Posts Tagged ‘indwelling of the Holy Spirit’

Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, April 22, 2018 — “That we may be called the children of God.”

April 21, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Lectionary: 50

Image result for A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, bible, art, photos

Reading 1 ACTS 4:8-12

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said:
“Leaders of the people and elders:
If we are being examined today
about a good deed done to a cripple,
namely, by what means he was saved,
then all of you and all the people of Israel should know
that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean
whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead;
in his name this man stands before you healed.
He is the stone rejected by you, the builders,
which has become the cornerstone.

There is no salvation through anyone else,
nor is there any other name under heaven
given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”
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Photo of Cornerstone Church - Portland, OR, United States

Responsorial Psalm  PS 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29

R. (22) The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.
R. The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.
or:
R. Alleluia.
I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me
and have been my savior.
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
R. The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD;
we bless you from the house of the LORD.
I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me
and have been my savior.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his kindness endures forever.
R. The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.
or:
R. Alleluia. 

Reading 2  1 JN 3:1-2

Beloved:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.
The reason the world does not know us
is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.

Alleluia  JN 10:14

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the good shepherd, says the Lord;
I know my sheep, and mine know me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

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A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep

Gospel JN 10:11-18

Jesus said:
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
A hired man, who is not a shepherd
and whose sheep are not his own,
sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away,
and the wolf catches and scatters them.
This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.”
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Monastery of Christ in the Desert,
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Reflection by The Abbot
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My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

Saint John gives us these words of Jesus:  “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me.”  God is seeking us out, just as a shepherd seeks out his sheep.  God wants us to be with him, just as the shepherd wants his sheep with him.  This Sunday we are invited and challenged to give our lives completely to the Lord.

The first reading today is from the Acts of the Apostles.  We could pay attention to just this one sentence:  “There is no salvation through anyone else.”  So often we want to work our own salvation.  Too often we have an idea of what our salvation might mean.  Today we are invited to recognize that God saves us in many, many ways.  God always invites us to share His life.  We are invited to let God be Saviour rather than constantly seeking to save ourselves.

Once we come to recognize Jesus as true Savior, we cannot stop talking about Him to others.  We want to share His presence in our lives.  We want others to recognize that there is nothing worthwhile in this whole world other than the presence of Jesus.  And, for many of us, we do not want to appear to be fanatics in the process.  Nevertheless, like the early disciples of Jesus, we will look fanatic whenever we speak about our belief in the Lord Jesus.

The second reading is from the First Letter of Saint John.  Saint John tells us:  “When it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”  We shall see HIM as HE is.  This life is about seeking God and seeing only glimpses of the Lord Jesus.  Some seem to have more glimpses than others, but God always gives each of us what we need to continue in the seeking of God.  In the life of the world to come, we shall see Him as He is.

More importantly, Jesus will also see us as we are, with all of our brokenness, our sinfulness, our failures, our sins and all that we might want to hide from Him.  He will still say to us:  Come, you blessed of my Father.  Enter the Kingdom.

We come back to the Gospel of John.  Jesus lays down His life for us.  Jesus gives His live over to death in order that we can life forever.  We are invited to accept that salvation.  Even if we do not fully understand the Lord Jesus or His salvation, we are invited to accept Him and ask Him to save us.

Lord Jesus, risen from the dead, save us and draw us to yourself.  Be our shepherd and guide us in this life so that we may all be with you forever in the life of the world to come.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

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The Cornerstone by Ray Pritchard
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“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone” (Psalm 118:22).

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).

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. There is no other hope, no other way, and no other name than the name of Jesus. If we would be saved, we must come God’s way or we won’t come at all.

Do not be like the builders who rejected God’s Stone of salvation! Do not reject Jesus Christ. Do not stumble over this rejected stone. The very stone the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. May God open your eyes to see Jesus as he really is—the Cornerstone of eternal salvation.

Taken from “Rejected Stone” by Keep Believing Ministries (used by permission).

http://www.jesus.org/is-jesus-god/old-testament-prophecies/the-stone-that-the-builders-rejected-became-the-cornerstone.html

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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom

Today’s readings always remind me of, “Unless you CHANGE and become like little children.” ( Matthew 18:3 )

Indeed: we are the sheep of the Good Shepherd story. We must be docile, humble, teachable.

But most of us are proud, ego-centric, money grubbers. Even more reason God tells us to CHANGE and become better followers….

Unless You Become Like Little Children — God wants us to plunge into the unknown joyfully — reliant upon Him for strength and power and salvation.

Instead many people today are filled with fear and anxiety.

But there’s no need for that if we TRULY BELIEVE  in an all loving, all forgiving Father waiting to give us eternal life.

He tells us: “Do not e afraid.” He says this to the apostles while he is walking on water. He says it to Mary when she come to the tomb three days after the crucifixion. In fact, “Do not be afraid” is one of the more oft repeated lines in scripture.

So why are we afraid? Because we refuse to belive.

Finally, if we live long enough, most of us get to be both the stone rejected and the cornerstone! You get to my age you’ll know what I mean…

John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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22 APRIL, 2018, Sunday, 4th Week of Easter
EXAMINING THE CAUSE FOR FAILURE IN LEADERSHIP

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 4:8-121 JOHN 3:1-2JOHN 10:11-18 ]

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday.  All of us are called to be shepherds after the heart of Christ.  We exercise the office of shepherd as civil leaders, corporate leaders, teachers, priests, church leaders or even as parents.  Regardless how old or young we are, we will always be exercising some form of leadership.  We are not just being led but we also lead according to our capacity.

We all know how it is to be in leadership.   We can never please everyone.  It is extremely challenging to unite people with different personalities, interests, views and perspectives to work together.  No matter what we do, there will be people who oppose us, slander us and resist whatever we try to do for the greater good of the community.   But this is the trial and test of leadership as well.   Jesus as our cornerstone has been rejected by His own people as well.  Both the Acts of the Apostles and the responsorial psalm reiterate the same thing about the stone rejected by the builders.  So leaders should not be surprised when they are rejected as well.   But it is also important to examine the reasons why there are people who oppose us in leadership.

We can of course blame the sheep.  Most of us are into this blame game whenever things go wrong.  Instead of looking at the issues objectively, we look for scapegoats to blame for our failures, unhappiness and frustrations.  Instead of looking into ourselves, our tendency is to assign the fault to other people or the structures.  This could be the case for us as leaders.  We conclude that our failures and disappointments are all because they did not listen to our voice.  Instead they chose their own way.  They are self-willed and they chose to go astray.  The problem is with them and not with us.  We feel that they do not know us and cannot feel with us in our struggles. Most of all, they do not appreciate how much we have done for them.

But adopting the blame game will not solve the pain and frustrations we face as leaders!  We will only become more bitter and resentful.  So instead of picking at the faults of those sheep under our care, it would be more worthwhile that we look into ourselves and understand why our sheep are not hearing our voice and therefore not following us.  At the end of the day, there is a communication breakdown.  It might not just be at the information level, but at the level of the heart.  Can we truly say with Jesus when He said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep”?  I think it would be fair to say that we do not really know our sheep and they do not know us.  This is the reason for the miscommunication and lack of communication between leaders and the led.

Why don’t our sheep have confidence in us?  The reason is simply because they do not trust that we can lead them to greener pastures, or worse still, that we do not have their interests at heart.  So trust and confidence is not just a matter of competency and ability in leadership, but more than that, whether we really care for them.  In fact, our sheep can forgive us for the lack of leadership skills, but they cannot forgive us if we are self-serving, putting our interests and convenience before theirs.

What could cause the lack of trust and confidence?  It could be due to the lack of transparency.  They do not know what we are doing.  We do not take time to explain to them our vision, mission, our plans and concerns.  They are just receiving commands and orders from us.  They feel that we are making use of them like pawns for our ambition.  This is true even for parents.  Our children do not do what we tell them because they do not understand our concerns, our struggles, and our constraints, especially when they ask for favors or money. They are afraid to tell us the truth or share their problems and struggles for fear of rejection or being marginalized and falling out of favour with us.  They don’t see us as caring for them and that we are laying down our lives for them.

They do not know us perhaps because we do not let them know us.  We do not spend time with the sheep, like the shepherd who lives with them.  They feel that we regard them as a flock of sheep, as a mass rather than as individuals with different strengths and weaknesses, needs and difficulties.  We do not really know our sheep because we live in our ivory tower.  In a word, we are not in touch with their pains and dreams and aspirations.  We do not know them by name, that is, personally, and therefore cannot share their sufferings, hopes and expectations.

Accordingly, for effectiveness in leadership, the leader must take pains to explain to their members and share with them his vision and challenges so that they can better appreciate the limitations and the anxieties of their leaders.  Indeed, this was the case of Jesus the Good Shepherd.  The bible tells us that the shepherd always lives among his sheep, day and night.  He is often alone with his sheep.  He will talk to them, play with them, always leading and protecting them.  That is how the sheep come to recognize the voice of their shepherd.  Jesus always takes pains to share with His apostles and disciples His vision of life, God and creation.  He even prepared them for His eventual death and resurrection.  If there is a lack of trust, it boils down to the lack of communication and sharing.

Secondly, the lack of trust in leaders has to do with the way we exercise leadership.  Quite often, we exercise our leadership using an authoritarian style, where we rely heavily on the exercise of institutional authority, a style of command that is top down.  As a consequence, those under our charge see us as dictatorial, uncompromising, ambitious, insensitive and arrogant.  They feel we are judgmental and exacting, especially when they make mistakes. We lack compassion and understanding.  Instead of being forgiving and encouraging, we put them down. Such an approach will only hurt our sheep.  Instead of using the staff to guide them, to lead and correct them, we use the staff as a rod to beat them and punish them.  Without gentleness and meekness in leadership, we will destroy and wound them further and deeper.  Harshness and arrogance are not the ways Jesus dealt with His disciples.  It is always one of humble servanthood.  Compassionate leadership is the only way to gain trust and respect from our sheep.

Thirdly, they do not feel that we genuinely care for them as persons with feelings and needs.  We care more for our projects and ambitions.  Like the bad shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34, we only use them for our interests and to achieve our goals.  We take their wool to receive honour, recognition and respect for what we do.  We drink their milk, making use of them for our benefit.  So they feel used by us.  They do not see that we are more interested in their well-being and their happiness than the success of our projects.  Some of them are lost, but we do not take the trouble to seek them out.  Others are wounded but we do not have time to heal them.  Some are sick but we do not take the trouble to nurse them.  Some are hungry, overworked and tired but we do not feed them, give them formation and love.

Once we treat them like workers instead of brothers and sisters, we begin to regard them as our propertyto do as we like with them.  But that is against the truth that we share the same Heavenly Father, as St John tells us in the second reading.  We are all children of God. Indeed, although I have been using the term “our sheep” I must qualify this, for strictly speaking, those under our care, whether our children, employees or members, do not belong to us and they are not our sheep!  But they are the sheep of God since Jesus is the only Good Shepherd.  They are our sheep insofar as we are exercising shepherding on behalf of God.  If they were our sheep in the narrow sense, then we can do with them as we will, since they are our property.   But precisely as St John says, we are all children of God; we as leaders are accountable to God our Good Shepherd in the way we manage His sheep.

To gain confidence from those we lead, leaders are expected to walk the talk.  We are called to lead.  This means we must be ahead of our sheep.  To walk ahead is to show the way and walk the way.  We are called to be exemplars of the values that we hold.  In the final analysis, it is the lack of of integrity and fidelity to our calling that cause leaders to lose their credibility and hence, the distrust of our followers.  So long as we do not practice what we preach, do what we tell them to do, we cannot expect to command their respect and trust.  Using our office to coerce them to do what we want will only breed anger and resentment and even hatred.  If Jesus is our Good Shepherd, it is because He lived what He preached.  It was His fidelity to His Father unto death that earns Him our trust.  He walked before us before He asked us to follow after Him.  That is why He said, ‘The Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will.”

In the light of our failure as leaders, or even when we, like Jesus, have truly been grossly misunderstood and rejected, let us come to the Good Shepherd for healing.  Not only do members need healing, but even more so leaders, because we bear the burdens of those under our care.   Unless we seek healing, we will only allow our wounds to hurt others, for indirectly and often unconsciously, our pain, anger, resentment, the sense of betrayal and injustice will lead us to be negative towards them, regard them as our enemies and even take revenge on them subtly.  Leaders are wounded healers.  This presupposes that they are healed before they can tend to the wounds of others.  Otherwise, we only expose our raw wounds, turning them away.  We cannot heal others unless we ourselves are constantly seeking healing from the Lord.  As parents and leaders, we need to turn to the Good Shepherd for healing.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, April 17, 2018 — “Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God.”

April 16, 2018

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter
Lectionary: 274

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Saint Stephen – The First Martyr — Is his often depicted with the book of scrimpture and some stones

Reading 1  ACTS 7:51—8:1A

Stephen said to the people, the elders, and the scribes:
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears,
you always oppose the Holy Spirit;
you are just like your ancestors.
Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute?
They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one,
whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.
You received the law as transmitted by angels,
but you did not observe it.”When they heard this, they were infuriated,
and they ground their teeth at him.
But Stephen, 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 Stephen 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.”
Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice,
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them”;
and when he said this, he fell asleep.Now Saul was consenting to his execution.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 31:3CD-4, 6 AND 7B AND 8A, 17 AND 21AB

R. (6a) Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
or:
R. Alleluia.
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.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God.
My trust is in the LORD;
I will rejoice and be glad of your mercy.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your kindness.
You hide them in the shelter of your presence
from the plottings of men.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia  JN 6:35AB

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the bread of life, says the Lord;
whoever comes to me will never hunger.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  JN 6:30-35

The crowd said to Jesus:
“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?
What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”So Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.”

So they said to Jesus,
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

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Image result for The stoning of St Stephen

Homily For Acts 7:51—8:1a — Stephen Martyred

It takes a miracle of God for us to feel with our stony hearts and hear through our deaf ears (This was said to the Sanhedrin, but the rest of Scripture attributes the same moral deficiencies to us, unfortunately). Just look forward in Acts to see what was required to wake Saul from his sin, the very one who oversaw and approved of the martyring of Stephen in Acts 7.

For this reason, I never take the grace I have received flippantly, for I would remain lost if it had anything to do with my own formerly uncircumcised heart and ears. But there’s another thing in this chapter that is noteworthy for our lives once we’ve come to Christ. If you dare to speak the Word faithfully, and truly, as Stephen did, you will encounter furious teeth gnashers. It’s just the way it is. As Luther said, where the gospel is truly preached, there will be strife.

Think of your life…if absolutely no one is ever upset with you, then you’re not sharing the Word, or it’s watered down beyond the point where it’s hard to recognize what it is. Or, someone is upset with you for something other than the Word. That doesn’t count.

There’s a reason they killed the prophets–as Stephen explained–and the Christ. The gospel is offensive (we’re all rotten) as much as it is sweet (Christ died for that rotteness). The preaching of God’s will for the Christian’s life is sometimes offensive (No, you just can’t continue to hate your enemy, no matter what she did to you). It cuts, like a double edge sword, and if you wield it, someone’s gonna get mad.

But trust in it, for God will not abandon you. It’s my opinion that Stephen never felt the first stone. Instead, he was caught up in the vision of the heaven to which he was about to enter.

Amen.

https://www.enclavepublishing.com/sunday-devotional-acts-751-81/

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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17 APRIL, 2018, Tuesday, 3rd Week of Easter
RESISTING THE HOLY SPIRIT

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 7:51 – 8:1PS 31:3-4,6,8,17,21JOHN 6:30-35 ]

In the first reading, we read how the people of Israel had always been resisting the Holy Spirit.  Stephen came to a point when gentle and persuasive talk could not touch their hearts.  So he went on the offensive and told them off, “You stubborn people, with your pagan hearts and pagan ears.  You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do.  Can you name a single prophet your ancestors never persecuted?  In the past they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, and now you have become his betrayers, his murderers.”  Indeed, the history of Israel is a history of infidelity to the Covenant.   Instead of submitting to the Word of God as expressed in the laws, they adopted the customs, lifestyle and even the religious traditions of their neighbours.  They were unfaithful to the God of Israel who liberated them from Egypt and made them into the People of God.  In order to save the people, the Lord in His mercy sent prophet after prophet to remind them and their leaders how they should conduct themselves and walk in the ways of the Covenant.

But again and again, they disobeyed the prophets that God sent as His messengers. Not only did they not listen to the prophets, but they persecuted and killed them.  King Jehoiakim killed the prophet Uriah.  (cf Jer 26:20-23)  Amos was rejected by Amaziah, the priest of Bethel who sought to influence Jeroboam, King of Israel to drive Amos back to Judah.  (Amos 7:10-16)  Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, the priest who reprimanded the people for disobedience to the commands of the Lord, was ordered by King Joash to be stoned to death.  (cf 2 Chron 24:20-22)   Elijah too, was pursued by Jezebel for killing her prophets of Baal. (cf 1 Kg 19:1f)   Jesus reminded His contemporaries about their resistance to the Holy Spirit when He told them the parable of the Tenants who killed the servants and the son of the owner of the vineyard.  (cf Lk 20:9-19)

Indeed, the history of Israel is not different from our history. We also resist the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Although we live under the new covenant, many of us are not living the life of Christ.  We disobey the teachings of Christ and fail to live the life of Christ.  We too do not take the Word of God seriously.  We pick and choose what we like and not what the Lord tells us.  When we read what we like and reject what we do not like, we are not believing in the Word of God but in ourselves.  This is what is happening among us Christians.  We seek to interpret the Word of God according to our so-called context.  We make the Word of God approve what we seek to do.  Whether it is with regard to divorce, same-sex union, euthanasia or abortion, we twist and turn the Word of God to suit our preferences.  Instead of hearing the Word of God and taking it for what it really is, we make the Word of God adapt to our sinfulness.

St Paul complimented the Christians for taking the Word of God as it really is.  “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”  (1 Th 2:13)  Writing to the Galatians, St Paul said, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!”  (Gal 1:6-8)

In contrast, we have Stephen who did not resist the Holy Spirit.  He shared the same Spirit as our Lord Jesus.  He used similar words that Jesus spoke to the Council when He was on trial.  He said, “I can see heaven thrown open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  (cf Mt 24:64)   He was totally receptive to Christ and the Word of God.  He saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  His vision authenticated the Lord’s claim to be the Messiah because He was now assuming full authority seated next to God to be the judge.  This time, Jesus was waiting to welcome the first martyr into heaven.  Of course, this affirmation only confirms the sins of the Jewish leaders in wrongfully putting Jesus to death.  As a consequence, they repeated exactly what their forefathers did.  “At this all the members of the council shouted out and stopped their ears with their hands; then they all rushed at him, sent him out of the city and stoned him.”

What Stephen said was not favourable to their ears and so they sought to silence the truth.  This is what is happening in the world today as well.   People might not kill us for witnessing to Christ but they will seek to oppose us and silence us from speaking the truth about the gospel message of life and love.  In the name of secularization and neutrality, the world seeks to extinguish the Christian message and symbols from society.   It is not easy today to profess our faith and our beliefs without being hostilely attacked by those who disagree with us.  When we seek to express our beliefs, they would stir up others to oppose us on the accusation that we are causing division in society simply because our views do not agree with theirs.   If Christians have to share the common view of society, then there is no reason for us to be Christians because the gospel precisely is meant to help and restore society.

Indeed, life is what the Lord is offering us.  He is the Bread of life.  He said, “He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst.”  This bread “comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”   Jesus as the Bread of life teaches us the truth through His word.  The bread of life refers foremost to the Word of God.  In the gospel, Jesus said to the Devil, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  (Mt 4:4)  Jesus makes it clear that the bread that Moses gave was only a foreshadowing of the bread of God.   The true bread of God satisfies not just the physical hunger but the spiritual hunger.  Only this bread can give life to humanity because this bread is nothing less than Himself.

Fullness of life comes from more than just having a full stomach; it is about our relationship with God.  Bread can only give us physical life but Jesus as the Bread of life comes to offer us a new relationship with God through the Word.  Only through Jesus, can we come to the Father and know Him.  Without Jesus revealing to us the Father, we will not be able to have an intimate relationship with God.  Only by knowing and coming to the Father, can our hunger be satisfied and our soul be at rest.   This explains why it is through the Word of God that we come to know the Father in Christ.  To receive the bread of life is to hear the Word of God and like Stephen, obey it.

This is the way in which we receive the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of God comes to us through our docility and reception of the Word of God.  St Peter said, “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:32)  Of course, the full reception of the Holy Spirit includes receiving Jesus sacramentally in the Eucharist, for the bread of life is but the way in which we relate with the entire Jesus, body and spirit.  Only then can we be like St Stephen who lived out the Spirit of Christ in him.   He surrendered his life to his enemies, the same way the Lord surrendered by saying, “’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.”  (cf Lk 23:34)  Like Jesus, he prayed for the forgiveness of his enemies and murderers.  Only with the Spirit of Christ, can we love our enemies and pray for them.   But it is such witnessing in the Spirit that hearts will be converted, just as Stephen touched the heart of Saul who witnessed the killing.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, April 8, 2018 — “We have everything we need.” — “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed!”

April 7, 2018

Second Sunday of Easter
(Or Sunday of Divine Mercy)
Lectionary: 44

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Doubting of Thomas – Carl Heinrich Bloch – 1881

Reading 1 ACTS 4:32-35

The community of believers was of one heart and mind,
and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,
but they had everything in common.
With great power the apostles bore witness
to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,
and great favor was accorded them all.
There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,
bring the proceeds of the sale,
and put them at the feet of the apostles,
and they were distributed to each according to need.

Responsorial Psalm PS 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24

R. (1) Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Let the house of Israel say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let those who fear the LORD say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
R. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.
or:
R. Alleluia.
I was hard pressed and was falling,
but the LORD helped me.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
The joyful shout of victory
in the tents of the just:
R. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.
or:
R. Alleluia.
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the LORD has made;
let us be glad and rejoice in it.
R. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Reading 21 JN 5:1-6

Beloved:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God,
and everyone who loves the Father
loves also the one begotten by him.
In this way we know that we love the children of God
when we love God and obey his commandments.
For the love of God is this,
that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome,
for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ,
not by water alone, but by water and blood.
The Spirit is the one that testifies,
and the Spirit is truth.

AlleluiaJN 20:29

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
You believe in me, Thomas, because you have seen me, says the Lord;
Blessed are those who have not seen me, but still believe!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

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Doubting Thomas, ART: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio.

Gospel JN 20:19-31

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.”Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
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Monastery of Christ in the Desert
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Reflection from The Abbot in the Desert
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My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed!  Jesus is clear in his words to Saint Thomas.  On the other hand, he accepts the doubts of Thomas, allows Thomas to touch Him and continues to be the friend of Thomas.

There are so many ways in which we could be closer to our Lord Jesus.  We cannot do everything at once.  Like Thomas, we must accept our defects and also acknowledge them before the Lord.

The first reading today is from the Acts of the Apostles and the basic teaching is this:  The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and they had everything in common.

We also know that this ideal state did not last for long before some began to withdraw from it or even to misuse it.  There are still religious communities today which try to live this way.  Most of us, however, share our goods with the causes that we find to be good.  Sometimes it is good to reflect that God shares Himself with both the good and the evil.  God gives to all.

The second reading is from the First Letter of Saint John.  The words that might touch us deeply today are these:  “The love of God is this, that we keep his commandments.”  Today so many people reject any kind of commandment, any kind of imposition from without.  If we ever want to know God, we must be open to allowing Him into our hearts.  God always brings commandments of one type or another.  If there are no commandments, then we are deluding ourselves about God.

Today’s Gospel is from Saint John.  Jesus has just been raised from the dead.  Now Jesus begins to appear to various of his followers.  He appears to His disciples and gives them the Holy Spirit.  This Gospel relates to us that Thomas was not present and would not believe the testimony of those who were.  This Thomas is hard headed.  So are so many of us today.  We find it difficult to accept the testimony of others, especially if we have doubts about what they are saying.  We want to see and touch and decide on our own and not just believe because someone else told me so.  This lack of faith has always been present, both within the Church and outside the Church.

Our Christian faith is handed down by others.  We come to know Christ, normally, from the testimony of others.  We can accept the New Testament writing about Christ, but all of them are the testimony of others.

This first week of the Resurrection, we place our lives and our faith in the hands of others and ask that they may learn and we may learn:  all for the glory of God.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

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First Thoughts From Peace and Freedom
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Around where I live we have a motto: “We have everything we need.”
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What that means is, after you have encountered Jesus Christ, what else are you waiting for?
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Once we believe that our Lord is all loving and all forgiving, what could we possibly need?
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“Jesus came and stood in their [our] midst.”
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Easter and the celebration of Christ’s resurrection fulfills us totally.
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All we have to do is believe!
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The scripture reveals all we’ll ever need. On this site, use these search terms:
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Related:

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“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

This little “anti-anxiety” prayer was a part of every Catholic Mass for centuries:
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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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Another anti-anxiety prayer is this one:
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God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help
of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!
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Related:
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Praise Jesus for St. Teresa of Ávila who gave us one of the simplest and finest prayers, “Let Nothing Disturb You” –
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Let nothing trouble you,
let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing;
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who possesses God lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.
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Nada te turbe;
nada te espante;
todo se pasa;
Dios no se muda,
la paciencia todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene, nada le falta.
Solo Dios basta.
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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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08 APRIL, 2018, Divine Mercy Sunday
MERCY AND COMPASSION AS THE KEYS TO BUILD COMMUNITY

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Acts 4:32-35Ps 1181 Jn 5:1-6;  Jn 20:19-31]

In the first reading, we read how the early Christian community was “united, heart and soul; no one claimed for his own use anything that he had, as everything they owned was held in common.”  Indeed, “None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from them, to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any members who might be in need.”  This was how united they were, taking care of each other’s needs and sharing the same love for God, the same vision and values of the gospel.

They were able to love so freely and unconditionally because they had encountered the power of the love of the Risen Christ in His passion, death and resurrection.  If the Lord had conquered hatred and death through His resurrection from the dead, what is there for them to be afraid of since even death is overcome. (cf Rom 8:37-39)

In response to God’s love for them in Christ Jesus, they in turn could love each other the way that God loved them. This is what St John wrote, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been begotten by God; and whoever loves the Father that begot him loves the child whom he begets.”  It is true in life that we love those whom we love and those whom they love.  So if we love God the Father, then St John says, we should also love His Son.  And if we love His Son, we will also love those whom the Son loves.  And who does He love?  He said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  (Mt 25:40)

As a consequence, the early Christians were living as the first faith community in history. They were deeply in love with God and as a consequence, in love for each other.  Caring for each other, looking after each other’s interests rather than one’s own, sharing all that we have is what will make this world a better place.  Where there is genuine love and sharing, there will be peace and unity.  And what do we all wish for if not a world and a society that is gracious, caring, loving and united.  Such is the dream of every man and woman.  This is the ideal world that we are called to build.

But the ideal world is far from the reality.  The truth remains that we are living in a very wounded world.   Even for those of us who are baptized and the elect, they would fall into sin, often not by choice but out of human weakness.  The Old Adam does not die completely when we are baptized but latent and sleeping in us, waiting to resurrect when we are not conscious of God’s presence in us.   Because of our disoriented will which is not healed completely after baptism, even though our sins are forgiven, we will still be inclined to sin.  Our fears and selfishness will surface.  We will still have to continuously struggle against sin.    That is why love is not sufficient to build a community because our love is imperfect.

Over and above love, we need mercy to build a new community.   This was why in the first Sunday of Easter, we celebrated new life through the love of God expressed in His passion and resurrection.  The second Sunday of Easter we focus on Divine Mercy.   Mercy is more than compassion by caring for the poor and the hungry.   Mercy means compassion and forgiveness for those who fail in Christian charity, honesty and integrity.  This was what Jesus did upon His resurrection.  The disciples were hiding in shame of Jesus and in fear of their enemies.  They were hiding behind closed doors.  But Jesus came to bring them out of their fears by extending His forgiveness and offering them the gift of peace.  Twice, He greeted them, “Peace be with you!”  Peace comes from forgiveness.

Today, many of us are also locked up in our fears, manifested in resentment, anger, coldness of heart, retaliation, backbiting and gossiping.  That is why we are vindictive and revengeful.  We are also imprisoned by our insecurity because we feel our interests are at stake.  We see others as our competitors and even enemies rather than as fellow collaborators or better still, our brothers and sisters who care for us more than they care for themselves.   So how can we break out of the walls that we have erected for ourselves?

The truth is that unless we have encountered His divine mercy, we cannot show mercy the way He showed us.   We need to first receive His divine mercy.   This was what the Lord did for the disciples.  After reconciling them with Himself, He said, “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.” Without receiving His unconditional mercy for our sins, we cannot forgive those who sin against us.   A case in point was the apostles of our Lord.  We read in the gospel, Thomas was adamant in not believing what the rest of them said about the fact of the resurrection. They did not judge him but showed great tolerance for his incredulity.  This was because they had already encountered Jesus’ mercy.   Indeed, the early Christians could exercise mercy because they were moved by God’s mercy. (cf 1 Pt 1:3f)

How, then, can we receive this divine mercy today?  St John wrote, “Who can overcome the world? Only the man who believes that Jesus is the Son of God; Jesus Christ who came by water and blood, not with water only, but with water and blood; with the Spirit as another witness – since the Spirit is the truth.”   Water is a symbol of baptism, blood a symbol of the Eucharist, and the Spirit of truth and witnessing is given in the Sacrament of reconciliation.

To enter into Divine Mercy, we must be like Jesus who, at His baptism, identified with us sinners even though He was without sin and need not be baptized.  (cf 2 Cor 5:21) But He did it so that He could carry our sins in His body.  (1 Pt 2:24)  Indeed, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”  (1 Pt 2:22f)  That was how Thomas was converted when he saw the wounds of Jesus.  Thomas believed not because He saw the Risen Lord but he was overwhelmed by Christ’s love for him through the wounds that He suffered for them.  He was overcome more by God’s mercy and love than the sight of Jesus.  And his immediate response to the wounds of the Crucified Lord was, “My Lord and my God!”   In Christ crucified, God’s mercy is power in love.

We too must be identified with the sufferings and sinfulness of our fellow brothers and sisters.  We should not be judgmental and unforgiving for their negligence and sins.  We are all human beings and we sin now and then.  We should therefore be empathetic and tolerant of each other’s faults and weaknesses.  This is what a gracious society is all about, not just caring for each other but accepting each other’s human frailties and encouraging each other on the road to holiness of life.

The second way to celebrate the Divine Mercy is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  This explains why the Lord, after His resurrection, empowered the apostles to remit sin. “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those who sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.”  This is the most powerful form of healing of the human soul, more than any amount of counselling and psychiatric treatment we can have.  The soul will have no peace unless he or she feels that God has forgiven him or her.  The priest, as the representative of Christ, offers that forgiveness in His name and assures us of His unconditional love and mercy.   The priest is called to be the Father of mercy and compassion when he celebrates the sacrament of reconciliation.  He is called to be the image of God’s forgiving love.  Hence, we must not deprive ourselves of this Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially the new baptized.  They should frequent this sacrament so that they can encounter God’s mercy.

Finally, we can experience God’s mercy through the Eucharist.  That was what the early disciples did.  “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)  By celebrating the Eucharist together, we are joined to Christ and His Church, especially through the Word of God and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  Receiving the Eucharist with thanksgiving and gratitude brings about a change of heart in our lives.  Listening to the Word of God that is preached and shared will ignite us to live like Christ.  This explains why receiving the Eucharist brings about the forgiveness of venial sins through the strengthening of spiritual life.  But equally important is that we need the Christian fellowship to keep us united in mind, soul and heart.  This happens through the sharing of the Word of God and the mutual love of the community.

So let us build the Christian community into a sacrament of love and unity despite our imperfections and sinfulness by exercising mercy and compassion towards each other.  In the creed, we say the Church is Holy because of Christ, but we are sinners becoming and growing to be more like Him.   So let us be signs of God’s mercy and compassion to each other through our compassion for the poor, the sick, the marginalized and for those who have sinned against us.  Through such signs, they may “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this they may have life through his name.”

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

Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, January 6, 2018 — The Spirit is the one who testifies and the Spirit is truth — The “indwelling of the Holy Spirit” in each of us

January 5, 2018

Christmas Weekday
Lectionary: 209

Image result for holy spirit, photos, stained glass window

Photo: Christ the King Catholic Church (Ann Arbor, Michigan) – interior, Holy Spirit window

Reading 1  1 JN 5:5-13

Beloved:
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?This is the one who came through water and Blood, Jesus Christ,
not by water alone, but by water and Blood.
The Spirit is the one who testifies,
and the Spirit is truth.
So there are three that testify,
the Spirit, the water, and the Blood,
and the three are of one accord.
If we accept human testimony,
the testimony of God is surely greater.
Now the testimony of God is this,
that he has testified on behalf of his Son.
Whoever believes in the Son of God
has this testimony within himself.
Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar
by not believing the testimony God has given about his Son.
And this is the testimony:
God gave us eternal life,
and this life is in his Son.
Whoever possesses the Son has life;
whoever does not possess the Son of God does not have life.I write these things to you so that you may know
that you have eternal life,
you who believe in the name of the Son of God.

Responsorial Psalm  PS147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20

R. (12a) Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem;
praise your God, O Zion.
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;
he has blessed your children within you.
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
or:
R. Alleluia.
He has granted peace in your borders;
with the best of wheat he fills you.
He sends forth his command to the earth;
swiftly runs his word!
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
or:
R. Alleluia.
He has proclaimed his word to Jacob,
his statutes and his ordinances to Israel.
He has not done thus for any other nation;
his ordinances he has not made known to them. Alleluia.
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia SEE MK 9:6

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The heavens were opened and the voice of the Father thundered:
This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 1:7-11

This is what John the Baptist proclaimed:
“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee
and was baptized in the Jordan by John.
On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open
and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens,
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”or

LK 3:23-38 OR 3:23, 31-34, 36, 38

When Jesus began his ministry he was about thirty years of age.
He was the son, as was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli,
the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi,
the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, the son of Mattathias,
the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli,
the son of Naggai, the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias,
the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda,
the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel,
the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, the son of Melchi,
the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam,
the son of Er, the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer,
the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi,
the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph,
the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, the son of Melea,
the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan,
the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of Obed,
the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon,
the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni,
the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah,
the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham,
the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, the son of Serug,
the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber,
the son of Shelah, the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad,
the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech,
the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared,
the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enos,
the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

or

When Jesus began his ministry he was about thirty years of age.
He was the son, as was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli,
the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha,
the son of Nathan, the son of David, the son of Jesse,
the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala,
the son of Nahshon, the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin,
the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez,
the son of Judah, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac,
the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor,
the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem,
the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Enos,
the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

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Genealogy of Jesus

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genealogy_of_Jesus

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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06 JANUARY, 2018, Saturday, Weekday of Christmas Time
OUR CAPACITY TO LOVE

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 JOHN 5:5-13PS 147:12-13,14-15,19-20MK 1:6-11  ]

The theme of the First Letter of John is the love of God and the implications of His love for us.  As the children of God, we too are called to love one another.  In yesterday’s reading, St John wrote, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.  How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”  (1 Jn 3:16-18)  The question that is raised today is, how then can we find the capacity to love as He loved?

This capacity to love as He loved us depends on whether we believe that Jesus is the Son of God.  St John said, “I have written all this to you so that you who believe in the name of the Son of God may be sure that you have eternal life.”   Faith in Jesus as the Son of God means to believe that He is truly human and divine.  St John in his time was battling with a heresy called Gnosticism where the true humanity and divinity of Jesus was not fully accepted.  Some thought that Jesus was only divine when he was baptized and “the Christ” left his body just before He died.  This heretical theological position was expounded to protect the divinity of Christ, since God cannot die.   If that were the case, then there is no real salvation for humanity because only God can take away our sins.

The faith of the Church in Jesus is clear.  Jesus is truly the Son of God and the Son of man in one person since the moment of His incarnation.  Only this faith in His divine sonship can help us to overcome all trials in life and give us the capacity to love as He loved.  “Who can overcome the world? Only the man who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”  Only Jesus who was truly man, doing the will of God even though He was divine, can give us hope that we too can do the will of God with a human will.  Indeed, He “emptied himself,  taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.”  (Phil 2:7)

What, then, is the basis for us to believe that Jesus is truly the Son of God and not just a man?  St John gives us three criteria.  “Jesus Christ who came by water and blood, not with water only, but with water and blood; with the Spirit as another witness – since the Spirit is the truth – so that there are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water and the blood, and all three of them agree.”  In the bible, when there are three witnesses, the testimony is considered valid.  Furthermore, St John said, “We accept the testimony of human witnesses, but God’s testimony is much greater, and this is God’s testimony, given as evidence for his Son.”

In the first place, the water refers to the baptism of our Lord.  We are aware that Jesus was baptized even though as the Son of God, He was sinless and hence did not require baptism.  When John the Baptist deterred Him from getting baptized, Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” (Mt 3:15)  Jesus received baptism as a man from John the Baptist in order to be identified with sinners like us so that He could assume in His body our sins.  St Paul remarked, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (2 Cor 5:21)

Baptism too was the beginning of His mission.  He was confirmed as the Son of God so that He could live out His sonship for others to follow the same.  “A voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’”  Confirmed by His Father, this gave Him the impetus to bring all others into sonship in Him by inviting us to follow Him, living His way of life. “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God;  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”  (Jn 1:12f)  As a consequence, by virtue of our baptism, we are to live His life.

Secondly, Jesus came “not with water only, but with water and blood.”  In other words, Jesus not only came as a man even though He was God but as St Paul said, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”  (Phil 2:8) The death of Jesus on the cross reveals to us the ultimate meaning of sonship in Christ.  It means that we are called to empty our lives totally for the love of God and our fellowmen, even unto death.  The command to love has no limits.  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.”  (Jn 15:12-14)  Truly, in the death of Christ, we see the unconditional and total love of God, not just of Christ but of His Father as well.  “He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?”  (Rom 8:32)

Thirdly, it was not just that Jesus was baptized and that He died, more importantly, the Holy Spirit was with Jesus throughout His life.  He is the witness to Christ as the Son of God.  “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.”  (Jn 15:26)  The Spirit came upon Jesus when He was baptized.  “No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him.” Throughout His ministry, Jesus was working in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The apostles testified “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”  (Acts 10:38)

Most of all, Jesus did not end His life just in death, He was also raised in the power of the Holy Spirit.  “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”  (Rom 8:11)  “Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  (Phil 2:9-11)  If this is God’s testimony for His Son, it means therefore “Everybody who believes in the Son of God has this testimony inside him; and anyone who will not believe God is making God out to be a liar, because he has not trusted the testimony God has given about his Son.”

Consequently, only with faith in Christ’s divine sonship can we be given new life in the Spirit.  John the Baptist said, “Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”  After His resurrection and ascension, He sent the Holy Spirit upon them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  (Jn 20:22f)  This same Holy Spirit is given to us at our baptism and renewed at confirmation when we are sent out on mission.  We are made sons and daughters in Christ.  Sharing in His life, we are called also to share in His suffering and glory.  “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba!  Father!”  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 8:15-17)

This same Holy Spirit not only empowers us to be His disciples by giving us the Spirit of Christ but also gives us the power to do what He did.  Jesus assured His disciples, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.  I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”  (Jn 14:12-14)  True enough, we read in Mark’s gospel, “And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it”  (Mk 16:20) by using His name to cast out demons, speak in new tongues, lay their hands on the sick.  (cf Mk 16:17f)

Consequently, we can understand why the Christian experience of God’s love follows that of Christ’s;sharing in His baptism as we die to our sins and so begin the path of sonship; following Him to the extent of dying with Him on the cross, so that we can share in His resurrection.  This is all made possible through the work of the Holy Spirit given to us at our baptism and confirmation and reinforced by the Eucharist.  This explains why the Christian experience of God is called the Rite of Christian Initiation.  Unless, we share a common experience of sonship in Christ, we cannot do what He did.

Today, as we celebrate the Eucharist, we are called to renew the Holy Spirit given to us at baptism and confirmation, for it is the same Holy Spirit that transforms the bread and wine into His Body and Blood.  Only by receiving the Eucharist frequently, do we receive the Holy Spirit anew as well.  By inserting ourselves into Christ and His Church, the mystical body of Christ, we can grow in faith, in love and in our sonship so that we can live the life of the Spirit, the life of Christ.  Unless we renew the Holy Spirit in us daily through the Eucharist, the Sacraments and prayers, we will lose the power to be witnesses of His love.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Fr. Edward Leen’s book “Holy Spirit” is a great read for any Christian. Leen believes that the Holy Spirit lives inside each of us in a phenomena known as the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” Believers say this indwelling of the Holy Spirit makes for the “Sanctity of Human Life” in each of us. And how do we make the most of this most precious gift? We live within God’s Law (The Commandments), and we seek to do the Will of God.

Matthew Kelly tells us in “The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic” to pray and meditate, to study and stay true to the scriptures, to pour ourselves out in loving service to others and to evangelize to have a spectacular God-centered life!

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

Related:

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 (By Bishop Robert Barron)

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/

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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