves and not God.  They were proud and arrogant.  Instead of putting God at the center of their lives, they put themselves instead.  They were overcome by greed.  With greed, it led to killing.  When it comes to self-interests and greed, we would do anything to destroy others.  This is the sad reality.  So what is the foundation of your life?

Our foundation, as the scripture readings suggest, must be in Christ alone.  He is our cornerstone often rejected by us. Instead of looking to Him for direction, encouragement, inspiration and hope, we look towards the world.  Indeed, whenever you are faced with a problem or a dilemma, where do you look for answers and direction?  Many Catholics pay lip service to Christ.  Whilst they claim that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, that He is their teacher and exemplar, yet they imitate the celebrities in the world.  Their model and mentor is not Jesus Christ but some entertainment star or political leader.  They are less excited about meeting Jesus than seeing their favourite movie stars.  No wonder, many of our Catholics do not live out their lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.   They are counter-witnesses to the gospel.  Their values and thinking are that of the world; not of Christ.  They cannot say with the psalmist “you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.” (Ps 51:4)

How then can we grow in grace and peace whilst living in this world?  St Peter tells us that we come to find true peace and grace as we “come to know our Lord more and more.”  The more we know Him, the more we imitate Him in thought and deed, the more we will find peace and joy as well.  For in Christ, we find our cornerstone, our refuge, strength, consolation and light.   Christ is our Light and in Him, we know how we should live our lives wisely and in total freedom from the clutches and snares of the Evil One; and the temptations of the world.

In Christ, our cornerstone, we partake of the divine nature of God.  Only Christ, who is both divine and human, can enable us to share in the divine nature of God without being God.  Through sharing in the life of Christ, as adopted sons and daughters of God, we become heirs with Him.  “It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Rom 8:16f)  Such is the goodness of God that if we follow His Son, we share in His divine nature.  “In making these gifts, he has given us the guarantee of something very great and wonderful to come:  through them you will be able to share the divine nature and to escape corruption in a world that is sunk in vice.”

Most of all, the capacity to become sons and daughters of God is not simply through human effort alone.  Rather, God will empower us to live out our sonship and daughtership.  St Peter wrote, “By his divine power, he has given us all the things that we need for life and for true devotion, bringing us to know God himself, who has called us by his own glory and goodness.”  Through the Holy Spirit, Christ gives us all the gifts so that we can arrive at the full maturity of Christ.   St Paul mentions this in his letter to the Ephesians.  “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.  We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.” (Eph 4:11-14)

Consequently, let us turn to our Lord who leads us in the way to salvation.  Let us keep our eyes on Him.   “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:8f)  This means coming to Him for direction and inspiration.  St Peter wrote, “By his divine power, he has given us all the things that we need for life and for true devotion, bringing us to know God himself, who has called us by his own glory and goodness.”

What are these gifts given to us? Besides the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we have the gift of the Sacraments.  These are means by which we grow in grace and love.  Frequent celebration of the Eucharist will lead us to a deeper immersion in the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord.  Regular celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation will bring us deep inner healing and free us from guilt and fear. Daily meditation on the Word of God will give us strength and inspiration.  St Paul exhorts us, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16f)

Finally, we have the Church, the body of Christ, the community guided by the appointed leaders of the Church to lead us in love and grow in grace.  Catholics need not walk alone in this journey of spiritual growth.  We must walk with fellow Catholics, sharing their faith with each other, helping each other in our difficulties, struggles and loneliness, meeting regularly to inspire each other.  In this way, we will grow in grace and Christian maturity.  Even when we fail, we know that we have a community to turn to for support and understanding.  

Of course, at the same time, we need to cooperate with the grace given to us.  St Peter wrote, “But to attain this, you will have to do your utmost yourselves, adding goodness, self-control to your understanding, patience to your self-control, true devotion to your patience, kindness towards your fellowmen to your devotion, and, to this kindness, love.”  The gifts of the Spirit given to us are ours only when we exercise them properly for the good of others.  They are not for ourselves but for the service of others and especially devotion towards our fellowmen.   Christian growth means growth in virtues each day.  If our lives are no different, if our attitudes towards people, especially our enemies, are no different from that of the world’s; if our values are no different from that of the world’s, then even though we might call ourselves Catholics, we are just nominal Catholics.  Such Catholics are as good as baptized pagans and they cannot find peace, grace and life.  There is nothing wrong with the gospel or with the teachings of the Church, but they are just not walking the way of truth and love.

So with the psalmist, let us put all our trust in God alone.  He said, “In you, my God, I place my trust. He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High and abides in the shade of the Almighty says to the Lord: My refuge, my stronghold, my God in whom I trust.  When he calls I shall answer: I am with you.”  So let us not be foolish and destroy the cornerstone of our lives by seeking false gods and the substitutes of this world for the living God.  All that we are, all that we have belong to Him.  They are not ours but gifts from Him.  Never should we think like the tenants in the gospel that we own these gifts.  God is the landowner and the Shepherd of us all.   We are His tenants, stewards and servants of the gospel.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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One can never do justice to telling the story of Padre Pio except to say, I think about him every day. He taught me: “If you are worried: pray.  Once you are praying, you can stop your worry.” Padre Pio had the stigmata.

“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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Prayers of Hope, Words of Courage by Nguyễn Văn Thuận

Many of  Nguyễn Văn Thuận letters, prayers and sermons have been preserved and published — most are available at fine bookstores and from Amazon.

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Book: Joseph’s Way: The Call to Fatherly Greatness – Prayer of Faith: 80 Days to Unlocking Your Power As a Father by Devin Schadt
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As no sensible person would make a long road trip without first consulting a map, so the person intent upon gaining Heaven should turn to a competent guide to reach that most important goal. An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) is addressed as a personal letter to Philothea, the “lover of God.” This book instructs us in our approach to God in prayer and the Sacraments, the practice of 16 important virtues, remedies against ordinary temptations, and becoming confirmed in our practice of devotion. TAN-CLASSICS Edition; paperback.

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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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Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry: Survivors of Super Typhoon  “Yolanda” march during a religious procession in Tolosa in Leyte on November 18, 2013, over one week after the supertyphoon devastated the area. AFP/Philippe Lopez

Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, May 15, 2016 — Pentecost — Those who are in the flesh cannot please God — But you are not flesh alone — The Spirit of God dwells in you

May 14, 2016

Pentecost Sunday
Mass during the Day
Lectionary: 63

Reading 1 ACTS 2:1-11

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven
staying in Jerusalem.
At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd,
but they were confused
because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
They were astounded, and in amazement they asked,
“Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?
Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?
We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites,
inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene,
as well as travelers from Rome,
both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,
yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues
of the mighty acts of God.”

Responsorial PsalmPS 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34

R. (cf. 30) Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD, my God, you are great indeed!
How manifold are your works, O LORD!
the earth is full of your creatures;
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
may the LORD be glad in his works!
Pleasing to him be my theme;
I will be glad in the LORD.
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
If you take away their breath, they perish
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Reading 2 1 COR 12:3B-7, 12-13

Brothers and sisters:
No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.

As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

Or ROM 8:8-17

Brothers and sisters:
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh;
on the contrary, you are in the spirit,
if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
But if Christ is in you,
although the body is dead because of sin,
the spirit is alive because of righteousness.
If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,
the one who raised Christ from the dead
will give life to your mortal bodies also,
through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Consequently, brothers and sisters,
we are not debtors to the flesh,
to live according to the flesh.
For if you live according to the flesh, you will die,
but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body,
you will live.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,
but you received a Spirit of adoption,
through whom we cry, “Abba, Father!”
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit
that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs,
heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,
if only we suffer with him
so that we may also be glorified with him.

Sequence – Veni, Sancte Spiritus

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end. Amen.
Alleluia.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 20:19-23

On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Or JN 14:15-16, 23B-26

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.

JN 14:15-16, 23B-26

“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Those who do not love me do not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.

“I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.”

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Pope Francis celebrates Pentecost at Mass, May 24, 2015

Below is the English translation the homily given by Pope Francis on Pentecost Sunday (May 24, 2015)

“As the Father has sent me, even so I send you…  Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:21-22).  The gift of the Spirit on the evening of the Resurrection took place once again on the day of Pentecost, intensified this time by extraordinary outward signs.  On the evening of Easter, Jesus appeared to the Apostles and breathed on them his Spirit (cf. Jn 20:22); on the morning of Pentecost the outpouring occurred in a resounding way, like a wind which shook the place the Apostles were in, filling their minds and hearts.  They received a new strength so great that they were able to proclaim Christ’s Resurrection in different languages: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4).  Together with them was Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the first disciple and the Mother of the nascent Church.  With her peace and her smile, she accompanied the joyful young Bride, the Church of Jesus.

The word of God, especially in today’s readings, tells us that the Spirit is at work in individuals and communities filled with the Spirit: he guides us into all the truth (cf. Jn 16:13), he renews the face of the earth (Ps 103:30), and he gives us his fruits (cf. Gal 5:22-23).

In the Gospel, Jesus promises his disciples that, when he has returned to the Father, the Holy Spirit will come to guide them into all the truth (cf. Jn 16:13).  Indeed he calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth”, and explains to his disciples that the Spirit will bring them to understand ever more clearly what he, the Messiah, has said and done, especially in regard to his death and resurrection.  To the Apostles, who could not bear the scandal of their Master’s sufferings, the Spirit would give a new understanding of the truth and beauty of that saving event.  At first they were paralyzed with fear, shut in the Upper Room to avoid the aftermath of Good Friday.  Now they would no longer be ashamed to be Christ’s disciples; they would no longer tremble before the courts of men.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, they would now understand “all the truth”: that the death of Jesus was not his defeat, but rather the ultimate expression of God’s love, a love that, in the Resurrection, conquers death and exalts Jesus as the Living One, the Lord, the Redeemer of mankind, of history and of the world.  This truth, to which the Apostles were witnesses, became Good News, to be proclaimed to all.

The gift of the Holy Spirit renews the earth.  The Psalmist says: “You send forth your Spirit… and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps 103:30).  The account of the birth of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles is significantly linked to this Psalm, which is a great hymn of praise to God the Creator.  The Holy Spirit whom Christ sent from the Father, and the Creator Spirit who gives life to all things, are one and the same.  Respect for creation, then, is a requirement of our faith: the “garden” in which we live is not entrusted to us to be exploited, but rather to be cultivated and tended with respect (cf. Gen 2:15).  Yet this is possible only if Adam – the man formed from the earth – allows himself in turn to be renewed by the Holy Spirit, only if he allows himself to be re-formed by the Father on the model of Christ, the new Adam.  In this way, renewed by the Spirit of God, we will indeed be able to experience the freedom of the sons and daughters, in harmony with all creation.  In every creature we will be able to see reflected the glory of the Creator, as another Psalm says: “How great is your name, O Lord our God, through all the earth!” (Ps 8:2, 10).

In the Letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul wants to show the “fruits” manifested in the lives of those who walk in the way of the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22).  On the one hand, he presents “the flesh”, with its list of attendant vices: the works of selfish people closed to God.  On the other hand, there are those who by faith allow the Spirit of God to break into their lives.  In them, God’s gifts blossom, summed up in nine joyful virtues which Paul calls “fruits of the Spirit”.  Hence his appeal, at the start and the end of the reading, as a programme for life: “Walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:6, 25).

The world needs men and women who are not closed in on themselves, but filled with the Holy Spirit.  Closing oneself off from the Holy Spirit means not only a lack of freedom; it is a sin.  There are many ways one can close oneself off to the Holy Spirit: by selfishness for one’s own gain; by rigid legalism – seen in the attitude of the doctors of the law to whom Jesus referred as “hypocrites”; by neglect of what Jesus taught; by living the Christian life not as service to others but in the pursuit of personal interests; and in so many other ways.  The world needs the courage, hope, faith and perseverance of Christ’s followers.  The world needs the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22).  The gift of the Holy Spirit has been bestowed upon the Church and upon each one of us, so that we may live lives of genuine faith and active charity, that we may sow the seeds of reconciliation and peace.  Strengthened by the Spirit and his many gifts, may we be able uncompromisingly to battle against sin and corruption, devoting ourselves with patient perseverance to the works of justice and peace.

http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/05/24/the_popes_homily_on_pentecost_sunday/1146370

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From The Abbot in the Desert

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Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiu, New Mexico

The Solemnity of Pentecost is a splendid reminder of the universality of the love God has for us. At Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, the Church celebrates the powerful presence of God in our midst through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, poured out upon the people of God in ages past and to the present day.

The traditional list of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit is derived from Isaiah the Prophet, chapter 11, verses 1 – 3: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, piety, fortitude and fear of the Lord.

In essence Pentecost Sunday recounts the outpouring of these gifts by the Holy Spirit on the apostles and other disciples and the Mother of Jesus ten days after the Ascension of Jesus and fifty days after his resurrection. This is traditionally considered the beginning of the Church, the birthday of the Church.

Human history constantly speaks to us of the effects of sin. It is enough to look at the pages of any history book to see much division between peoples, leading to hatred, wars, death and revenge. Salvation history, on the other hand, recounted in Sacred Scripture, is about the presence of God constantly inviting people to overcome their divisions by what is sometimes called an “unseen warfare,” also referred to as “spiritual combat.”

This of course is not at all about taking up arms against others in the name of God, but of zealously striving to turn the entire heart and life over to God, seeking to do good, avoiding sin, loving and forgiving others, in imitation of our Lord Jesus Christ. But this takes effort and work, comparable to warfare, but once again, understood as a spiritual endeavor.

In the books of the Bible we do in fact find a repetition of secular history, namely, the reality of division, war, hate, death and revenge, but with a difference: in the Bible we repeatedly hear about the distinct call from God. That call is to turn from sin and accept the invitation to live by the law of love and forgiveness. God makes that possible by constant intervention in human lives and by communicating to those who will listen.

Christians believe that salvation history culminates in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, acknowledged as the Redeemer of the human race. All that Christ promised during his public ministry was fulfilled at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples so that they could go forth and bear witness to the mystery of life and salvation in God.

The consequences of sin, the divisions that exist between people, may still be present in the world, but the possibility of overcoming them and living a new life in Christ came to the fore in the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Sacred Scripture gives a clear example of the consequences of sin in the story of the Tower of Babel, from the eleventh chapter of the Book of Genesis. It is essentially the story of pride, when people decide to make a name for themselves by building a tower up to the sky in order to reach God. That plan is rejected by God, who scatters the people over the earth, resulting in confusion of languages and ultimately division between peoples. As cooperation and communication between people gets lost in the process, so also is lost communion with God.

The miracle of Pentecost, recounted in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter two, is the opposite of the Babel story. At Pentecost people of diverse tongues unite. They come to realize that they are all in essence equal to each other, meaning everyone is eligible for receiving life in God and of being in communion with God and one another.

The grace of God produces unity and the disciples of Jesus experience this concretely at Pentecost with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. “God is a God, not of confusion, but of peace,” Saint Paul reminds the believers at Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:33).

The message of Pentecost is simply that the direction of human history has changed. People can be forgiven of their sins and at peace with and reconciled to God, who has shared in our human nature in order to lift humankind to God.

Peace is the result of forgiveness. The Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation (in the past more often called Confession or Penance) traditionally ends with “Go in peace, the Lord has forgiven you your sins.” Peace is a gift from God, the fruit of the cooperation of people with the grace of God. Those who act in accord with God’s will acquire interior peace.

It is no accident that Jesus clearly stated at the time of the coming of the Holy Spirit: “Peace be with you.” This above all is what he wishes to give his followers. It is not the peace of the world, the absence of war and abundance of material goods, for example. The peace of Christ is something else, a peace which no one can take away, which endures forever, which is without cost but more valuable than any earthly good. In essence peace is closely linked to the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.

To his followers, who receive the Holy Spirit, Jesus gave and gives a particular commandment, namely, to carry his peace, the message of salvation, to the ends of the earth. As the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus sends his followers forth. The forgiveness of sins is at the heart of the message of peace, entrusted to the Church by Christ, born at Pentecost.

At Baptism and Confirmation the gifts of the Holy Spirit are bestowed in a particular way. What becomes of those gifts is dependent on willing cooperation with the grace of God in life. We have been redeemed in the blood of Christ, brought to everlasting life by the presence of the Holy Spirit, wherein our faith, hope and love will grow.

In the Eucharist (Holy Mass) we experience over and again the life-giving presence of the Holy Spirit, who now and always pours out gifts on the beloved of God. May we open our hearts so that we truly experience the marvelous action of the Holy Spirit leading us from the shadow of death to the house of our Maker, who is our lasting hope and peace.

Prior Christian Leisy, OSB

Monastery of Christ in the Desert

Abiquiu, New Mexico 87510

https://christdesert.org/2016/05/pentecost-sunday-may-15-2016/

Related:

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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15 MAY 2016, Pentecost Sunday
GROWING IN THE SPIRIT OF THE RISEN LORD

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 2:1-11; ROMANS 8:8-17; JOHN 14:15-16, 23-26  ]

Today we reach the climax of the Easter Season by celebrating the feast of Pentecost.  For 50 days after Easter, we contemplated on the Risen Lord and the new life that He offered us by His passion, death and resurrection.

Indeed, the scripture readings in the last seven weeks of Easter basically contemplated on the Risen Lord and how this resurrected life could be lived by us through the sacraments of Initiation.  In Christ Jesus, through baptism, we share in the new life of Christ and have become a new creation.  Through the Eucharist, which is where the Lord makes Himself present in a par excellence manner, Christians continue to be nurtured and be fed by the Lord, sharing in His life, passion, death and resurrection more deeply and also becoming more and more united with the Church, His body.  Finally, through the sacrament of confirmation, they were given the Spirit and His gifts for witnessing to the Risen Lord in the world.  The sacrament of confirmation empowers the newly baptized to live out their respective vocations in the world, be of service and a witness to the new life that they have been given in Christ.

Yet, today’s scripture readings remind us that being born again in Christ into a new creation is just the beginning of new life, not yet the consummation.  Baptism is just the entry into the life of Christ when we die to our sins and rise to a new life in Christ.  It is not yet the realization of the fullness of the resurrected life.  It only brings about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and gives us the grace of renewing ourselves daily for the final resurrection.  It is at most anticipatory.  Indeed, all sacraments have this dimension of the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’.  Sacraments are symbolic of the future reality and yet this future has already begun in us when we live out the sacraments.  So the sacraments are not just a foretaste of the fullness at the end but also instrumental in helping us to reach that ultimate goal which is to be fully resurrected with Christ at the end of our lives.  Therefore, it means that Pentecost is that period of the Church when members of the Church continue to grow in the Spirit of the Risen Lord until consummation.  That is why Pentecost is not a one-off event but a series of events.  Pentecost is ongoing until the end of time.

The primary purpose of the giving of the Holy Spirit is for mission, as Jesus told the disciples earlier on:“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8)  This explains why the Acts of the Apostles was written as a sequel to the gospel of St Luke because he wanted to write on the ongoing mission of the Church that was begun by the Lord.   And this will go on until the Kingdom of God is established at the end of time and spread to all of creation.

However, the Holy Spirit, whilst it is given for mission, is principally also for the growth of the life of the Christian in the Lord. We cannot be missionary for Christ unless we are disciples.  So discipleship in the Lord is an ongoing process impelled by the Holy Spirit.  Before we can go out to proclaim Christ to the world and be His living witnesses of love and life, we must deepen our sonship in Christ.  This is what St Paul is telling us in the second reading.  Pentecost cannot be reduced to merely some spiritual enthusiasm and religious emotions that we experience but rather an obedient Christian living of the gospel.

Unfortunately, many of us forget that baptism is just the beginning of this process of being formed in Christ until the day we die.  In truth, many Catholics stop growing the day they were baptized.  This is also true for those who have been renewed in the Holy Spirit at some retreat or seminar, like the LISS or Conversion Experience Retreat.  They think that growing in faith is like attending a course where at the end of it you get a paper stating that you have graduated, and life continues as before without any change.  Christian faith is a different thing. It is a process that never ends since the moment we were baptized.  This explains why the liturgical colour after Pentecost is green, signifying that the Church is still growing each day in the power of the Spirit.  The giving of the Spirit at baptism marks the long journey that is to be undertaken for the rest of our lives, growing in discipleship each day.

How can we grow in discipleship, which is basically, to grow in the Spirit of the Risen Lord?  Firstly, we are called to obedience to the commandments of Christ.  Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.  Those who do not love me do not keep my words. And my word is not my own: it is the word of the one who sent me.”  So if we claim that we love Jesus and believe that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, it means that we are ready to obey His commandments since they are the way to the fullness of life and love.   This obedience is not a reluctant submission to the commands of Christ but like Jesus a total surrender in love to the Father.   Jesus’ obedience was the result of His identification with the Father’s will and love for humanity.

Secondly, St Paul reminds us that unless we walk in the Spirit, we cannot live.  “In fact, unless you possessed the Spirit of Christ you would not belong to him.  Though your body may be dead it is because of sin, but if Christ is in you then your spirit is life itself because you have been justified.”  Negatively, it calls for death to the self, particularly what is worldly, especially sensual living and pride.  “People who are interested only in unspiritual things can never be pleasing to God.”  So we are called to live a transcendent life which is one of love, peace, joy, service and compassion; not one of self-centeredness, pleasure and self-indulgence.  Life in the Spirit entails a struggle for freedom from the flesh and to place ourselves under the Lordship of Christ.

Thirdly, it means living a life of freedom in the Spirit.  St Paul wrote, “The spirit you received is not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into your lives again; it is the spirit of sons, and it makes us cry out, ‘Abba, Father!” Of course, this struggle for authentic living in freedom means suffering, which is symbolized in our desire to die with Christ, effected internally through personal mortification and external persecutions.   When a Christian deepens his sonship in the Lord, he lives like a free person because the Spirit removes all fear from his life.  Fear is the work of the devil to hinder us from giving ourselves to God and for service.  Fear is the cause of all our sins.  But when we are children of God, we know that the Father will take care of us.   We are confident that regardless of what happens, our future will be glorious in Christ.  Like Jesus and the apostles, we can therefore spend our lives in total giving to God and the service of the gospel.   We are called to share the gifts of the Spirit we have received and put them into action.

Fourthly, a life of discipleship requires ongoing formation.  We are called to deepen not just our knowledge of the Lord but our relationship with Him.  This is the reason for the giving of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, “…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you.”  All that needs to be revealed has been revealed in Christ.  He has shown us the fullness of revelation because He is the revelation of God.  But there are many things that we do not fully understand, partly because of the depth of what Jesus wanted to teach us and also because of new situations.  The Holy Spirit’s task is not to reveal to us new truths, but to deepen our understanding, interpretation and application of what has been taught to us by Christ.  By growing in understanding and perception of the truth in Christ, we come to know Him more and by so doing, we also come to know our Father as well.

In the final analysis, the joy of the Christian lies in his or her personal relationship with the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son and the Spirit.  This is the implication of today’s gospel when the Lord said, “If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.” Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Lord comes to our hearts with His Father.  Through the Holy Spirit, we come to be in touch with the Lord and in seeing His face, we see the Father’s face and experience His Trinitarian love for us.  Such a life is truly what we call a Christian life because it is a sharing of the life of the Trinity.  With Jesus, we can then truly call God ‘Abba Father’.

Consequently, we need the Holy Spirit to do all these things.  On our own, we are helpless unless we receive the help of God the Holy Spirit Himself.  It is for this that the Lord promised that He will pray to the Father to give us the Holy Spirit.  This is the prayer of Jesus for us all.  It is His desire that we receive the Holy Spirit so that we can truly live the resurrected life and be empowered to love and give as He did in union with Him.  This too is the constant refrain of the Church, “Come, Holy Spirit.”  That was what we prayed in the responsorial psalm, “Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.”  With the Holy Spirit, everything is possible.

So let us ask for the renewal of the Holy Spirit in our lives, not once but again and again.  That is why we celebrate Pentecost every year.  We need the Holy Spirit to constantly renew us and empower us.  We must make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit through renewal programs, retreats, contemplation and especially through the reception of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist.  In this way, the Holy Spirit dwells with the Church, the Christian community more and more, bringing us all together in Christ and forming us all truly into the sons and daughters of God.  The world cannot see Christ today but they can see Christ in us.  By sharing our love with them, we bring the world together in unity.  This, then, is the way to renew the face of the earth and to proclaim the marvels of God working in our lives.


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

Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, February 14, 2016 — “Christ in the Desert Sunday” — Our Unique Time for Solitude and Prayer

February 13, 2016

First Sunday of Lent
Lectionary: 24

Art: Not By Bread Alone by Michael Dudash

Reading 1 DT 26:4-10

Moses spoke to the people, saying:
“The priest shall receive the basket from you
and shall set it in front of the altar of the LORD, your God.
Then you shall declare before the Lord, your God,
‘My father was a wandering Aramean
who went down to Egypt with a small household
and lived there as an alien.
But there he became a nation
great, strong, and numerous.
When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us,
imposing hard labor upon us,
we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers,
and he heard our cry
and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
He brought us out of Egypt
with his strong hand and outstretched arm,
with terrifying power, with signs and wonders;
and bringing us into this country,
he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.
Therefore, I have now brought you the firstfruits
of the products of the soil
which you, O LORD, have given me.’
And having set them before the Lord, your God,
you shall bow down in his presence.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15

R. (cf. 15b) Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”
R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
No evil shall befall you,
nor shall affliction come near your tent,
For to his angels he has given command about you,
that they guard you in all your ways.
R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
Upon their hands they shall bear you up,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the asp and the viper;
you shall trample down the lion and the dragon.
R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
Because he clings to me, I will deliver him;
I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in distress;
I will deliver him and glorify him.
R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.

Reading 2 ROM 10:8-13

Brothers and sisters:
What does Scripture say?
The word is near you,
in your mouth and in your heart

—that is, the word of faith that we preach—,
for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved.
For one believes with the heart and so is justified,
and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
For the Scripture says,
No one who believes in him will be put to shame.
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek;
the same Lord is Lord of all,
enriching all who call upon him.
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Verse Before The GospelMT 4:4B

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

Gospel LK 4:1-13

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.
The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.

Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
and:
With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.
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First Sunday of Lent, From Living Space
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Commentary on Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13

WE HAVE NOW ENTERED the great season of Lent. For those of us who are old enough to remember, Lent in the past was not, in some respects, a time we looked forward to. Fasting and abstinence, not to mention other forms of penance, were in force and it was a serious business. Easter was looked forward to with real anticipation. Our attitudes to Lent tended to be on the gloomy and negative side. Perhaps nowadays we have gone to the other extreme where Lent hardly means anything at all. “You mean Lent has started already? Really, I had no idea! Easter will be on top of us before we know where we are and I haven’t bought a thing!”

Yet Lent has always been one of the key periods of the Church year and it would be a great pity if we were to forget its real meaning. In fact, that is what we ask for in the Opening Prayer just before we sit down to listen to the readings: “Father, through our observance of Lent, help us to understand the meaning of your Son’s death and resurrection and teach us to reflect it in our lives.” Really, the whole purpose of Lent is beautifully summarised in that prayer – to understand the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus and to live that out in our own lives.

An annual retreat

The period of Lent is six weeks to help us do precisely that. The Church provides Lent almost like an annual retreat, a time for deepening the understanding of our Christian faith, a time for reflection and renewal, a time to make a fresh start.

It was a pious custom in the past for people, as part of their Lenten observance to go to Mass every day during this time. This is even more meaningful now since the Second Vatican Council and the reformation of the liturgy, because we are provided with a magnificent set of Scripture readings from both the Hebrew (Old) and Christian (New) Testaments every day during the Lenten season.

In the First Reading of today’s Mass, Moses speaks to the Israelites at the end of their forty years wandering in the desert and he prepares them for their new life in the Promised Land. That is what the Lenten season is meant to do for us also.

Traditionally on this First Sunday of Lent the Gospel speaks of the temptations of Jesus in the desert. Jesus has just completed his forty days of preparation in the desert and he now faces one more test before he begins his mission. This incident takes place between the baptism of Jesus and the start of his public mission, beginning (in Luke’s gospel) at Nazareth.

A time of beginning

In the early centuries of the Church, Lent was seen as a time of beginning. It was – and again now is – a time for forming new converts, preparing them for their formal entry into the Church community by baptism and confirmation during the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at the Easter Vigil. Today, in fact, is their day of Election. Our catechumens are entering the last six weeks of preparation for Baptism. Let us pray for them and be in solidarity with them during this time.

For those of us who are already baptised, it can equally be a new beginning. Often we prefer to stay with the known and the familiar, even though it does not give us great satisfaction. We can settle into a routine kind of Christianity that goes on basically unchanged from year to year. It is not very inspiring but we stick with it rather than risk the unknown that radical conversion can bring.

Art: Jesus wrestles with the Devil by Ron Dicianni

Forty days in the desert

The forty days of Lent correspond to Jesus’ own forty days spent in the desert. For him, it was a period of preparation for his coming mission. At the end of the forty days – as described in Matthew and Luke – Jesus had three encounters with the Evil One.

It might be worth noting that we may not be dealing here with a strictly historical happening, something which could have been video-taped or covered by television. The devil normally does not carry on conversations with people like this. Temptations to evil – and they can be many and frequent – usually come to us in far more subtle ways. (On this, read C.S. Lewis’ marvellously entertaining book The Screwtape Letters – a delightful read with a deadly serious message.)

Rather than just seeing them as three consecutive temptations happening almost simultaneously at a particular moment, we should perhaps see them as three key areas where Jesus was tempted to compromise his mission during his public life. They were not just passing temptations of the moment but temptations with which he was beset all through his public life.

Some real examples of these temptations can be found in the Gospel accounts: [The Pharisees asked Jesus] “to perform a miracle to show that God approved of him” (Mark 8:11). “Save yourself if you are God’s Son! Come on down from the cross!” (Matthew 27:40). After feeding 5,000 hungry people with an abundance of food, “the people there said, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who was to come into the world!’ Jesus knew that they were about to come and seize him in order to make him king by force; so he went off again to the hills by himself” (John 6:14-15). Clearly, in varying forms, these temptations of Jesus can come into our lives too.

Superstar

The first temptation (to change stones into bread) and the third (to jump from the top of the Temple) try to turn Jesus away from his role as the Servant-Messiah to become an eye-catching, self-serving superstar. “Follow me because I am the greatest.” The second temptation (to worship the devil who can give power and wealth) tries to entice Jesus away from the true direction of all human living – the love and service of God and his creation. He is being lured from setting up a Kingdom of love and service to controlling an empire of minions.

Luke reverses the second and third temptations from Matthew’s version in order to make Jerusalem the climax of the temptations just as it is the final destiny of Jesus’ mission and the starting point for the Church.

The forty days in the desert eating nothing reminds us of Moses doing the very same. At the end Moses received and proclaimed the message of God (the Law) just as Jesus will go on to make his mission statement in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21). Also, the replies that Jesus gives to the Evil One are all from Deuteronomy (one of five books attributed to Moses) and his temptations correspond to those which afflicted the Israelites on their desert journey. The difference is that the Israelites succumbed but not Jesus:

– The Israelites grumbled about not having enough food. “It is not on bread alone that we live but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

– Israel constantly tended to chase after false gods (e.g. the golden calf) but Jesus recognises only one God. “You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone.”

– Israel tested God at Massah and Meribah to provide them with water but Jesus refuses to manipulate God. “You must not put your Lord to God to the test.”

All in all Jesus shows himself totally faithful and trusting in God and thus qualified for his role as Messiah. And these temptations are made to sound all the more reasonable because the Messiah was expected to bring bread down from heaven, to subject other kingdoms to Israel and to perform a dazzling sign to prove his credentials.

Most dangerous temptations

When we think of temptations, we tend to think of sexual sins, telling lies, losing our tempers, gossiping about people’s (imagined) faults, getting angry, feeling resentment and the like. But the really dangerous temptations are to want material wealth for its own sake (the ability to turn anything into money [‘bread’]), to want status (everyone looks up to me), and power (I can manipulate people and things for my own ends), things which are seen as going with wealth, power and status.

These are dangerous because they reduce other people and even the material world to things that can be used purely for my personal gain. They are dangerous because they create a world and a society in which everyone has to compete to get as much for themselves as they can. In such a rat race world, a minority corners to itself a disproportionate amount of the world’s goods while the majority is left without what they need. Above all, such people are dangerous because they can create the prevailing creed of the society in which we live. They believe that undiluted happiness comes with winning millions in the lottery. They believe that the ownership of what they have acquired is absolute. But there is no absolute ownership of anything.

Values of the Kingdom

The world, the Kingdom that Jesus came to build, has a different set of values altogether. And it is those values we will be considering all during Lent. Many Christians are chasing the idols of wealth, status and power just as fanatically as their non-Christian brothers and sisters. But, in fact, these are non-Christian, even anti-Christian, ambitions. They are not the way of Jesus, they are not the way of the Kingdom, nor indeed are they the way to a fully human, fully satisfying life for anyone.

This is what today’s Gospel is about. This is what Lent means as a time of reflection and a time of re-evaluating the quality and direction of our lives. A time for reconsidering our priorities both as Christians and human beings. A time to re-affirm our conviction of the equal dignity of every single human person.

Says the Second Reading today: “Those who believe in him will have no cause for shame, it makes no difference between Jew and Greek. All belong to the same Lord who is rich enough, however many ask for his help, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” It is a scandal and a crime then when some of us actively prevent brothers and sisters having access to the material, social and spiritual goods of God’s creation.

Endless battle

Finally, before we leave today’s Gospel, let us not overlook its final sentence: “The devil left him to return at the appointed time.” The battle with evil was not over for Jesus. It will occur again and again at various stages in his life, right up to and especially at those last hours in the garden and on the Cross.

For us, too, the battle against evil never stops. The selfishness, the greed, the anger and hostility, the jealousy and resentment, above all the desire to have rather than to share, to control rather than to serve will continually dog us. We and our children are caught up in the competitive rat race without even knowing it. Our only success in life can be what we achieve in building not palaces or empires but in building a society that is more loving and just, based on the message of Jesus, a message of truth and integrity, of love and compassion, of freedom and peace.

That is why we need this purifying period of Lent every year. If, in past years, we let it go by largely unnoticed, let this year be a little different. Let it be a second spring in our lives. Let it mean something in our discipleship with Christ.

Art: Wilderness by Ron Dicianni

From Peace and Freedom
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In order to emulate Jesus and to clean out all distractions from their lives, people have been seeking the solitude and serenity in the desert with prayer for centuries.
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We of the 21st Century don’t need to go into isolation in the desert to achieve a new awakening. We all have the forty days of Lent for the express purpose of a housecleaning, repentance and prayer.
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By the fourth century A.D., devout Christians–men and women alike–had begun to retreat from cities and villages to the deserts of North Africa and Asia Minor, where they sought liberation from their corrupt society and the confining shell of the social self. The Desert Fathers is the perfect introduction to the stories and sayings of these heroic pioneers of the contemplative tradition.
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Selected and translated by Helen Waddell, The Desert Fathers opens a window onto early Christianity while presenting us with touchingly human models of faith, humility, and compassion. With a new Preface by the Cistercian monk, writer, and revered teacher of contemplative prayer M. Basil Pennington, author of O Holy Mountain and Challenges in Prayer.
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“God is our home but many of us have strayed from our native land.  The venerable authors of these Spiritual Classics are expert guides–may we follow their directions home.”
–Archbishop Desmond Tutu
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There are dozens of great books about the Desert Fathers and how we too can use solitude to improve our lives in this rat race world.
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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12 FEBRUARY 2016, 1st Sunday of Lent
THE DOUBLE ELECTION

SCRIPTURE READINGS: Dt 26:4-10; Rom 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13

Today, our Catechumens will celebrate the rite of election.  This is a very critical stage in the life of the Catechumens because they are going to make a radical decision to elect Christ as their Saviour and Lord before they are baptized. 

For the rest of the Church, even though we are already baptized, this decision needs to be renewed as well.  In truth many of us, like the Israelites, chose the Lord, but over the years we have lost our relationship with Him.  Instead of serving the Lord our God, we have served ourselves and the Kingdom of Satan.  Consequently, during this season of Lent, the Church invites us to consider whether we are willing to choose Christ our Lord, the resurrection and the life.

Are you ready to make this confession of faith from your heart, not just on your lips?  It is not even an intellectual answer that is required but a confession of faith from the heart.  What is asked of you is whether you believe, not whether you understand.  How then can we make this act of faith?

It is important to take note that in every rite of election, there is a double election that is being celebrated. God will not ask us to choose Him unless He has first chosen us.  St John underscores this when he wrote, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.”  (1 Jn4:9f)

Indeed, this has been seen throughout the history of salvation, beginning with the election of Abraham as the father of the Chosen Race.  We read that God chose Israel out of all nations to be His people.  They were nomads who became slaves in Egypt.  However, the experience of Israel was that God was a compassionate God.  He set them free from slavery.  He established the Covenant with them and made them His people.  Indeed, God chose them to be His people, made them into a nation by giving them land and a king.  He brought them out of Egypt on eagles’ wings and established them into a kingly, priestly and prophetic people.  And when the people were unfaithful to the covenant again and again, God forgave them.

Finally, in Christ, God renewed His Covenant with Israel and the entire humanity.  In Christ, we are elected once more, not just the Israelites but the Gentiles too.  As St Paul says, “those who believe in him will have no cause for shame, it makes no distinction between Jew and Greek: all belong to the same Lord who is rich enough, however many ask for his help, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

The election of God in choosing us to be His people entails that we also make our response to His gracious overture of mercy and love.  This is the second election.  God, who has for all eternity chosen us in Christ, now invites us to choose Him in return.  His election is effective only when we receive the invite.

St Paul urges us to be decisive and definite in our choice for Christ as our Lord.  Indeed, for Christians who believe in Christ as the Risen Lord, the Son of God in our hearts and confess Him publicly in our lives, no one can tempt us from our fundamental orientation in life.  It is because many do not really believe in their hearts, perhaps if at all only in their minds, that Jesus is Lord, that they do not have the confidence to proclaim and confess His name publicly because they know it will be hypocritical even to say so.  This diffidence allows the devil to tempt us and others to lead us astray because they know our faith in Christ is still weak and uncertain.

Today, we are invited to make that foundational choice with the Lord Jesus.  Our Lord has shown us the way to make our decision for God.  At His baptism, the Father confirmed His choice of Jesus saying, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus, upon hearing these words, immediately began His mission by fighting against the kingdom of darkness.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, He went out into the desert and faced Satan directly in the battle between serving God or serving self and the world.

So too, we are called to confirm God’s election of us by making that foundational decision for God in Christ Jesus as all other secondary decisions in life will flow from this centrality of our belief in Christ.  We will do everything and anything only for the glory of God, the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Like Jesus, we will only seek to do the will of God in all our decisions in life, big or small, in the way we think, talk, act and judge.  Christ will be the determining factor in all that we do, and from then on, like the Hebrews, we will offer whatever we have, our resources, our finances, our time and our total self for the service of His kingdom and for the love of His Father.

That was certainly the case of Jesus when He was confronted by three critical secondary choices after committing Himself to His Father.   In the Temptation Story, Jesus was asked to make a choice of being a slave to the material needs of the world and attending solely to the things of this life, or to recognize that the human person needs more than food and material well-being but God’s word.  Hence, when challenged to turn stone into bread, Jesus sharply told the devil off, saying “Man does not live on bread alone.”  Jesus would not use His power to benefit Himself but only for the service of the Kingdom.  Jesus chose service over self.  This is so unlike many of us who use the resources, talents and wealth or influence we have for our personal benefits rather than for the glory of God, His Church and the service of humanity.

Secondly, the Devil tried to distract Jesus from His mission by offering Him glory and power, the things that the world seeks.   But Jesus made it clear that glory and power belongs to God alone, not man!  No man can find satisfaction and security in earthly glory and power.  Hence, citing from scripture, the Lord said, “You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.”   Jesus chose God over the world.  What about us?  Do we worship money, career, power, fame and status, or is our primary concern the search for God and His kingdom?  “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”  (Mt 6:33)

Finally, the next common temptation of man is to doubt the love and mercy of God.  Many of us keep questioning God’s love for us and His divine providence.  We are always worrying about tomorrow.  On one hand, we call Him Father, but we do not believe in our heart that if God is our heavenly Father, He will know how to look after us and provide what we need to be truly happy in life.  But we want things our way.  We keep on testing Him like the Israelites in the desert.   That is why we find no rest.  Satan knew that if he could make Jesus hesitant about His Father’s love, he could make Him waver in His decision.  But Jesus knew His identity as the Son of the Father and He knew the Father’s love is faithful.  Hence, He rejected Satan’s temptation to test His Father’s love and to question His identity as Son.  “It has been said: You must not put the Lord your God to the test.” Jesus chose faith in Him rather than doubt.

It must be noted that the secondary choices that Jesus had to make in the desert resurfaced in different ways throughout His ministry repeatedly but they were all grounded in His love and devotion to the Father.  This is equally true for us.  We must not think that we are confronted with such concrete choices of good over evil only before baptism, but this goes on at every moment in our lives. Yes, the devil will keep coming back to tempt us away from our foundational principle to serve God in our lives as well.

Consequently, today we are asked to make our position clear before God, His Church and our fellowmen.  Whom do you choose to love and serve?   The decision must be firm and decisive, otherwise we will continue to stumble and fall along the way, especially when temptations come.  How can we be firm in our decision for the Lord?  For us Christians, it is by contemplating on His love and mercy for us in His passion and death; and experiencing the power of His resurrection in our lives.  In so doing, we too will be able to make that same conclusive choice for Christ because we believe in our hearts.

To help us strengthen our choice for the Lord, and our love for Him, we are invited to make these 40 days in Lent, a journey of dying to our sins and freeing ourselves from our bondages.  By contemplating on the mercy and love of Christ on the cross, and aided by prayer, penance, almsgiving, we will be able to surrender ourselves more and more to His love.  As we continue to grow in intimacy with the Lord after making our election for Him today, we will, when our love is deepened and flourished at Easter, be ready like the apostles to confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord and be sent out to the whole world to proclaim the Good News of salvation to all of humanity.  We too will be filled with the same Spirit that empowered Jesus in His ministry.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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Art: Christ in the Desert by Ivan Kramskoi

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From The Abbot in the Desert

Readings: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13

Each year Holy Mother Church gives us this season of Lent to renew our intention of living more completely for Christ. Lent is a word in English that is related to “length” or “lengthen,” and fittingly, in the northern hemisphere at least, Lent coincides with the lengthening of days we are now experiencing. This is an apt image of our desire to grow closer to God and one another, which is certainly one of the goals of Lententide.

Because of the name of my Monastery, Christ in the Desert, I like to call this “Christ in the Desert Sunday.” Desiring to share in our human condition, Jesus was tempted, but overcame all temptations by the power and grace bestowed on him by the heavenly Father. “Jesus is divine,” we might reply, “easy enough for him.” Nonetheless, we must remember what St Paul wrote: “Christ humbled himself and took on the form of a servant.” Why? To fully partake in our human condition, even in trial and temptation and to raise our fallen nature to share in God’s life, forever.

The Evangelists—this year we hear the account according to Saint Luke–tell us that Jesus was “led by the Holy Spirit” into the wilderness, to spend forty days and nights in prayer and fasting. The Spirit did not lead Jesus into temptation, but was the sustaining power with Jesus during his temptation as well.

Like other servants of God, such as Abraham and Moses, even the Israelites as a people and Elijah the prophet, Jesus is no exception to those who are “put in the test,” not in order to trip them up, but to demonstrate that it is God who is in control, who can overcome evil and prove victorious, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Jesus, of course, is the supreme model of this lesson, whose obedience to the will of the Father meant overthrowing the evil one who held everyone captive to sin and fear of death. The obedience of Jesus shown in embracing the cross reversed the disobedience of God’s first humans, described in the Book Genesis, the first book of the Bible. The victory of Christ over sin and death likewise won for the human race not only pardon for sin, but also adoption as God’s sons and daughters.

Let us consider each of the temptations Christ endured in the desert. Satan himself starts from the fact of the Messianic mission of Jesus. The devil never doubts this fact, but proposes ways and means for the mission of Christ that are contrary to the course preordained by God. In other words, the devil urges Jesus to do other than the will of God.

Satan begins, in the first temptation, when Jesus is physically hungry after prayer and fasting, by suggesting to Jesus that he should be “human” and “normal,” that is, fulfill his craving for food by turning stones into bread. “Use your miraculous powers and satisfy your hunger,” Satan is saying.

Jesus replies with a text from the Book of Deuteronomy (chapter 8, verse 3), which includes the notion that God fed his children in the wilderness with manna, something new and strange, desiring that the people understand that “it is not on bread alone that man lives, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” And Jesus say elsewhere: “I myself am the bread which came down from heaven” (John 6.41; also v. 35)?

Satan tries to lead Jesus astray, away from the narrow path, the difficult course that God has planned for his mission. But Jesus is not moved by the devil to do other than the Father’s will, even if that means suffering a horrible death.

Satan turns this defeat into a means of attack in the second temptation. If Jesus trusted that the Father would not let him starve, why should Jesus not show even greater trust and “prostrate yourself in homage before me, and all the kingdoms of the world shall be yours.” Jesus answers this temptation with another quote from Deuteronomy, “You shall do homage to the Lord your God; him alone shall you adore.”

Finally the devil takes Jesus to absurd heights and tries to get the Lord to throw himself from the parapet of the temple, entrusting himself into the hands of the angels, but Jesus counters with, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Unshaken in adherence to God’s will, Jesus does not give in to the devil who finally leaves Jesus, awaiting another opportunity, most particularly in the Garden of Gethsemani and on the cross.

Representing and standing in place of the whole human race, Christ defeated Satan in rejecting the way of comfort and ease, prestige and power, success and adulation. Instead, he chose the way of becoming the Suffering Servant, really and truly. In so doing, Jesus won for us the ability to share in divine life.

What Jesus shows us in the desert is the ideal of every Christian life: complete service of God, living the Gospel without compromise. That is certainly what our Christian call requires of us to be authentic and faithful in our following of Jesus Christ.

In Christ we gain the victory over Satan, we become co-heirs of Christ’s resurrected life, which cannot be taken away. May we be vigilant and reject all that is contrary to the Gospel, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives!

Prior Christian Leisy, OSB

Monastery of Christ in the Desert

Abiquiu, New Mexico

https://christdesert.org/2016/02/first-sunday-of-lent-year-c-february-14-2016/